Beyond Clunky Time Machines, Gleaming Spaceships, Gimmicky Rayguns, and Slimy Aliens: A List of Recommended Science Fiction Novels


Science fiction has kind of matured alongside technology which is one the themes that the genre is about. There is a plethora of science fiction that can be found in cinema, video games, graphic novels, and books. From the 1970’s and onward science fiction has continued to evolve and become more complex, however the perception of it has stagnated and isn’t very positive. While there are certainly examples of complex science fiction to found in films and television such as District Nine, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Battlestar Galactica, much of it to be found in the movie theaters or on television is escapist entertainment. There is nothing wrong with escapist entertainment if that is what one is looking for, but this kind of science fiction gives the general public the impression that science fiction is for adolescents alone.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Science fiction is much more than clunky time machines, gleaming spaceships, gimmicky rayguns, and slimy aliens. It is the fiction of ideas.

A number of years ago I remember reading an article where a survey had been done asking people what they liked to read. It ranked various types of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Much to my dismay, poetry was last on the list below books about fishing. Science fiction ranked in the bottom third of types of reading material that people enjoyed, well below other types of genre fiction such as mysteries, romance, horror, and action thrillers. The magazine did a follow up article on this and asked several authors and editors to identify science fiction novels that they thought were of merit. The follow-up article suggested that science fiction suffers from a bad reputation.

In my opinion science fiction does suffer from a bad reputation. The kind of reputation that causes avid readers of other types of books to avoid that aisle in the book store. This reputation kind of stems from two very opposing view points. On one head science fiction is uniformly considered to be poorly written– as in it is the genre about clunky time machines, gleaming spaceships, gimmicky rayguns, and slimy aliens. So to be caught with a science fiction novel in one’s hand means that the reader does not go in for challenging reads. On the other hand, science fiction is associated with geeks and nerds. Visions of socially inept Trekkies who cannot get a girlfriend come to mind. There is enough anti-intellectual discrimination floating in the consciousness of the general public that most people would not want to be caught dead with a science fiction novel in their hands lest they get confused with a theoretical physicist, find themselves dumped at Comicon without a costume, and have to fend for themselves.

But here’s the thing, people who don’t try science fiction are missing out on some of the best reading material available. This isn’t to say that the science fiction aisle in the book store isn’t laden with Star Wars wannabe space operas and the like, but really any genre has its share of badly written fiction. The point is do not dismiss all of science fiction because of the stuff that is not so hot. There’s alot of really disgusting chocolate in the world, just take a sample next Eastertime. Waxy, overly sweet, nasty stuff that does not honor the cocoa bean it came from. Does this mean that all chocolate is bad? No. It just means that you have to know what to look for to really enjoy it.

Here is a list of 20 Science Fiction Novels to look for in the enigmatic Science Fiction Aisle at the bookstore:

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

3. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

5. 1984 by George Orwell

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

8. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

9. Neuromancer by William Gibson

10. Hyperion by Dan Simmons

11. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

12. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

13. Dune by Frank Herbert

14. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

15. Foundation by Isaac Asimov

16. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

17. Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut

18. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

19. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

20. Contact by Carl Sagan

This list is by no means exhaustive (and if you are someone who reads science fiction by all means leave more suggestions of really good science fiction novels in the comments), but if you are someone who considers themselves intelligent, adventuresome, and a trendsetter do yourself a favor and read some of these novels. The effort will be worth it.

Thoughts on writing science fiction with a positive view of the future

Where have all the utopias gone from science fiction? I have written on this in the past because dystopic views seem to be in vogue. I think we could all use a little optimism in our fantasies about the future and this started me thinking about what to write if trying to tackle writing a utopia.

It occurs to me that utopian visions come out of the perceived ills and thoughts of forward momentum/accomplishment of a time period. It seems to me that what offers a glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkest corner of the dread is that which is seized upon and a utopian dream comes forth.

So in the midst of rapidly expanding industrialization that was happening on the backs of “found” energy in the form of the workers was the realization that the workers had power, then there was the idea of unions, and socialism and an equal distribution of wealth came up as idea. This was the spin on the idea of “To each according to his need and from each according to his ability.” There was no assumed station or assumption of inherited or predetermined power or wealth in that idea.

In the midst of mechanized progress that created labor saving devices and generated a consumer economy to fuel the need to sell such no longer seen as luxury devices more income and a more regularized workweek became the norm and the utopian fantasy of the time became one of modern mechanized conveniences, a shortened work week and less labor. Everyone living in a dream of luxury needed items to enjoy their expanded leisure time. It was kind of like an advertisement to sell the American dream.

Out of the repression of the post war era where everyone had to be somnambulated back into their pre-war position because it was not acceptable at that time to have women and blacks holding good jobs that “men” needed to support their families came dreams of civil rights, equal opportunity, and women’s rights.

Currently, I would say that our utopian visions are rooted in a desire to find an energy source that will avert environmental disaster. Another possibility is the inklings of power that are just beginning to tickle the general public’s consciousness in regards to the potentialities of being globally networked, having information instantly constantly available, and having the entire planet in possession of social media applications. This could be another form of “democracy” the world has never seen. The problems to overcome are the short attention span and shelf life of anything that appears over the internet. Another possibility is the dream of what might arise out of medical/genetic advances. Genetics and bioengineering are moving forward and will quickly present a slippery slope of ethical decisions that will influence the human race on a species level in dramatic ways.

I think there is a human inclination to hoard, to have, to compete, to have more. The free market could be said to be rooted in this inclination. I would caution against saying anything akin to that this is “human nature”. I have a higher opinion of the species than this and validating something that causes callus decisions that harm, because free markets are predicated on exploitation, and making it an inescapable “truth” I cannot hold to. As human beings we do not need this to be considered self evident and we are capable of regulatory systems to hold the grossest applications of the “free market” inclination in check.

In all honesty, I do not see any utopia as free from conflict. A utopia is an ideal and ideals are always fraught with conflict. In a plurality, one can always say “wouldn’t it be wonderful if…”, but one person’s ideal will not be everyone’s ideal.

I concur with an idea that a friend expressed that our current time period would be considered a utopia by past generations. Often there is a backward glance through history that casts a golden light on a previous age and we see the past through a pastoral fantasy. The current time period may seem difficult but we have a greatly expanded lifespan because of much less infant mortality, better medical practice, better water and sewage treatment, better distribution of food, etc. We live in a world that our ancestors from as little ago as 200 years may never have been able to even imagine.

I think in looking to the future to try to write a “utopia” rather than striving for the “utopia,” maybe it is better to consider what the world might look like with current advances advanced farther. How might these things bring rise to new political systems? If we are globally networked, how will this affect notions of nationality? What does this do to borders? Immigration? Already we are seeing countries forming unions to have more economic and political clout on a planet where the system of interaction is a “global economy” and to wield power a “union” or “coalition” must have resources, respect, etc. How might alliances shift? What if policies and governments can never hide their secrets and public opinion holds power? What will happen if people can be genetically modified for their jobs? What if the human life span can be expanded fivefold? What if the roots/mechanism of human memory are found? What are the implications? What if a cheap clean virtually limitless power source is found or created? What will this do? What will happen to the population on the planet? Instead of seeing all these advances or progression in a dystopic way, what would they look like as part of ordinary life?

This is the stuff that a hopeful view of the future might be grown from.

Science Fiction as Literature

Science Fiction is often maligned as a genre of fiction. In truth, there are science fiction works that are lacking and there is exceptionally well written science fiction. I once read a poll by Writer’s Digest where they asked people what types of written material that they liked to read. I was very disheartened that poetry ranked lower than non-fiction books about fishing. The other thing that I found very disheartening was that science fiction was low down on the list as well. People who were asked why they placed science fiction so low on the list responded that it was because they did not know what to read and picking a random novel had proved to be disappointing.

Now, I have to say that walking through the science fiction/fantasy section of a chain bookstore like Borders can be somewhat of a turn off. Science fiction and fantasy book covers leave a great deal to be desired. There often are scantily clad women or spaceships floating in a field of darkened space. Further, as stated above the quality of the fiction can vary dramatically.

I would also say that if one entered the “literary” section of the store there would also be great variance in the quality of the fiction to be found on the shelves. Dickens, Austen, Irving, Chabon, Atwood, Picoult, du Maurier, etc. — all are found in the “literary” section alongside schlock.

So last blog post I said that I would put forth some science fiction titles that I think are literature. They are as follows and I do not believe this is an exhaustive list:

The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford
To Say Nothing of the Dog and The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
1984 by George Orwell
Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin
Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Contact by Carl Sagan
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
The Drought J.G. Ballard
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This is, as I said, not an exhaustive list and it covers decades. Please add to this list and pass it along because I think that science fiction suffers from a bad reputation– a type of ghettoization. Perhaps if more people knew what to reach for on library shelves and at the bookstore, then attitudes towards science fiction might change. And minds might open. In more than one way.

More on this in another post.

What is the importance of science fiction?

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?

Utopia Moment

Last week when I was at the World Science Fiction Convention, I went to a party at the Delta Hotel. George R.R. Martin was seated in a large lounge chair and was graciously receiving people. If you have not read his Fire and Ice series, you should put it on your reading list of fantasy fiction to read. It is an amazing series that is of a high literary caliber and simply stunning. The room was part of a small two storied suite in the hotel. One entire section was taken up with a table and coolers for beer. The scene was a crush of people.

In the midst of this of this chaos of people meeting and speaking with George R. R. Martin, a raffle to raise money for a children’s literacy program, and the general throng of convention goers partying was a very calm Jack Ruttan quietly sketching as he stood by the stairwell. Impressed by his concentration, I stopped and asked him what he was doing. He told me he was sketching and showed me his sketch.

His sketches are quick and delightful. Light and humorous.

Please check out Jack Ruttan’s work at utopiamoment.ca

Hugo Winners

I attended the Hugo Award Ceremonies last night. Julie Czerneda did an absolutely FANTASTIC job as the Mistress of Ceremonies both at the Masquerade and at the Hugo Awards Ceremony. I would like extend my metaphorical round of applause to her for such a fabulous job!

And the winners are:

*For Best Novel: Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book

When Mr. Gaiman accepted his Hugo, he promised that he wouldn’t swear. In the past it seems his single utterance upon winning a previous Hugo consisted of a very colorful turn of phrase.

*For Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress

Ms. Kress accepted her Hugo in a gracious manner and confessed when she gave her acceptance speech that she had never dreamed that the novella might be worthy of Hugo. She said that she was genuinely surprised and had not anticipated winning the award.

* For Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom”by Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear seemed very excited to win another Hugo for her story and I am very sorry that I omitted her win by accident in my first reporting on the Hugos. All I can say is that if she likes brownies I will mail her some as an apology!

*For Best Short Story: “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang

In a fashion similar to many other award winners, Mr. Chiang was not present to accept the Hugo.

*For Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded by John Scalzi was the winner.

Mr. Scalzi said that he was particularly taken with winning in this category because he has written non-fiction for many years.

*For Best Graphic Novel: Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones was the winner.

*For Best Dramatic Presentation in the Long Form: Wall-E was the winner.

*For Best Dramatic Presentation in the Short Form: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog By Joss Whedon was the winner.

Mr. Whedon was not present to accept his award.

*For Best Editor in the short form category: Ellen Datlow was the winner.

*For Best Editor in the long form category: David G. Hartwell was the winner.

* The Hugo for Best Professional Artist went to Donato Giancola.

* The Hugo for the Best Semiprozine went to Weird Tales.

* The Hugo for Best Fanzine went to Electric Velocipede.

* The Hugo for Best Fan Writer went to Cheryl Morgan who asked that she not be given another Hugo and that other people be considered.

* The Hugo for Best Fan Artist went to Frank Wu who asked that he also not be given another Hugo so that other people could be considered. Frank Wu’s enthusiasm and sense of fun were smile inducing. He picked up the Hugo and launched it off back stage!

I had a chance to hold one of the Hugos while I was attending one of the many parties at the Delta Hotel. Every year the base is redesigned for that year and this year it was designed by Dave Howell. This year the Hugo had a base made of granite with a clear poly insert. Flames were replicated in the poly. The engraved designation of the Hugo floated in front of the granite base. The Hugos were very beautiful and very heavy!

Where have the visions of the future gone?

Let me preface some of what I am going to write in this post by saying that I am still researching and processing things– in other words I am not done yet and there will be further posts on this as I read more and think more. Also, I am certain that there will be people who have their own thoughts on the state of science fiction and can more readily point to examples of “whatever” than I can. I am not claiming expertise, but rather just expressing my opinion.

I saw the latest addition to the Star Trek franchise last week. For me it was a slightly disappointing, nostalgic experience. Whereas The Watchmen movie took me back to the late eighties, reminded me of when the series first came out, and made me contemplate the difference in the political atmosphere of that decade to the current decade, the newest Star Trek movie only reminded me of the importance of the original series. It also made me sad because I left thinking that it held in some ways too many self conscious nods to the original series for me and also hinted that it was reinventing the new series for the commercial purpose of making more movies and a truckload of money. This may be harsh but to me it was a gutted, soulless endeavor only made more palpable by the performance of Zachary Quinto. The story felt uninspired–a vengeful time traveling Romulan mining ship captain who sets out to wreck havoc. How many Star Trek movies involving time travel and the potential destruction of the earth need to be made? I want a fresh story with an interesting script. How about boldly going forth, rather than rehashing the past of what was once a truly dynamic television series that inspired a potential vision for the future, and making some outstanding new science fiction that pushes the boundaries and further drives the imagination of what could be? How about showing us a story set on a truly alien planet? Perhaps showing us a scenario where the human heroes have inadvertently violated the prime directive. Perhaps a story where the aliens are not the bad guys.

I read and write science fiction and fantasy and I have been to several lectures, presentations, and conventions where I have heard quite a few different authors and speakers adamantly assert that science fiction as a genre is alive and well. The very fact that this assertion keeps being put forth makes me suspicious of its claim. This morning after being awoken by a window rattling thunder boom, I began cruising the internet and just doing some casual research about the genre. While there are some marvelous authors who have been consistently writing well written short stories and novels, notable among them in my mind are people like Connie Willis who has won nine Nebulas and six Hugos and Ted Chiang whose short stories and novellas are incredibly well crafted pieces, the number of names showing an unwavering presence in the field is not as large as was the case in decades past.

I began wondering about this. There are the popular phenoms like Neil Gaiman whose work is outstanding and J.K. Rowling, but both are really fantasy writers. So I began to try to break this down for myself.

The first conclusion that I came to was that since the 1970’s science fiction being presented on television and in the movies has grown. In the decade between 1960-1970 there were approximately 35 science fiction television series. From 1970 -1980 the number jumped to approximately 52. In the years between 2000 and 2004 this number jumped and I counted approximately 186 television series internationally and I am not going to stand by that count as an accurate number. Further, many of the television series that I counted were anime, loose fantasy series, and others dealing with themes of the supernatural. In addition to the number of television series dealing with science fiction or fantasy themes, there has been the growth of video games over the last three decades. Now the question that springs to my mind about this proliferation and popularization of science fiction in media other than print copy, is whether or not this helps or hurts the genre. It certainly indicates a mass appeal for the flavor of science fiction and fantasy. In regards to the publication of printed material, I think that this has hurt the genre. Fans can simply get their fix in a different form. Further, I think that we are in the midst of an information evolution and visual media has become much more readily available. Kind of like when the printing press suddenly made printed material much more available. I could cry out about the evils of visual media but I think it would only show that I am a dinosaur to be left behind. I do think that we are in the beginning stages of developing the art forms of the feature length movie and the episodic television series. We haven’t begun. Currently, I think that the novel in printed form is much more sophisticated and offers a greater depth for artistic expression to the author and meaningful engagement for the reader.
I will advocate as Norman Spinrad did that novelizations of television series or movies should not be eligible for Nebula awards. The award is given for outstanding writing and I think that any piece deserving of this award should have fresh ideas and original characters.

The second conclusion that I came to after researching for a bit was that the number of names writing science fiction seems to be greater but they are publishing slightly less than authors in the past and they don’t seem to have the stamina of authors of the past for decades long writing careers. I am not sure what to make of this. I read one article that described how in the decade of the 1990’s many authors who had had little problem getting their books published previously suddenly were without publishing contracts or their advances dropped in value dramatically. I have read many articles about the plight of the mid-listers who languish at a mid level of sales. They make enough to keep writing but barely and they don’t receive the support of their publishers. Further, in recent decades the mid-list crowd has been thinning. Two thoughts that occur to me are that it takes time for an author to reach a certain level of name recognition and become a thing and, secondly, that it takes time for an artist to mature in their craft and become truly outstanding. As a society driven by quick profits, it may be that we are not offering enough monetary incentive to beginning authors and they give up the dream of being a writer before they have matured in their craft out of economic necessity.

The third conclusion that I thought about is still swirling, but I noticed that while science fiction seems to be dwindling, fantasy is experiencing growth. This could be that the kids who grew up with Harry Potter are looking for what’s familiar and continuing to read fantasy and hence there is a market for fantasy which fuels the production and publication of more fantasy. This doesn’t so much address the dwindling amount of science fiction as it does the growth of fantasy, but allow me to turn this one around and look back at the past for a moment. When I was growing up, Sputnik propelled the U.S. education system into creating a more rigorous science curriculum. Because of my introduction in elementary school to the ideas of space exploration, model rockets, beautiful pictures of nebulas in space, astronomy field trips to learn the constellations, I began to read Heinlein’s juvenile novels. I grew up with science fiction. I also grew up in an era when science seemed the limitless answer to a thousand possibilities. There was an optimism about science and its potentialities that came through into the science fiction. A future could be envisioned.

Now, educational funding has been cut. This morning I read a blog post sighting Norman Spinrad, who was a president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, as follows:

“In a society where the distinction between astronomy and astrology is probably blurry in more minds than not…where very few viewers see anything wrong in spacecraft executing banking turns in a vacuum…and where the teaching of science in primary and secondary schools is itself in steep decline, surely the potential readership for hard science fiction must be dwindling even faster than that for science fiction in general.”

Further, while one can still find Heinlein’s juvenile novels, there aren’t many science fiction novels for elementary students and young adults. The only ones that spring to mind are Scott Westerfield’s novels–Uglies, Pretties, and Specials and Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother. The kids aren’t inspired by science. There is not a great abundance of science fiction for them to read. And we are not growing avid science fiction readers.

This is bad for the genre. The genre of science fiction needs more readers to support it and flourish.

I am going to take this another step farther. In the past there was a cycle where science fiction offered a vision of the future and science pursued it. I have written about this before. Currently, it seems to me that the discoveries of science over the last few decades have been extraordinary and growing at a dizzying rate. But at the same time one hears constant stories about potential pandemics, global warming, the mass extinction of species, etc. There is a proliferation of doomsday stories. This is nothing new. The 1950’s had constant stories about The Bomb and the potential of nuclear war. The difference was in the level of optimism. In decades past, science was going to be the high achievement and saving grace of humanity. Our science would save us. Our vision for the future would lead us past our troubles. Currently, there is a pessimism that pervades and while science makes leaps, it seems that science will not save us, science has caused many of the problems by injudicious application, and the vision is lost. I am not going to naively suggest that if writers of science fiction offer glowing proposals of utopian dreams where science has salvaged the environmental ruin that we have made of our planet all will be well, but perhaps a new vision of possibility needs to be created. Perhaps, science fiction has lost some of its readers simply because of a lack of forward thinking. Where are the visions of future science? What will our society look like in 3010?

Again, this is a long and rambling post. I am still thinking and probably will revisit this topic at another time. Any thoughts that anyone has for me to consider would be greatly appreciated.

Importance of Star Trek

I went to see the new Star Trek movie this evening. Don’t worry I won’t give any spoilers. But if you want to see what a green skinned Venusian girlfriend might look like, go see the movie.

I grew up with Star Trek in reruns. My uncle loved Star Trek and made sure that my cousins and I watched Star Trek. Roddenberry’s vision of a utopia where people are not motivated by money and where the pursuit of knowledge and exploration have become dominant was part of my childhood. We learned much from the parables of Star Trek. The importance of camaraderie, the destruction of war, etc.

And then after the Star Trek television series, there were all the movies and Next Gen and Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

Roddenberry’s vision has become part of our collective consciousness of what the future might look like. Teleportation, warp drives, tricorders, communicators– they have all become part of what we expect the future to hold because of Star Trek. Already one of the space shuttles was named Enterprise. Our cell phones look quite a bit like communicators. Perhaps, a mini version of an enhanced diagnostic MRI machine will be developed that will look and act like a tricorder. Perhaps teleportation is not far off. Perhaps faster than light speed travel via a type of warp drive will be developed– if so it might be that Roddenberry’s ability to bring a real vision of the future has inspired and shaped the direction of scientific and technological development.

Sometimes science fiction is dismissed as being an inferior genre of fiction, but the example of Star Trek shows its power to inspire and spark real development. Recently, I read an author’s opinion that science fiction was in demise. If this is the case, then it is dreadfully unfortunate and something to pursue reversing. Science fiction offers the seeds of possibility. Would we have visited the moon without H.G. Wells or the vastly optimistic science fiction of the fifties and sixties in which anything seemed possible? The New Wave movement, cyberpunk, and the New Weird all have shown marvelous creativity and explored current themes important in our society, but have in some ways led us to a more pessimistic outlook in science fiction and perhaps inadvertently narrowed the grand vision of science fiction. While alternative histories explore aspects of history and show us what might have been, they don’t always lead to a vision of the future. Science fiction offers a unique opportunity to explore via the imagination the possibilities for scientific advancement and technological breakthroughs and how these might impact humankind. It can lead the way towards a new future. If science fiction is in demise, then our future is diminished as well.