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Friday, May 20, 2011

Why Sci-Fi?

 As part of the Sci-Fi debate, as started on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 and as the "Out of This World" exhibition opens at the British Library, I thought I'd reprint this article I wrote earlier this year for the Cypruswell website.

"I love Sci-Fi, reading it and writing it. Being a child of the nineteen fifties I suppose that isn’t unexpected. Sci-Fi was the standard school boy interest in those days and the very first story I had published was a story about the after effects of nuclear war in the school magazine.
The whole point about science fiction is that it provides the ultimate “what if?” literary and intellectual playground. “How would the world look if this or that scientific theory was a reality?” In science fiction one could examine the consequences of various scientific or technological discoveries. For instance Science fiction writers were examining the possible effects of global warming (and cooling) long before it became an issue with the general public. All the possible horrors of space travel, dystopian futures, alien contacts, robots gone mad, computers taking over the world, global conflict have been explored. The crucial thing is that the great works of Sci-fi explore the relationship between those possibilities and human individuals. Philip K. Dick (possibly the greatest of all sci-fi writers – certainly the architype) centred his stories on the little guy struggling against greater technologies and forces. “Blade Runner” was a great film but the original novel by Dick – “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was greater because the hero was an ordinary put upon man rather than a Hollywood superman.

The only rule for good Science Fiction, if there should be any rules at all, is that it should only posit one technological or scientific elaboration at a time. We may have faster than light travel in a story but everything else should be as we would observe it in the real world. Apart from the faster than light gizmo the science should be accurate and so should the humanity and psychology of the characters. We should be able to understand the motivations of the characters even if they are being held captive by green and purple creatures on the planet Zaargg. I mean, how would you react in those circumstances?
Fifty years ago when I was reading Sci-Fi for the first time, the year 2000 was, literally, the far distant future. So the “what if?” in my stories is the “what if the year 2000 was as we imagined it then?” I’m exploring that idea in the series of stories about ‘Jimmy –the Boy from the year 2000’ on my blogsite. As the lurid book jackets might have said back then: This week! A thrilling new two-parter titled “Quantum Entanglement”. Read and enjoy!! You will never be the same again!!!"

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