SF & Me
In a junior high school library, quite by accident, is where I found my introduction to science fiction (hereinafter called SF, not “sci-fi,” thank you very much) in the form of Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust. Young & bookish I was, looking for something to feed the habit …
Now I’m old and bookish and I still prowl the shelves labeled “SF/Fantasy” (sometimes “SF/Fantasy/Horror” or [may the gods smite them] “Sci-Fi/Fantasy.”) These days, Fantasy, especially Urban Fantasy (werewolves, vampires and zombies running around modern cities generally creating mayhem (when not pouting and mooning over pale naive teen girls), dominate the shelves, but I still seek the worlds the Asimovs, the Heinleins, the Bradburys, the Clarkes, the Williamsons created. Perhaps the future from our early-21st century perspective isn’t so bright and shiny, but as long as SF fulfills its primary function, I will still seek it.
And the primary function of SF is to predict the future, right? Nope. Its function is extrapolate from the now and construct a future based on those possibilities. You can always go back and see plenty of things SF never anticipated. Example: powerful computers you carry in your pocket. For many years, SF writers equated more power to bigger size. Thanks to miniaturization, it went the other way. What SF saw correctly, though, was the sometimes-rocky relationship between humans and their electronic devices. What they saw was a changing society, sometimes bad, sometimes good.
SF looks at where are going, not where we are. “Mainstream” novels can explore the human condition as it is now, but after the passage of time, they become a window to the past. One of the concerns of SF is our relationship to technology. What happens if the technology fails? What if technology takes over? Will we still be human? Will that be important? You know, stuff like that.
A David Copperfield or a Pride and Prejudice or a Moby-Dick can give us insights into the human condition. Today’s mainstream can help see what the modern world is doing to us. Good authors will entice us, hit us emotionally, make us happy, sad, angry, no matter what they write. SF writers sometimes write horror and and horror writers sometimes write fantasy and fantasy writers sometimes write SF and SF writers often write fantasy and around and around the mulberry bush until they all get lumped under one label: genre fiction.
Genre: French, “kind” (says the OED), meaning “kind,” “sort,” “style.” The word as a label has become a convenient dumping-ground for those who sneer at anything that reeks of SF/fantasy/horror markers. Look around folks, look at the bestseller lists, the movie listings, the TV listings. SF (and its sister genres) have won.
Real-life astronomers have been discovering planets orbiting far stars lately. SF writers have always assumed there are other worlds out there. That’s what keeps me reading SF, writing SF: the possibilities are endless.