Science Fiction; or Why Is It Looked Down Upon?
It infuriates me whenever I hear, “oh, science fiction is for children”, “it’s all a bit silly isn’t it?”, or words to that affect. I have to keep refuting this ridiculous idea that science fiction is a genre for no-hoppers, geeks, nerds and people who are stuck in the clouds.
Space, the final frontier…these are the voyages of the Star Trek enterprise. These bold words, spoken with that RADA acting voice, have three effects. The first is it enlists the listener into its world; these are the fanboys or fanpeople if you are offended by gender-specification. The second are the people who despise the world of ST, deeming it irrelevant and shockingly below their standards. The third, naturally, are very indifferent and look at the first and second groups with an air of mutual annoyance.
I can hear the collective puzzled groans of my non-readership, puzzled over what exactly is this “fine” man is writing about?
That, my fellow travellers, is a marvellously well thought of question. It is one I cannot answer, or, rather, it is one I cannot answer with any semblance of intellect.
In all serious, however, my point is that the commonly held view; and I suppose this is a simplistic belief, but whenever some people hear the words “science fiction”, they automatically picture space ships, and aliens with prosthetic foreheads. The Star Trek syndrome, if you will.
It is a shame, because, if begin you begin to look at science fiction you begin to realise that there is more than just aliens, rockets and lasers.
It’s troublesome to realise that it’s better not to pronounce that a book is science fiction, in fear of it not selling.
The science fiction author Brian Aldiss wrote in The Times:
But I do see that a wall much like the Great Wall of China has been erected against SF – although H.G.Wells has escaped the general banishment. It is a shame, for the authors are so different one from another, so disconcerting, so thought-nourishing. So despairing, so optimistic… There could be something most of us are missing.
Perhaps snobbery is involved. Stephen Fry has asked: “Why do science-fiction writers take themselves so seriously?” The answer is that seriousness is in general a characteristic of any writer or artist taking his work seriously. The Americans are great readers and creators of SF – I owe my living, and my gratitude, to American readers. As for the Italians, you are classified as an Intellectual if you enjoy fantascienza…
To be a writer needs much endurance, a tolerance of neglect, a publisher who likes books, and pots of luck. On these grounds, you might think it was hopeless to work in the SF field. Happily, some of us can’t help it.
I totally agree, here in the UK people see to stick their noses at sci-fi. However, if you look more carefully you’ll see that a lot of novels fall under the umbrella of this magnificent genre.
I remember when Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake came out. She said that it was speculative fiction and not science fiction. She wrote “Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians.”
She did present a better argument in an article in The Guardian:
For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can’t yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth. But the terms are fluid. Some use speculative fiction as an umbrella covering science fiction and all its hyphenated forms – science fiction fantasy, and so forth – and others choose the reverse.
This takes science fiction for granted, and I’m not too sure what Atwood means by “speculative fiction […] employs the means already to hand”. Science fiction can do that and it does. For instance, Blood Music by Greg Bear is set on Earth and is grounded in science, although it has been fabricated but a lot of the science in it is factually true. It’s the same with Oryx and Crake, based in fact but changed so the borders between fact and fiction become blurred.
For me, speculative fiction is a ridiculous word. It brings up, for me, the idea that the author does not want to associate their book with the stigma of labelling it science fiction.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson is clearly a science fiction book. However, I’ve seen it being advertised as literary fiction (a silly label for any book) and placed no where near the sci-fi section.
I’ll have to end it here. I’m at the university’s library and my laptops battery is running out.
Questions: What are your thoughts on science fiction, do you think it’s lowbrow or highbrow?
 This stands for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. An entirely non-factual view, but it is common to think that all drama students speak with perfect diction, proNOunce every WOrd with dramatic vigour and share the distinctly similar “Shakespearian” voice style.
 Star Trek, or, to be more precise, Star Trek: The Next Generation. A rather lacklustre ST[†], mainly derivative plots, po-faced, and far too much like a liberals’ wet dream. Although, it does pick up the pace halfway through and has a run of mildly successful episodes; the introduction of the Borg is not one to be missed.
[†] It might be contested that every Star Trek series is lacklustre. It is and it isn’t; they all have their individual strengths and weaknesses, occasionally turning out to be very enjoying, yes, even Star Trek: Enterprise. Although, all ST pales in comparison with the far superior Babylon 5.