November is Science Fiction Month, and I am so excited! Fun fact: prior to book blogging I primarily read science fiction and while I have absolutely loved expanding the genres that I read, I am really excited to dedicate some time to reading the genre again! Tomorrow I will unveil my TBR and overall plans for the month, but I wanted to kick everything off with a list of the reasons that I love science fiction!
Science fiction (often shortened to Sci-Fi or SF) is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology, spaceflight, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a “literature of ideas.”
Stimulates my interest in technology and possibility
I’ve never really been a person that is enraptured by the newest technology, but imagining the possibilities of what humanity can create fascinates me. And the truth is that a lot of our technology now was actually predicted by science fiction! Autonomous cars, artificial intelligence, personalized tablets… those all made an appearance in the genre before they hit the market! Honestly, watching Back to the Future now is a trip, although I am still waiting for my flying car!
Science fiction is a genre of “what if?”
Science fiction looks at society and imagines how the world would be if X were to happen. What if aliens exist and made contact? Given human history’s propensity to other those that are different, perhaps a war breaks out. David Howe, president of SyFy, said that “[g]reat science fiction forces us to look at who we are and ask the tough questions: where we are? where are we going? and what can we expect to find when we get there?”
📖 Neal Shusterman captures this spirit of the genre perfectly in The Dark Side of Nowhere, exploring the ways that isolation and polarizing beliefs make it easier to categorize “outsiders” as The Other and breed feelings of superiority and how insidious it happens.
Challenges my preconceived notions and assumptions about the world
Science fiction takes a mirror to society. I think that through entertainment (explored more in the last point) allows people to explore different perspectives without the polarizing lens of political affiliations.
For example: You know how history is always written by the victor? I never really made the connection on what that actually means for society today until I read Talal Asad for an undergraduate course. (Note: this is philosophical theory and not science fiction, but nonetheless stuck with me and I now notice this theme in science fiction.) What one group would call a coup or revolution, another calls acts of violence. Which side of discourse is correct? That in large depends on who is victorious. This theme is brought to life in Battlestar Galactica in season four, for example.
This constantly challenges what I consider to be political programming and the othering of another group of people. While I may not agree with decisions and actions, I do take the time to see things from every perspective and see things from the other side.
Stimulates my brain! The genre is ripe with philosophy, particularly morality and ethics
This is just a personal thing, but I really love thinking about philosophy. I like thinking about the greater meaning of everything, seeing connections to modern society, and delving into difficult topics. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for me I cannot get enough of it! The great thing is that the philosophy typically doesn’t muddle the narrative, so it remains accessible to readers that don’t want to go that deep.
Science fiction brings philosophical theory to life for me and makes it more accessible. Fun fact: for my 19th birthday a friend gave me a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy. I tried reading it and my head swam, and it sat unread for probably ten years! I took a lower division Intro to Philosophy course a few years later and was like NOPE! But I fell into a theory class on accident and my perspective changed somehow. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly I was meeting with the professor (who came to be my thesis advisor) and talking about writing on Battlestar Galactica. The next year and a half was a labor of love, as I watched the series and took notes, wrote down themes of import and slowly came to the main thing I wanted to discuss: meaning of being and how we decide a person/group of people are worthy of survival. I nearly cried when I was given Heidegger to read like two weeks before I was set to present my thesis, but it was by far the most excited thing ever when it all clicked.
Amazing worldbuilding when done well
We all know that I absolutely adore worldbuilding, and SFF is where it is done best! I love the creativity of the author’s what if? exploration and find myself wondering just how they came up with such an idea. When worldbuilding is done well it doesn’t matter that the world is set in space or on another planet or an alternate reality because the author depicts the world, customs, and beliefs of the people so vividly that you can’t help but be sucked into the narrative.
📖 Erin Bowman’s Contagion is an excellent example of fantastic worldbuilding. I have never been to space (sighs melodramatically) but I can picture everything about this world.
Even though the themes and societies often mirror reality, it is so different from the world we currently live in that you just get sucked in and can escape the world. I find it so easy to get lost when reading science fiction.
I will touch on this in depth in the final point, but I love that while the genre tends to tackle social issues through entertainment, often drawing from philosophical bodies of thought to frame the narrative, it isn’t usually cumbersome. The reader can completely enjoy the story without having a background in philosophical theory. It’s there to think about if you are so inclined, but not necessary.
Tackling and challenging social issues through entertainment
Living in an interconnected world where news travels instantly around the world, I think it is human nature to become desensitized to everything going on around the world. Now more than ever I feel like science fiction is important in starting the discussion without politics.
The United Nations Department of Public Information has sough “to find innovative ways to raise awareness on priority issues for all of us,” and they recognize that “the entertainment industry has a powerful voice to reach a wide audience.” Battlestar Galactica was invited to speak at the United Nations in 2009 because this television series led viewers to reflect on not only the show but our own society and it became the catalyst for conversations on improving society today. These questions of humanity and survival are important for us as a society to evaluate so that we can change the path that we are on. History is always doomed to repeat itself, and perhaps what we need as a society is the harsh look of our future to change.
📖 Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale shines a light on the US’ embracing of conservatism following the election of Ronald Reagan and the increasing power of the Christian/Evangelical right (which is still hauntingly relevant today).
So there you have it, 7 reasons that I absolutely love science fiction! After spending literally hours on this post, I realize that my affections for the genre are deeply rooted in my undergraduate education. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing experience while working toward my B.A. in Religious Studies, including taking a course on Religion and Science Fiction where we read American Gods, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and The Handmaid’s Tale and writing my senior honors thesis on philosophical theory through the lens of Battlestar Galactica.
What about you? Do you like science fiction, and if so which subgenres are your favorite? Why do you like or not like the genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!