[Theory] Scifi is an essay in fiction form[Theory] (9)

1 Name: G'Kar : 2006-10-23 17:37 ID:lXpKBO6U

I've been thinking a bit about what makes scifi stories work, and it seems to me that the ones that work best are the ones asking questions, not the ones that have an answer, or a pat answer to whatever's going on in the world. They aren't even really about modern technology -- pick your favorite sci-fi, and then, using only the novel or tv/movies -- explain exactly how the engines work, or the miracle cure or the laser waepons. I'll bet good money that you can't do it. They seem more like the means to an end -- engines work because they need to get the hero to this or that planet in time to watch the situation blow up around his ears.

But they always seem to ask questions. Maybe all writing does, but scifi seems to have the distiction of asking questions that don't have easy answers. Romance seems to spend most of its time asking questions of the heart -- cheating spouses, love triangles, and so on. Mysteries usually center around figuring out who did the deed and why. These are fairly conventional -- after all, there are only two answers to "should I cheat on my wife" -- yes or no. And once you find the murderer and why he did it, there's no more questions. With a scifi, it seems that the questions are more fundemental and that they don't come down to a simple answer -- in fact sometimes the solution to the problem comes from seeing a different question.

Imagine that Earth is suffering from a plague. A nasty plague that rots your body from the inside out. The victims can't move, but they can think. After exploring around for some time, a cure is found. Unfortunately it can only come from killing living beings that may in fact be sentient. So what do our heros do? Do they leave the beings alone and sentence humans on earth to death? Do they kill the lil feckers and save humanity? It sounds like a scifi, yet the premise is essentially from stem cell debates. I'm asking the question in the scifi universe, but it's a down to earth question.

*To understand what a real essay is, we have to reach back into history again, though this time not so far. To Michel de Montaigne, who in 1580 published a book of what he called "essais." He was doing something quite different from what lawyers do, and the difference is embodied in the name. Essayer is the French verb meaning "to try" and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.

Figure out what? You don't know yet. And so you can't begin with a thesis, because you don't have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn't begin with a statement, but with a question. In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it. You notice a door that's ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what's inside.*


2 Name: Bookworm : 2006-10-28 18:13 ID:kHGTS379

I'm taking a course on SF in college right now, and yes, one of the things I love about SF is it's speculative nature...it's all about asking questions and imagining situations.

SF is undoubtedly my favorite genre of literature.

3 Name: Bookworm : 2006-11-02 21:53 ID:Heaven

> Imagine that Earth is suffering from a plague. A nasty plague that rots your body from the inside out. The victims can't move, but they can think. After exploring around for some time, a cure is found. Unfortunately it can only come from killing living beings that may in fact be sentient.

Yeah, it's called "Parkinson's disease" but maybe you knew that.

4 Name: Bookworm : 2007-07-12 02:03 ID:efxgmFDY

Bumping so that the next thread deleted is the Inuyasha/bleach fanfic thread instead of this.

I also took a course in SF last semester.

5 Name: Bookworm : 2007-07-16 02:18 ID:Heaven


He said plague.

6 Name: Bookworm : 2007-07-17 03:06 ID:Heaven

Also, stem cells are not sentient any more than your hair is sentient. (It's not, but maybe you knew that.)

7 Name: Bookworm : 2007-08-01 16:31 ID:nW97vYcU

I came to this board to write something like this, heh. Mine was going to be more along the lines of "Why is science fiction used for this purpose, instead of some other genre?" I suppose the answer for that is because SciFi is the genre that puts the most power into man's hands...

Anyway, bump.

8 Name: Bookworm : 2007-08-13 13:27 ID:lXpKBO6U


Yeah, I agree. It's freer and I personally think part of it is that you can critisize things in your own culture -- yet you don't have to make it about your country. Who cares about my critisism of the Vendinian government of Talos 7? Now if I said the same things about the American government, I could be critisized for being "soft on X" or "liberal" or "conservative" -- in short, no one could deal with the IDEA, because they're too busy trying to fit it on their personal ideological grid. If it's some distant futuristic universe and the government is secretly reading people's thoughtwaves, no one cares about my "stance", but if I wrote about wiretapping, it's either going to be "neocon trash" or "helping teh terrorists" -- but if I do it right (and I'm not that good ... yet) what would happen is that I get the reader to think about where he stands on something.

Read the stuff by the masters, and at least to me they seem to do that a lot. They leave you thinking about whether Muaddib was really such a great Mahdi for the Freemen, or whether the three laws are worth anything, or something along these lines. Tolkien sorta does the same, the question is whether humans have the ability to throw away a means to getting power. The temptation to keep the One Ring is powerful.

9 Name: Bookworm : 2007-08-27 21:06 ID:NsmeA0S5

What you say seems to make a lot of sense, of course not for all scifi (I also like my little doses of technobabbl, thankyouverymuch ;) ), but it certainly applies to what is generally seen as the classics, and to a lot of short stories, Cory Doctorow or Isaac Asimov come to mind.

Science Fiction is of a more structured type, of course (It beeing fiction), but the speculative base is definatley there. Adittionally, even if most science fiction ideas sound ridiculous, there is always the possibility that someone _might just_ invent that device or _might just_ discover this and that. I think that also adds to the appeal of scifi, that most of it _could_ happen.

Our german teacher described writing an essay as beeing like "taking a walk throught the park, you don't know yet in which direction you will go, don't know yet where you might end up, and you have all the worlds time to check out those beautiful flowers over there or to stop and admire the sky for a while."

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