The New Yorker just released its first special issue devoted to science fiction, including contributions from genre giants like Ursula K. Le Guin and Ray Bradbury as well as rising “literary fiction” stars like Junot Díaz and Karen Russell. As writers at Wiredand io9 have noted, the issue marks a new level of mainstream interest in science fiction, giving a whole cadre of New-Yorker-obsessed “serious readers” license to take genre fiction, well, seriously. But what about science fiction in universities? In her contribution to the new issue, Ursula K. Le Guin argues that in the past “quite a few science-fiction writers accepted exile from the Republic of Letters to the ghetto of genre, perhaps because ghettos, like all gated communities, give the illusion of safety.”
In fact, science fiction has been sneaking into all sorts of new neighborhoods. The U.K.-based New Scientist has launched Arc, “a new magazine about the future,” while the venerable MITTechnology Review released a special issue of science fiction featuring Cory Doctorow, Joe Haldeman, and others. Ridley Scott’s television series Prophets of Science Fiction explores the power of fiction to both advance and complicate our ideas about the future, and Stephen Hawking is hosting the Science Channel’s Stephen Hawking’s Sci-Fi Masters.
Another post up on Slate last week:
What should we expect from science fiction? In a recent Smithsonian article by IO9’s Annalee Newitz, author Neal Stephenson criticized the dystopian cynicism that currently pervades the genre. Instead he calls a more optimistic, realistic approach—fewer zombies and man’s folly-style catastrophes, more creative inventions and solutions. In the spirit of being constructive, he’s also taking action. The first step is an anthology of optimistic, near-term science fiction, forthcoming from William Morrow in 2014, that will tackle this challenge head-on. Smithsonian describes the project, Hieroglyph, as a plan “to rally writers to infuse science fiction with the kind of optimism that could inspire a new generation to, as he puts it, ‘get big stuff done.’”
Science fiction’s reputation for appealing to the nerdy and anti-social has long suggested that it has more to do with escapism than the real world.
Yet as Ridley Scott’s new Discovery Science show, Prophets of Science Fiction, chronicles, the genre deserves to be taken seriously for its ability to tease out the ethical and moral issues that accompany technological progress. Upon first hearing about Prophets, I expected the director of Alien and Blade Runner to get completely lost in space while discussing Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, and Philip K. Dick and how their work “foreshadowed” current technologies. Despite the name (we’ll get to that later), I am happy to report that Scott delivered this concept just as efficiently as he delivered that alien baby to the screen: The show successfully brings science fiction and fact into conversation with one another.