I took a swing through a bookstore the other day, the first one I had been through since the demise of my local Borders, and as usual went to check out the SF section. What I found, also as usual of late, was that most of it was actually fantasy. Mostly Urban Fantasy, actually; so much urban fantasy.
I didn’t find anything (my reading pile is still big enough that I don’t need to grab anything just to have something to read) but as I left I started wondering what happened to the Science Fiction shelves of old. I remember when Science Fiction and Fantasy were two different areas in the stores and the SF shelf was the larger of the two. No longer.
Of course, part of it is the popularity and success of such things as the Harry Potter and Twilight series which of course have spawned their imitators, but this just changes the question as to why these series became so popular in the first place.
I think it is because that, based on what Science Fiction promised us, Science has failed.
I’m not talking about “where’s my flying car?” here. Up through the 1950’s and 1960’s, everyone thought that science (Science!) would solve all of our problems. Robots would remove all need for menial labor. The Atom would provide all our energy needs. We would be living in a utopia fueled by the fruits of science.
Reality didn’t match that. We are constantly told of the problems that we have wrought upon the world. Pollution. Famine. War. We no longer believe that science will lead us until into a bright future. Instead, we hope that we are secretly a wizard who can use a magic wand to just wave our problems away, or that a mythical vampire will come and take us off to a life of happiness and luxury. We don’t believe in science and so we turn to fantasy.
I say Science just has a PR problem.
I carry a cell phone around with me every day that can do things that Captain Kirk only wished his communicator did. We perform surgeries where we stop a person’s heart, take it out and repair it, then put it back in their chest and send them home in a few days. You are reading this on a global computer network that lets virtually anyone, anywhere communicate.
The future is here, but we’re too busy looking at the gum stuck to the bottom of its shoe to notice.
I keep hoping that someday we will realize that the future is here and that the amazing, scientific future we once imagined is still out there. Maybe once we realize that there isn’t a magical train coming for us we’ll start looking forward to it again.