Gregory Benford on Science Fiction
Albernaz, Ami, Science & Spirit
in deference to long, lazy afternoons in the sun and to Tom Cruise waging war with aliens in the big-screen take on H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, Science & Spirit is happy to focus on science fiction and fantasy in this summer's slightly expanded books section. Acclaimed science fiction writer and editor James Gunn guides us through the history of science fiction and later, journalist Gayle Forman introduces us to a group of young Kazakhs dedicated to re-creating the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien.
To begin, we feature award-winning author Gregory Benford, whose latest novel, The Sunborn, came out in March. Science & Spirit books editor Ami Albernaz talked with Benford about some past and present trends in science fiction.
Science & Spirit: Has the purpose of science fiction or the intentions of its authors changed over the years?
Gregory Benford: Fundamentally, the purpose hasn't changed. Science fiction is the cultural expression of an entire powerful class of people, and readers' reactions to that group. Science fiction arose as a genre in the early twentieth century because it had been sidelined from mainstream literature. It was popular because it was written by scientists and engineers who didn't necessarily have writing degrees, but [readers] were fascinated with that culture.
S&S: Are the messages that people take from science fiction different now from what they were in the past?
GB: I think so. Our time is a lot more pessimistic regarding the future than it was 100 years ago, for deep reasons. Science has gotten far worse press in today's literature. Michael Crichton has used science in his books to put forth messages about hubris, and has created what I call a "paranoid plot structure." But while true science fiction works envision a changed world, Crichton always returns to the ordinary world--and does not ask people to make changes in their world. …