This article was originally published by U.S. science fiction writer Ian Martyn on March 18, 2015. It is re-posted here with the author's permission.
OK, I know, I would say this, I'm a science fiction writer, and yes I hope at some point you might read mine. However, there is a whole world (actually many worlds) of excellent science fiction out there that can take you to places that your own imagination hasn't even thought of.
I don't understand why the literary world still wants to give it that somewhat derogatory label, "genre fiction". Why is genre fiction inferior? And what is non-genre fiction anyway? It's all fiction, it's all telling stories. Yes some stories have "a message" or seek to inform us of circumstances, lives, situations both current and in the past through the use of fictional characters. Surely though, the bottom line of any story is that it has to, on some level, entertain? In the past the tradition of oral story telling was often a way of transferring ideas and common history down the generations. However, to do that they had to engage with the audience, they had to entertain.
Above I say, "some stories have 'a message' or seek to inform us of circumstances, lives, situations both current and in the past through the use of fictional characters." The advantage of science fiction is that we are not limited to the present or the past. We can look into the future and speculate on the consequences of what we humans are doing to our world, or each other. And we can do this in a less threatening, non-lecturing way. We're not saying this is how it will be (no one can know that), what we are saying to a greater or lesser extent is, this is what it might be like. In science fiction we can take it to it's, often bizarre, extremes. As I've said in another blog "we can dare to imagine". And ultimately if we look at the varied directions and current speed of today's cutting edge science who's to say what is or isn't possible in the future. Einstein's theory of relativity tells us we can't travel faster than the speed of light and yet some very serious scientist are speculating on that very possibility (see "science fiction – dare to imaging").
The other thing I believe science fiction can to do is to hold up a mirror to our current selves. We can project our struggles and nightmares into the far future and discuss them in terms of "science fiction" which is perhaps less threatening. Asimov's "Foundation and Empire" trilogy and Ray Bradbury's Martian chronicles were reactions to the world of the 1950's the very real fears of the cold war, the possibilities of nuclear destruction and the end of civilisation as we knew it. The current crop of post-apocalypse novels surely reflect the concerns of our turbulent world.
Having said all that the real bonus of science fiction is that it has the power to take us out of our introspection. It can fire the imagination in ways that other fiction cannot. I have maintained in the past that we humans need both science and science fiction. I believe that science fiction can, and will continue, to provide some of the ideas and inspiration that will propel the human race into a glorious future, despite the mess we seem to be making of things at the present time.
So, go on read some science fiction. Don't just dismiss it as genre fiction. Try some Asimov (a recent review of my "Project Noah" suggested it was in that same tradition, a complement indeed), Arthur C Clarke, Ben Bova, Greg Beare. Or come more up-to-date with Alistair Reynolds, Ken Mcleod and the late great Iain M Banks. I promise if you are not familiar with their work, you won't be disappointed. Or, of course, try some Ian Martyn!
As always views and comments are welcome.
Image thanks to: Ian Martyn