I’ve been thinking an awful lot about Science Fiction and Fantasy for the last almost thirty-one years of my life. I’ve come to great realizations about the power of the genre to succeed where others dare not even tread, and also the great possibility of walking away from that potential to varying degrees of success. Science Fiction and Fantasy that takes the time to make you re-inspect the world we live in while you traverse the escapist world created by the author is the highest form, and truly the ultimate goal of the endeavor. While one could assert that this is the ultimate function of any form of literature, in Science Fiction and Fantasy more so than others, the author has the ability to really craft a world of their own liking—it is the most empowering kind of writing experience.
Of course, with all that power to create, the writer is entrusted with a great deal of responsibility to build a world that is believable, rife with metaphor and parallels, and ultimately a twisted mirror-image of our own. Of course, by twisted I don’t mean sinister per se, or even dystopian, but rather changed in some way; “with a twist”. These twists needn’t be overpowering, but rather a dash of flavor added to a world made mostly with the same ingredients as our own. Others, of course, could be an entirely different arena of literary cuisine altogether. It depends on the scope and ambition of the writers work. Sometimes, the world is so closely related to our own that we might overlook the science fiction elements in it altogether. Other times, the elements may be so minute that people may under estimate their ability to change the genre.
A few years ago I spent a great deal of time in a middle school English class. I remember hearing the teacher state clearly and definitively that she would not consider The Hunger Games to be Science Fiction. Needless to say, I was shocked. In a story of a dystopian future, with the technology to create terraformed areas with force fields, hidden cameras, flying ships, and genetically enhanced animals and people there can be no other definition to court. Science Fiction and Fantasy, and most specifically Science Fiction over Fantasy, is the order of the day. It occurred to me that the teacher must have been so caught up in the character developments, the murderous plot, and the love triangle that these important, but casually mentioned elements of the series had not immediately identified themselves as Science Fiction. This means that Suzanne Collins did a great job of building a world that was inhabited by characters that were believable and real.
This got me thinking about other works people may not realize are, in fact, Science Fiction. Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 immediately sprung to mind. In these works, the elements are similarly subtle—certainly more than in The Hunger Games—but essential to the sale of the fascist and cruel worlds they portray. These stories inevitably led me to think of the seemingly utopian world of The Giver. In this world, technology made everything possible but was not essential to the story, just the set up. Again, I started down this vein and found myself considering both Anthem and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Anthem is an example of a quick work that is easily likened to any of the stories I put before, and an argument as a Science Fiction work is easily made, but perhaps people don’t as readily consider Atlas Shrugged—the bible of the Tea Party and many conservatives—as a work of Science Fiction.
Atlas Shrugged’s plot requires that Henry Reardon invented a metal lighter than steel and much more durable. It requires that (spoiler alert) there exists a secret civilization of industrialists, scientists and geniuses hidden by holograms in the mountains. It requires that engines running on ambient static electricity have been invented and never released. It requires that there is a way to get natural gas from shale, safely without destroying the drinking water (OK so that last one is real and super political, but also in the book). All the same, this work, which many look to as an example for a way to live our lives philosophically, is science fiction. As much so as Dianetics, the work of L. Ron Hubbard that has inspired the faith of Scientology.
The authors of these books and many more have taken the time to craft worlds so deftly and meaningful or realistic, that readers become so invested in, they cross genres without even considering it. People who would not consider themselves readers of science fiction, or the kinds of nerds that try to live out science fiction worlds (see cosplayers and convention patrons) are in many cases fooling themselves. So watch our Tea Partiers and Scientologists! We’ll see you all at the next con, because you are invariably fans of incredible, transformative science fiction. So much so that its impact can be felt in your lives and has inspired you to make the world a better place as defined by the standard of your favorite works. Welcome to the world of Trekkers, Trekkies, convention patrons, and cosplayers. We welcome you with open arms!
As I said, science fiction and fantasy authorship is attached to a great deal of responsibility; so is science fiction and fantasy fandom. It isn’t long before the art imitating life becomes life imitating art.