In response to my post about Sky Captain, my buddy Mike posted this:

Interesting take on sci-fi. I never thought about it as an "anything is possible" thing, but more like a "here are all the likely possibilities based on what we currently know or expect to learn." Guess that's why I am often bored by much of the genre! I limited it.

Therein lies the evidence of a fundamental change in science fiction in the last 50 years. The roots of modern sci-fi are found in the likes of Jules Verne, who imagined things like going to the moon, and the center of the earth. The practicalities of these feats were inconsequential to him. The book wasn’t about the science, it was about the trip.

Fast forward to the early 20th century, and things hadn’t really changed all that much. C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy is not about the ships they used, but rather about the experiences they had. (How many real sci-fi buffs even know that C. S. Lewis wrote sci-fi?) Buck Rogers wasn’t about time travel, it was about seeing new and exciting things.

Modern sci-fi has moved toward near-future things, involving possible, or likely changes. People aren’t as excited about that kind of stuff any more, because we live in an exciting, sci-fi age of our own. Palm Pilots were unheard of in 1995. Today, tiny computers are everywhere. We don’t want to see billboards that change for the benefit of the person looking at them. We don’t care. We don’t want to hear about the technical details of a flight to Venus. We know how space flight works now.

I think sci-fi as a genre has slowly been more and more limited to fit what we know about science. We can’t have frickin’ lasers on sharks, because c’mon, you couldn’t really DO that. Why not? Put’em there I say! Imagine again! Boldly go where no man will go anymore! Stop the cliche-ic sci-fi!

Sky Captain did this a little bit. The laser gun shooting rings of light, aircraft carriers hovering above the clouds on giant prop driven engines, flying machines that can just plunge into the ocean at top speed; now that’s what I’m talking about.

One thought on “Sci-fi, past and present.

  1. I suspect this is why I prefer fantasy. Since magic is purely imaginative, the limits to what a magician/sorcerer/mage/wizard can do are in the author rather than the technical merits of what can *actually* be accomplished. The best fantasy, though (specifically, Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series), focuses – as you say good sci-fi does – on the story rather than magic/science. The magic in a good fantasy novel is merely a prop used in the telling of a fantastic (heh) story. This is what has long bothered me about techie reviews of Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. The criticisms focus on the incidental details (like science) that merely provide a backdrop to the story.

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