for & against

For & Against: Sci-Fi

7 June 2017

FOR BY JEFFREY PULLIN

Science fiction opens a portal through which we can glimpse the previously unimaginable. It shows us both fantastical worlds, and futures that we can strive towards. Without science fiction humanity would be cut off from the boundless possibilities of both the future, and the here and now.

Science fiction has the possibility to show us visions of worlds and ideas that we alone would never have dreamt of. These visions open our minds, expanding our horizons and giving us an altered and often keener perception of the here and now. When we take a Journey into the Centre of the Earth, for example, we are both amazed by the mastodons and giant mushrooms and forced to wonder about what is really beneath our feet and whether there still remain marvels to be discovered on our well charted planet. Looking outwards, some ideas, such as the meeting of humanity and an alien race, can only be examined through fictional exploration. Rendezvous with Rama, for example, which follows a team of scientists boarding an alien spaceship, captures the potential for an alien race’s incomprehensibility and monolithic indifference in ways that are mind blowing. Without science fiction our minds would be closed to such powerful and significant ideas.

More than just the fantastic and the immense however, science fiction also shows us the future near at hand, both the possibilities we should strive towards and the pitfalls we must be weary of. As we increasingly move into a software ruled world, for example, we need to be aware of the challenges that this may pose. Fortunately, science fiction writers have been exploring and confronting these challenges for a generation. The climactic scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey show us the potential horror of being powerless inside the very machines that we have made. More practically, the work of Isaac Asimov confronts questions of artificial intelligence head on, raising valuable lines of inquiry and issues of concern as we transform the ideas that Asimov knew as science fiction into reality. Science fiction is often the best guide we have as we step boldly into the future.

Science fiction allows humanity to see the world around and the world that could be. Without it we would be closed off to titanic ideas and the heights that we can reach.

 

AGAINST BY KERGEN ANGEL

Dear Science Fiction,

You’ve had a good, long run my friend. Your humble beginnings rocked our world as we realised the impossible (spaceships, robotics, supersonic travel) was not only possible, but at our fingertips. You conjured such emotions that some now truly believe in the existence of aliens or governments that are attempting to drill their manipulative metaphysical fingers into tinfoil-covered heads. You once gave us hope in a world greater than our own and the motivation to conjure that greatness into reality.

As such, it makes me sad (and mildly disgusted) to see what you’ve now become. A sucked-dry genre that enables generations of people to vanish into quasi-realistic sci-fi worlds – a Matrix of their own creation – rather than exist in our current one. You have let more fetishes flourish than Tom Cruise ever could have foreseen in Minority Report (if you’ve ever wanted to see an Andorian and a Ferengi go at it, feel free to google it). Sci-fi unleashed a cultural plague upon our society, the fallout of which is not easily eradicated from our ethos.

What I see now in ‘sci-fi’ (if you can even call it that anymore) are washed up authors trying to perpetuate a formula to see how long they can keep things alive. The pinnacles of your genre – Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Jurassic Park (or World, or whatever) – have lived through their glory days. The distinct realities they brought to our society were spectacular, but their refusal to die has brought shame to the genre and a mess bigger than Skynet could ever have achieved. The same formula is being used in all these works – character arcs, narrative twists and world building – and the mainstream focus now seems to be, ‘if it makes money we will make it’, with precious little of the spunk that sci-fi used to be known for.

If anything, the future of sci-fi lies in its fiction element. Sci-fi mutants like Rick and Morty, Westworld, The Hunger Games or the Marvel Cinematic Universe are dominating the space that greats like Back to the Future, The Twilight Zone or The X-Files used to own. The border that delineates then from now lies in their believability – hark the catchphrase, “I want to believe!” – and I just don’t see that anymore. I only see a genre that tries to stamp its foot into the boot-mark left before it in the hope that it will make something new.

From a former lover,

Kergen.


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