Why Would ANYONE Read Science Fiction?

If you've read more that two of my posts, you will probably have encountered me talking about science-fiction (SF, as I've recently discovered is the appropriate abbreviation, not Sci-Fi).

So what's up with SF, anyway? Nerdy, yes; bizarre, sometimes; misunderstood; probably.

It's not just that I'm defending the particular genre I find appealing (although that is the case). I think there is a lot more to it than most conceptions of the genre, and also a lot more to it than the majority of the genre probably offers in literary value.

The key to SF is a lot more than the original idea of "science" fiction connotes. The first proto-science-fiction literature speculated as to future possibilities in scientific technology. Hence the genre's name, and the casual expectations for the possibilities of the literature. Scientific concepts, technology, space, and the future all play a role; this is not an unliked group of concepts either. The myriad Star Trek and Star Wars novels show that if you simply work within a concept of those four aspects, you can probably find someone to read the book.

But the key to my simplistic description is "speculative". A wider genrefication of literature is Speculative Literature, and maybe this is more ideal for what I think crucial to the concept of SF. This breaks it out of the box of "rockets, aliens, and lasers," and makes it possible to explore really interesting ideas through the media of literature.

As the tried-and-true SF writer Philip K. Dick put it: "What an sf story really requires is the initial premise which cuts it off entirely from our present world. This break must be made in the reading of, and the writing of, all good fiction... a made up world must be presented."

With most literature, the break is fairly simple: this story is fictional--any similarity between any of these characters and events to anything real is not intended and entirely inconsequential. This allows the reader to be drawn into the events as the reader and not try and relate the story to his/her understanding of the real world, as a history or science text would explicitly seek to do.

But with SF, the initial premise is much more conceptual. The so-called "hard" SF deals with the effects of scientific conceptual premises, like time travel, robotics, etc. But "soft" SF can include any sort of conceptual "break" as a premise, often taking on academic, yet more directly applicable themes like political systems, social orders, and human nature. This makes the literature very powerful, because in the same way that Jules Verne started us thinking and dreaming of flight to the moon and submarines, authors like Ursula K. Le Guin may start us dreaming of actually functioning anarchistic/communistic societies, or at any rate, what a unified planetary society might be like. Are we necessarily close to any of these speculative universes? Not necessarily. But, before anything is made someone must think and speculate about it.

This is not to say that I think all SF is political, or has an ethical compunction to be political. But it is the practice of thinking in this way, and reading and writing in this way, that is really progressive. No action or theory is necessarily progressive unless it is a creative approach that differs from current paradigms.

But it's also fun, and doesn't always have to be "thinking ahead". Some creativity takes the form of daydreaming or fantasies, and is simply self-satisfying. That's why I like cartoon SF shows.

But when I write, I always think about this concept of Speculative Fiction, and it plays very heavily in what I think literature in general is about.

No comments: