As a genre, science fiction has never been afraid to ask what is possible. From questions about what might exist in the great unknown of space to what truly makes us human, the possibilities are endless in the intersection between the real and the fake, the science and the fiction.
Science fiction as a genre exists between the intersection of ‘science’ and ‘fiction’. Science fiction authors are able to take the real – that which is based in some truth – and imagine the endless fictitious possibilities thereof. In this way, these works of fiction can hold a warped mirror up to our society and allow us to consider many topical questions.
In this article, we’ll break down some of the most pressing questions and themes that are present within this expansive genre. We’ll also give you some related book recommendations so that you can ponder the answers to these questions for yourself!
The Intersection of Science and Fiction
In order to fully understand the questions science fiction asks readers to consider, you need to understand the purpose of this genre. This is because the questions brought up in science fiction are closely linked to the conventions of this sprawling literary genre.
Within the science fiction genre, there is a constant duality at play, and it’s even in the very name of the genre. Firstly, there’s the science aspect: that which is based on truth and is closer to our reality. Then there’s the fictional aspect that takes us beyond the scientific theories and facts and into a dimension brimming with possibility.
The fictional element allows writers and readers alike to imagine endless possibilities, from utopic dreams to harrowing dystopian nightmares – and everything in between, literally. However, there is always more than meets the eye when it comes to this versatile genre of fiction!
Between the intersection of these two elements – ‘science’ and ‘fiction’, so to speak – within the genre lies the ability of science fiction to comment on our society and the world we live in. In this sense, science fiction has a social purpose that lies in the overlapping ‘science’ and ‘fiction’ elements.
It could be said that the purpose of any fictitious work is to force us to question something. When it comes down to this extensive genre, that something can take on many mind-bending forms. It could make us question everything from the possible existence of extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the universe to the nature of our own realities.
Four Questions Science Fiction Asks us to Consider
When it comes down to the question’s that science fiction asks readers to consider, these are some of the major ones! We’ve included reading recommendations for each that will bring up these questions and more along your journey into the unknown.
#1 What Exists Out There?
Science fiction has long asked us to consider what else could exist within our universe. The exploration of space is an ongoing process, a mystery unfolding before our very eyes. This hasn’t stopped science fiction writers from imagining what might exist in the great unknown of space.
When we read these types of science fiction novels, not only do we question the possibility of extraterrestrial life, but we are also transported on a journey through time and space. From our first contact with aliens to colonial wars fought on far-off planets, there’s much to explore here!
The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber is a thought-provoking novel that sees a Christian missionary set off on a journey to spread the word of God on a distant planet inhabited by aliens.
Crossfire by Nancy Kress is a space opera that looks at the colonization of a distant planet by a group of humans who soon discover another non-native alien species already living there.
#2 What Happens When ‘They’ Come to Earth?
What happens when the outside comes in? Above, we discussed science fiction novels that looked at the exploration of space and the possibility of alien life. Another question this genre has often asked readers to consider is what would happen if alien life came to earth.
Again, the possibilities are as endless as our galaxy! However, not all tales of alien life arriving on earth are as heartwarming as the 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Humans are no strangers to the concept of war, and many of these sci-fi narratives force us to consider what a war between humanity and extra-terrestrials could look like.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, the famed science fiction writer, turns the alien invasion trope on its head by imagining a peaceful overhaul of our planet by a species known as The Overlords and what that ultimately says about the world that we all live in.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor imagines how the life of those living in Lagos, Nigeria, could forever be changed by a huge object that crash lands in a nearby lagoon, marking the arrival of a strange alien species.
#3 The Past, The Future, and Alternative Present
Science fiction writers have often pondered the question of what it would be like to travel through time and space… and what we might find there. The books that question the fabric of time and space are as diverse as the genre itself, with everything from adventure to romance, historical fiction to psychological thrillers, and more.
Time travel remains a popular theoretical idea in our culture. Science fiction authors often tap into this collection of theoretical research and adapt them into expansive sci-fi narratives. From humanity’s past to our imagined futures and every alternative universe in between, there is much to think about!
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu tells the meta-story of a time machine mechanic, Charles Yu, who receives a book authored by his future self that could possibly help him find his father. The name of the book he receives from his future self? How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe!
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes imagines what would happen if the ability to time travel was used by a serial killer, who uses it to stalk his victims across time and space… until one survives and turns the hunt around, that is.
#4 What Makes Us Human?
One of the harsh realities of the real world we all live in is that eventually, we must die. This hasn’t stopped real-world scientists from looking for ways to delay the inevitable and cure diseases so that we may live longer. Science fiction writers have used this as a theme in sci-fi for decades, forcing us to question the dangers of technology and that which is possible.
Mary Shelley’s seminal novel Frankenstein is considered one of the first science fiction novels and deals with many of these themes as Dr. Victor Frankenstein awakens his monster. Since then, there have been many unique narratives that explore what is humanly possible in terms of technology, what the repercussions of this technology could be for humanity, and that which makes us human.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov is a unique collection of stories that is famous for the laws that Asimov proposed therein for the successful interaction between robots and their human creators. Asimov’s own writing, however, is often about how these laws could fail us.
The Postmortal by Drew Magary is set in a world where a cure for aging has been found, and no one can die from old anymore… but everything else can still kill them. With the world’s first reverse-aging clinic having recently opened in Dubai, you might want to read Magary’s novel before the science catches up to the fiction.
As a genre, science fiction has always taken the world we live in and allowed us to the imagine the vast possibilities. In doing this, the genre is able to ask readers to consider these possibilities and, ultimately, what they say about us and the world we all live in.
In this article, we have looked at some of the major questions that science fiction asks its readers to consider. From questions about what exist elsewhere in our universe to that which makes us human, the questions to consider are as sprawling as the genre itself.