Read Filip Wiltgren’s story “Dad’s War” in the current issue of Analog on sale now!
I remembering reading science fiction as a child. My school library didn’t have many titles—a few Arthur C. Clarke, a single copy of Foundation—but Dad subscribed to the excellent Jules Verne-Magasinet (edited by Swedish SF powerhouse writer/translator/super-fan Sam J. Lundwall), and the NovaPocket series of novella translations. But allow me to change direction, before we fall into a treasure trove of translated nostalgia.
The SF I read as a child changed the way I viewed the world: it opened up in me a sense of wonder, a faith in technology, and a belief that the future would be a place worth living in. Those three, more than anything else, have been the driving forces behind the evolution and improvement of human society these past centuries or more.
In short, science fiction is the key to the future.
I’ve a strong belief that wonder is the most important gift a child can receive. Wonder is what shapes our curiosity, or sense of how the world is at its core. If you have a sense of wonder, you are open to new experiences, new technologies, new people, and, when everything is dark, a New Hope (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Children naturally come with a sense of wonder. Look at a toddler taking her first steps. Her face isn’t set in a grimace of dispassionate concentration, as might an adult’s be. No, she is radiant with joy, with the sheer wonder of being able to move around on her own. Somehow, this gets beaten out of most of us by the time we reach middle school.
But as adults, we can help children retain their sense of wonder, or we can squash it. Every time an adult tells a child to stop daydreaming, to stop fooling around, to be serious, to view the world as a cold, hard place of danger and quid-pro-quo, we are, in essence, removing the permission for children to feel wonder.
(An aside, before you decry me as a fantasy-loving hippie with no sense of realism: I do teach my own children what they need to do. But I also teach them how to see the wonder in that. The way detergent flows across a dirty frying pan. The way you can sort books in a dozen different fashions, and the differences in speed of each algorithm. Science is beautiful, and wonder is the way we show children that beauty.)
But if we give kids the literature of wonder, the Clarkes and the LeGuins, the Vances and the Bujolds, if we show them the wonderful mystery inherent in the future, we give them a sense of freedom to explore, a sense that the future is going to be amazing, positive, wondrous. In effect, we’re telling them that things will work out, and that they can contribute to that.
And in a world that’s geared toward making money through screaming bloody murder, to grabbing power by pointing to the small ills and ignoring the greater improvements, this sense of future wonder is important.
That’s why I’m so excited to see the resurgence and revitalization of fantastic literature in general and science fiction in particular. Why I love to have my kids read Ann Leckie and N.K. Jemisin, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.
Because they will get a sense of wonder, and an idea that they matter, that they can fight for what they believe is important, and in the end, improve their world.
And that is the key to the future.