Why Science Fiction?


Why Science Fiction?

by Mary-John Hart, instructor of
The Transcendent in Science Fiction

For the past 75 years, give or take a few, we humans have been experiencing radical change in ourselves, in the human-created realm, and in the life-world. This transformation has been occurring on both the macro and micro scales and has taken place from approximately 1950 to 2016. It is a product of exponential change in science and technology. The ripple effect caused by those developments is transforming how we are human in the world, how we imagine ourselves in the future, and how we understand our planet without which we cannot survive.

During this time, and as a reflection of this transformation, science fiction has evolved from a cult or fringe or pulp phenomenon to a powerful and dominant cultural force worldwide – witness the extraordinary response to the arrival of the latest “Star Wars” movie, which has shattered all previous box office records regardless of genre.

Just so far this century we have seen such films as “Artificial Intelligence” (2001), “Minority Report” (2002), “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003), “I, Robot” (2004), “Serenity” (2005), “Children of Men” (2006), “V for Vendetta” (2006), “The Man From Earth” (2007), “Wall-E” and “Hancock” (2008), “Star Trek,” “Avatar,” and “District 9” (2009), “Beyond the Black Rainbow” (2010), “Super 8” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), “Prometheus” and “The Hunger Games” (2012), “Gravity,” “Snowpiercer,” “Star Trek into Darkness,” and “Elysium” (2013), “Edge of Tomorrow, “Interstellar,” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014), “Ex Machina” and “The Martian” (2015). That’s just a sampling of what’s emerged so far. There is now even a cable TV station that deals exclusively with science fiction. Who knows what fan demand and genius will produce in the very near future?

This growth in the influence of and demand for ever more inventive and thrilling kinds of science fiction brings to mind questions for those of us who would study such things as soul and purpose and deep-meaning and God-by-many-names-and-in-many- forms. What are the implications for human life of this transformation with its intensifying acceleration? What is science fiction really about – as if any one person could answer a question about a field that is now so vast and multi-layered that no one person or institution or course or group of courses could possibly embrace it. Is science fiction about the past, the present, or the future?

Author, N.K. Jemisin is quoted in “Wired” magazine, November 2015 (“War of the Words”, a highly recommended article): “Science fiction is not actually the literature of the future. It’s the literature of the present.” And, I would add, the “present is merely the most recent past. The article points to a pivotal issue that is quite heated in human culture at this time and has to do with what’s going on in gaming and technology between males and females and in science fiction between those who include in their work gender and societal issues (the so-called politically correct) and those who have no use or patience for such “correctness.” This debate is now also reflected in our current presidential election and concerns, at bottom, the past being absorbed into the present (or future). To conclude, science fiction is a place where our questions (however deep or shallow) concerning what it is to be human in what kind of brave new world can be asked though certainly not fully or permanently answered.

Mary-John Hart has her Ph.D. in Depth Psychology on the role of the image. She also has graduate work and teaching and administration experience in drama, and is an award winning science fiction writer, famous in her pesudonym Mary Staton for her book The Legend of Biel. In this course, she shares her depth psychological understanding of the structures of science fiction through the use of her own novel as an illustration.