Eight Reasons to Read Science Fiction

I find myself continually being drawn to science fiction. It’s not my love of futuristic gadgetry or my wish to obtain Jedi powers (although the mind does wander). No, my proclivity toward science fiction has more to do with how it leads my mind to think.

I never really got into science fiction novels until recently, which is unfortunate considering the current trends are more toward fantasy, dystopias, and a little time travel thrown in the mix. I think part of the reason it took me so long to read science fiction was a combination of post-collegiate pretension and a lack of awareness. I sought higher, mainstream fiction. I’m not sure where my love for the genre began — perhaps it was C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy or possibly even Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. These were books that broadened my mind into new ways of thinking. Shortly after reading a few other science fiction titles, I made my way through Stargate SG-1 on Netflix and found similar cerebral challenges.

Science Fiction is not just about technology, robots, and laser guns. It is about ideas. It is about exploring new ways of thinking about our past and future. Here are eight reasons why you should read it too:

  1. It gives us a better perspective of humanity. Many people are fascinated with the nuances of other cultures. What we often fail to recognize are the commonalities that we share. Children are conceived by a man and a woman. We survive by breathing air and eating animals and plants grown from the ground. Our societies have family structures as a subset of a larger civil government. We celebrate religious festivals and mark time by the movement of our solar system. In science fiction, we are able to study anthropology from a different viewpoint, stripping away some of the things we take for granted. An alien culture may provide a completely different viewpoint on what makes us human. New technology also allows us to explore what humans are capable of if they were not limited to the space and time of our world. There are endless ways to explore humanity within the structure of a science fiction narrative.
  2. It inspires innovation. We live in an age where information can be shared faster than ever before. This is mostly because of the internet, perhaps the biggest innovation of the last quarter century. But what else is there? Yes, we have mobile phones and new digital devices, but generally speaking, the latest advances in technology are aimed at making the same tools faster and smaller. The last century brought mass production of the automobile, flight, and put a man on the moon. We are over a decade into the 21st century and it seems that the general populace has become complacent. Science fiction helps us to imagine what is possible.  It allows us to explore the impossible without the cost of government programs or research.
  3. We see further into the future. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This famous advice (I believe from George Santayana) is crucial to the present and helps us avoid repeating mistakes of the past. But it fails to move us in a direction for the future. Most of our scientific research is funded by the government. Decisions are based on four-year election cycles and some of the projects that are long in scope fail to launch. Science fiction gives us an opportunity to study the possibilities of the future much further ahead of what research grants allow.
  4. It provides a unique setting for exploring philosophical or religious beliefs. It seems strange to me the connection between morality and time. Those who follow religious principles are often viewed as having archaic morals. Many viewed slavery as being acceptable up until a couple hundred years ago. Today, the defining of marriage and sexual relationships is at the forefront of ethical discussions. Divorcing ourselves from history and modern culture allows us to look at morality independent of time. Alien cultures permit new ways of approaching the subject that are not typically handled outside of science fiction.
  5. It allows us to explore social consequence. Human behavior is a function of the tools available. Life had lesser value during the dark ages when medical technology was lacking and the life expectancy was but a fraction of what it is today. Before the automobile, it was quite common for husbands to leave their families for weeks on end to support their family. Social media has changed the way we interact with people and lifetime partners are sometimes found through dating sites. Science fiction allows us to study the social consequence of various inventions and gives us a glimpse of how technological advancements can either benefit or hinder a society.
  6. It inspires young minds. I was privileged to participate in an SAE program called A World in Motion, where we taught fourth and fifth graders about science and they applied this knowledge to fun projects. The goal of this program was to encourage young people to get excited about the sciences, hopefully leading them to pursue an engineering or science degree in college. Science fiction can inspire young minds in a similar manner and can make science cool once again.
  7. It allows us to learn with enjoyment. Let’s be honest, science can sometimes be dry. I am an engineer by trade, so I occasionally will find myself reading science books, but I know it is not typical. I recently completed reading the book 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson and in addition to reading an enjoyable story, I now have more knowledge about the planets and moons in our solar system and how humanity might inhabit them. Science fiction can teach in areas of medicine, physics, chemistry, and several other fields in ways that makes the reader actually want to learn.
  8. Science fiction provides great escapism. Perhaps this reason is the least important on the list, but don’t rule out its importance. Stress is a huge detriment to our health and well-being and to be able to escape from the problems of this world and enjoy new and exciting places cannot be overrated. There are endless possibilities within the framework of science fiction and it gives the reader a chance to escape from the difficulties of our own lives.
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4 Comments

  1. penelopeirene

     /  June 10, 2012

    Good thoughtful blog Peter. I struggle with sci-fi books although I love ‘futures’ stuff and agree that Government short-termism blocks innovative and lasting change. Thank you and I will read your recommendations.

    Reply
    • Peter

       /  June 10, 2012

      Thanks for the comment. I can see how sci-fi books can be a bit of a struggle, but thankfully the genre is diverse.

      Reply
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