Science fiction is almost always about looking forward. It’s about making predictions for humanity based on our mixed feelings of hope and anxiety. But, in order to understand exactly how sci-fi writers have approached looking to the future, we need to look to the past. In a new, pleasantly animated video for PBS Digital Studios, YouTuber Lindsay Ellis traces the history of science fiction from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the Afrofuturism of Black Panther.
While elements of speculative fiction can be found in some of the oldest stories and myths, what we generally understand to be science fiction didn’t really solidify until after science itself was brought to the forefront—meaning after the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. The introduction of new technology in the real world opened up authors to exploring the collective anxiety and moral conundrums surrounding the technology of their fictional worlds. As time went on, science fiction evolved from the steam punk contraptions of Jules Verne to the gritty, digital interfaces of Philip K. Dick to the calamitous theme parks of Michael Crichton.
Throughout this long history, science fiction has been two-pronged. Yes, it generally has its foundations in our worries about humanity and how we’ll someday destroy ourselves with technology. But it’s also rooted in the hope of a more diverse future in which technology can help us better understand the human condition. Just depends how cynical you want to be in your prognostication.
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