Mark A. Carter
 

MARK A. CARTER - NOVELIST:
SCI-FI: devalue, dismiss, and disregard

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter discusses why people devalue, dismiss, and disregard Science Fiction as literature.

WHY PEOPLE DIMINISH SCIENCE FICTION: Back in the day, while I was working toward an initial degree in English Literature, Science Fiction was snubbed, by most, as pulp and sub-literature. It was considered an unworthy subject of serious study with no redeemable features. Many saw it as all bug-eyed monsters and damsels in distress, as depicted by Hollywood in B movies; whereas, what was depicted in films was decades, centuries, and often millennia behind the printed word. So I begged to differ as did others like Ernie Redekop at the University of Western Ontario who offered a course in the subject.

There were so many uncertainties back then. Was Science Fiction a legitimate genre? What should it be called? Was it Science Fiction or Sci-Fi or SF? And what did SF really mean? Was it Science Fiction, Science Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, or Speculative Fantasy? Now, it's all water under the bridge.

Science Fiction, as many saw it, had its origins in the writings of H.G. Wells. Some believed it originated with Jules Verne. Some thought it began with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. I saw its origins in mythology and saw proof of it in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Greek Myths, the Mabinogion, and the Elder Edda.

Illustration copyright © Tom Gauld. All Rights Reserved.

In those myths I saw great human drama played out pitting humanity against great adversity and overwhelming odds. I saw warnings, folly, bravery, and punishment. And I saw the use of a tool given to the hero by the gods, to give him a fighting chance in his endeavors to save the world.

Myths showed us that if we transgress, if we tempt the gods, if we strive to know too much, we shall be punished. We will unleash unspeakable evil upon ourselves and possibly upon the entire world. These benign tales, some based on historical truths, some flights of unbridled imagination played out as scenarios warned of the consequences of human folly. And in those myths, I saw the genesis of modern Science Fiction.

Step ahead. The average person today does not think Science Fiction is anything special. It has become the mainstay of futuristic films, particularly those depicting dystopian futures, the end of the world, and the ever popular alien invasion. In fact, we are so bombarded with Science Fiction on television and at the theater that it has become anathema to many. People have become complacent. And when they look around themselves, they are blind to the impact Science Fiction has had on their daily lives. To quote J. G. Ballard from Fictions of Every Kind:

Everything is becoming Science Fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the twentieth century.

Most people take the technology of our modern world for granted. They just think, as they waltz around talking on the their cell phones, while they watch their high definition flat-screen televisions, with media service delivered at the speed of light through fiber-optic cable or satellite dish, that pixies invented it all. But actually those pixies are engineers, scientists, and technologists, and the inspiration for their innovations came from Science Fiction.

Although Science Fiction has been used to inspire innovation, the influence of the genre on our world is a two-edged sword. Some imagined technologies have been used for good. Some are all too obviously designed with the opposite in mind. And in the wrong hands, or with the wrong mind-set, the warnings that Science Fiction provides will be played out in reality, with dire consequences. Why? I think it is because our species is smart but foolish. It's in our nature. The ancient Greeks knew it and wrote about human nature in their myth of Prometheus. And if we don't heed the warnings of Science Fiction, we are likely to suffer the daily agony that Prometheus endured for giving man fire. We will annihilate ourselves. To quote the Cyberdyne Systems Series 800 Resistance Infiltrator Model-101, Version 2.4 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day where we have lost control of and are fighting a war with our AI machines:

It's in your nature to destroy yourselves.

Let's hope not. But ironically, of course, we are in full development of AI machines right now and the drones seen in Terminator are currently here now too. It's only a matter of time before we lose control of them. Based on my Frankenstein hypothesis, we always lose control of our technology. So why on Earth are we developing them? I think it is because we always have to push the envelope. We always have to see if it can be done.

Sadly, that attitude will lead to dire consequences that are played out in reality instead of benignly in the pages of Science Fiction or at the theater. We haven't yet learned that just because you can do a thing, it doesn't mean you should. Of course, that takes maturity as a species. Bla ... bla ... bla ... enough said.

Read: Vonnegut, file drawer and urinal
Why write Science Fiction?

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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