Sci-fi's Place in our Brave New World
Updated: Oct 6
Back in the thick of the first economic lock down, I came across an article on Publisher's Weekly that irked me.
It was just a short piece on how agents and editors have begun to avoid sci-fi—generally pessimistic and nihilistic—in exchange for lighter more upbeat genres and topics. The reason for this was that people are looking to "get away" from it. They just want to be entertained, escape, and no longer worry about what is going on in the world around them. Sci-fi is just TOO serious!
Since then, I have seen this same general message repeated a number of times. And although it may be true, I cannot speak for everyone, I whole-heartedly disagree with the sentiment. I think there are probably those people who want to escape in times of crisis. But I know there are people out there, like myself, who have taken a deep dive into the "serious" since this whole thing started. We want to explore our current situation, posit possible directions for our future, analyze the past to see what lessons can be gleamed from it.
Not outright ignore it.
And never has there been a route to all those things quite like science fiction. Not all of it is serious, but I would say, for the most part, yes, it is. This is hardly a bad thing. I say in my introduction to our new short story anthology, The Beginning & End of All Things, that science fiction "has always been the refuge of some of the best social commentators." Think of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury. Authors whose work still stands relevant today.
This type of speculative fiction is important. Even more so in times of crisis.
I would go so far as to argue that the relationship between the science fiction writer and his/her reader is the pinnacle of critical thought. It is a discussion between the two that cannot be demeaned and broken up into accusations and insults. It is a hypothesis presented and repeatedly tested through the minds of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of intelligent people where it is formed into even more ideas and new experiments.
Fiction cannot lie to you; it cannot give you false information or make unsubstantiated claims because it doesn't claim to be the keeper of truth in the first place. The opposite in fact. Serious science fiction demands critical thought, but it also demands that you suspend your belief systems before walking into it and open yourself to different ways of thinking (as is the nature of make believe).
Not all science fiction works in this way. And let's admit it; sometimes it's nice just to shut the thinker off.
But ask yourself. Is a time of "crisis" the moment to shut off and shut out? Or is it the time to be serious and explore?
Make no mistake. These are the moments for serious sci-fi—the whole pessimistic, nihilistic, unadulterated form of it. And don't let anyone tell you that it is too serious, that it is "not marketable right now." Because those people are missing out on a massive opportunity to be the curators for future change.
Just a thought,
Tessa Barron is the Editor-in-Chief at Foul Fantasy Fiction and Bear Hill Publishing. She specializes in developmental editing and writes Fantasy and Science Fiction when she is able to find the time under the pen name Turi T. Armstrong.