By Maria Anna van Driel
Since the dawn of civilization humanity pondered over the question of where we, as a species, will go and what will happen when we get there. But it was not until the 19th century that we realized that we had the technology to do great things and to expand beyond the limits of our own imagination.
The history of science fiction (SF) is vast and complicated. Many old texts depict advanced technologies and scenarios where man traverses beyond the limits of the world, and dives into space and the cosmos beyond. The mathematician and engineer Heron of Alexandria invented the first known automatic door in the first century AD in the region of Roman Egypt. The Greek writer Lucian of Samosata wrote “True History”, which depicts a man who travels beyond the heavens to witness a battle between the People of the Moon and the People of the Sun. The story “The Ebony Horse” depicts a man-made horse that, with the turn of a key, can carry a cart beyond the atmosphere into the outer reaches of space. And the story, “The City of Brass,” depicts an ancient city, comprised of abandoned technology, filled with living puppets without puppeteers and other constructed men.
Even in early SF space was described as being full of aether or air, which, to a modern perspective, comes across as a little bizarre, this appealing genre continued to evolve. One of the most notable works that shaped the modern SF genre was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 novel “The Prometheus” aka “Frankenstein”. Associated with horror literature, many historians do believe that it is the first real SF work in where Victor Frankenstein’s science experiments created ‘something’ that contains life.
In the decades following many became convinced that they had transcended to a new level of human understanding, and, for the first time, were capable of addressing scientific issues. Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus were publishing their theories about the nature of the cosmos, and Leonardo Da Vinci had already designed a clockwork designs of the helicopter.
Even SF had become in vogue this genre is still inundated with dark dystopias nowadays. We just cannot seem to look away from ideas about how society is going to go down. What we don’t often see are ideas about humanity prospering. And so, we immediately think of the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe type of stories when hearing or reading the word ‘Science Fiction’.
This ‘speculative’ fiction, also known as ‘soft’ SF, deals with imaginative and includes a wide range of futuristic concepts and themes such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life. But these ‘new’ technologies pictured for us in SF novels and movies are not at all impossible of realization tomorrow.
There exists a common misconception that all SF is fantastical and always has to takes place in a remote universe where civilizations have overcome the energy barrier what makes space-ships travel faster than then speed of light. While many beautiful entries in the SF universe do bend the rules about what is or is not possible in our physical universe, much SF is actually based in science. This is known as ‘hard’ SF.
Some of the tropes in hard SF are truly fascinating like plausible interstellar travel, advancements in technology, artificial intelligence, communication with light, 3D printers, smart-phones, among others.
SF has evolved from the ancient era up to the present and, believe it or not, past ideas that were mere SF 200 years ago are a reality today. While we may not be teleporting people from starships to a planet’s surface anytime soon, many of the devices from science fiction movies and series are slowly becoming a reality. Scientists are getting closer and closer in developing other tools essential for, for instance, future space travel endeavours.
So, if you think technologies from the series Star Trek or Star Wars seem far-fetched, think again.