Why Speculative Fiction?


There is, of course, one obvious answer to this question: It’s my native territory.

Like many in my generation I grew up with a nose in the comics, marveling at the deeds of the endlessly recreated, yet unchanging heroes and villains within. Atomic-powered mutants with hearts of gold, shield-slinging bravados, gamma-green Jekyl/Hyde reboots: they saved the world, the universe, the multiverse, even the microverse time after time. In the back of class we picked our noses in mute admiration, four colors hidden between the black and white pages of math and history.

As we grew, neither did they. I am now older than Peter Parker, who—as far as I know—is still attending university, still showing remarkable promise.

In adolescence, the moral themes introduced in the comics swept us into the fantastical. Young men and women, childlike beings, set off on perilous journeys with little chance at success. As we navigated adolescence, so too did they make departure from innocence and enter a world fraught with danger and adventure to ultimately prevail and change the fates of their worlds. None returned unchanged.

Of course into high school we had grown tired of the coming-of-age tales—after all, we had arrived, right? Instead, we grew cynical, affecting an utterly premature world-weariness that found reflection in the paranoiac, hardboiled stories of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. Even respectable writers had dabbled with psychotropics, made illicit forays into bordellos; accordingly, we took this as a sign of permissiveness. To the chagrin of our parents.

In short, speculative fiction and its cousins are like blood in the veins, like family. This nativeness is, by definition, the most personal reason. But there are others.

After thirty years I still haven’t “grown out” of it. Instead, I’ve moved on to even more sophisticated genre writers: Gene Wolfe, Doris Lessing, and David Mitchell, to name a few. Perhaps the lesson is that there is indeed something in Speculative Fiction that defies dismissal. Something important, if literature can ever be said to be important.

In a recent article, Damien G. Walter poses the question: “Can Sci Fi Help Build a Better World?” Among many points he makes is that societal vicissitudes and scientific innovations predicted within the great works of the genre have often indeed come about. This bridge between the imagination and reality is central to Speculative Fiction, which by nature asks and answers the monumental question: “What it?” In this sense, one could argue that Speculative Fiction has more in common with the philosophic tradition than any other literary medium. While legend, fantasy, epic and myth operate in allegory to help us make sense of the past and present, Speculative Fiction looks to the future. By envisioning alternatives, we create them.

At its best, Speculative Fiction forces us to reflect on the trajectory present day choices prognosticate: the dystopian fallout that will arise from disinterest and unconscious cruelty; the leaps in condition that come when our native innovation is fostered, judiciously and with an eye to its potential consequences.

In a recent article in Popular Science, the author briefly discusses the coming issues around water. The late Noble Laureate Richard Smalley’s lecture in which he outlined the ten greatest threats to civilization in order of severity: energy first; water second, is cited. Wars in the 1900s, especially the latter half, were largely about the acquisition of petroleum, but, as energy source alternatives are primed to supplant fossil fuels, the author makes the very convincing claim that we can anticipate this century’s conflicts will be largely about water.

By chance, scientists have recently discovered evidence that points to a potential source of water at the very least as large as that on the earth’s surface, hundreds of miles down in the mantle. What if, to escape a scorched earth, we were to burrow down in search of this bounty?

The first serialized story to be featured here, “Jury Selection,” is set in a grim subterranean world. Mankind has embarked on a mass-exodus to escape a scorched earth, not to the stars, but into tenebrous realms below.



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