In Defense of SciFi

The session “Science Fiction and Fantasy: Uncovering the modern world of information through metaphor and imagination” sponsored by Tor and Baen publishers featured Robert Charles Wilson, Ken Scholls, Margaret Weiss, John Brown and Eric Flint.  All the authors expressed varying degrees of confusion regarding the topic of discussion, but their talks yielded surprisingly similar insights.

Robert Charles Wilson spoke first.  He used his latest novel, Julian Comstock, A Story of 22nd Century America, to illustrate his belief in the power of knowledge over ignorance and the idea that information “wants to be free.”  He argues science fiction requires participation in the questions of society, culture and technology.

Ken Scholls analogized science fiction and fantasy as a tent show performed by the likes of Tom Bombadil, Paul Atreides and Dorothy Gale.  He spoke of the power of science fiction and fantasy to transport and transform.

Margaret Weiss spoke of the author’s place in society.  An author should tell stories, the people’s stories.  She believes fantasy especially allows her to tell the stories of real people in extraordinary situations.  She offered the example of a character in her fantasy world who is an alcoholic in a culture where the tavern is the primary gathering place.  He lost his family, his home and his livelihood due to his alcoholism.  In the course of the novel he tries to recover some of what he has lost.  Weiss hopes this character’s story may help a young person better understand his alcoholic parent.

John Brown followed Margaret Weiss positing that reading is a drug.  Readers thirst and hunger for reading and that the physical response resulting from reading is not just analogous but the same as the physical response a drug user feels.  He hopes that his work gives young people a first taste of the reading drug and that they will be hooked for life.

Eric Flint approached the subject differently. He argued Contemporary Literary Fiction has lost its way.  Modern literary fiction requires extreme realism with “ordinary people in ordinary circumstances that they handle extremely badly.”  He argues that true literary tradition extends through Homer and Shakespeare who were not bound to realism and engaged in thought experiments with “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances they handle well.”  He expressed disdain for the need felt by some to defend science fiction and fantasy and commented that if the definitions of genre fiction were applied to Moby Dick it would be in the science fiction section because “no whale that ever lived would act like that.”

The entire session was engaging.  The authors gave us some food for thought and plenty of encouragement.  I thoroughly enjoyed the session.

One comment

  1. Sean H.

    Is this the most appropriate forum for this post? I fail to see what this has to do with Library IT.

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