This month, I’m joining in Sci-Fi Month 2015 and all my science fiction-related posts will be for that! Join me, join us, and let’s have a blast together!
Today, let’s play… What Are They Hiding From Our Protagonist? In science fiction books, it’s common for the main character to discover the big secret behind their government, futuristic corporation, utopian society, commune, etc. Today, I want to talk about some of the common ones.
I won’t be giving any specific examples because that would give away the big twist in the story, but I bet you’ll be able to think of some books that you’ve read that have the following Big Secrets…
- We’re totally fine, but we’re totally screwed?
In these stories, the protagonist is usually living in a pretty alright situation. No post-apocalyptic wasteland, no raiders and radroaches popping out of abandoned buildings to come at them, and everything’s generally available in adequate supply.
But the head of their community has a secret: they’re actually holding on by a thread and are one missed harvest away from community collapse. They just project an “it’s okay, everything’s fine” image.
What happens when the protagonist finds out?
They usually find out right when the Bad Thing happens and they have to venture into the wasteland to find a way to fix everything. But they’ve been sheltered within their community this whole time, how can they possibly survive? Perhaps with their vaguely good-looking childhood friend, their comic relief friend, and their animal familiar, they can survive!
- We’re totally fine! Wait, WHAT am I making?
For this one, it’s usually when the protagonist is working for some big technology company that is touted as the Best Place Ever because they created some life-saving or revolutionary technology that makes everyone’s lives better. They’re happy to work there, until they come across what looks like a little bug…
It turns out that their company’s technology has a nefarious purpose or origin. Maybe they’ve created something that everyone uses, but is being used to mind-control people? Maybe they’ve made medical supplies, but is being used to track everyone?
What happens when the protagonist finds out?
Of course, our protagonist wants to fight against this! But how will they do it? Will they make a clean break and help the people who already know what’s happening by joining their side? Or will they become the Rage Within the Machine and fight their company from the inside?
But eventually the company will find out. There’s going to be some kind of scene where they’re called to the boss’ office and must fight their way out of a posse of armed goons, and maybe smash through lots of really modern-looking offices with glass walls and automatic blinds. And of course cause chaos in a lab or something.
Good thing they’ve got Possible Love Interest who is probably related to the Big Boss in some way, and Exasperated Co-worker whose role is to whinge and make a sarcastic quip to the camera about retirement plans.
- We’re totally screwed, or are we?
The post-apocalyptic wasteland is here. Cast off your khakis and polo shirts, and get your leather and metal, everyone! Soup up those bikes and trucks, paint them in garish colours, and let’s drive across ruined cities while rock plays in the background!
Or retreat to highly-regulated safe zones where everyone lives by a strict schedule and social order. Never question what’s outside the walls, only death and destruction is outside those walls. Our protagonist is in the middle of it all, familiar with the shadow and history of our world that was brought down by some great calamity. Things are bad, but it’s the best way to live in the wasteland.
Or is it?
The leaders have a secret: Everything outside is actually okay. All those stories of acidic rain and giant radioactive roaches? All lies. Or at least, they used to be truth but everything’s okay now. But the leaders don’t want to give up their high places in the social order and let life return to normal! How horrid!
What happens when our protagonist finds out?
They shrug, mutter about folktales, and then get back to work.
Wait, sorry, that was the Skeptical Character we were looking at.
Our protagonist is outraged! They try to stand up for themselves, change things! But they get cast out, left for dead in the wasteland. But they manage to survive. They’ll be back. They’ll find proof that they’re telling the truth and there’s a better way to live.
So those are a few of the common scenarios I see in sci-fi, but what about you, dear reader?
Do you see these a lot in books? What common scenarios did I miss?
Let me know in the comments!