Our Human Family; Musings on Science-Fiction Genre

Article excerpt

Byline: Barry Casselman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There is now a relatively old tradition of futuristic, beyond-the-earth, space-travel literature.

It began perhaps most notably with Jules Verne in France and was soon taken up by the Englishman H.G. Wells. After World War I and its unanticipated horrors on a mass scale, Buck Rogers appeared in the United States as a futuristic space hero. World War II then took place and upped the ante on terrestrial violence and cruelty. So-called extraterrestrial science fiction then came out in full force as a literary form of its own in comic books, short and long fiction and films.

I remember when the film "2001: Space Odyssey" first appeared. Its imagination, poetry and idealism thrilled a generation. "Close Encounters of a Third Kind" seemed to be a corrective of H.G. Wells' earlier "War of the Worlds" as the first contact with extraterrestrials was regarded as positive. The television series and films of "Star Trek" went through various metamorphoses, but all of them portrayed a still-problematic but idealistic world of the future. In this world, disease or injury could be cured in a few minutes with a hand-held device, transportation over long distances could take place in seconds at "warp" speed, individuals could be "beamed" to any destination and human starvation, want and greed had virtually been replaced by an intergalactic federation of evolutionary good.

One might say that the science-fiction genre was literature and cinema, but it was, and is, also entertainment. It also can be noted that much of science fiction's futuristic environment was also a commentary on the present and not just a prediction of a future world.

Watching one of the "Star Trek" films the other night, I was struck both by how much of the technological prescience of science fiction has come true in the past century and by how little we seemed to have advanced in humanitarian terms over the same period. Technology and medical science, of course, have catapulted human society into new levels of daily life. We live (in certain nations) longer, healthier and better fed, and can perform functions of communication, transportation and manufacturing that simply could not be imagined or anticipated in the middle of the 19th century.

As then, however, religions clash, ideologies battle, diseases threaten and kill, enormous natural disasters occur, geoclimatological forces alternately warm and cool the earth, masses of human beings live in poverty, hunger and ignorance and under totalitarian rule. …