My View

Science fiction must return to roots

As a technical institute, science fiction is a major part of our culture and spirit. It’s almost impossible to roam the hallowed (also read archaic) halls without catching some mention of the latest episode of Dr. Who or perhaps a discussion distinguishing the intricacies of religion in Star Wars and Stargate. Perhaps Battlestar Galactica is more to your tastes. Anyways, what is truly amusing is that all of these are classified under science fiction when really they should be placed under science fiction. In truth, very few of these have much to do with science. The scientific icon, Star Trek–with its stoic and logical science officers–even had to invent faster-than-light controls to explain away the buttons on the consoles activating before they were pressed.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the previously mentioned shows or that I would never recommend them because, hey, West Wing with laser beams. What I am saying is that there’s a huge misunderstanding that science fiction is only science fiction. The genre has sort of lost its wonder and amazement in where science is going in favor of space-samurai and funny-looking aliens. It’s kind of like introducing a friend to espresso and teaching him or her to order one of those magical Starbucks concoctions, and then finding them a week later chugging Monsters because “it keeps me awake longer.” This has definitely never happened to me and I am absolutely not bitter about it; we’re still friends.

The first few science fiction/fantasy stories are actually often attributed to the mid sixteen to seventeen hundreds. That’s right. Science fiction started even before anyone figured out how to make an industrial engine, let alone strap one to a wood-and-paper glider without killing all parties involved. Now the theme that unified science fiction writers for the next hundred and fifty years was essentially: what would happen to humans if we had X technology that we have now, but better? The focus has always been on how people would either help or hurt human life through the technology it develops. This means that the next time you’re watching a Y alien species invades Earth movie and wonder “Why Earth?,” now you know.

If you have made it this far into the article, you either strongly disagree with me and are just looking for more evidence of how I’m a moron or you find that it has a vague sense of reason that would be interesting to discuss. Either way, I’m currently comparing movies and television shows to books, and those mediums don’t always translate. If you still don’t believe me, look at the latest release of Total Recall. To call it the best example ever is definitely not the best idea in the world, but what it does is demonstrate the important distinction between science fiction and science fiction. For those who haven’t seen the movie, it is about a guy who enters into a virtual reality with the wish for a more interesting life. Unfortunately, the more interesting life that he is given consists of being told that his life up till now has been a virtual reality simulation, that he is actually part of a rebel group, and he is forced to determine whether he is dreaming while being chased by government agents and so on. The original does a good job of keeping reality ridiculous enough that it is impossible to tell whether he’s dreaming or awake. However, the new release is so concerned with guns and fighting that it is never a question whether virtual reality can become real enough that it is indistinguishable from reality.

If you want to take a look into some modern science fiction for comparison, I’d recommend the Tomorrow Project anthology. It’s free in PDF from IBM and it’s really short, so even those with short attention spans or busy schedules can squeeze in a story, between commercial breaks of the Doctor. You don’t have to have any expertise in the field, and the stories are mind blowing. Anyways, that’s my two cents.

Benno Lee

Graduate Student ’11