Science Fiction as a tool for human survival

Jan 24th, 2010 | By | Category: Inspiring, Science, Technology

“Sleep Dealer is remarkably topical for a film set in the future (albeit one described by Rivera as taking place “five minutes from now”). Central themes include outsourcing, corporate ownership of water, remote warfare, confessional internet diaries and military contractors who are accountable to no one. It’s the rare political film without any reference to contemporary politics; like Blade Runner and other big-brained sci-fi flicks, it’s about ideas, not selling merchandise.”

“Films like Star Wars use terms like empire and rebellion, but they are bandied about in bland ways — powerful words used to describe nothing,” Rivera said. “One of the original propositions of my film is that we (create that sense) of a world divided between wealth and power.”

“I love gnomes and goblins and elves,” said Rivera, who’s made a name for himself touring museums and festivals with his award-winning shorts. “But what I’m really interested in is speculative fiction. I wanted to use this film to ask the question, ‘Where are we going?'”

Wired Article

Sci-fi has for a very long time served the purpose of framing current sensitive social and political issues and putting them into a clear perspective without making people feel preached to.  It was a way to get people to think about issues that they normally wouldn’t or didn’t want to think about for various psychological reasons.  I feel that this has always been the greatest strength of the genre and during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, with the exception of Star Wars and a few other more trivial pieces, the genre as a whole set out to bring a multitude of social issues into the spotlight.  It was like film directors and authors realized this magic lamp where they could very surreptitiously put these unquestioned injustices into peoples minds and make them question them for the first time.  I wouldn’t call this a ‘golden age’ of sci-fi but it certainly was a purer age.  There was less science fiction being produced(as there were less movies in general being produced) but on a per capita basis they were overwhelmingly more thought provoking and taking full advantage of the above-mentioned strength of the medium.

Today however that is changed, and not that it is necessarily a bad thing as the more Sci-fi blockbusters we have the more

The porno of the sci-fi world

interest and acceptance the genre has as a whole and the easier it will be for true science fiction to get funded, but today is certainly a different age where Sci-fi is big business.  We have more and more pieces of strictly eye candy, where the strength of the medium to affect change in our thinking and society in general is thrown out for the ability to create big explosions and satisfy the increasingly shrinking attention span and ever expanding mental laziness of the developed world.  People don’t want to think, they want to be distracted from thinking by exploding starships and revenge seeking Romulans(referring of course to the latest Star Trek Film – thanks Abrahms).

However this isn’t a doom and gloom article, this is an article of hope for as I mentioned the more play these pieces of porno-graphic eye-candy get the more interest there will be in the genre overall and we are starting to see more and more thought provoking sci-fi than ever before.  While it may seem like the 60’s,70’s and 80’s were pumping out great sci-fi at a faster rate, it certainly wasn’t so.. There were so many classics made in this era no doubt but they were certainly spaced out over a long period separated by years at times.

Turn on your brain

Whereas we are seeing 2-3 fairly profound films coming out almost yearly now and even some of the frivolous eye candy such as Avatar will have an obvious and simplistic thought provoking message behind it.

Here’s a great resource that lays out a timeline of the SF era of the past:

Because of this evolution of the genre I feel that we are going to see a clear divide coming down between Sci-fi action flicks such as the last Star Trek, or Avatar and then the sci-fi that attempts to shine light on these dark recesses of our mind that we so conveniently block out such as District 9 or Soylent Green.

Alex Rivera, in the linked article at the top of this post mentioned ‘Speculative Fiction‘ which is a great term to show the other greatest strength of this medium.  As apposed to regular fiction or fantasy Sci-fi and speculative fiction forces us to look forward instead of being stuck in the mud of the past or present, but more importantly it forces us to look forward to where we are going and ask ourselves ‘Is that really where we want to go?’ .  I think that is where we are going to see a divide forming even stronger than before between Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction.  The latter intending to provoke debate and thought about our evolving society and the former meant to simply turn off your brain and take you on a mini-vacation from your everyday.  Both certainly having merits but I feel it is going to be incredibly dangerous to undervalue the importance of the former over the latter.

What cliff?

We live in a world that is incredibly frightening for a growing portion of the population because of the exponential rate of change and development we are experiencing.  So much so that some scientists playfully predict the emergence of a species of humans, homo evolutis, engineered by us. Our world is changing so fast now that we often don’t have time to contemplate the full ramification that come with the increasingly rapid adoption of new technologies and social changes.  Most often this is simply because these changes are being introduced almost one after another after another without any time to breath.  Speculative fiction however, if widely adopted makes it almost instinctive that we think about these situations and possible outcomes before they even arise.  It puts our brains into a future simulator of sorts where we are running through countless of possible outcomes for our society every week, culminating to subconscious database of sorts of ‘what if’ scenarios that we carry around with us.  Without this database in our heads we blindly charge forward through the jungle of our progress without any regard of potential cliffs that lay ahead until it is too late.  With a mind that is constantly being challenged with deep thought-provoking what if scenarios we will hopefully be able to recognize some of the signs of these impending cliffs before we are spinning our tires in mid air about to drop 1000 meters to our doom.

Clearly I am not saying that Speculative Fiction is going to single-handedly save this world however with the current rate of adoption of technology, a rate which is increasing exponentially, we can no longer afford to live in the past or even the present for that matter.  The logical part of our brains must exist 100% in the future at all times, not just one future but many possible futures.  A failure to do this could very likely destroy our future all together.

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14 Comments to “Science Fiction as a tool for human survival”

  1. […] writes “This article makes an interesting point about the necessity of science fiction — or, more specifically, speculative fiction as a tool to aid in the long-term survival of […]

  2. […] article argues for the necessity of science fiction. bejai, i feel you may have a particular affinity for this […]

  3. Tomas says:

    Couldn’t find a way to contact you privately, so I’ll do it in a comment. 🙁

    You have a typo…

    “I think that is where we are going to see a divide forming even stronger than before between Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction. The latter intending to provoke debate and thought about our evolving society and the latter meant to simply turn off your brain and take you on a mini-vacation from your everyday.”

    One of those “latter” should be a “former”…

    (Good article!)


  4. admin says:

    A great! Thanks for the heads up, much appreciated.. All fixed now

  5. You’re spot on about SF being a ‘future simulator’ playing forward from the state we find ourselves in. It has always been the case that SF has concerned itself with today’s issues and has often removed the baggage of current emotional attachment to issues by moving them into alternative places, times, and realities, so we can look at them more dispassionately.

    I feel as much as you do, I believe, that the need for this is greater now than it has ever been. The pace of change quickens all the time. Our technology and (especially) our science has gone so far ahead of most people’s comprehension that it might as well be magic. Yet I have the feeling that SF is foundering. The SF writers of recent years have been unable to paint a picture of the future that many people are able or willing to understand. Instead, I see a retreat from probable but incredible futures into fictional worlds of magic and fantasy, a shying away from a future – a present even – that makes no sense, in favour of imaginary worlds that hark back to simpler times and simpler magic.

    More than ever, we need writers who can make the future make sense to readers, and not only that, but who can make the future seem worth having.

  6. Gordon says:

    Well, that is one viewpoint. I’ve always liked SciFi speculative fiction, and I think it’s helped to broaden my mind.

    Life has always been one of change. Life changes day to day, minute to minute. It has always been changing around us. But that’s not comfortable to people. People want a comfort zone, where they can predict just how everything will happen and just what they will do in any circumstance. As a matter of fact, although your article is an excellent read, it promotes this same thought pattern.

    I think some people that have always disliked speculative fiction are that way precisely because they do not want to see any change. It will be very hard to sell them on the idea of opening their mind, because they do not want to open their mind, unfortunately.

    Are we able to get to the point where we can fully accept that the next stage of human evolution is digital/mechanical? As open-minded as I am, I don’t know if I’m ready for that! And I’m very open-minded! What about the absolutely huge numbers of people who can’t even accept such a thing as ‘evolution’?

    We have a long, long road ahead of us! And maybe we should ask ourselves if there is even a point in trying to predict anything about the future, other than fascination and just plain fun.

  7. admin says:

    it’s not about predicting the future so that we know exactly what is going to happen, it’s more about drawing up a road map of potential pitfalls so that we may have some choice in where our path goes. We’ll never avoid them, but at least we might see some of them coming. Look at how a large corporation plans out it’s business strategy by taking into account every conceivable risk and then adjusting strategy based on that.. Should we be doing something similar for our species?

  8. […] Science Fiction as a tool for human survival | Netflow Developments Ja, heute ist SF im Kino halt öfters Effektepopcorn. Avatar soll ja auch etwas Nachdenkenswertes haben. Ansonsten gibts aber immer noch Filme, die zum Nachdenken anregen. Leider sind das dann halt keine Blockbuster… (tags: sf) […]

  9. Alley says:

    I’ve been reading SF since the early 60’s, and like anything thing else, SF is growing up. Consider looking at the term “specualtive fiction” as a replacement for “science fiction”, “fantasy”, “horror”, and all those sub-genres like slipstream, etc. Spec Fic is an umbrella term and is not separate from SF, F, H, etc. If you’ve read commentary from the Masters like Delany, Aldris, Ellison, etc., they too use spec fic in those terms. Therefore, science fiction (sf, not “sci fi”) is a sub-genre of speculative fiction. Good thoughts.

  10. Bill says:

    I’ve often said Future Shock (remember Alvin Toffler?) happens to those who don’t read SF.

    Code word alert: Science Fiction, SF and Speculative Fiction are equivalent.
    Sci-Fi should not be used if you are talking about serious themes.
    Sci-Fi is used to describe the action oriented, cheesy, technically inaccurate mass entertainment.

    There are great big themed Science Fiction books out there.
    Those themes are not exclusive to Speculative Fiction.

  11. […] Netflow Developments discusses Science Fiction as a tool for human survival. […]

  12. […] the writer’s side of the picture, someone has written a pretty interesting analysis of using sci fi as a tool for human survival. Are you writing speculative sci fi? Maybe you should […]

  13. Joe Haldeman says:

    As a science fiction writer who also teaches SF (at MIT, since 1983), let me add my voice to Bill’s number 7. “Sci-fi” is a denigrating neologism, even when it’s not intended to be.

    Joe Haldeman

  14. I think Hollywood’s current fascination with science fiction is here to stay. Here’s why… video games have made science fiction more profitable than ever before — and the maturation and widespread acceptance of emerging technologies have made it OK to be interested in science fiction where it was viewed as outsider literature before.

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