The Debate for our Future
Fantasy books explore the impossible. Different races, places and magic. Despite the literary worth, and my love of, such books as The Lord of the Rings, it’s science fiction I want to talk about. Sci-fi is the stage of what could be.
It is difficult to dispute that our future will be influenced (if not decided) by scientists. We don’t know what science is capable of. Its limits are only limited by our intelligence and research. There was a time when electricity was a myth. Now it is akin to a human right. Space elevators are no longer an idea, but has become a future building project. Time machines and transporters don’t seem far off, do they?
So, what is Sci-fi?
Sci-fi is not fantasy… but the line between fiction, fact and sci-fi can bend. After all, it’s possible that we just haven’t invented [insert mad computer thingamabob] yet.
Sci-fi offers a debating panel for writers and readers to discuss difficult situations or decisions.
What will happen when we run out of coal and oil?
What should we do if we do meet other life forms?
Without gravity, how would we grow food?
Being a similar genre to fantasy, we suspend our disbelief. I think this is why science fiction is so popular with scientists and academics. Not only because it’s about spaceships and alternative life-forms, but because they are theories, ideas. You have to put aside what your logical mind tells you ‘This is not, cannot be real’, because there is always the glimmer of hope that all this could be. And so, readers are happier to debate about the issues. The problems. The terrible things that can happen in these books without people being hurt, and go on to inform our lives.
When Utopias of the future are just a page-turn away, we dream. Often those utopias turn out to have a seedy underbelly, studded with scheming politicians – reflecting our own dissatisfaction with our representatives. Apocalypse, Dystopias and environmental wastelands are often the fallout of Global warming and how seriously our ancestors took the crisis. It’s a chance for us to consider what we are doing now.
The popularity of Sci-fi is linked to current issues
Different genres of Sci-fi rise and fall depending on what is happening to the reader. Stories set in possible futures are actually stories of today, but with added climates of conflict, different characters, with technology pushed a little further along.
This is the great difficulty with Sci-fi. Authors will find it hard to distance themselves from their present, because it is all they know. This could be dangerous for writers who live in countries where they are not free to write what they like. Sci-fi gives us an excuse for allegory, but how far can you separate yourself from your own memories and opinions?
England is blessed. We have a free press. Theoretically. Lawsuits and public opinion may restrict us… but with the new ‘market place of ideas’ that is the internet (my favourite sci-fi invention made real) countries can merge. But. Should the limits of our freedom be dictated by where we log on? Harder to police, there are plans to limit what we can access on the internet. I have no problem with the suggested search engine algorithms, but rather than stopping internet users from accessing data (which could instead be policed), I would prefer that people were re-directed to help or advice. It’s all a little 1984 for me. (You were expecting me to mention George Orwell, weren’t you? And yes, I’m going to continue.) Combining speculative fiction and horror, Orwell created ‘Govspeak’ which removes words from use, to breed out dangerous concepts and ideas from the population.
Can we breed out pedophilia from a population by removing it from the internet? What is to stop people going out and making more? Harming others? Will we be able understand and control the dark parts of ourselves without safe expression? Here is where sci-fi steps in. It can discuss difficult situations, but because it is not happening on earth, but a planet ‘far, far away’ we are able to have significant distance from it, to discuss it.
In Saga, a (very good, and I’d recommend) sci-fi comic, a freelance assassin visits a brothel planet, and is persuaded by a pimp to view a prostitute. When it turns out that this is a small girl, I was worried. What will he do? Spoiler alert. Disgusted, he tells the girl to close her eyes. He blows out the pimp’s brains. But what if he had slept with her? What if his morals were different? One of the questions I find myself asking when I read is ‘What are we capable of?’
Humans are capable of expressing emotions and using abstract concepts (such as justice) to govern their lives. They are part of society (another abstract concept.) We are taught these things, they are not innate. And stories, no matter what form, help us to express ourselves and learn.
What use is Sci-fi to me?
Are you feeling restricted? Read. Oppressed? Read. Weak? Unheroic? Read, or write, it sounds like you have a story you need to tell. And after that, talk. Acknowledge your fears and desires before we create a culture of shame. Don’t be in the dark.
Having taken a year in Political Philosophy, I cannot help but see the similarities between my coursebooks and sci-fi novels. Rights, racism, civil disobedience and violence were discussed, and the examples in my lessons were much less interesting and poorly written compared to the fiction I devoured later. Philosophy needs sci-fi. Would you stick around for this film?
‘Attack of Democracy over Dictatorship’
Politicians plot to take control in a squabble over shipping routes and taxation.
The monarchy work with a group of rebels, to bomb a trash shoot.
Sound familiar? I don’t think Star Wars could have survived all 6 parts without the added interest of the characters and their unfamiliar world.
Sci-fi means we do not have to talk about ourselves in terms of black and white, without absolutes. Even in racism. Think of Star Wars’ alien species existing together, preying on one another for resources, for political gain. Sci-fi teaches, and offers a bearable way to interest the young in politics, psychology and philosophy. Books aimed at teenage readers don’t just get people reading, they make them question their own lives. The Hunger Games is a sci-fi story of dystopia and rebellion – have you noticed that english speaking countries are dissatisfied with their governments lately? Could that possibly be a reason for its popularity?
Fiction encourages us to think, not mindlessly absorb. To ask questions, join forums. Read classics and new work. There is so much now available. You don’t have to read ‘heavy’ prose if you don’t want to. Sci-fi (or any genre really) is available for all reading strengths. Here’s a list of a few sci-fi novels I would recommend. Stretch your mind. Talk to your friends (and fellow readers) about how the characters react to situations. Question everything.
1984 by George Orwell
More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Time Machine by H G Wells
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
Wool by Hugh Howey