Friday, November 25, 2011

Viewing Alert: Prophets of Science Fiction

I probably should have brought this to readers' attention before now, but the third episode of this series on the Science Channel convinced me that it is well worth watching.

The premise behind Prophets of Science Fiction is simple: an examination of the great writers of science fiction and their best stories, of what motivated them, and how what they wrote predicted and affected future technology. While fans of science fiction may well be aware of the importance of the writers and their works, it is still fascinating to see not only other writers talk about how influential these writers are but also the leading scientists in the world talking about their research and how those writers influenced them and the path that scientific development took.

The first episode centered on Mary Shelley and of course, Frankenstein. Mixing reenactments of Shelley's life with scenes from performances of Frankenstein, the episode talked not only about why Shelley wrote what she did—including the loss of her infant daughter and her unending feeling of being haunted—it also spent time talking about the ethical dilemmas surrounding advanced biotechnical research. The second episode was about Philip K. Dick and was brutally honest about his drug use and psychoses. But it also spent at least half its time on the advances in cybernetics and memory that Dick predicted, discussed by leading scientists in the field.

And while those episodes were pretty good, the one that clenched my proselytizing the series is the most recent episode, on H. G. Wells. While a lot of series on a similar theme would be content to talk about the predictive nature of Wells's fiction, the episode also spent time talking about the social issues that lay at the heart of his best novels. And pretty much none of his most important work was spared examination: War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The World Set Free, and even his movie, Things to Come.

There remain five episodes in the remainder of the season, episodes dealing with Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Robert Heinlein, and George Lucas. I have to admit to being dumbfounded at the inclusion of Lucas among the luminaries of science fiction writers; no doubt Lucas's work is important to the history of science fiction, but he really isn't a groundbreaking writer—I am not aware of much of his work that is predictive or original. Nonetheless, Prophets of Science Fiction is well worth finding on the Science Channel. New episodes air on Wednesdays and there are repeats of earlier episodes scattered throughout their weekly schedule.

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