There is an aspect to science fiction some members of the scientific world seem to have forgotten about: most often, science fiction is speculative fiction. That is, it is not always a story about what is, or even what we imagine could be, but rather a story about what might happen if something was.

I know that last idea is hard for some because science fiction, unfortunately, came to have science in the name. Depending on who you ask, that name came about because its writers wanted to define their fiction as describing a universe bounded by physical laws and to differentiate it from fantasy. Certainly all along, the lines between sci-fi and fantasy have blurred, but I’m not even really talking about those works. Yes, there is even hard science fiction wherein authors chose to constrain themselves within the boundaries of what we believe to be true, and that’s fine.

However, the fact remains that the great body of what comes to be called science fiction isn’t really about science at all. Instead, it’s about imagining a world similar to our own where different rules now apply because we’ve discovered new ones. It’s possible that those rules may be implausible based on our current understanding of science, but that fact does not represent a detraction from the ideas being explored in the work.

Moreover, the demand that science fiction adhere to our current understanding of science undermines one of science fiction’s most powerful benefits: its ability to fire the imagination to see beyond the constraints of what be believe to be the rules to discover rules we did not understand existed before that moment.

To me, the benefit of science fiction’s ability to speculate isn’t to engender a, “That’s not possible,” response so much as it is to bring out, “But what if it is?”

I understand, for scientists who trade in the currency of what we believe to be true now, that kind of speculation can seem counter productive. But for society as a whole, it’s part of the fuel that drives the engine of imagination, innovation, and advancement. Let’s stop putting a limit on what might be possible in works of fiction so that we can find out if those ideas might be possible in fact.

DLH

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