Alien Abduction to X-Ray Specs


Top 20 Science Fiction Myths for UKTV Poll

1. Aliens

The belief in the existence of life off-Earth goes way back to the Greeks. But the familiar obsession of the modern alien with a distinct psychology and physiology goes back to Darwin. The modern cultural phenomenon of alien invasion probably owes its origin to HG Wells’ War of the Worlds , written in 1898 and still in a cinema near you! WOTW was the first ‘alien menace’ from space, and has had a tremendously powerful influence on one of the most pervasive cultural myths of C20th.

2. Alien Abduction

The idea that not only do aliens exist, but they are actively visiting, abducting (and probably probing) people (mainly Americans, it seems; maybe they enjoy the probing) on a day-to-day basis. There is good evidence that this extremely culturally pervasive ‘fact’, was deliberately mythologised by the likes of British science fiction authors in the tradition of HG Wells, such as Olaf Stapledon (First and Last Men; StarMaker) and George Adamski in 1953, claimed not only to have seen flying saucers, but to have interacted with their alien occupants. Subsequently, UFOs and aliens have been synonymous, which still continues, though today most science fiction writers are hostile to the UFO notion, infuriated by the public assumption that they are deeply interested in ufology!

4. Time travel

Time could be described as a linear process by which we perceive a sequence of events. The idea of time travel is usually one in which the alleged illusion of time’s arrow of linearity is resolved into (a) a confusion of time-hopping and associated causal relationships (e.g. Groundhog Day ), or (b) a multiplicity of possible timelines (e.g. Back to the Future). Science fiction has had THE fundamental influence from HG Wells’ Time Machine in 1895, through Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in which the main protagonist becomes ‘unstuck in time’, to Doctor Who which is founded on the premise that Einstein’s spacetime is a negotiable dimension that can be traversed at one’s leisure!

5. Space Travel

The navigation of space is portrayed so effortlessly and ubiquitously in science fiction that our real life Apollo journeys to the Moon seem rather pathetic by comparison. From the impressively gargantuan galactic empires of Star Wars to the vast interstellar generation starships of space opera, space travel in science fiction almost seems like a given in an ordinary Lunn Poly travel brochure. Hardly surprising, then, that many believe aliens may just ‘pop round’ to Earth to borrow a cup of sugar.

6. X-ray Specs!

The inspired idea that one only has to don a pair of specially designed glasses and the world of lingerie and (usually ladies) underwear is just within ‘reach’. Based on the rather sketchy idea that if even your local hospice is equipped with an X-ray department, then surely the (morally dubious) boffins can conjure up a pair of pervy goggles. Perhaps not.

7. X-Men and Superheros

Many of the mutants we know and love from the world of comic books and animation, owe their debilitation/superpower to the rather risible idea that exposure to radiation will cause beneficial mutations, leading to accelerated evolution and meta-humans. Such was the way with the Fantastic Four (solar radiation exposure), and The Hulk (terrestrial radiation exposure), for example, though Spiderman , an interesting variation on the theme, was gnawed by an irritated radioactive arachnid. The source of the X-Men problem seems less clear, but undoubtedly radiation is somewhere hidden in the ether of the terrestrial pollution that leads to their birth defects!

8. Hoax Moon Landings

One of the great urban myths that simply refuses to lay down and die is the idea that the Americans somehow managed to fake the entire Apollo mission(s) to the Moon. A minor industry of conspiracy theorists pour over pictures and data on this one, undoubtedly vastly influenced by the science fiction film, Capricorn One Made in 1978, James Brolin, Elliot Gould, and O.J. Simpson star as three astronauts who agree to spare the US government embarrassment by faking their historic landing on Mars after their spacecraft is determined to be unsafe for blastoff. With regard to the real-life Apollo mission, quite apart from anything else, the Soviets would never have let them get away with it given its strategic importance and significance during the Cold War. The US government couldn’t keep Watergate under wraps, and only 3 people knew about that one!

9. AI – Artificial Intelligence

The creation of sentient life that is not human, now usually described in terms of computer systems, robots or androids. The AI often takes the form of a neural network that learns from its environment, eventually developing into a self-aware system; Frankenstein-like, AIs often then turn on their masters. Classic examples include the logically harrowing voice of computer HAL in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey , and the corporate automaton, Ash, in Ridley Scott’s Alien. On a personal level, Prof has actually seen his (ex) mother-in-law argue with his Toyota’s on-board navigation system, believing it capable of intelligent response.

10. Human co-existence with dinosaurs

In many works of fantastic fiction a degree of playfulness is often adopted when it comes to the processes of time and history. But playfulness gives way to downright audacity in films such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) was the first of his fantastical voyages. It describes a journey into the mouth of a dormant volcano, which eventually leads to a hollow earth populated by a teeming variety of prehistoric creatures that have survived for millennia. As with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot there is much of this ‘lost worlds’ mythology in the continuing belief in abominable snowmen and Loch Ness monsters. On another note, Prof’s driving instructor once told him that he believed scientists were using up so much of the (hollow) Earth’s meagre resources that eventually it would float off, out of the solar system altogether.

12. Black Holes: gateway to another universe

Black holes, regions of space, theoretically formed by the collapse of a star, in which gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape its pull. Fictional extrapolations suggest such ‘holes’ could represent the opening into another universe, such as in Joe Haldeman’s Forever War (1974), and Frederick Pohl’s Gateway (1978). But, famously, US astrophysicist and erstwhile science fiction writer, Carl Sagan, sought expert advice of black hole expert Kip Thorne before making the film version of Sagan’s Contact (1997). Thorne’s advice: black holes are dangerous; use the wormhole idea instead. Still, the idea persists in the public imagination.

13. Human Cloning and Genetics

The highly controversial subject that refers to the ‘improvement’ of the human race through various means of unnatural selection. The best known treatment in science fiction is the seminal Aldous Huxley 1932 novel Brave New World , which still very much influences public attitudes to questions of genetic engineering. In the early days many saw cloning as an ominous doppelganger device, such as twinning Hitler, until the advent of cloning as a real scientific process. Similar public anxieties surround the DNA restructuring exploits of geneticists, such as in Michael Crichton’s famous Jurassic Park (1993).

14. Cryonics

The term cryonics refers to the preservation of human bodies through freezing, often in liquid nitrogen, and usually for the purpose of later reanimation. The idea is so popularly believed that in recent years a spate of rich business executives have taken out policies to ensure that they (or at least their heads/brains) are cryonically stored after their deaths. Science fiction abounds with such stories, an early example being HG Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) in which the chief protagonist awakens to find a society that has changed beyond all recognition. The similar use of metabolic inhibitors for space travel in stories is also common.

15. Transcendence

A means by which humanity could eventually achieve enlightenment and surpass their current restrictions to become something greater, though, in science fiction, this usually entails leaving behind the flesh to become some form of spiritual entity. The belief has found resonance with those looking for a modus operandi for alleged alien visitations; the ‘supernatural’ aliens are here to save from ourselves. Such beliefs are in close collaboration with the best and most popular works of Arthur C Clarke. Childhood’s End (1953) describes how alien visitors arrive on Earth to help guide the human race through the next stage of evolution, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) personalises the same narrative when the main protagonist transcends his biological roots to become a starchild!

16. ESP

An acronym (for extra-sensory perception) popularised by science fiction which attempts to repackage folkloristic notions of ‘second sight’ or a ‘sixth sense’ in scientific jargon. Use of the terms varies but it may be taken to include clairvoyance, telepathy and precognition. A common science fictional notion is that such new powers of ESP might be developed in the course of man’s future evolution. Such concepts were most recently used in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Minority Report (2002), in which so-called ‘pre-cogs’ were used to divine, and thereby prevent, future crimes.

17. We are living in The Matrix

Arguably it was science fiction that first invented, not only the idea of the matrix as a kind of shared virtual reality, but also the concept of ‘cyberspace’ and ‘virtual reality’ itself, such as in William Gibson’s famous novel Neuromancer (1984). The concept is one among many variations on the theme of parallel worlds, the idea that another world/universe is situated ‘alongside’ our own, and one which is still very prevalent in the public imagination.

18. Conspiracy Theories

Can be many and varied, but usually revolve around the premise that shifty (corporate) scientists are involved in a conspiratorial cover-up of a scientific discovery of classified and Earth-shattering importance and/or usefulness. Examples may include the deliberate corporate suppression of technology such as the invention flying cars (or cars that will run on far cheaper fuel!) or the paranoia associated with the likes of ‘Area 51’ with its alleged containment of magical and mysterious alien technologies.

19. Advanced Ancient (Alien) Civilisations

The idea that on Earth, or other planets, ancient civilisations were either (a) advanced due to alien intervention, or (b) exterminated by natural catastrophe. Examples would include Eric von Daniken’s science fictional Chariots of the Gods , and the repeated speculation of ancient alien civilisations on other planets (e.g. the face on Mars).

20. Anti-gravity

A device defined as a force that opposes gravity, therefore allowing objects or people to hover, float or be propelled. HG Wells in his First Men in the Moon (1901) describes ingeniously how anti-gravity could be used to send rockets to the Moon, and James Blish in Cities in Flight (1970) uses anti-gravity as a means of lifting flying cities, or ‘spindizzies’, away from a planet. Other unexplained antigravity devices include the antigravitic ‘flubber’, flying rubber, in the film The Absent-Minded Professor (1961)

One comment


    October 23, 2005

    All good stuff

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