You’re Living in a Science Fiction Story


Friday, January 24, 2014

It’s easy to look back at old science fiction and see it as silly. But there are important ideas embedded in those stories that influenced scientists and the way technology developed. Take the first science fiction film, Le Voyage dans La Lune or A Trip to the Moon, based on a story by Jules Verne. This 1902 silent movie blasts scientists to the moon in a giant cannon. Claire Evans, editor of the recently rebooted Omni magazine, says Verne was on to something. “He just extrapolated from the technology around him,” she says. “A massive shotgun barrel shoots people into space. That’s not what happened in the real world” of rocketry, but “that essential gesture is correct.”

“A successful science fiction story — or novel, or film — allows its readers to become comfortable with the future, with radical new technologies and ideas before they become commonplace,” she says. “It softens the edge of change.” 

Science fiction continued to inspire, even predict, real-world developments. H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine, imagined the first atomic bomb in a 1913 short story titled “The World Set Free.” Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, was also a mathematician who proposed the first geostationary satellite in a 1945 scientific technical paper. Astrophysicist and science fiction author David Brin remembers, “There was a period during the space race when suddenly science fiction authors were very much in vogue — when they were on the platforms next to Walter Cronkite and talking about the future of civilization and where we going to go next.”

But as society became more cynical, so did science fiction. In the 1980s, writers imagined addictive digital fantasy worlds long before the web existed. “Cyber-punk was the first science fiction movement to really understand that science and technology weren’t separate from us,” Evans explains. Or as the science fiction writer Frederik Pohl once said, “A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile, but the traffic jam.”


Alex Gallafent read from Welles’ “The World Set Free.”

    Music Playlist
  1. Trapped In The Future
    Artist: Russell Garcia
    Album: H. G. Wells' The Time Machine: Original Motion Picture Score
    Label: GNP Crescendo Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Overture- Atmospheres
    Artist: Gyorgy Ligeti
    Album: 2001: A Space Odyssey
    Label: Rhino Movie Music
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Epilogue  End Title
    Artist: James Horner
    Album: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan
    Label: Paramount / Retrograde / Film Score
    Purchase: Amazon


David Brin and Claire Evans

Produced by:

Eric Molinsky

Comments [2]

Barbara from Boston, MA


I was interested in that particular program but ultimately a bit disappointed, as i've found that Science Fiction can be so much more than some kind of extra-polation of our current technological status quo. Science fiction at its best makes us look at our world and world views in a different way.
It does so by showing us a world different from ours -- but not unrecogizably so. Many Science Fiction stories are (just) a repackaging of familiar story lines (the love story, the fairy tale, the spy novel), but the best texts (here I mean texts that are not necessarily conventional narratives) do a lot more than delight us, and they instruct not in that they give us a clearly formulated message, but in that they offer an alternative world and thus a kind of "outside perspective." Brecht called that "estrangement" .... Not my insight but Darko Suvin's who wrote "The Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre" in the 1970s. There's a lo of subversive science fiction going on, and I have appreciated the idea that the "genre" ( if you can call it that) is capable of challenging conservative points of view in a fundamental way.


Mar. 19 2014 09:49 PM
Laura Dice from Pittsburgh, PA

I loved the "Your living in a science fiction story"! I've been teaching college freshman writing through science fiction books and films for about 15 years and it's a new course every term because the subject never exhausts itself and so much that's new. I am having freshmen in this term's class listen to this podcast! For your follow up show on the subject, what about contemporary tv scifi - Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, for example, that were fantastic shows but foolishly cut short? There's scifi and mythology, philosophy, human identity, techology - the possibilities are endless.

Feb. 05 2014 11:17 PM

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