Space fiction

I am old emough to remember when science fiction critics were saying things like “science fiction used to be space fiction, but all that stuff is in the past – now it’s Speculative Fiction about Technology / Ecology / Inner Space etc etc”.

Those were the days. If you are any kind of sf fan, you may have already seen this essay by Charlie Stross on the improbability of humans ever colonising space.

Sf exists in the tension between two states of mind: the starry-eyed nerdiness of “Gosh Wow if you can imagine it, it exists somewhere” and the pedantic nerdiness of “O RLY Laws of Physics sez NO”. We can picture this tension as a long steel cable, and Stross’ article as a hearty whack delivered to the cable with a big sledgehammer.

The echoing, twanging sound we hear is the cognitive dissonance of all the libertarian sf geeks in the comments thread, saying, more or less, “what the heckya writin’ science fiction for if ya don’t believe in space travel?”

Then it gets nasty.


One response to “Space fiction

  1. I posted my own comments about Stross’s article (see here. I suppose I belong to that ‘Gosh Wow’ crowd, and have since I was about seven years old. Sure, Stross has some hard numbers to back up his stated opinion, but I think he badly underrates the human spirit, which doesn’t necessarily count the economic cost of a venture.

    But SF has never been only about space travel. Mutants, far-future societies, dystopian and utopian works, theocracies, alternate time-lines, immortality, – this list goes on for a very long ways, and very few of these concepts/stories involved any sort of space travel. Something the critics never seemed to understand is that SF is a literature of ideas and how humans are impacted by those ideas. As such, it’s capable of giving us viewpoints about the human condition that are just not possible in ‘normal’ fiction. Now if we could just get those ivory-tower literature professors to recognize that there is something to this branch of fiction, if they would quit looking down their noses at it, mayhap it would start to get the wider recognition it deserves.

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