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Oct 23 2011

Why SF Is Important

Last Sunday, I posted my own thoughts on the importance of speculative fiction. Okay, yes, it was a rant. I do that sometimes, when things get up my nose.

We’re going to follow up here today with a fantastic post that inspired me to post that one. It’s called In Defense of Geekery: Why Society Needs SF/F. It’s written by Becky Chambers. I want to buy her a drink. I want to buy her several. Because she managed to say what I needed to say in far fewer words:

The other kicker is that our stories are ones that could be, not ones that are. This is a vital distinction. If I tell you a disturbing story, and I say, “this is how it is right now,” you may be motivated to do something about it. More likely, however, you will end up like me and my friends, picking at fries and feeling hopeless. You’ll feel pessimistic and disillusioned. You’ll feel like our species totally sucks.
But if I show you a fantastical place – even a scary one – that lights up all the little imaginative parts of your brain, and I tell you, “this is how it could be,” that opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.

“This is how it could be.” That’s exactly what we writers of SF are telling folks, only we’re not bawling it in their faces, but whispering it in their ears. We’re giving them a delicious tingle down the spine. We’re giving them ideas. We are, in fact, inspiring them.

Here, for me, is the money quote, one I may have to have printed on pamphlets to distribute in venues where Very Helpful People may approach me to advise I am wasting my life and my talents writing fantasy when I could be writing something useful instead:

But what about fantasy? Fantasy can’t exist, no matter how we may long for a dragon heartstring wand or a dire wolf pup. What value can there be in exploring an impossible world?
Well, what if we frame the question differently? What if we ask, “What value can there be in exploring character studies in heroism, friendship, creativity, perseverance, and bravery?”
…yeah, that’s not even a question.

It’s really not.

And the brilliant thing about what we SF writers do is this: we change lives and minds, inspire people to do great things (read the whole of Becky’s article, and you will see how Star Trek gave a little girl the stars), perhaps even save the world, and we do it whilst entertaining the hell out of them.

There are some great jobs in this world. I personally think being a geologist is near the top, and there’s stuff like firefighter and astronaut and cake decorator that are a damned lot of fun and make people’s lives better. There are many careers a person can have that are fun, rewarding, and necessary.

But I personally can’t think of one I love more than SF Author.

2 comments

  1. 1
    DuWayne

    I was depressed when I was nine. I mean wanted to die (though not suicidal persay, because I was a fundie), wanted to get away from everything I hated about myself and the people around me.* But I had books – books that were chock full of interesting things like space travel, aliens, elves, magical swords and wizards…What was important, was that they were able to not only take me away from my own reality – they could take me to places that existed nowhere else, but on those pages and in imaginations.

    Post fundamentalism, when mental illness really started to express itself in force (a major symptom being substance abuse), I packed a bag, tied some camping oriented gear to it and started thumbing my way around the U.S. and abroad. I slept outside a lot, lived off of coffee (when I could scrounge for it) and cigarettes most of the time and rarely bathed more than once a week (sometimes less). I usually had a copy of “Brave New World” and always manged to have a couple of other sf novels – mostly because as much as they suck, people are pretty decent for the most part. It didn’t matter if I was underdressed for cold weather – I could pick up a book and get the hell off this planet – at least as we know it, for a while.

    Settling down, I roofed for a while, supplementing that with odd jobs (I can fix virtually anything connected to a house). And then I was home with my very young son and a partner who essentially despised me because I wasn’t becoming the person she wanted in a partner – never having agreed to be that person (not that our problems were all her fault – they weren’t by any stretch). I would have wonderful fun with my Caleb, but he eventually went to bed and I was stuck considering my reality – which for the most part really sucked…Thankfully, I could escape it all for a while with some kick ass SF.

    And now I am 35, working my way towards a PhD or two and am also the only parent to two boys, Dave who is almost four and Caleb who is now approaching ten. I am completely sober and forced to contend with the very serious tole events have taken on my **Cay. Suffice to say, my reality really sucks about now and I don’t even have recreational drugs to help me escape. I do however, have SF audio books and SF tee vee. Between those and my meds, I manage to stave off a complete breakdown.

    I don’t want to read about the exceptional life or shit story or sordid affairs of other humans that are like many of the people around us (with a few exceptions). To be honest, I’ve had enough of that in my own life and even where I haven’t, leaving this world behind is incredibly important to me – a lifeline, if you will. I guess it could be put more concisely; some of us have shit enough lives, that escaping the reality of our world can be very comforting.

    What I find amusing in this, is that on the rare occasions I write anything non-fiction, it is never SF…

    * It was at nine that I realized virtually nobody actually understood any of the ideas I expressed – they were just smiling and nodding, because what could a nine year old be thinking that’s of any value.

    ** Among other upheavals, his mom took off with him and his brother for almost two years – just when I had started back to school – to a place I had no support. Then she handed them over to me a year ago this month and has communicated with them six times – by phone and letter.

  2. 2
    Aliasalpha

    Anyone who bitches about sci-fi not mattering needs to be forced to study the american culture of the 50s & 60s and then watch all the scifi of the era (especially Star Trek & The Invaders) to see just how rebellious & subversive they managed to be.

    Especially in a world where the only way they could get away with an interracial kiss was by “accidently messing up” the retake.

    Especially since it was only a decade before that artists were being blacklisted as communists on the most tenuous of grounds.

    Especially since they constantly tackled thought provoking societal issues by cloaking them in a framework of escapist entertainment about space ships & aliens (occasionally with zippers running down their back).

    Yeah maybe I was wrong initially, the people who think scifi doesn’t matter just need a damned good slap.

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