Last year the word ‘Jedi’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Alongside the popularity of ‘StarWars’, the last decade has seen a huge increase in mainstream popularity of science-fiction, with many classics such as ‘Dune’ and ‘Foundation’ being adapted for audiences. It’s official: science-fiction is no longer the domain of geeks. Science-fiction is sexy. But what is driving this popularity? Here are some ideas:
Many classic works of science-fiction are prophetic. Isaac Asimov’s ‘Rules of Robotics’ was first published in 1942 as part of the short story ‘Runaround’. Although these rules were penned in the 1940’s, without even the aid of a keyboard, they have been greatly influential in shaping attitudes and ethics pertaining to artificial intelligence.
First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.Asimov’s ‘Laws of Robotics’, published in 1942
Other writers, such as Philip K. Dick, explore the moral dilemmas that accompany artificial intelligence and technology. These include the duty society has to artificial intelligence in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ and the ethics of technology in crime and punishment as explored in ‘Minority Report’. Both texts are frightening and relatable in equal measure. We engage and embrace technology in increasingly intimate levels. Although the world isn’t (yet) filled with robotic versions of extinct animals and we don’t have implants in our eyes that enhance government surveillance, neither of these concepts are far-fetched. After all, Dick was writing before the inception of smartphones.
2.Science-fiction presents an eternal platform for existing dilemmas
Science-fiction is a format for writers to explore problems that already exist. For example, Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ presents an alternative America where firefighters are employed to burn books. Although this novel was published in 1953, public right to access information and government control will always be an issue that is relevant and debated. H. G. Well’s ‘War of the World’, which was inspired by the cruelty of the British Empire, serves as a devastating metaphor for the nature of conquest and the powerful lacking respect for civilisations that are powerless. The problems of the past are also the problems of the future. Through science-fiction, writers are able to fictionalise these dilemmas so that they can be embroidered onto both the past and present.
3.‘Science-fiction’ constitutes a number of genres
The genre name ‘science-fiction’ is misleading. What qualities make a work of fiction qualify as ‘science-fiction’? It is a label used for everything from Frank Herbert’s epic adventure ‘Dune’ to Mary Shelley’s philosophy regarding what makes a monster and what makes a man in ‘Frankenstein’. Common ingredients of science-fiction include the use of technology and the setting of space or alternative worlds – but these elements do not make a story and science-fiction perhaps has less classic tropes than other genres. ‘Thrillers’, ‘adventure’ and ‘romance’ all guarantee certain ingredients and qualities. With science-fiction, the guarantees are intangible and the possibilities are infinite.
Why do you think science-fiction has experienced a spike in popularity?