I grew up on Heinlein. I've read Arthur C. Clark, Le Guin, Card, Asimov, and the other giants in science fiction. I hesitate to say that, because as much as I've read science fiction, they aren't the stories that made me a writer. Don't get me wrong. I love the bigger than life situations, the science as magic, but generally speaking, for me science fiction is too dry, to dependent on an idea to really sink it's teeth into amazing characters.
But I've been waiting for a show or a book that will change my mind.
I think I've found it.
Falling Skies is the science fiction show I've waited for my whole life.
I want to write about it analytically, and show how to do this with your own writing, but I'm too much of a super fan to talk about it with that much distance. But I can tell you what makes me go I LOVE IT SO MUCH! I'll even try to do it without too many spoilers.
First of all, the situation.
The show starts almost a year after the aliens came. The Skitters destroyed all the military, all the weapons, the major cities, and those humans who survived are so busy surviving, they haven't even started resisting yet.
Enter the hero. Tom Mason. Yup, that's Noah Wylie, and he's done amazing work on this show.
Tom Mason used to be a history professor with a wife and three sons. His wife was killed by skitters, and his middle son, Ben, was taken and harnessed by the aliens.
Mason just wants to protect his family and kill the monsters. He's a hero, because he's is the best of humanity. He's a smart hero, and he uses what he knows about history, about the civil war, to fight aliens. He's a leader, and he will never stop fighting. He will never give up.
His first goal is to save his son, and when they find a nest of harnessed kids, he's about to do whatever he can to save them.
Why this works: Tom Mason isn't a perfect character, but he's a character that has proven can be trusted, and that you want to root for. Because you have to root for him.
He's Noah Freaking Wylie.
The harness concept comes straight from Heinlein. What makes it different, is that the aliens put a harness only on children or teenagers they find. These harnessed kids are still human, but they are under the alien control. They're well treated, but used as slaves. The harness changes them too, so even if ( Spoiler alert...when) they learn how to take it off, the child will never be the same.
Why this works: First of all, it lessons the terrible fear when a child is in danger. If an alien surrounds, say Mason's youngest son Matt, you know they won't just kill him the way they would a grown up. This gives them plausible time to save, or not save, someone.
Second, a harnessed kid will never be the same. Even if the harness is 'somehow' removed, being harnessed is forever a part of their identity. The change is fascinating, scary, and has far reaching consequences.
Did I do that without too many spoilers?
Yes? Well, here's one I missed.
I wish I could tell you how cool and smart and scary this show is. I wish I could tell you about the twists and the love stories, and the incredible amazing way the writers keep hope flourishing throughout the story. It's a post apocalyptic story, written in hope and beauty. There are times when I turn it off, and watch above me for Aliens to jump from some high spot in my ceiling, and there have been times when the show ends, and I close my eyes and try to remember all of that beauty.
I'll tell you to watch it because it will inspire and entertain you, but that's not enough. The reason you have to watch it, is because Falling Skies has my favorite character ever written.
Pope is a character which humanity would have been better off, if he had died when the aliens came. Pope watched a girl get raped and not done anything to stop it. In fact, he laughed. He's stolen, killed, and tortured for fun. He is slime, and yet, he is articulate, fascinating, and so well crafted. He's one of the darkest characters I've ever seen, but somehow they've redeemed him. I mean you don't trust him obviously, but you can't stop watching him either. I hate him, and I adore him. I cheer when he comes on screen, because he can do anything. Literally, he will always prove me wrong, and fail my expectations. For good or for evil. He will walk into death laughing, and he will survive at any price. He is a cockroach, a worm, and I'm just glad he's not on the Alien's side. He is going to save the world. This awful human being, the worst humanity has to show, will be the reason they find a happy ending. I can promise you that right now. He is a fascinating light and dark character, and the actor who plays him is brilliant.
That's what Falling Skies is.
Falling Skies paints with both light and dark colors. It shows equal helpings of beauty and horror. Throughout the story they make sure you know that humanity is worth saving, and they also show that at any point, humanity could be snuffed out.
I love it. It's already made my writing better.
I think Heinlien would be a fan.