Science Fact vs. Science Fiction?

Got Science?I got an email the other day from my long distance company (Credo, which combines providing phone services with political action), inviting me to take a quiz it was sponsoring along with the Union of Concerned Scientists to educate people about climate change.

I was looking for an excuse to goof off and I wanted one of the nifty “got science?” bumper stickers, so I surfed over to the link, where I was confronted with the following headline:

Can you tell Fact from Science Fiction?

It pissed me off, because if there’s one group of people out there besides scientists who really understand the crisis posed by climate change, it’s writers and readers of science fiction.

I recall reading John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up back in the 1970s. What struck me then — and what I remember today — is that what he did to create a dystopian world of environmental collapse was to simply make every problem about 10 percent worse than it was at the time: Air quality, water quality, overpopulation, and so on.

To get more recent, there’s the Kim Stanley Robinson series that begins with Forty Signs of Rain. He floods Washington, D.C., in the Forty Signs of Rainfirst book. It was so real to me that I found myself thanking my lucky stars that my house was considerably uphill from Rock Creek Park. Stan’s more optimistic than Brunner: the third book, Sixty Days and Counting, offers some possible solutions.

Then there’s Gwyneth Jones’s series that begins with Bold as Love. Climate change is integral to the series of crises facing the rockstars who end up running England.

I’ve even done it myself: My story “Homesteading” (published in my collection Conscientious Inconsistencies and also available as a free read on Book View Cafe) assumes a collapse caused by climate change, as does “Or We Will All Hang Separately,” recently published on Futurismic.

The fact is, if you want to get to the truth about climate change, science fiction is a good place to start.

Now, in fairness to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Credo, both of whom fall in the “good guys” camp, I understand why they did their campaign that way. It’s tempting, when you’re dealing with scientific ignorance in the U.S. in particular, to cast it as “science fact vs. science fiction.”

But it’s still misleading. The climate change deniers don’t pay any more attention to science fiction than they do to science. As near as I can tell, they make their ideas up out of whole cloth or else they base them on a literal — to them, if not to any reasonable religious scholar — reading of the Bible.

So please, UCS and Credo, stop dissing your allies. The science fiction community is on your side. I challenge you to come up with a new campaign, one that recognizes the contributions of science fiction to understanding of climate change.

By the way, I did answer the quiz and got all the answers right. It’s a pretty easy quiz if you’ve been paying attention at all. I’m waiting impatiently for my bumper sticker and I might even send some money to the Concerned Scientists.

I plan to tell them it’s money I made writing science fiction.
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Breaking WavesMy story “Emergency” is part of Breaking Waves, an anthology benefitting the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund. I also have two essays in the lastest Book View Cafe anthology, Brewing Fine Fiction.

My 51 flash fictions and a few other stories are available on Nancy Jane’s Bookshelf, and anthologies containing some of my stories are available through Powell’s. The free, chapter-by-chapter version of Changeling starts here. And check out my stories in the Book View Cafe anthologies The Shadow Conspiracy, Rocket Boy and the Geek Girls, and Dragon Lords and Warrior Women.

You can also read my latest story — “Or We Will All Hang Separately” — on Futurismic.

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Science Fact vs. Science Fiction? — 7 Comments

  1. The trouble, I think, is that so much of what passes for science fiction in the most accessible media is really science fantasy or space opera–not stuff rooted in science, but stuff rooted in the trappings of SF. Look! Robots! Space! Lightsabres! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). Many people think of SF as the literature of “wouldn’t it be cool if–” Having been raised on a lot of SF of the “if this goes on–” tradition, seeing SF posed in opposition to science makes me a little crazy.

  2. Stand on Zanzibar is on my list of books that I intend to get to one of these days. I think I was so depressed by The Sheep Look Up that I didn’t want to read it right away.

  3. Pingback: Co tam w fantastyce s?ycha?? (22 XI – 28 XI 2010) | Zaginiona Biblioteka

  4. I went out and took the quiz too. I think the Got Science? sticker will go very nicely with my “Driven by faith not fear” sticker and my “No room in their world for prejudice” sticker.

    Also aced the quiz. Sheesh, are our elected officials and tele-journalists really that inarticulate? If I’d voted purely by how clear and concise the language was, I’d’ve gotten a perfect score.