If one were to peruse the magazine stands, newspaper media coverage and talk-show couches with an eye towards science fiction, it wouldn't take long to determine that science fiction is a predominant force. Science fiction films continually make lists of top-grossing films and garner lots of media attention, especially as blockbusters like Iron Man 3, Oblivion, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Man of Steel hit theaters this season.
But what about literary science fiction? Don't books deserve their due? That's unlikely to happen any time soon. Unless you are J.K. Rowing or Stephen King, genre authors tend to get ignored my mass media outlets. But that doesn't mean that they don't impact pop culture in other ways. The problem is that you just don't know it.
To remedy that situation, here are some ways that science fiction authors have directly influenced pop culture.
Theodore Sturgeon Made You Laugh at Jim Carrey and Coined The Star Trek Phrase "Live Long and Prosper"
Star Trek has so pervaded our culture that even people who are not fans of the show know its stock catch phrases like "Beam me up, Scotty." They also know another one: the saying that goes along with the Vulcan hand gesture, "Live Long and Prosper." But did you now that the phrase was coined by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon? Sturgeon (perhaps best knows for writing the science fiction classic More Than Human) was the screenwriter for the classic Trek television episode "Amok Time," the 1967 season 2 opener that featured Spock's biological need to mate and ultimately led to a deadly battle, as per Vulcan custom, between Spock and Kirk. (Speaking of pervading pop culture, that fight sequence is brilliantly spoofed by Jim Carrey in 1996's The Cable Guy during his visit to Medieval Times.)
This is also the first Star Trek episode that features the Vulcan hand salute and its spoken greeting "Live Long and Prosper." Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, is credited with creating the hand gesture, which he says is based on the priestly blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim. But it is Sturgeon's script that coined the phrase that goes along with it. Oh, and just in case you are cornered and accosted by this greeting at a Star Trek convention, the correct response to this greeting is "Peace and Long Life." Remember that. It may save your life.
The Best Star Wars Film was written by a Science Fiction Writer.
So, it's no surprise which Star Wars film we're talking about here, right? [Waits for reading audience to silently nod their collective heads.] I'm of course talking about Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the only film in the world's most popular SF film series to be written by a card-carrying science fiction writer. Leigh Brackett had already established herself in the golden age of the SF field as a writer of planetary romances and space opera, which were the kinds of stories that influenced her most heavily. She also wrote the classic science fiction novel The Long Tomorrow. But even those credentials probably weren't what got her the Star Wars gig.
Brackett had a screenwriting career as well. Having written some detective and western fiction, Brackett easily made the transition to writing screenplays for Hollywood, most notably for that adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) and for Rio Bravo (which starred John Wayne). But it was her science fiction background that helped when George Lucas came calling. Brackett wrote the first draft of the screenplay but, sadly, died of cancer before the film was completed.
Green Lantern's Oath was Written by Alfred Bester
One for comics fans: Do you remember Green Lantern's sacred oath?
In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power, Green Lantern's light
This is the oath Hal Jordan recited whenever he recharged the powerful ring bequeathed to him by a dying alien who enlisted Jordan into the intergalactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corps.
In the 1940s, Alfred Bester (who later went on to write the science fiction classic The Stars My Destination) contributed to DC Comics and the Green Lantern comics and came up with this oath for test pilot Hal Jordan. This particular bit of science fiction pop-culture trivia is on shakier ground. Although Bester is often credited with the creation of this timeless oath, some sources also say that he denied it. Until we know for sure, I'll side with this one being true. Viva le Nerd!
Addendum: For what it's worth, Library of America's American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, the excellent collection of science fiction edited by Gary K. Wolfe, includes all 3 classic science fiction books referenced in this article.