This week Nobel Committee announced journalist and nonfiction writer Svetlana Alexievich as this year’s Nobel laureate in Literature “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” Alexievich’s selection marks a number of rarities in the history of the award and at least one first, as she is the first Literature laureate from Belarus. She is the fifth Belarusian to win a Nobel Prize in any discipline.
She is also the fourteenth woman to win the prize for Literature, joining the company of writers such as Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, and Pearl S. Buck.
Most strikingly, however, is that Alexievich is the first person to win the prize specifically for her work in nonfiction in over sixty years. While many Nobel laureates were essayists in addition to their primary genres of poetry or fiction, the last person to receive the honor for literary contributions in nonfiction was Sir Winston Churchill in 1953.
Alexievich’s work focuses primarily on the history of Eastern Europe, and she’s explored such subjects as female Russian soldiers in World War II, the aftermath of the disaster at Chernobyl, the occupation of Belarus by the Nazis, and firsthand accounts of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. This prize acknowledging the literary accomplishment of her work is being celebrated by journalists worldwide, as it acknowledges that medium as an artform. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that Alexievich focuses her work on untold stories, shines a light on disregarded parts of history, and gives a voice to those who might not otherwise have it. In words, her work is nonfiction--and literature--at its best.
(For those keeping score, it has now been 22 years since an American was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, our last laureate being Toni Morrison in 1993. Also, just 12.5% of Nobel Prizes in Literature have gone to women.)
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek stated, "For me science fiction is a way of thinking, a way of logic that bypasses a lot of nonsense. It allows people to look directly at important subjects." Science fiction is an expansive genre that explores the impact of imagined or actual science on society (Merriam Webster). A platform inspires curiosity through stories that demonstrate what could be created and what could become of society. Unfounded technological advances displayed in literary and visual mediums are responsible for the advances in technology and culture in modern society. Authors such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Ray Bradbury imagined tools and predicted changes in society that have become truths. Furthermore, Star Trek and Star Wars inspired experts in the science industry to turn fantasy into reality. Fields like communication, entertainment, space travel, and transportation expanded drastically due to the science fiction genre. In addition, the culture of society has been indirectly influenced, as well. Science fiction has walked off the pages and out of the screen to influence the progression of society culturally and technologically.
Science fiction is responsible for aiding in positive changes in the culture of modern society. For example, racial tension was relieved during the Civil Rights movement with the help of Star Trek and Martin Luther King Jr. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols considered quitting the show but Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay because it set African Americans equal with Caucasians, plus it was the first non-stereotypical role given to an African American actor (Soylent Communications). Setting African Americans equal to Caucasians in a widely recognizable television show proved to society (one that was confused with racial matters) that equality is best way for harmonious interpersonal relationships on all levels.
Of all of the parts of society, the field of technology is the most impacted by science fiction. Multiple fields including communication, home entertainment, space travel, and transportation are improved because of the fantastical ideas presented in the science fiction genre. Communication increased mobility and efficiency with the invention of the cellular telephone. The cell phone is credited to the "communicator" that was used in the television series Star Trek. The communicator allowed Captain Kirk to wirelessly contact other starships throughout the galaxy. The inventor of cell phones, Martin Cooper credits Star Trek as the major source of inspiration while developing the new technology (Lawinski). The cellular phone enables people to stay in touch regularly and it is considered the must have tool of modern society. Moreover, the cell phone is surpassing the amount of landlines, which indicates that it is a very influential piece of equipment (Associated Press). The expansion of communication is only one of the many fields that have been directly impacted by science fiction.
In addition to communication being impacted by science fiction, the use of home entertainment became a major pastime in society. Big screen televisions and interactive games were present in Ray Bradbury's dystopic Fahrenheit 451. The people in Fahrenheit 451 were entertained in the "parlor" that was surrounded by large screens on the walls, much like the big screen televisions that are found in many American homes today. Television is a method that people use to zone out, unlike books, which are reliant on the person's mind to comprehend. In Fahrenheit 451 the characters relate books as controllable mediums and television (any electronic entertainment, too) as a tool that engulfs oneself until time itself is forgotten (Bradbury 119). A deep look at modern society would indicate that the dystopia that Bradbury predicted in his novel is rapidly proving itself. Unfortunately, the impact of science fiction on tools such as cell phones, computers, video games, and televisions negatively influences society's desire to invest time in reading and other mind requiring activities. As the technology increases, the human's ability to do less work it also decreases the ability for society to improve on an intellectual level (Associated Press). Home entertainment's influence on society seems minute when considering science fictions impact on space travel and transportation.
Two main components that contribute to the well-being of society (and perhaps curiosity), space travel and methods of transportation are heavily influenced by science fiction books and movies. Space travel is an important technology to harvest and was influenced by all forms of science fiction. For example, George Melies "A Trip to the Moon," a small film about traveling to the moon inspired today's engineers to create ships that can indeed travel to the moon. Society's longing for knowing more about the universe used movies such as this to spark space wars(who can achieve space travel first) between countries. Much of the influence on space travel stems from the curiosity that many science fiction books and movies instilled in the society's elite minds. It seems to be just fiction, but the question 'could it be true' lingers in the industry. Moreover, it is important that society investigate space, especially in an era in which the health of the planet is dwindling rapidly. Star Trek made its stamp on space travel as well when NASA named a shuttle Enterprise after the well-known starship on the popular television show (Dumoulin). It seems as though science fiction influences the creation of innovative technology, as well as inspires future innovators to push passed the limits of it too.
Furthermore, science fiction has made a mark on methods of transportation, whether they are for land or sea. Submarines made their way into the world well before science fiction had described them, but it was Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that inspired efficient submarines that could be effective tools during war. The imagination of Verne's' Nautilus would be the beginning of the modern submarine. Besides submarines, electric cars came about through the works of the famous Star Wars saga. On the planets featured in the Star Wars movies, the vehicles are powered by solar energy and electric currents much like the cars that are popping up in the automotive market today(Lawinski). In Star Wars Episode One, Anakin drives a vehicle powered by hydrogen cells (claims George Lucas) and withing three years of that movie making its way into the theater, several automotive brands began selling electric cars. This is no coincidence. Jennifer Lawinksi claims that the automotive industry briefly looked into electric cars until they had a visual of what one may look like if it were to be made a reality (obviously, Star Wars was much different looking). Electric cars are the next step in reducing global warming, therefore it can be concluded that science fiction is moving society in a positive direction.
The use of science fiction as a manual of the technological and cultural advances in society is a brave pathway to take. Many advanced technologies stem from the imaginative realms created by creative authors and filmmakers in the science fiction realm. The enhancement of communication, space travel, and transportation is beneficial to making those within the society well connected and informed. Moreover, it is exciting to watch fantastical ideas turn into tangible realities. However, large amounts of hi-tech inventions could stall the progression of humanity at an intellectual level. The entertainment field could lure people into its visually stimulating environment and cause a decrease in the want to learn. Science fiction is fiction, but it does have its way of finding itself coming out of the pages and into our hands.
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