Author William Gibson gave a keynote talk this evening on science fiction in cinema with Nick Harkaway (another amazing author, see Tigerman, Angelmaker, etc.) at a BFI Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder event in London. This tweet appears to a quote from that event and I love it because it encapsulates a very critical sea change in how science fiction began to be approached come the late 70's and, more importantly, how we as a society started to rethink the complexion of the future.
Even two-years prior to Alien's release, Star Wars presented audiences with a thoroughly lived in futuristic world. (Although, technically it happened in the past. But time is a flat circle.) The dirt, the grime, the rust — it was all there, especially on Tatooine. But no one ran with this concept better than Alien in '79, with its naturalistic study of working stiffs in space, devoid of any of the smooth lines or shiny promise of a spic and span tomorrow.
Before this, science-fictional futures were largely presented as something very sterile looking. Basically, it could be inferred from this that somehow we, as a species, managed to eliminate filth, decay, and corrosion from our lives.
But I think as the optimism of the Space Age gave way to a far more cynical set of circumstances and we realized technology was not going to solve all our problems, and possibly even make them worse, we began to see the future in through a much darker lens. It wasn't going to be this pristine leap forward that made a clean break with the past. It was just going to be a bunch of new shit built on top of the old shit, retrofitted and ceaselessly accreting layers of outmoded tech like a midden heap.
The future was never going to be the bridge of the starship Enterprise for most people. It was going to be discarded cellphones, rotting computer monitors and burned-out motherboards. All the eroded detritus mapping out our illusions of progress.