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The Other Science Fiction
Steve Lazarowitz

Try this experiment. Ask a friend that is NOT a fan to name a science fiction movie. The odds are, they'll name one of the Star Trek or Star Wars films. The odds are even greater that whatever they can come up with in five or ten tries will have some kind of alien in it or will have taken place in outer space.

I have been a science fiction fan for all my life. Ever since I was a tadpole and saw my first episode of the original Star Trek, I was hooked. My father was also a big fan and once I was old enough to read, I went through his vast library at a speed that would have impressed Einstein.

I have had, upon occasion, been asked by friends or family, what I see in the genre. After all, the whole business of spaceships and aliens, well, isn't that just for kids.

Aside from the very obvious point that many important and poignant topics appear quite frequently in both SF and Fantasy, there is another problem that I have with the question. It seems that most people identify Science Fiction with space travel and aliens.

This is not a difficult phenomenom to understand. Quite simply the most visible SF, i.e. what they show on television, is space opera. Lost in Space, Babylon 5, Space 1999, Battlestar Galactica, Quark (the SF spoof that I'm not certain made it through a single season) and of course, Star Trek (in all its incarnations).

Yet there are a number of fine movies that clearly fall into the category, but have little or nothing to do with space travel. Jurassic Park was a science fiction movie! So was the Andromeda Strain. I might mention any of a number of time travel movies, including the Terminator films, Time Cop, Time After Time, and The Time Machine. Let's not forget Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, The Last Man on Earth, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Logan's Run, Fahrenheit 451, Twelve Monkeys and Food of the Gods.

Then there are the speculative fiction series, that include within many of their episodes science fiction themes. The most obvious is The Twilight Zone, though Outer Limits runs a close second. Amazing Tales had a few science oriented stories as well. Not all of those had to do with space.

After talking with several people, I have come to the conclusion that space opera (the SF equivalent of a western shoot 'em up) as fun as it might be, has damaged the public's perception of SF. And no amount of Star Wars movies or ET's will ever change the fact that, during the 50's and 60's so many "B" movies came out that it became difficult for some to take science fiction seriously.

In spite of the fact that, over the years, there have any number of fine films the include space flight or aliens within them. Silent Running is one of the best. Forbidden Planet is a classic, as is The Day the Earth Stood Still. And though it is obscure, I really did enjoy Sean Connery's performance in Outland.

Science Fiction books have similar problems. You will almost never see one on a best seller list. People don't take them seriously. Nor do many people take SF readers seriously. If you are a fan, you know what I'm talking about. Coworkers or friends will simply shake there heads when they see a book with a spaceship or weird alien on the cover.

The fact is there are many excellent books that I feel would be a perfect addition to our current educational curriculum. Robert Heinlein's, Stranger in a Strange Land is one. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, The Mote in Gods Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, East of Eden by Harry Harrison or any of Stephen Donaldson's Gap into Madness books would certainly tell us as much about human frailty as Moby Dick. And I for one would enjoy them more.

Curiously enough, the three SF books that seem to be recommended reading have nothing to do with outer space. 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell were both on suggested reading lists, when I was in high school, as was Brave New World by Aldus Huxley. Certainly Asimov's Robot Books should have made that list, or Joe Haldeman's The Forever War.

For that matter, why are O'Henry's stories taught in schools, but Fredrick Brown's ignored. I find Brown's irony to be every bit as satisfying.

It is time for people to break away from the science fiction stereotype. It is time for the rest of the world to realize that it's not just about pointing lasers and killing aliens. There is an entire world of SF out there, that not only takes on serious issues, but that is seriously entertaining as well.

And it's up to us SF fans to make it known.

Steve Lazarowitz and his idea machine reside in Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared online in numerous e-zines including The Wandering Troll, Jackhammer, Planet Relish, AnotherRealm and Twilight Times. His anthology "A Creative Edge: Tales of Speculation", won the year 2000 Dream Realm Award for best e-published speculative fiction anthology and was an Eppie finalist. "A Creative Edge" and Steve's other two books ("Dream Sequence" and "Alaric Swifthand") are all available from Crossroadspub.com. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his newest novel "Reflections of a Recovering Servant."


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