In Defense of Science Fiction
by Giovanni, a Bookloft bookseller
I love the science fiction genre because of its versatility. You can do pretty much anything in the genre, from alien races to technology we’ll likely never see to whole galaxies and universes completely new to us. But it’s not all alien princesses, space battles and lasers. Some science fiction is more contemporary, showing us glimpses of what could be, just down the road, or are subtle warnings of what may come if we don’t act quickly enough.
In The Caves of Steel, Earth is inhabited by 40 billion people living in underground cities. The Earth’s population has literally grown so vast the earth’s surface can no longer support them. Themes of overpopulation, colonization, economic and societal evolution are very clear in Asimov’s novels.
In C. Robert Cargill’s Sea of Rust, the human population has been eradicated by machines in a war. Mirroring the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, robots have begun to argue for independence and equal rights, their rallying cry being No Thinking Thing. It explores themes of identity and what it means to be human.
In Chen Quifan’s novel Waste Tide, we are brought to an island off mainland China in a time likely just a few years down the road. There are holographic tattoos and machines we wouldn’t recognize today, but Silicone Isle is something all too familiar and real. It’s a not-so-subtle dig on China’s role in recycling and our cultural obsession with materialism and technology.
Philip K. Dick wrote a number of stories and novels about a wide array of environmental, social, and cultural issues, but his most famous, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, focuses on empathy, which separates humans from the androids. This explores the themes of what it means to be human as well as a terrifying potential future of a radioactive Earth, almost devoid of life, human or otherwise.
Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City portrays a planet almost entirely submerged beneath the oceans. Global warming and melting ice caps have flooded the planet and floating cities are the only refuges of humanity.
Yes, science fiction is a genre where the impossible becomes real, but it also allows writers to explore themes such as social justice, overpopulation, political and environmental issues, humanity, and identity. It can expose readers to a terrifying potential future or force them to think about life in a very different manner. There are so many great stories and worlds to explore, and it is just as important to understand who we are and where we’re going in our uncertain future.
Find out more about Giovanni and what he likes to read over at his Staff Picks page.