Why Do You Read Science Fiction?

Johannah Rodgers
February 11, 2017

I read science fiction for reasons that change on an almost daily basis. Initially, and not all that long ago, I started reading science fiction because I quite unexpectedly found myself working on a fiction project related to the genre of science fiction. Before that time (2008?), I did not think that I had ever read science fiction. This was, of course, not true. However, it was what I believed.

I study, write about, and write prose, both fiction and nonfiction, which are part of what we call, generally, literature. Having studied and been educated in the history of Western literature, I tended to draw distinct lines between “literature” and “non-literature” (whatever that is?!). [In the 80s, it was possible to make a distinction between two categories that were related to one another by capitalizing the first letter of one and not capitalizing the first letter of the other. I believe this practice in some way related to Lacan’s work, but I’m not sure.] Anyway, in the past, I made a clear distinction between Literature (capital L) and literature (lower case l). What literature was did not concern me. However, over time, it increasingly interested me, for various reasons, all of which related in some way to this question: why is it that given the choice to read works of Literature would anyone choose to read works of literature instead? I still don’t have a complete answer to this question, but having spent some time and energy investigating it, I have more of an understanding of what is involved in formulating answers to that question.

Here is the very short version of the answer: literature (lower case l) is a living genre; Literature is not. This fact has mostly to do with economics and economies, but it also has to do with educational systems (defined broadly) and nation states. In other words, the reasons behind how and why and which books are studied and what their import is perceived to be. Literature and literature exist in some relation to one another and sometimes overlap. However how and why these two categories meet is dependent on numerous factors. In particular, the medial environment and affordances of a given culture in any one point in time.

My research and writing are increasingly focused on writing as a medium and as media and on thinking about writing as a set of and systems of technologies. It is these interests, along with the fact that I wrote a writing textbook entitled Technology: A Reader for Writers, that have led me to read more science fiction. What I have learned in the process is that I always read science fiction. However, I did not always know that I was reading science fiction.

Like most people, I read science fiction because I enjoy it and I am interested in it, both as a creative writer and as someone who thinks and writes about technologies and societies. However, I also read and study science fiction because I think it is important socially, culturally, and in the context of literary studies generally.