“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.”
~ Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was an American professor of biochemistry at Boston University. He was a prolific writer of more than 500 books and was best known for his science fiction works and popular science books. He wrote three major science fiction series: the Foundation Series, the Galactic Empire Series and the Robot Series. It seems to me that this prolific author had more important goals when writing science fiction than just entertaining the masses.
As I read Asimov’s words, I think of the classic science fiction stories like the original TV series, Star Trek, plus the several spin-off Star Trek TV series and then the feature films – all of which have spanned five decades. The Star Wars films have spanned four decades, while the British-made Dr. Who TV series has spanned several decades as well. This list alone proves that people around the world have a great appetite for science fiction. I am a product of this period and I’ve never lost my fascination for science fiction tales.
Asimov begins with the comment that there are many who view science fiction as inconsequential tales valuable only for their entertainment value. In doing so, he characterizes this view as blind criticism. I do understand that the closely-related genres of fantasy and science fiction are not everyone’s cup of tea. There are genres that I don’t enjoy either. But to dismiss any well-written fiction as trivial and without real value is close-minded at best and arrogantly insulting at worst.
The advent of the space age in the 1960s fired up the imagination of many people and that, I believe, gave the science fiction genre a huge shot in the arm. Here in North America, we witnessed the invasion of science fiction on TV with the short-lived Star Trek series created by Gene Roddenberry. The thing that made me a Trekkie throughout my life – for 50 years now, is Roddenberry’s philosophy that is the foundation of the entire Star Trek franchise. He believed in the innate goodness of humanity and our ability to adapt without sacrificing our core values. He believed in gender equity and racial harmony to name just two. However, keep in mind that when he created Star Trek in 1966, the women’s movement was just ramping up as was the civil rights movement that culminated in the race riots at the end of that decade. In 1966, Roddenberry was not preaching to the choir!
As a high school student in the mid-60s, I recall the many warnings scientists were issuing about environmental issues – pollution of our air and waters ranking high among them. We were told that we didn’t have decades to turn things around. The warnings were ignored for the most part by governments and industry. A natural outcome of this inaction has been many apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic tales depicted in science fiction novels as well as feature films and television series. Most of these take the negative tack when looking at our future. Authors as well as TV and film producers have presented us with many plausible scenarios that could cause the death of the planet and human extinction.
Isaac Asimov is telling us that science fiction is important because it can wake us up to action before it is too late. He uses the phrase “crucial to our survival” and he doesn’t do so lightly. My guess is that most people think the greatest threat to human survival is the changes brought about in our environment by global warming. And perhaps they are right, but I think that if we become an extinct species, it will be because of human intolerance.
Throughout our history, the holy books and prophets have exhorted the faithful to be loving people – to accept each other’s differences. But we have refused, narrowing our vision to the small percentage of things that make us different and totally ignore the over 90% of things where we are the same. A few days ago I witnessed an answer to a question about race that illustrates my point very well. In the blog “The 100 Things We All Wonder about Nonnie Jules” Blog Tour that appears on this site, Nonnie was asked if she is African-American. Her answer:“I AM NOT African-American, but I am American (meaning I’m not from your neck of the woods, John!) My race: the human race. And in the end, that all boils down to the fact that we all bleed red!”
We all bleed red. Four words really says it all. In Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic universe, we not only got past intolerance among ourselves, but also accepted alien races. The world of Star Trek is far from perfect, but it is inspiring to watch these people of the Federation Of Planets deal with the evil and dangers that exist in their time. It isn’t a perfect society, but it is a vision of what can be when we accept that… we all bleed red. Thank you, Isaac Asimov, for this inspiration!