Speak out with your geek out; or, in defense of science fiction

As I've mentioned, I'm totally sick, and I should probably hold off on attempting any writing until I have the energy to, you know, go outside and that sort of thing. But nay! I foolishly persevere! In particular, I'm going to do a Speak Out With Your Geek Out post about science fiction (I was alerted Speak Out by Sporkchop). I'm doing this because I am generally opposed to bullying, narrow-mindedness, and unethical "journalism."

When it comes to judging the quality of literature, narrow-mindedness is nothing new. My father was extremely defensive about his love for short stories, because when he was growing up, it was believed that short stories were for people who who were too dumb to read all the way through a novel. Eudora Welty is believed to have been robbed of the Nobel Prize for Literature because she wrote about the American South, and at that time it was thought that regional literature was for people who were too dumb to understand universal themes (you know--universal themes like what it's like to live in the Left Bank or Greenwich Village).

There's plenty of bad sci-fi out there, but there's plenty of bad everything out there. Refusing to read something because it's science fiction makes about as much sense as refusing to read short stories or regional writers--you're really, really just hurting yourself.

So, here's what I like about science fiction:

It's about the larger questions. Science fiction tends to be about either 1. society or 2. spirituality.

People often don't realize that. They think science fiction is either about 1. technology or 2. aliens. But at least the stuff I like isn't about technology or aliens in some kind of vacuum--it's about how these things affect humanity. If we had intelligent robots, how would people interact with them? If aliens landed, what would we do to them? How is technology used by governments to control people? If we had some kind of superhuman power, what would it do to us? Do we own our machines or do they own us? What is the purpose of humanity? How does the past affect the present and future? Is reality the here and now, or is it something somewhere else? What will become of us?

Even adventure sci-fi asks these kinds of questions, if it is good. You don't get this claustrophobic focus on the individual that seems to be the mark of Serious Literature these days. That individual focus can be done well, but it can also result in books that are entirely about the author's genitals and/or need for approval. Cracking open a sci-fi book after reading a book like that is like leaving a hermetically-sealed room and taking your first deep breath of fresh, clean air.

Unless you're reading Philip K. Dick, in which case it's like leaving a hermetically-sealed room and taking your first deep breath of hallucinogenic gas. But it's still pretty awesome.