First Drafts of the Future

Alta considers the appeal and legacy of a misunderstood form defined by possibilities.


What is science fiction? The question is trickier than it appears. For all the clichés, the sweeping futuristic sagas, it remains (like all literature) an exploration of inner, as opposed to outer, space. The best, or most resonant, science fiction imagines individuals in extreme situations, or at least in different timelines, different worlds.

At its heart, science fiction begins with a question, or a set of questions: Who are we and how do we live? In such a context, it is humanity that is most important. That’s why, when the first film in the Star Wars franchise was released, in 1977, many viewers were struck by the jerry-rigged nature of the technology, which seemed so recognizable and well-worn. When it didn’t work as it was supposed to (or, for that matter, work at all), it only became more human and familiar, reminding us that, whatever else it might be, the future—like the present—would necessarily be improvised.

In this issue, Alta looks at science fiction: its appeal, its legacy. As a genre, it is often misread, misunderstood, considered through the lens of its imagined futures rather than the present on which it inevitably reflects. This is not to say it can’t be visionary; it is a form defined by possibilities. But as for what those possibilities are and where they lead us, they have everything to do with where we’ve been.

Explore the complete Science Fiction Special Section in Alta‘s Summer 2020 issue.

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