Why Science Fiction is More than Pulp
by Daniel Hope
There’s a longstanding perception that science fiction cannot reach the same heights or depths as contemporary literary fiction. Plenty of people think it can only ever be escapist entertainment. I’m not going to waste time arguing against this mindset; there are far better cases for why this is silly, and they can be found all over the Internet. Instead, I want to talk about the reason why science fiction is more than pulp entertainment, in other words the aspects of sci-fi that make it capable of telling important and moving stories.
The definition of science fiction is sufficiently broad that it’s hard to tell anymore what exactly qualifies. Our everyday life is full of former fictional technologies made real. For the purposes of this article, science fiction will mean any kind of story where a technology or environment features prominently, but which isn’t currently available to mankind.
One of the hallmarks of literary fiction is looking at humanity through the lens of everyday life and identifying how profound the little things can be. Conversely, science fiction seems to want to distract us from humanity with whizbang gadgets and aliens. While this is sometimes true, many stories juxtapose unreal technology, creatures, or environments against characters that feel incredibly relatable. The crowning principle of science fiction seems to be that no matter how much things change, certain parts of us as humans won’t.
And that’s where the true power of science fiction is found, in using technology and other fanciful elements to highlight our humanity. A sense of wonder and excitement has always been a part of good sci-fi, but you’ll find the best sci-fi also shows us how new technologies and ideologies affect us and the way we treat others.
For example, space travel doesn’t have to just be about thrilling adventures and grand battles; it can be a way to look at how people interact in close environments, treat outsiders, cope with the unknown, or manipulate others for gain. If you think those sound like pretty universal themes, you’d be right. That’s the beauty of science fiction. It puts us in unusual situations to highlight all the usual problems that we experience. And sometimes, that is more powerful than a simple contemporary setting. By putting these themes in far-out contexts, they can become more powerful and important, even surprising.
The other strength of science fiction as a literary medium is the ability to ask subtle questions or warn about the future. The best science fiction stories aren’t about predicting the future; instead they show what can happen if we aren’t careful. In this way, science fiction is just as thoughtful and introspective as any genre of literature.
These qualities of science fiction are what makes it such a powerful tool for learning about ourselves. Indeed, many famous authors already understand this. Margaret Atwood has straddled the line between traditional literary stories and science fiction for years. Super Sad True Love Story is clearly science fiction, but it was rated one of the ten best books of 2011. And it’s relatively easy to argue that The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, one of the most “literary” authors of our time, is science fiction. All these authors are using the strengths of science fiction to tell stories that move people.
So when you write science fiction, look for opportunities for the setting and tropes of science fiction to illuminate the characters and the situations they find themselves in. It’s completely within your power to tell a story that is both awesome and profound.
Daniel Hope is the author of 'Inevitable', find out more below:
He's a valuable relic of a bygone era when bots were a luxury on Earth, back before they were hunted down and destroyed. More and more collectors want Tuck, damaged or not, as the centerpiece of their collections. They'll do anything to get him, but Tuck will do anything to stay free and functional.
The truth is, Tuck is afraid to die.
He was originally programmed to value human life, even if they don't value his, but he can't ignore his own need to survive, at any cost. That's why Tuck is haunted by memories of the sixteen people he has killed over the last 150 years.
After a particularly dangerous run-in with a collector, Tuck meets a mysterious man dressed in white who offers a solution. In exchange for some help in a less-than-legal business venture, he'll give Tuck what he really wants: immortality. It's a bad idea, and Tuck knows it, but he can't ignore it.
Even if it means killing again.
Inevitable is available from Amazon