There are only seven basic plots, we are told. Or twenty-four. Or one. It’s an interesting and even useful idea, but its misapplication runs rampant. There are few things more frustrating than hearing some variation on “it’s just a retelling of the Icarus myth” put forth as criticism.
Writers trade in archetypes, and perhaps science fiction writers more than most. The itch scratched by stories of the fantastic is one of the oldest around. Frankenstein is one part Prometheus and one part Golem, The Invisible Man is a direct lift of one of Plato’s parables, and Dune is pure monomyth. As Thomas Disch put it:
“There is scarcely a theme in sf for which a classic parallel cannot be found: try it.”
But that is anything but damning. The fact that these themes — whether dressed up as aliens, robots, or mutants — are timeless is precisely the thing that makes science fiction so resonant. Which is not, on the other hand, to say that science fiction is about nothing more than slapping new costumes on ancient monsters. Times change, society changes, and the old becomes new.
This issue’s cover art is Water Spirit by Theodore Kittelsen. The painting is more than a hundred years old, as is this other Kittelsen piece, Troll on the Mountain Moors.
The subjects of Kittelsen’s work are mythological, ancient. And yet, consider how modern and SF-influenced the aesthetic seems. It is impossible for us to look on these works without seeing them through our post-Lovecraft, post–Swamp Thing, post-Cloverfield lens. And this is what science fiction and fantasy do for us: They let us reinvent the ancient troll as the troll that we need today. Just as the lead story for this issue, “Michel ‘The Meteor’ McLure” is The Parable of the Prodigal Son by way of Rocket Richard (who is himself no less a myth for having been real).
So, though it may be true that there is nothing new under the Sun, I have utmost confidence that we will continue to invent new suns to cast new perspectives on the old.