Why Speculate?

Most of what I write falls under the genre of Science Fiction, but that’s a label I don’t really care for. You see, the term Science Fiction comes with a certain degree of bias built into it – it expects to be based on, you know, science. In fact, there’s a whole sub-genre called ‘hard’ Science Fiction that revels in providing the full scientific argument underpinning everything that happens, much to the detriment of the flow and pacing of the story they are presenting.

Apologists for hard Science Fiction insist that this is correct, because the whole point of Science Fiction is the science, not the fiction. We are, they tell us, in the age of science and it is the duty of conscientious authors to educate people about the science that will drive us into the New Age. Okay, maybe not all of them think that way, but the most vocal certainly seem to.

My biggest problem with Science Fiction is the Science. I’m not talking about the day to day observation, postulation, experimentation and conclusions of the laboratory. I do that kind of science in my day to day just like everyone else. I even try to be conscious of the process and direct it with my full faculties. I’m talking about Science, or, if you prefer, the Orthodoxy of Reason.

See, a lot of the big Science advocates insist that, with a little more time, they’ll have the numbers they need to make the world perfect and then, once all the people indoctrinated by Science Fiction and ready for the Coming Change fall into line, Science will usher in the Golden Age of Humanity and we can forget about all those pesky social ills, relational problems and personality disorders we have to deal with. This all sounds pretty good, to tell the truth.

My problem is, I observe history and note that people said those kinds of things in France and Russia while making sweeping changes to society. In France they even built statues to Reason, but what they wound up with was Napoleon. At least the Russians got Lenin, who was better looking and taller. I postulate that any new attempt in this direction is likely to end the same way.

Except this is America, so our guy will be even more hansom that those jokers.

Due to the immense human cost those last experiments in the bounty of human reason exacted, I’m loathe to accept a new one. No matter how appealing it might seem to have an Asimovian system like psychohistory in place, the past suggests that these kinds of things are pipe dreams.

So I’m not here to write science fiction. I don’t want to write about science, as fascinating as that subject can be. I want to write about people. One way to highlight what makes people people is to show them in vastly different settings and let how they are similar to us show through.

Sometimes those different settings will look something like our future. Sometimes they’ll look like what our world could have been like if something in our past changed. And sometimes they’ll look like a world that never existed. Officially, these kinds of stories would be considered science fiction, alternate history and fantasy.

But I prefer to use the term speculative fiction. It’s purpose is to show us different worlds, but it’s also to show us humanity, and only if the humanity rings true can we really call it a success. I hope that, as you read along with the story starting October 1st, you’ll find that I have managed to do just that, and that you’ll let me know what you think.

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3 responses to “Why Speculate?

  1. I call it soft SF, and we could use a heck of a lot more of it. I make use of history, current events, sociology and psychology in constructing near-future SF. If we don’t focus on people and why they act as they do, hard science and hard SF are just spinning their wheels. Hard science will never be able to tell us why we got where we are today and how we might have done things differently.

    • I shy away from that label for a couple of reasons. First, I dislike both “hard” and “soft” as qualifiers. They’re too ambiguous. Second, I don’t like the implication that someone can’t be both hard and soft, or they can’t write a story that is both speculative and science fiction. So long as you’re not Science-centric its still possible to tell good stories about the human condition with science fiction.

      A good example is Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire. Grant is a pen name for McGuire, and she has published very different kinds of things under each name. As Mira Grant she wrote Newsflesh, a story about zombies that has a lot of science details, apparently to get you over the whole zombie part (lots of zombie stories try this and none of them seem convincing to me, but Newsflesh does better than most.) McGuire publishes the October Daye series under her own name, the central character is a half-fairie and uses magic which has the scientific rational of “just ’cause”. Her most recent series, InCryptid, manages to blend the two quite pleasantly.

      I guess I really don’t have a problem with the labels “hard SciFi” and “soft SciFi” but I don’t think I’ll be using them myself any time soon…

  2. I really don’t care for any of the labels, and I don’t use them myself, but if people are going to specify hard SF as something that involves science and technology, then there has to be something that fits other types. I don’t even like “speculative” because I see it applied to too many different types of stories, which means that it has no real meaning. I suppose I’m a purist about SF because it would take an awful lot of convincing for me to accept that either zombies or fairies, half or not, are legitimate subjects for SF. But I’m not going to criticize anyone who want to include them, as long as I don’t have to read them. 🙂

    When it comes down to it, now that I think about it, fantasy is more for entertainment, while I expect SF to give me something to think about.

    As for Asimov’s psychohistory, that’s been proven impossible, just as any system based on some scientific principle is helpless to predict the future, much less control it. All we can do is extrapolate from what we know scientifically, *at present,* and from what trends are shaping up, and try out various scenarios.

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