Last week, fellow Mastermind Robert Isenberg made the case that fantasy is better than science fiction. I heartily disagree, and I know my fellow scifi nerds will back me on this (provided they take a little break from ray gun target practice). To the fact-mobile!
1. Science fiction can predict the future. Science fiction writers aren't just interested in telling a good story. They're deeply invested in the future of science and technology, and their books are often jaw-droppingly prophetic. Need evidence? 2nd century writer Lucian of Samosota predicted that the moon was another world in his scifi satire Vera Historia, a fact that wasn't confirmed until Galileo's time 1,500 years later. Johannes Kepler predicted the basic necessities of space travel in his 17th Century novel Somnium, and Jules Verne plotted the first moon mission in eerily accurate detail (down to the launch taking place in Florida)...in 1865. More recently, Arthur C. Clarke predicted the iPad, Douglas Adams predicted Wikipedia—heck, this year, Joss Whedon predicted the practical use of reflective camouflage and quantum tunneling in The Avengers! Want to see the future? Be a scifi buff.
2. Science fiction inspires scientific progress. There are way too many instances of geniuses pursuing science because of science fiction to count. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard, and Hermann Oberth—considered to be the three "fathers of rocketry"—all credited Jules Verne as the most influential figure in their lives. Carl Sagan became interested in planetary astronomy by reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series. Physicist and time travel expert Ronald Mallett turned his teenage obsession with H.G. Wells' The Time Machine into a career. Science fiction generates science fact.
3. Science fiction makes science fact accessible and entertaining. Sure, science fiction inspires scientists, but it doesn't stop there. No matter what your background or profession, science fiction writers want you to be engaged with the world around you. Scifi is a way to expose both hardcore and casual science fans to the magic of reality, while also taking the next imaginative step into the future.
4. Science fiction has had a much bigger cultural impact than fantasy. Very generally speaking, fantasy books are a way to escape harsh realities, while science fiction books are a way to confront them. Accordingly, scifi often inspires real political, social, and cultural change. H.G. Wells lampooned the British class system in The Time Machine. Ray Bradbury exposed the dangers of anti-intellectualism in Fahrenheit 451. Martin Luther King Jr. personally convinced Nichelle Nichols not to quit Star Trek, because her character Uhura is a strong, black woman in a position of authority. Even modern scifi, like Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity, encourages viewers to think independently. Science fiction is often banned for this reason: for example, Lois Lowry's The Giver, Madeline L'Engel's A Wrinkle in Time, and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five have all been outlawed, basically for being way too awesome.
5. We are living in a science fiction renaissance. Like any genre, great science fiction comes in waves. The Enlightenment created one, Jules Verne single-handedly caused another, the computer age generated a whole new angle on the genre, and now, it is the age of great science fiction television and films. This is all owed to incredible writers like Rod Serling, Steven Spielberg, Dan Harmon, J.J. Abrams, Ronald D. Moore, and Joss Whedon, all of whom see no limits to the applications of science fiction on the screen. Even superhero movies are becoming as much science fiction as they are fantasy. Far from science fiction being out of ideas, it is now reaching new heights of awesomeness and popularity!
6. Reality will always be more interesting than magic. Fantasy is fun, and it can make great entertainment. But consider this: human beings as a species have only just awakened to the vastness of both space and time; to our incredibly unlikely existence; to the probability that there are many other lifeforms in the universe if we just knew where to look; to the revelation that physics on the macroscale and the atomic scale don't match up; to our power to transplant hearts, make great art, and help others; to the fact that we are intimately related to every other living thing on our planet, and to countless other genuine wonders. Who needs fantasy? Reality is weird enough!
Where do you land on the science fiction versus fantasy argument?