I have a couple of books on my shelf, collections of short stories that eventually became episodes of the Twilight Zone. Always interesting to see how closely the episodes mirrored original stories, but in a larger sense it makes me aware of my debt to the series. Because of that, I think it’s time to discuss how the Twilight Zone shaped my scifi, and what that means when you see my short stories.
As with Gene Roddenberry, Rod Serling used his television show ‘as a vehicle for social comment, as networks and sponsors who censored controversial material from live dramas were less concerned with seemingly innocuous fantasy and sci-fi stories.’ In his own quietly subversive way, Serling shaped our culture; today we live in the future he helped create.
I think the old school scifi hands were onto something, when their stories poked holes in our emotional bubbles. But there’s something more that they did; it wasn’t until recently that I understood what it was.
The Twilight Zone and other scifi stories made me feel understood. They communicated with me on my level. No low-brow laugh tracks, no prosaic pratfalls, and no stale storytelling. When you watched a TZ episode, you know they were going to talk about something real, make you think, and talk to you like an intelligent human being. Try getting that out of The Big Bang Theory.
Look, I get it. I know that when people are watching television they’re trying to distract themselves from the stresses of life. But don’t forget: the world was a scary place when the Twilight Zone started. The Cold War, the Kennedy Assassination, and Vietnam all happened in the same time frame. Some tried to anaesthetize themselves with The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island, but those shows have aged like milk.
By contrast, the Twlight Zone just gets better with time and here’s why: Serling used those half-hour scifi universe to communicate hope, to appeal to the angels of his viewer’s better natures. Rod Serling, like all great men, was hard at work planting mental trees for the next generations, knowing he would not sit in their shade. Love or hate the show, you can’t deny the faint nobility in those kinds of gestures. Now more than ever, we need people like Rod Serling. We need the people who understand what he was talking about, too.
So that, in a nutshell is how the Twilight Zone shaped my scifi. I really appreciated how those stories made me think, made me feel understood and respected. I carry that tradition forward when I write and I think you see that when you read my stories.
For example, I know the pain of living in a body you feel ashamed of, and I wanted to explore that topic by thinking of how kids in the 2100s would solve that problem. That’s why I wrote ‘Body Issues.’ I’ve had to say good-bye to parents and parent-figures, family and adopted family, many times over the years. The Rocket is how I’ve processed that awful moment, having to say good-bye to someone I love in order to save my life. There are other backstories surround my shorts, but I’ll save those stories for another time.
So if you’re a TZ fan yourself, please know that Serling’s tradition lives on. I see you, I hear you. You aren’t alone. There are many people listening, when you tune into the right frequency.