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Science Fiction: Timelessly Popular and Relatable

Ranging from fantastical adventures in space, to experiments turned awry, science fiction or shortened as sci-fihas long acted as a nearly limitless creative outlet for imagination. Much like fantasy, its closest contender, the genre poses great range for numerous possibilities or “what if” scenarios. In recent times, the genre has added interest and relatability, further making it captivating to work with. With recent drastic developments in science, sci-fi

Realism

Arguably one of the greatest merits or appealing characteristics of sci-fi, is the possibility of its occurrence in real life. Unlike fantasy, the genre is more rooted in reality and deals with established laws or concepts – whether they are actual scientific laws, or fictional ones that only exist in the story. While sci-fidoes share the imaginative nature of fantasy to a certain degree, it does not overly break out from reality. In other words, always maintaining explanations for certain phenomena (e.g. ability to fly) that are otherwise impossible by current standards; making sci-fisomewhat a “gritty” version of fantasy. 

Although fantasy may be considered superior in terms of creativity for allowing free reign over world building, there is still the underlying fact that it is completely imaginative; often “separate” from reality or established as a world of its own. In the eyes of skeptics, the genre could be potentially viewed as weak for being ludicrous or ignoring certain laws of reality (especially those of science). As children do during playtime and adults at their most monotonous times, fantasy is a form of escapism from the mundane. Depressing as it sounds, fantasy merely offers audiences temporary pleasure and release from the bounds of reality. No matter how much joy its works provide with stunning visuals or dreamy landscapes, the stories only exist in the imaginary realm. Sci-fi, however, conforms imagination or dreams into reality, essentially serving as a substitute for fantasy. 

Exploring "what ifs"

Sci-fiis valuable in the sense that it essentially serves as a window to possible scientific endeavors. Whether it is travel in space, cloning, robots gone rogue, numerous ideas could be thoroughly explored as separate realities. It explores the potential positive and negative outcomes, as well as scenarios of ideas that have not yet come to fruition or rather still considered to be impossible by current standards. Science fiction gives opportunities to pragmatically construct and dissect scientific predictions as "experiments."

Aliens have long enthralled audiences over the years, combined with new discoveries and theories surrounding space. Starting with fantastical pulp fiction books depicting octopus-like aliens on Mars, sci-fi currently exhibits a vast collection of films on such subjects in a realistic, almost clinical light. The subject makes for fascinating predictions of meeting the "other," as well as metaphors for colonization in stories where aliens are not benevolent species but ruthless beings with the desire to conquer. Like fantasy, subjects such as this entertain audiences by gratifying the unfulfilled desire to actually see - simultaneously rousing imagination and wonder on what lies beyond earth. Aliens have always been explored on a wide spectrum: the novel War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells and film Independence Day (1996) both envisioned a swarm of spacecraft attacking humanity, while the mysterious beings of Arrival (2016) simply landed and chilled, attempting to communicate with humans in peace. The current limitations of technology (in this case, on space) push our imaginations into sci-fi, imagining what may be possible that is just beyond our reach. Recent films such as Arrival envision our current hypotheses as well as our reactions towards them if they actually happen. 

In truth, sci-fi works have either become "true" or contributed to real-life projects. The hit classic trilogy Back to the Future exhibited a wide collection of nifty gadgets that are now common in current everyday life. One of these is a visor worn by children, which eerily looks and functions similarly to the VR headsets of today. In addition, household items could be retrieved via voice command, echoing electronic assistants such as Alexa and Siri. Fascinatingly, numerous fictional works such as Back to the Future managed to accurately predict inventions and happenings that came to materialize in later years. 

Understanding real-life issues

In relation to the previous characteristic of exploring various possibilities, sci-fi also allows us to understand real-life problems, especially scientific and sociopolitical problems. Often times, sci-fi films present tricky ethical challenges that are brought forth by scientific breakthroughs.

Genetic engineering is one of the best topics that highlights this issue. Popular concepts such as cloning and genetic modification are frequently depicted in a horrific light, frequently involving monstrosities that have been created by humans and later causing chaos. A morbid concoction of genetic engineering gone wrong and horrific nature of humans, the film Splice (2009) follows the drama around a human-animal hybrid produced from a secretive experiment. Despite appearing initially docile, the creature eventually exhibits aggressive, violent behavior, proving to be difficult for its creators to handle. Though the horrific development of the hybrid may be unrealistic, the splicing of human with non-human genetic material has been a routine tool since the recombinant DNA revolution of the 70s. So the film does not wander off too far from reality, implying the possible worst paths humans could take when venturing into new fields of science. 

Such works may be dismissed as mere fantasy by some skeptical audiences, but they do at least help us mentally prepare for such problems if they ever materialize in the near future. It is also important to note, as seen with the Back to the Future films, countless works have managed to make accurate predictions of the future. Already, genetic engineering is increasingly becoming a keen topic of controversy surrounding the formation of human-animal hybrids or chimeras. In this year for instance, controversy was reignited when scientists have successfully grown monkey embryos containing human cells for the first time. The scenarios in sci-fi, as fantastical they may sound, warn of the possible disasters that ensue when human curiosity crosses moral thresholds. 

 

Anna Kono

Waseda '20

Anna is a graduate from Waseda University in the SILS department. Likes art, animals, anything that is dandy and stylish. Needs to go to the sea every now and then to recharge.
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