Science Fiction vs. Science Fantasy

Science Fiction and Science Fantasy have long cohabited in the marketplace of written ideas, aspirations, hopes, and fears. One could go so far as to say that there is not really a clear distinction between the two-- that rather any story that turns on the possible implications of a scientific development must necessarily appear purely imaginary in some respect. There is perhaps only a matter of degree. Some stories are more concerned with relating the scientific facts, while others are more concerned with characters and their interactions. Every story about the impact of science on our daily lives necessarily requires a bit of both.

Science fiction of the past has frequently become the science fact of the present. Jules Verne imagined a group of explorers traveling to the Moon-- a vision eventually realized by the Apollo missions, though decidedly not in the manner that Jules Verne described. This, in my view, has long been the great service that Science Fiction has offered to civilization-- to dare the literate world to consider the possibilities that science may one day make real. Consider what the free modification of the human genome would mean to our culture and our values. Contemplate a technology that makes it possible to modify a person's deepest memories. Imagine a world in which human created machines control all aspects of human decision making. Science Fiction has dared us to consider each of these possibilities and many others as well. And in so doing it has dared us to consider the consequences of allowing technology to lead us where it will. It is important, I think, to be deliberate in our adoption of new ideas and new technologies.

 

It might be argued that no amount of prescience can possibly dissuade humanity from employing technologies that are detrimental in the long run, so long as they at least seem beneficial and cost effective in the short run. This, I think, is a significant point. We tend to react to new technologies with a degree of permissive optimism. Only if we later find that the products and services to which it gives rise are in some respect harmful do we slap on fines, restrictions, and outright bans. Our legal systems are based on practices that first developed in agrarian societies and are consequently ill-equipped to manage the new capabilities that our rapidly increasing scientific knowledge engenders.

 

Every well-told story must have good characters, regardless of how much-- or how little-- science it might consider. A story with flat, uninspiring characters will be very little read-- regardless of how worthy its message might be. But in too much of what passes for “Science” Fiction the balance has tilted more toward character development and storytelling and away from the consideration of good science. Certainly good storytelling has a place in the world of books-- I wouldn't argue otherwise. But stories which are based on imaginings that have no chance of ever actually being realized should be identified for what they are-- fantasy. Faster-than-light travel, teleportation, wormholes, and a bewildering variety of warp drives, hyper drives, hyper-spatial tubes, jump drives, and trans-dimensional passages-- none of these “technologies” are likely ever to be made practical. Oh, it will no doubt be possible one day for a university professor to demonstrate the teleportation of a helium atom from one physics lab to another. But will we ever be able to build a spacecraft the size of NCC-1701 that is able to bend space-time to such an extent that it can actually leave our physical universe and navigate its way through a realm in which the normal rules of inertia no longer apply?

 

I have considered some of these technologies in others of my blogs. I hope you will take the time to consider my musings on these topics, and I welcome your thoughts in response. In the meantime I will endeavor to write Science Fiction that is based on real science in hopes that we can prevent technology from laying at our feet possibilities that are too appealing to refuse, but too dangerous in the long run to accept.

 

 Copyright (c) 2011 by David S. Moore.  All rights reserved.