There are a lot of reasons, really. Creepy aliens, mad scientists, mind-controlling technologies, human-animal hybrids (I’m especially glad my life is not a Sci-Fi Channel original), time travel (because it always leads to a breakdown in the space-time continuum), ever-worsening evil arch-enemies on their way to destroy all life on earth (even puppies), gigantic asteroids that seem to pass unscathed through the gravitational pull of every other planet in the solar system and head straight to earth, artificial intelligence gone evil, accidental body-swapping, creepy clones . . . you get the idea. Science fiction is just not a place you want to live, even if they don’t have to open doors for themselves and have computers that still function when everything else is going to pieces.
But perhaps most of all, I wouldn’t want to take the chance of running into an alternate version of myself. This, of course, is the hallmark of sci-fi TV and many movies as well; if you’re watching a sci-fi show and you haven’t seen a doppleganger episode yet, it’s coming. Often, this is the “evil twin” episode, but that’s not really so bad. I just can’t picture myself as an evil person or as my own opposite, and I definitely can’t picture myself in a goatee.
Worse than the evil twin is this senario that I recently watched in a rerun of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In it, the Enterprise travels to an abandoned planet for some very forgettable reason and find there none other than a duplicate of Commander Riker (the ship’s first officer, for you non-Trekkies), who had visited the planet years ago as a young lieutenant. The double had been created by a transporter malfunction, unbeknownst to everyone involved. Doppelganger Riker has been living alone on the planet all these years, believing he was the real Riker. On the Enterprise, Lt. Riker is clearly disappointed to find that Cdr. Riker is not captain of his own ship and feels that he has settled for second in command rather than achieving his goals.
This senario I can imagine in my own life. I shutter to think of what I might experience if a duplicate of myself had been created ten years ago, stranded someplace where she had little to do but imagine what her life would be like if she had the opportunity to fulfill her plans and dreams, and then I had to face her. I can imagine the look of abject disappointment in my own face as she learned that I’m not a professional horse trainer, that I haven’t shown a horse in years, that today I rode for the first time in a month or more and that’s not really unusual. And behind that look, she would be thinking that I had sold out, settled for less than what I had dreamed of. With no little contempt, she would think that I had become one of those people who lets their horses spend too much time in the barn and not enough under saddle, someone who doesn’t know a blessing when it’s nosing her in the face. None of my excuses would hold up with her, either. And she would not be particularly impressed by my master’s degree and would be utterly appalled that I would consider going so far away for graduate school that I couldn’t take a horse with me–although she would be glad that I haven’t, at least, given up horses for boys. But she simply wouldn’t understand me.
In a way, I feel confronted by the spirit of my sixteen-year-old self from time to time, or perhaps haunted by her. I feel her judging me. There’s a part of me that still longs after the old dream and the passion that accompanied it. There’s a part of me that still feels like a failure for giving it up, even though I am convinced it was the right decision. She whispers that I’ve settled. But, she was never terribly good with change, and there’s so much she didn’t know about life, and God, and, maybe most of all, herself. She didn’t know that life just doesn’t happen the way we plan it, or that that’s okay. In the Star Trek episode, Lt. Riker didn’t know that either, and that’s why he mistook Cmd. Riker’s choices for settling. But I know now that settling is not the same thing as following your heart, even when it takes you in a different direction than what you expected.