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Aliens, robots, spaceships, time travel, wormholes and ray-guns. Sci-fi rocks.
The first time I can remember being exposed to sci-fi was as a very young boy. I saw a TV ad for an upcoming episode of Star Trek -- it was a simple still picture of Captain Kirk on a strange planet. I asked my Mum what it was about. I can't recall her answer but it didn't matter, I was already hooked. The image of people travelling to other planets had infected me with a life-long addiction.
Science fiction does play a serious role in our culture. It has helped influence the way we live and it helps define our goals for the future.
Much of our modern knowledge stems from questions originally asked in literature. A huge number of inventions we take for granted were inspired by fictional devices. Many scientists chose their profession after becoming interested in sci-fi at a young age, their childhood daydreams eventually leading to significant discoveries and contributions.
Science fiction provides ideas and inspiration for better ways of doing things, which scientists and engineers then transform into reality. In the 19th Century, aeroplanes were science fiction.
Sci-Fi as Soothsayer
Science fiction provides us with a way to consider various possible futures and the consequences of different paths we might take. From Soylent Green to Terminator, popular movies have encouraged people to talk about what might happen if we don't think carefully about where we're heading. In contrast to the many distopic scenarios, Star Trek provides an optimistic view of what can happen if we all work together.
Star Trek - More about my favourite show.
P.S. I'm quite happy using the term "sci-fi". I know this will offend many science fiction fans, but I don't really care. It's easier and quicker to write and say, and if you don't like it - hard luck.