Science fiction has long been a staple of literature and film, becoming a genre that has grown into one with a massive fan base. Perhaps the market for sci-fi writing is oversaturated, with the endless volumes of paperbacks that plague any bookstore or libraries back room shelves, but the role the genre serves is still relevant, perhaps more than ever.
Sci-fi itself is a very broad genre, with tales ranging from robot armies to space exploration, but what the most accomplished works have been able to master was the grounded nature of the story, making sure the spectacle of the event never eclipsed the quality of storytelling. At the same time, these works focused on scientific accuracy, consulting experts on the topic at hand in order to ensure a sound storyline, both technically and emotionally.
“The Martian is very well done, it’s technically correct in more ways than it is fabulous and made up,” physics teacher Chet Pierce said. “I think when you look at science fiction, you’re always looking at it from the eye, not of fact or fiction, but of plausibility. Is it a scenario you could imagine being possible, even if it isn’t quite technically within the bounds of the things we know today?”
It’s a happy medium that many sci-fi writers and directors often try to balance: between the scientifically accurate portrayal and the extension into unknown territories of science., bordering on fiction The 2014 film “Interstellar” attempted to do just that, where director Christopher Nolan consulted Nobel Prize winning physicist Kip Thorne in order to ensure that the film was scientifically accurate in the theoretical physics it dove into. Thorne and Nolan developed scientifically accurate renders of what a black hole would look like, and these images would eventually be put into the film.
“When a film puts in the effort to be sound scientifically, it adds a level of intrigue for the viewer,” senior Vuk Petrovic said. “Not only does it make it seem possible, it humanizes the rest of the story and adds to the legitimacy of the overall message the story is trying to say.”
Science-fiction has often acted as the bar that has been set for scientific discovery, whether it be time travel, genetic engineering or artificial intelligence. But when these works humanize these ideas, it makes this bar seem far closer than before, sparking interest in a new generation of scientific thinkers.
“Good science fiction gets people interested in science,” Pierce said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be predictive of the future; it’s a way of getting people to think about possibilities, not necessarily probabilities.”
The effect of sci-fi on actual discovery has, however, proven to be rather minimal. Although these individuals producing and creating these projects consult a good deal of experts, they are artists first.
“It is very hard for you to find a case where the fiction has triggered some sort of spark in a scientist’s mind and they make a scientific discovery because of it,” astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson said on his podcast, StarTalk Radio. “You could probably come up with one or two examples of that.”
But the goal of sci-fi isn’t to further the bounds of science and technology. Just like all good art, effective sci-fi does not ignore the power of social commentary. 2014’s “Ex Machina” expressed concerns of artificial intelligence, but spoke even more to the power technology has over us, while at the surface being a film about robots. 2016’s “Arrival” appears to be just another alien visitation movie, until it explains the problems that society has with communication, and the potential detrimental effects we serve to experience should we continue to put up walls between each other.
Science fiction acts as another form of expression for artists to delve into, allowing them to be able to make truly meaningful masterpieces while simultaneously being paired with the broadening of education and curiosity. Sci-fi acts as a melting pot for artists and academics alike to come together to address the issues they believe require attention.
“Science fiction acts as a hyperbole for problems we often overlook,” Petrovic said. “Only when framed alongside aliens and over-the-top settings do we begin to understand the issues facing our society.”