by Mark Aragona
The general public already has its own pre-set concept of what science fiction is: spaceships, alien encounters, faster-than-light travel, utopias, dystopias, lightsabers, and robots that turn into everything but the kitchen sink. But in truth, science fiction covers such a wide range of issues and ideas—history, society, politics, sexuality—that could use a little more focus and intelligent discussion. Here are six science fiction subjects worth exploring:
Anthropological Science Fiction
Anthropological science fiction delves into the question of what humankind is and where it’s headed. Anthropology provides a fertile ground for issues and ideas concerning evolution, language, religion, culture, and as shown in Ursula LeGuin’s classic The Left Hand of Darkness, gender and sexual orientation.
This sub-genre of cyberpunk focuses on the use, abuse, and consequences of runaway biotechnology. Will cracking the human genetic code translate into a cure for cancer, or create super-enhanced humans that are resistant to all diseases, or perhaps yield something illegal and far more sinister, such as genetic theft? The 1997 film Gattaca and the 2007 film Splice are some examples of biopunk.
Ecological Science Fiction
Eco science fiction deals with Man’s relationship with the Earth itself. Let’s face it: in this age of real problems like freak weather, melting ice caps, massive heat waves, and disappearing species, we do need a more intelligent discussion of nature other than movies like The Day After Tomorrow.
In science fiction, not even the past is set in stone. Alternate History deals with the question of “What if this happened instead?” Say, if Leonardo da Vinci invented flight or if the Confederates won the Civil War. Time travel is always a useful method for exploring this topic, but writers can also make subtle and believable changes to crucial events then watch them play out. Several examples appear in the anthology Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History.
Until now, scientists still haven’t agreed on what exactly dreams are and what they’re for. We spend a third of our lives asleep—where do we go during that brief period of REM? Science fiction has the unique opportunity of exploring that territory. Junji Ito’s short comic “Long Dream” illustrates the horrific effects of time displacement during sleep, while Isaac Asimov’s “Robot Dreams” presents how humans may have to deal with intelligent machines capable of dreaming.
Human beings have long been fascinated by death. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone wants to know—what happens after we die? It’s only natural. While not all of us will be able to plumb the depths of the sea, scour the surface of Mars, or plant flags on the furthest planets from our solar system, death is the one frontier that we’re sure all of us will be able to go. And it may be our richest source for stories yet, as shown in Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Answer”, wherein a scientist contends with a god-like figure’s plan for an eternal reward.