More Sci-Fi Wisdom from The Light Brigade

Last week, I shared some Sci-Fi wisdom from The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley.  I’m madly in love with this book, in case anyone hasn’t noticed. Today, I’d like to share another quote from Light Brigade, something that I found particularly enlightening.

There’s a theory that consciousness itself begins with story.  Stories are how we make sense of the world.  All of us have an internal story that we have told ourselves from the time we were very young.  We constantly revise this story as we get older, honing and sharpening it to a fine point.  Sometimes, when we encounter something in our lives, or do something that does not match up with that story, we may experience a great sense of dissonance. It can feel as if you’ve lost a piece of yourself.  It can feel like an attack on who you are, when the real world doesn’t match your story.

This idea of stories—both the stories that society wants us to believe about ourselves and the stories about ourselves that we make up on our own—this becomes a recurring theme throughout The Light Brigade.  It’s also been a recurring theme in my personal life these last few years.

It strikes me as a very writerly way of looking at the world. But it’s also, I think, a scientist’s way of seeing things.  Much of The Light Brigade, and especially the section quoted above, reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s classic essay “The Relativity of Wrong.”

[…] when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong.  When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

In a similar way, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, what we stand for, and what our purpose is in this world—these stories are imperfect descriptions of reality.  And that’s okay.  It doesn’t mean these stories are entirely false or that they have no value.  It just means some stories are more accurate then others.

All we can hope for is that our stories are as close to the truth as possible.

Wisdom of Sci-Fi: The Light Brigade

This weekend, I finished reading a book called The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley. The story is set in a futuristic war where soldiers are teleported to and from the battlefield.  Except the teleporters don’t always work right. For Private Dietz, this means she keeps getting teleported through space and time, and thus she ends up experiencing the whole war in the wrong order.

I loved this book.  Highly recommended!  There’s a lot of thought-provoking stuff.  Today I’d like to zero in on just one passage among the many that resonated with me:

Did you know those who are mildly depressed see the world more accurately?  Yet they don’t live as long as optimists. Aren’t as successful.  It turns out that being able to perceive actual reality has very little long-term benefits.  It’s those who believe in something larger than themselves of thrive.  We all seem to need a little bit of delusion to function in the world.

Is that too cynical?  Maybe.  Private Dietz is something of a cynical woman.  But that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.

To put it another way, I think pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  People who give up hope tend to stop trying, to stop fighting for anything better.  Maybe optimism is a survival mechanism, almost like an evolutionary advantage that keeps some people going when others would rather give up.

But being an optimist is not so easy.  Sometimes you have to make a conscious choice to believe things will work out okay.  You have to stubbornly insist that there’s still hope despite what seems like pretty compelling evidence to the contrary.

At least that’s been my experience, and (spoiler warning, sort of) somewhere in her personal timeline, maybe Private Dietz learned that lesson as well.