Elinor Jones explores the genre of science-fiction and how it has often predicted future scientific advances.
As a genre, Sci-fi summons robots, spaceships and mutant animals into our heads, blurring the line between so-called fiction and reality. It’s often labelled as technology-focused, and rife with futuristic forecasting of rocket designs, time-travel and communications devices. Ever since I read the cautionary tale of cloning, Unique, early in secondary school, I’ve seen kooky concepts come to life off the pages, for better or worse.
For the human race, the possibilities are endless: with advances in science and ever-changing political and environmental landscapes, we boldly go to uncharted realms. Scientists and artists shift the impossible to the everyday, testing the theories and musings of Sci-fi writers from times gone by.
From 1984 to The Time Machine, science and social issues are always hot topics in the literary world, with novels acting as prophetic markers for the future state of society. H. G. Wells wrote a century ago about a network that resembled the World Wide Web and anticipated an international conflict similar to World War Two; Aldous Huxley’s dystopian satire, Brave New World, predicted that society would be shaped by genetic engineering and behavioural conditioning, familiar concepts to us in the 21st century.
“…with advances in science and ever-changing political and environmental landscapes, we boldly go to uncharted realms.”
Interestingly, this genre has been used to discuss a very real modern crisis: mental health. Books, such as Annihilation, which was adapted for screen in 2018, centres around a mentally ill protagonist, without dramatizing or glamorising mental health conditions. This sparks conversations about such a difficult experience faced by many, with events such as New York Comic Con holding debates on how mental health is depicted in Sci-fi, horror and fantasy. Another crisis scarily predicted by science fiction is the new-wave of anti-abortion laws in America, a fate graphically depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Sci-fi has long predicted and explored inventions like Elon Musk’s new Starship, which looks like it has leapt off the pages of From the Earth to the Moon or off the screen in Star Trek. However, there are key societal changes snuck past these novels. Climate change, or global warming, has been seemingly ignored in the genre, with very few examples of literature that focuses on one of the biggest challenges facing the planet, although there are some notable pieces such as Jules Verne’s The Purchase of the North Pole and The Burning World by J. G. Ballard. Despite this, the trajectory of climate activism could be such that we will see a boom in so-called Cli-fi, an emerging genre aiming to raise awareness of the burgeoning issue.
Whilst Sci-fi can’t predict all eventualities, the genre of fiction can create a culture for discussing difficult topics in a creative and exciting way, attracting a huge fan base and hopefully engaging wider audiences with potential crises and ways of working through them.