Facets of Science Fiction
Science fiction is the literature of hope. We hope that in three hundred, or six thousand, or a million years from now, we will have set out from this planet and reached the stars. Star Trek provides one of the great examples of that kind of optimism. In Gene Roddenberry’s 22nd century, we not only have faster-than-light travel and all the other technological bells and whistles that are currently in their infancy, but we have encountered those strange new worlds and new civilizations. Humans of Roddenberry’s future have not only met aliens, but interact with them in a peaceful fashion. If mutually-assured destruction exists, we have stepped back from the brink, probably over and over.
But science fiction is also the literature of ideas. In no other genre can new concepts be explored so readily, whether they are scientific advances or social changes. The experimentation that appears on paper, or in this day, in pixels, is the result of thought experiments by questing minds seeking to change what they see around them. Taken what we already have, how can we extrapolate forward to create a better future? Citing Star Trek again, to show a mixed-race, mixed-nationality crew all working together gave visible encouragement to the television audience of the 1960s that we could all work together. Dr. Mae Jemison, an African-American, said that she would probably not have sought to enter the space program and become an astronaut, if not for seeing Lt. Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, as a senior officer on a spaceship. On a slightly less dramatic basis, to show Ensign Chekov, a Russian, a citizen of what was at that time an enemy of the United States, on board as a crewmember of the United Federation of Planets. Or, asking the next question, as Theodore Sturgeon always advised, what might go terribly wrong if we do or do not change what already exists? In SF, we examine the balance between what is possible and what is advisable, but we also break the status quo, so often for the better. Such notions as gay marriage, line families, single-sex cultures genetic experimentation and treatments have been explored in novels long before similar changes began, as did less salubrious concepts as population control.
Science fiction is the literature of aspiration. How many young scientists were encouraged to follow their dreams because of a story they read? The YA fiction of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton and many others encouraged their readers to achieve. They suggested that the seemingly ordinary among us, the nerds, the geeks, the four-eyed dweebs, the Daniel Jacksons, the Waldoes, might be the ones who would step forward to save the world. Science fiction writers predicted megacomputers, miniaturized technology, cell phones, satellites, even waterbeds (as a treatment for burn victims), each of which came into reality years, sometimes decades later. So, too, have they written stories about household robots, new ideas about space travel, alternate power sources, computers and gadgets that are still ahead of their time. They give the readers something to work toward, and add their own changes to make them real.
The ideas that you put into your books today could influence the path your readers take tomorrow. They can serve as a warning or an example, and spark ideas that could change the world. The stars, very literally, are the limit.