Confessions of a Science Fiction Addict

31 01 2009

“Science fiction is difficult to define…” [1]

“In general, science fiction is considered to be a genre that explores the question “what if?” [2]

“Science fiction allows us to understand and experience our past, present, and future… ” [2]

I’m a science fiction addict, and not afraid to admit it. It all started when I was about 9 years old and I first watched the original Star Wars trilogy. The Jedi knights defending the galaxy against evil with magical powers and wielding ancient and elegant weapons that could cut through an arm swifter than the sharpest sword. It was a lot of pure action, but it was also an interesting plot. It was good vs evil, father vs son, and a galaxy full of possibilities. I wanted to explore and know more, and picked up the first book of the Jedi Apprentice series by Jude Watson. Nearly 20 books later, I picked up the first book of the New Jedi Order series, a more adult themed series set in a different time of the Star Wars universe. Another 20 or so books later, and my interest began to wane.

For years I didn’t do a lot of reading, until one day I picked up Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for a book report. It was amusing, and a new universe to explore, something different than my narrow exploration of the Star Wars universe. The next book I picked up, again for a book report, was 1984 by George Orwell. If there was one book that got me permanently hooked on science fiction, this would be it. Not set far off in another universe, but right here in Earth in the future, the book tells a tail unimaginable before I read it. It’s a tail of evil, government power, insanity, censorship, rebellion, love, tragedy, and desperation. It shows a very dark possibility for our own future and tells of humanity while keeping you turning the pages to find out what will happen. I highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it, even if you have little to no interest in the genre of science fiction. Since then, I’ve read over 50 novels from great authors such as Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Robert A. Heinlein , and Philip K Dick. If you want to find me between classes at ASU, I’ll likely be hidden in some corner of the library lost in a realm who’s limits are only those of the imagination.

1984 is also a perfect example of what great science fiction is. The where, when, and who is unimportant, but scifi pushes the limits of imagination and explores the unthought of possibilities. In the process it raises great questions about society, morality, human nature, and the nature of the universe itself. In the end you really feel a sense of wonder and awe that no other book genre brings. It poses thought provoking questions and answers them with unexpected possibilities.

What if robots thought they were human?

What if humans fear that they’re robots?

What if we could see the future? Would we arrest criminals before they commit crimes? Do we have the right to kill them before they were born?

What if we’re living in a virtual reality?

What if a supercomputer thought it was God?

What if an alien race killed because they didn’t understand death?

What if you lived in a 2D world?

What if time travel was possible?

What if there are parallel universes?

What if there was a language that could brainwash people?

What if a boy destroyed an entire alien species without knowing it?

What if a robot had to kill millions to save humanity, but was programmed to not kill?

In answering these questions, more often than not we learn more about ourselves. Scifi is “both mirror and prism through which to view our world” [3].  For example, the TV adaption of  “Jerry Was a Man” by Robert A. Heinlein is about an attempt by a robot to achieve human rights.

A lawyer demonstrates his humanity through three traits: first, his fondness for singing “Jingle Bells”; second, his willingness to tell a lie in order to obtain a cigarette; third (and most significant) his sense of self-preservation, which his lawyer proves by showing footage of Jerry shoving a fellow Joe minesweeper into the path of a mine. The implication is that Jerry proves his humanity not by any of the virtues he might possess, but rather by his selfishness. [4]

There’s something more to science fiction than this alone though. It’s always different, it’s filled with worlds that work differently than our own. Sometimes I linger reading a trilogy or a series, but then I move onto something entirely different. Not just new characters, but a new world, a new set of laws for the universe to follow. On the other hand, most science fiction doesn’t entirely make things up, but skirts the boundaries of technology and physics. Many of said boundaries become commonplace after enough time. The science fiction writers imagine, the scientists invent.







2 responses

1 02 2009

Whatever your field of study, you might enjoy _The Sociology of the Possible_ edited by Richard Ofshe. The book is a collection of sociological essays and sci-fi stories, including “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes and “The Snowball Effect” by Katherine MacLean. I was delighted when a professor at my college gave away a second edition copy years ago.

Of course, there are bigger anthologies that are easier to find. What I like about _Sociology of the Possible_ is it shows sci-fi stories as learning tools as well as entertainment.

1 02 2009

Hmm, sounds interesting. Now if I can only find a copy. It seems a tad unpopular, for my college’s library placed it in the “storage stacks”, which require weeks of waiting to get it out of. Amazon doesn’t even have a description of it.

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