Monday, July 25, 2005

The shaping of my imagination - the world of science fiction

A classmate of mine loaned me a fabulous collection of science fiction short stories today - The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929 - 1964. I started reading about an hour ago. I'm a 113 pages in and I can't stop. Except that I did stop because it made me think about my childhood and how my thoughts have been shaped.

My dad is the world's biggest sci-fi nut. I grew up surrounded by stacks of science fiction books of all sorts, segregated into his office or outside of our mainstream library by my mother who still fails to understand the appeal of science fiction. To her, it isn't literature - it's escape. And she cannot comprehend why I have always chosen to read science fiction rather than the great works of literature she so loves. Sure, I've given the great ones a chance, but they don't hold a candle to the power the science fiction has over me.

I still remember one of my favorite books when I was younger - it was an anthology of short stories collected by Isaac Asimov entitled "Before the Golden Age" and was comprised of really old-school sci-fi stories. I began with War of the Worlds and I worked my way chronologically forward, a strange progression for a science fiction fan.

To me, there has always been something about sci-fi that nothing else can match - it has sparked my imagination, carried me away to other worlds, but at the same time has had quite the opposite effect of escapist literature. The best of science fiction is not escapism - it is allegory of the problems we face today - and more importantly, of the problems we will face years from now.

Even now, as I read this book, my heart rate accelerates, my fingers turn the pages feverishly, and my mind reaches beyond the stories to envision my own futuristic worlds. I suppose part of that comes from being an only child - I always had an overactive imagination - but part of it is because I have learned so much about morality, values, human nature, civilization, revolution, and countless other relevant topics from science fiction.

Take one well-known example - Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. No other book I have read has so well described the process and nature of revolution. Or take the more fantastical Thomas Covenant series by Stephen Donaldson - what better expression of human nature and particularly human failings exists?

Sure, the greats are great, and they write about important contemporary social, religious and moral issues. But isn't that in some way limited? Isn't the greatness of a great science fiction writer even greater because he/she can look beyond today's issues and see the universal tendencies in a futuristic setting?

Science fiction gets a bad reputation because there are so many bad science fiction books out there. But there are also so many bad general literature works and no one criticizes literature for being a bunk form of art.

My future children will be nurtured on a steady diet of science fiction. Sure, some stuff will have to wait - I don't think a 12 year old can properly comprehend the late works of Robert Heinlein. But there have been so many books written in that genre that speak directly to the problems that we face. Take growing up. Ender's Game was a bible to me. It was a book about me. It was a book about every alienated nerdy kid. And I can't think of a damned piece of world literature that can stand up to the lesson it teaches to the prepubescent child.


Blogger satmandu said...

You mean "works of late Robert Anson Heinlein" - not "late works of Robert Anson Heinlein.

Or am I missing something.


Subway reading is currently Hothouse. Old SciFi is nice.

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fact she means the late works of the late Heinlein. He starts to get a bit freaky in them - traveling to Oz and all that.

3:22 AM  

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