I happened to be Exeter yesterday and with a little amount of time to spare I popped into the local Waterstones. of course the science fiction and fantasy section had to be in the basement. When I think of the other Waterstones that I visit, the science fiction is always tucked furthest away from main entrance in a corner where there is no passing trade.
Why should this be when science fiction is the Queen of genres? …it is the Queen because it is the genre that has the most imagination, the greatest number of ideas and largest scope for including all the other genres within its remit. It is the genre that can cover any who, where, what, why, when and how.
And yet it is tucked away at the back or bottom of the Waterstones’ branches.
In fact the themes of science fiction have been around since at least 2nd Century AD when Lucien of Samosata wrote A True Story that includes alien lifeforms, travel to outer space and interplanetary warfare. So the genre, even it has not been called science fiction has been around a very long time.
And still, it is tucked away in Waterstones as if it should be bought only secretively by people to be read furtively in private with no-one else around..
It isn’t as if science fiction is not relevant to our everyday lives either. Societal commentaries on our lives have been around since at least H G Wells published The Time Machine. The impact of potential scientific inventions have been shown ever since Mary Shelley published Frankenstein. Science Fiction brings both warnings and potential solutions. Things that we all ought to have interest in if not for our own sake, for the sake of our children and their descendants.
And despite this,, it is hidden away in the hinter-most parts of Waterstones, as if we as a society are to kept away from such dangerous reality and potential power.
The science fiction books that were sprinkled among the fantasy books were mainly the genre’s classics. New novels were rare in comparison. I suspect this might be the case in other genres, but it does point to a reliance on past glories. Yet the Queen of genres has accrued the aura of the new. This in a way is a contraction in terms. This is not condemning the classic science fiction to being fog-bound in the past, these novels are just as relevant today as when they were first published.
What is missing is the nuance our recent history imposes on science fiction, things like the lessons learnt from our recent mistakes, the diversion of our socio-economic and technological trends from what could be sensibly foreseen, and the unexpected changes in our environment such as the devastation caused by Dutch Elm disease on a single species of trees that resulted with the loss of a wood that was good when working with water systems.
Another thing that is missing from science fiction is a clear identification of what is as yet unknown. This is more to do with the difficulty in foreseeing how science discoveries that are not immediately tangible to the person in the street can be seen to affect their lives. How can for instance the discovery of various types of axions affect our everyday lives? Or maybe how better understanding of how dark matter was formed would would make our lives better? If a discovery does not affect a person, why write about it?
Identifying what we don’t know and where it touches the known is one important thing. Because science fiction can be about how we cross into the unknown, and more importantly a science fiction can do what they like with the unknown. All sorts of things can happen there, some good, some bad, some with an overall neutral effect. This is the type of area where science fiction produce interesting results.
The other important thing is to extrapolate science trends and see where they can interact in new ways. In a sense the unknown here is what the interaction is. The Wright Brothers flew because they could apply controls to steer their flight, not because they knew how to produce aerodynamic lift.
So what are the science areas of interest now that could lead to interesting new innovations of the future? Where do I start? The list is long, certainly far too long to put into a blog post. I’m sure you can think of your own.
In fact Queen Science Fiction waits on your attendance to identify and write about the 99-plus percent of the potential future worlds that have not yet been published.