Why We Need More Science Fiction Set in the 'Other' Final Frontier
Science fiction stories set under the ocean are conspicuously rare.
Most of us know water covers the majority of Earth's surface.
Here is another staggering statistic, according to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, ocean exploration has only mapped five percent of the seafloor.
Satellite images of the seafloor are available, but space is the vantage point of those pictures. They only provide us with a very superficial view.
Within the ocean deep exists mountain ranges, valleys, volcanoes, craters, water channels, trenches, shipwrecks, and other formations with fine geographical and topographical details satellite imaging cannot display. Satellite imaging cannot help with the discovery of deep-sea animal and plant life. Another formidable impediment to deep ocean exploration is the crushing water pressure which prevents our technology from operating, including our most advanced submersibles.
Water pressure and other challenging conditions, such as a lack of visibility, make the ocean floor a very harsh environment for human life.
This is why NASA and other space agencies use the oceans as a substitute for the environment of space when testing equipment and training astronauts.
The ocean is fascinating because it is relatively unexplored and mysterious. Scuba diving and snorkeling afford many the opportunity to get a glimpse of the ethereal world under the ocean.
The work of scientists such as Jacques Cousteau, as well as popular documentaries by organizations such as The Discovery Channel and National Geographic, give millions a glimpse into this ethereal realm that is part of our world.
So with all the mystique surrounding the ocean, why is there such a lack of science fiction set underwater?
In all my recollection, I can think of only four prominent examples:
- The classic Jules Verne sci-fi novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea
- The 1960s television series Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea
- The James Cameron 1989 sci-fi film The Abyss
- The 1990s television series SeaQuest DSV
Recently, I was able to add another science fiction story to the list, the independent science fiction short film SAURORA by filmmaker Pavel Siska.
The distant future is the setting of the short film. After having traveled to the titular planet, humans begin exploring the planet's ocean.
When a catastrophic accident traps two "aquanauts" on the ocean floor, a rescue team is sent to help. But the ocean of Saurora is not devoid of life—and it is watching.
When a member of the rescue team encounters this lifeform, a desperate life-or-death struggle begins.
As a short film, SAURORA is a tour-de-force of underwater visual effects in combination with taut pacing.
The short is impressive not only due to its premise, production design, cinematography, and visual effects, but also because of its unique underwater setting.
Listen to my EYE ON SCI-FI podcast episode #29 for a discussion of SAURORA's production:
While technically the short film takes place under the ocean of another world, it is still a science fiction story where the majority of the action is set in underwater conditions—again a rarity in the genre.
SAURORA's rare aquatic science fiction theme does raise an important question surrounding a very real-world need for more similar stories.
There is a distinct possibility the oceans—and not Mars—may be humanity's next collective home due to proximity.
Our terrestrial habitats face some serious challenges including pollution, global warming, the exhaustion of natural resources and overpopulation. Humans moving to the ocean seems to be the next logical step.
Making the oceans a viable habitat for us is being researched.
Still, this research does not have the same level of public awareness, interest, and funding as public and private initiatives dedicated to sending people into space.
More science fiction with aquatic themes could raise awareness about the importance of ocean exploration.
If humanity can learn to live within the harsh environment of the "other" frontier—the ocean deep—that knowledge may teach us how to increase our chances of surviving in space.
Undersea science fiction could inspire a new surge of interest in what possibly could be humanity's future—life in the ocean.