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Essay/Term paper: Science fiction in the 20th century

Essay, term paper, research paper:  High School Essays

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The rapid pace of technology and the advancement of scientific understanding in the past one hundred years are at the backbone for the distinctly twentieth century genre -- science fiction. Such rapid advancement in these fields of technology have opened up literally worlds of possibilities for the future. One hundred years ago the possibility of simply flying from city to city may have seemed nothing more than a distant futuristic dream to most. While a mere sixty years later the impossible was achieved -- a human being on the moon. Since technology has brought as much change as it has in the past one hundred years the next hundred should be entirely incomprehendable to us. Who knows what to expect? "The modern discoveries and applications of Science throw deeply into the shade the old romances and fanciful legends of our boyhood" (James 8) observes James. Technology has made what was once thought impossible, plausible and weather or not technology is directly incorporated into a science fiction story as an obvious vehicle, the author knows that it is always present in the mind of the reader. It is this plausablilty of what conventionally should not be acceptable that has led to science fiction's increasing popularity over the years. As James explains, "much sf is concerned with the future and with the possibilities presented by scientific and technological change" (James 3). Truly, humans exploring and even colonizing other worlds, the plot of many a science fiction novel, has to many become inevitable. The successful series of Apollo moon landings in the 1960's and the knowledge that we already possess the technology to send humans to other worlds leads many to believe that it is only a matter of time. Even such a notably respectable news source as Newsweek has detailed the future maned missions to Mars (September, 23 1996). When I look forward to the future I can hardly imagine the changes that will occur as a result of new discoveries in science and new technologies. With so many possibilities for the future, science fiction is able to capitalizes on this by showing the audience entirely new worlds and alternatives to our own.

Technology presented in science fiction stories most commonly serves a very important role in the stories plausablilty to the audience. While this does not mean that technology is necessarily the focus of such stories it is often used as the vehicle for which such alternative and wonderous events occur. Without the advanced spaceship how could the Segnauts have gotten to the planet Zorgon and defeated the evil empire? In 2064, or Thereabouts by David R. Bunch, the robotic men and the mechanical world play a secondary role to the importance of the human traits these half man half machines possess. Despite the fact that these people have become converted into a part robot for increased strength and, apparently, longer life the mind still searches for something that technology apparently has not solved -- the meaning of life. The initial recognition by the reader that technology in our time and place is continuously expanding allows for plausibility such a strange and bizarre plot to occur. In Pohl's Day Million the seemingly strange world set one thousand years in the future is so completely different from earth today because of technological changes in virtually everything -- even the act of love, which is at the center of the story, has become completely alien to the audience. (Pohl 166) Despite the fact that the technology presented may seem strange and unusual to the audience Pohl draws his ideas directly from modern day science and technology. Gene manipulation and machine interaction with the body are all currently being researched and used in the science labs and hospitals. In the case of Day Million such technology shapes how these people live and interact with one another.

Science fiction in many cases attempts to better our understanding of our own world and our surroundings by using technology not as a form of advancement, as it is commonly seen in many stories, but as a form of destruction and danger. James states, "You might note that only on sf shelves are there serious fictional discussions of the possibilities of survival after nuclear warfare or the consequences of the greenhouse effect or of overpopulating or of the possible dire consequences of genetic engineering" (James 3). Truly, the "mad scientist' character itself was spawned from science fiction. Earth by David Brin deals with a miniature black hole developed by a scientist who believed he knew how to contain it. Instead the experiment goes out of control and results in a expanding black hole that consumes the Earth from the inside out. Technology in Michael Chrichton's Jurassic Park, the best selling novel in 1990, enables scientists, lured by greed, to genetically engineer dinosaurs that turn out to be too much for the human scientists to handle, despite the technological precautions taken beforehand. The reader surely can not help but compare the world of the story to that of their own. "Not only is science fiction an idea of tremendous import, but it is to be an important factor in making the world a better place to live in, through educating the public to the possibilities of science and the influence of science on life" (James 8). Science fiction in this sense does much more than simply relay a story but it calls for the awareness of the reader to judge the possibilities of the future of their own world. Certainly science fiction in many cases serves not only as a beautiful vision of our future but also as a clear warning of what might become. "The content may be not scientific but scientistic, when science and technology are presented as deity (or negatively as demon). Science is all-powerful: it can create anything (destroy everything). Science will save us (destroy us). It can solve any problem (it is the problem). It is the essence of human (it creates monsters). Science is a purely rational process (the scientist is mad)" (Guin 23). Technology in these science fiction stories poses clear questions to the audience as to the merits of such "advancement'. "Science fiction not only allows us to escape our assigned space and time and step into other dimensions. It lets us examine our mundane, earthbound problems from a fresh original viewpoint" (James 1).
The advancement of science and technology in the twentieth century and the unknown of what lays ahead in our future have allowed science fiction to not only plausibly escape the world as we know it but criticize it as well. "If you thought about it, you might see that sf...because they deal with imaginative alternatives to the real world, also frequently offer criticism to that world" (James 3). Science fiction can not help but draw upon the promise of future technology and analyze how it will effect our lives. While this role may be secondary in many science fiction stories, its importance most certainly is not meant by the author to be ignored.

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