Why Science Fiction?

What is it about science fiction that makes those of us who like to read and/or watch it (and would otherwise be described as nerds) actually pick up a sci-fi book or watch a sci-fi movie or TV series?  I’ve asked myself this question numerous times and have never come up with a really good answer.  I like science fiction (but not fantasy) and don’t read or watch much horror, crime, detective, romance or other stuff.  I will watch a good detective story if it’s well written and acted, but I just don’t get the thrill out of them that I do from SF.  Why should that be?  What is it about science fiction?

I can’t give a definitive answer to that question, but I have some ideas.  First, I think the science factor has a lot to do with it.  I’ve heard that a larger proportion of sci-fi readers are scientists than for other genres of literature, and I believe the “science” angle has something to do with sci-fi’s appeal.  These are people who are familiar with science and feel at home talking about it and reading about it in their off-time reading.  The type of science doesn’t play a role; I’m originally a biological scientist, but I read sci-fi with a large amount of physical sciences such as physics, astronomy and mathematics, though much less than I would have to learn for a career in one of those math-heavy fields.  I guess it’s a vicarious way of being a physical scientist without the trouble of having to study nuclear physics or quantum mechanics or gravitational field theory.

Second, it’s fun.  Like the teenager in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, when asked why she likes to listen to rock and roll, she says, “Because it’s fun!”  I liked the first three Star Wars movies (in the order they were made, not the order they are now arranged) because they were a great adventure.  Different planets, different characters, wildly different animals, situations and predicaments–they all contribute to a great time.  From deserts to ice to forests to jungles to spaceships and fancy battle gear, how many non-sci-fi movies spanned that broad a range of situations?  Sci-fi takes you into a realm where no one has been before.  A new sci-fi book or movie can introduce us to a completely new world and totally new characters.  Star Trek, the original series or the second, The Next Generation, for example, visited a new planet practically every week.  I was always intrigued by the characters the writers thought up.  Imagination at work.

And, that brings up another point–Imagination.  I believe that’s the most important facet of sci-fi, and, undoubtedly, its greatest asset.  Imagination gets wild play in sci-fi, and allows an author virtually free rein (within limitation, tho) to do as he/she wants.  Great fun.  I’m trying to write novels and short stories and even a couple of novelettes in sci-fi, and I like the ability to develop in my mind an entirely new planet and new characters, and then throw in a few humans and see what happens.  Great fun.

Why do you read/watch/write science fiction?  What about it turns you on?

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