The Relationship Between Science and Science Fiction

An Ideal Partnership That Nourishes Both Partners


For as long as I can remember, I have loved science. Not to say I always understand it. A good case in point: a couple of years ago I watched a program about string theory. It looked fascinating. I understood almost 5% of it. Five more repeats of the program and I understood enough to grasp the essentials. By the next day, much of that was gone. But I loved it anyway!

One of the things I really like about science is scientists. As a group, these are good people. They tend to be curious, have good work habits, and take persistence to whole new levels. If things do not turn out as they expected, that is OK. Lesson learned, moving on. It is an admirable approach to life in general. This is skepticism applied properly.

I got attached to science before science fiction, which is backwards for most people. Ever since I was a teenager (a VERY long time ago) I have invested my reading time in history, philosophy, humor, and political commentary. Then, some years ago, my wife read Frank Herbert’s Dune.She suggested I read it.

I did, and I discovered new worlds and a new literary genre. I never looked back. Dune is an amazing piece of work (not so much so for the movie, but I digress). I read everything Herbert wrote (which was a lot) and actually yelled at him for dying. We needed more of his stuff to read! His son and others picked up the mantle as best they could.

I went on to discover other science fiction writers. I went through the classics (Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, and others). I found new generations of impressive talent (John Scalzi, Andy Weir). There is serious talent out there, a great many I have yet to discover. We have not even touched on film makers who belong to this club, too.

I appreciate the range of these writers, not only in imaginative scenarios and technology, but also in the range of emotions offered. Some are exceptionally hopeful. Others are so pessimistic as to imply it is a surprise we are not all dead yet, but surely will be shortly.  Even with such variety, it is not difficult to see common threads running from the earlier writers, to current writers, to the science community. Foremost is a sense of vision. Not just of what may be, but what could be. That is a very different formulation. I think it is a foundation piece of good writing and of good science.

I am struck by how many scientists who say that science fiction is what led them to science. It captured their imagination and challenged their intellect. A powerful combination, that is. Star Trek and Star Wars were the seeds that grew into much of our scientific community.

This is not so surprising, when you think about it. Much of science fiction has always been good at predicting what is likely coming in the future. Some of these writers have been nothing less than prescient. Others take great pride in working solid science (facts, methodology, etc.) directly into their stories (Weir is an excellent example of this).

For me, science fiction is an honored genre. It is where I most often go when I want an escape, but still want a connection with what is and what could be.

If you have not yet discovered it, do yourself a great favor and jump in. Worldawait you.

Bill Clontz, Founder, Agents of Reason    Bill Clontz

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8 replies to The Relationship Between Science and Science Fiction

  1. Thanks for the rec of Andy Weir. I need to get back to reading sci-fi. Loved Dune. The Mote in God’s Eye was another favorite of mine.

    • Another good tip! Just looked up Mote in God’s Eye based on your comment. Looks fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Bill I also love Science Fiction. Dad was an MIT EE grad and got me hooked on it an early age. For me it is a genre that continues to ask “what if”. Another author who does a great job on extrapolating on cutting edge science to imaging the future is Kim Stanley Robinson I definitely recommend his Mars trilogy and New York 2140 if you haven’t read them yet.

    • Kim is now on my reading list. Thanks for the tip. A new one for me.

  3. Shades of Twilight Zone! This week I attended a lecture on black holes by Janna Levin theoretical cosmetologist. You may know her from the TV series Nova and on TEDtalks. I’ve only read three science fiction books in my life, and I liked them but don’t gravitate to them (pun intended) when book shopping. My adult children are into Dune. I’ve read some science fiction movies are based on The Wizard of Oz which was lost on me before. I do think the Matrix movie was about religion. Bill, continue to amaze me with your variety of topics. Thank you!

      • Correction: Janna Levin is a theoretical Cosmologist. I think my phone word correction intervened incorrectly on my initial comment, and I didn’t catch that until now. Anyway, good laugh at myself on that one today. Hope all did, too.

    • Went right past me, also. I had a friend of many years who was a cosmologist and upon being introduced at parties, etc. he was almost always asked questions about hair color, etc.

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