A Few Thoughts on Sci-Fi

September 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

In answer to a query posed on the nature of my friends’ views of SF, I thought it fitting to ponder both ends of the academic spectrum: the humanities and the sciences. As a Freshman at Vanderbilt University, the past week has been a whirlwind of new faces, classes, and encounters. This abundance of novel experience has brought me into contact with students from a plethora of scholastic disciplines, all boasting unique and diverse perspectives. When I asked two of my peers about their opinions of science fiction, I received responses that reflected the grand diversity of opinion so characteristic of this university. One friend, an English major in Peabody College, espoused on Science Fiction from its humanistic core. He told me that in many respects, SF is an artistic outlet, a means of pushing society into an ethical dilemma, and then observing how humanity will function on the brink of a moral or technological precipice. Thus SF, despite its reputation for bombastic displays of time travel and intergalactic explosions, is most fundamentally an exploration of the human condition. As a genre it forces us to contemplate daunting questions: rationality, the great unknown, life after death; but also such visceral concepts as loss, fear, and pain. My second friend, an Engineering student, expressed a far different perspective. Hers was one of innovation and curiosity. Rather than muse on the human condition, she expressed to me an ebullience over the promise of future technologies. How exciting, she said, that in these works there exists a potential for such extreme societal development. A founding tenet of SF is that it presents an altered but still plausible reality. It is an art form in which we can analyze various predictions about the future without departing from our current reality.
Ideally SF is a melding of these two perspectives. It is the exploration of human nature under extraordinary, at times even extraterrestrial conditions, in which the promise of tomorrow and the reality of today are written into convergence. But perhaps the most exciting aspect of this genre is that it not only ruminates on change, but invites its readers to a metamorphosis of their own. As Darko Suvin writes, SF is a melting pot of technology and the human condition; “The aliens are a mirror to man just as the differing country is a mirror for his world. But the mirror is not only a reflecting one, it is also a transforming one, virgin womb and alchemical dynamo: the mirror is a crucible”.

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