Where the Weird Ideas Come From

When I was a senior in high school, I was in AP English.  Once in a while our teacher, Mr. John Durand, would get a new piece of educational material to look at and comment on.  He would then pass it to some of us to look at and rate.  One of them was a film strip (anyone remember those?) entitled, “Where the Weird Ideas Come From”.

It was a film strip about science fiction.  First off, I was offended that science fiction was considered a bunch of “weird ideas”.  I still am.  Why is speculative fiction, in and of itself, “weird’?  Let’s see, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”:   submarine that attacks ships from below the surface, that’ll never happen.  “Master of the World”:  a flying ship that attacks from above.  That could never happen either.  Of course, the earliest submarines were used in the Civil War.   And Ferdinand Count Von Zeppelin studied the use of hot air balloons in the Civil War before going back to Germany.

So where did these “weird” ideas come from?  Looks like speculating on current events to me.  Is that weird?  If so, then I guess we don’t have to worry about a nuclear winter caused by a nuclear war.  After all, that’s just a weird idea.  And as Sting put it, “It’s a good thing the Russians love their children, too.”

One of science fiction’s strongest uses is in allegory.  Let’s look a classic Star Trek the original series.  “Let that Be Your Last Battlefield” and “Devil in the Dark” were about prejudice.  “Balance of Terror” was about the cold war.   This show was produced in the late ‘60s.  Where do you think these ideas came from?

So what about more modern science fiction?   “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “Bionic Woman”:  aren’t we trying to make bionic limbs for amputees?  “2001:  A Space Odyssey”, “I, Robot”, “A.I.”:  aren’t we working on artificial intelligence?  The ALIEN franchise, “ET”, even “Galaxy Quest”:  aren’t we looking for signs of life out in space?

And how many times have these “weird” ideas turned around and become reality?  The submarine, the airplane, the artificial limb.  Even your smart phone can do more than Captain Kirk’s communicator and fits in your pocket.  How about the sliding door at your supermarket?  Once a group of university engineers asked Star Trek how they got the doors to open automatically when someone approached them.  The production company had to answer that it was two stage hands off camera.

I think the only people who still think of all this as “weird ideas” are hard core mundanes (people who aren’t into science fiction at all).   But with science fiction now in the mainstream, they are few and far between.

Where do your “weird ideas” come from?

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