Posts Tagged ‘CWJ’

Science, Symbolism, and Quantum Mechanics in SF

“Science fiction” is a sprawling, untidy genre, wearing so many masks it resists easy definition.  Even the “science” in science fiction spans a vast range, from incoherent technobabble to barely disguised excuses for magic to tightly constructed hard SF to Nebula and Hugo award-winning stories in which science makes no appearance at all. (Indeed, some have suggested the unifying thread is not science but history: James Gunn’s “the literature of change,” Kim Stanley Robinson’s “the histories we cannot know,” and David Brin’s “speculative history.”)  Some of the roles science plays in SF include:

* Scientific and technological advances signal that the world can and has changed, that history is in motion. This is especially relevant to the “speculative history” lens on SF.

* Advanced science and technology provide and justify exotic settings and characters, for example in many SFnal movies such as Avatar and Star Wars.

* Science can provide key plot points. This is particularly true in “hard” SF, where characters use science to reason their way out of a problem. Larry Niven at the height of his powers was a key exemplar, launching stories such as “The Coldest Place” and “Neutron Star.”

* Even the hardest SF is not really about science and technology but about our response to science and technological change. An example is the movie Gattaca, which critiques the danger of seeing people only through the lens of genetics.

What I want to write about today, however, is how science provides powerful symbols for SF, and how the imagery of science can echo the theme of a story.  And as befits SF, I’ll focus on stories that draw from a branch of science which is highly mathematical but which, deep down, appears as irrational and unreasoning as the Monster from the Id: quantum mechanics.
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