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Sunday, January 08, 2012

The 2012 Science Fiction Experience, and Why I Read and Write SF

I'm joining a Thing -- not a challenge or competition or anything very structured -- called the 2012 Science Fiction Experience, described at Stainless Steel Droppings. As a contribution thereto, I'm posting something I wrote for my recently completed virtual book tour, titled "Why I Love Reading and Writing Science Fiction." Here goes....

I'll start with a caveat. I do not always write science fiction. For many otherwise fallow years, I wrote picture book manuscripts. More recently, between my current release and the sequel (still in rough draft), I wrote what I suppose is general fiction, if a novel in that category can take place in my fanciful notion of an afterlife.

That said, I am proud to write science fiction.

I don't remember when I started reading science fiction, but I'd guess I was around ten or eleven. I have been reading it ever since. The day I met my husband, twenty-five years ago, we talked for two hours about Robert A. Heinlein and assorted other SF authors. As you might suppose, our marriage exposed me to even more of the genre.

How do I love science fiction? Let me count the ways. . . .

Science fiction explores how human beings – whether acknowledged as such, or in any of innumerable disguises – react to the unexpected. How do they – how would we – cope with the fulfillment of anything from dream to nightmare? How will the future we anticipate surprise us? How will we surprise ourselves when we confront it?

Science fiction's imaginative settings allow us to examine familiar themes and problems with a fresh eye. (Star Trek, despite its flaws, was often excellent at using the trappings of science fiction to explore issues like racism, war and peace, patriotism, gender identity, ambition, love versus career, et cetera.) I am a lawyer; I am writing a series of short stories which will eventually include legal issues raised by certain future technologies. I have long been fascinated by twins: my novel Twin-Bred features fraternal twins (carried by host mothers) belonging to different species. I have been deeply interested in parenthood since becoming a mother: I can create aliens for whom parenthood is in many ways different, and in some fundamental ways the same.

Science fiction paves the way. Its authors, often scientists themselves, extrapolate from current technology and knowledge, and make educated guesses about what we will be able to invent. Often they guess correctly. It might be easier to identify the scientific advances of the last sixty years that were not predicted in science fiction than to list those that were. By working within the constraints of scientific theory, science fiction honors those who have spent their lives helping us understand our universe (and any meta-universe which may include it).

Finally, science fiction gives the would-be builder of worlds a place to play. While fantasy does the same, science fiction imposes certain constraints – and as many a poet would testify, some constraints can actually spur creativity. At any rate, I find satisfaction in knowing that what I have imagined, or what another author lays before me, could possibly exist. Science fiction authors differ in how hard they strive to ensure that the physical features of their planets, aliens, and technologies fit within our current scientific theories (or at least, scientific hypotheses held by at least one adventurous scientist out there). No scientist myself, I still try fairly hard. I use my husband, whose scientific knowledge runs broad and deep, as my technical adviser – but if I really want to make the sky green, or put multiple sails on the sailboat, or whatever, and he is skeptical, I just keep researching until (with luck) I find some more or less plausible basis to do so. On the other hand, unlike historical fiction, where the possibility of error lurks behind every detail, the amount of research need not be too intimidating.

I'd love to see comments about what visitors to this blog like most about science fiction -- or about any problems they have with the genre.


Roger Lawrence said...

I too love writing SF. I've tried many others genres but always return. With SF we can never be restrained as writers. The universe knows no bounds and even if our work is incredible (using the original meaning of the word) everything is possible and nothing lies beyond the bounds of our imagination.

Cath said...

I always think that science fiction appeals to intelligent people. You have to be quite open-minded to read it I think - accepting of all kinds of ideas.

I left a comment on your 'Books of 2011' post and then got an 'undelivered e.mail' alert in my inbox. Not sure what's going on, just thought I'd let you know.