One of the most neglected and scorned genres is Science-Fiction. As a genre that sets out to predict the future or at least to explore possible alternate worlds, it is usually dismissed as having little value.
A typical dismissal would be to see Science-Fiction (sci-fi) as idle speculation about space travel and aliens. In the world of literature, it is seen as lacking the ‘seriousness’ of other genres and aimed at impressionable and geeky teenage boys and girls.
In film, it is viewed as the ultimate vehicle for suspending disbelief in the minds of the viewer—in other words, light entertainment which doesn’t address any weighty concerns and is meant to be forgotten the instant the end credits roll.
Yet I’ve always thought that this view was very misguided. I’ve been a sci-fi fan for many years, and it always surprises me how people dismiss everything it has to offer. Reading Science-Fiction marks you out as some kind of crank or a nerd. The boldness of the genre in letting the imagination run riot is bizarrely-held against it. And yet what is literature if not an appeal to the imagination?
The fact that sci-fi frequently has very outlandish plots should be celebrated. Whether the worlds it depicts will ever occur is really beside the point. All good literature does not have to be rooted in realism; there is nothing wrong with letting the imagination soar above realism and wondering what could be or what could have been.
And it should be noted that sci-fi is generally not removed from real-life concerns. Margaret Atwood’s classic book ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ presents a post-apocalyptic world in which women are oppressed and are not allowed to do anything except breed.
It is a chilling book, but it is quite obviously very relevant to our world today. Likewise Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 911’- about a world in which books are banned and firemen are deployed to burn them, falls into this category.
Philip.K.Dick’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’ is a clever tale about what a drug-ravaged society would look like. In fact, many of Dick’s stories resonate clearly today, including the dozens of short stories he wrote that were eerily accurate about the persistence of war and what it does to our psyche. He was also very adept at exploring concepts of free will versus determinism in stories like ‘Minority Report’ and ‘Payback’ (Both of which later became films).
But one of the genre’s greatest strengths is the ability to create very interesting and thought provoking premises. For example, Philip.K.Dick’s book ‘The Man in the high castle’ imagines a world in which the Axis powers win the war and divide the world up into their own colonies, with the Germans continuing their genocidal campaign throughout the world. Carl Sagan’s ‘Contact’ and Arthur Clarke ‘2001: A space odyssey’ both provide intelligent depictions of what encounters with extra-terrestrial life would be like.
Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ explored the intersection between scientific progress and ethics—a topic that is extremely relevant today. Writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein and Brian Aldiss have all shown the full potential of sci-fi in creating intriguing stories, and their stories very frequently have relevance to topical concerns. In fact this is probably the main strength of sci-fi: It is one of the most thought-provoking literature genres.
Modern sci-fi might not be producing authors as good as those of the 50’s and 60’s, but that should not take away what the genre has achieved and how it has enriched the knowledge and imagination of millions around the world.
Its achievements and ambitions have always been as valid and as serious as those of the more celebrated genres. It is a pity that it is not given its due.