Why Read Science Fiction?

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If you had your own space telescope (as if!) you could look at really amazing things like the Engraved Hourglass Nebula

Why do I choose to write science fiction? Easy: that’s the way my mind works.

But why would anyone want to read science fiction? More specifically, why should you want to read it? Now, that is the question!

There are many possible reasons, but in the end they generally come down to what is called a “sense of wonder”: a curiosity about what we might find “out there”.

In Space

One of the best known forms of science fiction is the kind that happens in outer space or on an alien planet, frequently utilizing space ships of some kind. Often it is about the kinds of living things that could be found out there.

Examples are far too numerous to name, but some great classics are Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” and his Foundation books, Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star”, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood’s End, and lots of others.

The possibilities for life in outer space are quite literally infinite.

According to Wikipedia, there are around 200 million galaxies in the universe, containing a total of around 3 x 1023 stars (that is 3 with 23 zeroes after it – also called three hundred sextillion). If that confuses you, just agree that the number is vastly greater than you or I could ever visualize.

As far as we can tell, a large number of these stars – perhaps the majority of them – contain systems of planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, comets, and huge numbers of smaller bits sometimes known as dust particles.

Ignoring the dust and the smaller asteroids, this means there could be, roughly speaking, anywhere from 1024to 1027 or even more places where life could potentially exist.

Considering that Earth alone houses several million known species, and that the number of undiscovered species could possibly be even greater than this – well, let’s just say we’re never going to run out of possible new species.

It is true that we have never yet discovered a single place outside Earth with reliable evidence of life, but this need not deter us from our quest to find out more. This, from the science fictional rather than the strict scientific point of view, is actually an advantage, because it greatly increases the number of possible places out there to write about.

Interestingly, a very recent Scientific American article suggests that Earth-like planets are extremely rare and that most planets are several billion years older than Earth. How is it, asks cosmologist Max Tegmark, that the inhabitants of those planets have not visited us before if they have been around so long?

So perhaps we really are more special than we thought.

Night sky copy
Looking up into space on a clear night, you can only see a few thousand stars, if you’re very lucky. A few thousand stars is nothing.

 

Out of Space

But “out there” doesn’t even have to mean space. It can mean somewhere inaccessible on our own planet, such as the deep ocean trenches, or anywhere in the 99.5% of the Earth lying beneath the crust. Or it could mean some submicroscopic place that we would never be able to find, or in the past, or the future, or in a parallel universe.

All this underlines the point that the possibilities are infinite – except for the limiting factor.

The Limiting Factor

What is the limiting factor to the possibilities of science fiction? Well, any fiction is the product of someone’s imagination. And that is what limits us. Our imagination is limited by what we can think, which in turn is conditioned by what we know.

And, let’s face it, some people’s imaginations are a lot more limited than others.

What we know, at least in the areas pursued by science fiction, is principally determined by the limits of our science – which are, fortunately, expanding all the time.

Back Where We Started

So why would anyone want to read science fiction? Because they have a sense of wonder. Because they are fascinated by the possibilities of what could exist. Because they want to be as prepared as possible in case some of these possibilities actually turn out to be true.

Why do others choose not to read it? Because they do not have a sense of wonder – or else they choose to apply their wonder to other fields of knowledge. Because they are not interested in the possibilities – or because they are scared of them. And sadly, in many cases, because they do not read at all.

Of course, many people prefer to get their science fiction from the television or the big screen – including big screen television. There is nothing wrong with this – but in my experience, readers are generally much more thoughtful and interesting than people who are merely viewers .

We have no way of knowing whether these places even exist, so some people – probably most people – think it’s a waste of time, so they go off and watch some boring and unrealistic soap opera instead. But to some of us, that is the whole point. We don’t know, and that’s why we need to find out what’s out there.

Free Story!

In the meantime, here’s a special offer. You can be one of the very first people in the world to read my brand new story “The Reproductive Urge” (note: the title does not mean what it probably sounds like.)

All you need to do is write your email address in the email box on the form on the right of this page. This will give you your free copy of my story plus a subscription to my newsletter and blog.

In return, you don’t need to do anything. However, I would be very happy if you would read the story and tell me what you think of it.

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