Good Sci-Fi vs. Bad

Contra Daniel, I don’t think it’s necessarily true that “there’s plenty more science fiction out there about utopian societies than there are about ones where a virtual lion eats the real people like in The Veldt.” Virtually every single sci-fi film that gets released these days (that is, the ones that aren’t about space smurfs who are, like, really in touch with nature) is about SCIENCE GONE WRONG and THAT WHICH MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW, etc. The vision of a utopian society isn’t the most overused science fiction plot in history: the plot of the very first science fiction novel, Frankenstein, is.

Except, of course, Frankenstein had a deeper point to make than technology bad. You can’t understand Frankenstein the novel without understanding the context in which it was written, post-enlightenment and twenty years after the French Revolution. The monster himself is the product of a whole new tradition in human thought: stronger, leaner, and smarter, but difficult to control and prone to develop on his own.

Point is, this concepts only last when they tap into something a little richer than just fear. Bad, didactic science fiction (re: the space smurfs) presents you with the answer to whatever question the movie’s asking before the plot even really begins. But good fiction–not just science fiction, but any fiction at all–asks the sort of questions that are far too difficult to answer on anything beyond the individual level, if that. That’s Bradbury’s legacy.

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11 Responses

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  2. I don’t have much to add to this except that I love that you called them space smurfs.

    Also, there’s been a consistent theme in recent sci-fi of evaluating humanity and culture through first contact scenarios. Or maybe just the ones I read/watch.

  3. Space Smurfs is funny but this is reality.

    People that can’t figure out that planned obsolescence has been going on in cars since before the Moon landing talking about science fiction is funny too.

    Computers everywhere and people with computer science degrees can’t explain electricity.

    For decent SF watch Babylon 5.

    • I don’t … what?

    • I watched Babylon 5 as a kid, and was too young to know a lot of the storytelling wasn’t very good or had been done to death. I still have a soft spot for it, and yet…

  4. {{{ I watched Babylon 5 as a kid, and was too young to know a lot of the storytelling wasn’t very good or had been done to death. }}}

    Sure, Stargate SG-1 was better. Did it get a Hugo?

    But Hugos don’t mean much. J.K. Rowling got one too. LOL

    Stuff called science fiction has gone steadily down hill since Star Wars. Or has if been since Star Trek ’66?

  5. {Sure, Stargate SG-1 was better. Did it get a Hugo?}

    Wtf? Who said anything about SG1 or Hugo? I don’t even know what a Hugo is! And I don’t like SG1 either!

    I think science fiction is getting better! Not all of it, obviously, but our society has opened up enough that we’re developing really thought provoking sci-fi. There’s less of the “good vs evil” boring ass storylines that dominated a lot of the film and TV of the past decades.

    Good sci-fi challenges society and doesn’t just limit itself to giving 12 year old boys (and men who still think they are 12) boners. The first two Alien films were incredible not because the monster was so scary, but because Ripley was so different from any other female leading character.

    And I’m going stop there before I stir up any other tribalism.

  6. “Virtually every single sci-fi film that gets released these days (that is, the ones that aren’t about space smurfs who are, like, really in touch with nature) is about SCIENCE GONE WRONG and THAT WHICH MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW, etc.”

    You sure about that? I mean my point was not that today there’s more utopian stuff, it was that in all of science fiction’s long lifetime. I agree with you that today there’s less utopianism but there’s been a lot of scifi over the years and a great deal of that (I would argue most but it’s debatable) envisions a future where a lot is pretty good.

    • True, but my point was that I don’t think there’s more utopianism than the other thing. And more importantly, that “science can sometimes be used for EVIL” and “science is awesome” are not sufficiently interesting philosophical premises on which to build a story.

      • So we’re basically in agreement except on how much bad and uncreative scifi there is out there…

  7. ((( tf? Who said anything about SG1 or Hugo? I don’t even know what a Hugo is! And I don’t like SG1 either! )))

    Don’t know what a HUGO is?

    I guess there is no further point in trying to discuss SCIENCE FICTION.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Gernsback

    http://www.hugogernsback.com/

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