A cartoon that I know absolutely nothing about has come under fire from its fanbase for tacking on a Pink SF message to the series finale.
Of course, the usual media advocates of the Brave New World don’t even bother with a fig leaf of objectivity in their reportage:
So let’s continue to celebrate both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra for doing so much to challenge expectations and bravely explore content outside the scope of children’s television. In the parlance of the shipping world, Korrasami is canon. And to bend that word slightly, that cannon is firing in celebration of a brave new world. Thanks to Bryan, thanks to Mike, and thanks to the entire Team Avatar.
Now, a moral judgment can easily be made on this matter, but I’ll leave that to one of the show’s former fans to justifiably take to his high horse, and level his curative lance at the target in that particular arena.
No, what I’m interested in is the remarkable tendency of SF authors and creators to cut the heart out of their own stories. I don’t need to know anything about the Legend of Korra to recognize that when its creator says this:
Our intention with the last scene was to make it as clear as possible that yes, Korra and Asami have romantic feelings for each other. The moment where they enter the spirit portal symbolizes their evolution from being friends to being a couple. Many news outlets, bloggers, and fans picked up on this and didn’t find it ambiguous.
He’s not only lying, but he’s discrediting one of the most important elements of Science Fiction:
Now the lie (that the ending is so obvious and unambiguous that he doesn’t need to comment on it) can, like most lies, be overcome or ignored. Athletes and celebrities “apologize” for crimes over which they feel no remorse all the time. The public politely tends to note the lie and conducts a ritual of “accepting” the apology anyway. Its the fastest way to make the charade go away, after all.
If the lie lays the blade against the throat of the cartoon’s art, however, it is the creator’s strike against ambiguity itself, and that strike alone which slays his own cartoon and burns the corpse.
Proper care and attention to a tale’s ambiguity is critical to the successful completion of any speculative story. Allow me to prove this:
Ambiguity – uncertainty or inexactness of meaning in language – has its origins in the concept of doubt. If the definition of “faith” is a confidence in something unseen, then ambiguity is an uncertainty – a lack of confidence – in that unseen thing. In other words, the thing itself (and this can be anything unseen) is not in doubt – but the observer’s faith in that thing is weak or even non-existent. Ambiguity is about the observer: the viewer of the cartoon, or the reader of the novel.
This tool–this experience of ambiguity–is critical to Blue SF.
“If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” – Sam Goldwyn? (maybe. I actually didn’t look this quote up. In the spirit of Ambiguity, of course…)
People listen to sermons for much different reasons than they read SF, and if a reader wants a message, he’ll read a sermon or propaganda or instructions. But the one thing that unifies nearly all readers of Blue SF is that they want a story, and while that story may have a moral, or a theme, or a general cohesive (if vague) approach, what it won’t have is a message.
Take a few classic examples: since the subject is children’s entertainment, The Giver, by Lois Lowry is a tale of a child-to-man’s heroism and sacrifice in the face of a dystopic culture. It has an ending that wins accolades from library associations and public educators, primarily because they are incapable of processing ambiguity. A lot of books that pass through the gates of public child-minders have certain qualities: the unnecessary death of someone good being chief among them. The funny thing about The Giver is that its ending really and truly is left an open question, as Lowry herself did not intend, or interpret, the ending that many – if not most – of her readers did! She simply wrote the ending of the book, artfully and ambiguously, because that is what the story called for.
In adult fiction, Philip K. Dick is a master of ambiguity, even when – actually especially when – he has a specific idea about a character’s state (i.e. whether they are a human or a computer construct, for example.)
Books can be partially or fully ruined when an author makes declarative statements about elements from their works that are artfully left ambiguous (or sometimes totally absent): Rowling making a dramatic statement about Dumbledore being certainly gay, as if that had provided the kernel for his character choices or something.
It isn’t just in endings: read just about any Jack Vance novel, and you are likely to find yourself wondering–at least at some point–whether or not you actually want the main character to succeed in his efforts. It is that ambiguity that drives the narrative forward in many key spots.
Ambiguity in time travel. Ambiguity in outer space. Unknowns and doubts and uncertainty principles are not the only stuff of Blue SF, but they are most definitely among the necessary stuff of Blue SF.
Of course there are unintended ambiguities – writerly ones – that any creator should try to avoid.
The real ones? The right ones?
It is the task of the creator to identify them, and defend them to the death.
Ambiguity is in most cases the only way for a mortal writer to identify the X that marks the ideal form for which any good Blue SF story is its map.
The Brave New World has cannons, and their target is blasting Ambiguity off the map.
That alone should be reason enough to rush to such a treasure’s defense.