Before we even knew that the night sky was filled we stars, we were already filling it with stories. Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations were already creating constellations representing tragic heroes, hunters, animals, and other figures of myth and legend. Some of these constellations remain today, and have shown through history to have a common origin that spread through many cultures such as the Big Dipper and Orion the Hunter.
Humanity continues to use the night sky as a stage for stories; a giant canvas onto which we paint our hopes and dreams and adventures in the form of science fiction and space fantasy. What is it about space that is so alluring?
We would ask this question of many of our interviewees. Many would speak of the wondrous size of the Universe, the immense power of celestial objects like stars or monster black holes, or the beauty of nebulae. However Wil Wheaton gave a different response saying that space was the “place you go to when you felt you maybe didn’t fit in on Earth.” Since our interview with Wil in the Summer of 2012, that idea of belonging and meaning in space has been on my mind. He’s right. From ancient formations like Stonehenge, our constellations, our modern space exploration efforts, to contemporary science fiction, they are driven by a desire to find meaning and connection in the stars. That isn’t to say that all of us who dreamed of being in the stars are trying to escape our own planet – though likely some are at times – but I think part of the reason we’ve fallen in love with characters from sci-fi like Star Trek is because we imagined that out there, flying among the stars, was a better version of our own society; where we would be accepted, connected, and had an opportunity to make a difference.
Ann Lemay is a science fiction writer on the epic video game trilogy Mass Effect. It was to her that we looked to talk about finding belonging and connection among the stars. A Star Trek fan herself, Ann spoke of the importance of creating characters and settings that people believe in and can relate to despite those characters coming from others worlds. “It’s not just about finding our place in our society, it’s about finding our place in the Universe.” said Ann of writing science fiction. “I think that’s the most amazing thing we can do with our media right now. Just opening doors for people, giving them a glimpse of how things could be. Not just for the world or for humanity, but for themselves.”
Mass Effect is one of my favorite works of science fiction. More than a video game, the series plays out as an interactive story unlike anything I had experienced before. Your actions change the outcome of key plot elements, all culminating in the struggle to unite the galaxy’s often conflicting races against a common brutal enemy. The writing is brilliant and reminded me of the key themes of cooperation and trust often found in other works of science fiction such as Star Trek. The advantage of an interactive story is how closely connected you can feel to the characters in the game and become invested in their survival as an active rather than passive participant in the story’s narrative. “The framework for science fiction is looking forward. What can we do 100 years from now and, in that time, you’d find you’d still belong.” Ann said of the story line. “It allows us to aspire for more. it allows us to say, this is what we could be if we just try hard enough. or if we, were better people. And I think that’s an amazing thing to bring to an audience.”
As we head toward closing production on Chasing Atlantis, Ann’s insights served as a perfect bookend. I look back to when the film first began on our road trip to see Atlantis fly and the first interview we shot for the documentary with Chris Hadfield. At that time, we believed we were documenting just the Shuttle’s legacy. However, over the years, the journey has revealed more than that. Like Ann, we’ve come to see ourselves telling a larger story about our desire to belong, to connect, and together explore the immense palette of space upon which we’ve painted constellations, federations, galactic civilizations, and actual human exploration of the cosmos.
Check out a segment of our interview with Ann below
HUGE thanks to Ann Lemay for sharing her thoughts with us and to the team at EA / BioWare for making the interview possible. (BTW, still procrastinating from finishing Mass Effect 3. I don’t want it to end!)