On Science Fiction

This morning, as we were waiting for more conference attendees to arrive to TOEBI, I stood with two of my colleagues chatting. Somehow the topic of Creative Writing MLitts and PhDs came up. “There are too many of them. It isn’t the same: they shouldn’t get the same recognition as what we’re doing.” The other agreed. They went on for a few sentences more and then I said, perhaps a bit testily, “Writing novels isn’t easy.”

“You sound put off, Chera. Have you tried writing a novel?”

“Yes I have,” I answered. Had I been published? “No, I’m still working on it. But I have been writing since I was twelve.”

However, because I hadn’t been published—an absurd expectation of someone who is also a full-time academic just at the start of her career!—my protest was mostly dismissed. I can assure you that my quality of writing isn’t the same as it was 12 years ago; it has dramatically matured, and it continues to improve. The reason Orion is taking so long is because I have an entire universe to build, and that isn’t easy. And I knew, I just knew, that if I said that I write science fiction, fantasy, and young adult, that I would be dismissed even more. Do you think that writing non-human cultures is easier than writing human? Aliens have to be completely foreign to us and yet still be relatable. I have to master the basics of political theory, broad sweeps of history, and astrophysics in order to make an interstellar, culturally diverse rebellion and civil war make sense. As for fantasy, magic has to have rules, magical beings and beasts have particular traits and shapes—there is, in fact, a canon for both science fiction and fantasy that the writer in either of these genres has to bear in mind when he or she is writing.

The hypocrisy of the prejudice against science fiction is simply ridiculous. Mary Shelley, acclaimed for being the first (European) woman novelist, wrote science fiction. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—science fiction. The Time Machine and War of the Worlds—science fiction. Brave New World—science fiction. Nineteen Eighty-Four—science fiction. There is obviously historical and literary precedent for the importance and academic study of science fiction in the realms of literature, and in their sensitivity to culture and society. Yet we don’t study science fiction after the 1950s, despite the leaps and bounds in its development during the 70s and 80s. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov is nothing like the film; instead it is a collection of short stories, each investigating a different ethical and psychological issue caused by the presence of robots. If you want an incredible book on gender theory, read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, or on political theory, The Dispossessed. Science fiction may not be about the real or the literal, but it is certainly grounded in Reality; science fiction is an exploration of humanity and humanness. How more Real can you get?

This became a defense of science fiction; fantasy shall come at some later date. Perhaps during November, when I will be writing—heaven forfend!—a fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo.