Why do we enjoy science fiction?
Perhaps it is not the fantastic at all. Perhaps it is instead how science fiction is always in some way about the present. It is an exaggeration, a recontextualization, a defamiliarization. Science fiction takes some aspect of life in the present and blows it out to its logical extremes to see where things breakdown. The best science fiction gives us ways to think about our actual lived circumstances, unencumbered by material reality and with the perspective gained by getting a little bit of distance.
In this capacity, the role of science fiction is changing, and becoming more urgent. As Gerry Canavan will point out in his piece, the rate of technological advancement has never been faster, bringing head-mounted displays, touch screen technologies, cloning, private space travel, and so on into modern life. Simultaneously, we are witnessing something of a renaissance of science ction in contemporary culture. From Avatar to Interstellar to Disney’s plans to release a new Star Wars movie every year or so, the genre has never been more popular, nor more main- stream. Given the rapidity of change these days, one could hardly blame us for wanting to get a little perspective. Coincidently, however, science ction ceases to be all that fantastic. Indeed, it is increasingly familiar. Its tropes, themes, images, and conventions have become the way we comprehend and describe our real, non-fiction lives. What distance is there to take as the stuff of science fiction rapidly becomes the stuff of our everyday?
The pieces that appear in this special issue might not all resemble classic examples of the genre. Sure, we have robots looking for love, post-apocalyptic scenarios, and space travel. But we also have a neighborly black hole cleaning up the block, a time traveler shopping at TJ Maxx, and singles seeking stability in the age of advanced pharmaceuticals. The diverse pieces gathered here think about science fiction in the mundane: the wonder of television and the space race, leftover pieces of spacecraft floating in post-anthropocene space, a sense of alienation in a cup of coffee.
What strikes me about the selections that follow is that, though they take and use the tools of the genre, the alternative worlds they imagine do not seem so far off. This, I think, is why now is the time to explore and enjoy science fictions, to see what new speculative frontiers have opened for literature. Perhaps we’ll nd they are closer to home than we expect.