If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. — Sir Issac Newton
Artwork by Gavin Aung Than, 2014
Can science fiction function as a means of creating social awareness around technology and its future developments?
In advance of my interview on #SCIFICHAT on Friday, April 12, 2013, I thought I would write a quick article about my interests in science fiction, fantasy and how I use my love of the genre to promote and pursue ideas around science, scientific achievement, technology, social development under the guise of science fiction (and occasionally fantasy). I happen to agree with Ray Bradbury and believe a little fantasy hiding underneath one’s science fiction never hurt anyone.
I am a writer of all kinds of genre fiction including hard science fiction, social fiction, space opera, fantasy, urban fantasy, sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, and a bit of pulp and horror when no one is looking. I grew up reading the required classics from Asimov to Zelazney: Dune, Foundation, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Chronicles of Amber, The Eternal Champion Sagas, Xenogenesis, Lord of Light and The Hyperion Cantos.
My guilty pleasures included the hard science styling of Ben Bova and Larry Niven, the wild space romps of Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, Steve Perry’s The Man Who Never Missed and Jack L. Chalker’s space operas, The Well of Souls Saga and the Four Lords of the Diamond series and so many others…
The failures and the cowardice of modern science fiction
Though I missed the conversation a few years ago on the internet which talked about the failings of science fiction in recent years, I could completely relate to the idea that science fiction wasn’t taking the risks it once did. Its protagonists were mostly white, mostly male and moving further away from being accessible to the readers. Some of those failings included:
As a long time reader of the genre, I am aware of how science fiction has been used to address a variety of social ills. Many such works exist. A quick sampling include:
While I don’t as yet consider myself in such august company, I have tried to use science fiction to address a variety of social ills and challenges facing humanity today in my collection of short stories called Hayward’s Reach:
I have to admit I was a bit embarrassed to be writing stories such as these because they are so far removed from much of the science fiction I see being written today.I’m not disparaging such science fiction because it is both popular and from a writer’s perspective quite profitable. I keep hearing the litany of the writers everywhere: Readers don’t want challenge, they want escapism. So if you make them work too hard, they will put your book down. I just don’t happen to agree with it. Eventually, I believe they will want more. So I write and wait.
Can we as science fiction writers make any changes in our society through our work?
Once upon a time science fiction propelled engineers and scientists to create ideas and technologies which are only now becoming a reality. Look at our cell phones, submarines, computer monitors, space craft, and wireless technologies, many of these started in the minds of early writers of the genre fiction. For a time, successful science fiction television inspired an entire generation of scientists, astronauts and engineers. We see far less of that today, with science fiction instead promoting a fear of technology or a return to superstition rather than embracing scientific curiosity.
Can science fiction tell potential stories about the human condition and potentially guide policies toward the effective use of science in society?
Some of our science fiction has lent itself to predicting trends in human behavior such as Nineteen Eighty-Four prediction of a surveillance state, similar to the one we find ourselves approaching in 2014. There does not seem to be quite as much of that kind of writing today. I believe part of the reason is the breakneck pace of scientific advancement. It is hard to write a novel about a piece of technology or a technological idea because by the time you finish the novel the idea has been superseded by a more advanced piece of technology in two years it took for you to finish your tale. I think it is a risk few writers are willing to risk their careers on.
After reading Should Science Fiction Die, and other such screeds on the failure of science fiction writers to innovate, to solve problems, take risks, ask questions, challenge the status quo and include complex themes within their body of work, I feel much less like I am on the wrong track and instead just working on a different kind of story-telling.
I’m done being embarrassed about asking questions or trying to find answers with my science fiction. I’m quoting one of my favorite space westerns, Firefly’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds: “So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.”
Science Fiction Goes McDonald’s: Less Taste, More Gristle; Huffington Post, 2013, Athena Andreadis, Ph.D.
Should Scifi Die?: In the plane of the ecliptic, 2009, Jetse de Vries
Racism and Science Fiction; The New York Review of Science Fiction, Samuel R. Delany
Where is the World in the World Fantasy Awards?: World SF Blog, 2009, Lavie Tidhar
Superficial Darkness and Luminous Ink: World SF Blog, 2013, Athena Andreadis; originally posted at Starship Reckless
Stranger and Happier: A Positive Science Fiction Platform; Strange and Happy, Jason Stoddard
What is Human Wave Science Fiction?: According to Hoyt, Sarah A. Hoyt
Barbarian Confessions; Asimov’s Science Fiction, Thought Experiments, 2006, Kristine Kathyrn Rusch
Mundane Science Fiction; founded by Geoff Ryman
Megastructures: Artwork by Steve Burg © 2012-2013