A skillful blend of fantasy and scientific reality, social science fiction is a genre of science fiction that makes a particularly fascinating subject of scientific study. Can sci-fi predict the future? Isn’t scientific progress only bound by human imagination? Several decades after 2001: A Space Odyssey, the CNES invites you to take a look back at this cult film that was extraordinarily avant-garde for the time. Pascal Bultel, an engineer with the CNES, and Jeremy Querenet, cinephile and specialist of scientific culture, will be with us for this next, special Space Tuesday (Mardi de l’espace). They will share their thoughts on this film, drawing inspiration from their respective fields. Curious? Join us tonight, 21 October, 7:30-9:30pm, at Paris’ Café du Pont Neuf or online with the hashtag #CnesTweetUp.
(Flickr / Ben Lile)
More than 45 years after opening in cinemas, Stanley Kubrick’s film, based loosely on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke, “The Sentinel”, has hardly aged at all. Released nine years before Star Wars: A New Hope (and the same year as Barbarella!), it resembles contemporary films like Gravity far more. “Aesthetically, the film was incredibly ahead of its time. It’s extraordinarily contemplative and modern,” says Jeremy Querenet.
What about its scientific predictions? Did the film show the same clairvoyance here? At the end of the 60s, at the climax of public enthusiasm for space travel, the film was part of a tradition of works of social science fiction in which interstellar travel was the ultimate fantasy. “At the time, the first steps on the moon were seen as the beginning of a long series. People were sure that there would soon be other feats like this. They were sure that we would set up a base on the Moon, for example,” explains the film-lover.
Several decades later, the progress made in space may seem small compared to that anticipated by 2001: A Space Odyssey. The limits of physics hold back our dreams of distant exploration. Financial considerations make the practical prevail over the spectacular.
Finally, while social science fiction demands credibility, hindsight allows us to notice that it often makes mistakes. “Flying cars are a very good example of a completely credible technology, but that never came to be and surely never will,” notes Jeremy Querenet. “There are, however, technologies that come very close, like the helicopter.”
(Flickr / Ian Burt)
Thanks to the technical expertise of Pascal Bultel, the discussion will revolve around an enlightened comparison of contemporary scientific reality and the imaginary world of Kubrick’s film, with precise examples and real perspectives to illustrate. “The propulsion systems we see in the film are still in use today!” points out the CNES engineer. “The film relied on the latest NASA publications of the time. It’s not crazy at all.” The film even took a riskier, although calculated, bet in imagining a spacecraft with chemical propulsion (the Orion vessel at the beginning of the film). It was a bet that paid off, as it bears a strange resemblance to an English futurist project, Skylon, for which the first flights could take place in the 2020s…
Beyond the technical considerations, our two experts are interested in the general themes of the film, the multiple questions it raises, including: the place of humanity in the universe, the power of language, the relationship between man and machine. These concerns are all perfectly aligned with the reality of today’s scientific world. As for the paradoxical relationship the film has with technology—between fascination and an almost technophobic distrust—it, too, seems to reflect, in advance, the stakes we know well today.
The CNES, in partnership with MyScienceWork and the Bar des Sciences, invite you to come participate in an informal, fascinating reflection, tonight at 7:30 at the Café du Pont Neuf, an on Twitter for the #CnesTweetUp.