Why Sci-Fi?: An exploration of Genre

Recently, one of my Instagram followers commented on how I often passionately post about Sci-Fi writers and works that they have never heard of. Classics that have somehow not been on everyone’s radar, and new writers who have been overshadowed by those in other, more popular genres.

If you don’t already follow me on IG, please do! You can find me @sarahdoesscifi and join in on some of the live discussions we get into, not just about SF but about reading, writing, life, and what makes us tick.

What makes you tick?

The question got me thinking. What is it about science fiction, or speculative fiction, that gives me those visceral reactions?

I read very widely. I love mysteries and crime dramas; I love fantasy and magical realism; I love action and suspense; I love fancy pants literary fiction. The only genres I don’t read are romance and erotica. No, I am not a prude. I just don’t like them. That’s allowed, dammit!

Rarely, though, do I ever gush about any of these other genres. I’ll happily recommend it to others who enjoy similar books, I’ll say that I loved it. “Great book!” I will say, and I will mean it.

But I’m not going to write a blog post or book review extolling its virtues. I’m just not. Because I never, with the exception of some literary fiction and memoir, have ever truly felt changed by any book that was not science fiction.

So, Why Sci-Fi?

Science Fiction is real. It tackles real life problems, or future problems, and it attempts to solve them. Sometimes, it demonstrates how those solutions might fail.

I’m not saying that fantasy or crime thrillers or romance novels can’t be realistic. I believe all good fiction is based in reality in one way or another. Human interactions have to be recognizable to the reader’s experience. The laws of the story world must be obeyed.

Writers across genres are telling us something about what it means to be human. This is why we love to read. It’s a universal bonding experience to reach across the world, or into a fantasy world, and find a character that we love, can relate to, cheer for, or root against.

Terry Pratchett’s observations about human nature are brilliant and philosophical, for example. What Pratchett and most other genre writers don’t do is this:

They don’t offer solutions.

“The Most Important Artistic Genre”

I recently read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus. They, like good science fiction, caused a massive shift in my brain. He changed the way I thought about the world, about being human. He made me reconsider everything, spun me around, and pointed me in a different direction entirely.

“Today science fiction is the most important artistic genre,” Harari says in Episode 325 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It shapes the understanding of the public on things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.” — “Why Science Fiction is the Most Important Genre,” WIRED, 09/08/2018

Science Fiction is real. It is based on a speculation of what might happen if…

And those “what ifs” are real possibilities. They may be far fetched, the author might not get the science exactly right, but they don’t require magic or monsters to get the job done. They find solutions: the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

The Solution is Sci-Fi

The SF author’s job is to make people think about this world, the here and now. To inspire people. Science Fiction can provide distant early warnings about the paths we are currently on. They can show us our doom.

Better yet, they can show us our potential.

The Best of the Best

My favourite SF writers right now are N.K. Jemisin (Check out How Long ‘Til Black Future Month), Octavia E. Butler (I’m currently reading Parable of the Sower, and I also highly recommend the Lilith’s Brood trilogy for a serious look at what makes us human), Ken Liu (his short story collection Paper Menagerie is a great mix of SF&F), and Margaret Atwood (the Maddadam trilogy is wonderful).

Discussion

Do you read science fiction? What is your favourite thing about the genre? Who are your favourite authors, and why? Which genre do you get the most out of? Let me know in the comments!