There’s an article in a recent Bottom Line: Personal titled “What We Can All Learn from Popular Fiction” in which the author, Gary Hoppenstand, PhD, editor of the Journal of Popular Culture, suggests that genre fiction can be educational as well as entertaining. He cites books and authors from several fields, including:

Thrillers & Adventure

  • The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – exposes readers to bioengineering.
  • John Grisham’s court novels – offering a glimpse at the American legal system.

Mystery & Horror

  • Stephen King books help readers “come to terms” with issues like alcohol addiction (The Shining) and teen angst (Carrie)
  • Elmore Leonard offers lessons about original thinking and society’s underclass

Romance (JP’s favorite. His “Bah” rhetoric at the romance theme is nothing more than a thin masquerade over a most heartfelt and blissful sigh)

  • Jackie Collins, with her often sexually explicit books, has fostered open communications about a once-taboo topic.


  • Loren Estleman’s books deal with issues of morality

The merits and quality of these lessons is debatable. But this science fiction fan noticed one fiction genre that is conspicuously absent. This, to me, is interesting since Hoppenstand makes a point in the article that lessons can be learned from the books critics love to hate.

Is science fiction still frowned upon by the upper reading crust? Sure, way back when, science fiction was relegated to cheap pulp magazine with scantily clad Martian queens on the cover. And, yes, this contributed to the low-brow image of SF. But does it offer anything besides entertainment? Does any science fiction offer us any valuable lessons besides “Don’t forget your towel?” If so, are those lessons relegated to the “literature” of the sf genre, whatever that means?


Filed under: Books

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