Several weeks ago, I read a book review which referred to science fiction as a genre through which all teenagers pass. That, of course, made me wonder why I'm still stuck with it as my favourite genre. Is sci-fi more than just a right of passage?
When I was twenty one a girlfriend lent me 'I Robot' by Isaac Asimov, until then my reading had been along the lines of Hemingway, Dickens and Dostoevsky. I had relegated sci-fi, with its bad press, to a world of ichor-dripping monsters rising from primordial ooze. Isaac Asimov was like a can opener, cranking the lid off my small brain to let it run loose in a universe. The revolutionary 1960's were ending, men had walked on the moon, we, as humans, were on the brink of expansion.
As time passed, I devoured more sci-fi books. Asimov's 'Foundation' was next, then other writers such as John Wyndham, Robert Silverberg and Heinlen. Frank Herbert and Arthur C. Clarke captured me with the detail and scope of the worlds and characters they created.
Women writers were next: Ursula Le Guin, with her beautiful prose, followed by Anne McCaffrey, Sherri Tepper, Barbara Hambly and the poetic Patricia McKillop. Elizabeth Moon and Lois McMaster Bujold are more recent, but much loved and admired.
All of these writers poked and prodded at my narrow world; they burst bubbles of preconceived ideas, made me question my perception of reality, love, our place in the universe and our realtionship with technology in a way that other genres had not. Some, like McMaster Bujold, also made me laugh.
Our lives are already the stuff of science fiction; many of our gadgets were predicted by writers such as Jules Verne - we have submarines, we fly between cities, watch world news on T.V. or on our iphones, have robotic vacuum cleaners for our floors, and police who wield tasers.
These aspects give science fiction relevance regardless of our age. It's the imaginative dreamers, innovators and scientists who point to our future, but it's how we, as individuals, reject or embrace and extend those changes, that determine their success or failure.
In the hundreds of years ahead, as we move into space, will we be the rodents of the universe, gnawing at the juiciest fruits and ripe cheeses that attract us, digging and hoarding and defecating indiscriminately? Or can we learn to be responsible beings who don't harm others and who clean up after ourselves? Will we be exterminated for the pests we've become?
Sci-fi writers explore their best and worst visions of the future, they extrapolate and sometimes reach quite ugly conclusions, but frequently balance it with idealism and morality. Science fiction is rich with challenge, it stretches us - our minds, our attitudes and our visions of the future. It offers both hope and despair, but the path we choose is up to us.
Science fiction is much more than a passing teenage fad.
In the spring photo: bluebells and sunshine are nudging out winter for another year.