04 October 2013
Nerd Rant: The 'Fiction' In Science Fiction
When Star Wars came out in the 1970s, it sparked a whole new era of sci-fi. The series showed a different side: futuristic cities that looked truly lived in, banged up and gritty droids, actual signs of realism, and more action. The audience could tell this galaxy far, far away was alive because there was evidence of it on the screen.
Dune, the sci-fi novel and series by Frank Herbert, is another great example. Science fiction had always been so focused on the technology and the fantastical elements that could be created from the tech, while Dune was more like a political drama in space. It focused on the characters who interacted with all of this technology rather than putting the most important aspects of story-telling in the backseat, neglected and rarely used.
Yes, science and science fiction go hand-in-hand. But, it is still a story-telling element that comes from the fiction category, even if the story and the technology in it can be very believable sometimes. Does that make certain sci-fi less important? Of course not.
In recent years, the technology that was once just considered sci-fi has turned into reality. Mobile computers that can fit into our hands and pockets, medical science can use robots in surgery, and we have finally successfully left our solar system for the first time (well, a spacecraft has)! We're living in wonderful times but this has also left some people questioning: "Will sci-fi become obsolete?"
I think it's interesting to see how different people interpret the "fiction" in science fiction. There are those who want to keep everything "scientifically sound" in a fictious world, such as the science behind space travel or how androids would really interact with humans. Then, there are others who just strap on for the ride and enjoy the story for what it is and consider science fiction simply the coping of change, of new possibilities, and humans dealing with certain challenges--sounds a bit familiar, actually. So, when it comes to science fiction, does it really need to follow all the rules of science? Most movies depicting space are quite farfetched, it's hard to believe we'd give androids so much free reign when they're armed to the teeth in the real world, and I don't think extraterrestial life would look like or talk like Garrus from Mass Effect.
While it is a given that some sci-fi needs to be sound in the basics, it is also up to the discretion of the person telling the narrative. Going back to Star Wars, there are many fantasy elements to the story whereas more recent sci-fi films, like Gravity, are rooted in some sort of science and lightly embellished realism. This same level of realism versus fiction can also be found in fantasy. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is in the real world with fantasy elements and then we have entirely new lands to explore like Middle-earth. Is one "more fantasy" than the other? This is where the rabid fan comes into play.
You've probably seen it before: die-hard fans scoffing at the source material because it simply isn't "scientific" enough. But, how can we say what's better sci-fi because of how rooted it is in science? Sure, science fiction that is able to back up its fictitious technology and world is doubly awesome, but this seems more like a step back to the science fiction of old where character development and plot took a backseat. Science fiction is still an element of fiction--not real, but there still needs to be a connection between the person consuming the content with the characters and plot in the story.
I think a good example of this is Doctor Who. The show has tons of fans, the characters are interesting, the plot twisty, but are you really going to argue that the TARDIS could work? How about actual time and dimensional travel? Of course not, but it certainly doesn't take away from the show. Why should other sci-fi be any different or be held to a certain standard of realism (looking at you, certain Trekkies!).
There was another sci-fi film that came out earlier this year called Europa Report, where a small crew go to Europa in order to find life beneath the moon's icy surface. The director worked closely with NASA scientists to get the science believable in the movie but the director also worked hard for us to become invested in the characters, in their mission, and there are still elements of the film that probably will never exist and that's okay.
Regardless, I've seen discussion board threads moaning about how the interior of the crew's spaceship in Europa Report isn't sleek, smooth, and reminiscent of recent trends in fictitious spacecraft consoles in that they're predominately digital, like the ones found in Oblivion, for example. But should it really matter if the crew is clicking away on a tangible keyboard rather than a digital one if your disbelief has been suspended before?