For me, science fiction is all about contact, where human beings interact with new technology or new species and how each then changes the other.
Growing up, science fiction shaped me in many ways, small and large. Star Wars altered the way I thought about Lego long before the official sets came out. The Last Starfighter taught me the importance of playing video games, as did Enders Game. I found Patrick Tilley’s The Amtrak Wars at a tender age and loved it though my mum had reservations (her eyebrows raised somewhat when I asked her what to explain some of the words to me). I also have very fond memories of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat books.
As a teenager I became obsessed with Dune. Frank Herbert’s world was so rich and epic I was blown away. Among other things, it looked at what humanity might be like if it rejected computers and instead tried to stretch the human mind to compensate. I also loved the relationship between Arrakis and its natives. The Fremen are superlative because the environment is so tough and when live becomes gentler, they quickly lose their edge. I remember proudly telling my English Teacher that I’d read six of the Dune novel’s over the summer but she wasn’t impressed (apparently they weren’t on the reading list).
Whether aliens are benevolent (like E.T. or Klaatu) or terrifying (Xenomorphs, I’m looking at you), they allow us to explore the best and worst of people. In the Alienfilms, Ripley is repeatedly forced to adapt and dig deep in response to the threat and we all know that Weyland-Yutani are the real villains, right?
In my own novel, The Vagrant, a technologically advanced humanity makes first contact with demons, with disastrous effects on both society and ecosystem, with the book exploring both sides of the twisted evolution that follows.
Sometimes the new contact is with technology that is just around the corner, sometimes it is with aliens or gadgets that verge on the miraculous but whether we’re being taken to the near future or a galaxy far, far away, there’s always some insight to bring home.
Because really, science fiction is about us.*
*And laser guns** and robots and exploding spaceships***
**Pew! Pew! Pew!
***I can’t believe I wrote a post about science fiction and didn’t mention Babylon 5. Shame on me!