Science Fiction and Why It's Great, Part 5

Let’s face it. Science fiction is great. Oh sure, there are those who think it’s a fringe phenomenon best ignored until it goes away, but it’s already been going strong for a hundred and twenty-five years and shows no sign of fading. It covers a vast canvas of human thought, inspires some of our brightest minds to invent new technologies, and has the unique ability to laugh at itself. But who are the artists that shape this genre? Who are the folks that create these fantastic visions of other worlds for us? There are dozens of brilliant sci-fi authors and movie-makers – far too many to list here – but in this final instalment, I wanted to introduce you to just a few of Canada’s science fiction best:

Margaret Atwood is a pillar of Canadian literature. She’s among the most honoured authors of fiction in recent history, and while she might not be the first author who comes to mind when you’re thinking science fiction, and she herself has certainly distanced herself from the “talking squids in outer space” sort of sci-fi, some of her books, led by the brilliant but chilling Handmaid’s Tale, represent some of the finest works in the genre.

Robert J. Sawyer is a highly accomplished sci-fi author who has been heavily involved with supporting and developing Canadian science fiction. In addition to his 20 novels and a wide range of short fiction which have earned him more than 40 awards, he has contributed tremendously to Canada’s literary future through his work as a professor and writer-in-residence. I personally am a huge fan of his Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, which depicts a highly evolved dinosaur culture.

William Shatner is perhaps THE icon of science fiction, portraying Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk for nearly forty years. In addition to his success as an author and his many film and TV roles, the Shat has created an entire industry around making fun of himself and the larger-than-life caricature we’ve all come to love and/or hate. I struggle to recommend one single item of his repertoire as the best, but I think my personal favourite would have to be the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

James Cameron is one of the most successful movie-makers in history, and his film Avatar shattered box-office records and wowed audiences worldwide with his fantastic vision of another world. Although most of his movies would rate high on my recommendation list, since we’re talking sci-fi here, Avatar is the clear must-see. It’s a stunning portrayal of humans on another world, with some clear messages about life on Earth today.

Steven Erikson is an author of towering intellect, a professional archeologist who asks the big questions in his many novels. Best-known for his vast Malazan Book of the Fallen fantasy series, in recent years he’s turned his focus to science fiction. His most recent work, Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart, is an alien first contact story where the aliens never actually show up. Instead, the book examines the human reaction to this existential crisis, and explores the big question: “what would we do if the ability to hurt each other was taken away?”

This is just a short list of science fiction notables, and just from my home country of Canada. No matter what your taste, no matter what your interests, I bet there’s a sci-fi book, movie or TV show out there that you will love. So if you’ve never been interested in science fiction before, I challenge you to give it a try. Ask your friends, browse the bookstore or movie guide, and take a chance. I’ll wager you won’t be disappointed. Science fiction is great, and it’s waiting there for you to discover. Enjoy the ride.

Bennett ColesComment