On trends in science fiction

Science fiction is arguably one of the most impactful genres in society, mostly in its ability to get its audiences to question the world around them, to provide sociopolitical commentary on current issues in our society, and to guide how our technology advances, whether it’s unconscious or not.

The sociopolitical happenings of the world almost always inspire science fiction works in some form or another. When The War of the Worlds was originally published as a book in 1898, it was, in part, a commentary on British imperialism. The film adaptation that came out in 1953, however, spoke to the swirling fears of communism in the aftermath of the Korean War.

War of the Worlds, the 2005 adaptation. A story that remains influential throughout time.

Within the past few years or so, space movies made a comeback. However, they haven’t really been about invasions like they were in the Cold War era. Now, they’re about discovery, survival, ambiguous or potential extraterrestrial threats to humanity, things along those lines.

Movies like Gravity, Interstellar, and The Martian deal with identity crisis, self-discovery, or introspection, more or less all through isolation and with some aspect of survival. With regards to the current society, whether it’s in music or social media, similar expressions of identity crises within the younger generation have been fairly prevalent, not to mention the wide variety of minority or stigmatized social groups encouraging self-acceptance and self-love in spite of personal obstacles and societal barriers.

The Martian (2015), about surviving a harsh and unfamiliar environment and learning about yourself in the process.

Movies like Prometheus and Alien: Covenant or Arrival deal with the conflict and consequences of trusting the unknown and surviving the fallout, if there is one. What are the risks that you run trusting and/or underestimating an entity you don’t understand? The sense of moral conflict and ambiguity with regards to interacting with alien entities is an offshoot of the growing disillusionment of the government and other authorities, starting around the time that Watergate happened, that sparked the artificial intelligence/science experiment featuring a deceptive and/or domineering entity sci-fi trend that’s been less prevalent over the past couple of years, only coming out in shows like Stranger Things.

Prometheus (2012), about the consequences of underestimating and neglecting the things you don’t fully understand. 

Sci-fi trends are not only a commentary on the current sociopolitical shifts; they also exemplify how common sci-fi topics can be translated differently through different time periods. Space movies can reflect concerns with imperialism or reflect the conflict of deciding whether or not what you don’t know can actually harm you in the long run. Movies with regards to artificial intelligence or science experiments can either shed light on the consequences of playing god or on a society’s distrust of authority.

The flexibility of these topics is what is going to keep the sci-fi genre fresh in terms of what an audience can get out of the content, and as long as sci-fi continues to speak uniquely to current issues, it will stay an important and impactful genre for storytelling media in the future.


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