Posted by: wolferiver | December 19, 2010

Twenty Minutes Into The Future

This week SyFy canceled Stargate Universe, and now there is no longer a space based science fiction show anywhere on American TV. (Doctor Who still lives on air, but he’s British import.) I may not have cared much for the franchise, or for the Battlestar Galactica show, but at least they both depicted humans exploring their galactic frontiers.

Of course, science fiction doesn’t have to be space based. The central question of any science fiction story is “what if”. The question of what if aliens lived among us is equally as scifi-ey as what if we could travel in space.  What if ancient creatures were cloned so that they could live again? (Check out Jurassic Park.) What if the old gods never went away, and still roamed among us? (Check out Neil Giaman’s American Gods.) What if we all lived in a fascist society, where our every living moment was watched by Big Brother? (Check out George Orwell’s 1984.) What if books were illegal and had to be burned, and instead we all were forced to watch TV? (Check out Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.)

It would be too easy to bash SyFy for their tame lineup of shows featuring freaks on earth, pro-wrestling, and reality shows chasing after paranormal phantasms, but they’re merely giving their audience what they’ll settle for. They have also proudly announced a new joint venture with Universal to make feature films. That’s “real” movies, which presumably will appear in megaplexes around the nation. No mention is made about what sort of movies they plan to make. Perhaps Mansquito 2 on the big screen is something we can all look forward to. (What if a man and a mosquito were combined?!?! Wouldn’t that be AWESOME!)

In their previous life, when SyFy was just the Scifi Channel, they used to do promo spots featuring “if” in “scifi”, but now that no longer works for them. “Yf” just sounds fey and stupid.

Inventing Our Futures

Good science fiction, like any other great dramatic work, is both immediately entertaining, and and also universal in that it stands up well over time. But really good science fiction also shows us our future. H.G. Wells predicted the atom bomb, and transplants. Jules Verne predicted submarines and the trip to the moon. Star Trek’s “cloaking device” is on its way to reality, as is its replicator. Unfortunately, we now seem to have lost our nerve and our imagination, and almost all scifi in any media has been reduced to freakish superheroes and doltish villains.

Max Headroom. Not a freakish hero nor doltish villain, but surprisingly prescient.

Twenty some years ago one television show predicted what things would come to. Max Headroom, despite the title character’s smart-alec ubiquity at the time, showed us a world dominated by mega-media-conglomerates, blip-verts, a black market for body parts, blanks (people off the grid), and some sort of proto-interconnectivity of digital devices remarkably like the internet we know today.

To quote Blank Reg (a cyberpunk character from the show):

“Welcome to Big Time television, all day, every day, making tomorrow seem like yesterday. And remember when we said there was no future? Well, this is it.”

Max Headroom: The Complete Series is available from Shout!Factory.


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