Spaceships, Ray Guns, and Being True to Your School

Do you want a Illudium Q -36 Space Modulator?  How about a Delorian DMC-12 with a fusion engine?  Have you fallen asleep and woke up naked on Mars?  Are you experienced?  (Oops, sorry.  My brother was a hippie.)  Do you ever gaze at musty paperbacks from the 50s, run your finger over the V-2 rocket, and wonder what Dr. Freud would say?  

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you just might be a science fiction fan.

From Wells’ time machine and A.E. Van Vogt’s “Black Destroyer”, to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Collins’ Hunger Games, science fiction has been a thorny thorn jammed in the side of good reading since time immemorial.  Is SF good fiction?  Usually not.  Are the characters well-developed?  Almost never.  Are the plots predictable or derivative?  Almost certainly.

Did the popular kids accept these tropes?  Back in 1977 they did.

I was on the yearbook staff at Huntsville Middle School when we used science fiction themes for our Annual.  We used futuristic fonts.  We cut and pasted (with scissors and paste) magazine photos from Star Trek and Star Wars.  We unapologetically violated every copyright imaginable.  The demographics were amazing: Cheerleaders, football players, student council reps worked hand-in-hand (not literally) with greasy-haired nerds to publish one of the tackiest school yearbooks in a generation.

Now, flash forward to Huntsville High School in 1981, when I asked my English teacher why we couldn’t read Asimov as well as Antigone.  Her reply?  “There’s a difference between literature and what you read for pleasure.” HUH?

I’ve spent years baffled by what she said.   What it seems to boil down to is this: Literature involves extraordinary characters in normal situations; science fiction revolves around ordinary characters in extraordinary situations.  But does that mean that Dandelion Wine is not literature?  How about DuneWatership DownDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide?

For thirty years I’ve denied that I love this genre.  But something struck me the other day as I was rating my favorite novels on goodreads.com.   While I started reviewing classics, fiction, and history, I eventually found myself giving three, four or five stars to every science fiction and fantasy novel that popped up on the monitor.  And do you know why?  It’s because SF is good fiction.  SF does have really good characters.  And SF plots are no more derivative than those of any other work of fiction.  One never leaves fandom, no matter how hard you try.   In my case, it’s going back to my roots and, just as importantly, being true to my school.  After all, we’re the “Best of Red and Blue, We’re the Class of ’82”

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2012 Alan Keith Parker.  It could be worse.

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