I gave a talk on the influence of history on science fiction the other weekend at Maynooth’s Epic-Con. It was fairly well received I thought, much better than my previous years offering at any rate. My main points, as a bit of a report:
– Science Fiction as a genre is constantly influenced by the past as most genres are.
–King Kong may well have been influenced by Allied propaganda depicting the Kaiser as a “brute” in 1917.
-The influx of “invasion” fiction from the Battle of Dorking to War of the Worlds was a reaction to the jingoistic and militaristic times.
-The imagery of Nazis is commonly used to portray Sci-Fi bad guys, in the use of black leather and diagonal straps in uniforms and the like.
-The Dominion War in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is essentially the Second World War. The Federation in the USA, the Klingons are the British, the Romulans are the USSR, the Dominion is Germany, Cardassia is Italy and the Breen are Japan. The war also closely matches the real life struggle in many other ways, from individual battles to speeches from commanders.
–Star Wars takes little bits of history in other ways, most notable the resurrection of swords as a primary weapon of battle, but also in the lifting of historical technology, with jet fighters and troop carriers becoming space fighters and clone transports/
–Star Wars also takes plot elements wholesale from works like 633 Squadron and The Dambusters by Lucus’ own admission.
–Revenge of the Sith’s opening battle scene appears to be taken straight out of 18th century naval warfare.
–Firefly’s Battle of Serenity Valley may be meant as a futuristic version of the Battle of Gettysburg, but bears far more similarities to the Battle of Appomattox Court House, an example of changing history to better suit media needs.
–Firefly as a whole is another part of America’s obsession with glorifying the Confederacy and the Civil War period in general with this medium casting aside the issue of slavery.
–Star Trek’s original series was a clear and open allegory of the Cold War, best exemplified by episodes like “A Private Little War” which tacitly endorsed the Vietnam War effort while it was still going on.
-The Klingon Empire as the USSR reached overly-obvious levels with the sixth movie The Undiscovered Country, which saw the Empire collapse amid a serious environmental disaster.
–Battlestar Galactica, in its “New Caprica” arc, is an attempt by modern American story tellers to comment on and “deal” with recent happenings in the so-called “9/11 wars”.
-Baltar’s Presidency arc mirrors the careers and lives of Marshal Petain and Quisling.
–Star Trek: Enterprise’s “Xindi” arc was a somewhat ham-fisted representation of 9/11 and the War on Terror.
–V For Vendetta, the movie, takes historical influences from as far back as the 16th century, up to the dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini, and is proving an influence on the actions of the present.
-Movies like District 9 and Children of Men, while ostensibly about science fiction themes, are really about immigration, outsiders, dictatorships and the fear of all the same, common historical trends.
And that was about it. Really enjoyed doing it and I hope the audience liked it too.