what is science fiction ?
Science and technology have developed at such an astounding pace that people who lived a few hundred years back would probably think that our lives are filled to the brim with magic. We have harnessed iron birds that fly, built horseless chariots, we have fire that runs like fluid along wire and we leave the earth on a pillar of fire to visit the stars. If people of that time would react in this way to the technology that we basically take for granted, how would we react to the future? Science fiction gives our curious minds a speculated view of the future.
But what is science fiction exactly? Of course a so-called definition of science fiction is not difficult to compile: Just take the future and add laser guns, space ships and aliens and we have the correct mix that is sure to be a public blockbuster. But no, such a definition is not dignified of something offering so much more. Science fiction, or good science fiction at least, is not just a transposition of present circumstances on the future with added destructive weapons, and more destructive enemies. Such an outlook misses the point entirely.
It is also important that science fiction should to some extent be in accordance with science, it should not be completely unbelievable, because it then ventures into the genre fantasy. The boundary line does get fuzzy with some strange examples of mixed magic and technology, but there is still a fundamental line separating SF and fantasy: whether it is plausible or not.
Science fiction is also not a doctoral thesis on the possibility of faster than light travel. One can claim that science fiction is just about science and technology, but this does not mean that it is written only for the scientific audience. As Brian Aldiss noted, "Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are for ghosts". In fact, SF is not worth reading at all if it does not involve humanity with whom we can associate. This is why SF is mainly about the human element, and about the effect new discoveries, happenings and scientific developments will have on us in the future.
"Scientists in the 1800s could predict the automobile; science fiction writers added the human element and envisioned traffic jams."
What will the future hold? This is such a simple question and yet it has amazed our species for so long. Crystal balls, clairvoyant visions and prophecies are all aspects of our culture that have their origin in our desire to know the unknowable future.
Science is sometimes seen as a concept separate from "true" humanity (cliched images of cold laboratories and mad professors come to mind), yet science lies at the core of humanity. The search for knowledge, trying to find out why and how things work are necessary mental tools for our survival. Science is a manifestation of this search, and has played an increasingly important role in our lives. For this reason it is essential to consider its role in the future
Science has given us power: the power to survive, the power to create, but also the power to kill ourselves, the power to destroy. It is the goal of SF to remind us of this power, and also to explore the amazing possibilities raised by science into human grasp. An example of how science fiction can inform us in this way is to warn us about asteroids colliding with earth (a big threat as seen in Deep Impact), and about the possibilities and disadvantages of genetic engineering (as seen in Gattaca).
With Copernicus, Galileo and many other brilliant scientists, astronomy has progressed astoundingly, and it has informed us about the true nature of our universe. It is a strange yet wonderful place, and we seem incredibly small and insignificant in contrast to the great expanse. We find it difficult to comprehend, but reality does extend past the boundaries of our Earth. In some way, the reading science fiction helps you form an objective point of view. It is after all not easy to describe a building by looking out of its windows.
Science fiction illuminates the future, it shows us with the help of speculations what may be or what may not. Every decision we make today, could affect our future, and it is the role of SF to give us some knowledge of the consequences.
"Science stimulates the fiction, and the fiction stimulates a new generation of scientists"
-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
Science fiction is the science dream, showing that which can be possible. It is no wonder that it enriches our imagination so that it helps everybody, including future scientists to get new approaches to and perspectives on problems. In this way SF can offer something that other genres sometimes cannot. Science fiction is sometimes the only link people have with science, and is often responsible for planting the seed of scientific growth.
The advent of science fiction marked the beginning of a new age of imagination. Previously "all the world was the stage", but now the entire universe lies open to be used. The entertainment value is enhanced exponentially with entirely strange yet fascinating possibilities.
SF is not constrained by the boundaries of our reality, but rather than being an unbelievable fantasy, it represents itself in a reality crafted by what really can be true. Everything that happens in SF is different and strange compared to other literature genres, but one can still take it seriously, as it can really happen.