The difference between science fiction and the other genres mentioned above, is that sci-fi pushes the boundaries of human understanding exponentially further than the handfuls of others. Anybody who has read the likes of Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, or Arthur C. Clarke, will likely agree that their books in particular have a tremendous effect on the imagination.
Let’s look at one of the most loved sci-fi books of all time The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Right off the bat the book forces the reader to contemplate what it would be like if the world ended suddenly. Somehow you survive the end of the earth because one of your buddies happens to be a visiting alien. Just imagine that scenario for a second: the earth is gone. All the things that come along with being a human being suddenly vanish, you are somewhere totally new, a child in a completely different reality where anything is possible.
Fantasy accomplishes something similar. Imagine one day you get a letter from Hogwarts or the X-Mansion and realize you are destined to discover magical or mutant powers within yourself. Even though that is immensely fun to imagine, there is something about sci-fi that seems a bit more… possible. It has even been known to predict the future. Brave New World predicted anti-depressants, 1984 predicted the NSA, and Stand on Zanzibar (most outrageously) was one letter off of predicting the name of our current President.
The point here is that science fiction attempts to use facts we know from science to create a fictional world. It engages us to imagine things that we would have never thought possible. This is vastly important for every reader, especially young ones. Maybe the universe is just one computer simulation? Maybe half of the people you see every day are actually aliens? How do you know you are even real? Your body may be plugged into the Matrix and you wouldn’t even know it…
These types of questions pack a philosophical punch that can make your mind spin for years on end. Any of these questions, if taken seriously for a brief moment, make us think how we would react to such situations. It forces us to be reflective, imagine, and expand our thinking. This is the essence of learning, to challenge what is considered to be true. Science fiction provides a basis for this type of almost loony creativity, for that reason alone, it may be the most important genre in literature.
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