Science fiction: World renowned yet under- appreciated


I think it’s fair to say that snobbery in the book reading community can be a little intense sometimes. As a book lover myself, I often conform to that lifestyle of pandering to the classical authors, like Dickens and Austen, who usually stick to safe and familiar genre material: romance, slice-of-life or historical fiction. However, I hope to make clear the multiple achievements and innovations of one of the most versatile and influential literary genres going: Science fiction. While the term most commonly draws associations with the film industry – through the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek and other series (hopefully no more with “star” in the title) – its contribution to literature is endless, forming some of our most beloved works today and spawning multiple sub genres, the most notable being dystopian fiction. 

The first half of the 20th century produced some of the most notable works of science fiction, ones that looked to a possible future and commented on the social and political ramifications should that hypothetical future come to pass. Riffing on the ideas started centuries earlier in Thomas More’s Utopia, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World, a novel which comments on the categorisation of society into fixed classes and exaggerates them to portray a society ruled by commodification, lack of empathy, and restriction of knowledge. 

Propulsive thrills from fire sequences are contrasted with social commentary on humanity’s lack of freewill

The general theme of censorship characterises much of the science fiction literature going forward, and, as the age of totalitarian extremes engulfed much of western Europe and the rest of the world, authors began to use literature as expressions of and mirrors to the societies that they have watched develop. 1984 is possibly one of the most read novels in the English language, arguably because it reflects vividly a world preoccupied with surveillance, lack of free thought and the use of technology for oppressive purposes. Big Brother himself was modelled on Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin, the symbol of corrupted socialism in the eyes of George Orwell. Allusions to the Nazi regime also pervade much of the story, and various fascist tropes permeate other dystopian novels. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 features a futuristic society defined by its desire to burn books and create an intellectually sedate population. Propulsive thrills from fire sequences and robotic police dogs are contrasted with the social commentary on humanity’s lack of freewill. 

Sci-fi as a genre is versatile and universal

It is a cocktail of enjoyment and sophistication, something the genre maintained into the second half of the 20th century and beyond. What’s remarkable is science fiction’s ability to relentlessly entertain, which inevitably contributes to it consistently producing best sellers. One of the genre’s most notable modern authors is Stephen King, who melds sci-fi with horror and fantasy elements to create literary equivalents of a blockbuster. King is often written off as pulpy, but some of his best work has been thought provoking sci-fi that maintains a universal appeal. Over the Christmas holidays, I worked my way through The Stand, an epic numbering at well over 1,000 pages, about a man-made virus that wipes out 99% of the Earth’s population. It’s imaginative, thrilling and character driven, while continuing to use the earlier sci-fi trend of political commentary. Written in the late 1970s, the premise of the novel is based around America’s attempts to engineer chemical weapons to use in biological warfare. It captures both the dangerous actions of government at the height of the Cold War, and simultaneously expresses a worldwide fear of destruction in the age of nuclear and chemical warfare. 

It’s clear that sci-fi, despite being conflated with pulp fiction, has produced some of the best novels of the last 100 years. As a genre it is versatile and universal, and despite often being bestselling, is underrated in the literary community. 

Image by Victor Garcia via Unsplash

One thought on “Science fiction: World renowned yet under- appreciated

  • An informed commentary and for me, an interesting introduction to your work Oscar. I now feel prompted to check out the Stephen King title ‘The Stand’.


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