All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Science Fiction

(NOTE: This post is a version of my 10th Toastmasters speech, which I gave earlier this week. You’ll just have to imagine the gestures, facial expressions, and vocal variety!)

I am a science fiction geek. Always have been; always will be. Books, TV shows, movies. Doesn’t really matter. It’s a special filter through which I see life. I’ve learned a multitude of life lessons from sci-fi. Here are five…

Lesson 1: DON’T PANIC!

New job? DON’T PANIC. New baby? DON’T PANIC. Starting your own business? DON’T PANIC. Fire in a crowded movie theater? Even then—DON’T PANIC. It rarely does much good, so DON’T PANIC.

Those are the words inscribed in large friendly letters on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the best-selling travel guide in the universe!

I first read Douglas Adams’ book, about poor Arthur Dent, dragged about the galaxy after the earth is destroyed for a planetary byway, when I was 18 and traveling the trains around Europe. This was well before the days of Kindles, back when travelers still traded paperbacks to have something new to read.

DON’T PANIC was particularly helpful advice for a young person traveling alone for the first time, nervous, frequently lost, and—let’s face it—a little bit panicky. Plus, it made me laugh hysterically. Did you know it’s practically impossible to panic when you are laughing?


Lesson 2: Engage!

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is always a “situation”—a problem to solve, a disease to cure, a civilization to rescue—and it generally involves flying off into space somewhere. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Be still my heart!) orders the course to be set. “Course laid in, captain.” The captain points his finger and says, “Engage.” And they fly off to save the universe.

I had a prickly relationship with my father growing up, and when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I went home to spend some time with him. Every night we would watch reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Watching Jean-Luc point his finger and say “engage.” That was how we were able to engage—a common interest, a common experience, a common love of science fiction.

How do you engage with life, engage in intellectual pursuit, engage with family, engage with friends? However you do it, just engage!

“Engage.” It’s more than an order—it’s a philosophy.

Lesson 3: If you want to do something, you have to go do it!

Octavia Butler was rare in the literary world, an African American female science-fiction writer—and the first sci-fi writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

I discovered her work many years ago through a science fiction book club. We all loved her writing so much that when we saw she was going to be at a sci-fi conference a few hours away, we eagerly jumped in the car to go see her.

At the conference we were enthralled with her speaking and followed her around like puppies waiting for a treat. I had her sign all my books and I told her how much I loved her writing and that I wanted to be a writer too, and her response was “Well, you know what you have to do to be a writer? Write!”

I’m a slow learner, so I’ve picked up my pen and paper occasionally over the years. I’ve taken writing classes. I’ve experimented a bit. But I never really committed until I started this blog for my writing challenge “May Manuscripts – 31 Days of Meeting the Muse.”

You know what I learned? I’m a writer! When it comes right down to it, when I commit, I am a writer.

What is it you want to do? Have you committed? Lesson #3: If you want to do something, you have to go do it!

Lesson 4: Be magnificent!

Lesson #4 comes from the British TV show Doctor Who, which has been around since 1963, with 11 different incarnations of The Doctor. The Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space in his ship, which happens to be a blue British Police phone box. The Doctor is particularly fond of Earth and its human inhabitants, and typically has a human “companion” who travels with him.

In the episode “The Runaway Bride,” Donna is accidentally transported to The Doctor’s ship—in the middle of her wedding. Confusion ensues, and she spends the episode traveling with The Doctor to save the world from the evil Empress of the Racnoss.

At the end of the adventure, The Doctor asks Donna what she’s going to do next. She doesn’t know. He asks her if she wants to travel with him, to become his companion. But Donna decides The Doctor’s life scares her to death; she declines.

He looks at her with sadness, but understanding. “Thanks, then, Donna. Good luck. And just…be magnificent.”

How many times has anyone told you to be “magnificent”? Or “wonderful”? or “spectacular”? Choose your own adjective.

Donna’s response: “I think I will, yeah.”

Lesson #4: You don’t have to save the world from an evil empress, but whatever you choose to do, be magnificent!

Lesson #5: Pursue Love

Our final lesson comes from a giant in science fiction Ray Bradbury, who wrote The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and The Illustrated Man.

A few quotes…

  • “People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better.”
  •  “If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical… Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
  • “Love is the answer to everything. It’s the only reason to do anything.”
  • “My job is to help you fall in love.”

Do you see the lesson? Science fiction is not about the science. It’s about the humanity. It’s about understanding the human condition. It’s about love. Pursue love.

It’s true I’m a science fiction geek. Science fiction is the filter through which I see life and learn the lessons I need to learn. Don’t panic; engage; if you want to do something, you have to go do it; and then…whatever you do…be magnificent. Be magnificent and pursue love.

8 thoughts on “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Science Fiction

    • Congrats to you, too, Tim! I didn’t think it would feel like such a big deal, but it really did. Ten speeches is enough practice to make some real improvement. I ordered the Storytelling and Interpretive Reading books to tackle next. I figured it might help with reading my own work as well as others’. You??


      • Hey Karin! You are correct it is a pretty cool accomplishment. You should feel very proud (as should I). To speak in front of a group of people ten times in a few short months is something most people don’t do often.

        I must admit, I have not thought a lot about next steps with Toastmasters, but I want to keep speaking on a regular basis and get involved in more leadership roles with the group.

        Thanks again for taking the time to comment, and stay in touch…


  1. Pingback: Inspiring Blogger Award « lizbethwrightbooks

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