Science fiction is one of those genres that is both enjoyed and looked down upon by the general public. We see Science fiction films making hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in the box office. However, most sci-fi literature is looked down upon because of it’s niche audience, and it’s tendency to be written as sheer folly. This thought pattern makes one wonder why a thoughtful reader should read science fiction? In this essay, I hope to define what I feel is the redeeming characteristic for this genre.
Science fiction, by definition, is “Fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.” Science fiction relies on these two elements to fuel it’s plots. The scientific advances and social changes are usually based on a mixture of scientific theories and sheer imagination. Whether the theory is realistic or not is of little consequence to the author. All he has to say is that it occurs in the future.
Along with being creative and imaginative, Science Fiction’s futuristic settings also allow for an deeper exploration of the possibilities. When an author comes up with a unique concept, they have the opportunity to explore how the concept will be created and used, as well as how mankind will react and use the concept itself. A great example of this exists with the classic story of robots reaching a point of “sentience”, which is the ability to independently perceive the world around them. The concept was inspired by Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors that can be placed on a integrated circuit will double every two years. Since the robot’s basis for thought is an integrated circuit, then that means that the potential processing power within a robot’s “mind” will grow over time. If this process were to continue onward without any friction, then a robot could, in theory, gain a system that resembles the complexities of the human mind, and thus gain “sentience”.
Now that we’ve introduced this concept of Robotic sentience, we can start inquiring into the details. How did the robot enter into sentience? Was it intentional, or simply based on a random event? How would humanity react to this newly sentient being? Would they fear it or embrace it? How would the robot himself handle these new feelings and abilities? Would he explore them, or expunge them? How would the sentient robot react to mankind and it’s flawed nature? These are only a few questions that one can consider when predicting the events, and giving us details. Many science fiction books have explored this topic. however, the best science fiction takes time to expound and explain it all away.
It is through these great books that we find opportunities to engage issues. In an author’s attempt at recording reactions and realities about a theory or concept, they reveal their own belief system about any number of issues. For example, the sentient robot story would most likely rely on a random event on the robot being so advanced, that one event causes a shifting of wires and sparks, and Voila!, Robotic Sentience. This origin story implies that the original creation of life is random by definition, and thus irreplacable. Many people may say that life’s creation was random, while others would say it was intentional. But then as readers, we must ask “What is life? how do we define a living being?” Most people won’t have an answer. But that is why science fiction is fantastic. It gives us the opportunity to engage these bigger-than-life issues that otherwise wouldn’t influence how we live. By reading Science fiction,you are being offerred the opportunity to think, while also reading great stories.
In conclusion, Science fiction is first and foremost, a story. It is a grand tale set in another time and space, and often relies on a concept that seems “out of this world”. As a reader, we enter the story, and are able to see the minutia and how it all fits together. We then have the opportunity to engage the bigger questions of life, and consider what we believe about reality, man, truth, and everything else.