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The Role of Science Fiction in Society

Updated on March 28, 2014
Dearth Vader and the Storm Troopers
Dearth Vader and the Storm Troopers | Source

Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

I am not, by any means, a fan of science fiction or fantasy. Spaceships, aliens, and Nimbus broomsticks are at the edges of the last frontier of my empathy.

I do, though, understand why my husband can spend hours glued to the goggle box when paranormal series Haven or Star Trek is on. He was one of those who cheered at the re-release of the Star Wars Trilogy.

Science fiction, according to him, has a definitive role in society. I can't say that I disagree.

The Science Fiction Genre typically includes...

  • a setting in the future
  • characters like aliens, mutants and androids
  • different and controversial political systems
  • paranormal abilities/actions
  • elements of other worldly or time travel

Definition

Science fiction is a literary genre that offers its fans a rational glimpse at alternative possible worlds. The genre typically includes:

a setting in the future

Science fiction usually takes place in a time later than the present and offers us a look at possible changes that will have taken place by then.
The series Star Trek went a step further. It gave viewers a glimpse at what happened millions of years ago and explored a timeline that extended into the 31st century.

characters like aliens, mutants and androids

Characters in science fiction include other worldly, foreign beings. Human-like characters incorporate sophisticated machinery.
In the movie, IRobot, Will Smith combats robots on missions of human elimination and world domination.

different and controversial political systems

In Star Trek, we see the vastly different political systems of humans and their humanoid warrior adversaries, the Klingons.
They were organized in a politically different way from often resulting in controversies that repeatedly caused clashes between them and Captain Kirk.
In what could be an attempt of the shows writers and producers to suggest empathy between the world's different political systems, the Klingons later became invaluable human allies.

paranormal abilities/actions

Paranormal abilities have intrigued us since the dawn of science fiction. Gilgamesh, in the epic of the same name, combats the supernatural force of the diabolical Humbaba.

More recently, shows like the XMen showcase mutants with rejected but definitely special abilities. Characters like Wolverine and
Storm have become superheroes that defy imagination.

elements of other worldly or time travel

We see the characters in Star Trek traveling via teleport to various alternative worlds and even parts of the Earth, fulfilling the human fascination to"boldly go where no one has gone before."

Yoda, the wise Jedi from Star Wars, in pencil.
Yoda, the wise Jedi from Star Wars, in pencil. | Source

Origins

The origins of science fiction is a subject of contentious debate among its followers, even today. Die hard devotees usually embrace one or two schools of thought.

One school maintains that the foundations of science fiction lie in the Mesapotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. The first part of this Sumerian Epic centers around the friendship between King Gilgamesh and a Wild Man Erikidu, created by the Gods to act as Gilgamesh's conscience. Together, they travel up the Cedar mountain to defeat the Guardian of the Mountain, Humbaba.

The second part of this epic centers on Gilgamesh's journey to find the meaning of life, as he deals with the pain of his good friend, Erikidu's death.
Such fantastical, philosophical exploration of new frontiers served, for followers of this school of thought, to be the beginnings of science fiction.

The other school of thought believes that science fiction only properly began between the 17th to 19th centuries, following great discoveries in physics, mathematics and astronomy.

Which ever school of thought a devotee may follow, a certainty remains that science fiction blossomed in the 20th century, with the integration of science, inventions and technology.

The dawn of the Age of Reason, a 17th Century movement that saw the dawn of individuality and the idea of freedom of expression. New possibilities were ripe for exploration.
Science fiction novel began with the ever popular 18th Century tale Gullivers' Travels by Johnathan Swift.

What draws you to science fiction?

What draws you to science fiction?

See results

What draws us to science fiction

Our attraction to gadgets

Sophisticated, multi-performance gadgetry never fails to capture our attention. We are always captured by the promise to do what has never been done before.

Fantastic characters

Characters who defy imagination ironically capture it. We won't forget the alien Spock of the pointy ears, popularized by Leonard Nimoy, for a long time to come.
Storm, both physically and figuratively, never fails to create a storm.

Discussion of new possibilities

The possibility of "faster,higher,stronger" always sells. We always want the possibility of being able to do things in a better way.
Science fiction offers us that possibility. Science fiction movies often utilize devices more advanced, but similar to, the IPAD, IPhone and Android devices we use now, showing that what is often imagined can become a confirmed reality.

Visiting new worlds

With the Universe being as big as it is, humans are always excited to explore worlds alternative to Earth and possibly being able to meet alternative alien beings.

The exploration of good and evil

Science fiction has always been a platform for its creators to offer, in a subtle way, good moral values. Star Trek advocates empathy and harmony with perspectives other than our own. It also suggests that notions of infringing political boundaries and conquest are negative desires.

It hints, too, that the lines of good and evil can be blurred.

Source

Role of Science Fiction in society

Instills good moral values

One of the objectives of this genre is to be a platform for good values. It often speaks out against grandoise conquest and against discrimination.
The XMen movies warn of the dangers of prejudice. The Mutants, often viewed negatively, have awesome abilities that can be harnessed.

Broaden horizons and perspectives

Science fiction makes us ponder on our innate potential that we seldom harness. The technology it envisions are realistic, possible and empowering.

Provide a look into the future

The genre presents us an alarming look into our future. George Orwell, in the novel 1984, crafted a society with Big Brother always watching. With the invention of webcams and the ability of social media to track you, it is certainly true today.

Strengthen creativity

Science fiction has always been a way to stretch our imaginations and pour out creative juices. It has always been a way to think out of the box.

Our favorite science fiction movies and television series

Successful science fiction series and movies are the ones which have fulfilled their roles to innovate, challenge perspectives and offer better, alternative possibilities.

They also have unique, out of the box storylines.

The Phantom Menace opening scene

Star Wars

I remember resounding cheers in a theater where a rerun of George Lucas' epic space opera was ongoing. The movie, starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford,Carrie Fisher and voiced by James Earl Jones as Dearth Vader, was followed by the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi sequels, released at three year intervals.

The prequels, starring Natalie Portman as Queen Armadala, received a more mixed reaction according to most review websites. All six films, which explored alternative worlds and moralized against domination, received nominations for academy awards.

Fringe

Fringe

An American TV series created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci. it follows fictional members of the Fringe Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The team uses specialized Fringe techniques to explain unnatural, ghastly occurrences, including the characters' alternative personas in a
parallel universe.

The series, starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble, has been tagged as a hybrid of the XFiles and the Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone - Where is Everybody

The Twilight Zone

Perhaps the progenitor of science fiction TV series and movies, the Twilight Zone began exploring the paranormal and science in 1959. It ran till 1964.

Noted for featuring both established and lesser known actors, the series stands out for its sometimes frightening look at alternative possibilities.

War of the Worlds - Battle on the Hill

War of the Worlds

Loosely adapted from the H.G Wells novel of the same name, the science fiction disaster looks at a conflict between humanity and aliens. H.G. Wells, with his writing, already laid out frightening scenarios of what our world can become when it is confronted by other worldly, hostile beings.

Tom Cruise plays a divorced dock worker who tries to protect his ex-wife and children when he realizes that they may perish in the midst of the confrontation. The movie is also a reminder not to take loved ones for granted.

Stargate Atlantis

The military science fiction series created by Brad Wright and follows the events experienced by the team Stargate SG1. Again, it explores alternative universes, with Stargate SG1 exploring the Pegasus Galaxy via wormholes created by aliens. It touches on the idea that military conflict can take place with other worlds and the existence of diabolical beings that seek to conquer.

Joe Flanigan stars as Captain John Sheppard, the de facto military commander of the Atlantis contingent (played by Torri Higginson, Rachel Luttrell, Rainbow Franks, David Hewlett and Jason Momoa) that deals with offending alien Wraith beings that threaten to dominate the Pegasus galaxy.

Conclusion

Science Fiction will always be there to remind us to innovate and keep our minds open to alternative beings. It also leaves a memo to us to be morally grounded.


Copyright Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin All Rights Reserved


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    • midget38 profile image
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      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Where would we be without a little science fiction?

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love your opening paragraph...great introduction...at the edges of my empathy is a great line.

      As for science fiction: some of it I like; some of it is ridiculous. I can take it or leave it.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill.

    • Garlonuss profile image

      Garlonuss 3 years ago from Saratoga Springs, Utah

      Good hub. It's nice to see how science fiction is seen from the viewpoint of a non-fanatic.

      Though I tend to gravitate more toward the term "speculative fiction", which also includes fantasy. That's because lots of stories become a little hard to firmly place in one camp or the other, like Krull. It has cyclopes and magic, but it also has beings traveling from another planet with what looks like laser weapons.

      Still, very well thought out hub.

    • profile image

      Stephanie Fay 3 years ago

      Stargate Atlantis is a spinoff from Stargate Sg1 (which is a continuation of the 1994 movie Stargate) SG1 is actually the name of a team in the Stargate program run by US Airforce. The Stargates are giant devices made by aliens that produce wormholes and allow for travel through the galaxies. In Stargate Atlantis, the SGC (Stargate Command) has found the Ancient city of Atlantis, that also doubles as a giant spaceship, and sends a team there.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      I notice that you said you aren’t a fan of science fiction or fantasy, then wrote the whole hub about science fiction. I am an avid fan of both. The difference in scifi and fantasy can be summed up in one sentence: Scifi is more technical and mechanical while fantasy is more cerebral without the mechanical props. And as one commenter brought out, sometimes a story contains elements of both. The Twilight Zone is a good example, and so is the movie, Avatar. I have really enjoyed most of the scifi movies and programs that you listed here, especially any of the Stargates.

      Fantasy is not new, Alice in Wonderland, for example, but it is in its heyday. I do love the world of witches, fairies, magicians, and casting spells like in Camelot. You didn’t delve into them. Maybe another hub?

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I like very little of it but did enjoy the first 2 or 3 star wars, just nothing past that can hold my attention. I really like things like Watership Down; you should read that some time. I even wrote something sort of like it. They are more on the feminine side I think although a man recommended Watership to me and I have the movie too. I agree with MB, give us a fantasy one! lol

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks for telling us more about Stargate, Stephanie.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Watership Down is a great example of fantasy. Why didn't I think of that? Also, I think the Camelot series by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley would appeal to any woman. She wrote the series from the point of view of the women involved with King Arthur. I highly recommend her Mists of Avalon, and to begin, there is already a good hub about this book but I can’t remember who wrote it. I think it is possible that some people say they don't like fantasy because they equate it with the mechanical scifi and haven't read it yet. I recommend trying it, you might like it.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      I am a great fan of sci fi and this read was great Michelle.

      Voted up and shared.

      Eddy.

    • janetwrites profile image

      Janet Giessl 3 years ago from Georgia country

      I love everything that has to do with fantasy including Sci-Fi. Very interesting and well-presented hub.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      Awesome & interesting hub midget38. I, like your husband am I complete sci-fi geek. The 6 Star Wars movies have to be in the "greatest of all time" debate. Thumbs up on your hub.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      True that, Garlonhuss. it's hard to place stories in one genre or other.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      I prefer fantasy too, Jackie.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Wow, Miss Bejabbers, you are a true Sci Fi fan! Thanks for adding some great movies to the list!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Janet!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Yes, it is!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Eddy!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      An interesting insight to sci-fiction and I so enjoy such movies.

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Alphadogg!

    • midget38 profile image
      Author

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, DDE!

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