As part of our weekly instruction in Gaelic class last night, we were talking about recent events in our lives, and our teacher asked me about Hal-Con. This precipitated a discussion of my guest appearance there next year and a question about the kind of science fiction I write. Now, I don't have the Gaelic to describe it yet, so I slipped into English and called it sociological science fiction. When that definition didn't quite suffice I offered 'serious science fiction', which it is, to some degree.
One of my fellow students, a man some years older than me responded in a way I'm sure most of the spec. fic. writers and readers on my f-list have encountered before:
Said Student: (smirk) Serious science fiction? Serious? Serious? (and later) Serious science fiction? That's an oxymoron.
This smirking condescension played on infinite loop throughout the class until I finally explained that science fiction writers often explore current issues through the vehicle of the fantastic, that some tend to be prognosticative and that because we reach a wide audience, the potential exists for culture shift as a result of our work. At that point, Said Student patted me on the back and said, "Do you feel better now?"
Granted, he admitted to reading Superman (to which I responded that I was a Green Lantern fan, meself). But reading Superman or watching an episode of Star Trek doesn't make anybody an authority on genre fiction. We got a Big Damn Swimming Pool right here, and we got lots of writers and readers splashing around in it. I've been reading and writing spec. fic. since I could string words together into sentences, and I couldn't tell you a thing about Paranormal Romance or Steampunk beyond the fact that it exists and has a loyal fan base.
But I do know this: Dune is about the problem of Messiahs. V is for Vendetta is about modern fascism. The Left Hand of Darkness is about politics, and love, and un-Othering people not like yourself. I learned about life from Severian the Torturer, am still learning about it from Kvothe and every time I open a work of fiction I hope to be humbled, brought to my knees with the terrible beauty of it and left with an irresistible compulsion to make offerings of fruit and incense to all the ancient Gods who will listen so that someday, someday I might tell a story half as well.
So yeah, it's serious, in the same way all stories are serious. We slip into the skins of the characters we read about and walk with them while the words last. When the journey is wise, we learn how to walk in our own skins. Human beings are products of the stories told to us, the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell other people. Why not let them be fantastic, then? Why not let them be splendid, long-armed things that teach us to look beyond the world as it is and into the worlds we might find, might explore, might create?
There. Now I feel better.