The domestication of science fiction

Science fiction is one of my favourite literary genres, beside treatises’ and other kinds of classical literature. In some ways I like science fiction for the wrong reasons. You may be wondering, what kind of ‘wrong reasons’ could there be?

Science fiction is a genre that, in its origins, was genuinely challenging and thought provoking. Now, I wonder sometimes if science fiction is actually a ‘genre’, or is something that most people are willing to accept within part of a story. Or, in the context of film, drama and gaming, is just another part of the furniture that no one shall come to question. This latter aspect leads to the sterility of the genre.

Has science fiction been around for long enough so as to establish itself as part of a pantheon of literary classics? What counts as science fiction? Another component of the sterility of science fiction is the uncritical acceptance of space opera, flying spacecraft and technological superiority. People are so exposed to certain kinds of science fiction idiom that we do not often see it as anything else. It is, as if, science fiction has become another branch of cocaygne fantasy.

Consider aspects of science fiction which, while we consider gritty, reflect not only our own social condition, but the general ambience of the human condition: The Time Machine is perhaps a cliche case; social stratification. A book that I had recently read was Harry Harrison’s Deathworld, where a stratification operated as two parts of a complete organism, within the context of issues concerning the issue of the ‘scarcity gap’. Do we have enough resources to fulfill the needs and wants of all people? If not, how do our attitudes change to the recognition of this fact? (or in our case, how do our attitudes not change).

Living in space should be uncomfortable and ugly, where the water should constantly be acknolwedged as recycled piss, realising this makes science fiction a fucutre less glamorous. A common meme of future times is the flying car, some authors ironically point to the fact that technology either has not or cannot reach such a level despite the reader’s expectation. Good science fiction ought to take us out of what is our comfort zone of literary, social and scientific expectation. Thinking outside the box, and unfamiliar ideas are brought to the fore as a response to social and ecological problems.