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Science Fiction Milestones

image by Veronica V. Jones

Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do

HAL 9000 The alien ship arrives in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The chestburster impending arrival in Alien.

The BBC reports that a small group of SF experts from across the pond have picked Hal 9000’s descent into madness as the top moment science fiction history. This “moment” slowly developed during the course of 2001: A Space Odyssey — due to the stress caused by his orders to lie to the crew — but it certainly struck a nerve. We’ve never looked at computer-controlled systems without a bit of hesitation ever since. But don’t be too hard on poor Hall: he redeemed himself in 2010 by sacrificing himself to save a shipfull of geeks.

From the list presented on the BBC poll, I’d choose the climatic finale of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as the high-water mark of science fiction. Creatures from space, before and since, have been seen as monsters, invaders, or just plain ugly. Mr. Spielberg’s last great science fiction film gave an entire generation a reason to welcome otherworldly visitors, not fear them.

… then Alien had to come along and scare the crap out of everyone again. No one seeing that little alien make its surprise entrance through Kane’s chest will ever forget it. The horror and gore than followed — not to mention one excellent sequel, and two forgettable disasters — paint a picture of first contact that’s diametrically opposed to the gentle, big-headed children in CE3K.

Both of these ‘moments’, in my mind, are more memorable than the nervous breakdown of a poorly programmed autopilot.

Written by in September of 2004. Last edited September 2014.

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