In Greek mythology, the god, Apollo, fell in love with the king’s daughter, Cassandra. He bestowed upon her the gift of foreseeing the future. When she rejected his love, he cursed her by making sure no one believed her predictions. She has always been a favorite character of mine. Despite her misfortunes, she never gave up trying to let people know the horrors that would come; Trojan War, Disco, The Phantom Menace.
I think her tale is very comparable to the path science fiction (aka sci-fi) has taken over the years. It began with tales of space exploration and alien encounters. Early authors like Jules Vern wrote stories (“From the Earth to the Moon”) that predicted things like the Apollo space program and NASA using Florida as a base of operations. Did the story inspire future scientists or did Jules Vern see the progress of technology? I think it is a combination of both.
Either way, sci-fi writers were credited with encouraging people to accept that the stars may be our future. Authors, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, were invited to shuttle launches and celebrated in the NASA community for this very reason. The love affair between readers and sci-fi had begun.
Authors used this time to not only voice their visions of the future but also express their opinions of the present. They did this by replacing the word “Russian” with “Martian” or “communist” with “pod person.” Sci-fi leaped off the page and into homes through both radio and television as well as onto the silver screen. The stories were widely accepted and enjoyed.
Much like Cassandra not able to control whom she loved, sci-fi couldn’t help but change as the world shifted. Space exploration went from flights of fancy in the imagination to physically walking on the moon. The sixties were a seismic change in culture that the seventies seemed to go against. Peace, love, and hippies gave way to Watergate, Vietnam, and gas shortages. People didn’t need their political stories disguised anymore. Their opinions were right out in the open. They said it loud and they said it proud.
Apollo didn’t take her ability to see the future away. He added a clause to it. Sci-fi didn’t stop predicting the future or providing social commentary, it got degraded down from common culture to a sub-culture. People who enjoy sci-fi are branded as geeks or nerds and described in unflattering stereotypes. It started with Star Trek and Star Wars. Fans of both these series became organized and let their love for the work transform some from fans to fanatics. These fanatics became the poster children for sci-fans.
Sci-fi fans are considered as credible as conspiracy theorists. The thing is that conspiracy theorists have been correct from time to time. They were the ones talking about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments and Project MKUltra before anyone admitted it was true.
I think that current sci-fi writers are showing us some solid possibilities for the future. It could be artificial intelligence rebelling against us like in Blade Runner, Terminator, Matrix and the reboot of Battlestar Gallactica. In Firefly/Serenity, we have exhausted Earth and have to terraform new planets. Gattica has genetic prejudice dictating how people live. Children of Men has women stop giving birth without explanation and Y: The Last Man has all males of all species drop dead at the same time. Zombies, in general, have stopped crawling out of the grave and instead come back to life by means of something like a virus.
The idea of any of those movies turning into reality seems laughable and unrealistic. Yet, the plausibility of these types of futures seems more possible than the old days of waiting for aliens to come and destroy us or use us for recipes in their cookbooks. They all seem based on humans doing this to themselves through technology versus outside forces intervening.
As Cassandra didn’t give up, sci-fi shouldn’t either. But then again, maybe it is all for the best. This way the geeks will inherit the Earth. After all, they will be the only ones ready for an alien invasion or prepared to fight the zombies. As they will say, those who don’t know their future are doomed to live it.