Of good and bad Science Fiction

As much as I love to read (and as delinquent as I've been about updating my on-line reading list), I really ought to blog about books more.  that said, a couple thoughts on the science fiction genre.  I just finished an good science fiction novel, Rollback by Robert Sawyer, and put another one down after the first chapter (Glasshouse by Charles Stross) and decided not to continue.  What I think makes for good science fiction is taking intriguing premises about the future, technology, alien life, etc., and using those premises to illuminate the human condition.  What science fiction does is open up a vast array of new and interesting scenarios for us to think about humanity.  Thus, I think all the best science fiction is motivated by the human characters and what the author can ultimately say about them.  Unfortunately, there's a lot of science fiction authors out there who seem to be motivated primarily by the cool, speculative ideas.  Sadly, though, the coolest speculative idea cannot sustain a novel unless it has something interesting to say about people.  So, basically, to oversimplify, I've decided that there are two kinds of science fiction: that motivated to use speculative ideas to tell interesting stories about human character versus that motivated by coming up with coolest, most provocative speculative ideas, period.  I'll keep reading the former (e.g., Dune, The Sparrow) and dropping the latter after a few chapters. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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