Science Fiction as a Speculative Genre
As a visual artist, I’ve always loved science fiction. I am drawn (pun intended) to the highly imaginative worlds that science fiction authors create. By definition, science fiction contains inventive settings and other-wordly technology that take place in the future, including alternate universes, time travel and extraterrestrial life. American, Robert Heinlein, (1907 – 1988), often considered the ‘dean of science fiction writers’ and author of such classics as Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers, defined the genre as “realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.” Good science fiction challenges us to consider the physical, moral and political consequences of scientific and technological inventions, social structures and human behavior.
Science Fiction Writers = Prophets of the Future.
As speculators about the future, science fiction writers have often predicted and influenced real-world technological inventions. In 1950, in his I, Robot short stories, Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) described a new world in which man-made machines called robots carried out routine, human tasks. In so doing, he foresaw the development of what became an entire scientific field of study called robotics and inspired generations of readers to embrace his vision. Similarly science fiction writer, Jules Verne, (1828 – 1905) realized the potential for the components of water (hydrogen and oxygen) to be used as fuel and predicted the technology of fuel cells that are currently being used to power clean energy, hybrid automobiles. The Science Channel has created a fascinating series entitled, Prophets of Science Fiction, that features 10 science fiction writers, including Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov, who imagined future scientific ideas that have become reality.
Why Bring Up Science Fiction in a Blog About The Wave, Water and Public Art?
Right now I am re-reading the epic classic, Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965), considered to be one of the best science fiction novels of all time. Dune is set on a hostile desert planet called Arrakis that is populated by the Fremen, a native, human population. The Fremen have complex rituals and systems that revolve around the value and conservation of water. The preciousness of water to them is so critical to their consciousness and their very existence that they consider the acts of spitting and shedding tears as signs of reverence to the receiver because those who respond in this way are willingly releasing what is desperately needed to live. The Fremen even make what we would consider to be harsh life and death choices based on how they see the survival needs of their whole community: they do not waste water on the wounded or fatally ill.
Reading Dune this summer, while severe drought conditions in the American west are reported daily on the news, has made me wonder whether or not Frank Herbert created such an extreme scenario about an almost waterless society in order to force our attention on the very real threats that exist should we not: conserve the dwindling water resources we have on Earth right now; eradicate the pollution that poisons our oceans, lakes and rivers and provide potable water more effectively to water-scarce areas of the world in order to prevent future wars over water. To me, the novel is another powerful example of how art can bombard our senses and focus our attention as a society on addressing critical challenges with clarity and resolve.