Science Fiction – what does it mean to you? To me it’s fiction that’s based on science. Easy. And it’s been around since the early 19th century (that’s the 1800’s) and before. Now let’s think about that. Since before, say, 1900, people have been writing about going to the moon, time travel, creating new life, robots, digging to the centre of the earth etc. In many ways, nothing’s changed: we’re still writing about the same things! If you don’t believe me, look at Humans, recently shown on Channel 4. I thought it was really good, both from the acting point of view and the thought-provoking ‘what if?’.
Having said that, it’s raising the same questions of robotics and humanity, and ‘how far should we go’ that have appeared before. It’s good that we ask these things. It’s important. But from a sci-fi writing point of view, is it new? When these ideas were first broadcast, there were no computers, little – if any – knowledge of DNA and genetics. We’re back when electricity was being harnessed here! Yet now, when science fiction has become science reality and we have all this technology. . .
We’re not making those great leaps and coming up with new inventions. We’re either looking back, so some catastrophic event has taken place, nearly destroyed the world and how does humanity survive? By reverting to a much more basic level of technology or by dividing people into the powerful/wealthy/technological and the powerless/poor/simplistic, who then of course rebel. The other thing done is to look at how the next teeny tiny step might affect life. e.g. ‘Humans’, and how the development of robotics might affect people.
And there it is: it’s the people aspect that’s being focused on.
Science fiction used to amaze and dumbfound with the idea that one day it might be possible for humans to. . . live on the moon, artificially create life, to travel through time. It used to inspire invention. Maybe nowadays we all know too much and take that sort of thing for granted. Robots that look like people; yeah, obviously. Creating space stations and ships and travelling to other worlds; we already have manned space stations and the rest is inevitable. Time travel; well everyone knows how they do it on tv is wrong, because they make up rules and then break them. Might it be possible one day? Probably not, but we all know it wouldn’t be like on tv.
Science Fiction isn’t new or unbelievable any more. Maybe that’s a reflection of society: back when sci-fi was first written it was a time of crazy invention, experimentation, and wonder, whereas now we’re much more realistic and cautious- methodical in how we approach things, and at the same time really blasé. (Hey, parallels with my previous post ‘The Art of Conversation’ anyone? Something reflecting changing society. . .)
It has been said that nothing written can be truly new, because it’s all been done before and it’s always the same basic story. Even something like Avatar – a brilliant film and making some pretty big jumps on the technological front, had something of the Pocahontas storyline. (I didn’t notice it, but one of my brothers pointed it out.) Science Fiction gives us a chance to take those old story-lines and remake them. Or toss them out the window and be completely original! I don’t know that I could do it – come up with something so outlandish or fantastical as someone like H. G. Wells did. But maybe ability isn’t the point. Maybe the important thing is that we try.