Monday, 29 August 2016


“Change is the principal feature of our age and literature should explore how people deal with it. The best science fiction does that, head-on.” - David Brin

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction dealing with imaginative concepts such as futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas.” It usually avoids dealing with the supernatural, and unlike the related genre of fantasy, science fiction stories historically were intended to have at least a faint grounding in science-based fact or theory at the time the story was created, but this connection has become tenuous or non-existent in much of science fiction nowadays.

Science fiction is not new. “True Stories” (Ancient Greek: Ἀληθῆ διηγήματα, Alēthē diēgēmata; Latin: Vera Historia) is a parody of travel tales, by the Greek-speaking Assyrian author Lucian of Samosata, the earliest known fiction about travelling to outer space, alien life-forms and interplanetary warfare. Written in the 2nd century, the novel has been referred to as the first known text that could be called science fiction. The work was intended by Lucian as a satire against contemporary and ancient sources, which quote fantastic and mythical events as truth.

Since that time, authors have been writing science fiction, with examples in the “Arabian Nights”, Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, Shelley’s “Frankestein” and many others. The genre fired the public imagination with the novels of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne who created a body of work that became popular across broad cross-sections of society. Since then, it has become broader and even more popular, with several sub-genres now included under the umbrella of “science fiction”.

It is not surprising that this genre of fiction was very quickly translated to the silver screen almost as soon as movies were invented. It seems the medium lent itself to the genre, even in the early days of pioneer film-making. Georges Melies’ 1902 “A Trip to the Moon” employed trick photography effects and looked at a typical space travel scenario. The next major example in the genre was Fritz Lang’s 1927 “Metropolis”, being the first feature length science fiction movie. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the genre consisted mainly of low-budget B movies. After Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 landmark “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the science fiction film genre was taken more seriously. In the late 1970s, big-budget science fiction films filled with special effects became popular with audiences after the success of George Lucas’s 1977 “Star Wars” and paved the way for the blockbuster hits of subsequent decades.

Similar to the literary genre, science fiction film (aka Sci-Fi movie) is a film genre that uses speculative, fictional science-based depictions of phenomena that are not fully accepted by mainstream science, such as extraterrestrial life-forms, alien worlds, extrasensory perception and time travel, along with futuristic elements such as spacecraft, robots, cyborgs, interstellar travel or other technologies. Science fiction films have often been used to focus on political or social issues, and to explore philosophical issues like the human condition. In many cases, tropes derived from written science fiction may be used by film-makers ignorant of or at best indifferent to the standards of scientific plausibility and plot logic to which written science fiction is traditionally held.

I like a good science fiction movie, especially one where the viewer is immersed in a plot where the genre is free to examine philosophical or social issues that have a relevance to our society today. Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1971 movie “A Clockwork Orange” is a good example of this type. It is dystopian crime film adapted, produced, and directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel. It employs disturbing, violent images to comment on psychiatry, juvenile delinquency, youth gangs, and other social, political, and economic subjects in a dystopian near-future Britain.

But having said that, I am also partial to well-made escapist science fiction that is simply a rollicking good tale. A typical example of this is the 2012 Andrew Stanton film “John Carter” based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “A Princess of Mars” (the first in a series of 11 novels by this author).

We humans thrive on tall tales. Since ancient times people have crowded together and have amused one another by relating stories that are speculative, imaginative, invented. Whether they are myths and fables, fairy tales or horror stories, tales of distant imagined places on earth or other planets, these tales amuse and satisfy our sense of wonder and answer that magical question, “what if…?” Science fiction novels and films will keep on being written and we shall keep on reading and watching them. But please, authors and film-makers, make them good ones!

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