Art Imitates Art (science fiction thoughts)

There is a saying. Something about life imitating art, or art imitating life. Both or neither, maybe?

My thoughts have been running along similar lines lately. More about art imitating art, to be more precise.

It occurs to me that, without having a timeline of events running underneath your thoughts like one of those electronic tickers on a television news show, it becomes difficult to see what influences what, in terms of art, specifically, and maybe life in general.

That seems to be an impenetrable statement, I know. So, I must explain myself. If I can.

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. For the second time, the first being when I was a teenager. The stories in these three books were originally published between 1942 and 1950 in Astounding Magazine, and were later collected as the Foundation “trilogy” in the early ’50s. Asimov didn’t return to the series until three decades later, publishing Foundation’s Edge in 1982. I read the novel around this time, while I was in high school. And I’m four chapters away from completing it for the second time, more than three decades after high school.

It is this particular novel that is the impetus for this post. I just read a scene in which Golan Trevize and Janov Pelorat (great Asmovian character names there), aboard the technologically advanced Foundation spaceship Far Star, find themselves suddenly trapped and drawn to a space station orbiting the planet Gaia in the Sayshellian system. I was struck by the similarity to the scene in Star Wars, back when the movie was just “Star Wars” and not “A New Hope,” where our stalwart heroes in the Millennium Falcon are caught in a tractor beam that pulls them into the Death Star. The fact that Foundation’s Edge was published five years after Star Wars premiered in 1977 wasn’t lost on me. In fact, Empire Strikes Back had already come out as well. It was conceivable that Asimov could have been influenced by this renewed interest in science fiction (or science fantasy, if you prefer). In fact, all this talk about the Second Foundationers, with their secret cabal on Trantor, seemed analogous to the Jedi Knights in many ways.

But, this train of thought ran on a circular track, with a soundtrack provided by AC/DC’s “Who Made Who?” When I read the original trilogy, which predates Luke Skywalker, et al., by about three decades, I could see how it may have influenced George Lucas’s story. The Star Wars universe planet Coruscant is essentially Trantor by another name. And, although Asimov didn’t coin the word “Empire,” the phrase “The Empire” runs through the Foundation books as freely as in the Star Wars movies. The entire time I was reading about Bel Riose and The Mule and The Emperor, I couldn’t help but think about Darth Vader and, well, The Emperor. There was also that thing about psychic probes which made me think of that scene where Leia was about to have a machine used on her. And don’t forget hyperspace and hyperdrives.

So, this was a simple case of art imitating art imitating art. Maybe. And, just maybe, not so simple. Because when I began to think about influences, I couldn’t stop there.

Tatooine, the desert planet featured in several Star Wars stories, was obviously influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune novels (which were probably influenced by Asimov as well). And, aside from Trantor, Coruscant was also heavily influenced by Ridley Scott’s movie Blade Runner (adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story that may have been influenced by Asimov’s robot stories). George Lucas claimed to have been influenced by the early serials that were popular. The Flash Gordon serials were made in the 1930s, and it is entirely possible that they influenced Asimov as well. And don’t get me started about Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells. Or Edward Gibbons, whose The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire directly inspired Asimov’s Foundation stories.

My point, if I must have one, is that artistic influence seems cyclical. Asimov and all of the writers of the Golden Age of Science Fiction influenced scores of other creators. They, in turn, continued to be influenced by what came before them and after. It stands to reason that when science fiction had its filmic resurgence, this art form would continue to influence the writers themselves, as well as other filmmakers. Star Trek influenced Star Wars, which in turn influenced Star Trek again, both in the movies and on television. And, while both fandoms quarrel over which is better, both franchises continue to influence other science fiction creators; and, both franchises owe their existence to the science fiction that came before.

Art imitates art. Life is in there somewhere.

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