Watching SpaceX’s historic astronaut launch filled me with unexpected emotion.
As a sci-fi writer, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how much it meant to me.
I’ve been dreaming of humanity’s progress into the stars since I was a kid. And watching Elon Musk’s company launch astronauts beyond the atmosphere for the first time ever, I felt how I imagine people watching the moon landing must have felt.
Space has always ignited my imagination, which probably goes without saying, considering my job.
What shape will the commercial space industry take?
Will Richard Branson’s spinning orbital hotels become the norm?
Will we ever reach Jeff Bezos’ goal of establishing O’Neill colonies – megalithic structures consisting of two counter-rotating cylinders, designed to provide for entire communities in space?
Predictably, the SpaceX launch also has me thinking about why I write sci-fi in the first place...
…but not only that, why sci-fi readers love the genre so much.
It’s actually a question that’s been on my mind for a long time. In fact, for years now, I’ve been asking my readers exactly that question:
“Why do you love sci-fi?”
“Sci-Fi (not just books), is so appealing because it has no bounds. It provides a platform to imagine an infinity of future - or even past - possibilities for life, worlds, science and realities that are far beyond our current grasp. When these possibilities are woven into a story that includes the emotions and experiences from our own daily existence, it allows our imaginations to accept the fact that anything is possible. Just as Netflix and labradoodles were incomprehensible to the cave man, so are the probability drives and hiccup remedies of the future - until someone imagines, and then discovers or creates them.”
Over the years, I’ve gotten dozens, if not hundreds of replies to my question. And I’ve noticed some common threads.
A lot of readers live for the technology sci-fi writers dream up…which often becomes reality in the decades that follow.
“SciFi to me is future telling. So much has come to fruition that originally appeared as science fiction. It also gives me a chance to see what may happen in the future, a future I probably won’t see since I’m 80 years old!”
Others simply love the sense of endless possibility the genre offers.
“What I like most about sci-fi? I use the title to Lester del Rey’s 1966 book, The Infinite Worlds of Maybe.”
And some readers actually believe science fiction is the genre that most accurately depicts the world, in the current day…because the future has truly arrived, and we live in a science fictional world.
“Now, I daily feel I live in a sci fi world…free video calls across the planet, the implications of quantum reality, echoes of fractal mathematics in the living patterns which emerge from otherwise chaotic information, the way programs unexpectedly interact...and the magic of Water Life, cellular telepathic transmitters nudging the quantum curtain to make the world more life-friendly... not to mention the fabulous implications for bio programming and medicine in the discovery over the past five decades of Bong-Han Ducts / the microtubule (acupuncture meridian) system with which I have worked for most of my life.”
Still others read sci-fi because the genre has become an indispensable part of their lives.
“To me sci-fi has been a part of my life, as I grew up in the sixties, as space became a real thing I watched on TV, I prefer believable stories, as much about the people, as the science, I prefer a self-contained book, I will normally wait until I can download a complete series before reading, as I hate stopping and waiting for the next instalment, don’t watch TV series for the same reason, until a box set is available.
I have enjoyed your writing, I have been reading sci-fi since I learned to read, some 65 years ago, so have read a lot of the classics, some as they were first printed.”
So why do I love sci-fi? What compelled me to write over 20 books in this genre, with no sign of stopping?
It’s because science fiction provides me with a universe-sized laboratory to experiment with human nature.
I believe that, in space, everything becomes its truest self.
The intrepid, self-sacrificing hero becomes the epitome of all such heroes.
The villain, too, is stripped down to his essence. Yes, his motives may be complex, and even deeply relatable to the reader. But when evil is present in these stories, we are afforded a good look at it – cast against the stark background of the void.
Space boils everything down to its basic components. It lets us take off our Earthly blinders and operate from first principles.
And, of course, I get to write kickass scenes where giant spaceships duke it out across unimaginable distances.
No matter how chaotic things get on Earth, I choose to believe a future of boundless opportunity awaits us among the stars.
Yes, we’re still at the early stages.
Even with SpaceX already testing prototypes of Starship, the vessel it will use to take humans to Mars…
Even with NASA planning to establish a long-term human presence on the moon by 2028…
We may not see space travel move much beyond its infancy during our lifetimes.
But maybe that doesn’t matter.
Maybe this is actually the best period of space travel to witness.
Maybe we’re incredibly lucky to be alive for this.
After all…the anticipation of something is always the sweetest part.
Find Scott Bartlett's space opera novels here