By Marty Russell
For science fiction fans like myself, we had both ups and downs in the past week or so.
We lost one of the most literate and prescient science fiction writers of my generation, Ray Bradbury, but also got what many geeks like myself have been waiting 30 years for, film director Ridley Scott’s first foray back into the genre since his haunting “Blade Runner” from 1982, itself based on the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
Like many others, I plopped down my nine bucks this weekend to see Scott’s “Prometheus,” ostensibly billed as a prequel to his classic 1979 film, “Alien” which pretty much set the standard for all science fiction movies to come afterward. Without giving too much away, “Prometheus,” while indeed setting the stage for “Alien,” focuses more on the question of where we, being the human race, came from.
It posits that we were actually created, not by some omnipotent, white-bearded supreme being wearing a robe and with a voice like James Earl Jones but by another race of beings who seeded the Earth with DNA that led to the existence of humans. It doesn’t preclude evolution since it still apparently took millions of years for humans to emerge from the initial seeding, but it suggests we were, as the characters in the movie put it, “engineered” into existence. It’s not an uncommon theme in science fiction or science, for that matter. Many scientists argue that the earliest building blocks of life on Earth arrived on comets and meteors millions of years ago, cooking in the primordial seas until the recipe was just right and life emerged.
In Stanley Kubrick’s incongruous “2001: A Space Odyssey” he suggests that Earth is being watched over and shepherded by another race of beings. Even in the campy old Hammer film, “Five Million Years to Earth,” a 5-million-year-old spacecraft is unearthed beneath London containing the remains of not just Martians but their cargo, apes that had been taken from Earth and altered to give them more human characteristics and then returned to Earth.
Bradbury, in “The Martian Chronicles,” suggested the roles could even be reversed when, at the end of the story, a human astronaut looks into a pool of water on Mars, now inhabited only by the ghosts of its former inhabitants, and realizes that we, the humans, are now the Martians.
Pretty heady stuff. But that’s what’s great about science fiction. It can make you question all your preconceptions of the universe around you. And those questions usually lead to more questions.
When one of the characters in “Prometheus” finally acknowledges that the human race was indeed engineered by another race, she asks, “But who made them?”
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.