Science Fiction. What’s the big deal? Instead of being real, it’s based on a smidge of reality and a great deal of speculation. Or is this an oversimplification? It’s true; science fiction is perhaps the least popular branch of genre fiction. But is this because it lacks merit? I don’t think so.
Here are some reasons why some sci-fi should be added into your to-be-read list. Perhaps, even if in just a small way, sci-fi may compel you to change your perception of the present—and the future.
1. A NEW LOOK AT HUMANITY
Science fiction constantly puts humanity in new circumstances. A sci-fi author meddles with what we’re used to and changes something we perceive to be important. It all starts with the author asking a little “What if…?” And initially, it takes the form of this question: if xyz happens, how will humanity respond? Let’s say the author goes for the classic alien invasion. Will humanity rise and face the attackers or cower? Or will some stand and others flee? The principal question—how humanity responds—reveals an underlying one: what is the nature of humanity?
In the present, we are only aware of how we live in the circumstance we’re in. True, we can read about events in other places, we can read about past events of history—and learn from all of these—but we don’t know how we would do in a different context. We usually like to think we would do well, but… Would we really?
Science fiction recontextualizes humanity. Sometimes, this helps us understand how humans act and react and inspires us to do better. Hopefully we’ll never have to be in a sci-fi circumstance, but if we are, reading science fiction helps us visualize ourselves and prepare. I mean, what if there was a worldwide pandemic—how would humanity respond? Oh, wait… That’s no longer science fiction.
Back to aliens, sci-fi often contrasts humanity with another species. In essence, it asks “what is it to be human?” but from the negative. By seeing the inhumanness of alien species, we understand what makes humans human. Whether there are big differences or small ones, we often understand things better by contrasts. In this case, we get to understand ourselves better.
2. A Moral Perspective of Science and Technology
Sci-fi is not simply a curious extrapolation of contemporary science; many sci-fi authors write books that answer moral questions we are not comfortable with or creative enough to answer. They start by asking “what ifs” about things such as artificial intelligence, weapons technology, human augmentation, or genetic engineering. They ask and attempt to answer the questions that industries and scientists may be too afraid or blinded to ask. They ask questions like this: If we had xyz technology, what could happen?
By posing and answering this sort of question, science fiction helps us think more critically. Is genetically modifying humans really a good idea, for instance? Maybe you haven’t considered it much—I can’t say that I have either—but there is surely a work of science fiction that can help us consider moral issues like that one.
3. The Gift of ‘Foresight’
Science fiction authors are no Delphic oracle, certainly, but many have a gift of stirring our imaginations—or stirring up dread—at what the future may look like. Every once in a while, an author’s fictional answer to a “what if” ends up not being fictional at all.
But still, if one out of thousands of future predictions ends up being even close to reality, is there any actual use in that? True, they are unreliable and shouldn’t be used for speaking confidently of what will happen, but they can still be used to ‘change’ the future in a sense. If a novel conveys an implicit argument that’s convincing enough, it could ’cause’ something or ‘stop’ it from happening in the first place. Although I suppose that is more changing the future than foresight.
In these three significant ways, Sci-fi can actually change how you look at the present and look towards the future. How? By asking and answering questions we likely wouldn’t think of ourselves with that simple “what if…?”
Feature image via Good Free Photos