In my class on Science, Policy, and Society, I always include a section on science fiction – not only because I am a closet Treker and scifi addict, but also because I contend that science fiction is the theology of the contemporary world and that science fiction provides the narratives of the wider public discourse of science. As a teacher in a liberal arts college, I of course have not had the time to write the definitive essay on this, but think of the terms that we use to debate science. Biotechnology and GM food activists talk about “Frankenfoods” (such as AquaBounty’s salmon that is being evaluted for human consumption by the FDA).
I’ve written a piece on Chinese science fiction, and recently others have reflected on the impact of Chinese science fiction (also see io9’s commentary). The March 2013 issue of Science Fiction Studies is a special issue on Chinese science fiction. The Los Angeles Review of Books features an interview with Chinese science fiction author Fei Dao. Fei says:
So at that time science fiction was a very serious thing to do in China that could allow ordinary people to get closer to modern scientific knowledge, and serve as a tool for transforming traditional culture into modern culture. It played a very important role, and had a serious mission to accomplish. Today, there is a commercial publishing market for sci fi, and people don’t have such weighty expectations of literature, yet authors are still discussing serious topics.
I would further assert that sci-fi authors worldwide, from space operas to steampunk, are working on serious topics – obviously, some more deeply and successfully than others. Science fiction as the mythology of the contemporary world (argued by James McGrath) offers possibilities of the future that are shaped by the visions of today. It also does so in a way that is accessible to a wider audience. For example, here’s a relevant koan: why is there no chaplain about the USS Enterprise? Or maybe why is there a character like Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) instead of a chaplain?
In class, we watched the Carl Sagan movie Contact, and read articles by McGrath, Harriet Whitehead, and articles from Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion and American Culture.
Thanks Lincoln for the LA Review of Books article.