“The greater one’s science, the deeper the sense of mystery.” ~Vladimir Nabokov
I think that there is a lot of misconception about the value of science fiction in literature. I touched on this topic last week and I just want to follow up with more concrete evidence rather than just a generalization. When Margaret Atwood is asked what she thinks of her work being science fiction, she often answers with a question or no answer at all. In an article posted last year in October titled “Margret Atwood on Science Fiction” she confronts her mixed feelings about being held within the same category as science fiction:
Are these books “science ﬁction”? I am often asked. Though sometimes I am not asked, but told: I am a silly nit or a snob or a genre traitor for dodging the term because these books are as much “science ﬁction” as Nineteen Eighty-Four is, whatever I might say. But is Nineteen Eighty-Four as much “science ﬁction” as The Martian Chronicles? I might reply. I would answer not, and therein lies the distinction.
Kurt Vonnegut vehemently refused his work being considered science fiction writing.
What’s so wrong with it? Perhaps it goes back this idea that the greatest contact many people have with science fiction is within that conglomeration, “Sci-fi/ fantasy”. Covers of pulp fiction fill the aisles and because so much pulp fiction saturates the market, it is therefore robbed of the possibility for literary merit. What then of The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings? Both of these books have entire classes dedicated to the literary merit of them and yet fantasy, too, receives the same degradation from the literary community.
This problem is rooted further than just the biases of some indistinct board of literary snobs that deem what can and cannot be given merit. Often times scientists share the same feelings towards science-fiction, or science being expressed through creative forms at all. I was once told that “science isn’t sexy. You can’t make an experiment beautiful or mysterious.”
There is a divide that people are taught to create— a division that says that either you are right-brained or left-brained so you are either supposed to have an inclination for science and mathematics or you have taste for humanities and art. Stripping mystery and imagination from science does it an injustice, just as much as it is an injustice for a writer to refuse their obviously predominantly science-fiction novels as science fiction simply because the genre is specifically regarded as a form other than literature. Ursula K. Le Guin touches on this in a blog of her own:
“ For instance, one must insist that certain works of dubious literary merit that use familiar science-fictional devices such as alternate history, or wellworn science-fiction plots such as Men-Crossing-the-Continent-After-the Holocaust, and are in every way definable as science fiction, are not science fiction — because their authors are known to be literary authors, and literary authors are incapable by definition of committing science fiction”
I’m hoping that with time and a new generation of writers, the walls that have been created to keep science and art away from each other begin to come down to help advance many scholarly fields through the innovation of integration.
— Deirdre McCormick, Editor