When I was a kid, I loved science fiction. I recall watching episodes of Lost in Space and Star Trek with such a sense of awe that I couldn’t wait for the future. At the time, the U.S. space program was on track to put a man on the moon in a few short years. How much longer would it be before everything envisioned in these sci-fi shows became reality? I also vividly recalled watching the H.G. Wells inspired classic film, Time Machine, when it first aired on TV in the early 60’s. One of the scenes from that movie that was burned into my memory over the years was that books were no longer needed. No one studied anything. If one needed to know an answer, he just spun a ring and asked it a question. The rings would answer any question in a human voice. Although the user interface is quite different, this reminds me of the Internet today.
I saw Star Wars when it came out, but never became fanatical about the series. I realized after seeing the reactions of others that my enthusiasm for sci-fi was beginning to wane although I couldn’t quite identify the reason. I’ve tried to read some sci-fi books recently and found it hard to get through them, even though they are considered classics in the sci-fi enthusiast community (William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash in particular). I think that after spending 20+ years in engineering, the luster had worn off of sci-fi because the stories depend an audience that is either completely ignorant of science or has an infinite capacity to suspend its disbelief in implausible scientific reasoning. When I was younger I’m sure I fit both descriptions. Now that I am older, I see sci-fi from a different perspective, and if a scientific priciple is asserted that is completely at odds with reality, then it causes a kind of cognitive dissonance that spoils the story for me.
This realization came to me after watching The Matrix, a film that seems to be at the top of the lists of many sci-fi fans as the best film in the history of the earth. My sense of reasoning was completely assaulted when I became aware that the premise behind the film was that human beings were being used by some nefarious forces as a source of energy, sort of like batteries. My head was about to explode when I tried to comprehend how abolutely ignorant one must be to make such an assertion. Human beings consume energy at approximately 100 calories every hour they are simply resting. Humans cannot be used to power anything without putting in at least three to four times the energy they are producing. And it’s really hard to extract energy from humans. You’d be much better off with a generator. Built on top of this shaky premise was an orgy of special effects, none of which made any scientific sense. An example of gratuitous special effects was the scene where, when shooting automatic weapons at an unseen opponent, it was necessary to simultaneously perform cartwheels. It was a feast for the eyes, but pablum for the brain. I know that my assessment of The Matrix will not be approved of by those who think of the movie as a science fiction masterpiece, but I suppose if you are completely ignorant of science or have an infinite capacity to suspend your disbelief in faulty reasoning, you may think the movie set a new high water mark.
It makes me a little sad to come to the realization that I’ve outgrown science fiction. But I suppose it would be sadder if I had a closet full of costumes to wear to sci-fi gatherings. 🙂