What Led To The Science Fiction Genre English Literature Essay

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Science Fiction - Obsessed with the West? Science fiction explores space and projects us into imagined futures. Yet as a genre, the space that science fiction most intimately explores is interior and human. At its core it is a mere plagiarization of all ancient art-form refurbished to suite the modern or the supposed future trends - to tell future stories it recycles the structure of the ancient narrative tradition and to create dramatic tension it projects conflicts that are immediately present. The fiction in science fiction is the fiction of space - outer space, and time - future time. Far from being the essential objects of its concern these devices only serve as a window dressing or a backdrop. The science" in science fiction is merely a tool for solving the conundrums of the Western civilization. It is in its essence obsessed with the Western civilization, its history and its supposed future. In that respect Science fiction is like a time machine that goes nowhere - no matter what date and time it is set to, the destination is always the Western civilization. Science fiction shows us the paucity of the human imagination that is locked in a room with its walls smeared with a scientific techno-cultural graffiti championing a single civilizational paradigm. That's what all science fiction boils down to - one state, one ruler, conformity , dystopia or utopia whatever you may call it, and hence as a genre it makes it harder to imagine other futures, futures that are not beholden to the complexes and reflexes of the Western civilization.

Let's face it! All the science fiction movies that we have seen in this course (with exception to one or two), be it: Metropolis - German society in a bedlam owning to its split personality of Capitalism and Communism; Body Snatchers - The white man (white man, here refers to the western man and does not in any way have a racist connotation, although in reality it might) battling the prospects of the complete wipeout of human emotional quotient; Blade Runner - Los Angeles in a tumultuous state where the white man is facing retaliation from his "white man" creation - nexus 6; The Terminator 2 - The great USA of the future has sent 2 omnipotent androids to battle it out in the great USA of the past; Fight Club - The white man oppressed by the western society has gone hay wire suffering from the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome; The Alien - USA on the space ship; Close Encounters - Aliens oblivious of the orient abduct the common white man; etc, which are all the magnum opuses of sci-fi are better off being collated as chapters of one book titled - The Great Adventures of the Western Civilization. This clearly indicates how sci-fi is obsessed with the west and has forgotten the rest. But, WHY? Perhaps, because the lineage of all science fiction artists (I prefer calling them artists as they can be writers, painters, directors etc.) have their roots in the west and all of them are chauvinists who ascribe ultimate superiority to themselves. But then why is this preposterous presumption only limited to the science fiction artists?

From my understanding, this is primarily because of prejudice that the western artist has developed towards the non-west in the course of time and has its roots in the nineteen-century industrial transformation of Europe. This era was characterized with advent of modernity and modern science. The writers of this period were witness to the imbalance between the great scientific development in the West on the one hand and the degeneration (or absence) of science in the contemporaneous East. This degeneration was attributed to what they called the innate "superstition" of the East. The West, hence became the scientific rationalist - able to progress beyond any achievements of the ancient - the non-West. Thus for Science Fiction the Science of the West was the only visible premiss and hence the West became the sole protagonist in Science Fiction Art.

Science Fiction - The tree and its roots

Science fiction undoubtedly has deep roots in the narrative tradition of the Western civilization but its most immediate impetus is horror, fear, disquiet and disaffection at the power of the human intellect. It begins with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, who is not the monster (though that is, interestingly, the predominant popular misconception) but the scientist creator of the nameless monster, Dr Frankenstein; and hence it is built up on the narrative thread where stories of alchemists, magi, witches and wizards left off. It begins by viewing science dabbling with dark arts and all its dangers and therefore resembles a nightmare Gothic horror story. Mary Shelley said she conceived the story in a nightmare and that it was written as her contribution to a collective challenge issued to the guests at a weekend party to produce ghost stories. Owing to its conception from such ghost or monster stories (in which the monsters were in fact a product of a scientific experiment!) which are intrinsically associated with fear and ultimate doom, science fiction became the genre to project futures of permissive doom and science became the notorious legend that would lead to this pervasive doomsday.

Frankenstein, the foundation of classic science fiction, was published in 1818, roughly the period of the industrial revolution and science at that time was undergoing a rapid development in the form of the arrival of the machines. Trickle by trickle, these machines which were found to be more efficient laborers compared to their human counterpart, replaced the human labor force in all forms of industry. The creation of these machines which were devoid of all human values and emotion through yet another scientific experiment (1st one being Science experiment which created the monster in Frankenstein), was proving cancerous to the existence of their creator - man. And now for science fiction the role of the machine in the path to the ultimate doom became its central theme. Science fiction became inseparable from science and the science fiction artist began to look for unlikely innovations that science would someday, somewhere construct that would lead to the ultimate doom or a future characterized solely with dystopia.

Science fiction is both afraid of science and in love with science. In almost every dramatic work of science fiction the doomsday which is a result of science is averted by science finally rescuing both humanity and science to live and fight another day. Science becomes the cause and the solution. It is projected as something that has led to the best of humanity's creation but can also lead to bringing out the worst in us. What keeps science fiction alive as a genre is the impossibility of reaching to any form of resolution. Time and again it explores the idea of the 'good science' and the 'bad scientist', the possibility of 'bad science' in the hand of the 'bad scientist' and the belief in existence of 'good science' and 'good scientists' working to create a better future for humanity. However, the recent trend of science fiction has been to show that villainy and evil is not intrinsic to science, the harbinger of evil is not necessarily the bad scientist or the notorious machine but a third character - the other - the ALIEN.