I’ve recently been asking a few delightfully intelligent people what, to them, makes a good science fiction. It was a universal question concerning the creative medium so their answers came from mostly television and theatrical influences (with Firefly, Star Wars, Bladerunner, and District Nine making the list the most frequently).
The answers came as I’d expected, more or less, but you can image the faces of some of the people whom I’d asked. Most of us who are science fiction fans can tell you what our favourite sci-fis are, but how often do we look at what makes those sci-fis appealing to us in a way that we can actually say that this or that aspect of this or that science fiction is why we like it without leaving the focus of the actual question?
The general answer that came from my little farm of thought-monkeys was that its the display of humanity (in all its forms) being placed into what we can see is an almost alien landscape to ours, yet still retaining what we find utterly familiar.
Looking at this concept art (since the actual images I searched on Google just weren’t clear enough) you can see the tell-tale yellow, the classic shape of the circa. 1950s taxi cab is integrated into the more stylised (almost retro) sci-fi aesthetic. Despite the lack of wheels we can still see the body work of the old taxi cab still holding the old design that would have covered and housed the wheels. Looking at the cab in a sci-fi view, we can see that design despite the hover technology beneath the vehicle and its sleeker appearance yet still appearing familiar to us.
This is just one example of many many familiar items in sci-fis. I could go on about the various appearances of law enforcement in the movies that appear with their red and blue flashing lights, or their slightly retrofitted sheriff’s star on their chest (have I ever mentioned how much I love Wild West style science fiction?), and all the brilliant stylings of sociological marketplaces and bizarre bizaars that are sprinkled about the genre.
Look at the cantina in Star Wars Episode IV.
I imagine that at some point in your life you’ve been to a bar of sorts. If you haven’t, go to one now and take a look around. Feth, sit down, buy a drink and peoplewatch for a few minutes. Go on, I can wait.
Honestly! I’ll wait for you!
Now that we’ve all acquainted ourselves with the temple of alcohol, savoury crisps and salted nuts, I’m sure that you’ll have noticed that every person, despite being human (on the outside) can look so variable from the person next to them. They can look so utterly alien from one another.
I’m sure that you’ve often looked at another homosapien during your time on this planet and thought that they might not be “of this world”. What I love is that every person in that bar that you’re thinking of, despite being human, could in some cases pass as an extra terrestrial.
Take this concept and apply it to a sci-fi. You instantly have a familiar location, concept, and a den of creatures that are so wildly diverse from the other that, despite clearly being alien, are so utterly familiar that you can clearly understand what is going on in that scene.