Saturday, May 7, 2011

The value of science fiction

I caught a tweet a few days ago with a link to this YouTube video.
It's old.  It's grainy.  It's full of bad 70s fashion sense.  But it's a series of interviews with luminaries of science fiction...and what they have to say bears consideration.  Not only for science fiction writers like myself, but for any writer or for that matter, anyone who would like to see our world be a better place.
The line-up of interviews includes Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Jack Williamson, Harlan Ellison, John Brunner, and a few others.  Here are my paraphrases of the choice tidbits (to my mind) that struck me:

Jack Williamson--The world is changing.  Literary fiction sees the world as it is now or as it has been.  Science fiction examines the nature of this constant change, making it vital for our understanding of possible futures.  This viewpoint is unique in all of literature.

Harlan Ellison--Speculative fiction opens our awareness to the universe.  It's not just us.  When we mess with our own ecology, we do so at the detriment of our future.

Poul Anderson--Science fiction shares the same objective as any other form of writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, or technical manuals.  That is to bring us a sense of newness and brightness, of seeing things that we never would have thought of.  Nice, Poul.

There are two other aspects that I would like to add.
Given that much science fiction takes place in the future, it has an inherently positive outlook.  True, many of these futures are dystopian, post-apocalytpic, or even more droning than what we have now, but there is a future.  Somehow we're still around.  Somehow we have not found the way (yet) or the will (yet) to entirely obliterate ourselves.  In one form or another, humanity survives.
I also would not underplay the allure of escapism.  That word "escapism" has many negative connotations to it in literature, conjuring up SF images of garish outfits, large-breasted women, and laser guns.  What I mean is escapism in its purest sense, opening one up to the wonders of the universe and unseen possibilities, something beyond your job, your house, your family, and your car.  That alone is worth something.

The info on the video says it comes from the University of Kansas City where they have studies dedicated to Science Fiction.  Always wanted to take that curriculum.  That and the degree in Pop Culture at Bowling Green.  Come on, it's not like it would make me any more unemployable than I am now.  :/

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  1. I think those who enjoy science fiction are able to adapt to the strange and unusual more quickly than those who find science fiction itself too strange. If we ever do meet another sentient species, it's unlikely that we'll have much in common. Not even biology. It will take those with patience and agile minds to facilitate communication.

  2. Well put, Louis. I think that when we do (officially) encounter aliens, most of us SF geeks will look at the rest of the gawking world and say "Really? You never expected this?"
    I think in Niven and Pournelle's "Footfall," the government even enlisted science fiction writers as consultants on what to perhaps expect from aliens.