Where is science fiction going? When you look at its past the loose patterns that emerged are easy to see and have been well documented.
The cold war anxieties of the fifties were reflected in the alien invasion movies of the decade like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and It Came from Outer Space.
Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon in 1969 focused attention the possibilities of space and the excitement followed through into movies such as Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.
But worries about how we would cope with entities stronger than ourselves were already being explored in movies like Alien and continued with The Terminator, The Thing and Predator. And now older foes have made a comeback with vampires (Daybreakers, True Blood), zombies (The Walking Dead, World War Z) and other horrors (I Am Legend, 28 Days Later) all filling the screens and the bookshelves.
I think it was author David Brin who once wrote a piece about how our anxieties always lie outside our comfort zone, beyond the metaphorical campfire. If I remember rightly, he suggested that this was why early cultures, lacking scientific knowledge of the natural world, had gods who controlled everything from fertility to the weather. In the hard, brutal world of medieval Europe, the living feared attack from supernatural predators like vampires and werewolves. And the Victorian era, so confident in its industrial progress, still could not conquer death and so ghosts and spirits were conjured up to contemplate existence beyond the living world.
So where do our uncertainties lie? What’s beyond the campfire in this decade? Looking at recent movies and books I think our worries are coming closer to home. Progress in science and technology means that ideas that were fictional even just a few decades ago like cloning and nanotech are now fact. Some airports have holograms giving passengers information. Social networking is a powerful agent for social and political change. Our web browsing habits shape the adverts we see. And we’re still working out what our response is to all this. Where do we stand on human cloning? Assisted death? How ‘smart’ do we want our robots to be? If artificial intelligence does emerge, what rights would that intelligence have?
Movies like Inception and Source Code have mind-bending plots looking at our perception and experience of reality. Others like Never Let Me Go (based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro) and Moon look at the morality of treating human clones as a commercial commodity. The movie In Time, starring Cillian Murphy, comes out later this year and looks at the commercialization of human life. Medical advances mean that the age gene can be turned off and life itself becomes a consumer product and can be extended…… for a price.
And I’m looking forward to it all. Brian Aldiss, in his book Trillion Year Spree, wrote, “..every age gets the art it deserves.”, and I’m glad our technological age has the rich field of science fiction.