Saving the World through Science Fiction

Recently, I attended the Campbell Conference at the University of Kansas. The Campbell Conference is an annual event named for science fiction legend John W. Campbell Jr. Despite the similarities in names and interests, we are not related–at least not that I am aware of. This year’s conference, hosted by the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction focused on how science fiction is being used in the classroom.

Two of my greatest passions are books and education. I was delighted to see that so many universities are taking a proactive approach to getting genre fiction in to the curriculum. George Tech, Arizona State, Florida Atlantic University, The University of California-Riverside, The University of California-San Diego, The University of Glascow, and of course the University of Kansas all made presentations about their science fiction curricula, which are fantastic and really set a foundation for the utilization of genre fiction in both the sciences and the humanities. I encourage everyone to check out what these schools are up to. From creative writing to literary criticism to scientific research, they are doing some really great stuff. Besides, who wouldn’t want to go to Scotland for a year to study fantasy literature?

I believe strongly in the academic relevance of genre fiction. While it has been looked down upon in the past, I feel that we are reaching a juncture where it will become a vital part of literary study. It can tell us so much about the way that we perceive the world. It takes our deepest fears and our most desperate hopes and then puts them on display in the “safe” realm of the fantastic.  James Gunn, KU Professor and science fiction legend, talked about “saving the world through science fiction.” He believes that science fiction teaches a way of looking at the world that too many people lack in this day and age. I tend to agree with him.

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy. The writings of Clarke, Aismov, et al. were instrumental in my development both as a person and as an artist, although I fall more in to the line of Bradbury than I do of the hard science fiction pioneers. Like Bradbury, I tend to rest on genre boundaries. Horror writers are odd things. We are sort of like that weird relative that gets invited to all of the family functions, but whom no one is quite sure about. We show up at science fiction and fantasy’s gatherings. We crash mystery and thriller’s parties. We carry on and draw attention to ourselves at literary fiction’s picnics. We simultaneously belong everywhere and nowhere. That being said, I think most horror writers would admit owing a lot to other literary genres.

The Campbell Conference was a great chance to immerse myself in the academic side of science fiction, as opposed to the reader conventions that I am used to attending. Being around other people with similar passions is always great for my creative energy. I came away with a long list of books to read, new perspectives to consider, and a lot of respect for what these universities are doing. I will take a lot of pride in finishing Heaven’s Edge, my science fiction noir novel, in hopes that I can live up to their examples. It was a pleasure to talk to everyone, and I hope to see them again next year.

P.S. Cory Doctorow won The Sturgeon Award for his story “The Man Who Sold the Moon” in Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future and Catherine Webb (Claire North) won The Campbell Award for her novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.  I have not read either book, but both look fantastic. I can’t wait. I also saw some great academic books on Ray Bradbury from the University of Illinois Press that are now on my research wishlist. Great weekend, indeed.