My name is JP and I’m a science fiction fanatic. Sure I’ve tried other genres, fantasy, horror and mainstream come to mind, but science fiction is always my primary interest and the genre that I read almost exclusively when it comes to fiction. The reasons are numerous, and in future installments I’ll go over other reasons why I like science fiction over all other genres, but today I’m going to focus on science fiction’s arch nemesis, at least in the minds of many fans: mainstream fiction.
A look at the New York Times Bestseller List shows an all too common site for fiction, namely it’s populated by thrillers, crime/mystery stories and other assorted dramas. Most of them don’t venture outside the realm of the mundane, focusing on the “real”, albeit fictionally. There are the exceptions, but those are usually in the fantasy/supernatural department. Rarely does a science fiction book hit the list, and rarer still does one stay on for an extended period of time. A glance at the summaries of most of these books does absolutely nothing for me. They are mundane, slightly boring and most definitely not interesting to me. That’s why I love science fiction. It’s not afraid to explore those ideas that mainstream won’t, or can’t.
One idea that mainstream almost never plays with is time. The universe has been around for billions of years and will be around for billions more, but mainstream is stuck in the “now”, with brief forays into the recent past or near future. (But it’s not science fiction!) SF stories aren’t afraid to take the long view of time and explore just what that would mean for humanity. For instance, “Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson (a short story in The New Space Opera 2) takes its protagonist to the very end of the universe and beyond, with a bit of time travel thrown in for good measure. It explores the idea of what it means to be not only human, but also a sentient being, when you’ve lived for billions of years. Add in a bunch of mind-blowing ideas to go along with it’s immense scope and you have a story that blows most mainstream fiction away, and all in a tidy short story package.
I love me some Alastair Reynolds. His Revelation Space books are some of the finest space opera you’ll ever read so it was with great anticipation that I picked up his House of Sun. All the usual Reynolds style was there: terrific world building, interesting characters and an intriguing story. But its main characters also take the long view of time. To them, the sweep of the galactic arms are nothing more than years. They think nothing of jaunting off on ten thousand plus light-year journeys, expecting to meet up again eons in the future with nary a hiccup (except, of course, for the events in the story). This idea really fires my imagination, making me think about what it would be like to experience time like that, to be able to explore the galaxy and not worry about how long it would take. The story is like the icing on the cake for great science fiction. Mainstream just doesn’t come close to stimulating my imagination like science fiction.
After our recent Stargate SG-1 Watchathon I went ahead and finished watching the rest of Stargate SG-1. Yes, all ten seasons. I’ll leave off my thoughts of the show in general, but there was one part that stuck in my mind. Towards the end of the series, where the Ori are the big bad guys, the our heroes manage to nullify the Ori’s supergate into the Milky Way by hooking it up to a black hole, dialing the Ori galaxy and then leaving it on, thanks to the black holes almost limitless power, thus robbing the Ori of their one link to our galaxy.
That got me to thinking: Hey, Stargate Universe, are you telling me that one measly over-tectonically active planet is going to supply more power than one average sized black hole? Why can’t you hook up a gate to a black hole as was done in the original series and dial the Destiny? Hell, if you really need power, head off towards the giant black hole at the galaxy’s core. Plenty of power there.
That got me thinking: just what would that central black hole look like? How cool would it be to see it “up close” (but not close enough to be fried)? What would it be like to view that maelstrom from a nearby system? The wonders of our galaxy are all there, above our heads, yet mainstream never raises it eyes above the horizon. Science fiction does.
Larry Niven gives us the Pierson Puppeteers, who, as a race, have corralled their planets into a group and are fleeing the shock wave from the central black. Fleeing. The. Shock. Wave. The mind boggles here. Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center novels (which are very good) conclude in the final volume with a battle between man and machine in a protected body of space-time hanging just outside the central black hole. Just…wow. Then to put it into a story and have it make sense is awesome. Who in mainstream world is going to write something that crazy, that wild and make it work? No one as far as I can tell.
You may call it “sense of wonder” or something similar, but this is one of the main reasons I keep reading science fiction. The big ideas, the incredible scopes, the huge sweeps of time, all of these fire the imagination in a way that, for me, mainstream fiction just can’t, won’t even. For whatever reason, mainstream audiences are afraid to expand their minds to truly amazing ideas.
Hell, all I have to do to experience mainstream stories is turn on the news.
Yeah, like that’ll happen.