Why Science Fiction Is The Only Genre That Can Truly Change The World

So this week I wrote a lot of sci-fi. Um, in case you didn’t know, “sci-fi” is this super technical insiders-only term for “science fiction”, otherwise known as the best genre of writing there is (yaaaw I said iiiit). Bet you pictured me sitting around reading lots of Jane Austen and- uh, like, Tess of the D’urbervilles or something, and secretly writing novels with lots of flowery words like ‘aristocracy’ and ‘plethora’, didn’t you? Well you, my anonymous friend, would be wrong. I’m a sci-fi nerd, and I have never written a novel in my life- I’m a playwright and screenwriter who specializes in receiving lots of ‘hmm, it's very "out-there"’, and ‘oddly quirky’ comments from my editors. Also, the other day my writing partner simply wrote me the constructive note “you’re insane” when I needed feedback on a sci-fi TV series we are currently writing together. This week I worked on said top-secret sci-fi series, and also wrote a quirky/insane little short film about a girl who thinks God is speaking to her about Y2K in the form of a cat. True stories, y’all. Well, the stories themselves aren’t true, obviously (I DID think God spoke to me about Y2K in the form of a cat, but that’s neither here nor there), but the fact is, though this website has lots of pinky purpley colours abounding (I find them calming, much like lavender diffusers), my writing tastes lean away from romance and history and more towards the weird, the out-there, the imaginative, the futuristic, and the magical. So, my secret’s out- I’m a self-professed sci-fi screenwriting nerd who loves aliens, post-apocalyptic worlds, and badass female leads. Now to be clear, this post is NOT a request to you romance writers out there to start adding aliens into your plots or something (though, now that I think about it, DO IT), but rather an open confessional about my personal writing tastes, and also a little bit about why I think contemporary storytellers should embrace more science fiction.

*Ahem*… Why Contemporary Storytellers Should Embrace More Science Fiction. By Alexa Gilker.

I meet with each of my workshop students at least once per workshop in a one-on-one setting so we can talk about their writing, why they write, and what writing knots they’re currently trying to untangle. Last week, one of my students somewhat sheepishly told me that they were working on a super cool premise (my words) for a science fiction novel set in the near distant future, and then they quickly went on to try to justify why they aren’t writing the next Jane-Austen-Tess-of-the-D’urbervilles historical novel*. I eventually cut them off with the reassurance that, though I do love Tess and think she would make a wicked futuristic heroine, I believe that science fiction is a misunderstood genre that actually has unlimited potential to tell big, bold, challenging stories that open up a larger dialogue about the world around us, perhaps with more possibilities for this than historical fiction or other similar reality-based genres. In other words- yaaaas, queen! No sheepishness necessary!

Now, hear me out. Science fiction, though often associated with Star Trek and nerds who speak their own made up language (it’s called PIG LATIN, you GUYS), is actually a blanket term for fiction based on “imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes”. Yeah, I bolded that last part myself for SPECIAL EFFECT (the magic is already happening!).

As the definition suggests, the magic of what science fiction allows us writers to do is, rather than write a boring yawny essay about climate change, for example (good topic- usually written in a boring and yawny way), a writer can imagine a world in which, say, climate change has already ravaged the earth, and we follow a heroine named Tess on her journey to help find another habitable planet. Without being preachy (because no one likes being preached at, no matter how true the sermon might be), a story like this could cause readers to think about what a world ravaged by climate change might look like, and they might see similarities to the state of our own world, and suddenly, by placing themselves in Tess’ place (cause we all imagine we’re the main characters, right? No one’s reading Harry Potter wishing they were Dudley), they might begin to see their own part in saving the world as it is now.

Through those "imagined future scientific or technological advances", science fiction allows writers to ask big questions, the “essential questions” as we all learned in grade 10 English (along with reading nothing but the book The Power of One and spending a lot of time outside in the winter hugging our classmates in order to learn "community"… oh wait- that was just MY hippie grade 10 teacher? Got it), which are the ones all humans are constantly asking themselves, like ‘who am I?’, ‘what is my purpose?’, and ‘what do I believe’?. However, rather than focusing on these questions in the past or present where we can be blinded by our current circumstances, science fiction allows us to jump to a whole other dimension, or world, or time in the future, where we are distracted by fascinating characters doing cool tech-y things, but who are usually also searching to understand those bigger questions about themselves and their crazy futuristic world- who am I, what is my purpose, what do I believe?

My favourite sci-fi stories are the ones that create worlds and situations that are so outrageous, they end up causing us to ask those essential questions about our world as it is NOW, so it doesn't end up like the insanity of the world in the story; in other words, sci-fi allows us to escape our world to a world that often looks a lot like ours but way worse (or better!) and then, when we put the book (or film!) down and come back to reality, it can encourage us to look at our own world from a new perspective.

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if someone had written a sci-fi novel twenty years ago imagining our world as it is right now, in 2017, if they’d ever have had the imagination to create the bizarreness of this time with all its reality-TV-stars-taking-over-every-sphere-of-the-world type weirdness? If they had** and we’d all read it, as strange and hilarious and bizarre and impossible as it might have seemed, might it also have caused us to think about our own time (back then, 1997 or, as I like to call it, “The Year God Spoke To Me About Y2K Through A Cat”), and the power we were giving celebrities over our culture, and if there were warning signs that this could potentially have pointed us in a dangerous direction if we weren’t careful?

Imagine if someone had written a sci-fi story about a futuristic heroine named Tess living in a post-apocalyptic world where reality TV stars run the government and certain people groups are banned from zoned areas and people kill other people because they don't understand them- now THAT would have been a crazy sci-fi story, huh? Imagine if we’d read it, seen the future, and done something to change the present back then? It’d almost be like sci-fi had the power to… did you see this coming?... change the world.

Agree? Disagree? Want to argue the case for why romance novels will change the world? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat! write!"

* I KNOW Jane Austen didn’t write Tess of the D’urbervilles but, like… she might as well have, amiright?
** Did someone write this book?? If so, please send me the title! I would LOVE to read it!