Today on the blog, I welcome back guest blogger Rose Atkinson-Carter. She shares with us why reading science fiction and fantasy is so important. Her article touches on a few of my favorite authors and series. Enjoy!
The last few years, indeed the last few decades, seem to be taken straight from a science-fiction novel. All these gadgets which used to occupy space in the home now fit conveniently in our pocket — much like the Kindle. Now with AI causing fear and havoc among the wider public, the little AI helper on our phones begs the question of ‘Who’s helping who?’
All in all, science fiction has never decreed that the future is horrifying. There may be things to be wary of, but ultimately the future remains full of hope. Learning to sit with that duality is exactly why reading sci-fi is more important than ever.
Just look at some of the sci-fi greats. Our world is just as much Aldous Huxley’s world of indulgence as it is George Orwell’s one of control and misdirection. Leaps in technological wizardry have led to overconsumption yet gifted voices to the minority.
We are slaves and gods. In control and yet out of it.
Of course, these books are partly pessimistic thought experiments. What-if scenarios of a world gone mad.
And they’re right.
But the beautiful thing about humans is that they’re also wrong.
Yes, sci-fi is a genre of what-if thought experiments. We write stories to entertain and escape our current world as well as to transcribe our experience. But in visiting worse, fictional worlds, we are awakened to the realities and potential pitfalls of our own: we only have to look at the sub-genre of Cyberpunk and its ‘MegaCorps’ to see the not-so-far-fetched ideas of consumerism gone wrong. Worlds of inequality and poverty dreamed of at the birth of the Internet have only worsened (or improved, depending how you look at it).
William Gibson’s world of sprawling wasteland which birthed a digital oasis has remained a classic for the same reason it has been a nuanced word of warning. Sci-fi creates reality, and yet reality creates science fiction.
The power structures between companies, governments, billionaires even, play out before us on the news and the very platforms they’ve created. If it were a book, they’d be the villains the hero rises against.
Ideas of companies above the law and in control of resources and policing are just as at home in Neal Stephenson’s words, Alice Sheldon’s stories, or even the burgeoning genre of LitRPG, as it is on our news feed.
They’re old ideas that don’t die, revisiting worlds of wonder and warning.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. The same what-if thought experiments which have given us dystopian futures, flying cities and light-skipping ‘heighliners’, have also given us characters who overcome those worlds.
Because, at the end of the day, it is characters that populate those futures.
Science-fiction has been, and always will be, in a hurry to envision the future, but it can’t exist without its arguably most important aspect.
Whether we’re in it or not, whether we’ve destroyed the world or saved it, given into greed and violence, or tamed our instincts and realized the similarities among us all, people must populate these stories.
Paul Atreidies’ burden in Frank Herbert’s Dune is more than riding the worm and controlling the spice. Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable trilogy is a space opera full of action and intrigue, but its core is still identity. Even Richard K. Morgan’s work of Altered Carbon begs the question of what humanity is, minus the body. Are we still ourselves in another human-bodied ‘sleeve’ as long as the memories and spirit are the same?
What is humanity if a character is an AI in a human body who was once a colossal battleship? Or an AI who is now exploring the universe as a human body? The fears of being a weaponized brain are just as real too, let alone discussing the intricacies of gender.
Ultimately, these are people problems.
All these stories shed light on the powers that be in our world. We revisit them again and again to learn. Surely, that is what makes us human?
Whether the future is now or in a thousand years, the mainstay of science fiction and its importance is to instill hope and wonder as much as it is to warn and cause fear.
We should be skeptical about the pace in which change happens, whether it’s fast or slow. There is good and bad in every decision and action, and if we don’t pay attention, we could find ourselves cast into the unknowns of space upon an island of barren rock.
It’s important to read Sci-Fi not to escape reality, but to see a world which has gone wrong and right. It is a genre of extremes. It may not be literary fiction, but only by pushing the boundaries of humanity in stories can we begin to make sense of it all.
Rose Atkinson-Carter writes for the Reedsy blog and when not buried in the pages of a good book, or writing one herself, likes to talk all things publishing. Whether guiding authors through the audiobook process, recommending the perfect writing software for writers, or helping others bring their ideas to life, it’s all a part of the joy of publishing.