The Purpose of Science Fiction

Why do you read science fiction?  Do you read science fiction purely for entertainment, or do you want something more from science fiction? I’ve always expected a lot more from science fiction then maybe I should have, and that might be unfair to the genre. I never wanted SF to be merely escapism, although I’m afraid that I spent most of my adolescence avoiding reality by reading science fiction. I always told people I thought science fiction’s #1 purpose was to promote manned space exploration. I thought it’s #2 purpose was to inspire the creation of AI robots. It’s #3 job was to warn us of dangerous futures. In other words I thought science fiction should be a kind of cheerleading to build new technologies and an oracle to warn society about paths we shouldn’t take.

Reading science fiction did inspire me as a kid to think scientifically and made me want to be a scientist, but I didn’t have the academic discipline to succeed with that dream. The failure to become a scientist has always been a major regret of mine. I often wonder if I’m wrong about science fiction and that it’s nothing more than good clean reading fun. Because if that’s not true I might have to grade science fiction rather harshly. 

6 thoughts on “The Purpose of Science Fiction

  1. I have recently discovered that unrealistic literary predictions of the future tend to leave me unsatisfied, despite their entertainment value. I can watch sci-fi shows that feature unrealistic and even impossible designs and science and ignore the fact that its all make-believe, but for some reason it is different with the books I read and write. In these, the science needs to be realistically attainable through some means, it has to be proven possible, even if the technology for it has not yet been developed or imagined. The latter is precisely for me to figure out. I would like to think bonding real science with imagined solutions will inspire young readers to pursue a career as a scientist better, since it proves real life can be as exciting as the escapist dream.

    Hope this all made sense. It’s late. :)

    Triinu

  2. I think of the science in Science fiction as an analogy such as the struggle of alien vs humans really being about the struggle of nations or races or classes. It is when Science Fiction can tell me something about my own world that I think it is at it’s best.

  3. I read science fiction for entertainment. That said, I get more enjoyment from SF that covers deeper matters – as all great fiction does – or that comes up with a wild new idea or a plausible future. I hope that science fiction does inspire young people to become scientists, or at least to respect the scientific method, but I think the main purpose is entertainment.

  4. This may seem like a trite answer, but I do believe science fiction can, and does, all of those things. My perception is that there is much more there for purely entertainment reasons than for the 3 reasons you point out, but I also believe that many authors are doing, or at least attempting to do, just what you say. My opinion is that more often than not, however, writers are trying to tell a good story and get some point across, even if the point is merely to entertain. In that sense sci fi is no different than any other genre. But one of the great things about sci fi is that it CAN do those three things you mention and I hope that it does. I imagine that even some of the science fiction that could be labeled as pure escapism inspires people towards scientific pursuits.

  5. I think science fiction can have many purposes, and different purposes for different people, or even for different moods. For me, one important purpose of science fiction is to explore what it is to be human (and how that could change, or not).

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