Last week science fiction author Ray Bradbury passed away on the same day as the incredibly rare astronomical phenomenon the transit of Venus was taking place. The coincidence could not be more fitting nor more bizarre. A real life occurrence that played out like a scene from one of Bradbury’s own novels. Which is what makes science fiction stories so wonderful, the outlying possibility that what we are reading, or watching, could in fact happen one day. One only need to view an episode of the original Star Trek television series from the late 1960s to see that some of the TV props of yore have manifest in the technological wonders we use today.
In these contemporary times science fiction is often associated with outer space. But if you distill the genre to its base, it’s really about traveling to the unknown. Very early novels like “Gulliver’s Travels”, about venturing out to the as yet undiscovered areas of the our own planet, were arguably some of the first science fiction novels of history.
As the surface of our planet became less of a mystery with the advent of pioneering expeditions of discovery, many backed by the National Geographic Society, writers like Jules Verne took science fiction to the unfamiliar depths of the ocean with “20,000 Leagues under the Sea.”
HG Wells continued the trend of writing about mysterious worlds with tales of time travel, travel to the moon as well as an alien invasion with his novel “War of the Worlds.” A story that briefly paralyzed part the United States with fear when it was broadcast as radio program in October of 1938. An exemplary example of how primal humanity becomes when faced with the unknown.
However if you dig a little deeper into the depths of any good science fiction story, you’ll see some familiarity. The themes are often metaphors for present-day. In the sixties, Star Trek, which really brought science fiction to the forefront of the societal mainstream, is replete with metaphors appropriate to the cold war era portraying the Klingons as the Russians and Romulans as the communists of China.
A more recent cinematic offering is Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus.” If you look around the internet you’ll find hundreds of interpretations of a theme which is a constant of the human condition. The question; where do we come from.