Saturday, July 18, 2009

Planetude

science fiction novel, the--longform narrative extrapolating on a hard science or special science theme; a novel in which the major thematic problem and its solution relate directly to scientific observation; a novel in which laws governing the property of elements, forces, and species are extended to produce a moral problem and its solution.

The common denominator of science fiction is plausibility, demonstrated when the reader, writer, and characters accept the reality of the concepts that are inherent to the final result of the story. Accordingly, the science fiction reader has no difficulty accepting the speculative reality of Ray Bradbury's (1920--)Fahrenheit 451, which features a repressive society bound up in book burning; nor does it fail to see the issues raised about prolonging the human life span from Aldous Huxley's (1894-1963)After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, nor indeed the issues of morality and prejudice raised in Robert Heinlein's (1907-88) Stranger in a Strange Land, predicated on the journey through earth of a human born on the planet Mars. These titles represent the broad spectrum of subject matter inherent within the genre, which, like other genera, has morphed its way from plot-driven entertainments to character-driven and issue-driven literature. Theodore Sturgeon's (1918--1985) success d'estime, More Than Human, probed the boundaries of the human condition, positing relations among humans that were symbiotic. In one of the few notable cases where a writer's work benefited from screen writing, Leigh Brackett, who began her career writing pulp sci-fi stories, morphed into a hardboiled mystery writer, from which genre she brought an edgier, noirish type of character into her prolific output of science fiction.

Although few if any critics have seen the work of Richard Powers (1957--), particularly his 2006 novel, The Echo Maker, as science fiction, but thanks to its relentless probing of the meaning of individual identity and the self, it could well be shelved among the more literate and literary works of science fiction.

The true meaning of humor--the sad truth revealed--is a frequent theme in science fiction, particularly as articulated by anthropologist-turned sci-fi writer Chad Oliver, by Alfred Bester, and Frederic Brown.

Science fiction bears a close relationship to much mainstream fiction, in that each begins with a what-if premise, which is then pushed beyond accepted limitations. The writer who is curious about science fiction may discover commentary about it in which it is spoken of as speculative fiction. Philip Roth (1933--), for instance, is rarely thought of as a science fiction writer, and yet his The Plot Against America speculates an alternate universe theme in which Charles Lindberg became president of the United States.

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