There’s more to science fiction than cyborgs, deep space, and futuristic plotlines. Sci-fi is an exploration of philosophical and metaphysical themes in a fictionalized context, such as what is real? What is reality? What lies beyond the realm of possibility?
Am I real?
Fate, altered timelines, themes about freedom and humanity are often explored because science fiction absent of philosophy, rings hollow and diminishes the genre to CGI special effects, and explosions. What I love about science fiction is that it makes me think and feel more than any other genre. Sci-fi should be innovative, thought-provoking, and visually stunning whether the plot takes place among the skyscrapers of a futuristic city, the plains of a red hot desert, or deep space.
So when writing science fiction, think not of the genre in terms of technology, but the implications of technology on society and humanity.
So many sci-fi movies and books have left a lasting impression over time and have attracted many fans. So let’s have a look at some of the most influential science fiction movies and novels and why they have withstood the test of time.
Star Trek (1966-1969) – A ship on an interplanetary mission dares to boldy “go where no man has gone before.” In three short, but long remembered seasons, the U.S.S. Enterprise’s mission was to defend the United Federation of Planets, seek out new life forms, resolve time paradoxes, and battle evil. Each episode focuses on a new dilemma and the philosophical issues that arises when the U.S.S. Enterprises encounters a new species or planet while on a deep space voyage, sometimes traveling at warp speed. Though short-lived, the original series spawned several spin-off television series and several movies, including J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the original timeline.
Star Wars – George Lucas’ sci-fi adventure is conceptionally, a western set in space among exotic planets and varying life forms among the desert plains of Star Wars, the snowy landscape of “Hoth” in Empire Strikes Back, and the dense forests of Return of the Jedi. But it’s not all about the visuals. Star Wars is a story of redemption, namely that of Darth Vader, formerly “Anakin Skywalker”. There are also many references to Buddhism, Qi, and other eastern philosophies.
Blade Runner (1982) tells the story of a bounty hunter called out of retirement to eliminate “Replicants”, human cyborgs placed on off-world planets to perform hard labor, after they hijack a spaceship, commandeering it to earth in search of their maker. Blade Runner takes place in a dystopian society driven by capitalistic excess and technology. The cyborgs have developed “self-awareness” making them as human as their enslavers, and in some cases, more human than their creators. This science fiction theme is asking us to consider what it means to be human. Is it the organic material we’re made of or something else? The Materialism school of philosophy suggests that humans are compelled by the arrangement of chemicals in our bodies and theorizes that “choice” is not compelled by deliberation or “emotion”, but influenced by appetite or aversion, based on the way chemicals react in our body. So how are we different from a machine if the metaphysical concept of a soul doesn’t really exist? The materialism theory was introduced in the 17th century by philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is a study of isolation after the central character is drafted into a school for genetically engineered child solders. Like most sci-fi stories, Ender’s Game takes place in a dystopian society on the brink of destruction by alien invaders. Ender’s Game poses the nature versus nurture argument as Ender contemplates whether he is destined to become like his cruel older brother, who fails to make the cut into the school because of his evil nature, while doting on his kindly sister who also fails to make the cut because of her gentle disposition.
The Wachowski Brothers’ stylish cyber punk movie, “The Matrix” left an unmistakable imprint on science fiction in 1999, and has influenced the way science fiction and action movies have been made for the past decade. The Matrix is about computer hacker Neo, who learns the entire world is a hoax and that humans beings are living their lives in dream-like state inside of a software program called “The Matrix”. He is rescued from the Matrix by a band of rebels led by the philosophical Morpheus and is told he is the prophesied “Chosen one” who will save mankind from their machine oppressors. The Matrix has many bibilical, mythological, and philosophical references and has challenged our perception of what is real in ways that viewers had never experienced before. The story also spawned two sequels, a video game, and an animated movie.
Philip K Dick was one of the most prolific sci-fi novelists of our time, and probably one of the most influential in Hollywood. Nearly a dozen Philip K Dick novels have been adapted to film. This includes, Blade Runner (1982) Based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, Screamers (1995) Based on “Second Variety”, Total Recall (1990) Based on “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, Confessions d’un Barjo (French, 1992) Based on “Confessions of a Crap Artist”, Impostor (2001) Based on “Impostor.”, Minority Report (2002) Based on “The Minority Report.”
Paycheck (December 25, 2003) Based on “Paycheck,” A Scanner Darkly (July 7, 2006) Based on “A Scanner Darkly”, Next(April 27, 2007) Based on “The Golden Man”, The Adjustment Bureau (coming 2010) Based on “The Adjustment Team”, and King of the Elves (coming 2012) Based on “King of the Elves”. According to Dick’s biography on http://www.philipkdick.com/ , who died in 1982, the year Blade Runner was released, wrote,
“I am a fictionalizing philosopher, not a novelist; my novel & story-writing ability is employed as a means to formulate my perception. The core of my writing is not art but truth. Thus what I tell is the truth, yet I can do nothing to alleviate it, either by deed or explanation. Yet this seems somehow to help a certain kind of sensitive troubled person, for whom I speak. I think I understand the common ingredient in those whom my writing helps: they cannot or will not blunt their own intimations about the irrational, mysterious nature of reality, &, for them, my corpus is one long ratiocination regarding this inexplicable reality, an integration & presentation, analysis & response & personal history.”
Science fiction works in any medium when the themes are properly devised. At its best, books will often become movies and movies can become books (like the Star Wars and Star Trek series). Two most notable sci-fi authors like HG Wells’ Time Machine and War of the Worlds were early hits, both emphasizing mankind’s desire for self-preservation and survival. There was also William Gibson, who is known for his cyber punk stories Neuromancer (currently in development), and even Johnny Pneumonic were also adapted into Hollywood movies.
Other sci-fi writers like L. Ron Hubbard, wrote science fiction not quite as popular as the religion he started, which is rooted in themes evocative of the stories sci-fi authors often write about. L Ron Hubbard is the author of “The Way to Happiness”, “Battlefield Earth” (also a movie, starring John Travolta), and “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, Clear Body, Clear Mind, Science of Survival” (non-fiction).
- E. Hughes
(comments on this article are welcome)