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Thread: Science Fiction is Not About Science

  1. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by bazz cargo View Post
    So where do we stand on Poul Anderson's High Crusade? The novel, not the crap USA film.
    Shannara...post apocalypse adventure featuring genetically divergent versions of humanity and living machine based tech. Hmm....
    I had toyed with the idea of a rock band on tour round the solar system, Spinal Tap meets HHGTTG with some James Bond in the mix.
    If you could incorporate a touch of 'I Love Lucy' and 'Sabrina the teenage witch' into that you could have something to please the entire family.
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  2. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by bazz cargo View Post
    All genres of fiction are an exploration of the human species. Science Fiction has a special place, especially the speculative versions, in pointing out the folly making poor decisions. Mad Max is a warning of what will happen when we finally crash the world economy.

    Science Fiction is the perfect place to explore gender issues, slavery, corporate greed and misinformation. Don't knock sci fi, it will save the world.

    As an example of exploring tricky subjects I recommend a book that is so dated in attitudes and still thought provoking, and emotionally provoking.
    R A Heinlien's Farnam's Freehold. It is an historical document and as such will offend anyone looking to be offended.

    Anyone writing fiction to make a point?
    Most of my work addresses important contemporary sociological/political issues and certainly all of it 'makes a point' (or tries to) and yet I do not write science fiction and have almost no interest.

    Probably every writer thinks 'their genre' is the most powerful at 'exploration of the human species'. Otherwise why write it? But just because your story is set in the future or talking about 'an issue' doesn't make it useful.

    You specifically point to the feature of 'the folly making poor decisions' as being the signature theme of science fiction. And sure, I buy that, but at the same time I can immediately think of HUNDREDS of non-sci-fi stories that address 'the folly of bad decisions' and also do so very well. King Lear? Of Mice And Men? Bridget Jones's Diary? Atonement? Plenty of historical fiction illustrates this theme in the narrower context of the collapse of society, if that's important. I mean, anything set during the last days of World War II would do it. Or Rome. Or Jonestown. I could, with enough skill, write a fictional story set during the last days of the Roman Empire and make it equally as powerful/culturally relevant as Mad Max or anything else - provided the reader is able to get over the togas and sandals and draw the parallels.

    As for the other 'save the world' issues - Does any science fiction address slavery as 'perfectly' as 'Uncle Toms Cabin'? If so I haven't encountered it. And as far as what resonates on these issues, I'd pick realism over speculative any day. YMMV there, of course, but I do not feel not reading much science fiction grants me less insight on future problems. It's the opposite actually. Because when I read something that addresses a future issue by revisiting a past or present event (even if its totally fictionalized) I feel greater emotional investment. Being able to understand the background of a story set either now or during a time period I can be familiar with and know 'really happened' makes me more interested than something mostly or entirely envisioned in a world I am incapable of entirely comprehending.

    What Science Fiction does seem to offer is a way to address modern ideas (technology, climate change) in a context that requires virtually no nuance. You don't have to read between the lines much or at all to know that a book about a race of intelligent robots rising up and killing their human masters in 2030 is going to be about the potential dangers of technology in the near future. But that is not a thematic matter but one of plot...

    ...and, more importantly, the themes of that science fiction book may well be mirrored in horror or any number of other books! What's the thematic difference between intelligent robots rising up and killing people and an oppressed slave class guillotining a bunch of aristocrats? There does not appear to be any major difference, yet one is 'science fiction' and the other may well be Historical fiction. Are both not equally well placed to address the underlying point? I think they are.
    Last edited by luckyscars; February 22nd, 2019 at 07:29 AM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

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  3. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    What Science Fiction does seem to offer is a way to address modern ideas (technology, climate change) in a context that requires virtually no nuance. You don't have to read between the lines much or at all to know that a book about a race of intelligent robots rising up and killing their human masters in 2030 is going to be about the potential dangers of technology in the near future. But that is not a thematic matter but one of plot...

    ...and, more importantly, the themes of that science fiction book may well be mirrored in horror or any number of other books! What's the thematic difference between intelligent robots rising up and killing people and an oppressed slave class guillotining a bunch of aristocrats? There does not appear to be any major difference, yet one is 'science fiction' and the other may well be Historical fiction. Are both not equally well placed to address the underlying point? I think they are.
    Yes, to an extent conventional stories can cover the themes that science fiction does, but my point is that adding a touch of science fiction to a story enables one to take the issues further into the underlying concepts without the constraints placed on them by our reality. This is how science fiction has in the past addressed issues that haven't arisen in practice until decades later. As a mathematician I favour the reductio ad absurdum ("reduce to absurdity") approach to contentious issues. It doesn't necessarily resolve them but it does demonstrate that they are subject to context and that if that context changes over time then society's attitudes must also change or even should immediately.

    A good example (not taken from my own work this time) was the episode of Star Trek that depicted two alien races who were in perpetual conflict because they were different, but the difference was in fact ludicrously insignificant to the viewer. Both had skin that was half black and half white, but which sides of their bodies were black and which white differed between them. This effectively reduced the racial issue of skin colour to the same level as discrimination against people who are left-handed. Left-handedness was historically regarded as sinister, quite literally from the Latin word for "left", while right-handed people were regarded as dexterious, from the Latin word for "right". This old prejudice exists in other languages as well, e.g. the French word "gauche", literally meaning left but also used to signify ineptitude. Science fiction can easily equate skin colour discrimination to petty bias about handedness in a way that more conventional stories can't.

    No, I can't end without mentioning something from my own work of course. (Do I sense distant groans?) The many worlds model of reality now seems to be widely favoured within the theoretical science community, so even though it may be considered speculative it can hardly be regarded as a fantastic concept when used in fiction. There is however the view that reality is highly sensitive to very small differences and that therefore these parallel realities must differ enormously, but I have doubts about that. Not every flap of a butterfly's wings affects the weather significantly, so the so-called butterfly effect is probably a rarity rather than the norm. The alternative would be that none of us could ever make any plans about tomorrow today and yet we do because we have confidence that reality usually smooths out the minor perturbations in events. Hence I consider it reasonable that parallel realities can exist with only minor differences from the one that we experience.

    In my writing I introduced a (presumably) fictional element, what one could call a memetic virus, that enabled people to recall events from other realities as though they had lived those lives consecutively rather than simultaneously. Again how we experience reality and the passage of time is debatable anyway, so this is no big deal to the philosophical mind. In fact it relates closely to Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence. Having never studied Nietzche's ideas I don't know what his views on free will were, but if one allows free will alongside awareness of one's eternal recurrence then many moral issues arise. Yes, the astute reader could certainly anticipate what the theme of such a story might be but it would be difficult to know which I chose to pursue. The long story potentially spanning a trilogy of novels is like an extension of the Groundhog Day theme but with long term issues. I'll give just one example here.

    A woman is aware that in another reality she married a particular man and that they raised a son whom they loved. However, that man has not been affected by the virus, so in their current reality is unaware that any of that happened. Also, in that other existence he eventually succumbed to Alzheimer's, so she spent many years living with a man who no longer knew that they were married or that they raised a son. In her current life she works with the man, so they know each other well as work colleagues and meet every day, but that is all. This situation gives enormous scope to explore her feelings in terms of morality, love and responsibility, not just towards her one time husband but also towards their son, who will only exist in that reality if she follows the same path again. She has learned about her true feelings from that "previous" marriage and also has feelings for another man. Even if she considers that death has already parted her from her first husband, so she has no moral obligation to marry him again, that doesn't resolve the issue concerning their not yet conceived son. This plot extends issues about such things as marital fidelity and the rights of the unborn child beyond anything that a conventional story could contrive, I suspect. How I tackled these issues in my story lies in the fragments of the two subsequent novels that I never completed, so you'll have to speculate about them for yourself.

    Perhaps it is possible to contrive conventional plots covering every possible issue, but adding a little -- and I do mean just a little -- science fiction can enable one to go straight to the heart of the subject. Tackling the issue in the somewhat absurd context so created then gives the reader pause for thought about similar issues in reality, just as the conflict between the half black half white and half white half black races did in Star Trek.
    Last edited by JustRob; February 23rd, 2019 at 02:13 PM.
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  4. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by JustRob View Post
    Yes, to an extent conventional stories can cover the themes that science fiction does, but my point is that adding a touch of science fiction to a story enables one to take the issues further into the underlying concepts without the constraints placed on them by our reality. This is how science fiction has in the past addressed issues that haven't arisen in practice until decades later. As a mathematician I favour the reductio ad absurdum ("reduce to absurdity") approach to contentious issues. It doesn't necessarily resolve them but it does demonstrate that they are subject to context and that if that context changes over time then society's attitudes must also change or even should immediately.

    Perhaps it is possible to contrive conventional plots covering every possible issue, but adding a little -- and I do mean just a little -- science fiction can enable one to go straight to the heart of the subject. Tackling the issue in the somewhat absurd context so created then gives the reader pause for thought about similar issues in reality, just as the conflict between the half black half white and half white half black races did in Star Trek.
    My comments were not addressing your post but the OP's, but in any case I vehemently disagree that science fiction is in any way better placed to speak to any issue or concern than other genres.

    I don't know anybody who learned not to be a racist from Star Trek (I should say I don't know anybody who gets their moral views predominently from fiction anyway, but let's pretend they do) but I do know that Uncle Tom's Cabin was able to forward the case for abolition in the USA tremendously and that it is not a sci-fi book but a novel of Social Realism. Indeed, science fiction hardly existed back then. I also know that books by authors like Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Steinbeck and a host of others contributed hugely to a shift in social attitudes. None of them dabbled in futurism or any sort of 'imagine this...' speculation. They depicted the real world 'as it is'. The vision of the future came not from the book but from the reader. By exposing present injustices the reader can still get a strong sense of future possibility. The writer does not need address it in that case.

    Look, if you are a science fiction author then I don't doubt for a moment that you can and do have lots of important things to say and that your work has the ability to 'save the world'. That's fine - no value judgments. But to even use the word 'perhaps' regarding the influence of 'conventional plots' is simply foolish. So is suggesting that science fiction has some kind of express lane to 'the heart of the subject'. It is foolish because it seemingly ignores the fact that literature has been creating 'pause for thought' for millennia now and science fiction is relatively a new invention.

    Point is this: If I want to promote awareness of issue like climate change I could write a science fiction novel describing/speculating on the world under rising sea levels thirty years or whatever from now. But I could equally, and with no lesser impact, simply write about how climate change is already hurting people. I could write about how small islands are afraid of losing their existence. I could write a story about a polar bear being pushed further south and its conflict with a small Siberian town. I could write political thriller fiction about the fossil fuel industry and how they have bought out the political system. So there are many ways, hundreds, I could write about environmental destruction without going anywhere near some tired version of 'Earth 2045'.

    I am not saying which is better. I am saying it isn't an issue whose dramatic impact depends on the speculative and that few/any existential issues are uniquely accessible by certain genres. Speculation may drive it home, it may not, but to state science fiction is a superior route speaks to at best a bias in those who write it and at worse a lack of imagination.
    Last edited by luckyscars; February 24th, 2019 at 08:40 AM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

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  5. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I should say I don't know anybody who gets their moral views predominently from fiction anyway, but let's pretend they do
    Where do you think people get their morals from, then?

  6. #26
    Hi Lucky,
    I hadn't expected such an emotive response to my mental wheel-spinning. Daedalus? How about the Roman and Greek Pantheons? I suspect the existence of Science fiction can be traced back to the fireside stories of why thunder happens.

    I'm noodling about how Sci Fi has an unexpected depth and how it is as good as and not how it is superior to other genres. The 'what if' and 'what happens next' formula works just as well in all cases. If you or anyone else writes Sci Fi it does not make you a second class writer. The one thing Sci Fi does well that other fictions struggle with is stepping into the future to examine the result of decisions made now. Other genres can do this but I am lazy so I take the easiest route.
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    My comments were not addressing your post but the OP's, but in any case I vehemently disagree that science fiction is in any way better placed to speak to any issue or concern than other genres.

    I don't know anybody who learned not to be a racist from Star Trek (I should say I don't know anybody who gets their moral views predominently from fiction anyway, but let's pretend they do) but I do know that Uncle Tom's Cabin was able to forward the case for abolition in the USA tremendously and that it is not a sci-fi book but a novel of Social Realism. Indeed, science fiction hardly existed back then. I also know that books by authors like Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Steinbeck and a host of others contributed hugely to a shift in social attitudes. None of them dabbled in futurism or any sort of 'imagine this...' speculation. They depicted the real world 'as it is'. The vision of the future came not from the book but from the reader. By exposing present injustices the reader can still get a strong sense of future possibility. The writer does not need address it in that case.

    Look, if you are a science fiction author then I don't doubt for a moment that you can and do have lots of important things to say and that your work has the ability to 'save the world'. That's fine - no value judgments. But to even use the word 'perhaps' regarding the influence of 'conventional plots' is simply foolish. So is suggesting that science fiction has some kind of express lane to 'the heart of the subject'. It is foolish because it seemingly ignores the fact that literature has been creating 'pause for thought' for millennia now and science fiction is relatively a new invention.

    Point is this: If I want to promote awareness of issue like climate change I could write a science fiction novel describing/speculating on the world under rising sea levels thirty years or whatever from now. But I could equally, and with no lesser impact, simply write about how climate change is already hurting people. I could write about how small islands are afraid of losing their existence. I could write a story about a polar bear being pushed further south and its conflict with a small Siberian town. I could write political thriller fiction about the fossil fuel industry and how they have bought out the political system. So there are many ways, hundreds, I could write about environmental destruction without going anywhere near some tired version of 'Earth 2045'.

    I am not saying which is better. I am saying it isn't an issue whose dramatic impact depends on the speculative and that few/any existential issues are uniquely accessible by certain genres. Speculation may drive it home, it may not, but to state science fiction is a superior route speaks to at best a bias in those who write it and at worse a lack of imagination.

  7. #27
    Those are good points luckyscars on morality being the key to good fiction ( my interpretation). What I got from bazz Cargo's post is that morality is the best way to write fiction and conflict. Morality or the human condition is key to all stories whether it involves science or magic or is real. The author determines how big a role morality plays in their story which should be to elicit emotion.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  8. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by epimetheus View Post
    Where do you think people get their morals from, then?
    Is that really a question? I think I got mine from my parents/grandparents, friends, people I know, listening to recordings of speeches by certain public figures, certain passages in the Bible (which may or may not be fiction depending on your point of view), people I met volunteering at a hospice, people I have worked with volunteering for the Democratic Party and a local trade union, and four decades of general common sense/empathy. A lot of morality is to do with the physical makeup of the brain as well.

    Fiction can absolutely be a source of moral learning but IMO it's just one of many things - notice I said ​predominantly? But if powerful fiction was enough to change a person's moral compass on its own we could cure racism by forcing everybody to watch Schindler's List. We all know that doesn't work. Fiction is great at developing partially-formed inclinations into actions and giving context to ideas, but to designate it as being a source of morality is nought but a delusion of self-important authors. We are here to tell stories, not preach.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

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  9. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by bazz cargo View Post
    Hi Lucky,
    I hadn't expected such an emotive response to my mental wheel-spinning. Daedalus? How about the Roman and Greek Pantheons? I suspect the existence of Science fiction can be traced back to the fireside stories of why thunder happens.

    I'm noodling about how Sci Fi has an unexpected depth and how it is as good as and not how it is superior to other genres. The 'what if' and 'what happens next' formula works just as well in all cases. If you or anyone else writes Sci Fi it does not make you a second class writer. The one thing Sci Fi does well that other fictions struggle with is stepping into the future to examine the result of decisions made now. Other genres can do this but I am lazy so I take the easiest route.
    Thank you for the clarification, Bazz...

    My issue is with any argument that seeks to propose that any given genre is better than another at addressing moral issues. Some genres are better than others at telling certain stories to certain readers, but when we get into the arena of making sweeping judgements regarding broad issues of the human experience, I don't think that is true.

    I do accept that isn't what you meant however you did state that "Science Fiction is the perfect place to explore gender issues, slavery, corporate greed and misinformation. Don't knock sci fi, it will save the world." and actually used the word 'special' and implied that sci-fi was literature that 'made a point'.

    For we writers who are passionate about addressing the issues mentioned above but who write just plain old literary fiction, I am sure you can appreciate this sure sounds like an argument that science fiction can do what we do better because of some natural advantage. It suggests that the only (or at least the most effective) way to speak to the future is to write about it in concrete terms when I actually think that writing about contemporary or historical events and letting the reader do the navel-gazing on what might happen can often be just as, if not considerably more, effective. Like how Orwell was able to warn Western readers in 1945 about a prospective future of Stalinist authoritarianism through telling a story about animals on a farm based on a recent historical event. It's not science fiction, but it explores a future issue.



    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

    Hidden Content


  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Is that really a question?
    Of course, why wouldn't it be? The questions we think too obvious to even ask are often the most interesting ones.

    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I think I got mine from my parents/grandparents, friends, people I know, listening to recordings of speeches by certain public figures, certain passages in the Bible (which may or may not be fiction depending on your point of view), people I met volunteering at a hospice, people I have worked with volunteering for the Democratic Party and a local trade union, and four decades of general common sense/empathy. A lot of morality is to do with the physical makeup of the brain as well.
    Fair say we can reduce that down to three sources: other people, scripture and innate.

    No doubt other people are a source of morality, but stories are a big part of that. We can just tell kids Nazis are bad. Or we could tell them some stories from the concentration camps and let them think for themselves. I think the stories would have significantly more impact.

    I once read an interesting article about a particular classical Greek play portraying the slaughter of a city for failing to pay tribute by Athenian (i think) soldiers, which the city had voted in favour. After the play, it is said the citizenry regretted their collective decision. The play acyually changed their morality.

    Morality isn't a static thing, it has always been changing and developing - stories are an excellent way of exploring and developing that space. Part of the process of developing morality.

    The truth of the bible is irrelevant: it communicates morals through story. When it does just list them, nobody remembers - people don't generally remember there were actually 611 commandments, not just ten.

    We agree on the innate part of morality, so no need to discuss that component.

    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Fiction can absolutely be a source of moral learning but IMO it's just one of many things - notice I said ​predominantly? But if powerful fiction was enough to change a person's moral compass on its own we could cure racism by forcing everybody to watch Schindler's List. We all know that doesn't work. Fiction is great at developing partially-formed inclinations into actions and giving context to ideas, but to designate it as being a source of morality is nought but a delusion of self-important authors. We are here to tell stories, not preach.
    On first reading the bolded parts seem to contradict each other - but perhaps you are making a distinction between moral learning and morality? In that case the question is what do you consider a source of morality?

    All i can tell you is that i did predominantly get my morals from fiction - sci fi in particular. Let's just say i was born on the wrong side of the tracks and was growing up to be amoral. Those stories were the only thing providing a counter weight to the influence of 'friends' at that time.

    It's quite possible some people will prefer one source of morality over another as variation is the human way. Or maybe i'm the weirdo...

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