In Defense Of The ‘Fiction’ In Science Fiction
Why Proponents Of “Hard” Sci-Fi Are Missing A Valuable Point
There is a debate raging among fans of science fiction.
The argument is the best science fiction is only based within the realm of scientific possibility.
Labeled hard science fiction, ardent fans of this storytelling style scoff at genre tropes considered more fantastical, such as faster-than-light spaceships, suspended animation, and universal translators.
Well-known authors of hard science fiction novels include Michael Crichton, Arthur C. Clarke, Cixin Lu, Iain M. Banks, Neal Stephenson, Andy Weir, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Alastair Reynolds.
Films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Martian, as well as the acclaimed television series The Expanse, are onscreen examples of hard science fiction.
While I enjoy hard science fiction stories and respect the skill involved in melding heavily researched scientific concepts with a compelling story, I also feel more fantastical science fiction makes significant contributions too, and dismissing those kinds of narratives as inconsequential fluff is unfair.
What many hard science fiction fans neglect to recognize is the more fantastical stories within the genre often prove to be visionary and almost prophetic given time.
For example, the classic 1818 Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein is considered to be a horror story, but I feel it is science fiction.
Shelley’s tale of a brilliant scientist who grafts together body parts and organs from various cadavers to reanimate them is wild, macabre fantasy to 19th-century readers.
Fast forward a few centuries, though, and organ transplants have become a modern medical reality.
Let’s go even further back in time to the ancient Greek myth of Icarus.
Icarus is the tale of a man who used wings crafted from bird feathers and wax to defy gravity and soar through the air like a bird.
The idea of humans gaining the capability of flight is considered fantasy until the late 18th-century when the hot air balloon capable of carrying humans aloft was invented.
More fantastical science fiction often contains concepts that seem to be far beyond the realm of scientific possibility — until our understanding of the physical world expands and plays catch up.
Science fiction authors and storytellers are renowned for using their imaginations to create futuristic concepts which eventually become the basis for actual scientific exploration, research, and development.
In this brief video, acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson explains how she — without possessing any science degree or formal training — imagined an advanced application for nanotechnology:
Science fiction emphasizing the fantastic contributes as much to the genre as stories based on currently accepted scientific principles.
Without question, great science fiction — especially fantastical science fiction — also helps contribute to scientific advancement by stimulating curiosity and imagination.
Fantastical science fiction stories inspire us to expand past the boundaries of our understanding. We are motivated to imagine new solutions to problems and to create those solutions through exploration, innovation.
I am sure every fan will agree that the common denominator shared by all great science fiction is the presence of a compelling and engaging story.
So let’s give science fiction that celebrates unbridled imagination and creativity its due.
Rod Faulkner is a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan, as well as the founder of The7thMatrix.com, an ad-free site that promotes SFF web series and short films made by independent filmmakers. Any donation to help the site continue its mission is greatly appreciated.
Rod is also the author of the short film guide 200 Best Online Sci-Fi Short Films.