Theodore R. Griffiths
The genre of science fiction is typically looked at as a genre for children, especially by anyone who name-drops classic authors on a daily basis to inflate their already bulging ego.
I usually ignore these people, because I rarely take any hipster’s dissenting opinion seriously, but I have started to realize, even if it took me my entire college career, that it is not only students who seem to stigmatize science fiction, but that credit also goes to professors.
In my time as an undergraduate I have read only a single piece of science fiction, and that was “Harrison Burgeron,” a short story by Kurt Vonnegut that reminded me that I seriously needed to read everything he wrote, because I had forgotten about him since high school.
Looking back on this situation, it comes as an unexpected surprise, mainly because this piece of literature was in a class with Dr. Robert Carballo, an absolutely brilliant professor, but not someone I would peg as a science fiction buff.
Now before I continue, I will respond to the few people reading this and state that I do realize that there is a dedicated science fiction class at Millersville University, and I do realize that it has a fantastic reading list, but I was unfortunate enough to have scheduling conflicts every time it was offered.
This prior conflict pushed me to read outside of my comfort zone for a few years, and while my interest in other authors and genres expanded, especially my interest in modern American drama, I ran right back into the open arms of my true love, science fiction, for my undergraduate thesis.
Clichéd, conventional love-related comments aside, there was no possible way I was not going to use science fiction as the immediate genre of choice for my thesis.
After all, I could finally stick it to the man and show them how edgy and cool the genre is…Sorry, I had a hipster flashback for a second.
Anyway, I looked through the vault of classic science fiction (I read a book), and I eventually stumbled across (in Barnes & Noble) Philip K. Dick. I had finally found the man with whom I would be spending the next four months, and this time it wouldn’t raise so many eyebrows.
On a serious note, my current interest and constant study of Philip K. Dick is what put this idea in my head. “A Scanner Darkly,” the 1977 novel by Dick, is the best book I have ever read. No discussion. I’m not listening. It just is.
At over 300 pages (depending on what edition you have) it is still a single sit-down read. It tackles drug addiction, sexism, insanity, paranoia, love, a police state, and crime better than any other contemporary American literature, and yet I had to stumble across this masterpiece myself.
Now I don’t mean to bash on Mr. “paragraphs are for squares” Jack Kerouac, but I think he could have been replaced in my Contemporary American Literature course. I personally believe that “A Scanner Darkly” could replace any modern American novel in any class that is covering the modern age.
At some point there has to be a realization of the importance of science fiction. It typically displays the things we fear in a more digestible light, simply because they look less terrifying when the backdrop is not our own. These characters live in a time that we have yet to approach, and it is why things like a police state, a concept that has come to fruition, could be digested as early as 1977 in American culture.
To ignore men like Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick is to ignore the golden age of imagination in American literature. They took conventional storytelling and turned it on its head, even rewriting the way the science fiction genre could be displayed, with Kurt Vonnegut being more experimental in that respect.
So “English elite,” come down off of your high horse of whatever trendy name just became popular to name-drop, and enjoy the best that American literature has to offer.
Science fiction may not be sexy, but it will make you sound like less of a pompous ass than anyone who seriously thinks that “On The Road” is a good book.
Seriously, that book is horrible. I literally wrote this entire article just to say that again at the end. That is extent of the profound hatred that was instilled upon me when reading that block of text.
In conclusion, go read “A Scanner Darkly.”