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Science Fiction is the fictional treatment in print, motion pictures, TV or other media of the effects of science or future events on human beings. SF deals with events that did not happen or have not happened yet. It considers these events rationally in terms of explanation and of consequences. It is concerned with the impact of change on people, often with its consequences for the human race. The world in these stories is changed forever, there's no way back. Its contents are fantastic and utopian and are scientifically explained.
The most common subjects are the future, space travel or time travel, life on other planets, high-tech-weapons, the creation of new lifeforms (robots, androids or clones) through scientific manipulations, parallel universes, and crises created by technology or alien creatures and environments. SF explains places that - as far as we know - don't exist, but could exist, did perhaps exist or will possibly exist. It deals with non-existing different places, different races and societies but not with the impossible.
Another part of imaginative writing is Fantasy, which consists of stories in which elements of the impossible, the fantastic and the supernatural take place without scientific explanation.
The early SF
SF has existed since the antiquity. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epos dealt with the search for ultimate knowledge and immortality, the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus with the technology of flying. About AD 160 Lucian of Samosata wrote True History, a story about the journey to the moon and imprisonment on the sun. Imaginary voyages and tales of strange people in distant lands were common in Greek and Roman literature.
Trips to the moon were also very popular and were described by Cyrano de Bergerac, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler (17th century) and the British philosopher and novelist William Goldwin and Jules Verne in the 19th century.
Stories about better societies and better worlds go back at least to the 4th century BC with Plato's The Republic. Sir Thomas Moore wrote Utopia (Greek: ou: not, topos: place => no place) in the 16th century.
Stories of an imaginary voyage were usually written for satirical purposes, e.g. Gullivers Travels by the English satirist Jonathan Swift. He combined realism with fantastic ideas and a sense for irony.
In the 18th century stories about the future became popular. Before that, the stories played in the present in undiscovered regions of Earth or on the moon. As a result of the expeditions of James Cook and other explorers, there were no unexplored regions anymore and the scene moved to the future. In 1771, Louis Sebastien Merciers wrote L'An 2440. Despite for persistent efforts to forbid the book, it was very popular in Europe. The reader is taken 700 years into the future where he finds a better Paris, which improved thanks to science and technology. The thought of describing a city from his time in the future was revolutionary; no one had thought of this before.
In the 19th century the first stories about a dying Earth and alternative worlds came up.
Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (1818) is regarded as a direct forerunner of SF. It believes in the power of science to create artificial humans. The first author who devoted himself to SF only was Jules Verne. In his novels he foresaw many inventions of the 20th century. In Journey to the Center of Earth he dealt with geology and cave exploration, in From the Earth to the Moon and Off on a Comet with space travel, and in 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea with the submarine and underwater marvels.
English SF - Novels
Stories of lost races and unexplored corners of the world were popular in Victorian England. In 1912 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published The Lost World. However, the man who may be considered as the father of modern SF is H.G. Wells. He was more interested in biology and evolution than in physical science and more concerned about the social consequences of invention than the accuracy of the invention itself. His stories were full of irony and realistic conviction. His works were The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau about a morally irresponsible biologist , The War of The Worlds (1898) which contains very realistic statements of place, etc.
Later, in the first half of the 20th century negative utopias became popular, e.g. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or 1984 by George Orwell, which showed a horror scenarios of the future in totalitarian stales with absolute surveillance.
Another writer of works dealing with both science fiction and science fact is Arthur C.Clarke.
SF in the USA
The publication of SF in book form in the US was rare between 1926 and 1946. The few books that were on the market were issued by small, specialising houses. It was rather published in magazines, so-called pulp magazines, which addressed especially the intellectually undemanding readers. The authors of these magazines emphasised technical accuracy and plausibility above literary value and characterisation.
The first SF magazine Amazing Stories was founded in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback, a Luxembourg emigrant who became an American editor, publisher, inventor and author. He believed that fiction could be a medium for disseminating scientific information and creating scientists. He also created the name ,,scientification", which he changed in 1929 with the founding of Scientific Wonder stories to ,,science fiction". In 1937 John Wood Campbell, Jr. became editor of Astounding Stories and he was one of the first authors who added mood and characterisation to the technical and prophetic aspect of SF. He encouraged other writers to do likewise and founded what has since been called ,,the golden age" of SF. After the advent of the atomic bomb and the expansion of the air age the interest in SF stories grew. Especially in our technological age, SF is serving as a vehicle for social criticism and will undoubtedly continue to be an important part of imaginative writing. Later magazines like Fantasy and SF or Galaxy SF shifted more toward literary, psychological and sociological preoccupations with the loss of scientific content. In the mid 1960s a new concern for humanistic values and experimental techniques emerged. It was called the ,,new wave" and was primarily found in the English magazine New Worlds. The new wave preferred to call what it wrote ,,speculative fiction". SF now criticised progress and civilisation. New subjects were raised like ecocide, white-collar crime, sexual taboos or feminism.
Although most SF novels have been written in English language, there were also writers in other counties who tried to enter the genre. In Germany there was Kurt Laßwitz who wrote 1897 Auf zwei Planeten. There was also since the 60s a pulp magazine called Perry Rhodan. In Poland, the doctor and writer Stanislav Lem wrote novels which distinguished themselves by literary demanding and scientifically sound descriptions.
SF has interested filmmakers since the earliest days of the cinema though not often to the benefit of the film or of SF. Most films have been adaptations from literature and comic strips.
Unlike SF literature, films were stereotyped showing mostly a simple good - bad pattern. They just focused on special effects and disregarded the story. Especially American productions showed such little quality (so-called B-films) and had no critical contents. Until the 1970s movies were preoccupied with unnatural creatures (alien beings, mutant creatures, soulless humans) which are more referred to as monster or horror movies than SF. Other themes were the fallibility of megalomaniacal scientists, the urgency of international cooperation against invaders from outer space or monsters from the Earth, the rash hostility of people to anything alien and the evil aspects of science.
In European silent films on the other hand one can find also ambitious projects.
The earliest movie - not really a SF movie but a fantasy movie - was Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès. The motion picture company of the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison produced A Trip to the Mars in 1910. In the 1930s monster films like Frankenstein, King Kong or Dracula became popular and have inspired filmmakers until today to countless sequels. TV serials which were developed from comic strips like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers were also very successful.
In the 1960s and 1970s films were produced which were more critical, like Planet of the Apes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury and filmed by Truffaut. The epic 2001: A Space Odyssey became one of the most widely discussed SF films of all time. Its commercial success was later excelled by projects with greater technical expenditure, e.g.: E.T. - The Extraterrestrial (1982) or the Star Wars trilogy, which has nowadays a great fan association and is still popular, as one can notice of the success of the latest film Episode One which is the beginning of a new trilogy. This one explains the background of the former trilogy. Star Trek has a similar big success. For more than 30 years it has now been present on TV and on screen: 9 motion pictures and 4 series with more than 500 episodes have been filmed until now and there's no end in sight. The Star Trek fans call themselves ,,trekkies" and meet at big conventions where many even wear uniforms.
SF on radio
In the 1930s was the serial Buck Rogers one of the most successful SF programs on radio. In 1938 the realistic broadcast production of Wells's The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles caused panic among the listeners.
Conventions and Awards
SF is popular throughout the world, especially in Russia. As a consequence, fans began organising World SF Conventions in 1939. The SF Writers of America (founded in 1965) awards annually ,,nebulas" to the work chosen as best.
SF and Science
The explosion of the atomic bomb and the landing on the moon in 1969 brought SF general recognition as a literature relevance. Atomic energy and spaceflights have been 2 major subjects of SF from its beginning and had been ridiculed by critics and scientists as ,,mere fiction". But these events have helped realising that life is being changed by science and technology. Scientists and explorers have credited SF by Verne and others for starting them on their professions. Space exploration by Soviet scientists was influenced by the works of Tsiolkovsky or Lem and German rocket research was inspired partly by the works of the German author Kurt Laßwitz.
Famous People in SF
Sir Thomas More: (1478-1535)
He was a British statesman and humanist. He studied law, theology, natural science and literature. Then he decided to become a monk but gave up his plan after a few years. Then he was a member of the House of Commons and even was knighted. 1935 he was canonised by the catholic church.. He wrote Utopia, a description of the life on the fictive island Utopia in the form of a travelogue. On Utopia the interests of the individual is subordinated to the interests of the whole society. Everyone has to work, everyone is educated and the soil is common property. More compares these two ways of life and prefers the first one.
Jules Verne: (1828-1905)
This French author is regarded as the father of SF. His early works comprise opera librettos and plays but his first real success was the fantasy novel Cinq semaines en ballon. Laying a carefully documented scientific foundation for his fantastic adventure stories, he forecast with remarkable accuracy many scientific achievements of the 20th century. He anticipated flights into outer space, submarines, helicopters, air conditioning, guided missiles and motion pictures long before they were developed. In De la terre à la lune and its sequel Autour de la lune astronauts launch a starship in Florida, fly round the moon and land in the pacific ocean just like the ,,Apollo 8" crew one century later.
Herbert George Wells: (1866-1946)
He was an English author and political philosopher. He worked as a bookkeeper, tutor and journalist until he became a full-time writer. His works are famous for their prophetic depictions of the triumphs of technology as well as the horrors of the 20th century warfare. His novel The Time Machine mingled science, adventure and political comment. Later SF novels were The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, and The Shape of Things to Come; each of these fantasies was made into a motion picture.
Aldous Leonard Huxley: (1894-1963)
He was born in Godalming near London. After attending Eton College and Oxford University he worked as a journalist for various newspapers. 1921 his first novel Crome Yellow came out. His following novels reflected the nihilistic attitude of the 20s. Then in 1932 he wrote Brave New World, in which he designed the anti-utopia of a totalitarian and fully technified world. He also wrote the sequel Brave New World Revisited.
The convinced pacifist emigrated to the USA where he died in 1963.
George Orwell: (1903-1950)
The British novelist Eric Arthur Blair wrote under this pseudonym. He was born in India and educated in England. In poor health and trying to become a writer he lived for several years in poverty, first in Paris and then in London. His first books were autobiographical and handle these hard times. He resolved to speak out against the domination of any person over another. His condemnation of totalitarian society is expressed in his brilliantly witty allegorical fable Animal Farm and in the satirical novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The latter presents a terrifying picture of life under the constant surveillance of ,,Big Brother".
Orson Welles: (1915-1985)
He was an American actor, producer, director and writer. In 1938 he made a radio play of H.G.Wells's War of the Worlds which was so realistic that thousands believed an alien attack was actually occurring.
Arthur C. Clarke: (1917 -)
Clarke was born in Minehead (England). During World War II he was a radar specialist in the Royal Air Force. Then he studied physics and maths in London. His first stories came out in the 40s and his following novels defended mostly technical progress. His collection of short stories Expedition to Earth contained The Sentinel, the basis of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). This film by Stanley Kubrick made him famous and in the 70s he wrote 3 best-sellers. Then he published the autobiographical work Astounding Days - a Science Fictional Autobiography. Beside his literary books he also wrote non-fiction books about space travel and sea and underwater exploration.
Isaac Asimov: (1920-1992)
He was an American biochemist and writer of Russian origin. He wrote many books about scientific matters, criminal stories and SF novels.
At the age of 3, he moved with his family to Brooklyn. He liked SF magazines and at 18 he published his first story in Amazing Stories.
After World War II he taught biochemistry on Boston University. His first SF novel Pebble in the Sky came out in 1950. In his career he wrote over 300 books. His most popular works are I, Robot or The Naked Sun.
Ray Douglas Bradbury: (1920 -)
He was an American writer and best known for his novels and collections of short stories, including The Illustrated Man and Fahrenheit 451 - the temperature at which books start to burn. The book shows a horror scenario of the future where the liberty of thinking is endangered.
Bradbury was an imaginative child prone to nightmares and frightening fantasies, which he later drew on for his writing. He started writing when he was 12 years old and sold his first story at 21. The Martian Chronicles, a novel about humans colonializing Mars, is his best- known work. He has also written poetry and scripts for plays and films. He often writes about the destructive tendency in humans to use technology at the expense of morality.
Gene Roddenberry: (1921-1991)
In the 50s he was an unsuccessful TV author but in the 60s he began the production of series. In 1966 he invented Star Trek and started a new era for SF. In his Star Trek - universe the starship Enterprise went where no man has gone before. The series reflected the society of the 60s and the problems of the world, e.g. the cold war. But in the galaxy of the United Federation of Planets the peoples lived happily together and Americans shared their ship with Russians, Chinese, blacks and many aliens. In 1987 the sequel Star Trek - The Next Generation came out and the fan community grew. After Roddenberry's death another 2 series started: Deep Space 9 and Voyager.
Stephen King: (1947 -)
He is today one of the most successful American authors of horror and fantasy tale. He wrote his first story at age 7 and sold his first piece to a magazine when he was 18. In his works he turns ordinary situations - such as peer pressure, martial stress or infidelity - into horror. Many of his novels , e.g. The Shining or It have been made into successful movies.
Douglas Noel Adams: (1952 -)
He was born in Cambridge and after his parents' divorce lived with his mother and sister in Brentwood. In school he was more interested in science than in the arts. The moment he first thought seriously about writing was when he got ,,ten out of ten" for a composition - the first and only time this teacher has ever given ,,ten out of ten". While he studied at Cambridge he decided to hitch-hike to Istanbul and all over Europe which probably gave him the idea to the Hitch Hiker.
His first unsuccessful attempts to write discouraged him. But in 1977 he met Simon Brett, the producer of a radio comedy programme, and they agreed on making a science fiction comedy. So, Douglas Adams became an extremely famous writer and revolutionised the world of English comedy. The Hitch Hiker appeared on radio, on TV, in books, records, pop songs, computer games and a stage play.
Themes and motives in SF stories
In contrast to most genres in literature there are no universally valid formulas in SF. But there are certain patterns which appear time and again.
Space Opera: The hero is going to the unknown vastness of the universe to explore regions where no man has gone before and to do heroic deeds that no man has done before. Early adventure were bloody stories of exploding stars and interstellar wars with the extermination of whole peoples of aliens and the destruction of planets. Their successors wanted to avoid genocide and space vandalism. Soon the stories were about the human expansion into space and the colonialization of other planets . These galactic empires reminded of the Roman Empire. The most famous interstellar empires in SF are the one from Star Wars and the United Federation of Planets from Star Trek, of which the enemies developed with the years and became more complex. The corrects diplomatic acting of the newer series is in a big contrast to the ,,first-shoot-then-think"-attitude of the former heroes.
Planetary Romance: In planetary adventure stories the heroes experience adventures full of action on alien planets. These contain long voyages through many social systems with exotic and foreign creatures.
Future Cities: Stories about a revolution against technically advanced oppressors often play in future cities. The authors of such stories have dark visions of the future, where the industrial revolution and the rapidly growing towns caused slums, where disease, poverty and criminality predominate. But there are also optimistic views of the future which describe mostly the change of the author's home town.
Early SF comics designed future cities with skyscrapers and floating highways or giant glass domes.
Disasters: These stories describe dreadful catastrophes or the efforts of the survivors to rebuild their society. Some of the oldest myths of mankind contain reports of disasters which nearly exterminated the human civilisation: the Flood and the Apocalypse from the Bible or the Armageddon of the northern legends. These catastrophes may be collisions with comets, wars, atomic bombs, natural disasters, diseases, supernovas or invasions of alien beings.
Alternative Worlds: Alternative worlds are worlds that could have arisen if a certain important event in history had gone differently. As soon as SF had discovered time travel, stories could not only concern the future but also the past - and every alternative past that could have existed. Physics explains this theory with quantum mechanics. Every possible version of history may exist side by side in a giant system of parallel universes, which is sometimes called the ,,multiverse". The number of these parallel universes is unlimited.
Primeval Adventures: Primeval adventures tell the story of a discovery from ancient times, which had a great influence on the evolution of man and was an essential part in his development from a primitive existence to our civilisation. Some critics don't regard prehistoric adventures as SF, but our knowledge about primeval time is based on scientific interpretations of fossils. Stories which rest on these speculations have the same right to be called SF like space travel or new technologies.
Time Travel: In time travel stories the acting persons make a trip to the past or the future and mostly alter the course of time. This happens either in a time machine or the hero is in stasis for some years and awakes in a totally new world. Sometimes they meet a time paradox which means that the cause is lying in the future and the effect in the past.
Alien Invasions: This is the most simple motive of SF, in which our world is changed by intruders from another world or another time. This event may have global effects. The aliens are in most cases hostile, but sometimes also bring gifts (which occasionally turn out to be deceptive) or proclaim important messages. The X-Files deals in many episodes with creatures from outer space which spy on our planet and take over high position in the government. These stories are based on reports on UFO sights and on the mysterious disappearance of people.
Mental Forces: This type of SF is speculating with the powers of the Homo superior, our successors. These stories are about finding oneself and mostly children are affected, who don't know who or what they are. The thought that some of us could have mental powers is old. Some of these powers are clairvoyance, telepathy, empathy or telekinesis. After the end of prosecution of witchcraft in the 18th century, the number of people who claimed to have such powers increased. Another part of this type is the rise of intelligence and the development of as it were superhuman strength.
Comical Infernos: Comical infernos show the world we know distorted into another time or to another place to show its absurdity. SF adopted ideas that were so crazy that they were just used as a funny element but also had a satirical purpose.
Alien Life: A century ago the first creatures which were totally different to man conquered literature. In the early pulp magazines, aliens were mostly hostile and therefore worth to destroy. Their appearance was influenced by snakes, insects or spiders. But there were also nice aliens which reminded of birds or cute mammals.
Artificial Intelligence: In SF, the ancestors of computers were mechanical brains which appeared for the first time in the 19th century. One of the ideas was that a computer could develop his own conscience, totally spontaneous and unplanned.
Cosmic Collisions: The idea that Earth could collide with a comet or a lost asteroid came up in the 19th century, when science found out that meteors were cosmic waste which burned up in the atmosphere. Many authors described the reaction of mankind after the news of an imminent collision.
New Technologies: SF-authors always wanted to find out the full potential of new technologies. In the 1940s they dealt especially with atomic energy, in the 1950s with computers. Now there are 3 central fields which are in the middle of SF-interest: genetic engineering, nanotechnology and virtual reality. Nanotechnology deals with the construction of instruments which can be used on molecular level. With the help of genetic engineering we may soon be able to construct inorganic mechanisms. Virtual reality enables us today to step into a computer-generated artificial world. In SF novels this technology is far more advanced, e.g. there are big holodecks on the vessels from Star Trek where one can create everything he wants.
Dinosaurs and other Survivors: Since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago they have had a great influence on human fantasy. Many stories are about an undiscovered valley where there still live dinosaurs. The hope that there are still some of them alive lives in modern legends like the monster of Loch Ness. One of the most popular dinosaur-figures is Godzilla who in the earlier movies destroyed cities but later even defended cities against alien invaders.
The dying Earth: Since the 19th century it was a fact that one day the sun will burn up and then the Earth will freeze to death. Beside dark visions of the end of mankind there are stories where mankind survives Earth by travelling and settling to other planets.
Cyborgs: The word ,,cyborg" is derived from ,,cybernetic organism" and stands for the combination of organism and machine. Even today cyborgs exist: humans with artificial limbs, artificial organs or cardiac pacemakers. In SF novels cyborgs are mostly soldiers and have superhuman capabilities. In Star Trek there is a whole cyborg race called the Borg which fly through space and assimilate every organic lifeform into their collective.
The Elixir of Life: Elixirs of life and youth fountains have always been elements in fantastic literature. But it was not always good for the people; sometimes they were punished with eternal life. Others want to be immortal and would do everything to reach eternal life.
Endangered Environment: The importance and complexity of ecological problems has been recognised in the last 50 years. Since then the danger of an ecological disaster has been dealt with in SF. In the 60s people were afraid of population explosion, in the 70s they feared environmental pollution, in the 80s the greenhouse effect added to their fears and in the 90s there was the hole in the ozone layer.
Atomic War and its Aftermath: When in 1945 news about the dropping of the atomic bomb came out there was a great boom in SF. Finally it was taken seriously because one of its main events had appeared in reality. After Hiroshima there was a flood of apocalyptic stories which dealt with the devastation of mankind or the life of the survivors in a radioactively contaminated world.
War of Sexes: Feminists use SF to show social systems which are not spoiled by male dominance. Male authors rather make fun of such matriarchies. The end of censorship in the 60s led to SF erotic stories.
The Solar System: The solar system often served as the set for planetary romances but in more realistic SF novels it was á place for exploration. Until the first probe landed on Mars in 1976 there was the hope that there could be life up there and this was the subject of many novels. In newer works, man is going to Mars and makes it habitable through terraforming. The Venus was also visited, just like Jupiter. The other planets were not so interesting in SF.
Living in Space: The discovery that the planets of our solar system are inhabitable for us brought up the idea of artificial living space. The problems with which these space stations have to deal are gravitation supply with nutrition and energy and defence against the dangers of space (aliens, meteors, ...).
Space Travel: The dream of space travel is older than SF itself but the first stories ignored generously the problems of being out of the atmosphere. The first novel that could be taken seriously was De la Terre à la Lune by Jules Verne who really tackled with physics and considered every possible event. The first space ships were oval or spherical; some reminded of flying submarines. Alien space ships were mostly flying saucers.
The Apollo missions and the exploration of space made these stories more realistic.
Supermen and other Mutants: According to the modern theory of evolution, each species is going through a coincidental mutation, which sometimes contributes to an improvement of viability. The interest of SF lies in creating the ,,homo superior", a better human. These mutations were caused e.g. by radioactive contamination. The comics invented a whole generation of superheroes with their friends and enemies.
Teleportation and Matter Transmission: Teleportation was an original synonym for psychokinesis (the ability to move objects with the power of will), but later described the ability move oneself from one place to another without walking there. Matter transmitters have the same purpose: They transform humans and objects into a signal and send it elsewhere. This is not very plausible but useful. The most popular example of this technology are the transporters of the starship Enterprise. The producers had to use it because it was cheaper to fade people in, to beam them somewhere than to let them actually land on a planet.
Transcendence: Some writers think that the climax of evolution is the liberation from the prison of matter. The mind becomes independent from the body. The person reaches a higher level of conscience.
Beneath the Surface: In SF not only space is conquered but also the sea. Stories about the lost continent Atlantis are very popular. But there are also novels about the explorations of the interior of Earth.
THE HITCH HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (1979)
It is just an ordinary day in Arthur Dent's life except that a bulldozer is standing in front of his house and wants to demolish it. And there is also the fact that a Vogon starship is hanging in orbit over Earth and wants to demolish our planet as well. Fortunately he manages to escape with the help of his alien friend Ford Prefect on a Vogon ship. But danger is not over yet because the Vogons are a very unpleasant species and throw them out of a hatch into space. There's a slight chance of 2 to the power of 267 709 to one against that they can be rescued before they asphyxiate. Meanwhile the President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, is stealing a newly designed starship, the Heart of Gold, which is driven by the Infinite Improbability Drive. Because it's so improbable to get rescued, Arthur and Ford get saved by this ship - because of the Improbability Drive. Aboard the ship they find Trillian, a human woman who also managed to get a lift and Marvin, a manically depressed robot. Zaphod's plan is to find the most improbable planet: Magrathea. Once the Magratheans were known for building new planets for rich people, but after 5 million years ago the galactic economy collapsed they're supposed to be dead. Zaphod wants to find there some kind of treasure, he thinks that there is something left of the old wealth of the Magratheans. Thanks to the Improbability Drive they find the planet and land on it. While Ford, Trillian and Zaphod are searching a cave, Arthur has to wait outside with Marvin where he suddenly notices an old man who turns out to be a Magrathean called Slartibartfast. They only slept these 5 million years to wait till the economic recession is over and the universe is again rich enough to afford their planets. He takes Arthur to his home where he informs him of the true nature of Earth: It's only a computer. There was once a computer, the wisest and most intelligent computer in the galaxy who was called Deep Thought and who promised to give them the ultimate answer to the question about life, the universe and everything. It needed 7 and a half million years and then it told them that it would be 42. That was not the answer they had expected. Deep Thought suggested to build another computer to find out the question about life, universe and everything - the Earth. To monitor the whole project, the mice were sent to Earth and ran the planet. But 5 minutes before the answer was given, the Vogons came and demolished it. Now the Magratheans have to build another Earth. But 2 mice who went on holiday before Earth was demolished have another plan: they want to take Arthur's brain out of his head and search for the question. But Arthur and the others manage to escape thanks to Marvin who is depressing the mice's computers and return to their ship. So the mice have to invent a question themselves. They think of What's yellow and dangerous? but it doesn't fit the answer. What do you get if you multiply 6 by 7? is too factual. Finally they can agree on How many roads must a man walk down? 42! Sounds good. Fits. Meanwhile the Heart of Gold is setting course for the restaurant at the end of the galaxy.
THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE (1980)
The Vogons have the order to destroy the whole Earth, meaning also every earthling. So they attack the Heart of Gold to kill Arthur and Trillian. Zaphod calls his great grandfather Beeblebrox IV who rescues them provided that Zaphod finds the man who rules the universe. He accepts and suddenly finds himself on Ursa Minor Beta, far away from the Heart of Gold - at least he thinks so, because the Heart of Gold is in his pocket, shrunk. Ursa Minor Beta is not only a holiday planet but also the Hitch Hiker headquarters are located there. Something tells Zaphod to find Zarniwoop in the Hitch Hiker building, which is suddenly bombed and brought to Frogstar 2. There Zaphod has to go into the Total Perspective Vortex, the most cruel torture in the whole universe. When you're in there you see yourself in relation with the universe and everyone that has ever gone in there has become insane. But Zaphod goes in and comes out totally sane (for his relations) because he learned that he is the most important man in the universe. Zaphod finds an old airliner on the planet where he meets Zarniwoop who tells him that this is just a holographic universe inside his office - so Zaphod is not as important as he thought he was. Zarniwoop tells him where to find the man who rules the universe but before Zaphod is going to fulfil his mission he wants to eat something. He takes the Heart of Gold out of his pocket (Zarniwoop told him it was there) and tells Eddie the computer to take them to the nearest restaurant. The nearest restaurant is the one at the end of the universe, not at the local end but at the temporal end. When you're eating in this restaurant you can watch the end of the world. Ford finds an old friend there, Hotblack Desiato, a rock star who always ends his concerts by letting a ship fly into a sun. Suddenly they get a phone call from Marvin, their manically depressed robot, whom they have forgotten on Frogstar 2 and who is now working in the garage. They go there and find not only Marvin but also Hotblack Desiato's black ship. They have always wanted to fly in such a ship and so they get in. But suddenly the ship goes back in time and prepares to fly into the sun. They are able to beam out at the last moment but get separated. Ford and Arthur get to a starship where they find all the idiots from the planet Golgrafrincham: hairdressers, telephone sanitizers, account executives, ... The clever people from the planet told them that there was a great disaster to come and that they had to find another planet to live on. And so they sent all their useless comrades away - directly to prehistoric Earth where they crash-land. So, these idiots become the ancestors of human life on Earth; the real earthlings die out.
Meanwhile Trillian and Zaphod are busy searching for the man who rules the universe. They finally find him on some planet in the middle of nowhere living in a small hut with his cat. This man believes just in what he's seeing at the moment. So, when Trillian and Zaphod agree that he's an idiot and get back to the Heard of Gold, leaving Zarniwoop stranded on the planet, he doesn't believe in them anymore.
Arthur and Ford are so desperate that they decide to live with the Golgrafrinchams and leave the search for the ultimate question in other hands.
LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING (1982)
Arthur Dent is living a monotonous life in a cave on prehistoric Earth in future London. But one day when he thinks there is no hope to get away from the planet anymore, a starship comes, an alien named Wowbagger comes out - and calls Arthur a jerk. Then he goes back to his ship and disappears.
Two years later exactly on that day he is visited by his old friend Ford Prefect who made a world trip. Just as they are talking about old times a sofa appears and takes them to London, to Lord's Cricket Place. There they meet Slartibartfast and a couple of white alien robots who steal the Ashes, the prize for winning the cricket match. These robots are remnants of the Krikkit wars: The Krikkit were a happy and peaceful people who lived on a planet inside a dust cloud and they never thought that there could be others like them somewhere out there.
But one day a spaceship fell from heaven. They copied this ship and when they got out of their dust cloud and saw all the other stars they became xenophobe and decided to destroy every other lifeform in the universe. The universe was not happy about that and the Krikkit were taken to court, where there was decided that they had to live inside a Slo-Time Envelope which would be locked by the Wikkit Gate. The key to the Gate was scattered in the whole universe. The key consists of the Steel Pillar, the Perspex Pillar, the Wooden Pillar, the Silver Bail and the Golden Bail. Now the Krikkit robots want to find the pieces of the key to release their Krikkit masters. They already got the Wooden Pillar which are the Ashes of the burnt cricket stump, the Steel Pillar, which is Marvin's leg whom they found on some planet talking to a mattress and took with them and the Perspex Pillar, the Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice. The Golden Bail seems to be the Heart of Gold and Zaphod is not very happy when they want to take it away from him and especially not when in passing they shoot him. The last part of the Key is on a party and Ford, Slartibartfast and Arthur want to go there and try to find it before the robots. Ford and Slartibartfast get there but Arthur is diverted and finds himself in a cave where he meets Agrajag who is a little bit angry - or full of hatred - because Arthur killed him at least 30 times in different lives. Now he wants revenge but he made a mistake: He brought Arthur too soon into this cave because he hadn't yet been to Stravromula Beta where he had been or will be again to blame for Agrajag's death. Theoretically, Arthur can't die until he gets there or the timeline will be mixed up. Agrajag decides to kill him anyway and to blow the whole mountain up. Arthur manages to find an exit and is flinged outside by the explosion where he finds himself falling to the ground from great height. Luckily he notices a hold-all which he once lost at Athens airport and totally misses the ground. Now he is flying and in the next moment crashes against a building which is flying, too. It's the party and Arthur gets inside to celebrate. The Krikkit robots must have had the same idea because they're also there and get the Silver Bail, which turns out to be an Award For The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word ,,F**k" In A Serious Screenplay. The only way to stop the robots now is to prevent them from unlocking the Wikkit Gate. Thanks to Arthur who had to defy a Thunder God who had been chatting up Trillian, they are too late. Luckily the Krikkit who live on the planet don't want to fight anymore just like their robots which have been depressed by Marvin who in this way has saved Zaphod's life. But Trillian is able to deal with them because clever as she is, she found out that the dust cloud around Krikkit were just shattered pieces of a computer named Hactar. Hactar was designed by a martial people who wanted him to create an ultimate weapon and so he designed a solar bomb which would destroy every sun in the universe and therefore the universe itself. But he had doubts if it was right and manipulated the bomb. In the end the warlike aliens destroyed him and the bomb.
But he survived and discovered that he hadn't been a good computer, that he hadn't done what he was designed for. So he searched for another people, the Krikkit, let the spaceship crash on their planet and made them develop a very strong anti-alien feeling. His last move would have been to detonate the solar bomb but now he is destroyed instead. Yet, in his last words he says that he has fulfilled his function. Ignoring these last words the Heart of Gold - crew is happy to have saved the universe again. Arthur wants to return to Earth to bring the Wooden Pillar - the Ashes - back to the cricket match. There he wants to fulfil a childhood dream: He always wanted to bowl at Lord's. He takes a cricket ball out of his hold-all - and discovers that it's the solar bomb. In his surprise he stumbles and totally fails to hit the ground. He's flying now and hurls off the solar bomb, besides he kills the last Krikkit robot who has somehow been forgotten on Earth. Having Earth saved twice on one day he returns into his own time. There the Heart of Gold meets a spaceship where they find a half-mad journalist who tells them about a man who, influenced by a truth drug, just tells the truth and nothing but the truth. They decide to visit him to find out the Ultimate Question about Life, the Universe and Everything, but he just tells them that the answer and the question can't exist in the same universe and that they therefore will never know it. Yet, he gives them the address of God's Final Message to His People which is burning in giant letters of fire on some planet. Unfortunately he dies before anyone can take it down. However, they don't mind, especially Arthur who decides to live on Krikkit to practice flying.
In the following book, So long and thanks for all the fish, we get to know that God's Final Message to His People can just be seen from a very high mountain. You need hours to get to the top and the higher you're going up, the higher are the prices for water. On top of the mountain you can see the giant letters: WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE!
In the last book of the ,,trilogy", Mostly Harmless", the universe is doing everything to bring Arthur and Trillian back to Earth, because they're earthlings and aren't supposed to live anymore. Because their Earth is demolished they get to another Earth in a parallel universe. There they go into a club which is called Stavro Mueller Beta - Arthur's Stavromula Beta where he is again responsible for Agrajag's death. Now Arthur knows that he can die, too and does it in the next moment because the Vogons are firing at the Earth and with this destroy every Earth in every universe.
When I started reading these books, I didn't think that they could make any sense. But to my surprise there is one: You can never escape your fate. Trillian and Arthur weren't supposed to live anymore because the whole Earth should have been demolished. So the universe tried everything possible to get them killed to restore the right space time continuum.
2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
The story starts on prehistoric Earth. Man-apes who are living from berries and grass are dominating the world. Their only trouble are the daily conflicts with the Others and the concern of not finding enough food. One morning, they suddenly find a black monolith which hadn't been there the day before. It hypnotises them and teaches them how to build and use weapons and tools. For many nights the man-apes learn and make rapid progress. They start to kill their first animals so that they have enough to eat and then they kill the Others. During the Ice Ages they adapt and with the years they develop to human beings.
Dr. Heywood Floyd, the chairman of the National Council of Astronautics, is called to the moon because scientists have found a strange object there. They call it Tycho Magnetic Anomaly - One (T.M.A.-1) and it looks like a black monolith. It was buried under the moon's surface and when they dug it up, it sent out a signal. The monolith is estimated to be 3 million years old.
The starship Discovery is on its way to Saturn. Their mission is to map it, but it's a one way travel. When they get there, they go into hibernation while scientists on Earth are constructing a spaceship to rescue them. The crew consists of David Bowman, the first captain, Frank Poole, 3 scientists in hibernation and HAL 9000, the ship's computer. HAL has got an artificial brain and is programmed to interact with the crew as if he was a human. But no one knows that he is actually the head of the real mission, which is to look for life on Saturn, because T.M.A.-1 transmitted its signal there. He thinks that Bowman and Poole are a danger for the success of the mission and so he decides to kill them. When Poole is out in space to repair some communication device, he assassinates him. Then he tries to kill Bowman because he noticed Poole's death and wants to wake the hibernators for help. HAL opens an airlock and everything is blown out into space. Bowman is able to get himself to the pool bay where there is oxygen. Now that he is rescued he disables HAL and contacts Earth to report the incident. Dr. Heywood Floyd tells him about the real mission of the Discovery and orders him to terminate it.
The Discovery is in orbit round Japetus, one of the moons of Saturn. When he is examining the planet, Bowman finds a second monolith on the surface. He gets into an escape pod and flies down to the second T.M.A.-1. The roof opens and he falls into this ,,star gate". It's like the Grand Central Station of the Galaxy, from this point you can go to every star you want. Something has taken control over the pod and takes Bowman to a hotel room. Everything is real there and after he has eaten something, he falls asleep. While he's sleeping, something is scanning his brain and Bowman is reaching a higher level of living, of conscience. He becomes pure energy. Bowman is now like the people who sent the monolith to Earth. They wander through the galaxy and develop life on other planets. They teach them the basic things like making fire or using weapons so that they can evolve and rule their world. They buried the monolith under the moon's surface, so that they know when their ,,children" are intelligent enough to travel through space. Then it sends the signal to the star gate to on the one hand report that another species has managed to develop so far and on the other hand guide their ,,children" there.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898)
Mars is dying. So the Martians decide to settle on Earth and send cylinders with their people to our planet who shall kill man. The first cylinder falls on Horsell Common and is first mistaken as a meteorite. But soon it opens and creatures totally different from humans come out. They look like giant heads with tentacles; they are just a mass with something that reminds of a face. As a crowd of people approaches them, the Martians send out a Heat-Ray which destroys everything in its way. The narrator, a writer, manages to escape to his house and tells his wife what he has just seen. He also maintains that the aliens cannot survive in the Earth's atmosphere, because it's different to Mars and that they can scarcely move, so that they are caught in their pit. Nevertheless troops are placed around the cylinder. In the next night another cylinder lands. Soldiers attack it but the Martians strike back with their Heat- Ray. The narrator takes his wife to safety to her relatives in Leatherhead. When he wants to return home he sees the first of the Martian tripods, giant machines which enable the aliens to move. He learns from a soldier that the Martians have already destroyed a few towns and are moving on. The narrator decides to go to London to warn his brother. On his way there he first meets the Martians again but manages to escape, and then a self-pitying curate who is convinced that this is the end of the world.
Meanwhile London is being evacuated and also the narrator's brother is trying to escape on the crowded streets. He flees to the south-east coast and gets aboard a ship which sails to Europe. He witnesses the destruction of 2 Martian tripods by a torpedo boat.
The Martians are now attacking with a new weapon, poisonous black smoke which kills every being which inhales it.
Worried about his wife, the narrator sets out for Leatherhead, accompanied by the miserable curate. In the night, they hide in an empty house but are trapped when the fifth cylinder lands. From their hiding place they watch the Martians building their tripods and eating captured humans. The narrator resolves to escape but the curate goes mad. He shouts and screams and so attracts the attention of a Martian. The narrator hides in the coal cellar but it's too late for the curate. After days without food and water he decides to get out and discovers that the Martians have left the pit. He goes out of the house but barely recognises the land about him. Everywhere red Martian fern is growing and is transforming Earth into another planet. On Putney Hill, the narrator meets the soldier again, who explains his plans for mankind's survival. He wants to build a new society in the canalisation of the cities and when they were strong enough they want to take over the planet.
Hoping to find survivors, the narrator goes to London. He sees a Martian tripod, motionless and howling. He finds the Martians' base and discovers that they are dead. The bacteria of Earth have defeated them.
People start returning to London. The narrator hears that Leatherhead has been destroyed and returns home. Luckily his wife has been able to escape and waits there for him.
The book shows that there might be some danger out in space and that Earth might not be such a secure place. Besides it shows that not always guns are the right weapons, that also such small things like bacteria can be an even greater enemy than humans, who think that they are the masters of Earth.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS - THE MOVIE (1953)
The film begins with a description of the planets of our solar system. It shows Mars as the planet of a superior, yet dying civilisation and there is no other solution for them than to conquer Earth.
The first Martian probe lands on Earth in a small Californian town. A group of scientists, led by Clayton Forrester, comes to investigate but the object is too hot and before it cools off, Forrester takes much more interest in Sylvia van Buren, the niece of the local priest. While they're on a square dance, the Martian crew awakens and the three policemen who were guarding the cylinder are pulverised by the Heat Ray. Now that the Martians have proved to be hostile, the authorities decide to use armed forces against them, but their weapons are useless. Soon, the whole world is full of similar Martian vessels. While the governments of the world are working desperately together to stop the aliens, Forrester and Sylvia are trying to escape Martians who crash-landed in the house where they had hidden. Forrester hits one with an axe and severs the electronic eye of the alien. He also finds a cloth with Martian blood and with this they flee to Los Angeles. There the government has decided to use an atomic bomb to stop the invasion but that, too, fails. The scientist now want to create a weapon, some kind of virus, with the help of the blood sample, that would destroy them. But the Martians are going to be at L.A. soon and so they have to get out of the town. During the escape the car with the scientific devices is destroyed by hysterical people and Forrester also loses Sylvia in the crowd. As the Martians approach, he flees into a church where many people have gathered to pray. He finds Sylvia and together they hear the approaching Martians and await their end. But suddenly the noise ceases, the aliens have stopped shooting around. As they go outside they see their machines crashed on the ground and the aliens inside are dead. The Earth bacteria that God in his wisdom had put on Earth defeated them.
The film is different to the book. While the book is set in the late 19th century, the movie plays after World War II and shows the anxiety of the time as well as the traumatic memories of the war. H.G. Wells lets the cylinders just land in Britain, his home, while in the film the probes are landing all over the planet. The weapons differ as well. In the film, they try to use an atomic bomb to destroy the aliens but in the 19th century no one even dreamed - or had nightmares - of this technology. While in the book the aliens are using tripods to move, the film Martians fly with the help of magnetic rays which keep the machine up. They also have an electromagnetic covering with which they are immune to our weapons. The special effects which seem primitive to us nowadays, were in the 50s the best ones ever seen and even won an award. The popularity of the film later transformed into cult status and later SF films were influenced by it.
- Quote paper
- Nicole Matatko (Author), 2000, Science Fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/95780