20 June 2009

On the Mohs scale of SF, Ben Bova eats diamond

Something written by Ben Bova in his column (talked about it before here) has been bothering me:
I admit that if the only science fiction you’re aware of is what you see in movie theaters or on television, you have every right to be skeptical. That stuff isn’t based on scientific fact; it’s based on comic strips or the dreams of juveniles.


When I say “real science fiction,” I mean stories based solidly on known scientific facts. The writer is free to extrapolate from the known and project into the future, of course. The writer is free to invent anything he or she wants to — as long as nobody can prove that it’s wrong.
Man, this guy believes in the hardest of hard SF. I obviously disagree with what he is saying, but then, he's a well known author, while I post in some forsaken corner of the internet...but I'm a consumer of SF, too, which gives me some rights, yeah? I always value insight into others' mode of thought, besides.

But specifically--what's wrong with comic strips? The word used to compare them is 'juvenile,' wielded in a manner that drips condescension. I suspect that Mr. Bova thinks that all comics are basically The Family Circus, and therefore unworthy of his attention, which is an attitude that is very much prevalent in the American public. Some of the most interesting SF storytelling today is being told through an animated medium, and is often only tenuously related to scientific fact. I love it precisely because there is no pressure of reality upon it, either visually or thematically, and imagination is allowed to run free.

But enough about anime and comics for now. What about this requirement that science fiction be based upon something that cannot be 'proven false'? I find this silly for very similar reasons to the other assertion, but there's something more to this belief than simple condescencion. Ben Bova made his name in 'hard' SF and man, I can see why. That's a hard goal to live up to; virtually impossible, I would think, but it seems to work for him. I also think, though, that this is a remarkably narrow view, and more importantly potentially ignores the very function of writing, that of storytelling. Not saying that he has failed on this account, but there's a reason that I don't much enjoy the diamond end of hard SF and I suspect that this is it.

Ben Bova's viewpoint is that of a minority, however, and part of me is a little saddened by this. I see him and his ilk--Benford and...and...well, there's others that I can't think of right now--as being the ballast of the SF community, keeping it distinct and separate from other more fantastic genres by injecting a dose of (over)realism into the mix. I am a consumer, but I am not the consumer base...good thing, eh?

1 comment:

Adam Wykes said...

Hard SF totally is the ballast, although somehow I feel like the world-builders out there are, too. I mean I know world-building is big in Fantasy as well, but SF world-building has a something about it that distinguishes it.

Perhaps it is the effort (however minimal) to make it seem realistic and plausible.

And it does suck hard that media like anime is even more ghettoized than SF itself. For instance, Wings Over Honneamise - awesome Hard SF. Surely Ben Bova would find it to be crap. Alas.

BTW, I want to do a story on how SF (and possibly other un-mainstream genres) tend to be used as the storytelling genres for new media. I'm pretty sure this was the case with gaming, I just want to try to prove it with movies and novels. Hmm... how to go about this. Any advice?