The Subgenres of Science Fiction: Marvelous, Fantastic, and Uncanny
Three Subgenres of Science Fiction
Science fiction must be the only genre that allows the authors to create the most unbelievable worlds and the most incredible creatures, which are a part of the most exiting stories. Thus, the audience is able to enjoy the results of the infinite power of human imagination. Alongside fantastic plots, science fiction is also capable of reflecting real, typical worries, fears, and expectations of the society of a particular period. Its three subgenres, marvelous, fantastic, and uncanny, describe and help understand how people imagined their future in the middle of the 20th century and what their hopes and expectations were.
The first subgenre, marvelous, discusses the impact of the forces beyond the human realm and contemplates about the possible encounters with the representatives of other worlds (Telotte, 2001, p.12). The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a good example of this subgenre. It describes the invasion of the Earth by aliens that grew in the pods. It all actually began in a small town of Santa Mira, where everyone refused to admit that something was wrong until their alien doppelgangers replaced all of them. This film uniquely depicts the issues that bothered the society of the 50s and reflects the reaction of that society to the contemporary politics. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was filmed during the Cold War when the fear of the Communist aggression transformed into mass paranoia.
The film portrays aliens as the ones who invade and replace real people with great subtlety, and if someone notices the change, they remove that person eventually as well. That is why people fear them immensely: a person simply does not know whom they can trust. Therefore, the aliens represent American’s fear of the spies of the Soviet Union. Michel Dodd states that the fear of such infiltration combined with the communist witch-hunt, which Senator McCarthy carried out, were the main reasons for the contemporary viewers and critics to see all these real dangers behind the image of the aliens (Dodd, 2014).
The idea of paranoia that engulfed the entire country is depicted closer to the end of the film. The main character reaches the highway and tries to warn the passing drivers about the danger screaming, “They are here already! You are next!” The idea of needing to be suspicious all the time and the necessity to suspect everyone around including the close ones were depicted in the film together with the fear of losing one’s identity by being captured and later brainwashed or turned into an alien with a different worldview. Moreover, the horrific thought that this process of replacement might have already started as well as the fear of the hidden danger that can eventually ruin American society found their reflection in understanding the aliens as a metaphor for the possible danger from Communists. Even if the creators of the film did not have any intention to deliver such ideas or to make such comparison, many viewers and critics saw the spies of the Soviet Union who invade their country in those aliens. Thus, it only emphasizes the obsession of the society of that time with the fear of the USSR and the idea of World War III.
The example of the fantastic genre since a fantastic film discusses the possibility of future social and cultural changes brought by the development of technology and scientific discoveries (Telotte, 2001, p.12). The Jetsons is an animated comedy series released in 1962 about the life of an ordinary family living in 2062 when the usual everyday routine includes flying cars and servant robots. This particular series represents the expectations of people who lived in the middle of the 20th century. Those who witnessed the first flight of a human being to space in 1961, the first landing on the Moon, and the successful return to the Earth in 1969 expected fast technological development and hoped for a better and more comfortable life beyond the Earth or even beyond the Solar System.
It appears that The Jetsons depicts a technological utopia of the future. The portrayed family lives in a big house situated not on the ground but high above it. Moreover, everything inside the house is automatic, and even the morning fitness program aims to only train the fingers for a more effective pressing of the buttons since that is all a man has to do. Despite the fact that hard physical work is absent, George Jetson complains that his job is a “slave work”, although all he has to do is to sit and press some buttons from time to time. His wife Jane also complains about the housework depressing her, although all the gadgets complete the tasks, for which she only needs to push a button. Furthermore, the transport system is developed in a way that one can travel to another side of the world and return home in a couple of hours.
Additionally, the kitchen gadgets cook by themselves, and every item in the household, including beds and toothbrushes, is automatic, which is standard for the society. Some of the ideas of the creators of the show have predicted the development of some gadgets, such as TVs with flat screens or videophones, which are actually just big screens in the cartoon: you can see a person whom you call. Today, people simply use Skype. The Jetsons also emphasizes the fact that the international issues and the ability to understand and to cooperate with the representatives of other countries or, perhaps, even planets are very important considering that the Jetsons’ older daughter, Judy, receives homework on the subjects like geopolitics and Esperanto, a constructed international language. At the same time, the servant robot, Rosy, tells Judy that she can provide the answers to her homework assignments in about 10 minutes. Thus, the series make another prediction: this time about the Internet, where one can find any type of information in seconds.
All the technological development has made the life of the family much easier since they do not waste their time and effort to work because automatic machines do everything instead. Their life should have been a dream that came true, but it appears so only at first. In fact, many problems remained unsolved. The first one is the question of employment as George Jetson becomes frustrated with the fact that he has lost his job and now has no means to support his family. The other problem is unequal wages, which proves that social stratification continues to exist, and their future world is not a utopia, where all people are equal. The family discusses whether they can afford a robot servant, which means if there are the rich, there also must be the poor. Moreover, the problem of intolerance towards those who are different from the majority also remains as the wife of George’s boss tells him she has to leave for a protest to carry a sign that says “Martians, go home.” The need to spend much time in traffic jams on the way home also continued to be a problem, regardless of the fact that the story unfolded in a much bigger space than the narrow streets of the Earth. The show also demonstrates the dangers of the technological era. When a cooking machine is broken, Jane Jetson says that one can never predict the outcome; thus, in reality, a person does not control anything being dependent on the gadgets, and, perhaps, they will not know what to do if some gadget breaks down. In addition, people often recall the times when their mothers or wives and not robots or machines cooked. Thus, it illustrates that technological progress does not guarantee contentment and positive impact on the society’s development.
The creators of the show wanted for some part of the humanity to remain unchanged. However, they expressed their contemporaries’ expectations for a bright future, where life is easy due to technological development. Nevertheless, in their opinion, people have to preserve their family values and the need of compassion even towards robots. In addition, people should cook with love and care and keep a day schedule for everyone to get up early in the morning to go to work or school, fulfill their duties, return home, and go bed to repeat it the next day. Thus, these aspects of human life have to stay constant even in the highly developed future.
The uncanny science-fiction show discusses how technological alterations make it possible to substitute humans with robots or androids (Telotte, 2001, p.12). This genre recounts the stories of created selves, which are practically undistinguishable from the human beings (Telotte, 2001, p.15). A good example of this genre is a Japanese TV show Astro Boy. Created in 1963, it portrays the events happening in 2003. The show describes the future where technology allows people to create the robots that resemble humans. The plot revolves around a scientist who tries to create a robot with a soul, but all his attempts fail until he makes an android, the copy of his son who died in a car crash. On the one hand, it is a great progress of human abilities. On the other hand, the creation of the artificial life places a great responsibility on the creator and raises many moral and philosophical issues.
The first question is how to treat robots that look like humans. J.P. Telotte emphasizes that the uncanny genre allows people to see how the line between a subject and object disappears (Telotte, 2001, p.15). Astro Boy was created by a grieving scientist who had to understand that the robot (object) was not his son (subject). The scientist had to see that the robot would have never been able to replace a real boy since he was not alive, but as the story progresses, the scientist demonstrates real feelings towards the robot and treats him like his own son. In reality, he should not have deluded himself. The other important question is whether a man is allowed to create robots that are able to think for themselves at all. In Astro Boy, the scientists try to make an android with a soul, but the problem is that even modern science is not capable of telling what a soul is. A human being cannot behave as God creating things, which are not yet fully human, but at the same time not mere objects anymore. A man cannot tell what is happening “inside the head” of a robot, which brings another question: whether it is a crime to turn off the robot. Thus, it is not clear whether such deed can be considered a murder.
Another problem is perfectly depicted in the episode when the scientist tries to teach and educate Astro Boy like a real child. In that episode, he serves the robot dinner, but the boy does not know what to eat exactly, so he eats a spoon. Then, when Astro Boy breaks a window, his “father” tells him that it is bad. However, the issue here is about a man explaining to a robot the difference between “good” and “bad.” In the show, Astro Boy understands when his “father” is in danger and saves him. It appears that he does it because of his feelings towards the scientist and his ability to distinguish between “good” and “bad.” In reality, robots are probably incapable of having feelings. Thus, Astro Boy would not have saved his creator due to his feelings because he simply would not have any. On the other hand, humans can easily learn to care about robots, especially when they look like real people. This can result in the complicated relationships between people and robots and even inability or unwillingness to distinguish a human from a robot as it is illustrated in the show when the scientist asks the android boy to call him “dad” in order to support his belief that his son is still alive.
Thus, Astro Boy shows that people of the 20th century expected not only easy life due to technological development like in The Jetsons but also the answers to the mystery of life and death. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, society must have waited for a chance to bring back the dead and, perhaps, achieve eternal life through technology. Nevertheless, the analysis of Astro Boy shows that humans are not ready to take such responsibility for their creations since many ethical issues concerning robots remain unresolved.
The analysis of the three films, which represent three subgenres of science fiction proves that the marvelous, fantastic, and uncanny stories not only entertain but also depict the mood and fears of society. They also raise complicated moral and philosophical issues and demonstrate the hopes and expectations of the people of a particular period.