Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Imperfect Perfection

So…Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been out for a little while; if I am wrong in assuming that you have seen it, then it may be in your best interests to stop reading now. Well, actually you can keep going if you’d like—what I’ll be expounding upon today is not really a movie-spoiler, and I can’t afford to lose any readership I may have.
Here is the section in question: the movie begins with the wonderfully scrappy Guardians of the Galaxy squaring off with an ugly, tough space monster from another dimension. It should be no surprise to tell you that the Guardians emerge triumphant (otherwise there wouldn’t be much movie left); after their victory, they collect their bounty from the beings who hired them for the job in the first place. They are the Sovereign, a humanoid yet completely golden race of very, very proud beings. The reason for their pride comes from the fact that, through their self-applied technology, they have essentially perfected their species. They make no small point of this fact to the Guardians, and certainly from their perspective they have a point—the mismatched misfit band of heroes can hardly be called a stable, reliable foundation in comparison to their contractors.
Speaking of instability, when Rocket…no spoilers…“offends” the Sovereign, shall we say, the perfect race turns on their former hired hitmen and send an entire fleet of podlike starfighters to take them down. I’ll give you three guesses as to who gets the better in the fight—just in case you accidentally and wrongly guess “The Sovereign” twice for some reason.
There is a sci-fi point that I would like to make from this, which will then evolve into a writing point. Just stay with me here.
The most dealt-with topic in science fiction is the idea of perfection, especially through the means of technology. This is no large claim, since any advancement in technology can be called a movement towards perfection—that much is plain. Frankenstein in Frankenstein is looking to improve people by curing death. In The Giver by Lois Lowry, the…um, Governing Structure Whose Name I Forget is trying to maintain a perfect homogenous society. The Cybermen of Doctor Who want to unify and cure humanity of all ills through assimilation—“You will be assimilated” is literally their battle cry. Some sci-fi writers, such as the notable H.G. Wells, were and are in favor of this technological perfection; science seems a pliable path to this end (yes, I said pliable—the path can be manipulated by man).
But, and this is kind of an informed yet made-up estimate, 95% of science fiction comes out against this idea. The Sovereign, Frankenstein, G.S.W.N.I.F. (I’m not good at remembering names, OK? I had to Google Lois Lowry earlier), Cybermen, Borgs, Ultron, et cetera ad infinitum…all of these characters seek perfection to the exclusion of all else, to the ignorance of the price. To Rocket Raccoon, the Sovereign’s problem is obvious; they’re a bunch of (ahem) “d*****bags”. They’ve lost relatability and humility, and, as the following space battle illustrates, they’re not that perfect anyway. Cybermen go down a dime a dozen before the Doctor. And as long as we’re talking about doctors, Frankenstein’s story is a definite tragedy, as his backfiring experiment will make a monster out of both dead human parts and also the doctor himself.
Science fiction, if anything, is an experiment to test the miracle technology before it has been developed—often revealing that it’s not quite the miracle we think it is. Ironically, the “imperfect” is what ultimately destroys the seeming perfection; the dysfunctional Guardians of the Galaxy prevail over the Sovereign. The nonstandard Enterprise prevails over the Borgs. The bizarre Doctor prevails over the Cybermen. In all these cases, one may note, the bad guys never see it coming. Blinded by their own perfect image, they fall easy prey to the unpredictable shenanigans of the heroes. Homogeny is blasted by complementary variety. The Science Fiction Point I’m trying to make is this: if anyone calls me “perfect”, I’ll consider that both an inaccuracy and a gross insult.
Which leads me to the Writing Point.
All you writers out there—we can agree that the harshest piece of criticism your work can receive sounds like this: “The main character was too perfect.” I’ve had this lobbed at me more than a few times in my career (but once I was able to convince the reader that he was being too understanding of the MC—different story though). Their problem with the hero is that he/she is “unrealistic”; the image of the imperfect hero is deeply ingrained into our consciousness, and for good reason. It’s not an insult to say that the villain is perfect (leaving aside horribly imperfect villains for a moment). In fact, a perfect-seeming bad guy can open up all kinds of interesting questions into the nature of true perfection itself. But a flawed hero is what every reader wants to read and relate towards; the plot of the story often brings the character to a realization of his flaw and an action to repair himself. How additionally ironic that is a surer way to better oneself than the villain’s technological methods.

That was an awful lot for a reflection based on a fifteen-minute segment of a popular movie. If this blog is getting too amateurishly philosophical, my apologies; maybe I’ll go crazy again in time for June.

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