Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Friday, August 18, 2006

About Science Fiction

I am a science-fiction fan. Been reading it all my life. Regularly go thru over 20 SF books a year. Attend SF cons. Participate in SF listservs. Hang out with SF fans. Watch every SF movie that comes to town and almost all of the SF TV shows. Love the stuff.

And, in my experience, SF fans are better than most at making the distinction between science and fiction.

They also tend to be atheists.

Indeed, most of the big SF cons have a tiny little room somewhere where the Christian SF fans can get together and bemoan their minority status and the fact that everyone else in fandom thinks they're a little weird. (In other words, they're like atheists in the Mundane World.)

One friend of mine who happened to fall into this odd overlapping intersection of the Xian and fannish subsets was bemoaning his love life one day. His wife had divorced him, and he said "Do you know how HARD it is to find a single Xian woman in fandom?". Because he really WAS a friend, I eschewed the opportunity to advise him that he'd probably have better luck if he abandoned the Xianity crap and joined the real world. (Besides, it's not as if my own love life served as such a sterling counter-example.)

At WisCon 30, held here in my home town of Madison WI last Memorial Day, we had a panel called "Pick Yer Poison", where the blurb read "You're an elderly black female atheist liberal lesbian feminist SF fan in a wheelchair. Which of these characteristics gets you the most grief (a) in society at large? (b) as a character in an SF novel? (c) in fandom? How about your 2 fellow siblings, identical in every respect except that one's a born-again Christian and the other's a Republican?" I wasn't able to attend the panel, but I heard that the born-agains actually came away with a little more audience sympathy than the Republicans.

A field closely allied with science fiction is fantasy, which for present purposes I'll take to include the subgenre called horror, which some split off into a genre in its own right. I liken it to playing poker. SF allows you to have up to 2 wild cards (like time travel or ESP) in the deck; anything more than that, and you're dealing with fantasy.

These conventions are widely understood by fans, and tolerated as long as they don't get in the way of a crackin' good story, or if they're not pulled out of nowhere at the end of the story to create a deus ex machina ending.

But, for the most part, fans get irritated when the science isn't right. They don't want noisy spaceships (no atmosphere to carry the sound waves) or everyone on Pluto speaking English or aliens who look just like us (except for the pointy ears) to the point of being interfertile. (As Carl Sagan once observed, you'd have a better chance cross-breeding with a cauliflower than a sentient being from another planet.)

Fans understand that the Universe is an amazing place, with all sorts of strange wonders. They can contemplate opening diplomatic relations with sentient mushrooms that communicate by means of chemical gradients. With a background like that, they think petty difference between human beings (like different skin color) are so trivial as to be hardly worth mentioning. And they (usually) recognize religion as being yet another cultural artifact, strictly a byproduct of the environment's influence on thinking minds and subject to change over the centuries.

I recently read an SF short story that contained a mental image that I'm going to make more extensive use of in the future. It's this. All of us picture ourselves at the center of a notional Universe in which we're represented as dots and so is everyone else. And we draw lines in these diagrams. There are basically 2 kinds of lines you can draw: circles or spokes. Draw a circle around yourself and include as many of your family members, friends, co-workers, etc. as you want, and you've provided what seems like a safe, tight little community. But you've limited yourself, and invariably there's way more outside your circle than there is inside. OTOH, you can draw spokes, radial lines emanating from you and going as far away as you want, connecting you to other people and walling you off from none of them. Spokes allow for more possibilities than circles, and they're not constricting.

This is the kind of mindset that science fiction encourages.

As long, of course, as it doesn't get in the way of a good story.

= = = = = =
There are many intelligent species in the universe. They are all owned by cats.
-- anonymous


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