Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why Science Fiction

I'm taking June off to go to Virginia and Disneyworld with the family before Rob deploys, so I'm rerunning some of writing posts I wrote for other blogs.

Rob and I have a confession to make:  Neither of us likes literary fiction much.  Oh, we can appreciate the classics like Dickens and Twain, and I was impressed by the beauty of the language in the Secret Lives of Bees, but when it comes to angst and personal reflection, we'd like to have that mixed in with some aliens or a rip-roaring space battle.

Too often, however, science fiction gets a bum rap.  People see only the aliens or the fantastic battles in space, or they classify science fiction with "Godless" fiction, and doubt it has any redeeming value beyond entertainment. 

The truth is, science fiction is often used to examine the big issues in an entertaining and "safe" environment.  Star Trek, of course, is well known for this, but it's not unique.  Aldous Huxley's 1984 is a classic example--an examination of a future world where comfort and security have taken supreme precedence over individuality.  This book, written in 1931, still informs our political decisions, as we balance our own needs for security against letting our government become a "Big Brother."

Another great example, made into a movie not so long ago, was Isaac Asimov's I, Robot.  The crux of the story (and of many of Asimov's other robot stories) were the Three Laws of Robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
At the heart of the stories lie the questions:  Can you legislate morality?  Is Right more than a set of rules to follow?

Science fiction tackles other big issues, too--prejudice (against aliens rather than a particular race--check out the TV show Alien Nation); conflict of cultures and the origin of ethics (Patchwork Girl by Larry Niven); Little Brother by Cory Doctorow looks at the opposite side of 1984--people banding together in reaction to the "Big Brother" state.  Naturally, it also looks at the impact technology has on our lives--a good one for that is Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge, where Alzheimer's patients are cured and must reintegrate into a radically different society from the one they remember.

It is true that religion does not often play a large role in science fiction, but often, the spirituality lies behind the scenes.  However, religion in speculative fiction, even science fiction, is becoming more prevalent.  When Rob and I wrote our first anthology of Christian SF, Leaps of Faith (, we were in a small pool of writers.  Now, the presence is growing, not only with publishers (like Splashdown and Marcher Lord) that are focusing on religious speculative fiction, but also with secular publishers willing to take a shot at well written books of any kind.  We're proud to be part of it with our Catholic science fiction anthologies, Infinite Space, Infinite God and Infinite Space, Infinite God II (  These last two anthologies look specifically at our faith in the future and how science and faith interact, inspire and guide humankind. (And the stories feature fantastic conflicts in time and space!) So for those looking for a more specific religious interaction, take heart!  It's out there.

Science fiction is a lot of fun. It's exciting and escapist and fully fantastic.  However, it's also a great way to examine the big issues of our time in an environment that is removed from our day and age.

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