askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
[personal profile] askygoneonfire

Ever since I can remember, sci-fi has been a staple in my imaginative life.  Whether it be Sunday mornings on the sofa with my eldest brother watching the original series of Star Trek, Tuesday afternoon's after school watching Bucky O'Hare, and later, The Girl from Tomorrow*; or one summer when I got a book called Interstellar Pig out of the library and read it twice in the space of a week, sci-fi has always been there.

While other kids worried about monsters under the bed or bullies in the school yard I quizzed my brothers and my Dad on the likelihood of alien invasion and what a post-nuclear holocaust world would be like (not good.  Actually, my Dad was a policeman and as a result had a place in a nuclear bunker.  He told us he would not take it because he would rather die with us than live in the dystopian nightmare of a post-nuclear world, but I digress...)

I recently bought the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie boxset and have begun a chronological re-watch, it struck me as I watched it just what appeals so much to be about the sci-fi genre.  Primarily, it's about possibility, the possibility of a better civilisation, and of a better way of being human. I think this is particularly appealing to children who, by default, have utopian motivations: what kid hasn't asked "why do we need money, can't we just exchange goods as we need them?" and many sci-fi plots tap directly into this, the most notable example probably being Star Trek. 

Secondly I think the key strength is being able to distance yourself from contemporary society in order to make a critique of it.  This is, in my opinion, most successfully achieved through dystopian futures where the sci-fi element has amplified and taken a contemporary problem to its logical and/or most extreme conclusion.  Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Day After Tomorrow all make direct and clear critique through the bleak realisation of the worst parts of our society in a not-so-distant future or through one catastrophic event.  Frequently this type of narrative is related to us through the perspective of one character who is either the only one to recognise their surroundings as a perversion of all that is good and right, or the only one to find out an inherent truth about the world - such as how it came about or how their government has lied to them in order to maintain order through fear.  The one-on-one interaction between reader/viewer and protagonist heightens the sense of horror or disgust at what the world has/could become. Resurfacing from this sort of fiction, for me at least, usually leaves me with a strong sense of isolation from the world as you feel that, through the lens of the fiction, you alone are seeing the world for what it is and the inherent horror of what is to come if things remain unchanged.  Personally, I find the immersive experience of this most compelling and offering the most absolute opportunity for a shift in one's world view.

We've also got sci-fi where Earth/humanity/the world as we know it is largely blameless and passive in its downfall.  We're talking War of the Worlds, Independence Day, and, at a stretch, 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL destroys the microcosm of humanity on the ship)  Whilst the film does not make an explicit critique of society in itself, there is usually a lot to be taken from the commentary it gives us of political and social concerns of the time.  Most often there is a conclusion which reasserts the superiority of humanity over the cruel, violent 'other'.  It would be unfair to argue that such sci-fi primarily sures up the patriarchal, well established order of contemporary society because such a conclusion doesn't allow for the nuances in such works, what it commonly does is give cause for positive reflection on the contemporary audience's surroundings and mediates larger concerns about threats of international war, disputes and political uncertainty.

Finally there is transformative sci-fi where an individual, group or the whole of humanity is completely altered after an encounter of some sort, think E.T., Back to the Future, Batteries Not Included, Flight of the Navigator.  This takes the notion of possibility I mentioned at the beginning to it's logical conclusion and provides an often temporary or imperfect utopia behind for those connected to the events.  Much like the sub-genre of humanity being passive in it's demise I mention above I think such works reveal more about the socio-political environment in which they were made than reflecting in any broader sense on humanity.  The films I mention above were made in the '80's and I believe speak both of the over-riding confidence in the organisation and potential of society and also the concern which accompanies rapid social and technological change.  More advanced technologies and races contact humanity and whilst there is fear and misapprehension the end result is positive, even if there are difficulties on the road to resolution.

Overall, what sci-fi offers is the opportunity for a damned good adventure, outside of the day-to-day cares of the audience's contemporary world whilst remaining rooted enough in reality and truth that it can provide either a positive reflection on that which an audience wishes to escape or a solution for the ills of mankind.  For me, it provides a sophisticated commentary on what is, what is not and what could be.  It does not flinch from portraying the very worst aspects of humanity - the very thing which so concerned me in my childhood fantasies of how the world would end.  If the only way to be prepared for the unknown is to imagine every possibility then sci-fi provides the perfect forum for that to happen in.  Imagination is unbidden by technology, politics and social reality.  Even the essential human condition can be altered through the genre.  In short, sci-fi matters because it can speak about everything and make commentary - both positive and negative - without having to engage in the minutiae of how we get from here to there and in so doing it can subtly or overtly provide a new way of viewing that which surrounds us.

So yes, I am a sci-fi geek, but it's ok, because it's intellectual.


* As the only kid in my class who watched/enjoyed The Girl from Tomorrow I would play alone at break time the next day, with my hair band pulled down across my forehead, a la the Transducer.  It will come as no surprise to you that I wasn't terribly popular at school.

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askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
a sky gone on fire

May 2017

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