Fantastical worlds, multi-coloured space phenomenon, alien planets, and starships. These are just some of the aspects we associate with the genre of science fiction. But traveling to distant planets at faster-than-light speed and using weapons such as lightsabers or blasters does not define this genre.
Science fiction, while a great avenue to explore our place in the galaxy and question the nature of our reality, is also the only genre that can depict how life could function differently.
“Science fiction… is the only genre that can depict how life could function differently.”
In District 9, an alien race has arrived on Earth, and without giving too much away, has essentially become prisoners of humanity and is kept in confinement just outside of Johannesburg. The aliens, referred to as prawns, are heavily oppressed by the hired guns that patrol the outskits of their enforced camp. They are treated as less than human and even less than dogs.
At first glance, this film already has the grounds to talk about social injustice. But upon further investigation, one realizes that the film is in fact an allegory on Apartheid.
Neill Blomkamp grew up in a middle-class family during Apartheid and witnessed firsthand the social injustices that went on at that time.
Putting these struggles, or any struggles that relate to real events, on the big screen in a narrative format provides an excellent place to talk about specific issues or issues that could arise in the future.
In District 9, Blomkamp does just that. Through a science fiction story, he uses the plight of the aliens as a social commentary on Apartheid, displaying the social injustice that was/is going on. Blomkamp then goes a step further, putting the main character of the film through a literal transformation, a human that becomes an alien.
Non-Fictional Science Fiction
This is one of the best parts of science fiction. Not only can you talk about real world issues in an alternate state, but take those alterations and exaggerate them to make a point.
Science fiction provides storytellers with a great avenue to escape the constraints of a world bound by reality. Great writers can use the themes and/or issues of our world and translate them into worlds with undefined limits.
While at first this seems like science fiction and reality are vastly different, in actuality, those stories are a blending of fiction and non-fiction.
Now science fiction does not necessarily have to be an allegory of a past and/or present issue in our world. That’s not the only way to convey those messages.
It’s the blending of science fiction and reality that consciously or subconsciously affects us. Science fiction can be so easily used to talk about real world issues and give people perspective on those topics, while of course simultaneously enjoying a film.
District 9 doesn’t take place in a specific time period, but from observation it appears to be around the same time the film came out. Blomkamp blends multiple things together here.
He places the issue of Apartheid (which ended in 1994) a decade later but instead of staying in reality, he adds aliens from a distant planet. The aliens are an alteration to our reality. The main character’s transformation from a human oppressor to an oppressed alien, while an exaggeration, we accept it because it’s science fiction and we feel the emotional journey behind it.
The other aspect Blomkamp blends into this story is his typical documentary-style, which could inspire another blog all on its own. This style gives a sense of reality to the story. During portions the film, the main character talks to the camera/cameraman, giving us the feeling this is actually happening and everything is being documented. While some may not enjoy this style, it nevertheless gives the film a sense of grounded realism.
You can see that each aspect has been blended together pulls in opposite directions. Some pull more towards reality, whereas others pull towards the fiction being created.
Present Day Science Fiction
It’s incredible what science fiction can do in how we accept such crazy exaggerations, but that’s because the stories are based in reality. Science fiction provides us with that escape, but still gives us a story that relates with what is going on in the real world.
Science fiction can show us some spectacular visuals, such as beautiful alien planets, foreign galaxies, or the surface of Mars. It gives storytellers the opportunity to convey something they are passionate about in an interesting way to get people talking. District 9 boasts an impressive spaceship and superbly designed alien creatures, but places those elements in the slums outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Science fiction lets us take a journey into things we could only imagine, but yet the stories are just a real as a historical war film.
The genre of science fiction should be used more in this way. Not just to have impressive visual effects and showcase futuristic technology. If you are into creating science fiction, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that while some technology has its place as eye candy, you shouldn’t pack a story full of eye candy. Use that technology or exotic settings to further your story.
The possibilities in science fiction are limitless. So why not use them? They’re there for the taking.