Inevitably, they say they're writing to expand the boundaries of fiction. To explore the horizons of the imagination. To talk about really cool things like blasters and unicorns and the Prince of the Sun and the kingdoms of the elves. But when you get right down to it, sci-fi writers are, very basically, just plain sneaky. Don't listen to them when they talk about the motivations and goals of their work. They don't just want to create shining castles in the air. They want to create shining castles in the air, and then drop those castles right on the flats of their readers' heads.
Deep down, quietly, they want to change the world. But even if they didn't want to -- it's exactly what they're doing.
In my teen years -- those dangerous years where you're forming your world view -- I became a huge fan of Robert Heinlein. And inside those stories about space travel and murder and adventure and breaking temporal bonds and flashing off to the wild blue yonder Heinlein managed to deftly insert -- let's call them "non traditional ideas" -- into his narratives. His books weren't just stories -- they were subtle treatises. On social structure. Mores. Morals. Values. He was an especially big fan of taking the institution of marriage and turning it blithely outside in.
The very best marriage, in the Heinleinian universe, is one between a man, a woman, another man, a couple of other women, a handful of men, some more women and maybe a few babies and a cat. Heinlein is the polyamorist extraordinaire.
And he seemed to do it so casually, his social revisionism. There were never twenty page breaks in his novel, in which he sat you down and carefully explained to you, in anthropological terms, that while cultural evolution has all but entirely replaced the biological evolution that has so far dominated the history of the species, we're still basically talking monkeys, and so we should begin to shape our mores into something that weds both the physical and intellectual sides of our dual natures.
He just mentioned group marriages in passing.
It is not such a brand new idea. And not a particularly revolutionary idea. But it was my first exposure to a life outside of the mother, father and two kids, and a handful of benevolent and very Christian maiden aunts. Those sideways forays into social anarchism opened up holes in my previously demure and obediently prayer-reciting head, and poured in an entire new universe. A whole new way of thinking. And isn't that what science fiction is supposed to do? It's something that may very well be totally unique to the genre. But "unique" is often just a really nice way of saying "weird."
It's all because sci-fi authors sneak into your minds, drop their wild ideas, and run giggling out. And readers are left, both blinking wondrously at the world, and with an overwhelming desire to share their newfound wisdom.
In a very real way, it's not the blasting open of personal convictions that, ultimately, gets the sci-fi fan called "geek" and "goddamn hippie" and "freak." It's the desire to share. It's the willingness to explain to a group of people you wouldn't ordinarily bother with that bi-gendered marriages are, really, an archaic form of social interaction, and that criminals should be liquidated because they're not adding anything to the gene pool, that the calendar is really an arbitrary set of arbitrary rules based on nothing at all in the physical universe, that if women were to order and run the world, war wouldn't exist, that spreading off of the Earth and into the Universe is the best hope for the continuing evolution of man, that history is not necessarily the sum total of the past.
All ideas originally sprung from the heads of speculative fiction authors -- Heinlein, Asimov, Bradley, Herbert. All seized upon by impressionable readers. All taken and run with. Creating little cadres of dangerous speculative thinking. Creating a brand new minority group for normal people to waggle their eyebrows at and snicker near. Getting me called a big dork more than once in my life.
Is speculative fiction a particularly potent form of discourse? Are sci-fi fans particularly gullible? Maybe it's how young fans usually are when they get hooked.
Whatever it is, it's a genre that's knocked me off the path from Good Citizenship and Clean Christian Living, into a place where I'm a geek and a minority, a strange girl with strange ideas.
My mother may very well be the only one who thinks this is a tragedy.