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Top Scientists Pick The Best Science Fiction

The London Guardian recently devoted their entire science section to a consideration of the relations between science and science fiction. As the editors explained, “We asked leading scientists from around the world what science fiction meant to them: how they…
August 29, 2004

The London Guardian recently devoted their entire science section to a consideration of the relations between science and science fiction. As the editors explained, “We asked leading scientists from around the world what science fiction meant to them: how they related to it and what influence it had on them. The answers showed that science fiction not only reflects science but is also an inspiration for it.”

Specifically, the publication asked top scientists from around the world, including MIT oceanographer Carl Wunsch, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, UC Irvine physicist Gregory Benford, and Oxford Evolutionary Biologists Richard Dawkins, to identify their favorite science fiction films and writers. (To be fair, most of the people asked were British scientists and almost none fell outside the non-English speaking world.)

Among the science fiction films, Bladerunner was the top pick, followed by 2001:A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Alien, Solaris, Terminator, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, The Matrix, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Among science fiction writers, not unexpectedly, Isaac Asimov rules, followed by John Wyndham, Fred Hoyle, Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and Stanislav Lem.

One can’t help wonder if there aren’t some generational rifts being identified here: are the scientists who love 2001 and Fred Hoyle really the same ones who get into The Matrix and Philip K. Dick? And what does it suggest that one Russian makes it on both lists? Why are there so few hard science fiction films on the list and so few soft science fiction writers? A decade from now, will we be seeing Japanese animation playing a more prominent role in the list of science fiction films? I am reminded of the science fiction writer – was it Frederick Pohl – who said that science fiction writers no more write novels for scientists than horror writers write books for ghosts.

Rounding off the section are samples of Warren Ellis’s next graphic novel, Stealth Tribes, due for release next year,an abstract from Lain L. Bank’s forthcoming novel, The Algebraist, and a range of other materials.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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