What is your opinion about science fiction?

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I think that our response to science fiction often brings to mind the danger of generalizations. We often say that science fiction is "less intelligent" or some other "less" than literature, but there are many exceptions, arguably because the generalization struggles to keep up with the variety of authors in science fiction.

We often tease science ficition for its flat prose. However, the writing of William Gibson's early work is clearly building on William S. Burroughs. China Mieville's imagery is fantastic. Sometimes we tease sci fi for its flat characters, but it would be difficult to read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel and not find her characters sophisticated. (Not to mention her themes.)

Gene Wolfe has suggested that science fiction and fantasy have a more extensive background that much of what we call "literary fiction" today and that these writers are building on the oldest forms of literature, suggesting that we should examine the walls that we place between one genre and another. Are the distinctions between genre arbitrary or overly rigid? In interviews for her books Oryx & Crake and Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood attempted to distinguish between science fiction and speculative fiction, but even these distinctions seem precarious. Perhaps the best reference for an extended discussion that I can offer is Neal Stephenson's lecture at Gresham College in which he suggests that science fiction / speculative fiction, is the "last" genre. Click here.

The first respondent in this thread, Mshurn, has suggested that science fiction can be written to entertain or to explore serious themes. To be honest, I think SF tends to explore serious themes, but often gets caught up in the ideas at the expense of the prose or the character (Kurt Vonnegut's creation Kilgore Trout may be the most famous example of this conflict). However, as with any category of writing, there are exceptions to the rule.

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There is as much variation in quality in the genre of science fiction as in any other. Because, as parkerlee points out, so much low-grade SF was published in the 50s, it got a reputation as not being well written in general. But the best science fiction can be not only well written, but very interesting, especially when it takes a way of thinking that is so ingrained that you do not usually think of it and turns it upside down. Consider Brave New World, for example. Motherhood is intrinsically of value, no one questions that--except in this book, motherhood is a dirty word. SF can make you think about ideas that you take for granted, and have never before questioned, and really make you think about them.

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Like other types of literature, science fiction can be written primarily to entertain readers or to examine serious themes. I prefer science fiction that raises important questions about ourselves and our society. One of my favorite science fiction novels is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I think the issues he explores in regard to personal responsibility and independent thinking vs. government control and censorship are very relevant to our time. I also like his short stories, "There Will Come Soft Rains" and "The Pedestrian" because they are both "cautionary tales" about the future.

Frankenstein is generally considered to be the first major work of science fiction and it was written in the 19th century. It is a classic that examines one of the most basic themes in literature: man's refusal to accept his mortal limitations, his desire to "play God." Also, Frankenstein introduced another theme that becomes more relevant every day: the conflict between our moral values and the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Some other science fiction works that come to mind as exploring important themes are "Harrison Bergeron," 1984,  and Brave New World.When science fiction writers combine visionary imagination with the most important of human themes, great and enduring literature results.

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Science fiction has often been considered substandard literature, much like the popular crime mysteries you can buy in paperback at the train station! Science fiction was the rage back in the 1950s, but it quickly wore out its welcome among higher litarary circles because SF authors were pumping out stories without much thought to style or content. Indeed, many writers were paid by the line and were not very discriminating about what or how they wrote!

There is some beautifully written SF work out there, though, which holds its own among the literary "greats." For example, Authur C. Clarke's stories are well written and beautifully stylized. If you want to get a taste without sitting down to read a whole book, try his short story "If I Forget Thee, O Earth." I also enjoyed Greg Bear's "Blood Music," which was first written as a short story and then amplified into a full-fledged novel. Bradbury's "The Veldt" is another thriller posing some very pertinent questions.

Young people usually like science fiction stories because they are "high-tech" and in tune with modern day problems. As a teacher, I bear this in mind and try to include at least one work from this genre during the school year.

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