Monday, September 3, 2012

Science Fiction: Fact or Jmo

Science Fiction is perhaps one of the most influential genres ever written. Some of you might disagree with that, but out of every genre in existence none of the others have effected as much political, social, and technological change as Science Fiction has. Whether we go back to its early days of H.G. Wells or to movies and television such as Star Trek, Science Fiction has done one thing exceptionally well. It has made us think.

The great thing about thinking is it creates an atmosphere of change both within us individually and as a collective whole. Those of you who aren't SciFi readers might be asking yourself how I can make such a blank generalized statement like that? Simple. Because, it's true. Stick with me for a few, and I'll convince you.

H.G. Wells is well known for his novel The Time Machine. Sure, we've all seen the many movies based on it, but if you dig a little deeper you'll see that the story contained political undertones that acted as a satire of Wells' time. Which unless you weren't aware of the fact, is sometimes the main purpose of SciFi. Wells succeeded in making a social commentary both on the world of his time and make a startling prediction on where it would all go if we didn't sit up and take notice. The verdict is still out on whether or not they or we paid attention is still up for grabs.

A contemporary of his, George Orwell, wrote two seminal works that still resonate to this very day. 1984 introduced the concept of Big Brother into the public consciousness. If you're not familiar with the term, read the book. Animal Farm is the second of these influential books. Again Orwell confronts us with political themes veiled behind the auspices of entertainment. Notice how both these early Science Fiction authors weren't all in your face with getting their points across. That is one of the best things about a truly great Science Fiction novel, it enlightens without making it feel like the author is preaching.

Now, we come to my favorite SciFi author of all time, Robert Heinlein. I can honestly say until I read him, I didn't understand how mind shattering Science Fiction could be. Sure, before I saw untold worlds, stars shooting past my bedroom window, and aliens of every shape and description. But, I didn't understand there could be more to it that laser guns, spaceships, and women with three breasts. Forgive that last bit, but I was a teenage boy and teenage boys tend to focus on alien boobies a whole lot. Alright, men tend to focus on alien boobies a WHOLE lot. Green alien boobies in particular. You can blame Star Trek for that, but I digress.

I could probably fill a week or hundred with a complete discourse on his books. Since I've only got two, I'll just focus on the three that really showed me what Science Fiction should be and could be.

Stranger in a Strange Land. On the face of this story you'd think it was simply a story of a man returning to the home he never knew. On one level it is. Michael Smith was born on Mars after his parents' ship crashes there. Twenty years later, he is discovered by another ship lands on Mars. That's the face value story. But, SiaSL is more than that. It's about religious discovery. What is the heart of religion? Does God exist? Does one person's view of God automatically contradict another person's view? Some heavy stuff, but so well written you get drawn into the story. You also examine your own views on God and religion. This book was way ahead of its time. Published in 1961, the book was the forerunner of the Sixties free love movement and that whole period of self discovery, not to mention self medication to reach enlightenment. It also harkens to the current climate of acceptance of all forms of religion. Not bad for a book written over fifty years ago.

Next up. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. This book is my wow factor. No other book jack slapped me upside the head like this one has. The story revolves around a rebellion on the moon. Again, there's hidden and some not so hidden subtext to the story. Heinlein explores human rights, political rights and how much power government should have over those they serve. Written during the Vietnam War, the principles he explored are still so current it's scary. Great Science Fiction should be universal in their concepts and some concepts stay current forever.

Last on my trilogy of Heinlein is Starship Troopers. I'm sure most of you have seen the movie. As much as I liked it for what it was, the movie version doesn't hold a candle to the book. Like the first two books, Starship examines more than an intergalactic war. It examines what the rights of the people should be. Heinlein came from a military background and the entire tone of the book reflects that. Still, who has the right to have a voice in government? Who determines those rights? Those are some of the same issues we're still dealing with fifty-two years after the book first hit the stands.

I know those are some heady things to get from books, but books are more than casual entertainment. They inform. They illustrate. They make us strive to be better than we are. Or, they should. To me, Science Fiction is the height of this higher calling. As authors, we should hope and pray we do more than keep our readers occupied for the span of our books. We want to leave readers walking away still engulfed in our worlds and have them wishing the real world was half as exciting as what they just read.

But, if we truly wish the world was a better place, it's up to us, authors and readers alike, to take what we get from the books we read and write to effect that change. Next time you pick up a book, be it Science Fiction or the genre of your choice, I pray you walk away with that something more. It truly will change you. Which is the heart of Science Fiction, or any type of fiction.

Read Long and Prosper,
my friends.


  1. I did like your post. You know you have a student in me because I never got into the habit of sci-fi. Not having watched any of the popular movies, I get into trouble all the time with my friends. Save me!

  2. Paisley, just read any of those three books by Heinlein and you'll be well on your way. Just trying to keep you out of trouble.

  3. Great Post. Of Heinlein's work, I've only read Stranger in a Strange Land. I should check out some of the others. I think you're absolutely right about books having subtext. Being non-preachy is also vital. I sometimes think people miss a lot of subtext but maybe, just maybe, it sinks in somewhere. Ya think?

  4. Subconsciously, I hope it does. I've tried to plant some in Love Bites. It's hidden among the pop culture references, but it's there.

  5. Hey JMO! Great post as always. You hit a very intersting point... the subtext! That's the one thing I love so much about books. There can be layers upon layers of stuff. Some people might get them, some people might not. I love looking for the deeper stuff... it's like a scavenger hunt :)

  6. I love subtext. I have it all over the place... and doubt most get it all. :-)