Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on Precursor civilizations.
Their mysterious disappearance is sometimes a central part of the story, usually having occurred at the apex of their society as the result of some cataclysmic event. Often they will leave behind tantalizing ruins or the remains of advanced technology, which might be sought after and competed for by modern factions and races.
I think this trope taps into that innate curiosity that we all have, that desire to understand who we are and where we came from. Obviously some of us are more interested in those questions than others, but as a species, we've long sought to answer them. The various beliefs, mythologies, and theories on our origin and who or what preceded us are practically countless over the ages. Some of the very building blocks of our culture and society--science, philosophy, religion--were born of a yearning to answer these important questions.
The 2000 movie Mission To Mars, while not exactly the pinnacle of sci-fi cinema, serves as a good example of the trope from this angle. After a turbulent voyage to the red planet, a team of astronauts visits the infamous "face" on Mars. There they make a remarkable discovery about the history of our planet and its scarlet twin.
None of my science fiction stories have featured alien life of any kind thus far, extinct or otherwise. Nor has any of my fantasy stuff contained ancient elf progenitors or elder gods. I do have a few ideas that might make use of the trope one day, however. In fact, writing this entry gave me a new idea that I'm actually pretty excited about. I think I have a good one on my hands. I almost want to blurt it out, but I think I'll hold it close to chest for now.
In the meantime, I'll keep devouring stories about ancient forerunners and the amazing things they left behind. After all, it's a nice arena for my inner history geek and science fiction nerd to play ball together.
Uplift series by David Brin
At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
Strata by Terry Pratchett
2001: A Space Odyssey
Prometheus *fingers crossed*