Thursday, 26 January 2012

Guest Post | Sharon T Rose on Science Fiction in Reality

As you've probably guessed already, it's guest post time! This time, Drying Ink has decided not to extract the living brains of its guests, and as part of that new initiative, I'd like to welcome Sharon T Rose to the blog. As part of the Curiosity Quills blog tour to promote said fantastic website, she's posting on Science Fiction in Reality - welcome!

Why do we love science fiction? What is the appeal of bizarre, unnatural, and strange tales? Why not stay with what we already know and are comfortable with?

To trot out a cliché, Familiarity Breeds Contempt. At the very least, familiarity breeds complacency. When we have the same old, same old, we tend to forget about it. We overlook it, we take it for granted. It no longer has any meaning for us.

Science fiction in all it incarnations steps outside of the usual and presents us with a fresh look at some things that are actually quite familiar to most of us. Star Trek is a classic example: all the issues and conflicts in the far-flung future make-believe were actually very relevant to the modern human audience. Class battles, racism, government, love and/or lust, culture clash, inequality ... those are all issues that you and I deal with in our everyday lives.

Sometimes all we need in order to truly comprehend something is to look at it differently. Numerous sculptures make little sense unless you view them from a particular angle. For a personal example, I had no appreciation of the iconic sculpture "David" by Michelangelo. I'd seen slides of it in art classes and heard it talked up by all my art buddies. To me, it was just a big naked dude. Yawn.

But then I saw its face. I got to go the Academy in Florence and see the David for myself. It was the first exhibit in the hall and the last one I looked at. I didn't want to look at this over-hyped chunk of marble. But I woman'd up and made myself go over. As I walked around the statue, I saw it from angles the pictures never showed. And when I looked up into the face of the statue, I suddenly understood why this was such an incredible work of art. A dozen thoughts captured in stone, subtleties beyond imagining. Michelangelo gave life to stone.

In our day-today struggle to pay the bills, feed and clothe the family, survive the boss, and still manage to enjoy ourselves, we get a narrow focus. We see only one camera angle of life, and that is a flat, two-D image that cannot render the fullness of what is there. Science fiction gives us a way to walk around commonplace things and see them as we've not seen them in a long time.

Scifi gives us a reason to ask, "What if?" It encourages us to wonder, "Why?" It challenges us to demand, "Why not?" Real Life tends to force us into a rut where such questions have no place. Maybe you've always done your laundry on Sunday afternoons. Why not run a load on Wednesday? What if you got up on the other side of the bed (not calling one right or the other wrong here)? Why have you always done things the way that you do them? What would happen if you made a small change?

Fiction in general give us a playground, a testing chamber, to try out new ideas in a safe place. It's a laboratory of sorts, where authors run experiments and readers judge the results. Science fiction pulls us out of "here and now," deposits us in "then and there," and lets us explore those strange new worlds. After we've kicked the tires for a while, many of us realize that this isn't so different from what we've always known.

Consider the old lords of sci-fi: George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein. They asked difficult questions about society gone wrong. What if Big Brother won? What if all our attempts to make utopia created dystopia? Just how far can science go before it destroys us? Will religion have a place in the future? These tales are often cautionary and help to awaken us to what might happen if we let go of our attention and forfeit our involvement in decision-making.

Consider David Weber's grand space opera, the Honor Harrington series. He based it on actual history, on Lord Admiral Nelson. The battles mirror actual naval encounters and the galactic events copy the world government actions of the same historical period. It's just a different way of looking at it. What if it happened in the future, in space? Why not make the warrior female? What difference would it make?

In my own writing, I do the same sort of thing: I take ordinary problems and questions and paint them in different colors. A little girl still has to grow up, whether she's human or alien. A young man must decide who he is and what he's going to do with his life, whether he's a plumber or a Wizard. People must choose to do good or do evil. There are in-laws to deal with, livings to be made, angst to get through, and business as usual to establish. Politics are as invidious as always, bad things happen to good people, and happy endings are still possible. Especially if the Main Character (which could be you) decides that her happiness doesn't depend on her circumstances.


The best fiction is the story that you, the reader, can identify with. It's the story that resonates inside you, the one you can't stop thinking about. These stories help you to see your own life and your own world a little bit better. They're the stories that draw you out of the hum-drum and into the possibilities. They give you a sense of a new life that you could have. They warn you of what you have to lose.

Yes, these stories are made up. The science doesn't exist yet and may never come around in any way that materially impacts your life. Aliens may or may not be real. These details are the window-dressing, the sugar for the dose of unpalatable reality. We're bored with our normal lives. We want something exciting, like being taken to a faraway world filled with marvels and surprises. And if nothing else, science fiction gives us relief from the daily grind.

To me, the appeal of science fiction lies in the possibilities it evokes. If I were in that situation, I would do this. I would scramble my eggs this way and toast my bread that way. Perhaps it's a simple thing, but small changes can be so very satisfying. What child who watched "The Jetsons" didn't dream of flying cars and wireless everything? And now we have wireless devices by the gross and we've almost got this levitating thing down. We're closer, at any rate. But would we have asked those questions, tried to create those things, if we hadn't seen it in science fiction first?

The Jetsons had the same struggles that we have. Star Trek dealt with the same issues that we do. History repeats itself every day in the pages of novels. And the possibilities, as they say, are truly endless. Where will science fiction take you today? Why not let it challenge and change your reality, even if for just a few hours? You never know what you'll find if you don't.

This post is part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour 2012

Curiosity Quills is a gaggle of literary marauders with a bone to grind and not enough time for revisions - a collective, creating together, supporting each other, and putting out the best darn tootin’ words this side of Google.

Curiosity Quills also runs Curiosity Quills Press, an independent publisher committed to bringing top-quality fiction to the wider world. They publish in ebook, print, as well as serialising select works of their published authors for free on the press's website.

 Now, quickly - go check it out!


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