True science fiction makes you think and hard science fiction makes you think hard. I've found that the best can make one uneasy to the point of sleeplessness, and any story that can have that much of an effect on you is just plain cool. Before you all go thinking that when I say science fiction I'm talking about Star Wars: Star Wars isn't really science fiction, it's epic mythology set in space. Not the same thing at all. Just because it involves spaceships and laser blasters doesn't mean it's sci-fi.
A few months ago I made my sister, read "Anvil of Stars" by Greg Bear, which happens to take place on a spaceship. For someone who had never read any sci-fi before, I think she was pleasantly surprised. The book has led to a number of great discussions between she and I, and I think helped to expand her mind a bit. It's like traveling, once you've been places and see things, you never look at home quite the same way again.
In the early 60's the BBC gave us Doctor Who. It was on for 25 years before it went off the air in the late 80's (temporarily of course, it's back on now with new episodes every sat night in the UK which I download via bittorrent). This was a show which introduced a race of beings which could traverse space and time in a ship called a TARDIS. Which just so happened, was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. A 'time lord', as they were known, could go anywhere and anywhen he or she wanted, except on their home planet where they held a constant temporal reference.
I waxed uber-nerd for a second there just to show that people can handle conceptual complexity, you don't need to water neat concepts down. Doctor Who was a huge hit for decades in the UK. The best the US could do was Star Trek with it's 'warp drive'. A far cry from a time machine powered by a captured black hole.
It's not the battles between spaceships and planetary level explosions that make sci-fi great, those are just rehashed dogfights from WWI biplane movies. What makes them great are the ideas, the visions of how things may be in the future. Sometimes these visions are terrifying and sometimes they're a relief. Either way, they're almost always interesting and thought provoking. Science fiction is one of the great triumphs of creativity, to imagine what a future world holds for us. Perhaps some of these stories of hope will lead toward a better future for us all.
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