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Science fiction, the Future is now

Science fiction, the Future is now

What can science fiction tell us about society? How might it operate as a cultural indicator? Could it hold answers for our rapidly evolving future?

We live in an age where the rise of the machines is not an exercise in fantasy but a serious topic of discussion in the artificial intelligence space. Robots, genetic engineering, and bioweapons are moving from the pages of science fiction to the pages of history. How do the possibilities of these changes interact with society and culture? JCU PhD candidate Ben Menadue is looking back to the future for answers in science fiction magazines.

Front cover of a science fiction magazine from 1939. A demonic looking creature is in the foreground with a futuristic spaceship in the background.

Science fiction as cultural barometer: The iconic cover for the ‘Black Destroyer’ story that the movie Alien was loosely based on.

For Ben, science fiction magazines operate as the cultural barometer of times and places. Within them is stored a wealth of letters, editorials, science features, book reviews, and adverts that all work to snapshot the larger cultural context that the science fiction was published in.

“I use magazine literature because it is effectively disposable,” he says. “It can be written very quickly and accepted, published, read, forgotten or not, very fast. So, to me, magazine literature seems to give a good indicator of what’s happening at that particular time, whereas books take a long time to write”

Ben’s research on science fiction to date has explored how science fiction readers feel about science, how tropical cities are represented in science fiction cover art, and how science fiction jungle spaces work. His current interests focus on how science fiction can speak to our own future. Things dreamt of in what Ben calls science fiction’s “realm of possibility” are fast becoming the realities of our present and future.

A front cover of a science fiction magazine shows a strange robot carrying away a blonde woman, while police chase them on motorcycles.

Is it all tall tales, or could it hold the answer for modern day issues?

Ben thinks that science fiction provides clues to how society will react to emerging technologies in fields like robotics, which could then inform the development of these technologies.

“You could actually go to the science fiction and say how have these machines been portrayed over time? What are peoples’ expectations? What do they think is going to happen? What things do they like about them and what things don’t they like about them? Then you can try and address that in the research”

If you like engaging in reflective and independent thinking, discover more about JCU Arts and Social Sciences.

Published 28 Sep 2018