The Importance of Science-Fiction and Fantasy
Science-fiction and fantasy are usually lumped together as genre fiction, and are still—even now, after a diversity of TV shows, films, and books have fuelled the public imagination—seen by many as nerd-like and geeky. The fact that those words don’t have to hold any negative tones if we don’t let them seems to have passed some people by.
The stories that sit within the grouping of science-fiction and fantasy should be enjoyed, of course, because they’re fun; I love Doctor Who, for example, because it’s wonderfully joyful—and, occasionally, more than a little dark. Some people go too far, of course, and argue things like the ‘real’ Dr Who stopped at the Thirteenth Doctor, or that there simply can’t be a female Doctor, or that the rebrand starting with the Ninth Doctor is entirely wrong and blasphemous, or some other level of invective. I always want to meet people like that and remind them that it’s entirely fictitious. The stories only survive as long as there are writers who want to further develop the world.
But science-fiction and fantasy are more than just a genre, or—better—separate genres, that deserve to be enjoyed. They are important. They allow us to explore concepts that might not otherwise be discussed. A well-known example is Star Trek. Back in the 1960s, in parts of the USA, black and white divisions were entirely normal. Equality was a word without meaning, but not on the bridge of the USS Enterprise—there a black woman was the communications officer and an Asian-American steered the ship. It was a sign that things could be better, but presented in a fictional setting that didn’t threaten conservatives and supporters of the status quo. “It’s just a TV show,” you can almost hear people saying. “It doesn’t reflect real life. It’s all fine.”
But it did reflect real life. Black people saw Lieutenant Uhura and Asian-Americans saw Lieutenant Sulu, and they wondered if their own lives could be treated with the same level of respect and dignity that these two people were experiencing. Their own imaginations were allowed to soar, the sight of people being treated as equals was almost unheard of in that time.
The Time Machine and War of the Worlds were two classics from H.G. Wells in the early 20th Century, at a time when science-fiction and fantasy didn’t really have an established audience per se. Wells was an early adopter, it could be said, and others—many, many others—have followed in his wake, building on what he and his peers developed, which in turn was coined by the likes of Mary Shelley a century or so before.
I have, of course, side-lined fantasy in this discussion, but that’s not to say there aren’t examples of the same thing happening in that genre. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is allegorical for so many things, and the Lord of the Rings (plus the Hobbit and wider narratives) are stories of friendship, loyalty, and dedication, not to mention power and its pursuit.
Don’t dismiss these two powerful genres as just ray guns or elves; they’re so much more than that. Instead, try writing a bit of either, or both. Let your imagination run wild, for with both science-fiction and fantasy, more is definitely better.
© 2020 Matthew Munson
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.