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Why Read Science Fiction?

Why do you read?  What compels you to sit for long hours with a book rather than a friend, to get lost in a world of imagination rather than the one outside your door?  Every reader has her own reasons, but replicating the circumstances of everyday life is generally not one of them.  And while some writers appreciate this, the prevalence of fiction that reproduces the reality we already know suggests that many writers don’t (or don't want to) understand their readers’ thirst to experience something new through reading.

Enter science fiction.  A genre long dismissed as solely the realm of “nerds,” science fiction removes readers from reality by presenting them with strange worlds.  But, because it’s based in plausible science, sci fi also shows its readers the logical possibility of those worlds, often taking the familiar and, as Rosemary Jackson suggests, making it strange. 

In querying the nature of reality and the human mind, the genre forces us to ask Big Questions we might not otherwise consider: who are we?  Why are we here?  Where are we going?  What does it mean to be human?  Does any of it actually matter?  Even as it investigates such fundamental philosophical questions, sci fi doesn’t always provide the answers, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions about the universe and humanity’s place in it.

Perhaps the only genre to do so, science fiction lets us imagine alternate futures, lets us look at the ways in which society might function differently, both for the sake of progress and of prevention.  While works like Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea or Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland reveal possible positive consequences of technological and scientific progress, others like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or Clifford D. Simak’s City act as cautionary tales against futures humanity might wish to avoid.  The themes of 1984 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? become particularly relevant during times of political crisis, cultural upheaval, and drastic social change.

One of the purposes of science fiction is to address those crises and changes—to help us look at our world in a new way, from a different angle, a perspective we hadn’t considered before; and to take us down the road reality, logically, could lead to and reveal possible consequences.  Science fiction isn’t just for escaping everyday life: it’s for thinking more deeply about current affairs and long-term problems, the scientific and moral challenges and dilemmas with which a drastically shifting world confronts us and the ways in which we in turn confront those challenges. 

Perhaps visions of the future are just that, but we can all name books that have been banned, even burned, and dissension that’s been suppressed for “the greater good”; and what’s most important for us to keep thinking about, to keep challenging, is the future in all its guises: the possible, the impossible, the bleak, the bright, the one in constant brilliance, and the one, shrouded in total darkness, that finally reveals the stars that have surrounded us all along.

About the Author
Brittany Muscarella is an assistant editor at Empyreome. Originally from Buffalo, NY, USA, Brittany now lives in Glasgow, Scotland, where she writes slipstream (horror/sci-fi/Western) short stories all day. Her new favorite form is flash fiction, though she's currently attempting a novel, too. She moonlights as a freelance writer and a university writing instructor. Brittany holds a BA in English/Classics and an MA in English Language and Literature. You can follow her tweets at @totsbels.