Occasionally I will end up in conversations with people where it has come up that I am either a writer or an avid reader. I will ask them what they are reading. They will invariably say something like Grisham. (Nothing against Grisham. I have never read anything by him and so do not have any data for an opinion.) They will ask what I read/write. I will answer “Science fiction and fantasy.”
They will look at me and say, “Why? That stuff’s not real.”
(Neither is the Grisham, I would like to point out. That is the definition of fiction.)
Science fiction fills an important role in our civilization. So much of literature focuses on the present or the past. Science fiction makes us think about the future.
Why is this important?
Because it forces us to examine what we’re doing now and what the consequences will be.
Look at iconic books like 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. Those books show societies where censorship and government oversight have become the norm. Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake examines a world where consumerism and genetic manipulation has taken over. Works of fiction, yes, but an important statement on our society.
Science fiction allows us to take what is and turn it into what could be. That’s a very powerful tool.
Aside from that, science fiction provides inspiration. It’s said that cellphones were inspired by the communicators in the original Star Trek. Every day scientists get closer to making ideas provided in science fiction – transporters, faster than light travel, tractor beams – become fact. Even look at the iPad – the name alone tells you that the inspiration came from Star Trek’s PADD.
People look at the wonderous things that are possible in science fiction and say, “hey, why not? Let’s give it a try.” Look at far we’ve come in the last century. It’s gotten to the point where it’s near impossible to keep up with new discoveries and technologies and inventions.
And who are the ones making those discoveries, designing the new tech? They’re the ones who grew up reading and watching science fiction.
I’m an aerospace engineer. I design, test, and launch satellites. I used to make rockets. Because I wanted to grow up and be Geordi Laforge, Spock, Scotty.
Science fiction makes people look to the future and say “I want that to be true. I’m going to make that happen.” And then they go off and do so.
That’s something we need.