Discussion Board

Topic: science fiction - is it just metaphor or should it be taken literally

From: Alex Mair
Location: England
Date: 03/20/2008

Dear Greg Bear, my name is Alex Mair. I am 17 and live in England where I am studying A levels in physics, chemistry and biology. I have always been an SF fan and I really like your stories.

I would like to know what you think science fiction is for. Does it have to be realistic or is it just a metaphor for human troubles. (I am having an argument with my Dad about this!)

Most TV sci-fi isnt meant to be realistic, such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who. These are best understood as metaphors and are rubbish if you take them literally. Most written SF however takes the ideas seriously especially hard SF like recently deceased A C Clark, Stephen Baxter and yourself.

My Dad says its just metaphor but I think it should be plausible and logically consistent. What do you think?

Re: science fiction - is it just metaphor or should it be taken literally

From: Greg Bear
Date: 03/28/2008

Bravo for logical consistencies! However, all fiction is rooted in metaphor, and science fiction, no matter how rigorous, still has roots in old fashioned myths and fairy tales. One of my favorite films, "2001: A Space Odyssey" is scientifically rigorous and yet deals with angelic/alien interference with our destinies, intelligent design/Uplift, transcendence, and so on. The litmus test for "hard" sf is difficult to define, but generally speaking, respect for scientific knowledge is essential--and must be tempered by the realization that we don't know everything, and may not know anything important!

Re: science fiction - is it just metaphor or should it be taken literally

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 03/28/2008

To me, and this question has been discussed in places I've been and I'm sure many I haven't, the real question here is: how seriously should we take it?

My answer is, we should consider SF a significant phenomenon - psychologically, socially, and speculatively. It is the most significant story-telling gig there is.

Re: science fiction - is it just metaphor or should it be taken literally

From: Greg Bear
Date: 04/02/2008

Films, as has been noted before, are more like waking dreams than most stories or novels. This allows a certain latitude in camera work, POV, etc.--and even 2001 suggests a super-scientific experience at the end of the journey.

Re: science fiction - is it just metaphor or should it be taken literally

From: Dan
Location: Los Angeles
Date: 07/08/2008

I've often considered Science Fiction as a means of making whatever social/political point you have to make by creating a reality in which your point works, and then using that as the milieu in which to express it. Generally speaking, the more recognizable your reality is, the better the point comes across: Queen of Angels is a great one in that regard; other examples would be Dune, Ursula Le Guin's Hainish cycle, John Brunner's four semi-apocalyptic novels (Stand on Zanzibar, etc.) and pretty much anything Philip K. Dick ever wrote.

In this light, I see Science Fiction as a whole split into two categories: the type I've just described above, and a more action-oriented, less political type requiring less mental participation from its audience.

In terms of expressing political or social commentary, though, Science Fiction is a natural place to start -- even Ayn Rand incorporated various science fiction elements into her work towards the end -- "Atlas Shrugged" couldn't have worked without them.

So, is Science Fiction a metaphor, or should it be taken literally? Both, I think: if it's done well, then the elements of the story tend to correspond or at least allude to elements of reality in our own society -- they have to, or the meaning is lost.

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