Science-fiction's subversive side

In an NPR podcast, science fiction author James Gunn and science fiction editor Amy H. Sturgis discuss the genre's origins and its subversive side.

From ideas about what is contained inside our planet to who lives on other planets in our solar system and beyond, from ideas about ideological futures to "Future Imperfect," science fiction has been filling our minds and our imaginations with "what could be" and "why does this happen." In a recent broadcast of State of Affairs on the Louisville, KY, local NPR station 89.3 WFPL, everything from the origins to the extremes of science fiction were discussed in a show titled The Subversive Side of Science Fiction.

Joining host Julie Kredens on this broadcast are James Gunn, director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas and author of science fiction for more than 60 years, and Amy H. Sturgis, editor of science fiction and fantasy and teacher of interdisciplinary studies at Belmont University.

They discuss which author "started" modern science fiction writing (comparing Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells), explore why science fiction became so popular in its imagination and analysis of the political, economic, and social ramifications of technology, and compare the utopian and dystopian themes of various works. In addition, they look into how scientific development has expanded science fiction, as well as how science fiction has affected scientific development.

The guests also talk about how science fiction has been subversive ever since the gothic and dystopian points of view of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe. During the Golden Age of Science Fiction (1938-1950), the traditional mood of science fiction, "pessimistic irony" (which finds problems with current society and discusses how to improve or overcome those problems) was established and continues today. To compare, some works written during the Cold War were outlawed in their own country, such as Russia and East Germany, while other works and events, such as World's Fairs during that Golden Age were considered "views of the future," even going so far as to say "we have seen the future and it was good."

Amy H. Sturgis is working on a project that looks into current science-fiction writings, and she has found that a large portion of these works are self-critical ("self" meaning humanity) and generally more pessimistic than works written even a couple of decades ago. She goes on to say that young people getting into science fiction for the first time are subjected to this overwhelming level of criticism and pessimism, and it may lead to harm or at the very least disinterest in today's young people.

Science-fiction fans (or perhaps especially if you're not a fan) should consider downloading this podcast. The host and guests provide a great look into the history of science fiction and discuss the changes in science fiction throughout the last two centuries. I am a big fan of the very early science fiction, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, up through authors such as Heinlein and Clarke. When it comes to modern science fiction, I generally stick to franchises that I was interested in from other forms of media, such as Star Trek.

Are you a fan of science fiction? If so, what eras or styles interest you the most?