The Power of Science (Fiction)
The Scientific Revolution brought along with its incredible discoveries and inventions that transformed humankind, a very underrated literary genre. Although science fiction existed in ancient literature, it only consisted of fantastical tales created to awe.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) is thought to be one of the first modern science fiction novels, with the infamous "mad scientist" archetype. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells created wondrous, whimsical tales with unimaginable new forms of technology. This was incorporated into epic romantic adventures, so the finer details of the mechanics of the technology were often glossed over.
The emergence of magazines devoted only to science fiction amplified people's interest in the genre as it created mass appeal. Readers were allowed to send in their entries which were published along with more well-known works like those of Wells and Poe. Pulp fiction allowed short, action-packed, science-filled stories to reach an even wider range of audiences due to the frequency of releases and the inexpensiveness.
Georges Méliès's Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) paved the way for these stories to make their way into film. The availability of science fiction across different platforms of media only proves the popularity of the genre.
Novels like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 brought about a new era in science fiction- dystopian fiction. Although it is one among many sub-genres, it is probably the most notable one. It is the most notable one because of its ability to capture the power and purpose of science fiction- the speculativeness of it.
What are the consequences of our actions today? Will we create an uninhabitable future? Does scientific advancement come with a price? These are the biggest questions that these works of art try to answer, in the most creative ways possible.
Science fiction tries to tell the story of the future. And the way we live in the future depends on the way we treat the science we have today. It forces us to wonder whether progress is always good. The biggest dilemma with writing science fiction is whether to make the story all about crazy science or to make it the means of highlighting problems and fears in a unique manner.
One other aspect that is highlighted in many dystopian science fiction novels is the suppression of an artist's creative freedom. Too much power comes with too much knowledge of how to manipulate science for the "greater good". Individuality, privacy, and creative freedom is shunned in nearly every single one of these speculative pieces of literature.
Allowing free thought and speech to exist always takes a backseat in these stories. Even though they're just stories, they're the manifestations of what the authors fear will happen to society. Reading these works is important as it makes one aware of what could be.
Yes, these stories are far-fetched and fantasy-fueled. But they are important. Important in a sense that they are thought-provoking. Jules Verne did gloss over the mechanics of his inventions, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of his stories. His works are meant to be a social commentary on British society at that time. 1984 is one of the first works of art to talk about the very real fears of a surveillance state.
Science fiction is one of the most important genres of storytelling because it not only feeds a hunger for adventure and fantasy but it can also help humanity figure out its priorities.