Sci-Fi, or science-fiction, is a branch of fiction that deals with the future. The future may be an all bright nirvana that you love to be in, or a dystopian one that attempts to scare you. It is important to note that both those perceptions – of nirvana or of dystopia, is as seen and thought by current generation humans.
Sci-Fi can be in a book (my favourite!), a movie, or even a blog post. Although humans can seldom predict what will happen in the next decade, Sci-Fi is an attempt to imagine life in a “scientifically plausible” way. Never mind that science itself can radically change in a very short time.
Sci-Fi, as in any story that humans like, chooses a character and then goes with that character as he or she struggles through vagaries of life. The only difference being that it is set in in near or far future, where machines/aliens are helping you, or trying to kill you.
Sci-Fi changes perception. You see humans making a radical difference to how to live ourselves, or you see how humans matter (or otherwise) in the backdrop of the universe, other life, radically advanced technology. These can lead you to think about how life matters today, and what can be different in one’s life. How, with even the most radical changes going on around them, humans will be still humans. They live, fight and die – all in the name of something they hardly understand. They continue to exhibit astonishing naivety in the backdrop of something amazing.
This may be just our human tendency not to look beyond whatever we can understand today. We just make up for it by imagining future as we look at it today. But. it is also likely that we “want” to live that way in the future. Change is not something that is easily assimilated – even over centuries, until it is forced upon us.
Sci-Fi (or most of it) never goes beyond a “straight-forward change” from today. It does a shoddy job of imagining the future, and proves time and again that exponential thinking is not our strong point.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
The Star Wars Philosophy
By Star Wars I mean the book, rather a series of books, and not the movie.
At the first look, Star Wars amazes you. You have people roaming around galaxies, populating new planets, and with highest standards on both the dark and “light” sides.
And then, you have the human story.
Star Wars is full of suffering because people just cannot/will not go to the dark side. It has people/clones/machines fighting over each other for something silly, and being in endless chase of something or the other. The philosophy of Star Wars is to stay on the “good side” no matter how difficult that is, and no matter what the costs. The definition of good borders on crazy, and there are a lot of places where it becomes ambiguous at best.
Star Wars is a glorified form of today’s (or yesterday’s) situation. It tops that situation with the today’s hope for the future. While Star Wars had the cold war as backdrop, and you can see more than a passing resemblance of the good and bad sides, the only philosophy it advertises is to live life as you have been doing since the iron age. Unless, you are a super gifted human who can do rather stupid things.
At the end of it all: humans continue to engage in what may be called useless pursuits in the backdrop of some amazing stuff. While the commonest of people continue to struggle with their daily life (although in a spectacular backdrop, powerful leaders who further in their own agenda.
Star Wars is a spectacularly realist’s perspective of Sci-Fi.
The Culture Philosophy
The Culture Series from Ian Banks is science fiction for the today’s reader. It has spaceships and robots that think better than humans. They take care of them, while the ungrateful humans go about doing their own silly things. Probably reduced to just entertainment value they revel in all that is considered as pleasure today.
The books outline the severe limitations of how humans behave and, how they can exhibit blatant ignorance of the universe around them. Artificial intelligence (AI) just takes over where humans cannot fill the gap.
When you look deeper though, you see that struggles do not change over time. Humans still discriminate against each other, fight over each other, and in general don’t have any respect for things they don’t understand.
Humans prefer settling into something that resembles today’s “daily grind”, albeit in a better background.
As a species they take more interest in self-indulgence and do not set site on the future, or the amazing present. They want to live forever, have unlimited wealth, and enjoy the same quality of “life” beyond their death.
No, Sci-Fi do not do a good job of imagining what is thought impossible today but present that in a plausible way.
What we need is some serious Sci-Fi that proposes radically different philosophy of how things should be. Imagination for the future has to exceed what can be thought today and delight with its treatment of the future that is not just a reflection of today.
The problem when that happens may also be simple – it completely disconnects from today. And, the failure to connect with today’s humans will not make it popular today 🙂