The Prophets of Science Fiction Explores Sci-Fi’s Best Writers

The Prophets of Science Fiction Explores Sci-Fi’s Best Writers

There are some writers who you would swear must be able to see directly into the future. Even if only through a scanner, darkly, these authors of speculative fiction seem to be looking over your shoulder from the past and reading the headlines from today.

Filmmaker Ridley Scott brings together scientists, writers and other thinkers to honor these Prophets of Science Fiction in a new TV series premiering Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on Science. Each episode focuses on a writer who helped explain and expand the world of science through the use of fiction. The series will use film clips, reenactments, illustrations and interviews with top thinkers — including RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku — to tell the story of the author, and the modern-day scientific implications of what they wrote.

“For years I have been fascinated with the connection between creative inspiration and scientific progress,” says Scott. “Often there is an attempt to separate the worlds of art and science, when in reality the two are inseparably linked.”

Click on the image below to see a promo video for the show.

The first episode, telling the story of Mary Shelly and how she wrote her masterpiece Frankenstein at the tender age of 19 during 1816, the infamous “year without a summer.” The narrative follows her explorations of reanimation based on the best science of the early 19th century, and of the creation of manmade life.

Interestingly, and often overlooked in favor of the Hollywood versions of the story, the actual animation of the monster in Shelley’s novel barely takes a page to describe. Yet the mythology around the use of electricity is what most of us remember. It forms an important part of this documentary’s narrative, most especially shown in clips from director Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 interpretation. The documentary also spends a good deal of time on the true central theme of the book — how we might deal with intelligences of our own making — examining robots and artificial intelligence.

I’m more a fan of the cinéma vérité style of documentary, and I found the narrator in this episode of Prophets of Science Fiction often annoying. The interviews, although expert and informed, felt a bit on the stilted side. The speakers seemed to have scripted bullet points they were speaking from. Still, the information was interesting and enlightening. I especially enjoyed how the documentary went back and forth from the story of Shelley, directly tying what she wrote to modern science.

Shelley is the first of the sci-fi prophets, but by no means the last. The list is not particularly surprising, but may not be without controversy:

  • Mary Shelley — Nov. 9
  • H.G. Wells — Nov. 16
  • Philip K. Dick — Nov. 23
  • Arthur C. Clarke — Nov. 30
  • Isaac Asimov — Dec. 7
  • Jules Verne — Feb. 1
  • Robert Heinlein — Feb. 8

Notice anybody missing?

The list favors the classic and Golden Age of science fiction, with Dick being the only representative of New Wave sci-fi. There are no cyberpunk scribes. That’s not to say any of the authors spotlighted in the series are unworthy, but I hope they do a second season of Prophets of Science Fiction with Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Pat Caddigen and Bruce Sterling.

Did I leave anybody out?

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I love science fiction, so when I stumbled upon Season 1 of this show thanks to its recent emergence on Netflix, I got wicked excited. I find it totally entertaining, and have been sharing it with people when they come over — but now want to spread the word to those not physically sitting in my living room. Therefore, to anyone interested in the genre, the science, the art, the artists, and how all the pieces get brought together — I highly recommend looking into this Ridley Scott-produced series.

For the love of science fiction . . . 

with passion & gratitude — jennifer

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2 thoughts on “The Prophets of Science Fiction Explores Sci-Fi’s Best Writers

  1. (Silver Spring, Md.)-Ridley Scott, the creative genius behind legendary Hollywood classics including “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator,” comes to SCIENCE this November with the world premiere eight-part series, PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION. An auteur of science fiction himself, Scott goes from behind the camera to on-air guide to explore the relationship between genre and the constantly-evolving worlds of science and technology. From Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov to George Lucas and Phillip K. Dick, the dreams of storytellers often become the inspiration for researchers seeking mankind’s next transformative discovery. PROPHETS OF SCIENCE FICTION debuts on SCIENCE on Wednesday, November 9, at 10:00 PM (ET/PT).

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  2. The study of science fiction, or science fiction studies , is the critical assessment, interpretation, and discussion of science fiction literature, film, new media, fandom, and fan fiction. Science fiction scholars take science fiction as an object of study in order to better understand it and its relationship to science, technology, politics, and culture-at-large. Science fiction studies has a long history dating back to the turn of the 20th century, but it was not until later that science fiction studies solidified as a discipline with the publication of the academic journals Extrapolation (1959), Foundation – The International Review of Science Fiction (1972), and Science Fiction Studies (1973), and the establishment of the oldest organizations devoted to the study of science fiction, the Science Fiction Research Association and the Science Fiction Foundation , in 1970. The field has grown considerably since the 1970s with the establishment of more journals, organizations, and conferences with ties to the science fiction scholarship community, and science fiction degree-granting programs such as those offered by the University of Liverpool and Kansas University.

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