One reason I enjoy writing science fiction is because it is at its best, social satire. It’s both serious and campy, insightful and strange. It is by nature, multidisciplinary, wrought with nuance and language subtleties that make it unpalatable for some readers and catnip for others.
Author David Ketterer says “Science fiction (in the inclusive sense) combines satire with the kind of visionary (or prophetic) imagination exemplified by Dante’s Divine Comedy or Milton’s Paradise Lost. ..”
If you look at the history of science fiction, you can see prime examples of social satire. Ray Bradbury, who wrote during the era of segregation said that much of his work is about oppression and racism. The word robot derives from the Czech word for slave so often in science fiction, you can assume that a robot represents an individual who has low social status and is oppressed, like Wall E. The term was first coined in a play, R.U.R. In this campy melodrama, the robots finally accomplish a rebellion against their tormentors.
Likewise, an encounter with an alien or “other” may be a subtle comment about racism, classism, or sexism, often accompanied by an anti-colonialism sentiment. One of my favorite classical examples is First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells in which a scientist and a businessman have competing ideas about studying the moon vs conquering it.
James Gunn argues that science fiction has its own set of protocols set apart from literary fiction. Like science itself, it is a genre in which characters encounter the unknown, solve problems, and create understandable universes. He describes it as “the literature of the human species encountering change.”
Margaret Atwood calls Science Fiction “Social Commentary about Now. ” She doesn’t write a novel without a modern detail hidden in the story line. An older woman, she warns what life was like, and could be like, if women aren’t allowed to control their own bodies, as happened in the past.
Since science fiction is mainly about today’s society, a person doesn’t need to be a scientist to write science fiction. Some scientists avoid it because they dislike the anxiety about science that is often found on the pages. However, the science must be plausible and based on scientific information or the story won’t have authority. To paraphrase the late author and biochemist Isaac Asimov, science fiction needs to make brains respectable.
One way that an author can gain credibility is to accurately name chemical substances. For example, vibranium, found in Wakanda, carries the Latin noun ending -ium which became common for elements in the Victorian era when many elements were discovered and named. Despite a lot of well-known memes, keep in mind that scientists are most often drawn to science because they want to help people To create fresh, realistic characters, here are some traits that scientists feel help define them.
Through its discoveries and ways of looking at the world, science creates change that society adapts to. This is why we have science in science fiction–to create strange new change.The most important parts of science fiction are people and change, and in the best cases, satire based on today.
There is no Beauty without Strangeness (Detroit mural)