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  1. #1
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Does science fiction have a social function?

    Maybe the correct question should be:

    Can science fiction have a social function?

    This is from: http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/does-sc...cial-function/

    I recently reread the Far-Seer Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer. It is a very interesting saga in that it recapitulates some major ideas which changed Western thinking into real science. These ideas came from Copernicus, whose birthday just passed, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Freud. So this trilogy can serve the educational social function in a very compressed form.

    The Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy is a series of award-winning novels written by acclaimed Canadian science fiction author, Robert J. Sawyer.[1] The books depict an Earth-like world on a moon which orbits a gas giant, inhabited by a species of highly evolved, sentient Tyrannosaurs, among various other creatures from the late Cretaceous period, imported to this moon by aliens 65 million years prior to the story. The series consists of three books: Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quintag...ension_Trilogy

    But this blogger essentially banned me from the discussion. Anything I posted in the last few years got deleted. But I think the Far-Seer Trilogy is one of the best examples of what he is talking about. I wonder if he doesn't want SF to serve that social function.

    psik
    Last edited by psikeyhackr; February 21st, 2013 at 09:49 AM.

  2. #2
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    1. First off, congratulations on Red Planet Blues! This new novel is a bit of departure for you in that it’s a hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett-style mystery as well as science fiction. Tell us a little about the kinship you feel exists between both genres, and what you think is the criteria for a good genre hybrid?

    It’s always bothered me that science fiction and fantasy are often shelved together, given that they’re antithetical genres. Science fiction is about things that plausibly might happen; fantasy is about things that never could happen. But science fiction and mystery both celebrate rational thinking, and both require the reader to pick up clues as he or she goes along—in mystery, obviously, to solve the crime, and in science fiction to figure out the milieu of the story. The two genres are a natural pairing. - Robert J. Sawyer
    http://thefreehold.us/?p=2099

    5. We’re all Star Trek or Star Wars fans. Oh, some of us are—and so are some of you. But it’s not required, and many of us can go on at length about how the former is bad SF and the latter isn’t really SF at all. So don’t get us started, or we’ll stun you with our phasers or hit you with our light sabres. Beam me up, Luke! Use the force, Scotty! Or, better yet, do what we do in our spare time: read a frakking book.
    http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadawrites...n-writers.html

    http://urania-josegalisifilho.blogsp...e-fiction.html

    psik
    Last edited by psikeyhackr; February 20th, 2013 at 01:26 PM.

  3. #3
    http://tinyurl.com/363ogv DurzoBlint's Avatar
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    While I mainly read for entertainment. I would say that Science Fiction isn't required to have a social function, but some, if not many, do. I the sense that they elevate us to dream the impossible and then set out and prove it is possible. The easiest example would be Star Trek's tricorder. At the time, it wasn't even possible but now we have communication devices that fit in the palm of your hand (and to an extent even smaller than that). It is one of the problems I have talked about with other SF fans, that technology has, in effect, caught up with what authors have dreamed up and nothing new has entered the genre. Of course, realistic or hard SF seems to be the current trend.

    Not sure if that is what you wanted in answer to your question.

  4. #4
    Registered User mylinar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DurzoBlint View Post
    Not sure if that is what you wanted in answer to your question.
    I was not sure either. Is this a philosophical discussion in which case many things could be put into the sentence instead of 'science fiction', or should it be a discussion of what works qualify to fit the bill and which have no redeaming social graces?

  5. #5
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DurzoBlint View Post
    Not sure if that is what you wanted in answer to your question.
    Well actually I am not so much interested in an answer as a discussion.

    I ran across two things recently that I found interesting and somewhat disturbing. They are disturbing because I never heard on them before.

    There is not the slightest indication that (nuclear) energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. - Albert Einstein, 1932.
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Incorrect_predictions

    I really don't have a problem with that because the neutron was discovered in 1932 and that is what makes it possible to smash atoms. So Einstein did not know about it at the time.

    I draw the conclusion that, assuming no important wars and no important increase in population, the economic problem may be solved, or at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years. This means that the economic problem is not – if we look into the future – the permanent problem of the human race … — John Maynard Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” 1930
    http://jacobinmag.com/2012/04/keynes-jetpack/

    But this is more significant considering the state of the economy and how close we are to 2030 and how much technology has changed since 1930.

    But our problem is what to do with it. The future isn't just technology it is what we do with it over time. Who makes those decisions? How many car models have come and gone since 1930 even though physics has not changed much in relation to how cars work? But Heinlein wrote some curious things about economics and cars in The Door into Summer about the year 2000 even though he was writing in the 50s.

    psik
    Last edited by psikeyhackr; February 20th, 2013 at 05:34 PM.

  6. #6
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Somebody is trying to give it a social function.

    http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showt...l=1#post711763

    psik

  7. #7
    Registered User mylinar's Avatar
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    My short answer to this question is no SF does not have a social function. I agree with the writer of the first link that Psik listed that it is simply entertainment.

    That said there is nothing preventing it from being used to have a social function in the same way that some works can be used to teach physics or other basic science. 'The Black Cloud' by Fred Hoyle was one used in an old college course I took that specifically did this, back in 1977 I think.

    Some authors may write books with the hope that they do serve a social function and sometimes they can succeed. I consider '1984' by George Orwell to be one of these. It is not exactly SF, but close enough to serve for this example.

  8. #8
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    SF can have a social function, and sometimes an impactful one.

    In the 1960s, Star Trek aired an episode in which the crew of the Enterprise encounter a planet with a ruling class and an underclass. The planet consists of humanoids whose faces are one half black and one half white, divided down the middle. The bridge crew are drawn into a conflict where one of the underclass - a slave, essentially - is captured and his captor boasts about his innate superiority based on their clear differences. When the baffled bridge crew ask what differences, they learn that the ruling class are black on the right hand side of the face and white on the other, and the slave underclass are the other. Not only were the crew stumped, but reportedly some of the audience thought this an absolutely insane idea as well: in 1960s, segregated America, the social commentary flew right over their heads. Another episode, which featured the first interracial kiss on American television in its history, did not and was extremely controversial.

    Most of Ursula K. LeGuin's SF work is also based on the soft sciences, with The Disposessed being about politics and The Left Hand of Darkness about gender issues and its impact on another society (actually a good example of a hard SF idea having social consequences).

  9. #9
    Registered User ralfy's Avatar
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    Absolutely. Check out Nineteen Eighty-Four.

  10. #10
    Registered User mylinar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Werthead View Post
    SF can have a social function, and sometimes an impactful one.

    In the 1960s, Star Trek aired an episode in which the crew of the Enterprise encounter a planet with a ruling class and an underclass. The planet consists of humanoids whose faces are one half black and one half white, divided down the middle. The bridge crew are drawn into a conflict where one of the underclass - a slave, essentially - is captured and his captor boasts about his innate superiority based on their clear differences. When the baffled bridge crew ask what differences, they learn that the ruling class are black on the right hand side of the face and white on the other, and the slave underclass are the other. Not only were the crew stumped, but reportedly some of the audience thought this an absolutely insane idea as well: in 1960s, segregated America, the social commentary flew right over their heads. Another episode, which featured the first interracial kiss on American television in its history, did not and was extremely controversial.
    Many people simply cannot understand anything that is less subtle than a sledgehammer. Black woman kisses white man, time to call the studio and threaten a boycott. Allegory about racisim in America, Duh? what? Time to switch to Gunsmoke

  11. #11
    Yes it can have a social function, in terms of setting frames of reference for discussion and understanding society:
    Nineteen Eighty-Four as already mentioned

    Brave New World
    A Clockwork Orange
    Slaughterhouse 5

    Various JG Ballard

  12. #12
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    Science Fiction is mostly read for entertainment. Though I love to read science fiction books, but I cannot be sure whether it could have a social function. But, there may be various point of views to a same thing. Like the stories Nineteen Eighty Four, which talk about frames in a society or so.

  13. #13
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    This was being discussed in the 1950s

    Science fiction as a factor in science education†

    Elizabethh H. Gross1, John H. Woodburn2
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...30106/abstract

    So what if it was deliberately presented to grade school kids that way as part of the curriculum?

    psik

  14. #14
    Ataraxic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Science fiction as a factor in science education†

    Elizabethh H. Gross1, John H. Woodburn2
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...30106/abstract

    So what if it was deliberately presented to grade school kids that way as part of the curriculum?

    You said that if you brought up the topic of using SF novels and stories in science education, which I had felt you had done before, as opposed to English literature class, I should point it out to you. So here's me pointing it out to you.

    The difficulty in using SF in science education is that SF plays fast and loose with the facts, even in hard SF stories, and especially in fiction geared for a grade school reading level. It would be difficult to be able to separate the fact of the stories from the fiction in them, and since textbooks can contain those same facts, including speculation of future scientific discoveries, there really is no need to include SF in science curriculums, although sometimes schools use story problems and similar devices. When kids get to a high school level, it might be possible to coordinate what they are reading in SF in English with what they are doing in physics or biology. Or it would if school budgets weren't constantly slashed. But the SF written for grade school kids wouldn't work well enough. The older stuff would be subject to angry parents and the difficulty of kids who are simply not at the right level of reading ability to follow it. School curriculums have to take into account everyone from precocious kids reading far above their age level to kids with learning disabilities who are reading below their age level. So grade school becomes problematic for trying to introduce all kids to SF as a science tool.

    That doesn't have to stop grade school teachers from mentioning ideas in SF to students to illustrate science facts. However, teachers are more likely to use sci-fi references from movies and t.v. and maybe games, because more of the children will have been exposed to those stories. There may be creative solutions, but teachers in grade schools in the U.S. are forced to teach to the standardized tests and passing those, rather than using far ranging materials.

  15. #15
    Fantastical settings can be used to great effect in portraying themes that relate to modern society. While the distinction can be drawn (as it was in a post above) that science fiction often relies on the plausible while fantasy relies on the impossible, both are in effect set in worlds that resemble either a distant future or distant past where things can be done that are not possible in our current reality. But the stories are necessarily influenced by the era in which the author is writing them. When done properly, this can have a more poignant effect than a work of fiction that tries to address those same issues in a contemporary setting. Take the earlier example of Star Trek. You have a crew that includes a Russian at the height of the Cold War, a Japanese-American only two decades after they were placed in internment camps during World War II, and an African-American woman during the advent of feminism and Civil Rights. This was a bold statement in the early 1960s, but was made more accessible by the fact that Roddenberry (quite rightly) was predicting a more integrated future. One of the best statements that was made to this effect was by a showrunner whose program really does not fit into the standard genre definition of SFF. Matthew Weiner said of Mad Men that it is like "science fiction in the past, reasoning that just as science fiction uses a future world to discuss issues that concern us today, Mad Men uses the past to discuss issues that concern us today that we don't discuss openly."

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