The other day I was at a party and someone reported yet another slam at Science Fiction as literature. Things have changed a little in the mind of the public since “Star Wars” first hit the screen, but, by and large, really big box office is still anathema to some literary types. Nevertheless, from Cyrano de Bergerac, whose works L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657) and Les États et Empires du Solei (The States and Empires of the Sun) (1662) are classics of early modern science fiction, to Julie E. Czerneda, author of the Web Shifters, Night’s Edge, and the Contributor series (among other things), and beyond, great science fiction writing has never revolved around science and technology. People look to art to understand life, negotiate its obstacles.
Daleks, you ask? Borg? How can a faceless villain whose purpose is to destroy or a bionic society that devours the uniqueness of every culture they meet add to the brilliance of human endeavor? Why should this dismissal surprise me from a world populated by a those who still give only lip-service to equal pay, want privacy and individuality legislated out of existence, and judge individuals by their ancestry?While historically (and currently to a degree), women may still find limitations in Literature, both in the female characters and in thought provoking and relevant opportunities, the genre as a whole has a better track record than the world in general does. Science Fiction is noted for leading the way in encouraging individuality and creativity and the dissipation of exclusivity. Within its parameters, whole fictional societies have banded together to fight for the dignity of spirit of even the smallest demographic. Sometimes the heroes are human – sometimes not.
YES, The United States was built by individuality, creativity, and intelligence. Still, can’t that be said about all countries and civilizations? In Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” universe, the purpose of obliterating poverty and disease is to bring human society together, first within its own borders, and then with off-world civilizations willing to forge friendships in the same way Earth societies have attempted to do since the beginning of governments. Friendships with societies of divergent physical appearance, traditions, cultures, and sometimes, even ethical values.
Moreover, when human society of Roddenberry’s future meets a society that mirrors our political foibles today, our collective conscience may well rebel, which is what makes writing literature so challenging. So, Character is the basis of good writing regardless of market niche or genre. Why is it not the basis of good human interaction? Some say it is, but we’ve been experiencing the effects of forces President Eisenhower warned of over fifty years ago, like the Industrial Military Complex that planned to destroy the job market. Apparently, some people are worth more than others; more deserving of education and employment for a living wage. Superstitions still abound: accusing demographic groups of stealing children or soiling our cultural heritage.This great country, hewn by individuality and creativity, responded to financial crises in schools by canceling art and music programs. Moreover, Congress may have claimed that NASA’s budget was cut because it wasn’t contributing enough to society, but do you really think Roddenberry created computers, the cellphone, the tablet, or GPS? His writers and advisers may have predicted their widespread use, but it was space technology that created them. The technologies developed by NASA have shaped most current personal worlds.
Why would those who ignore or distrust the sort of individuality and creativity dreamt of in Science Fiction, consider the genre deeply enough to appreciate that the forces that drive SF are the same as those that drive all good writing? We depend on literature to answer hard questions about life and inspire us to make the world a better place. And when this world gets too terrifying to look at, some authors set their answers on other world metaphors, but the inspiration is still here.
[1.]Cyrano de Bergerac: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrano_de_Bergerac
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Katharyn Janeway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Mulgrew; http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/star-trek-women/images/10917711/title/captain-janeway-photo
Leonard Nimoy as Commander Spock of Vulcan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Nimoy; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spock
Marina Sirtis as Commander Deanna Troi of Betazed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Sirtis; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deanna_Troi
President Dwight D. Eisenhower: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower
Friendship 7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury-Atlas_6