Coffee and Beer – their place (or not) in science fiction

Beer seems to be well accepted in science fiction, but coffee’s place is less certain?

In my novels people drink coffee and beer.  They rarely drink tea, for no good reason I can think of.  Maybe I’ll have to build a tea drinker into the next one.  In an early critique of my first book I was told I had mentioned the word coffee farcoffee2 too often and they were right.  But they also questioned whether they should be drinking ‘coffee’ at all?   I sort of know what they mean.  Coffee seems a much more ‘now’ thing.  Perhaps I’m sensitised to it but when I see ‘coffee’ in science fiction I notice it, as if it doesn’t quite belong there.  Then I think why not?  As humans we hold on to the things we love, why would we not keep coffee.  You meet over coffee, discuss things over a coffee, have a coffee when you just need a break.

beer1Somehow beer is easier, its seems to be more acceptable for future worlds.  I guess  humans have been brewing ‘beer’ for thousands of years and therefore it’s reasonable we’ll continue to do so.  Also, most places you go there is a local version of beer.  There are a multitude of brews masquerading as beer.  Therefore in the far distant future I see no reason that on those, as yet, alien worlds someone won’t be brewing beer.

But back to coffee.  In some ways the term ‘coffee’ is at the same time generic, but also more specific.  Generic in that we don’t, most of the time, ask for a specific type of coffee, we just ask for coffee.  We don’t seem to bother where the beans come from,  But then coffee is coffee.  We don’t attribute local variations as such, well at least not like beer.  Yes, I know there’s the cappuccino and the espresso etc.  But these are just names for types, the underlying coffee is the same.  They’re made everywhere.  We don’t import them like Belgian or German beer.

So perhaps that’s the problem.  With beer we can accept localisation of the product, but it will still be beer.  However, for coffee we struggle with the idea that in a society spread over many worlds, there will have to be local variationscoffee1 of ‘coffee’ and they may not be what we recognise as coffee at all.  Beer can be made from whatever is available for brewing and still be called beer.  On the other hand coffee is that little brown bean.

Some authors have even changed the name.  In the Anne McAffrey’s Pern series it’s called Klah.  In Roberts Jordan’s wheel of time books it’s Kaf.  But I still think of it as coffee.   Also that’s fantasy.  I can’t think of any examples in science fiction?  From memory in the science fiction I’ve read, it’s either coffee or not there at all?

So in my books people will drink coffee (and perhaps tea).  They’ll even do so in places called a cafe (we don’t struggle with the concept of bars).  Again why would we give that up?

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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