Guest Post: Why Science Fiction as a Genre Is Important

Photo M81
M81 in Ursa Major / Astrophotgraph by James Reimund / San Gabriel Observatory

Back in November, when I wrote about The Paper Bag Princess,  I mentioned a post from Reading Rainbow titled “Raising Science Fiction Readers.” According to that post,

For young kids (and for many adults!) there is something irresistible about the combination of smart ideas, exploring new worlds, and escaping the boredom of everyday life. Science fiction and fantasy books are exciting! But the appeal of these books goes beyond mere excitement. Science fiction and fantasy stories make us feel strong and adventurous, and for many kids, these are some of the only worlds where they feel they fit in.

I find I like the out of the world experiences and thought-provoking ideas I have when I read science fiction.  For those reasons and others, I find science fiction to be an important genre.  My husband, Jim has his own ideas about why this genre is important.  He has detailed his ideas in this guest post.

Science fiction isn’t always considered high prose.  At least not in the sense of other types of literature such as poetry, satire, and morality stories.  These types of literature have been around for centuries and people know of their potential value and beauty.  They provide an elegant means of instruction.  Some literature tells instructional tales and provides warnings to people who might behave poorly or need life perspective.  I think of “Gulliver’s Travels” for the former and “Ozymandias” for the latter.  Anyway, literature can be a means of communicating about life and the human condition.

Science fiction is, in my opinion, no less a player on this stage.  In fact, I would argue that because of the fast pace of technological development, it is essential.  We now have capabilities that were unimaginable even 50 years ago.  The accrual of wisdom to use these new capabilities is usually a much slower proposition.  In order to have time to think about new possibilities and how they should be used requires thinking about them ahead of time.  Science fiction provides a means of attempting this.  Even if the technical details are fuzzy, the ramifications of new technologies can be thought about and discussed.  At the very least, a better set of questions can be thought up to help figure out the possible ramifications of new technologies.

Example:  “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

This novel predominately explores the effects of society when human reproduction is entirely controlled in such a way as to support the state.  Sex is dissociated from reproduction and reproduction is controlled in factories to provide the “correct” population mix of talents.  Consequences of this society are explored, including the necessity to have a “wild population” of humans in order to maintain a genetic mix so that all of humanity can’t be wiped out by disease because of limited genetic diversity in the “civilized” population.  How is this relevant now?

Today, genetics is very much more advanced than in 1931 when the book was written.  It is now possible to tinker with the genetics of the unborn (determine the sex, fix genetic issues, and clone).  No longer is it a stretch to think that humans could someday be “produced” ex-utero. So, for 85 years (book was actually published in 1932) we have had time to think about such reproductive issues and how power over this process could be used or misused.  Has advantage been taken of this time to examine and think about where our current genetic technology is taking us?  Possibly.  Today there is much ethical discussion around most technologies having to do with human reproduction.  Human cloning is no doubt possible (certainly other mammals have been cloned), yet there are prohibitions on this in most countries.

Other examples can be found for time travel, space exploration, and robots/artificial intelligence to name a few more.  As humanity is able to control ever more powerful forces such as energy and genetics, more and more thought must be applied to the wisdom of usage.  This is why the futuristic thoughts and themes of science fiction are important.

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