Why Science Fiction is the Most Important Genre

Because science fiction plays such a key role in shaping public opinion, he would like to see more science fiction that grapples with realistic issues like AI creating a permanent ‘useless class’ of workers. “If you want to raise public awareness of such issues, a good science fiction movie could be worth not one, but a hundred articles in Science or Nature , or even a hundred articles in the New York Times ,” he says.

But he thinks that too much science fiction tends to focus on scenarios that are fanciful or outlandish.

“In most science fiction books and movies about artificial intelligence, the main plot revolves around the moment when the computer or the robot gains consciousness and starts having feelings,” he says. “And I think that this diverts the attention of the public from the really important and realistic problems, to things that are unlikely to happen anytime soon.”

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I’m sure this is magic to @AndyWalsh’s ears. What exactly is the historical origin of science fiction? How much of it traces through CS Lewis?

Hoping to prove successful in combining a love of things old with mythology and with a desire to uphold the dignity of the human person in a world rent asunder by warring ideologies, Tolkien and Lewis challenged each other to create deep works of the imagination. After a “toss up,” the two men agreed that Lewis’s stories would deal with space travel while Tolkien’s would deal with time travel.[4] It should be remembered that the term “science fiction” did not exist in the 1930s and would not become an accepted term for that genre until the very early 1950s. While other writers, such as Thomas More, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, and Aldous Huxley, had already employed what would be one day called and labeled science fiction, Tolkien and Lewis’ decision to write of such things was quite out of the ordinary. What they were really hoping to create, and succeeded in so doing, was myth and faerie. Lewis’ books that came from this friendly competition and alliance— Out of the Silent Planet , Perelandra , and That Hideous Strength —became immediately successful and propelled C.S. Lewis into the public eye in the U.K. and in North America and helped legitimize science fiction. Tolkien’s attempt at a time-travel story failed in the short term, and it would take two more decades for The Lord of the Rings to appear and another two decades after that for The Silmarillion to be published. In the four decades since The Silmarillion first appeared, at least fifteen more volumes of Tolkien’s imaginary world of Middle-earth and Beleriand have been edited and published by his son, Christopher.

Many roads, it seems, cross through CS Lewis.


I would start with Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Mary Shelley. Lewis and Tolkien stand out because they were among this first to be considered as serious literature (IIRC).


There are a number of factual errors in that post. The term “science fiction” was invented in the 1920s by Hugo Gernsback, along with the first magazine devoted to it, which spawned a host of imitators and launched the genre as a genre. It was the accepted term for the genre pretty much immediately. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells are the most important antecedents, as well as H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and, curiously, L. Frank Baum. I think Lewis’s impact on the field was minimal, and he was certainly quite late to the party. Tolkien likewise had almost no impact on science fiction, but his influence on fantasy was immense.


A guy with the name NOAH can’y be all wrong?Just a joke.
I don’t want science fiction to have influence because i don’t want tiny, tiny, tiny, numbers of people to have influence. i want THE PEOPLE throught democratic processes to have the influence.
The thing about science fiction to me is a bigger issue.
Is the writer doing science or the beginning of science?
I mean some writers, like Verne, Asimov, others did predict things that came to pass.
now they didn’t do the invention but they had the idea spark in thier head.
So is this not really what science is?! A idea and then making it work.
this to counter claims science is a methodology unrelated to a original insight.
This is important in creationist/evolution contentions about WHO is doing science.

I had a similar reaction to @John_Harshman’s to the Space Trilogy article. I suppose it is possible that Lewis helped to bring respectability to the genre, but I don’t think he was quite as pioneering as the article makes him out to be. Curiously, in Sci-fi Chronicles (edited by Guy Haley), while Lewis’ novels get an entry, on the facing page is an entry for Robert Heinlein. Heinlein’s entry credits him with helping to break sci-fi out of the “pulp ghetto;” no comparable statement is made about Lewis.

John and Dan covered a number of the relevant sci-fi authors prior to Lewis. (And yes, Hugo Gernsback, namesake of the Hugo Awards, was using the term “science fiction” by the 1930s.) There were also films like A Trip to the Moon and Metropolis and several Frankenstein adaptations. Contemporary with Lewis and the Space Trilogy were Asimov’s Foundation stories, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and the introduction of Superman. It seems reasonable to include Lewis, but as part of a wider emerging movement with a number of peers.

As for the first article, I share Harari’s belief that science fiction has the ability to shape public perception of science and technology. (I’m not sure I would go as far as calling it “the most important artistic genre.”) Frankenstein was published 200 years ago, and continues to influence how we think about biological experimentation and biotechnology. There is a whole genre of stock photos of fruits stitched together or being injected with syringes to serve as lazy illustrations for “Frankenfood” articles.

I agree with Harari that we are probably telling the wrong stories about artificial intelligence and robotics. For example, I think the stories about AI needing to develop emotions to become more human have it exactly backwards. Software already has the ability to react automatically to stimuli, as in an emotional response. And perhaps more to the point, software is already profoundly changing our world without having to become conscious.

I’m less optimistic about the need to consider the consequences of immortality as a result of biomedical advances. Although I do think it’s interesting to think about what immortality would be like within the context of a conventional picture of the afterlife. What would it take, mentally, to live forever?


There’s actually plenty of science fiction that has considered all manner of serious problems, including all the things Harari mentions. He’s just looking in the wrong place; he needs to check out books rather than movies.

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He is a historian, so I’m sure he doesn’t read books…wait…is that right?

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At the least he appears not to have read much science fiction.

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This article came up in my Google Feed this morning. Coincidence? or has Google been watching me??

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Yes, books and short stories cover a larger number of topics from a wider range of perspectives. Whether or not Harari has read them is somewhat beside his point. For better or worse, individual sci-fi films are more widely seen than most individual sci-fi books are read. So if you are interested in influencing the largest number of people, which is clearly his interest, then changing the handful of widely seen films that are released in a given year will have the biggest impact.

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Its like rock and roll. They always make up when it existed and keep going further back in history.
People just make stories and someone calls it science fiction.
There was no sci fic in the dark ages. Or there is no such thing as sci fic.
Science fiction is about made up stories that strives to say these things could be true if human intelligence gets around to it.
Science fiction is not fantasy. or Harry Potter.
its about future realities , not here yet, that could be true based on true science. Whether thats trtue or not. We will never BEAM anybody anywhere.
Like rock music sci fic must mean something if its something.
like in evolutionism there are classification errors.

Having read Harari’s books and seen/heard some interviews, not a big fan with respect to treatment of core tenants of the Christian faith.

And you can read more here:

Hard to follow, but seems he is indirectly saying, well, throughout the ages we have needed rich people/countries who believe in religion because they fund science? But also that you can have “religion without god” (small “G”).

But yes, have to agree SciFi is important and I’m sure a great number of Christians and scientists who are Christians have some thoughts on this that we can find. I do hear SciFi mentioned occasionally on my podcast as a source of inspiration for Christians who went into science.

As for some origins, what is now called philosophy and/or mythology, in the form of writings, parables and stories, could now be called science fiction (some perhaps even scientific thought experiments). Plato basically came up with the Matrix 2400 years before the movie: Allegory of the Cave - Wikipedia

Which, by the way, also turned out to be a wonderful foreshadowing of Christ breaking the bondage of of us all, living in our caves of sin. So to me, that was a extremely important work of “science fiction,” though science really wouldn’t have been invented for another ~2000 years.

Seems science fiction is broadly extending beyond what we believe to be true, by projecting it out to the future or by changing what we know based on some dramatic change in knowledge, and then extrapolating out some of the more interesting possibilities, stretching beyond the current limits of the known “science” of the day.

Seems in addition to needing more Christians in science, we do need more Christians writing great works of science fiction as well. =) Though, back to the Matrix, some interesting Christian themes throughout it.

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