Yesterday’s science fiction, in many cases, is today’s modern science thanks to the creativity of early writers. As a history teacher it’s important that I impart on my students knowledge and lessons learned from past events.
- How can we relate “Lord of the Flies” to World War II?
- How do the late 19th century works of Jules Verne connect to the Russian and American space programs of the 1950s?
- What does the War of the Worlds have to do with British Imperialism?
It didn’t occur to me until fairly recently that I could also reverse my thinking about history. Early 20th century science fictions writers posed ideas for the future that were, and some currently are, unimaginable for their era. They acted as future historians!
I found a reason to come back to my old friend science fiction because of my occupational passion for history and the future. It also had something to do with how I approached reading sci-fi this time around. Here are three steps I took to fall love with the subject all over again:
Dude, it IS the future!
The world Isaac Asimov wrote about in his “Foundation” series and in Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is today – sort of. Did humans have iPad’s and high speed, wireless internet in the 1950s? Absolutely not! The fact that I’m writing on a keyboard that sends streams of digital information still shocks the minds of people who lived when it was only a vision. Read the works of these classic stories and see how their technological dreams stack up to where we stand today. You’d be surprised what’s different and, sadly, outdated.
The politics are relevant
Writers like Asimov and more recent writers like Neil Gaiman in “American Gods” have an eerily similar vision of the politics, economics and religions of today. In Asimov’s “Foundation,” the intergalactic wars and barbarism are reminiscent of the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Could we learn from the solutions presented in the various Seldon crises? Are the old Norse/Hindu and new Media/Technology Gods really at war with each other in Gaiman’s book? Science fiction has a peculiar way of not just entertaining; it’s also an interesting way to foreshadow our own sociopolitical paths. Who knows? We could be trading precious resources with aliens in the near future!
Use the Tech
I was always intimidated by the foreboding book collection in my father’s shelves. There was something about it that called for deference. As a child and adolescent, I couldn’t relate. Now we are exposed to constant floods of information via the internet and our cell phones. It’s worth a check up to see if there’s a sci-fi consequence or two written in these books. At 34, I still don’t want to mess with the shelf, but I found reading the books on my Kindle or iPad give the stories a little more futuristic relevance. I cruise through these books now that the medium is relevant to me and Dad’s books are safe and sound.
If science fiction isn’t your thing, that’s okay. I encourage you to continue reading and find that book you can’t put down. It took me decades to pick up another Asimov book and read it with integrity. All I needed was a fresh perspective, modern relevance and a piece of technology that looks like something from an episode of Doctor Who to love reading sci-fi again.