What is the importance of science fiction?
I have asked this question of myself and others. It presumes that science fiction has a place. An important place. But does it?
Science fiction has been called the literature of ideas. There is science fiction in the literary canon. 1984. Fahrenheit 451. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Time Traveler’s Wife. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The Dispossessed. The Left Hand of Darkness. Frankenstein. The ideas of science fiction paved the way for many technological achievements. Would we have ventured to the moon without science fiction proposing the idea? Will we go to Mars without science fiction teasing out the plan?
But very frequently, whenever I suggest that science fiction is an important genre, I am met with derision. I have seen people suinch up their noses or look at me like I have suggested something depraved. I have been told that most science fiction that is being written is inferior to other forms of literature available. I am skeptically asked why I read science fiction. I had one person ask me why I read science fiction because, well, I have a masters degree and wouldn’t I prefer to reading something that is more challenging. I have been told that science fiction is nothing more than blasters and spaceships and green skinned alien girls. And tired plots of time travel, alien encounters gone awry, and galactic federations with no notion of their own prime directives.
I also try to write science fiction and fantasy short stories. I have been repeatedly told by other writers that the writing is for entertainment and should not shoot beyond this. I am lead to believe that anything beyond this is pretension. Perhaps to believe that one could write something that would say more and be more than mere entertainment is pretentious. Further, I doubt I have the skill in my writing at this time to write the larger stories. The ones that speak to generations and propose a new future.
Personally, I do think science fiction ideas at times form a template for later technological breakthroughs. Did the Star Trek gadgets inspire real technology? Did H.G. Wells inspire the moon missions? Further, the visions and language of science fiction give a place and a vocabulary for technological breakthroughs to ease into the population as well as the imaginations of inventors, researchers, engineers, and scientists.
The low expectation that seems to be placed upon the genre of science fiction limits ideas. If it is to only be for entertainment, then how do we shoot for the stars? I do wonder if because there is a lack of a vision of a bright future if this might not be limiting the science fiction being written and in a circular roundabout sort of way if the science fiction is not providing a bright vision of the future perhaps there is no future to be had. Ideas proceed reality. Why is it that I see a preponderance of alternative history, a revision of Victorian times with advanced steam technology, or science fiction set only in, not our future, but the future of some alien/alternate dimension? Where have the dreams and aspirations gone? Are we drifting into the deadzone of our what might have happened past?
Can any of us give the future anymore? We can barely keep up in the very distracted present. If we can not envision a future, what does this mean for humanity?