prompt: chill, title: in a vacuum in misc. flash fiction

  • Oct. 22, 2021, 6:19 p.m.
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We want to go to the stars. The movies make it look easy, the television makes it look easy, little blinking lights, press a few then liftoff, there you are. The fantasy is understandable but I wonder sometimes if we’ve overdosed and our perception of those stars now inexorably screwed. We’ve imagined it so vividly with such volume and routine, we’ve come to expect the stars themselves.

We have seen it so many times in fiction, how can we not be living on Mars by now, how can we not be day-tripping to the moon as if hopping a Greyhound bus? We’re conditioned to presume it part of obvious reality now, even though getting the best trained astronauts up into orbit is still a profoundly-dangerous wildly-expensive crap-shoot. Is this what the saturated repetition of fiction eventually does to our minds? Something nearly impossible has been imagined so often now, the lack isn’t a challenge, rather a grumbling let-down, a cycle of recycled disappointments.

This is the dark side of the power of stories. On one hand, they push us to conceive possibilities beyond current vistas but on the other, the same ideas get so established in cultural subconscious, we tumble into spirals of impatient complacence. “Where are the jet-packs?” “Where’s my flying car?” When promised the heavens so very many times, at some point we just feel ripped off. The normalization of barely-plausible ideas has left us unable to emotionally fathom how hard are to accomplish, so we eventually give up.

It isn’t even just the stars. You see a narrative, a wholly fictive story repeated enough and soon, if it doesn’t work perfect, you’re left in bewildered failure. Political and social movements look simple on-screen but they fail when the realities of organizing and compromise kick in. Signing an online petition doesn’t immediately change the world, so we give up. Love is not as easy as bumping lunch-trays with someone good-looking in the cafeteria, so we give up.

But getting humans off this rock at all, let alone to other planets or the stars, involves exploiting obscure loopholes in the very laws of nature. That doesn’t even begin to reckon with the chill of an empty cosmos, with hauling oxygen to breathe, with the deleterious effects of low-gravity and interstellar radiation on your body over months or years.

Still, we tell tales of outer space, or social change or love, as if they are all child-play simple so very often that we start to believe our hopeful musings facts. I don’t know if this is problem with the nature of homo sapiens or the nature of fiction but it’s something we need to reckon with, for certain. Or maybe the inseparability of humanity and stories is the point. The line between us and the tales we tell too complicated to untangle without the Gordian sword. How do we dream upon the stars without sleeping on the wonders and realities of our life here on the Earth? I’ve no idea.

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