Ramblings on Sci-Fi Cheesiness and Suspension of Disbelief…

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How believable is science fiction supposed to be?

Some sci-fi is incredibly rich and realistic. Especially when reading it, I’m able to visualize exactly how the world and all of its inhabitants — including alien races described as being completely different than anything we know on this planet — appear in this fictional universe. I get really into it.

However, when watching sci-fi and TV movies, things can get in the way of that suspension of disbelief. Things like shoddy special effects, cheesy one-liners, alien characters obviously covered in weird cosmetics and prosthetics.

This doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of science fiction. In fact, sometimes I barely notice it. However, my sister tends to comment on these things after we leave the cinema, and my mom actually makes the comments while we’re still watching the shows. (Yeah… I don’t watch sci-fi with her anymore.) It doesn’t mean my sister hates science fiction — she’s just not a fan in the same way I am. It’s almost as if she wasn’t born with the sci-fi gene. It’s all too cheesy to her.

It’s gotten me thinking: Loving sci-fi really boils down to whether or not you can believe it. Some people do, easily, no matter how otherworldly or gooey it seems. But many people — probably most — can’t get past how silly that explosion looked or the fact that those one-liners about saving the world are worse than bad pick-up lines.

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What’s weird is that I totally agree with my sister’s opinions on how cheesy things can be in sci-fi. Sometimes it’s technology needing to catch up with people’s imaginations to really bring alien races and intergalactic battles in outer space to life onscreen. But other times it’s just the genre that gets a little overly emotional at times. Heroes can be sappy. And that’s fine. I can suspend my disbelief for all of these things. I mean, Quark looks so real in Deep Space Nine, right?

In some ways, I’ve trained myself to believe in these other galaxies, no matter what. Let’s take Doctor Who as an example: The first time you watch it, if you haven’t been exposed to these types of shows before, it seems incredibly cornball. But the more you watch it, the more invested you become in the story and characters. You stop caring about the fact that the Silence look a little stereotypical — you’re really terrified of them because of what they do. You don’t overthink how the TARDIS works or how old-fashioned all of those controls look (or maybe you do), because that’s not what the TARDIS is all about. That’s not what Doctor Who is all about. You take the show for what it is, finding charm in its retroism and cheesiness while overlooking any deficiencies in areas like special effects. But I’ll be honest — it can take a little time to get there.

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I swear they’re really scary.

I guess my “training” happened many years ago, so I have no trouble jumping into any science fiction show, movie, or game. You don’t have to tell me how sappy Doctor Who is. The sentimentality is part of what I love about it, damn it!

But it’s gotten me thinking, why is it that I can overlook these things — that I’m immune to the lackluster effects and the obvious alien prosthetics — while others find them almost intolerable? Not everyone has the ability to suspend their disbelief and really invest themselves in a fictional world so different than our own. I guess it’s a skill that requires some honing. Or maybe some people aren’t born with that gene.

I hold nothing against people who can’t get into science fiction. It’s cool. To each his own. I’m just really glad I was born with the sci-fi gene.

— Ashley

4 thoughts on “Ramblings on Sci-Fi Cheesiness and Suspension of Disbelief…”

  1. I’d probably argue that Doctor Who is science fantasy. Star Wars is straight fantasy and Star Trek is (usually) science fiction.

    I am not a stickler for definitions, but science fiction – to me – has a stronger grounding in reality and also focuses on revealing/exploring some aspect of our nature and our own world we may not have previously seen. While fantasy is obsessed with its heroes and chosen ones, sci-fi often has a statement to make about the human condition, why we are here, etc. Science fiction reflects humanity as it is and as it may be, but fantasy reflects the heroes we idolize.

    From there, I subscribe to the sub-genres of hard science fiction and soft science fiction. I much prefer reading the latter which still reflects the human condition, but abandons the need for an absolute scientific grounding in everything. That technically means it is probably a form of fantasy, but, again, I think fantasy is almost always less concerned with human beings than it is with heroes.

    As for science fantasy, it is simply a form of fantasy which incorporates realism, the supernatural, and other genres and uses science as a means to “explain” their presence there!

    Just my two cents. Thanks for inspiring me!

    1. That’s true. For me anyway, it’s actually pretty rare to come across a true hard sci-fi show/movie. Soft science fiction and science fantasy are not always meant to be taken seriously if you’re going to be critical of the worldbuilding, technology, etc.

      I agree that a lot of sci-fi is about humanity as a whole or the human condition, whereas fantasy is more about heroes. However, I don’t watch a lot of dystopian sci-fi — most of what I like actually does have the hero tropes you see in a lot of video games and fantasy. Or if not true tropes, still something slightly too earnest or hopeful to be “realistic” to a cynic, which I get. It’s a more optimistic, slightly cheesy type of science fiction, I guess, which I really enjoy.

  2. I love it for these exact reasons as well aha. I grew up on blake 7, mum and dads favourite and while watching you can see the absolute stupidest stuff that’s being used in the set or for the effects but that doesn’t really matter, in fact I think it’s those elements that make up part of the charm.

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