I was sorting through some old papers the other day and came across an essay I had written as part of my degree. As the title of this post may suggest, its subject matter was Science Fiction. We did one module at Uni dedicated to studying Science Fiction. To this day, I am convinced it was on the syllabus purely so the Lecturer had an excuse to watch the first-ever episode of Doctor Who on a yearly basis. I for one had no problem with this whatsoever.
For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with Science Fiction. This applies not only to my reading and viewing choices but also to my writing. As I prepared to start this blog, and to ready myself for submitting work for publication, I spent some time making a list of what I am working on, looking in particular at the genres they fall into. Well over 90% of what I am working on has some element or other of Science Fiction in there.
With the odd exception of a short story here and there, I don’t think I am capable of writing anything that could be considered as ‘realism’. If I ever do start off with something ‘normal’, I usually find myself getting bored by about paragraph four and inevitably write in an alien invasion or something like that to spice things up. My hat goes off to anyone who can write the real world and keep it interesting. I am not in your league, my friends.
No, for me, Science Fiction is the genre that first and foremost fires my imagination and drives me to write. And I can pretty much pinpoint where this all began as well…
I was about eight years old and my mum (a fellow Sci-Fi/Fantasy geek) had brought home with her the video edition of the original Stargate film.
“I think you might enjoy this,” she said as she handed it over. I had a quick glance at the box cover and was… well… unimpressed. I think I must have been going through some sort of Disney Princess phase, as I remember thinking Stargate looked like a boys’ film.
With very little enthusiasm, I sat down to watch it with her and within minutes, I was hooked. By the time Dr Jackson had decoded the hieroglyphs and the Gate opened for the first time, my jaw was on the floor. Never have I ever wanted a time machine more than to go back to when Stargate was showing at the cinema. I would have loved to see that very first Kawoosh on the big screen. Not to mention the first wormhole ride.
I was 11 when the Stargate franchise moved to the small screen with Stargate SG-1 and later Atlantis and Universe. The infinite possibilities that the Gate opened up week by week kept me glued to the TV screen for the 17 collective seasons and three TV movies that followed. If ever there was a show that shaped me as a teenager, it was this. As much as my Uni Lecturer may have created the Science Fiction module to watch Doctor Who, I think I took it to be able to reference Stargate in academic essays.
So that was the start of it, but by no means the end. Over the last 19 years since SG-1 first aired, I have continued to explore the endless worlds that have been created by Science Fiction books, films and TV shows. It never ceases to amaze me just how varied and changing this genre can be. You see, the term ‘Science Fiction’ is such an all-encompassing, umbrella title that there is very little that doesn’t fall beneath it. Over the years, I have noted eight main categories of story types:
- Alien Invasion Narratives
- Space Narratives
- Genetic Mutation/Manipulation
- Techno Fear
- Dystopian Future
- Time Travel
- Revisionist History
You can probably think of dozens more to include in that list, and certainly each of those listed above has endless potential for crossover and further sub-categorisation. Let’s also not forget that within any Sci-Fi story there is usually some element of other genres as well: comedy, romance, horror, mystery, action (sometimes all of the above in the one story). Which brings me back to the sweeping statement that opened this post.
Science Fiction is the greatest genre in existence.
Just like a journey through the Stargate, the possibilities are infinite for what you might find. And it’s not just the actual storytelling that is so varied when it comes to Science Fiction. It can be enjoyed on so many different levels as well, from simply enjoying a good story well told, to inviting the audience to think about deeper and wider themes about our society and human existence itself.
I watched the trailer for Star Trek: Beyond with my dad a few weeks back. The trailer shows a brooding Kirk questioning his motives for joining Star Fleet and (presumably) questioning his leadership skills. Then of course it showed the crew in mortal peril, lots of things going wrong, stuff blowing up, that sort of thing. At the end of the trailer, my dad asked “Why can’t Star Trek just be fun like it used to be?”
Was it ever just fun? My dad was around eight years old when the original Star Trek series aired for the first time and I rather suspect he is remembering it with a child’s eye. I think if he were to watch it again, he would see there was a lot more going on there than simply running around space with phasers set to stun.
“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence, has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.”
– Isaac Asimov
The fact is that no matter how fun any Science Fiction story may seem on the surface, there is always going to be some underlying message that it is trying to communicate. And, usually, that message will have something to do with what we are collectively afraid of:
Alien Invasion Narratives In the 1950s, these addressed fears to do with the Cold War. They were often very subtle invasions of aliens who looked and sounded like us but were really working to undermine our society (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, dir. Don Siegel, 1956). These days, the threat to our society is maybe not so subtle, so the stories are less so.
Space Narratives Particularly popular in the 1960s during the space race, we are still looking to the stars for our next great adventure. Perhaps a little of the shine has worn off, but the fascination is still there.
Genetic Mutation/Manipulation Again, in the 1950s, these stories highlighted fears based around nuclear experimentation and the effect it could have on humans and animals. These days, it is perhaps human genetic experimentation that we are cautious of.
Techno Fear The name says it all. Technology is progressing rapidly and we can’t keep up with it. These stories have a bleak outlook for humanity in a technological age.
Dystopian Future The ultimate cautionary tale. They leap into the future show us the direct consequence of our actions. If you want to explore these more, I highly recommend the blog Delve Into Dystopia by Jess. She explores a vast range of Dystopian fiction that has sprung up in recent years.
Time Travel How do we deal with consequences? As Time Travel narratives often tell us, the best approach is to take them and move on, as ‘do-overs’ can turn out much worse.
Revisionist History Tales of the road less travelled. These show us what could have been if something in our own history had been different.
Superheroes Yes, these count too! First and foremost, Superhero narratives are escapism. They take us away from our day-to-day struggles by swooping in and carrying us away from them, cape billowing in the breeze. But they too have a deeper message of what it means to be human and just how far we are able to push ourselves emotionally and physically.
As if this wasn’t enough, Sci-Fi has one last gem that will always keep my attention: Science Fiction, by its very name is a paradox. At once, it implies both fact and fabrication. It is this juxtaposition that lends itself so readily to thinking about the overarching question that is asked by both Science and Fiction, either separately or as a collective. It is a question that every category mentioned above explores in its own way.
What if we could instantly travel to other planets by way of an ancient device? What if the Nazis had won the Second World War? What if technology really was out to kill us? What if we could boldly go where no-one had gone before?
These two simple words put together open up whole galaxies of possibilities for storytelling. I, for one, am looking forward to being able to explore them further in the years to come.
I hope you’ll join me for the journey.