Clive Thompson over at Wired has posted this review of Cory Doctorow’s novella, which includes a great argument for science fiction as the new site of philosophical exploration, the new way to explore humanity and all its potential.
I have to admit, I could see his point about literary fiction, and the limits to what it can explore in relation to the big issues. Yes, literature that the majority can relate to, literature with characters that remind you of people you know, is fine. Great, even. But what if you don’t want to read a book that’s really just about the guy down the street? What if you’d rather read one that gives serious thought to what the world is going to do when half our land masses are under water? Or when human fertility runs out, or when that doomsday virus actually does make it out of the lab (you’ve all heard the conspiracy theories).
Science fiction, or ‘speculative fiction’, to give it the umbrella title that adds in horror and fantasy literature, is not without flaws. It has it’s share of bad writing, but so does every other genre around. Spec fic is the only genre where a writer can twist reality as we know it – introduce a variable like German victory in WW2, for example, or the widespread existance of zombies – and see how humanity reacts. And it’s finally moving over into the mainstream. Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Philip Roth, etc. have all abandoned the limits of reality for the unlimited potential of speculative fiction. Which, when it’s done right, can be some of the cleverest, most moving, most thought-provoking stuff out there. It can leave you feeling like the world might just make it through.
Or that we’re all doomed. Either one works.