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Why Science Fiction is Important.

November 25, 2009

Science fiction is relevant, important and has much to offer the world, giving meaning to life, enlightening readers and as all those characteristics in a way that no other literature can hope to capture. Much more than five-armed blue monsters with ray guns kidnapping shrieking scantily clad women, good Science Fiction holds an important place in the direction and future of humankind. I would even hesitate to say that I believe Science Fiction is the most important of the genres.

The history of humankind is one of a mixture of gradual and accelerated changes – socially, intellectually and technically. Science and technological changes for the base for the rate of social changes, a rate which increases every day.

It’s a recurring theme that the racing tide of change sees the average person believing that change is inevitable and that when that change comes, that they resent it. Conflict between generations is not a new concept, Socrates is often quoted to despairing at the lack of social grace and manners amongst the young – and that was nearly three thousand years ago. However, what is specific about our time, is the disparity in social customs between the generations which in many places have become hostile. These things have given science fiction writers a rich bank to draw upon for their storylines and ability to comment without fear of insulting specific religions, groups or nations. ( Read any Stargate book and think about what or who Sonny Whitelaw is actually commenting about)

Of all forms of literature, science fiction is the only that deals primarily with change, routinely painting it story against the colourful background of a different society – be it on Mars, post apocalyptic earth or other planet, or amongst the mythical worlds. Even though there are endless possibilities available to write about, they all have one thing in common; that being that the worlds they describe are like the here and now and that they are on the brink of change.

Many readers are passionate about other genres, from romance, to horror, to sports, to historical fiction. These quintessentially deal with the world around us, many commenting on events of today or yesteryear . All said and done, it’s usually the action which counts and this is very often trivial, if compared with the responsibility of the possibilities presented to us in many science fiction pieces.

Most forms of literature have an act as the climax for their story – be it a kiss, a gun, the argument. Science fiction can include action, romance and violence, but its crucial factor is the idea. For this reason, this genre has the ability to influence the direction of humankind.

Science fiction deals with a myriad of societies, encouraging the possibility of different futures and commenting or on change, so its got to make an impression on even the least discerning reader. As it stimulates thought beyond the present here and now, science fiction is able to perform services for the progression of human kind as not other genre can.

Science Fiction expands the theories being worked on now and explores what may be possible in the future. Todays world is more fictional in many ways than any science fiction writer might have possibly imagined pre 1950. Not only does the average western person have tiny portable devices which allows them to communicate worldwide, watch television, search through libraries round the world and access maps and information of their immediate surroundings; we have test tube babies, have the option of flying just about anywhere on earth and are on the verge of human cloning.

Margaret A. Weitekamp, a curator with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s division of space history, has been quoted in saying that science fiction has a great importance within our society, especially with its relationship with now-time science, as good science fiction authors look at the current scientific research and ask the “What if?” question.

Aldous Huxley, Issacc Asimov, David Brin, Arthur C Clarke, Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, Fredrick Pol and Bruce Sterling are viewed as more than “just” science fiction writers but as futurists and people who have influenced a generation of people, science and its thoughts. Now in the twenty first century, we as authors have more access to research and ideas than some of the older style SF writers. We also have readers’ ‘permission’ to include a wider range and mix of genres within SF, rather than sticking with the pure technology and engineering style favoured fifty years ago. Many science fiction writers see the future as a result of the present; some desperate to initiate change in a different direction and away from the probable future they have just written.

How would you rate Science fiction in the stakes of importance to the future of humankind?

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Annie Evett has been reading and re-reading great deal of the old style science fiction, and would particularly like to thank Asimov for his thought provoking essays which sparked this post. Buddy up during NaNo here. Follow her here on Twitter and catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here
  1. November 25, 2009 8:56 am

    When it comes to classic Sic-Fi, my favorite is Arthur C Clarke—hands down. While he may not be the best “writer” of the bunch, he was a visionary when it came to real science. Many people forget that his real lasting fame won’t be writing 2001 but coming up with the concept for the geosynchronous communications satellite. And NASA and other scientists are still working on bringing some of his other ideas to fruition.

    I was thinking about sci-fi the other day and wondering if the genre had lost it’s place as the presenter of new ideas. So much of today’s sci-fi doesn’t seem visionary. But then I suppose that it’s only the best sci-fi that has stood the test of time, and 50 years will likely reveal the gems of our modern writers as well.

  2. November 25, 2009 5:23 pm

    I absolutely agree. One of the things I’ve always liked about sci-fi … and good fantasy, too … is that it allows the author to create any situation he or she pleases and drop normal (well, you know what I mean) people into the mix and see what happens. It’s mind-stretching, if only because the world is unique. Is some of it mundane and trite? Could it take place on a Carnival cruise ship just as easily as that space ship? Well, yeah. But the good stuff? I’d rather read sci-fi or fantasy than most books that take place in the real world.

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