Dear girlfriends, jocks, and people who think “science fiction” is for nerds…
I really LOVE science fiction. There is a fundamental philosophy and way of thinking, which has made countless science fiction franchises and stories so successful. The best science fiction is one that questions our way of thinking, or a way of living.
Here are a few ideas that I feel are important when considering writing science fiction.
What determines Intelligent Life?
This question may be a tad clichéd, but it’s one that has driven the plots of countless episodes and films in the Star Trek universe. Is an artificially intelligent machine, void of flesh and blood, capable of human emotion? Star Trek has been a vast canvas for an array of creatures, computer programs and monsters, all fighting for the right to live.
Artificial Intelligence is a theme that plays a big part in science fiction for many authors. People like Issac Asimov, and his novel I, Robot. Films such as The Matrix, Eagle Eye, and Spielberg’s appropriately named, A.I.
The difference between fantasy and science fiction, lies in the question What determines Intelligent Life? In fantasy, a mountain can walk and talk, like the infamous Rock-Biter in The Neverending Story. In science fiction however, a mountain stands in the way for the development of a new highway. When the mountain suddenly opens his eyes and says “I am”, workers are left scratching their heads as they unravel a bundle of dynamite at it’s base. See the difference? Not only does sci-fi express what it is to ‘be alive’, it fundamentally argues the very thought. Just because you’re an intelligent machine, doesn’t mean your alive right? … Tell that to the citizens of Zion.
There are Greater Forces at work… and I’m not talking about God.
If you look at the popularity of the 1970s video game Space Invaders, you’ll know that this theme is fundamental to science fiction. The idea that we are not alone in the universe is terrifying. One of the greatest science fiction novels I’ve ever read is Michael Crichton’s Sphere. If you’ve seen the movie, or read this book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
This idea always manages to catch people off guard, for the implications shake the very foundations of how we act. U.F.O. sightings, alien abductions, alien invasion, and the idea that we are NOT alone, question every one of our political, race, gender, religious, and scientific worldviews. Suddenly, our battleships and nuclear warheads seem like mere tinker toys. When H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds aired on broadcast radio in 1938, people who missed the ‘this is a fictionalized radio drama’ disclaimer went hysterical.
There have been many films on the subject: Independence Day, Sphere, War of the Worlds, Invaders from Mars, Mars Attacks, Signs, The Forgotten, The Fourth Kind, Aliens, Predator, Skyline, Battle: LA (aka Skyline), The Abyss, and The Day the Earth Stood Still … just to name a few.
But not all movies in this genre are necessarily frightening. E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Mission to Mars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Cocoon all offer us a glimpse into benevolence, exploration, and the power of love.
However the one true philosophy all these films touch on, aside from ‘we are not alone’ is that we are not the most powerful beings in the universe. The Abyss, and The Day the Earth Stood Still, are similar, for both films have opinionated aliens that have been ‘watching us’ for some time. The clincher is that in the wondrous display of their power, they warn us that if we cannot find a way to better ourselves… we are doomed. There is however a glimmer of hope in this type of film; the redeeming power of love and the human heart.
Finally, one of my favourite films that embodies the essence of what I’m talking about is Contact. In all our power, science and knowledge, there is a being out there who has watched us for some time, and is far superior in everyway. We may very well be alone in the universe, but as the characters in Contact tell us, “it would be an awful waste of space”.