Science fiction and science – chicken and egg?

scifibooks2So the chicken and egg conundrum, which comes first? I think the same is true of science and science fiction.  I was reminded of this by the recent pictures of the Spacex reusable booster coming back to earth and landing like a space rocket form a 1950s science fiction movie (not so successful though in the last few days).  Then there are other examples.  In 2001 A Space Odyssey people travelled from earth to an orbiting space station.  OK it was larger and they weren’t astronauts.  But they did travel in what looked like a bigger version of the then still to come space shuttle.  And now commercial space flight is the subject of serious investment

There are other examples where science fiction has become, or is becoming, science reality.  In the 1950s and 1960s Asimov and others produced a number of works on robots, robotics and intelligent machines.  Humanoid robots currently seem to be one of the hot topics of computer research.  There is also serious speculation on how we might travel faster than (or cheat) the speed of light.

All these ideas seem to have been born in science fiction and then later become science fact or at least the subject of serious scientific research.  Perhaps it’s just that when there is the first inkling of a possibility of these things it fires the imagination.  The technology to make them happen is so far removed from what’s available at the time that the only place that, that imagination can grow and expand is in the science fiction of the day.  In science fiction the imagination is free to take the potential technology in a variety of directions and way beyond what might be thought of as possible at the time.  It’s not restricted by the limitations of the day.  It’s then a case of technology catching up with the fiction, catching up with the imagination.  And, perhaps the drive in research is driven, to some extent, by those imagined possibilities.  After all the continued exploration of scientific possibilities is fuelled not only by what has gone before but also by the imagination of those scientists, inspired by the world around them.  And that surely must include science fiction.

The universeAs for the chicken and egg and which comes first, it doesn’t matter.  They are so intertwined, so dependent on each other that you can’t say.  So for those who look down on the genre of science fiction I say you can’t have science without science fiction and visa versa.  We should be celebrating those that are sufficiently interested in science that it fires their creativity to dream of and write about what might now seem the impossible.  Remember when the steam train was first realised people thought speeds in excess of forty miles an hour would kill you.  It’s not that long ago that human flight was a fanciful idea and that getting man to the moon was a just a Jules Verne story.

So faster than light travel, visiting the stars, human colonies in space and other worlds, vastly extended human life, sentient machines and many other, what might be considered science fiction ideas are now deeply embedded in our imaginations and the imaginations of scientists.  So they will happen at some point in the future.  Our technology just needs to catch up once again.

As always comments are welcome.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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