Why Science Fiction?
by Brian Plante
Not too long after I decided to try my hand at fiction writing, I signed up for a local creative writing course. All modesty aside, I was easily the most likely to succeed from that group, including the teacher. I turned in a new short story each week, and while these were not absolute gems, each one had an interesting idea and a reasonable plot. The teacher was encouraging, but she wasn't very knowledgeable about science fiction. One week I brought in a story where the SF element was a bit more subtle than my usual. The teacher really liked this story. Part of it was because she totally missed the SF element of the tale, but what really bothered me was a comment she made:
"I knew you could do better than those science fictions stories."
The teacher meant that as a compliment. She believed that science fiction was not "real" writing, and that this story was better than my other work because (in her mistaken belief) it was a mainstream piece. Needless to say, I don't have a fond memory of this teacher.
I get this same attitude often from other people, including those close to me -- friends and family who know I write, but think I should forget about science fiction and write more "serious" work. To them, SF is kid's stuff. To some extent, I suppose they're right. SF is kid's stuff. If you weren't hooked on SF in your early years, you will most likely never get it. The golden age of science fiction is fourteen.
Of course, a great many people never encounter written science fiction at this age. Many others do get into SF briefly, but grow out of it as they get older, like baseball cards and comic books. To these groups, people like me who still read and write SF are cases of arrested development.
Let's be brutally honest here. The type of person who latches onto science fiction and refuses to let go is typically male, adolescent and an outsider. The popular kids don't often turn into SF fanboys. SF gives kids at that age new worlds that they can escape to, where differentness is often an asset. The oddball often triumphs in SF, and the alienated adolescent can identify strongly with that. Some of you longtime science fiction fans reading this may disagree here, but I'm generalizing wildly.
As a kid, I was very shy, skinny, and brainy. Yeah, I suppose I was destined to be a science fiction reader. Other traits common to the fans are obesity, acne, homosexuality, physical deformities, and handicaps. No, not every science fiction fan exhibits all (or any) of these traits, but anyone who's been to SF conventions would probably agree that fans do show these traits in higher numbers than the general population.
I'm not exactly skinny anymore, and I'm less shy than I was. Maybe I'm still a bit brainy. But the science fiction hooks were set well in my adolescence, and I continue to read the stuff. I read lots of other types of books, too, but SF is my comfort literature.
No matter how folks get into science fiction, we don't need to be ashamed of it as adolescent literature. The core fans and writers are no longer kids, and as we aged, SF grew more mature with us. If you were one of the folks who liked SF as a kid, but grew out of it, modern SF probably isn't the same as you remember. Oh, sure there's plenty of fluff and media tie-ins, but the hard core written SF is a mature form.
Why science fiction? Well, why mystery, fantasy, horror, suspense, western, or romance? All fiction can be considered part of some genre, if you consider "mainstream" and "literary" as genres, too. None of these genres is inherently better than any other, although the "literary" crowd generally looks down their noses at the others.
For my money, science fiction presents the broadest possible canvas on which to paint a story. SF stories can be set in any time or location, with any cast of characters you can imagine. Elements of romance, suspense, horror, and just about any other genre you name can all be written into SF stories. SF readers welcome all of this, which not generally true of the readership of the other genres.
Finally, science fiction has a fairly active scene for short fiction, which is no small factor in my decision to start my writing career with SF short stories. None of the other genres have as many quality markets where good work can be sold and read, and there is a long tradition of recognizing talent at the shorter levels.
Why not science fiction?
Copyright © 2000 Brian Plante Count=5007
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