Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In defense of sci-fi

This essay from i09 yesterday on the perception that women don’t like science fiction got me thinking...which is never a good thing. I agree wholeheartedly with the author that a significant number of women like science fiction and are passionate about it as a genre. So my question to the nay-saying pundits is not “Why shouldn’t I like sci-fi,” it’s “Why the hell wouldn’t I like sci-fi?”

Seriously, think what the world would be like without science fiction. Without it, we never would have:

...gone to the moon or built a space station or created the space shuttle. Without years of sci-fi novels and books behind us, how would we ever have been able to recruit astronauts? Seriously, which question makes the recruiter’s life easier. This one? “Would you like to spend years learning difficult principles in aeronautics, math and physics, then get shot into space at a million miles an hour while strapped to thousands of pounds of explosive fuel with no guarantee that you’ll ever return from the icy expanse of emptiness above us – oh and by the way, you’ll have to piddle inside your space suit?” Or this one: “Remember Tom Hanks in ‘Apollo 13?’ You could totally do that.” Second question wins, hands down.

...experienced the single greatest movie shot of all time: the Imperial Cruiser flying low over our heads in “Star Wars.” If you’ve ever seen “Star Wars” in the theater with that glorious sound blasting in your ears from all directions, the bass tones nearly making your seat vibrate, as you sit back, slack-jawed and watch that thing seemingly pass over head for second after second after second…well then you know what I’m talking about and you know the world would suck without it.

...invented special effects. From the earliest films like George Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon” in 1902, science fiction and special effects have gone hand in hand. How would we have had the technology to fake the moon landing without first making films like “2001: A Space Odyssey?” Think of how far animation has come. Or CGI – would we even have CGI if George Lucas and Industrial Light and Magic hadn’t given us a taste of glorious space battles could be in the “Star Wars” trilogy?

...had hot guys in tight pants shooting pistols...who weren’t cowboys. Now I think this is something every red-blooded American woman can get behind. Imagine a genre-less world without “Firefly”’s Captain Reynolds, without “Star Trek”’s Patrick Stewart, without “Doctor Who”’s David Tenant, without “Star Wars”’s Harrison Ford, without William Frickin’ Shatner, for God’s sake! It’d be like a world without Christmas and puppies. A world without cupcakes even! It would have been bad. Very bad.

...had any collectibles. What would childhood have been like without action figures to collect and trade or strap to small rockets and shoot into the neighbors’ gutters? It would have sucked. My girlish childhood was spent mixing genres – could Princess Leia live inside my Lincoln Log Cabin constructions? Sure? Could my 16-inch Chewbacca rip the arms off my neighbor’s Barbie? More than once, that’s for sure. Could my Captain Deering make brownies in an Easy Bake Oven? With the proper supervision she could. That's how cool those toys were.

All kidding aside, though, science fiction appeals to both men and women because it is all about possibilities. Would people have invented iPhones without first seeing tricorders? Or three-dimensional fax machines without first dreaming of transporters? Science fiction is all about where we could go as a people. Why tether our dreams to reality, to this planet when there are so many other places our imaginations could take us? The mundane, the Earth-bound and the “real” drags us down enough each day. Give me some good, old sci-fi to ease the pain anytime.

Plus, dudes, there are space ships!


Tara said...

Ya know what's really weird is, I love NASA and the space program and all that. Have a masters in space studies, have worked for and written stuff for NASA, the whole shebang...I just can't get into sci-fi. Ok, let me rephrase that...if it's extremely realistic fiction, I can do that. All that off the wall stuff, doesn't do much for me. That said, I love the old Star Trek for its kitsch factor and the original Star Wars trilogy because I was born in '77 and it's a requirement to love Star Wars if you were born in the 70s. I don't's just never really appealed to me. I'd rather read true stories of exploration than made-up ones.

Liz said...

That's really interesting. I never would have thought of that. Maybe it's because you've experienced the reality of space and exploration and, as with most things, reality can be far more interesting. It's like the old saying goes: truth is stranger (and probably more entertaining) than fiction.

I'm with you on being born in the 1970s and Star Wars. I think George Lucas had Star Wars etched into every child's DNA.

Trey said...

Star Trek, in particular, has inspired a lot of tech advances. The cell phone, for instance, was inspired by the communicator.

ST inspired an entire generation of geeky lads and lasses who watched the show and then said, "Hrm...I think I can build that..."

Anonymous said...

I work for NASA (and they're paying my way through an Aero/Astro degree at MIT) and I still love sci-fi.

To me sci-fi is, as corny as this sounds, our hope for a better tomorrow. You see something in a scifi movie, like a tricorder or a hypospray, and it makes you think "how could we make this?"

Sci-fi dreams up what scientists and engineers then have the pleasure of trying to make reality, which is a pretty sweet job when you think about it.

I probably wouldn't love my job or research half as much if it wasn't for the sci-fi that inspired it.

Diamond Joe said...

Re: sci-fi as our hope for a better tomorrow:

What I can't stand about most of the science fiction in the magazines is that not only is it bleak and defeatist, it's sometimes pre-defeatist.

Recently, I read a story set a few decades hence. The very first sentence complained about "the french-fry stink of biodiesel." Oh, the present sucks, and the future is going to smell like french fries, and that's going to suck. Moan, moan, moan.

And then there are the stories with the moral that the human race deserves to be extinct, and the sooner it happens, the better off the universe will be. And they say it in pretty much those words.

Meanwhile, the magazines wonder why their circulation keeps dwindling.

SFG said...

Hey, here's a question for you genreheads: how well does the optimism of the genre track the economic climate? Do you think darker stories tend to come out in worse economic times because people are less happy? The economy's been in the crapper ever since Bush got elected, and BSG is the darkest sf show I've ever seen.

Liz said...

SFG, that's an interesting question. I think the optimism (or lack thereof) definitely reflects what's going on nationally or internationally at the time. Blade Runner was pretty dark at a time when the country was suffering from a poor economy and fears about what life was going to be like under Reagan. Same with Alien. Conversely, Star Trek came out in the mid-60s when people could still muster up some optimism about what the future might be like -- Vietnam hadn't escalated yet, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. hadn't been assassinated, and the youth of America hadn't revolted yet. It was easier to believe that the future could be bright. I definitely think there's a correlation.