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Science fiction is the best genre even if you don’t like space adventures

June 20, 2013

Sci-fi buffs of the world, speak out against prejudice!

Hands up if you like science fiction! Have you all got your hands up? Good, good. Otherwise, I’d have to come and find you in the dead of night and slowly pour my cold, soggy tea dregs onto your peacefully sleeping face. In any case, you’ve heard of Star Wars. The old one with the adventuring and the swashbuckling using laser swords and all that delightful nonsense. That’s science fiction, right?

Wrong. That’s a family classic with elements of spacey stuff. Science fiction is an in-depth exploration of a scientific or socio-economic concept with the use of storytelling and character building.

Loosely speaking, sci-fi can be sub-divided into two main categories: hard and soft. Hard science fiction deals with elements of chemistry, physics and biology. As riveting as that is, soft science fiction is where my heart is at. Soft science fiction is about human interaction, or alien interaction.

It has the characterisation and story elements not so much taking precedence over the science, but linked to it. This type of science fiction is for asking questions – not the kinds of questions you might ask yourself after having thoroughly dissected Back to the Future, but questions about the way things are and the way things will be in the future.

A good science fiction, or sci-fi fantasy, will be pertinent to the time in which it is written, or else timeless in the issues it raises. H.G. Wells was a science fiction writer of renowned and his book The Time Machine predicted a future way beyond his years in a way that was entertaining and believable.

Wells himself had a remarkable gift for predicting; he accurately envisioned technology and events that occurred well past his lifetime. The Time Machine could be considered a political work of fiction, as Wells envisioned a world where the proletariat and bourgeoisie were so segregated from each other that, over the course of thousands of years, they had evolved into distinct species.

I imagine people think that once an idea has been used in fantasy or sci-fi, all subsequnt variations will look the same; time travel, aliens attack, aliens land but don’t attack, humans are the bad guys, humans are enslaved… You could name so many but they’re all of the same general plotline. It’s social relevance that separates passable sci-fi and good sci-fi.

A particular favourite of mine is District 9 – no relation to District 13, which I’ve never watched and probably never will seeing as it is, by all reliable accounts, average at best. District 9 on the other hand is a science-fiction social drama where aliens in crisis make an emergency landing in Johannesburg and have no choice but to stay, living in slums and segregated from humans. Segregation in South Africa… Sounds familiar.

The story unfolds in the eyes of our unfortunate, not-very-charismatic and not-very-P.C. human lead, whose job it is to relocate the aliens (who have been living and breeding in poverty for many years) to the new District 9. If you haven’t watched it and you don’t like plot spoilers, stop reading now, order it for practically nothing on Amazon and watch it.

Watched it? Good. So our main man comes into contact with a mysterious vial of liquid that he accidently sprays on himself, transforming him slowly and painfully into a member of the alien species. This leads to him being hunted down for the use of experiments by other humans, who want to get their hands on the alien weapons that can only be used by those with alien DNA.

Abandoned and terrified as you might expect, our guy is forced to question his own beliefs about how the aliens are treated by humans. It works because this character was, without a doubt, a right plonker – but by the end of the film you feel sorry for him. And you certainly feel sorry for his alien companion who wants to fix the spaceship and escape the slums with his young son, despite the fact that you will have first looked on “the prawns” with some revulsion.

It doesn’t all turn out happily ever after, but it isn’t a global disaster either. It leaves it open as to whether our main character gets his life back and raises the question of whether, in the grand scheme of things, it really matters; he has been educated in the injustices of the system and no longer has enmity towards the aliens.

It’s not a big dumb sci-fi of explosions, but actually few sci-fis are. Predator and The Terminator may have been big and had explosions, but they are certainly not dumb; the Terminator films showed you someone who was made into an integral part of the future of mankind by a circular process of fate, yet believes solidly that the future is not written in stone and sets out to rewrite it. Predator, loud and brash as it was, might have captured the heart of vegetarians all over the world with its terrifying, game-hunting super-alien with advanced weaponry, picking humans off like insignificant flies simply for fun.

Science fiction isn’t just for nerds, nor is it restricted to people who like guns and lasers and aliens. It can be enjoyed by anyone who wonders about the universe, humanity, history or the future. I think that probably covers everyone.

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