The 21st century has witnessed the expansion of science fiction from a literary genre to a global subculture. That is to say, even though it has its roots in literature, it now encompasses different media, including comics, books, movies, games, digital art, and toy weaponry, among others.
Furthermore, avid science fiction fans organize conventions replete with music, handicrafts, and costumes. Examples include the annual Ad Astra convention in Toronto, Canada, and the annual FedCon event in Bonn, Germany.
Also, the terms that seemingly delineate science fiction are blurrier than ever. It’s more a conglomeration of multiple genres than anything else, including fantasy and horror.
How Science Fiction Has Changed in the 21st Century
The realities that were predicted have mostly caught up with many of the scientific and technological inventions of sci-fi writers of the preceding century. Some of those inventions are:
- The iPad – Arthur C. Clark wrote about a newspad in his 1968 novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The description and functions are eerily similar to what we know as the iPad today.
- Earbuds – Ray Bradbury wrote about seashells and thimble radios that can produce “an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk, coming in on the shore of [your] unsleeping mind” in his 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451. These devices resemble earbuds and we can say he predicted their invention.
- Self-driving cars – In 1964, Isaac Asimov predicted the rise of cars with robot brains. In other words, he predicted the rise of driverless cars. While these cars are not everywhere on the road yet, they have already been invented.
Basically, technological developments are occurring at an exponential phase. As a result, it can sometimes feel like we are living in a science fiction setting.
Take the case of the iPhone, first released in 2008. This year, 2022, will see the release of its 14th iteration. In that time, we have seen the invention of numerous other things, like 5G network connectivity, smartwatches, 3D printers, virtual and augmented reality, blockchain technology, and many other things. And while some of these inventions haven’t yet been translated to reality, it is only a matter of time till they are.
The Impact of Science Fiction on Literature and Pop Culture in the 21st Century
In the 21st century, science fiction has become one of the most dominant genres in literature. This is partly due to the development of special effects technology that enables its imaginations to be visually depicted.
Also, I would say it’s because it’s no longer hard to imagine the ideas that science fiction puts forward, given the many advancements we’ve seen in science and technology since the turn of the century.
What’s more? Science fiction dominates other industries, including the film industry. You only need to take a look at the box office and what science fiction movies have earned to understand their impact on movie fans. The likes of Avatar, Iron Man, and Jurassic World are three of the highest-grossing films of all time.
There is also the film adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian and Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, as well as Interstellar, Inception, Gravity, Her, Ex Machina, Arrival, and multiple others that have made an indelible impact on the cinematic landscape of the 21st century.
The Roles of 21st Century Science Fiction
Science fiction in the 21st century has several roles. They include the following:
Given how science has advanced, with many of the terms too complex for the average person to understand, 21st-century science fiction has a unique role in making those terms relatable and understandable for the average person.
More importantly, its ability to speculate how things can work exists and is still valuable.
Another role that 21st-century science fiction is taking is the provision of optimism. That doesn’t mean it should ignore the many problems human society faces today or the horrible trajectory we are on.
However, it can be responsible and find the silver lining in these situations. It can proffer solutions to how we can navigate the doom and gloom that encapsulate our present and future, like climate change, chemical, and biological weapons, nuclear war, etc.
Chart a course
Science and technology are progressing at a rapid pace, and the role of science fiction literature in charting a course and helping to imagine future technology will always hold true.
In conclusion, science fiction in the 21st century is bigger, better, and more mainstream than ever before. Granted, it is not as prestigious as during its Golden Age, but it is still a major part of literature.
What’s more? The invention of special effects technology that helps bring science fiction inventions to the big screen has furthered its cause and made it even more accepted than it would otherwise be.