On World Book Day, Read Excerpts From An Essay Written by Satyajit Ray on Science Fiction

Although more famous for being an Oscar-winning filmmaker, Satyajit Ray’s written works are treasure-troves of Bengal’s literary history, particularly in the genres of crime thriller, fantasy and science fiction.

While many may be well acquainted with Ray’s written characters like Feluda and Professor Shonku, in a recently released book written by Satyajit Ray titled Travails With The Alien, The Film That Was Never Made and Other Adventures with Science Fiction, readers can now access the full script of his doomed film, Alien, which also happens to be a very important text in the history of science fiction.

Alien was Ray’s Hollywood venture that was to be produced by Columbia Pictures, but it never got made. The script though later inspired many big successful Hollywood projects, including Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and his more popular film, E.T..

Ray’s Alien was based on his short story Bankubabur Bandhu, which was first published in 1962 in his magazine, Sandesh. Much like Spielberg’s E.T. in Bankubabur Bandhu we are introduced to a kind, and playful extraterrestrial. Along with the full script of Alien Travails With The Alien, The Film That Was Never Made and Other Adventures with Science Fiction also has the short story, Bankubabur Bandhu, and Ray’s letters of correspondence with Peter Sellers, Arthur C. Clarke, and Marlon Brando.

The book also contains an essay by Satyajit Ray on Science Fiction which you can read below:

Essay ‘Science Fiction’ by Satyajit Ray

In this era of rapidly developing technology, science fiction is inevitably undergoing transformations. The old staples are being replaced by new ones, and the field is being constantly enriched by new breakthroughs in every branch of applied science. The laser beam, computer machines, space satellites, androids (which are robots in human forms), suspended animation—these are among common ingredients of contemporary science fiction. The moon is now nearly out as a field of speculation. Invisibility and time travel have been proved scientifically unattainable, and have lost their status as staples. Robots are having a field day, but malevolent ones are frowned upon, as hostility is regarded as a psychological state which a machine is incapable of attaining. ESP or extrasensory perception is coming into its own, thanks to recent findings, and extraterrestrials are being freely endowed with the powers of hypnosis and telepathy.

But any story of human endeavour on a familiar terrestrial plane has to have the backing of scientific data. Rockets may soar into space but if they set out from the earth, and if they contain human beings, there is no other way to but treat the happenings in a factual, scientific way.

But this is not necessarily an inhibiting factor. For one thing, the imponderables of human behaviour are always there to set off against the cold predictability (barring accidents) of machines. For another, for the vast mass of lay readers, technology still has enough elements of fantasy in it. As long as a man himself has not sensed weightlessness, or felt the searing upthrust of the rocket or fathomed a fraction of the infinite complexities of a giant computer, for him the elements of wonder will persist in clinging to the very ideas.

It is this sense of wonder that science fiction thrives on, and will continue to do so as long as there are men willing to dip into a tale that will make him feel small in the face of the expanding universe, and let him share the triumph and the futility of men probing into spheres of darkness—in space, on earth, on an alien planet, or in his own mind and body.

(The excerpt has been used with permission from Travails With The Alien, The Film That Was Never Made and Other Adventures with Science Fiction, Satyajit Ray, Harper Collins India)

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