Is Lost a Science Fiction Show?
This post is based on several conversations I’ve had with people I work with who are fans of Lost. I thought it would make a good topic for the site.
Basically my thought is that Lost is a science fiction show masquerading as a drama. As I have mentioned to some of you before here in comments on the site, my favorite genre of fiction is science fiction. Now, science fiction (or SF, as most writers perfer to abbreviate it) is a pesky genre of fiction to pin down. The Literary Dictionary on answers.com defines it thus: “science fiction, a popular modern branch of prose fiction that explores the probable consequences of some improbable or impossible transformation of the basic conditions of human (or intelligent nonâ€human) existence. This transformation need not be brought about by a technological invention, but may involve some mutation of known biological or physical reality, e.g. time travel, extraterrestrial invasion, ecological catastrophe.” Wikipedia notes: “It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”. Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possibilities. The settings for science fiction are often contrary to known reality.”
Wikipedia goes on to note some of the possible settings for SF. Several of these fit Lost in my opinion. Again from Wikipedia: “A setting in the future, in alternative timelines, or in a historical past that contradicts known facts of history or the archaeological record…Stories that involve technology or scientific principles that contradict known laws of nature
Stories that involve discovery or application of new scientific principles, such as time travel or psionics, or new technology, such as nanotechnology, faster-than-light travel or robots, or of new and different political or social systems (e.g., a dystopia, or a situation where organized society has collapsed)”
In Lost, particularly from Season 2 onwards, we have been treated to a research station whose original purpose was to study a large anamolous pocket of magnetism, another research station doing experiments in the manipulation of time, a frozen wheel connected to a pocket of exotic matter that moves the island through time and space, an alternate reality that appears to have been created by the interaction of the E/M pocket and a nuclear explosion, and an entity whose usual form is a menecing cloud of black smoke that has the ability to assume the appearance of dead people and a very bad disposition.
Now when you say science fiction to most people they usually think of something along the lines of Star Trek, Star Wars, or cheesy movies of the variety that were shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But SF does not need to contain space ships, laser death rays, aliens, or robots to be SF. Both Jules Vern and H.G. Wells are early writers in the genre and their stories basically take the known science and theories of the time and expand and speculate on them. One of Vern’s classic stories is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In it we encounter Captain Nemo and his extraordinary submarine, the Nautilus. But Vern did not ‘invent’ the submarine; there were submarines in Vern’s time and he vastly expanded on the idea and speculated on what use humanity could put them to. In fact, the dimensions of the Nautilus that Vern gives closely match the usual dimensions of submarines in the U.S. Navy.
Wikipedia also gives several definitions of SF sub genres. One of these is “soft science fiction” which I believe Lost could best fit into. Here is the Wikipedia entry on soft SF:
Soft science fiction, or soft SF, like its complementary opposite hard science fiction, is a descriptive term that points to the role and nature of the science content in a science fiction story. The term first appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s and indicated SF based not on engineering or the “hard” sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry) but on the “soft” sciences, and especially the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and so on). Another sense is SF that is more concerned with character, society, or other speculative ideas and themes that are not centrally tied to scientific or engineering speculations. A third sense is SF that is less rigorous in its application of scientific ideas, for example allowing faster-than-light space travel in a setting that otherwise follows more conservative standards.
Even though Lost is set on an island and we are treated to the extraordinary adventures of a group of characters and the effects of the island on their lives, Lost, I believe, is grounded in the SF genre, particularly with the time travel and alternate reality. The true genius of the writers and producers is that they have crafted a fantastic and compelling SF story and presented it in a way that people who would never normally watch a SF story are following one without even knowing that they are watching a SF story. But, then again, Lost is hard to pin down.