Science Fiction: The Dreams And Nightmares Of Society
Science fiction is a mode of writing used to speculate on possible future events depicting how humans and/or civilization will adapt to the changes in science and technology. Advancement of technology and scientific achievement is a source of great purpose and excitement to many, however it is also deeply feared by others. Often looking back in history it seems that the innovation of ideas and technology has been a double edged knife. Innovation brings with it many new possibilities, however also brings with it new problems, challenges and dangers as well. Examples of this can be seen in innovation such as the splitting of the atom, the emergence of industrialization and most recently in the development of social media and the internet. This common theme of both positive and negative societal impacts resulting from innovation, has led many to question and make inferences as to what future impact these changes will have upon our society. Science fiction is the canvas on which writers can create the future worlds they dream, and they often see and write about both the positive and negative potential impacts that technology may have upon our society. As every great novel must have relevance, meaning, and value to society, most good science fiction novels tend to use the mode as an advantage in order to satire modern issues that face civilization through the lens of their future impact. Science fiction’s combination of exploring societal issues and speculation towards future innovation, present us with dreams of incredible futures which contain nightmarish aspects that serve to satire modern day issues.
The first example of science fiction text in which the author’s dream of the future displays a nightmarish version of modern societal issues is The Time Machine by H. G Wells. In this novel, H. G Wells satires the rich leisure class of his Victorian era through his depiction of the Elois. The Elois are one half of the evolutionary path of humans far into the future. They live above ground in decadence however they are small, weak and have a child like mind and temperament. The other half of human’s future evolutionary path are much larger and brutish, live below ground, and prey upon the Elois consuming them for food, they are called the Marlocks. The protagonist of the novel is a time traveler who comes across these two species on his maiden voyage through time. The protagonist’s view of the Elois reflects H. G Wells view of the Victorian leisure class, he believes that they do not earn their money but take advantage of the work done by the lower classes. The depiction the Elois is meant to satire how the behaviors perpetrated by the Victorian ruling class make them weak due to their lack of struggle and effort. This quote from the time traveler referring to the Elois can be equally applied to the leisure class of the Victorian and of modern day society:
“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have a huge variety of needs and dangers. ” (Wells Pg. 126)
So through H. G Wells dream of a future where time travel is possible, he explores the modern issues of complacency and class division have also been allowed developed into a nightmarish scenario. This is how science fiction uses its mode in order to satire modern issues, leading to a new perspective and deeper understanding of said issues.
Another example of a story which demonstrates how the science fiction mode uses dreams of the future to satire modern issues, is Leslie F. Stone’s The Conquest of Gola. In this short story, Leslie F. Stone satires the theme of sexism through her dream of a world called “Gola”, which is ruled solely by woman. This story serves to satire sexism through the depiction of a world with reversed gender roles, whereby the women of the Golan species is larger and smarter than the makes of the species thus giving females control. A quote from the end of the story shows how the divide between the genders’ on planet Gola result in the weakening and ineffectualness of the male half of the species thereby giving rise to a nightmarish and permanent division between the sexes:
“Perhaps in the future they will return again, but we are always at the readiness for them now, and our men-well they are still the same ineffectual weaklings, my daughters”. (Stone, Pg 10) The female Golan’s do majority of physical, intellectual and governance work while the males are kept by females as “Consorts”(Stone Pg. 3) and are otherwise left to their own devices. The dream that Leslie F. Stone had was of a world of peace and superior technology, however the issue of sexism she saw in the real world during 1930’s gave rise to the nightmare of extreme sex division seen on the world of Gola. The third and final example of great science fiction novels which depict dreams of the future turned to nightmare is the novel Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. In this novel Arthur C. Clarke display’s his dream of a future world where humans are encountered by a species of aliens called the “Overlords”, whom help us to progress technologically at a rapid pace. This dream presents many advantages for mankind including better medicine, faster and more efficient transportation, as well as provides humans with all their material needs. Although man is provided with significant improvement technologically, people in this future world remain unsatisfied with their lives, the following quote displays the reason for these feelings: “No utopia can ever give satisfaction to everyone, all the time. As their material conditions improve, men raise their sights and become discontented with power and possessions that once would have seemed beyond their wildest dreams. And even when the external world has granted all it can, there still remain the searchings of the mind and the longings of the heart. ”(Clarke Pg. 83) The nightmare that is manifested is the restriction of mankind’s freedom, the destruction of advancement and despair resulting from a lack of purpose. Through the dream of meeting all of mankind’s material needs, we are presented with the nightmare of people having no purpose in life.
Through the work of science fiction writers we are able to glimpse the dreams of these writers’ future worlds. However these dreams of advanced and future civilizations are never perfect because scientific and technological progress have both positive and negative effects on society. Again referencing Childhood’s End, “No Utopia can ever give satisfaction for everyone” (Clarke Pg. 83). This shows that although science fiction writing is a dream of the future, that every one of these dreams contains a nightmare which stems from the problems facing modern civilization. No future can be perfect for everyone and every dream of the future despite any advancement in science, technology or civilization, also brings with it the nightmarish aspects of problems that our society has failed to address. Through the satire of modern problems through a futuristic lens, science fiction writers are able to expand upon the implications of these issues, giving readers a new perspective on these problems.
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