By Dave Hood
Last week, the New Yorker published a special science-fiction edition of its magazine , in which several writer’s have contributed short essays on what got them interested in the genre of sci-fi, as it applies to literature. For instance, Margaret Atwood, in The Spider Women, writes a personal essay on reading science fiction as a child. She writes, “children don’t read genres, they read stories….and blow a certain age they don’t distinguish between true and not true. I confess that as a child, I read very few science-fiction stories or novels, unless they were Marvel comics, with stories about Spider man, the X-Men, or The Hulk. In fact, I don’t remember reading any books, unless I was required to read them for school. And yet, I’ve always been fascinated by the genre of sci-fi/fantasy as it applies to television and film.
During the 60s, when I was a boy growing up, television first introduced me to science fiction. I began watching Star Trek on the old black and white, which has “bunny ears” for an antenna. In case you have never seen Star Trek, this weekly series was about the adventures of Caption James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew, Spock , Scotty, Mr. Sulu and others, traveling through interstellar space on a spaceship called the Starship Enterprise. Watching the show, I learn about time travel, ray guns, traveling at the speed of light through outspace, and alien beings, some who are friendly, others who are foes, inhabiting far off planets in the universe.
In 1968, I recall purchasing a my first sci-fi movie ticket to see Planet of the Apes, a film about a crew, staring Charlton Heston, that crashes their spaceship into a strange planet, inhabited by intelligent apes who can talk and who have established a structured society like the planet earth. I still remember the scene in the movie in which Charlton Heston sees the Statue of Liberty, partial sunk, sticking out of the sea.
As a child, I remember following the Apollo space program–the mission to explore outspace and land a man on the moon. One of the most significant memories of my childhood was staying up in the dead of night on July 21, 1969, to watch astronaut ,Neil Armstrong, step out of the lunar module, take his first steps on the moon, saying “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, then planting American flag in the lunar soil, and discovering later that life didn’t exist on the moon. The Apollo space program furthered my interest in sci-fi.
A few years later, I saw “2001 Space Odyssey,” one of the all-time classic sci-fi films, directed by Stanley Kubrick. This film is about astronauts who take a space voyage in a space craft from earth to Jupiter, to uncover the questions about a supernatural monolith that has been exploring various parts of the universe, such as the moon, and has also been emitting signals to earth. During the flight, the spacecraft is hijacked by the computer named Hal, who operates the spaceship. This film’s educated me about possible setbacks of advanced technology, such as computers acting like anarchists. The film also encouraged me to believe in the possibility of aliens living somewhere in another galaxy of the universe.
Growing up, I read and heard a great deal of talk about Unidentifiable Flying Objects. These were called UFOs. Sometimes, I’d stay up late at night, listen to the call in shows about UFO sightings. People would come on the radio, claiming to believe that they saw or knew someone who’d seen a UFO. While the shows were fascinating, I never believed the stories of people who claimed they saw a UFO. Nor did I believe those stories by people who claimed to have be taken away against their will by aliens. I just thought it was pure fantasy. And after the Apollo landed on the moon, and astronauts explored the lunar surface, and were unable to find any life forms, I concluded that the UFO sightings were just a hoax. But I didn’t stop believing in the possibility that alien life existed elsewhere in the cosmos.
In 1979, I purchased a movie ticket to see “Alien”, a sci-fi/ horror film. I was “blown away” by the special effects used by the director to create a vision of outer space and an alien creative. I was also enthralled by the story of an extraterrestrial that inhabiting a spacecraft, terrorize the crew members. I’ll never forget the scene in which an alien creative pops out of the guy’s chest. I was so awe-inspired by this film that I saw it three times within a couple of weeks. From this point forward, I became seriously interested in sci-fiction films. Any time a sci-fi movie came out, I would see it in the movie theatre, providing the film critics that were my favorite, gave the film a good review. I seen countless sci-fi films, including all the Alien sequels, all the Star Wars and Star Trek movies, Blade Run, E.T, The Thing, War of the Worlds, and many more. With the dawn of digital, in the late 90s, I replaced by VHF copies of these films with DVDs, and watched them over and over. Alien, I’ve watched so many times, that I’ve lost count.
During the 90s, my favorite television show was the X-Files. Each week, I taped the episode on my VCR and then watched it religiously, like someone who attends church service each week. In every episode, Agent Mulder and Dana Scully are assigned to solve cases the FBI has labeled X-File, always related to strange incidents involving UFOs or the unexplained, like the episode in which Scully believes that the psychic predictions of a death row inmate are the only hope in finding and catching a murderer. When the X-Files movies came out in the theatres, I went to see them. A few year ago, I purchased many of the episodes on DVD. Just the other week, when there was nothing interesting on television, I saw the episode ,ICE (11/5/93), where Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate a team of geophysicists who have died at an Alaskan outpost from a parasitic, alien life form. While some of the storylines were farfetched, I thought many of the episodes were plausible, which only added to my curiosity about so many unanswerable questions about the cosmos.
A couple of years ago, I wrote down a list of novels to read, including two sci-fi books: “The Martian Chronicles”, written by Ray Bradbury, and George Orwell’s ” 1984.” In the span of only a few days, after work, I read ” 1984,” a classic novel about a possible world in which totalitarianism controls all aspects of life, including our minds by George Orwell. A few days later, I walked into the used bookstore, while searching for the Martian Chronicles, stumbled across another book not on the list, called “Blindness” by Jose Saramago’s, purchasing the book for $7. I was motivated to read this book, in part, by the fact the cover told me it was an International bestseller and noble Prize winner in literature. I also was intrigued by the plot–a story set in a city terrorized by an epidemic , where the victims, who become blind, are confined to a mental hospital, treated like rabid animals by those in power.
Last year, I read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. Not only did only has it won the Pulitzer, but it’s also the best sci-fi novel I have ever read. The story is set in post-apocalyptical America. After the wife takes her own life, unwilling to live in this hellish setting, the father and son decide to carry on, find other survivors of this cataclysmic explosion that has converted the planet to a dead zone, where nothing lives. The father and his boy take a journey across this wasteland, confronting obstacles and setbacks along the way. I believe there is much truth to McCarthy’s plot. If a terrorist were ever to get hold of a nuclear weapon, or a rogue government decided to engage in a war of Armageddon, or a meteor should stray off course and strike the earth, “The Road” could become a reality.
In recent months, I’ve read Stephen Hawking’s classics,” A Brief History of Time”, and “The Universe in a Nutshell.” These books taught me about the big bang, black holes, time travel, the theories of quantum physics and general relativity, the expanding universe, and many other fascinating concepts about astronomy. I am spellbound by the facts that there are billions of galaxies, each containing millions of stars and solar systems, perhaps like ours.
This new knowledge of astronomy has convinced me that that alien life probably exists in some far off place and that there is probably an alien civilization more advance than ours, with the technological capabilities of traveling near or at the speed of light, somewhere , far off in the cosmos. And so, perhaps there is some truth to the creative visions of director Ridley Scott and others, who have dreamed up alien creatures and constructed the visuals of time travel and the nature of the universe with computer generated imagery.
What is the difference between sci-fi and fantasy? Often the genres cross over. Rod Sterling, who was an American screenwriter, novelist, television producer, and narrator, best known for his live television dramas of the 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, ” The Twilight Zone“, said that “fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.” In my view, science fiction is more plausible than pure fantasy–which is like a cartoon, purely made up from imagination.
What makes sci-fi an important genre— whether a short story, novel, television show, or movie? Science fiction provides possible answers to so many unanswerable questions about the universe or cosmos. For instance: Does alien life exist elsewhere in the universe? If so, what does it resemble? Are we being watched by intelligent life that inhabits a far off planet? Are there UFO? What does the universe look like? How does it feel to travel at the speed of light? Does a higher power exist in the universe?
This morning, I opened the newspaper, and learned that author, Ray Bradbury, had died. According to the obituary in the Toronto Star, he was “one of the world’s best-known and best-loved science fiction writers. He is best known for his books– “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles.” Bradbury wrote books based on real facts. According to the obituary, “Bradbury’s writing is credited with foretelling such technology as iPods, interactive television, pervasive electronic surveillance.”
Along with Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein, Bradbury is considered to be one of those very best at telling tales of science fiction.
On June 8th, the sci-fi film, “Prometheus,” which has received a lot of buzz in the media and looks captivating from the tailors, will be in theatres. This film is directed by Ridley Scott, who was also the director of the original, Alien. It’s the latest sci-fi film in which “a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.” The Internet Movie Database website (www.imdb.com) gave “Prometheus” a four star rating.
I know where all be on June 8th:buying a movie ticket, popcorn, and pop, to watch the film, “Prometheus”, hoping to learn something new about science fiction, knowing that I’ll see something I’ve never imagined or experienced with my senses before. And when the movie is finished, I will continue to believe that alien life exists somewhere, in some far off place, thousands of light years away, in the dark universe.