Incidental Science Fiction

Science Fiction is a rich and diverse branch of literature and cinema.
From the days of H.G. Wells and Mary Shelly to the genius of Phillip K Dick, Issac Asimov and Stephen Baxter we have diverse and plentiful bounty of worlds to explore.

When I was a bookseller a long time ago, part of my job was to recommend titles to customers. I'd occasionally try and get them to read something they might not have thought about trying. As I'm an avid sci-fi fan of course I'd point people in that direction. I was told by many customers that the problem with sci-fi was too many spaceships. I even had another bookseller claim, if they put a book with a spaceship on the over face out, it sold. This, frankly annoyed me for many reasons but mostly because it took this broad genre and simplify it to one tiny component.

Whether I then lectured these people on the virtue of sci-fi goes without saying, however I still hear naive comments like this from time to time, usually from people who refuse to try out anything they perceive as being different. And yes it still raises my blood pressure. Life is about trying new things so don't knock something until you've at least looked beyond the cover.

What I find fascinating about sci-fi isn't the brilliant stuff - you know the things Doctor Who, Star (Trek/Wars/Gate) love exploring but more the times when the sci-fi elements are incidental to the characters but still vital to the overall story.

Incidental Science Fiction.

What do I mean by this? Well let's take a perfect example, Donnie Darko (2001). While many found the film confusing and others got into endless debate about the time travel element, at its core the film is about a boy and his effect on the people in his life. Simply put there is nothing fantastical or inaccessible about that. Which is probably why it was such a huge cult film, each character had depth and Donnie's interactions in turn were interesting, all of these were more important than the sci-fi elements.

Another more main stream example is The Lake House (2006), based on a Korean film, the movie is about two people falling in love over letters. OK the letters are traveling through time but again its is fundamentally a love story and that is what kept everyone watching.

This isn't us limited to cinema, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a novel about a girl who is coming to terms with her own eventual death. She happens to be a clone and her body will be harvested for its organs but again, rather than focus on the huge sci-fi element, Ishiguro has us the reader invest in the protaganist Katy, we know her, understand her, see into her life and that is the point of the novel. The author poses many pertinent moral questions but its subtle enough to slip under the radar of the space ship haters.

However let's flip this around, if we look at Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, a book with all the overt sci-fi elements you would typically associate with the genre - spaceships, aliens, explosions, war, future tech etc we have many interesting moral questions that make the subject a lot deeper than one might assume. Child soldiers, xenophobia and the impact of genocide are some very current topics tackled by the book.

The point I'm laboring is that science fiction is more than just space ships or shallow assumptions. The best science fictions uses the fantastical to explore themes that are familiar and poignant, sometimes posing and exploring very candid and dark questions or current ethical issues. The point of most of the best science fiction is to get people thinking and that can never be bad.

My favorite example of incidental science fiction is a film called Another Earth (2011). Its a moving story of redemption and a visual treat. If its your first foray into sci-fi I hope it surprises you.


  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!

  2. Excellent example! I must buy that on dvd :-)

  3. People still buy dvds? :p Just kidding x x x

  4. @SaM-GiRL I'm old I still like them!


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