Author’s note: I neglected to post about Christmas or New Years, but I can make up for it. This holiday seems worthy of the task. Scifi is, without a doubt, a thing worth celebrating, and I hope that my small contribution here will shed light on its importance.
Science fiction is a real force in pop culture. Some of the most popular books, movies, and TV shows today take place in a futuristic landscape. The technology is usually ambitious, and the fashions are outrageous, but there is more to the genre than force fields and Effie Trinket. In each of these stories, the writer’s dreams for and beliefs about humanity shine through, and that’s what makes the scifi realm so riveting.
Take, for example, one of the greatest literary explosions of the century so far: The Hunger Games. It’s true that the romance scene and the idea of teenagers brutalizing one another are enticing, and perhaps part of the success of the dynasty, but there are messages in between the lines. Collins is talking about more than mockingjay pins and love triangles. She is trying to have a conversation about the first-world mindset, and is doing a pretty good job of it, too. The citizens of the Capitol pay little attention to anything outside their utopian bubble. They prefer thinking about their hairstyles, manicures, and what’s for dinner, while the people in the districts starve and die providing for them. It illustrates an ugly picture of what may come, or what has already started to come.
The same goes for what is perhaps the most iconic science fiction series, Star Trek, which offers a more sugary future. On its five-year mission, the crew of the Enterprise explores a landscape where people coexist. Gene Roddenberry has both men and women, of all races and creeds, working on board as equals. He promotes the end of intolerance with this simple concept. Famously, Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura share the first interracial kiss ever broadcasted, and TV shows of every genre have followed in suit. The show presents a rosier future, which may seem unlikely, but is certainly not impossible. It proffers the idea that everyone could get along if only they opened their arms in acceptance.
However, given that we do not live in a perfect world, such happy interpretations of our fate are less common than the darker possibilities. Dystopia is now prevalent in YA literature and devoured by people of all ages, in books such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. One of the greatest and most popular dystopian stories, Farenheit 451, was published way back in 1953. The public’s obsession with a vicious, frightening world may have roots in the issues on our planet today–including strong class divides, unmovable political leaders, and climate change–all of which bring the probability of a dystopia skyward. Gems such as Snowden’s revelation on the NSA make the burning of books and, as in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Harrison Bergeron, censorship of the individual person. The dystopian thought forces people to question not only the society they live in, but also their participation in it. Many literary works written in the twentieth century, and even more recently, call into question what people are allowing to happen to mankind. It is hard to determine whether pessimism, brutal honesty, or a combination of the two pulls dystopia into the forefront, but it is perhaps the most potent strain of science fiction.
Science fiction writers have been blowing whistles since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and will continue to do so as long as there are whistles to blow. The genre has so much more to offer than entertainment and complex plots: it brings to light questions and answers that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, thereby affecting the thought processes of all it touches. The scifi realm may seem to be a galaxy far, far away, but it often hits us closer to home than we would like to admit.
Science fiction should not be underestimated, and it refuses to be overrated.
So long and thanks for all the fish,