Feb. 15, 2024

Why Everyone Should Read Science Fiction

Why Everyone Should Read Science Fiction

Bold title. “Everyone”? Yes, everyone. You’ll see why soon, depending on your reading speed and my ability to keep your interest.

The call for everyone to read science fiction boils down to three reasons. The first is that reading, simply reading, is as fundamental to mental development as walking is to physical development. A person’s mind does not “set” at a certain age, unless that person chooses, by indifference, ignorance, or pathetic willfulness, to keep their mind from using its plasticity to evolve. In simpler terms, a closed mind does not grow.

The Average American, that insipid construct aimed at the lowest common denominator, reads about one book a year. One. Most likely some fluff-oozed spew on the Best Seller list read solely to be able to chime in on sophomoric conversations that are forgotten within the span of a gentle beer chug. In simpler terms, mind-numbing sheep behavior.

The second reason is that science fiction is the genre most focused on possibilities. “But Gil,” the Average American might say, “don’t all genres explore possibilities?” The question embraces the second reason like a ravenous boa hugs a fawn: if you think other genres do the same amount of possibility-exploring as science fiction, you need to read science fiction. The very nature of the genre is to develop as fantastical a potential context as possible, and yet make it plausible and recognizable to the average reader. The amount of imagination, logic, common sense, and discipline required to bring disparate elements together in cohesive fashion makes demands of both science fiction writers and their readers. In simpler terms, this means making the complex seem simple.

Count the number of genres that have formulas, set patterns where deviation is anathema: romance, mysteries, thrillers, classic westerns, and so on. Science fiction is about the deviations, of taking the genre and its sub-genres and constantly creating new variations, new explorations, so that the focus is all on breaking new ground, not retreading deep ruts that swallow white wagon wheels whole (I’m looking at you, romance genre).

And this leads to the third reason: reading even one science fiction book can make reason 1 and reason 2 forever irrelevant to you. Read “Stranger in a Strange Land,” or “Dune,” novels that college English departments analyze at length. Dive into “Necromancer” or “The Hyperion Cantos,” “The Broken Earth Trilogy,” or even “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” If you have never read a work of science fiction, you will be astounded and challenged, experiencing an intellectual mirror-as-window construct that will have you look at the world in a different way. In simpler terms, a mind once expanded cannot regain its former limitations.

So why didn’t I just say my piece in the simpler terms, saving us both a few hundred words? Because you wouldn’t read those brief sentences. You’d gloss over them, skimming, your mind flitting across the words as being too familiar, too well-known, so <yawn> overly-understood.

Except. Except that now you have a different perspective on these “simplicities.” Of course you do. I had to construct a potential context that would be as odd to you as possible, and yet make it plausible and recognizable, to place a mirror-as-window in which you now look at the world in a different way. Welcome to what science fiction does better than any other genre.