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 the Vicious Cycle.
One of the ways some writers may illustrate the daunting task at hand is to incorporate a time limit of some kind. The villain must be stopped in ten days, or the world will come to an end! To reinforce this, the reader is clued in to what happened the last time the world faced this danger. For you see, this has all happened before.
The concept of an endlessly repeating cycle with a major event of some kind at the point of revolution is not new. Religious and philosophical traditions from many corners of the world have embraced similar concepts throughout history, from the "wheel of time" seen in Hinduism and Buddhism (which inspired one of the items on today's recommended reading list) to the "eternal return" expounded by the Pythagoreans and Stoics. There's also a (discouragingly large) group of people convinced that our world will be ending this December when our current cycle on the Mayan long count calendar ends.
Even in science, cyclical existence has been supposed from time to time. There have been a few cosmological models over the years that posit an oscillating universe, endlessly ping-ponging between a big bang and a big crunch.
A wonderfully cheesy example is the The Fifth Element, a 1997 sci-fi action flick starring Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman. Willis plays Korban Dallas, a former special forces operative who now makes a living driving a flying taxicab. With the aid of Chris Tucker's ear-abrading screech and Milla Jovovich's propensity for nudity, he must stop a Great Evil that arises every 5000 years to reap chaos and destruction across the galaxy.
Like a lot of the tropes I've mentioned in this series, this one can drift into cliche territory when not handled well. But in the right hands, a vicious cycle can be used to build effective drama and tension as the reader moves toward the climax. It lends itself particularly well to stories involving ancient prophecies, chosen ones, and the like. For this reason, it's probably more common in the fantasy genre.
I've yet to incorporate a vicious cycle into any of my own work, though I'm not opposed to the idea. In the meantime, I'll be counting down the days to December. Hopefully, I don't have a cycle of my own to break. My guidance counselor told me I would make a terrible chosen one.
Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
Manifold: Space by Stephen Baxter
Nightfall by Isaac Asimov
The Dark Crystal
The Legend of Zelda