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May 28, 2012


Science Fiction: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

by Girish Kumar

A Brief History of  Science Fiction.

What is Science Fiction?

Science fiction (Or Sci-fi or scifi or SF) is a genre which deals with futuristic settings, which are more or less plausible. They usually involve futuristic technology or science, aliens, alternate worlds, time travel and other such settings. It is similar to fantasy, but also differs from it in many other ways. The elements in the story usually have roots in actual science and may actually be possible in the near future (I hope so. One can dream about such things, can’t I ?).

Sub Genres in Science Fiction:-

( Note : These authors described below indicate  the most prevalent genre they write in however they are obviously not exclusive to the genre. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is Hard & Soft at the same time and Frank Herbert’s Dune series is probably a genre by itself !)

Hard SF: It’s a sub-genre that has a focus on quantitative sciences – especially astrophysics, physics and chemistry. It  deals with completely new worlds with advanced technology.Some of the hard SF authors not surprisingly are scientists by background !

Notable authors: Isaac AsimovArthur C. ClarkeHal ClementGreg BearLarry NivenRobert J. SawyerStephen BaxterAlastair ReynoldsCharles SheffieldBen BovaKim Stanley Robinson and Greg Egan.

Soft SF: It deals with sci-fi based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, anthropology etc. It also includes Utopian and Dystopian stories.

Notable Authors:Ursula K. Le GuinPhilip K. DickStrugatsky brothersKir BulychovYevgeny Zamyatin and Ivan Yefremov.

Cyberpunk: First coined by author Bruce Bethke in 1980, Cyberpunk mainly has near future sttings whuch are usually dystopian and are filled with misery.

Notable Authors:  William GibsonBruce SterlingNeal Stephenson, and Pat Cadigan. Blade Runner is an excellent example of Cyberpunk.

Time Travel: If I have to explain this to you, STOP READING RIGHT NOW! AND STOP FOLLOWING MY BLOG AS WELL !!!!

Millitary SF: This deals with conflicts between interplanetary or interstellar armed forces. Star Wars could also fall under this category.

Notable Authors: John RingoDavid DrakeDavid Weber and S. M. Stirling.

Alternate History: It’s based on the idea that historical events might have turned out much differently.

Notable Authors:  Harry Turtledove is one of the most prominent authors in the subgenre and is sometimes called the “master of alternate history”.

Space Opera: This is an adventure set in outer space or on distant planets.  Star Trek is an excellent example.

Notable Author:  Edward E. (Doc) Smith,

Space Western: This is sometimes considered as  a sub genre of Space Opera. It’s basically western settings in outer space. Best examples are Firefly, Serenity and Outland.

Science Fiction: The Good

Science Fiction has helped shape our future in more ways than one. Jules Verne had said “I wanted to see what no one had yet observed, even if I had to pay for this curiosity with my life.” He is credited with imagining the Submarine. He, obviously, did not build it. But  Simon Lake, the actual builder of the first ocean submarine, credited the idea to Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Igor Sikorsky attributed the invention of the heli copter to Verne’s  ‘Robur the Conqueror’, or ‘The Clipper of the Clouds.’

Arthur C. Clarke had said “I’m sure we would not have had men on the Moon if it had not been for Wells and Verne and the people who write about this and made people think about it.”  The Moon Landing in 1969 can be attributed to Jules Verne’s ‘From Earth to the Moon’ and H.G. Wells’ ‘First Men in the Moon’. . Also it had inspired the first ever science fiction film (Short film would be more appropriate, but its the first to be filmed.) ‘A Trip to the Moon’ directed and written by  Georges Méliès, whom we all know from Hugo. It was a benchmark as it used innovative graphics and animation. Arthur C. Clarke is himself credited with the idea for satellites.

Asimov’s stories about robots had inspired a generation of robotic scientists. He had also commented that, “science-fiction writers and readers didn’t put a man on the moon all by themselves, but they created a climate of opinion in which the goal of putting a man on the moon became acceptable.”  It was due to Star Trek that we got the iPad. It was due to George Orwell’s  ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ , that we got the ‘memory hole.’

Science Fiction: The Bad

Science fiction has also been wrong with the timing in  many matters. SF authors speculate on what may or may not happen. They use ‘hasn’t happened yet’ to create such scenarios. Sci-fi is  quite often off the mark than  it is right.  My Space Odyssey regretfully is 11 years overdue and so is my Rendezvous with Rama.  Lunar-Max is still MIA ( missing in action)

There was one episode in Star Trek: TOS, where Spock sees a space ship, which uses an ion drive. He says that it is way beyond our time so, it must be from the future. Well, Spock was wrong. NASA has an ion drive and it is operational.

Many Sci fi movies and TV shows are obsessed with one basic idea –  that the world is doomed, or its being taken over by aliens or time travel. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, many of these movies and TV shows turned out to be pretty good.  I’d also like to see that they experiment with the genre. It is due to this narrow focus that whenever we hear sci-fi we attribute it to time travel or earth being doomed by aliens.

Nowadays we do not get to see a good space opera, or space western TV Shows. The last was Firefly (which was cancelled) and its sequel film Serenity. After Joss’ success with ‘The Avengers’, he should re-boot Firefly (It’s just a thought). We are not getting a sci fi series which is worth the title of a good sci-fi show. Star Trek was one of a kind especially Star Trek Voyager (My personal favorite). Captain Jane way was such an awesome character and Seven of NIne was also such a brilliant character apart from looking rather nice! I’ve never come across any character like Janeway, who is a strong female lead (well except Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien series).

Science Fiction: The Ugly

Frankly, there isn’t anything ‘ugly’ in the wonderful world of Science Fiction.

Your thoughts ?  Share your comments at light speed. May the force be with you …….. always ……

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