*Apologies about being late again. I forgot it was Wednesday. Sorry.*
Dave mentioned in his post – and I guess we are still in that vein of discontent – that we don’t see much “puzzle” sf. Part of this, I think is because it is so very hard to write. I have a nodding acquaintance with science and read about science constantly, but I think just the research for a problem short story would take me as much as research for an historical novel. And it doesn’t pay as well.
But there is something beyond that – something that ties in with discussions at Liberty con the weekend before last. There was a panel on why children aren’t all that interested in space anymore. It tied in with several panels I’ve attended or participated in as to why fantasy is doing better among children than science fiction.
Always the conclusion of the panel is something like “because we’re living in science fiction now.” It is a conclusion to which I offer a dissenting opinion. That is not it. That is not even vaguely it. Because, my dears, I was once referred to as “a child of the lunar age” and I fail to see my moon colonies and – do I need to say it? – “Dude, where’s my flying car?”
No, the reason children by and large aren’t interested in science fiction – and beyond the terrible teaching of science many of them receive, I hear. This is a part I don’t know from personal experience because my children, except for one year, have had excellent science and math teachers – is that we’ve become all too serious about it.
Okay, okay, I can see you all frowning, and you can stop it. You can stop with the “science is a serious thing” too. Yes it is. But when something becomes so serious that you can no longer be playful with it, it is in fact dead.
What first attracted me to science fiction were the big what ifs. What if there was a civilization on Earth before us? What if our ancestors came from space? What if we were visited by an alien race that changed our way of life completely?
At fourteen I read – no, devoured – the whole line of “Chariots of the gods” poppycock. At some level I think I already knew it was poppycock, but it was interesting and exciting, and it made me dream. So did a lot of the science fiction I read at the time: Have Spacesuit Will Travel; Puppet Masters; City; Way Station; Our Children’s Children. It made me dream and speculate and ultimately sent me into learning real science.
Could any of those books get published today? Spacesuit, maybe, updated for the new tech. The others? Not a chance. Puppet Masters? But we “know” xenobiology wouldn’t allow for this; City? But ants could not civilize even if...; Way Station: why would they need a transmission station on Earth? How does it work? Our current science indicates... Our Children’s Children? Time travel could not work in that way. And if we sent them back in time, why haven’t we found any remnants.
I could give you counters to all these dream-killing thoughts. If you think about it, you can imagine ways around it, and there’s always “what makes you think our science is the definitive word?” What if there’s something as big as “heavier than air can’t fly” that we hold immutably true and isn’t? However, I couldn’t get it past the science-fiction editors (except maybe Baen who have more imagination than most and a fondness for space opera) and I certainly couldn’t get it past the reviewers.
And there we come to the core of it. We’ve become small and petty and scolding, holding on to those verities we “know”. We’ve forgotten how to – or are scared of – dreaming big dreams. And then we wonder why kids aren’t interested in science fiction? Oh, my heavens – they aren’t interested because it’s become another lesson to be learned, while sitting quietly, mind, and not playing with your toys.
(This is, I think , why Steampunk is big. It allows one to dream again.)
So am I saying we should publish “garbage” like our ancestors came from the stars? Yes. Yes, I am. A respectable liar-for-pay like us should be able to come up with some reason to explain away all those skeletons and evidence of human evolution on this planet. (I can come up with three off the top of my head.) And because humans are always more interesting than aliens we can’t understand, a respectable liar for pay should be able to come up with ten reasons why aliens will resemble us; why there are humans in the stars; why the starts are – to quote a book title – our destiny.
No, I’m not saying do PFA. What Rowena and Dave said about “some nano machine that is in effect magic” has been annoying me for decades. Ditto for a lot of other things (though I have a fondness for parallel universes.) Look, guys, I have to come up with a logical background for my FANTASY much less my SF. A good liar creates a background that makes people wonder – and which sends them back to check the details. And when you do this with kids, they will go back and study the science, at first to figure out a way it COULD be true. And then they’ll be hooked.
When all we’re offering them is exacting priesthood and barren worlds, in my opinion, there’s nothing there for them. Or for us. So let’s learn to dream again, and teach it to our children.
What do you guys think? Am I being too cavalier with sacred science? Do we have to watch that our kids don’t stumble off the path, even at the price of losing them forever? Who here wants to set off, right now, to a world where ants have developed a civilization, dogs are intelligent, and humans are hopping along the stars, meeting species they can in fact talk to? And how many here read about the big impact on Jupiter and thought ‘it’s aliens, trying to alien-form the system to their requirements’? How many of you look at the starry night and would like to think there are humans out there among the stars, and one day we’ll join them?