Why Science Fiction May Save Us All

by David King on May 29, 2012

For as long as I can remember, I have loved science fiction.

As an adult, I’ve realized my love for science fiction as something more – something closer to an appreciation, both creatively and intellectually. I now love science fiction for its ability to address life’s most challenging questions in ways not possible by other genres.

For this reason, I believe that science fiction may save us all.

My favorite high school read was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, hands down. It remains my favorite read to this day. In addition to underscoring the social and cultural importance of the written word (and by extension, the human imagination), Bradbury also accomplished the difficult task of warning us against censorship guised as protection of minority rights (or, more simply, the avoidance of stepping on toes). While its more obvious book-burning message remains valuable, Fahrenheit’s deeper and more complex warning against extreme political correctness is one we rarely encounter. Yet it is particularly poignant today.

In my opinion, Bradbury was spot on. In his classic piece of literature, after all, book-burning was the outcome of protective censorship, beginning with the deletion of a word here or a sentence there that might be interpreted as offensive to one particular group or another – a slippery slope that was anecdotally referenced in the author’s afterword. Perhaps to the surprise of many, seemingly minor (but potentially disastrous) forms of censorship continue to occur. For instance, the latest North American edition of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has sanitized all 200 or so uses of the N-word by replacing it with slave. Surely I don’t need to write an entire blog post about the dangers of editing, censoring, and cleaning up history – such an act is shocking, to say the least. It is a betrayal of the past.

Yet science fiction warned us of the dangers of such censorship long ago. While we may not foresee firefighters being employed as book-burners in the near future, one step down the slippery slope makes the next step that much easier – and more slippery.

In addition to its timely futuristic scare tactics, science fiction also bears light on our deepest and most fundamental questions as a species. From the composition and definition of consciousness in books like Clarke’s Childhood’s End and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, to defining our ethics in Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau or challenging our heteronormative world in Russ’ The Female Man, science fiction is full of the stuff our minds and dreams are really made of. It doesn’t get any deeper than this. And it doesn’t get any more important.

And then, of course, there is the wonder – the pure thrill ride of imaginings. At its heart, science fiction is both mental musing and meaningful metaphor. Although science fiction may not actually save us, it does more to make us question our world (and therefore question ourselves) than any other genre. Even Star War was founded on fundamental messages of war and peace and, one could argue, of acceptance of cultural and ethnic diversity (in the cross-species sense, of course).

So to those who read, write, and otherwise entertain the curiosities of science fiction, I thank you. To those who judge it as nothing more than fanciful and fantastic escapism, I ask you to give it (and your imagination) a second chance.

There still are people who will come up to you and say: “Science Fiction? Ha! Why read that?!” The most direct, off-putting reply is: Science fiction is the most important fiction ever invented by writers. It saw a whole mob of troubles pouring toward us across the shoals of time and cried, “Head for the hills, the dam is broke!” But no one listened. Now, people have pricked up their ears, and opened their eyes. (Ray Bradbury, from Science Fiction)

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