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Father's Day is this Sunday, which made me curious -- as I so often am when a deadline is approaching -- as to how dads are portrayed in science fiction. Are they good? Bad? Misunderstood? Let's find out with this sampling of future dad-dom.
Darth Vader (Star Wars) -- Father to Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia
He's pretty much the stereotypical bad dad, isn't he? Aside from skipping out on his kids' youth, he tortures his daughter in Star Wars, chops off the hand of his son in The Empire Strikes Back, and chooses work over family for a disturbingly long time in Return of the Jedi. Before you say it, I don't buy the argument that he didn't know he was a dad. Vader knew Luke was his son before he lopped off the kid's mitt. And call me crazy, but the time to stop your boss from trying to murder your only son with electric bolts is before he starts, not several minutes in when your kid is smoking like a grill full of baby back ribs. It's nice Luke forgives him and all, but Luke always was a bit of a sap.
Dad Score: F
Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Blade Runner) -- Adoptive father to Roy Batty, Pris, entire Replicant race
On one hand, he genetically engineered his children to be smart, strong and capable, which is a plus. On the other hand, he also engineered them to have four-year lifespans, which seems kind of mean. And more than mean, it seems like some sort of reverse-Oedipal thing. Really, there's a whole set of therapy sessions there. Also, the scene where Tyrell tries to convince Batty that it's OK he's got the lifespan of a chipmunk because at least he got to see the universe? Full of parental condescension, which almost justifies Batty driving his thumbs into dad's brain via the eyeballs. Almost.
Dad Score: D
Kyle Reese (The Terminator) -- Father to John Connor
I suppose you could knock him for not being around as John Connor grows up, but being killed defending the future mother of your child from an unstoppable killing machine cleverly disguised as an Austrian bodybuilder is an awfully good excuse. If anyone here is acting questionably, it's the son: Connor sends Reese back in time ostensibly to protect Sarah Connor, but in fact to impregnate her so Connor can be born -- and he knows that Reese isn't going to survive the trip, not that he tells Reese any of that. If I were Reese, I'd kind of want to know these details. So great dad, but the kid's got serious issues.
Dad Score: B+
Duke Leto Atreides (Dune) -- Father to Paul Atreides
Well, he's a busy man -- hey, he rules an entire planet -- so he doesn't spend a huge amount of time with his son. But he makes sure the boy is tutored by all the right people, so at least he's supportive in a distant and preoccupied way. You could easily argue that taking over Arrakis -- which everyone knew meant walking into a Harkonnen trap -- was bad parenting since someone tried to assassinate Paul the first day, and then during the coup they planned to slit the kid's throat. These are clear indications the planet is not a suitable environment. But then, being on Arrakis does allow Paul to become emperor of the whole damn universe, which wouldn't have happened had Duke Leto stayed on Caladan. So in the end he positions his kid to do well. And isn't that what dads are supposed to do?
Dad Score: B
Mr. Incredible (The Incredibles) -- Father to Violet, Dash and Jack Jack
A fine example of how a dad can become a better dad. When the movie starts, Mr. Incredible is loving but clearly inattentive to his family because of his own self-esteem issues -- it's not easy working as a claims adjuster when you used to fight crime. Later, however, he learns that his own self-centeredness has caused him to neglect his loving family. He's able to resolve his own problems and become a better dad -- though it helps that they've all become superheroes again, fighting bad guys in snazzy matching uniforms and such. It still counts as family time, and tallys towards Mr. Incredible's dad karma.
Dad Score: A
Any other scifi dads you care to score? Share in the comments. And be sure to check out the movie dads tournament (Vader is in the running!), as well as the fatherly advice movie quotes quiz going on here at AMCtv.com.
Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man's War and Zoe's Tale. He's also Creative Consultant for the upcoming Stargate: Universe television series. His column appears every Thursday.