Sunday, August 26, 2007

Why Science Fiction?

Why Science Fiction? I have been prompted to go back to the editorial in the March, 1939, issue of Startling Stories and gave it another look.
"Why Science Fiction?" is an editorial by popular
author John Taine (Eric Temple Bell, 1883-1960) whose works included "The Greatest Adventure" and "The Time Stream". Mr. Taine suggests that Science Fiction is a way to introduce people to Science and to, perhaps, increase interest in Science among the general public. In other words, sugar coat a possibly unpopular topic. This idea was used by Gene Roddenberry a quarter of a
century later in using the Science Fiction setting of Star Trek to address contemporary issues regular dramas might want to avoid.
I did find particularly interesting his statement, "To sane men it is
obvious that science has improved our living conditions far beyond what the
most optimistic prophet of a hundred years ago would have thought possible.
Unfortunately, however, entire nations are being led by men who fear and
hate science because it contradicts their wishful fancies." Now, thinking
over the world situation in 1939 I have tried to figure out who he was
talking about. The usual totalitarian governments of Germany, the Soviet
Union and Japan, the likeliest suspects, were all on the science bandwagon
and the Western nations were also enjoying the fruits of scientific
advancement. The Industrial Revolution had certainly started something and
by the early 20th Century scientific advancement was coming at frightening
I watched the 1968 film Bullitt today. It is appropriately 39 years ago,
the same time represented by the 1939 publication date of Taine's editorial and the beginning of the 20th Century. Scenes shot in a hospital look primitive compared with modern medicine of 2007. Diagnostic tools we accept as common today are missing from the 1968 operating room. You wonder how we survived those days.
In 1968 Man had not yet been to the Moon.
That would change a year later. In 1900 man had not flown a heavier-than-air craft. In 1939 aviation was on the edge of jet power. Practical rockets were in the development stage.
Many people in science have credited Science Fiction with pushing them into
the field. Writers such as Heinlein made the concept of space travel acceptable to a generation and helped spur developments in the field.
Perhaps someone reading that editorial in 1939 wound up entering the
sciences. I think that's what John Taine was getting at.


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