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ro_in_motion's avatar

Do you read science fiction? Why or why not?

Asked by ro_in_motion (2238 points ) April 15th, 2012

I love science fiction. I love the idea of changing one or more aspects of the future and seeing how the world works. It can be about aliens landing, the concept that we’re computer programs, the idea we can travel faster than light and what we’d do with it. BTW, I adhere to Sturgeon’s Law: 95% of sf is crap but, then, 95% of everything is crap.

Do you like it? Why or why not?

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41 Answers

CaptainHarley's avatar

Yes, when I need to escape. :)

ro_in_motion's avatar

@CaptainHarley And how often is that? :)

elbanditoroso's avatar

Yes, but I am picky. I don’t like Science fiction fantasy (four headed Zinglongs) at all. I’m much more partial to stuff like Asimov wrote: the Foundation series, which was future reality, or stuff like Heinlein wrote. Even David Brin’s stuff is reflective of that sort of near reality.

I especially like post-apocalyptic science fiction, and here my favorites are when the authors are creative about what happens to the world. Starting over is pretty enticing.

The_Idler's avatar

yeah, but only the speculative or hard varieties.

Using woolly “science” makes it too easy to take lazy shortcuts, and leads to stories little removed from being magical adventures in elf-land.

“Oh no, our hot-air balloon has run out of gas!”
“Don’t worry, I know the perfect spell for generating propane” / “Don’t worry, my watch has a special nano-engineered compartment, capable of storing up to 16 million litres of propane!”

(Delete as appropriate)

marinelife's avatar

I love science fiction. To me, it is sociology seen through the lens of the future.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@ro_in_motion

Umm… once a month or so? : )

ragingloli's avatar

Everytime I want to reinforce the notion that humans are scum, by highlighting the difference between what they dream about being and what they are in reality.

ShanEnri's avatar

I love science fiction. I have no idea why though! I just really love reading about other worlds, or the human population being scoured from this one!

downtide's avatar

I love it, because I love “What if…?” questions.

flutherother's avatar

I love it, but as believable fantasy rather than science. Science fiction has always been good at describing the present and poor at predicting the future. Philip K Dick is probably my favourite SF author. He is an exception, his fantasies are like nightmares from the future.

ro_in_motion's avatar

@The_Idler I’m with you on that. The type of sf represented by your watch example is just sloppy writing. I just reheard this week the story behind the sequel to Niven’s Ringworld. It was pointed out that the ringworld was inherently unstable so, in the sequel, he added rockets on the outside of the ring to maintain the ring’s postion.

Earthgirl's avatar

I used to read science fiction a lot when I was in high school. Almost my entire family used to read sci-fi especailly my Dad who was an engineer. I think the science aspect of it appealed to him but I liked it for other reasons. I read only certain authors like Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke. My sister started to read the Dune series and she was so excited about it and wanted me to read it. I tried to but I couldn’t get into it. It was so mythological.There was a lot of magical fantasy stuff in it that I couldn’t begin to care about.

I think a lot of what I read was short stories. I loved Martian Chronicles and Nightfall and other stories. One of my favorite stories is The Veldt by Ray Bradbury.

The thing I like about Sci-f is that the imagination doesn’t have to be held in check by the realm of the possible. Yet, in the best of sci-fi, in my opinion, it is tethered to scientific possibilities and theories. Intelligent speculation on the unknown informs the stories. After all, often truth is stranger than fiction. We discover things every day in the natural world that seem too extraordinary to be true and yet they are. So sci-fi to me is the human desire to speculate beyond the limits of our knowledge. Also, it is about how humans will adapt to a world of ever increasing complexity and events outside of the current realm of our experience. It is also about artificial intelligence such as Bradbury’s story Robbie about a boy and his robot. I like the fusion of technology and human behavior.

Strangely, for me, I think it is the relationship of humans to their technology and how they use it to solve problems, expand knowledge and explore the world, that appeals to me. If it gets too technical and loses the human element I don’t like it. It’s also interesting to read about alien species and how they are different from humans. Imagining a being without emotions and how that makes them different from us,for example. By looking at other possibilities of intelligent life we start to understand better what makes us unique as a species, what it means to be human.

jrpowell's avatar

I tossed around the idea of naming my first son Ender. That fact could be related to why I don’t have a son.

LostInParadise's avatar

I do not read much science fiction. It seems to me that much of science fiction is fantasy. I enjoyed watching Star Trek, but I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. Warp speeds and intergalactic travel is not going to happen. Even near light speed is not going to happen. The time required to reach such speeds with a force that does not tear everything apart is huge. Despite the hopes of SETI, communication with extra-terrestrials is not going to happen either. The energy required to transmit a coherent signal across such huge distances is way too high.

I am also not interested in post-apocalyptic novels – too depressing, whether or not they are realistic.

The big breakthroughs that are going to occur in the near future are related to biology and electronics. The ramifications of these developments deserve careful consideration. For those of you who are sci fi fans, let me put out the question whether there is anything in the literature that discusses these things. Is there anything about genetic engineering, including that of humans. I personally do not believe the singularity is near, but I do believe it may very well eventually occur. Is there anything that talks about this?

ragingloli's avatar

“Warp speeds and intergalactic travel is not going to happen.”
What makes you so sure? Warp speed is possible in today’s physics. That was known even in the days of the original series, since Einstein created his theory of relativity. And you do not even need a warp drive for intergalactic travel or intergalactic communication. Wormholes, too, are possible according to known physics. The implementation is not fantasy, but an engineering problem. Had you lived 100 years ago, today’s personal computers would have seemed impossible to you.

jerv's avatar

I do, but not as much as I used to. Most of what I read is more cyberpunk than Star Wars though. The nice thing about a lot of cyberpunk is that it requires a bit less suspension of disbelief as there is a lot less “hand-waving” than there is in a lot of other sci-fi. No Force, no Di-lithum crystals, no FTL travel that requires inventing new ways to circumvent physics… hell, most don’t even have decent man-portable lasers because the power pack would be too big for an infantryman to carry.

@LostInParadise Cyberpunk often has things about the relationship between man and machine. That is pretty important if you want to interact with a computer via a direct neural interface instead of fussing with manual controls, and vital if you have a cybernetic limb. Some (including (and especially) the Shadowrun and GURPS roleplaying games) also have biotech as an alternative; bioware can offer some of the things that cyberware offers, requires genetic engineering to introduce traits that humans do not naturally possess, and you really want to spend the extra money to get something that is a genetic match for you (preferably cloned from your own cells) in order to make it less harsh on your system.

ucme's avatar

Nah, I just look at the pictures.

LostInParadise's avatar

@ragingloli , Have you got a source for the possibility of warp speed? As I understand it, nothing goes faster than light. There was a recent stir about neutrinos supposedly going faster, but it turned out to be experimental error. As regards wormholes, what I read is that they are very narrow and have a very short existence.

@jerv, I will have to look into cyberpunk. There are some really serious issues on the horizon. The idea of creating superhumans through genetic engineering and electronics is a bit scary, to me at least. It is going to go way beyond the kind of conditioning Huxley envisioned in Brave New World.

MilkyWay's avatar

I like it. I read it. Why? Hmm… because it’s exciting, new, makes me think of possible possibilities (lol) and makes me ponder.

wundayatta's avatar

I like science fiction because it is the fiction of social change. It is about imagining different futures and playing thought experiments with those futures to see what would happen under different circumstances. It helps us figure out what we want to avoid and what we might want to shoot for. It also helps us figure out how to achieve or avoid these particular futures.

All tropes in science fiction are analogs of current social issues. For example, aliens are used to talk about both other cultures in the world as well as to discuss race issues. Single mind social entities are used to talk about communism. There are any number of tropes used to discuss class and economic issues. Time travel is used to place people from the current era into alternate times or histories to see what would happen with the clash of technologies or cultures. There is even some science fiction that imagines what the impact of extrapolations of current technologies will have on culture ;-P

As a person who has always been interested in social change and improving people’s lives everywhere, this fiction has both attracted me and guided me in my thinking about what kinds of changes are needed. Some of it has been easy: battles against tyranny, for example. Some of it warns about the problems of technologies we don’t know how to handle—such as nuclear technology or biological and genetic manipulations.

Some of it is wonderful—the idea that if we live in zero gravity, we no longer really need legs. Having four arms would be more useful. Or the ideas about the information singularity, when all mass in the solar system is being used for computing power and we are all able to have a digital existence, if we choose. Who would choose to remain physical and why?

Of the 580 books in my database, only ten are categorized as fiction. The rest are science fiction, fantasy, both, alternate history, or some other variant of SF. That may represent about half my collection. I have not catalogued most of my non SF books. 58 are signed by the authors. Poul Anderson. Isaac Asimov. Greg Bear. Lois McMaster Bujold. Orson Scott Card (21 books—he was a favorite for a long time). Alan Dean Foster. Nalo Hopkinson. Robert Sawyer. Joan Slonsczewski, Bruce Sterling, Walter Jon Williams.

I used to go to Philcon every year. I used to be in the PSFS writing group. I introduced my friends to this world. I met Cory Doctorow and hung out with him and many other writers whose names you might recognize. A friend of mine became a fairly well known writer over the time I knew her. She used to go to the writers workshop down in North Carolina and so I would meet most of those people when she would host them here in town. For a long time, I wanted to be a science fiction writer, myself.

Then I got sick and my life turned upside down. I still like science fiction, but I don’t read any more. When I read, I read science fiction, but I am still working on a pile of books I bought several years ago. Now I am pretty much a full time jelly instead of being a science fiction writer or a sports fan or a couch potato. Since I’ve been sick, I stopped doing all those other things, or cut back on them 95%, and now I spend my time here.

My desire to change the world hasn’t gone away. But I think the venue has. My desire to write hasn’t really gone away. Now I do it more than ever, but it’s answering questions. I think there is a strong connection between answering questions on fluther and science fiction. Both are about extrapolating to the future and both, I believe, are about helping people. But fluther is more direct. At least, in some ways.

deni's avatar

No, I don’t read it, and I don’t like it in general, so I’m not sure why I love the X Files so much. I think I like the variety, and it’s just well done. And the Mulder factor.

The_Idler's avatar

Yes, really the most interesting thing about sci-fi is wondering how people will cope with future technology or environments. The implications they will have for us personally, socially, and societally. That’s often the best (or best part of) sci-fi for me.

btw, @LostInParadise You ought to know better

I can recommend cyberpunk too. There is a lot of sci-fi out there, which is simply fantasizing (often predictably optimistic)... but there is plenty that is well written, and thought-provoking. Cyberpunk owes its reputation for invigorating sci-fi to the fact that, rather than assuming the vast majority of social problems will have dissolved away in the future, the vast majority of them will still exist, exacerbated or ameliorated to different degrees, based on technological, cultural or political developments. Often, new social issues have been created by these developments.

That’s what makes the present interesting, and that’s what makes the future interesting, for me at least.

Star Wars is a futuristic fantasy-adventure. I think it makes for pretty fun watching, but I could never read something like that. If your main opposition to most sci-fi is implausibility/irrelevance, you feel the same way as I do. That said, I read plenty of sci-fi, and I will again recommend cyberpunk for you…. I reckon you’d enjoy Philip K Dick too.

Symbeline's avatar

Nah. I like fantasy and horror. Not that I wouldn’t ever read science fiction. But I don’t know of any titles at all.

LostInParadise's avatar

Okay, I stand corrected. Warp speed may be possible. I still prefer to think about the extrapolations of current developments, which I find sufficiently mind boggling. I recently heard a radio interview with a researcher who said that while genetic engineering is okay, what he is really after is starting from scratch. He was only talking about bacteria, but think of the implications.

mazingerz88's avatar

Yes I read science fiction. To compel my brain to boldly go where it hasn’t been before.

Blackberry's avatar

No, I appreciate it, but I would rather read non-fiction so I can learn about the world.

jerv's avatar

@Blackberry I find that exposing yourself to stuff that passes itself off as fiction often helps one understand reality better, especially when reality gets strange. You want to understand how corporate politics can be? Or the effects technology has on society? Look at most cyberpunk.

Blackberry's avatar

@jerv Yeah, I like science fiction shows. Close enough? :/

jerv's avatar

@Blackberry That works, so long as you don’t get into a utopian one like Star Trek, or fantasy like Star Wars. Something gritty, like Firefly or Bladerunner.

AngryWhiteMale's avatar

Not really into science fiction; I’ll read the best of the best (Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, etc.), but not into it generally, except for time travel as a theme (and usually the books I like best that involve time travel aren’t generally thought of as “science fiction”; also not into romantic stuff like Diana Gabaldon…) However, with recent work by physicists regarding the speed of light, it looks like time travel is possibly moving from science fiction to fantasy…

lonelydragon's avatar

Once in a great while, I will read the best sci fi authors like Philip K. Dick or Ray Bradbury, but I’m generally not a huge fan of the genre. Something about it leaves me cold. Maybe it’s that I can’t relate to the futuristic elements, or that in most of the novels I’ve read, there’s a greater emphasis on plot and technological advancements as opposed to character development and interaction.

@johnpowell Honey, is that you? JK. That sounds like something my SO would say.

jerv's avatar

@lonelydragon You might be interested in The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson then. Trust me ;)
Hell, I think you would like most of his books. Try some!

El_Cadejo's avatar

Science fiction is pretty much all I read. I like reading things that have a lot of future like technology for me to think about how cool itd be if it existed or to escape into another world while I read. The thing I like most about science fiction is how it parrells reality in so many ways while being completely unlike reality. It allows the reader to think about a lot of situations under a new light by giving them some twist and often times teaches good morales along the way.

roundsquare's avatar

I love it. Some of it deals with social problems but in a world that is separate from ours and thus its hard to insult people. Sometimes its just about humans doing both amazing and horrible things.

Like others have said, if the technology is so far out that its basically magic I don’t like it as much. In the foundation series, they are in the deep deep future but they still talk about nuclear power, etc… I’m not sure if that is realistic (since I imagine science be so far along by then we won’t recognize it) but at least he didn’t go in the other direction.

I also like my sci-fi to be internally consistent. That is to say, once I know the rules of the world, I hate it when they constantly change via the next great invention.

Seek's avatar

Love Sci Fi. Love Fantasy. Love that magical gray area when an author can’t decide which ze is writing.

Most of the stuff I read is from the 70s and 80s, because I inherited all of my hubby’s paperbacks when we got married.

Jeruba's avatar

Some, yes. I really like a good jolt of speculative escapism from time to time to balance off a lot of the heavier and/or more literary stuff I read. I enjoy a good mystery, too, and some fantasy as well, as long as it isn’t the cloyingly precious dragons and princesses variety.

lonelydragon's avatar

@jerv Thanks for the suggestions. I will have to look into that.

Ron_C's avatar

I started reading Science Fiction when I was very young Issac Asimov and Robert Heinlein were and still are my favorites. I even read Ayn Rand when I was in my late teens. At first I thought she was great then when I really thought about her ideas and philosophy, I became a progressive and never looked back.

ro_in_motion's avatar

I started as a wee little thing. The first time I read it, there was no turning back. One of my earliest memories was seeing the Dune cover on the old, large-size Analog magazine. I wasn’t sure I could read it (my brother had left it out). I was so captivated by the cover I gave it a go. The scream when I read that I had to wait a month for the next instalment broke windows, I’m told.

Inspired_2write's avatar

I like to read about science fiction for a few reasons.
1. The writers style and his imagination.
2. The possibilities in the future of things that could happen.
3. It gives us other ideas to expand on and create newer thoughts/perspectives.
Thus generating more ideas that may seem far out there but in time could become a reality.

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