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Sci-fi chronicles : a visual history of the galaxy's greatest science fiction

Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy's Greatest Science Fiction
by Guy Haley (Editor)
Introduction by Guy Haley Science fiction is arguably the most exciting genre of entertainment. No other form of storytelling shapes our culture as much, or is as popular. You may not think yourself a fan of science fiction, but consider the last movie you saw, or the last TV show, or the last video game you played. Whoever you are, some of your favorite entertainments will be listed in these pages. Before starting work on this book, we had to ask ourselves a question: what is science fiction? Seemingly simple, but in reality the answer was hard to formulate. This is the definition we settled upon: Science fiction is a member of a group of fictional genres whose narrative drive depends upon events, technologies, societies etc. that are impossible, unreal, or that are depicted as occurring at some time in the future, the past or in a world of secondary creation. These attributes vary widely in terms of actuality, likelihood, possibility and in the intent with which they are employed by the creator. The fundamental difference between science fiction and the other "fantastical genres" of fantasy and horror is this: the basis for the fiction is one of rationality. The sciences this rationality generates can be speculative, largely erroneous, or even impossible, but explanations are, nevertheless, generated through a materialistic worldview. The supernatural is not invoked (although in some settings might feature alongside SF trappings). Science fiction can be pure fantasy with bad science draped over it as a disguise -- this is irrelevant, so long as the narrative geography is a nominally realistic geography, and is not one of magic. In this sense both the movies Armageddon (about a big asteroid hitting the Earth) and Godzilla (about a giant, atomically mutated lizard) are equally science fiction, even though the former is possible and the latter is not. They are both science fiction because the language used in both to frame the events is that of science. There is a certain snobbery against science fiction. Mainstream critics will say that the likes of Nineteen Eighty-Four , The Road , or Children of Men are not science fiction. However, the criteria for saying so seems to be that they are "good art," and that "good art" cannot possibly be science fiction. Author Margaret Atwood once described the genre as "talking squids in space," despite herself writing little but science fiction. Why should she feel ashamed? Science fiction's sheer broadness is chiefly to blame. It can revel in ridiculous escapism. Power Rangers , for example, is not "good art," although it is perfectly suited to entertaining small children. A further issue is the grave error made regarding science fiction's relationship with the future. Despite appearances to the contrary, science fiction does not set out to predict, and its visions of the world to come date quickly. There have been a handful of examples of individual technologies being foreseen by science-fiction writers -- no more. The impact of computers was almost completely overlooked by the writers of the early 20th century, for example. Science fiction is not predictive. "What if?" is its stock in trade. It does, however, have an effect on the future. Science fiction is a product of its time. The futures of the 1950s are those of atomic rockets and pipe-smoking engineers, those of the 1960s are replete with moonbases and free love, while worlds dreamt up in the 1980s are dominated by wicked corporations or scoured by nuclear apocalypse. But in being so parochial, SF fulfills a valuable function. Holding up a mirror to its present, it is consequently an image of its time. But it does not have to follow the rules of its time, and is often most fruitful when set in direct opposition to them. In this way, the very best science fiction has tremendous power. When Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four , the horrors of Stalinism were not widely accepted. H.G. Wells' Morlocks and Eloi are a damning indictment of the social divisions of the 1890s; the first inter-racial kiss on American screens was on Star Trek . Through exaggerated or simplified versions of our reality, science fiction opens our eyes to the truth of the world, and in doing so can even act as a preventative against disaster. The wild, glorious visions of SF inspire real scientists. Often one hears scientists and technologists say, "I saw this in a science fiction show, and I wondered how I could make it work." Star Trek is particularly influential -- you can thank it for your mobile phones, but also for ongoing research into teleportation and faster-than-light travel. In a similar vein, should we ever colonize another world, many of the problems of how we would survive there have already been examined by science fiction, while if we meet a sentient alien species, science fiction will have prepared us (as certain conspiracy theorists hold, deliberately) through numerous scenarios. We will likewise be prepared if we find ourselves alone in the universe. In a secular society, science fiction provides room for the numinous; it is modern Western society's mental and spiritual gymnasium. At other times, science fiction has acted as a smokescreen to dissent, giving a platform to writers to criticize repressive regimes. The genre is not without its faults. It is almost certainly to blame for its own ghettoization. It can be exclusive and narrow-minded, being predominantly the product of male, Western minds. It can be shoddy, infantile and distracting. But even when it is, it is never less than entertaining, and is often beautiful. As you probably appreciate, science fiction is a vast field, comprising many subgenres. We cannot possibly cover it all. Therefore, we have attempted to provide you with an overview, something that illustrates science fiction's history, breadth and influence. Any omissions are necessarily somewhat subjective, but sadly unavoidable. Science fiction may not predict, but we will -- that the scholars of the future will look back upon science fiction as a crucial part of 20th and 21st-century culture. So, join us on our odyssey through this amazing genre's past and present, and feast your eyes on the myriad futures it has depicted. Excerpted from Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy's Greatest Science Fiction All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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Sci-fi chronicles : a visual history of the galaxy's greatest science fiction

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1818-1925. Early science fiction : the birth of a genre -- 1920-50. The days of pulp : the 'golden age' of science fiction -- 1950-70. The era of the atom : the marvels and perils of science -- 1970-90. Dark futures : apocalypses and the war in space -- 1990-present. The adventure continues : modern science fiction -- Famous space ships -- The science fiction chronology -- Genre definitions.

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