Why Science Fiction Matters

Science fiction is a strange beast. After so many years of churning out brilliant writers who have pushed literary boundaries, it’s still somehow relegated to the fringes of mainstream media. In other words: it’s still seen as the “geeky thing”, the medium which those interested in the high-tech, science, engineering, anything technical affix themselves to. Yes, recent pop currents have popularised the “nerd culture” (hipsters, I’m looking at you) but when it comes to the real SF stuff – the Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams arenas – those pseudo-interested parties shy away and we return once again to the fringes of society where these greats still dwell.

Why do I think Science Fiction is so important? It’s fictional science, after all – it’s all in the name; surely this can’t be elevated to the arena of those more “hard-hitting” genres such as historic fiction, biography, political drama, even thrillers?

Well, why can’t it?

Inherent in the name of this genre is the word science. What is science? It’s a tool for understanding. For predicting. For modelling theories and making sense and getting a grip on the vastness of our cosmos. The fiction part is where the fun happens – where the author’s imagination can let loose and the great fusion between whimsical fantasy and hard science converge to create a solid framework for seeing not just fantastical futuristic worlds, but ourselves, our present societies.

Science Fiction provides a structure for us to understand the way we live today through the lens of a future world; whether that world is a hundred years away, or merely set in the next year – it’s inconsequential. The fictional representation of advanced scientific application to problem solving and dramatisation on one level inspires the great pursuit of science, and on a deeper level allows contemplation. And contemplation is a rare thing in today’s interconnected, rapid world.

Added to this is the fundamental fact that SF is one of our best testing beds for new ideas, and thus becomes a great window into what the future world might look like. Because, after all, SF is what gets most people interested in the fields of science, engineering, the design of future worlds… those trail-blazers, innovators that are the true inventors of humanity’s future. If their minds came into contact with the words of Clarke or Asimov or Bradbury, then undoubtedly, somewhere, at some time, their work will be influenced by these and other titans of Science Fiction.

I leave you with the words of Sir Arthur C. Clarke: “One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind. Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.”

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9 thoughts on “Why Science Fiction Matters

  1. I disagree completely with this statement — “After so many years of churning out brilliant writers who have pushed literary boundaries, it’s still somehow relegated to the fringes of mainstream media.” Science fiction has NEVER been more mainstream and acceptable than it is today — think of all the television shows, etc.

    You are indulging in “golden age fantasies” but clearly have little knowledge of the genre today — also, science fiction as a trope has never been MORE present in mainstream literature — just think, Jasper Fford, Murakami, etc…

    1. Another ultra common science fiction trope in mainstream literature that is more an more common is dystopia — think, The Road. So, yeah, that’s all I have to say.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I am indeed talking about the “golden era” of science fiction; I agree with you that there are significant inroads being made with the genre into the mainstream. I, for one, am a big fan of some of the more recent SF works. It’s great to see how more people are also getting in to the genre, I do think it’s a fantastic way to immerse oneself in new ideas and worlds. Thanks again for reading the post! 🙂

  3. Fantastic post! I don’t think your case is limited to “golden age fantasy” at all – we might be living in an era surrounded by myriad forms of futuristic technology, but lest we forget science fiction’s role in dreaming up our present entirely, it’s important to continue pushing forward with such ideas and concepts to shape the future.

    Yes, science fiction is far more “mainstream” than what it may have been years ago, but it still hasn’t nearly reached the level of exposure it could be. Much of the media today draws upon the works of yesteryear to inspire and amaze, rather than dreaming up something entirely new, and equal in presence to a dystopian setting are the themes of humanity’s consistency to rise above such a fate. I think science fiction still has much to offer those pursuing inspiration for a better future, and will continue to illuminate abundantly, as it always has. 🙂

    1. But science fiction isn’t about better futures and often really hasn’t been since the 60s…. Look at what’s published now! dystopia, dystopia, dystopia — more now then ever. It’s about good stories, being literary, etc etc. It’s not some way to change the world — it’s speculation not social science!

    2. To quote the famous sci-fi author Delany — “Science fiction doesn’t give you answers. It’s a kind of writing that, at its best, can help you learn to ask questions—or, as perhaps the greatest modern SF writer, Theodore Sturgeon, has put it, to ask the next question—in a world where both doing and not doing, thinking and not thinking are, for better or worse, different actions with different consequences”

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