Wednesday, January 30, 2008

And Another...

...15 picoseconds of fame! I share the stage with the likes of John Wright and (gasp!) James Gunn.

First, what is the Golden Age of SF? I've never liked to pin it to a specific period, preferring the answer that Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and others have used (e.g., "The golden age of SF is twelve" or "The golden age of SF is fourteen", etc.). I know I get that golden age feeling every time I find a new author that excites me.

Second, who says that SF is the Great Predictor? Names! I need names! I never agreed with that. About the most specific prediction that I saw was that a Major Armstrong would be the first man to step on the Moon in 1964. The author ("Philip St. John", one of the many pseudonyms used by Lester del Rey, in the book Rocket Jockey) got the last name right, the date wrong, the rank wrong...

I'd rather talk about what science fiction, golden or otherwise, is good for. I think SF is good for education, enthusiasm, and inoculation. To explain...

Science fiction educates and enthuses. Spider Robinson claims to know of ten astronauts that got started because they read a book called Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein (maybe you've heard of him?). Some would argue that he had an impact on the space program well beyond those ten folks. Me, personally, I got interested in a lot of science due to stories such as Sir Arthur C. Clarke's Saturn Rising (which led me into amateur astronomy). Collections such as the one edited by Isaac Asimov, Where Do We Go From Here? led to reading non-fiction on chemistry, biology and more.

As for inoculation, harken back to the 1970's. Perpetually on the best seller lists and perpetually found in yard sales and garage sales was Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. The future was coming! The future was scary! Things were changing faster and faster! I read the book and shrugged my shoulders. I had read much stranger stuff in SF. My mother asked me once about cloning. I gave her an answer and she was surprised by how nonchalant I was. SF has inoculated me against the surprises of the future.

2001 wasn't a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey. No manned voyages to Jupiter, cities on the Moon, etc. Am I disappointed that we don't have manned spaceships to Jupiter? Instead we've had multiple probes to Jupiter returning data and wonderful shots like this one. Maybe, but I appreciate how SF has given me a sense of wonder that allows me to love shots that the one in the link.

(Fred Kiesche has been reading science fiction since the early 1960's. He has a collection of over 8,000 books at home, at least half of which is science fiction and fantasy and the rest are made up of books on science, history and other non-fiction subjects. He is an avid amateur astronomer, devoted husband and father, and is seemingly perpetually underemployed since 9/11/01. He blathers on this and other subjects at The Lensman's Children.)

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