Opinion: Students should read and watch more science fiction

Sci-fi allows us to envision possibilities to help us create a better future

There are multiple enjoyable genres for books and movies, including action and adventure. But we need to stop sleeping on sci-fi.

Talk of parallel universes, aliens and space exploration may seem intriguing, yet it's unapproachable for some people. This surface-level perception prevents many from realizing that the genre extends beyond that, and it's more relevant to our lives than one might expect. 

Dissatisfaction with traditional structures, like capitalism, is apparent among much of Gen Z. Serious concern surrounds the future of technology, the climate, sustainability, healthcare and a host of other social issues. Current issues and future implications involving COVID-19 spur even more pessimism.

With this disillusionment, we need to use our imagination to help foster the change we seek in the future. One subject which lends itself to the encouragement of that imagination is science fiction.

At ASU, The Center for Science and the Imagination represents the innovative power of science fiction, with projects exploring the climate crisis and others discussing technology and public policy. Edward Finn, founding director of the Center, expressed the importance of imagination. 

“It is a capacity we can build as individuals and collectives, and it is the ignition system for a lot of things we care about: resilience, empathy, and innovation,” Finn said.

Finn also expressed why the genre’s ability to make people envision different realities is important for societal progress.

“Science fiction plays a valuable role in helping us deal with the present because it pushes us to use our own imaginations," Finn said. "Experiencing possible futures allows us to see beyond the present and think about the world we should be working towards and the people we want to become."

For example, looking into a dystopian novel such as "The Handmaid’s Tale," we can examine current issues in terms of a possible future. Women are stripped of their rights in this world and a theocratic government holds power over society.

By imagining such a future, we can question present policies that infringe on women’s rights and the negative future implications it could have if taken to the extreme. "The Handmaid's Tale" shows us the ideas we need to reject now if we want to halt their looming actualization.

Other works can help us examine the future relationship between technology and humans. A sci-fi movie like "Her (2013)" displays dependency on technology in the form of a romantic relationship.

It is indisputable that technology is one of the most important aspects of our world and our daily lives. Home technologies and devices like iPhones are constantly evolving to new levels never previously imagined. 

This continuous improvement and innovation of these technologies parallels an evolving relationship and dependence on it. We need to question unintended consequences technology has in society and use this knowledge to navigate challenges and consider solutions to preventing potential issues in the future.

From political and social issues, to technological issues and beyond, looking at them through the lens of sci-fi is important for evaluating our present and how we need to innovate and reshape society to progress. Science fiction’s ability to expand our imaginations provides tools to build a more ideal world than the one we currently live in.


Reach the columnist at lhrabik@asu.edu or follow @lynettehrabik on twitter

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the  author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its  editors.

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