This means that I write novels about far out places, weird aliens, and sometimes place characters on things that hover or fly very fast. This also means that I have a duty to humanity that is sometimes far above the sex-laden romance novel or the horror splatter-fest.
Science fiction novelists, good science fiction novelists, have a duty to humanity that usually goes unnoticed or unrecognized. I’m sure that when Robert Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers he was just trying to produce a good war story, but what he ended up doing (especially in chapter 8) is put forth a treatise on what it means to be a responsible citizen.
Not to mention the fact that he pretty much predicted the current state of affairs regarding juvenile delinquency.
Sure, there are tons of science fiction novelists out there churning out space epics that are nothing more than little boys playing with action figures in their front yard, but the real science fiction novelist is someone who sees some injustice being wrought upon our world and then reacts by writing a story that addresses these important issues through the medium of science fiction.
Take, for example, Star Trek.
Early Trek, original series Trek, was loaded with social commentary. One of my favorite episodes was Plato’s Stepchildren penned by Meyer Dolinsky. Not only is it a veiled commentary on religion, but it contains the first on-screen interracial kiss! What is most important about the episode is when it aired: November 22, 1968. What else was occurring that year? CNN called this year the most “history making year of the century”. On April 4th of that year, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I think it is more than a coincidence that this on-screen kiss occurred. This, and many other episodes too numerous to mention here commented on history all the while veiled in a far-out adventure story.
Science fiction matters because it is probably the only genre that allows a writer to comment on heavy social issues without rubbing the reader’s nose in it. It has the potential to be subtle, taking the reader on a joy-ride through distant galaxies all the while making them think about their own place in the universe.
Sure, other genres have this ability, but none like science fiction. I am challenged daily to write fun adventure stories, but I am greater challenged to craft those adventure stories so that the reader challenges their own thoughts about themselves and their fellow man.