I recently read two sci-fi novels. This is not a sentence I’ve ever used before. In my entire life I’ve probably read about five. In both recent cases I was reading friends’ work, one in order to write an endorsement and the other to make editorial comments.
Sci-fi always seemed dreadfully uncool to me. It reminded me of “Star Trek”, complete with tacky make-up, preachy plots, and sets that looked as if they were made of cardboard.
I’ve now repented. Why? Because it dawned on me that sci-fi is basically social commentary dressed in futuristic clothes.
Sharman Apt Russell’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door is a lyrical, superbly written tale that shows the aftermath of an ecological catastrophe and a supervirus. The novel has all the elements of traditional stories – people fall in love, fight, procreate, and try to survive against the odds – plus a host of wild ideas: a gender-hopping bush-dweller, telepathic animals, and ways of revivifying the dead. It’s a great read which also functions as a critique of our society.
The other sci-fi novel I read – as yet unpublished – also includes telepathy, plus a whole load of ritualistic violence, and an alien race hellbent on colonizing other planets. Eastern culture (robes, swords, rituals) blends with Western culture (rapacious empire-building) to show the worst of Man as well as the best; the heroes are gentle and smart. It’s an allegory pretending to be a futuristic potboiler, or the other way round.
Sci-fi? I conclude that Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Ursula le Guin, Ray Bradbury et al were onto something. I shall sneer no more.