Why I Refuse to Call It Anything by Science Fiction
It is amazing how opposed many people are to the very concept of science fiction. In Germany, the country where I grew up, there is a profound disgust for the very genre, it seems. Fantasy and science fiction are dirty words for lower literature. But even elsewhere the very term is associated with cheap thrills and the lower end of literature.
Since I was a kid, I did not fully understand that idea.
I remember reading 1984 and identifying it as science fiction literature. I remember reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and considering it science fiction. I remember reading Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brian or On the Beach by Nevil Shute and considering them science fiction. My German and English teachers called them utopian novels or existential drama. Even Germany’s most acclaimed work of fiction Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust has scenes where the devil bursts out as a poodle, and a witch summons dark powers to give the protagonist prolonged life. That seems not to be fantasy for German literature. When I was younger, I read about everything from pulpy soppy novels to world classics. I read all the German classics, then I moved to British ones as they were more my taste. Greek mythology was basically what I was raised with. My first books ever were the Greek myths for children. Odysseus was my hero, and I disliked the arrogant Hercules. I wanted to be like Jason when I grew up.
I also read science fiction with a passion. I remember reading all of Foundation collected in two volumes over the course of a summer holiday with my parents. It was the smartest tale I have ever read: epic in scope, deeply thought through with questions about free will and the predictable nature of humanity, besides the individual will that shaped my thinking of my world profoundly. I remember reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer when I was a teenager, and I was amazed by the world it painted and somehow convinced to have looked in a way something very close to our future. You could say I spent my next years looking out for the signs of the novel coming true. Internet, cybercrime, mobile networks, synthetic drugs, electronic music, everything seemed for a while to fall into place. I clearly remember reading Philip K. Dick and how it broadened my mind. Even today most of my pitches as an entrepreneur start by quoting Ubik.
What followed were many more. Too many to name here. Let us just say I spent a lot of time reading and a substantial amount of my younger days I spent reading science fiction. I think this habit of spending so much time of my life thinking about the future and how it might look was what ultimately made me quit as a lawyer to pursue a career as an entrepreneur.
Wait, I did not write sci-fi?
Now the year 2020 hit me, and it was the same as it was for all of you. I found myself stranded in Berlin, quarantined in lock down, and I decided to do something I had no time to do since I was in my mid-twenties. I started writing a bunch of stories in the future as I thought it might come to pass, an interesting experience. In a way, I always knew that the only thing I could truly write was science fiction. I gave the stories to a few people and the overwhelming feedback was surprising.
They liked the stories, but urged me not to label them science fiction. Techno-thriller I heard twice (interesting enough a term, often used for Michael Crichton’s books, who I mostly consider . . . science fiction), future fiction, neo-noir, future noir, science noir, or tech noir were suggested to me. Tech noir got me tempted, as it has a nice sound to it. It also seems to be a good description of what I try to write.
I explained to all those well-meaning friends that I wrote science fiction, because I consider it a valuable, interesting, and incredibly important genre. The genre of science fiction allows you to think about what is coming. It allows for experiments with your own perception, and even if not a word of what you predict comes true, the prediction itself might say more about the here and now than any subjective contemporary novel could. I embrace science fiction for what it is: an intellectual challenge of what could be, a game of predictions where you take all the history and trends and spin a world out of them that might actually come to pass.
I proudly say, “I write science fiction.”