I just received my first NextReads Science Fiction e-newsletter. This month the theme is books that have been turned into movies. Brilliant! Two of my favorites! I’ve loved sci-fi for as long as I can remember. The first sci-fi book I remember reading was Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars by Ellen MacGregor. It’s a little dated now, but it started me on a life-long adventure. Miss Pickerell led me to the Lucky Starr, Space Ranger series by Isaac Asimov writing as Paul French. After that I really wanted to fly in space and swim in the Venusian oceans. OK, so we’ve learned a lot about the other planets since those books were written; but they were exciting and got kids interested in science.
One of the great things about sci-fi is how often life imitates art. Jules Verne frequently predicted future events in his stories. His descriptions of submarines, space flight, and automobiles are remarkably similar to actual developments. Other science fiction writers have predicted television, radio, laptop computers, the atomic bomb and waterbeds; H.G. Wells wrote about automatic doors in 1889. Of course, sci-fi writers just as often get it totally wrong. I, for one, am still waiting for teleportation device that will get me to meetings on time, not to mention the robotic maid who is going to take over the laundry and housecleaning. Speaking of robots and life imitating art, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics has become so pervasive that they have become the foundation for discussions of robotics throughout the scientific and engineering community.
I also love sci-fi movies, and I confess to a guilty pleasure that I’m particularly fond of the bad ones. Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes are treasures on my personal collection. But I don’t collect only bad movies. I also collect the classics. For example, I have Forbidden Planet starring Anne Francis and Robby the Robot (who was programmed with the Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics), which is based on The Tempest by William Shakespeare. There are a lot of sci-fi films based on books and short stories, and some are made over and over again. For example, War of the Worlds, based on the H.G. Wells novel is remade every few years. A few of the films even bear some resemblance to the original work.
I think the thing that draws many of us to science fiction is that good science fiction not only speculates on what the future may be like, it makes us think about how that future could come about, and whether it should. Science fiction doesn’t have to be politically correct. The voice of the alien or the guy from the future can suggest things about us that we may not want to hear. Those books and films that do this well tend to endure. 1984 showed us a future of Big Brother, Fahrenheit 451 taught us at what temperature books burn, and Star Trek showed us that folding cells phones might be really cool, amongst other things.
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