When I hear the word “literature”, I reach for my phaser

I have long held the view that science fiction is serious literature – and nor am I alone in this.

Pretty lonely, possibly, but not alone.

I have blogged elsewhere on how the new wave of SF – note, not Sci Fi! – is breaking on an unsuspecting world, with Brits again prominent agents of change, as they were in the heady days of the 1960s when SF got radical.  I have also extolled the virtues of one Terry Pratchett, who I am sure is regarded by “serious” literati as a figure-of-fun dilettante – but then, they’ve never read him, have they?  And I’ll bet their favourite authors don’t have nearly as much fun, either.

Now, of course, SF has hit the visual media mainstream, with the whole world raving about James Cameron’s “Avatar” – and much of the planet wondering just what happens next in TV’s “Flash Forward”.

If you want to see how SF has affected popular culture, compared to someone like…oh, Charles Dickens, possibly, just consider the following:

  • your children and friends are far more likely to have a favourite Star Wars character than a Dickens character
  • many more people will use the quote “Luke, I am your father” than “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”
  • people are more likely to learn Klingon than catechism


So why don’t English and Modern Literature Departments take it seriously?  Possibly because they take themselves too seriously…or because of the word “science”, which tends to put them off rather.

Unless, of course, the SF is written by a literary figure: someone like George Orwell, or Aldous Huxley, or even Doris Lessing.  Or Ian McEwen, who has just released “Solar”: this is apparently about a deeply flawed Nobel-winning scientist stealing someone else’s ideas; oh, and climate change.  And is “…a stylish new work by one of the world’s greatest living writers about one man’s ambitions and self-deceptions”.

Funny; it looks like SF to me.

Oh, it’s very clever, very literary – and surprisingly scientific, to the point where I’m sure the average civilian’s eyes glaze over and they skip to the next salacious bit.

And that’s the point of good SF: to entertain, while at the same time educating the technologically and scientifically literate.

I’m off to finish Neal Asher’s latest offering, “Line War“.  Wherein the awesome power of a black hole is harnessed via a mega-matter transmitter as a weapon against a nanotech-enabled enemy.  And sassy and cantankerous androids do battle with rogue artificial intelligences.  Serious stuff…B-)

And which I had to repurchase, after losing it somewhere in Canberra, a week or so ago, nine-tenths finished.

I hate it when that happens.

About Ed Rybicki

Ed is an aging virologist and biotechnologist, formerly a Zambian and presently a South African. He is into family, virology, biotechnology, vaccines, science in general, science fiction in particular, photography, red wine, wearing loud shirts, 70s rock, blues and smooth jazz...and telling stories. Sometimes, interesting ones. And writing for his own amusement. Also, during this time of plague, trying to learn (again) to play guitar.
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4 Responses to When I hear the word “literature”, I reach for my phaser

  1. AJ Cann says:

    So is this a literary blog, or will it reach deep into your psyche?

  2. Pingback: Viruses as nanomachines! Or: what you can believe from YouTube « ViroBlogy

  3. Pingback: Baby Steps in a Spacesuit 3: In Praise of the Short Form | Ed Rybicki's Blog

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