Why is science fiction condemned to that somewhat shabby heading of ‘genre fiction’? As if anything that falls within ‘genre’ is of lesser value? That somehow it’s not serious fiction (not that I’m sure what ‘serious fiction’ is). Good fiction affects us emotionally, we identify with the characters and inhabit their world for those hours of reading. We live their lives with them. Good fiction might even change the way we look at our own world. Well, good science fiction can do all of that. It can also change the way we think about the future. A few blogs ago I discussed, ‘Science fiction and predicting the future’. Good science fiction may have inspired people who have shaped our lives, it might have even provided the basis for specific inventions i.e. if we can imagine it, what’s to say it’s not achievable.
Science fiction isn’t written in isolation from the world around us. As writers we live in the now and are concerned about the same things that affect all of us. Those are concerns are then reflected in our work, as with any writer. What science fiction has the power to do is extrapolate those concerns to future scenarios, opening our eyes to possible consequences of what we are doing to the world. OK, as fiction we may take those scenarios to extremes, but them sometimes you have to peer into the abyss before you have the sense to pull back.
As I write this blog I don’t have to think hard to come up with concerns for the future (and those science fiction scenarios) that are based in what is happening now: The Ukraine and Russia; The prediction of mass starvation in Sudan; Global warming, deforestation, rising sea levels; the increasing support for far right views in Europe; Gun crime in the USA. Perhaps, these are reasons why there seems to be a new crop of Post Apocalypse stories. Some of those concerns are reflected in my own novel ‘Project Noah’ which depicts one possible response to a world that seems to be set on a course of self destruction.
If you look back at the great science fiction of the past they, naturally, reflected what was happening in the world at that time. The late fifties and sixties had its share of post apocalypse stories, not surprising in the age of the cold war and the nuclear threat. Even one of my favourites, the ’Foundation and Empire’ series falls into that category, just on a galactic scale. Perhaps depicting the potential consequences of what was going on in the world in science fiction, made everyone more aware, influencing thinking, and even steering us away from the brink.
In the late sixties and seventies you had more of the space exploration and first contact stories e.g ‘2001 a space Odyssey’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. These were clearly influenced by the Apollo missions and general focus on space exploration etc. However, how much did the science fiction of the day then fire the enthusiasm of those involved and the next generation of scientists?
I’m not asking for science fiction to be taken any more seriously than any other ‘genre’ of fiction. I just want it to be seen as something that doesn’t class its readers as somewhere on the ‘weird scale’. Science fiction has a role to play, as does any other good fiction, on how we see the world. The added advantage it has is that it might just be able to influence how we see the future of our world and the future of our species.
As always I welcome your views, whether you agree or disagree.