I am a huge science fiction nerd and have been since I was a small boy. Apparently we nerds are growing in number around the world, at least in the realm of e-book sales. In a recent Wired Magazine article by Graeme McMillan, the big publishing houses are taking notice. It appears that with the success of science fiction in television (The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, Battlestar Galactica) and the fact that science fiction/fantasy films are the biggest of blockbusters these days (Man of Steel, Iron Man 3), novels of this genre are more popular than ever, and the geeks are coming out of the woodwork.
But what is causing this sudden influx of people who might not be fanboys like me who happen to like science fiction? It seems to be a cultural thing (at least in the United States) that is taking over the entertainment marketplace. Adam Hadhazy over at Space.com will give a very lengthy answer, but it all boils down to the fact that this kind of fiction tends to rise up in tough economic times...or maybe not.
Here are some reasons I think it is so popular right now, and will continue to grow in popularity.
Science Fiction is poignant. Science fiction is the one genre that allows the writer to explore an incredibly wide range of topics from what it means to be a human being to current politics to more controversial issues. All of these issues can be discussed in a science fiction format without stepping on toes because, after all, these are aliens or future events we are reading about and not real life events. Right?
Look at The Hunger Games for example. Sure it's a tale about teenage angst and it's a love story and it's a lot of other things, but it can be seen as a statement about the current feeling that some people have in the United States about the working poor and about the idea that possibly the one percenters are the ones calling all the shots. One could make a very strong case that the novel is an extreme representation of what happens when a wealthy elite control every moment of the lives of the masses or one could make the case that it represents Hollywood's pull and influence on how the world sees us (if the districts are the masses and the people of Panem represent the wealthy elite/Hollywood). I'm not sure if Suzanne Collins intended these interpretations, but she has managed to write a science fiction story that is not only engaging on a primal level but is capable of being analyzed for more lofty messages than simply being a teen pop novel.
Science fiction also is limitless. It is the one genre which is able to stretch the imagination to its furthest edges, limited only by what we know about science and what we can only speculate. No one has invented warp travel, but people have sure theorized about it. I am currently writing a book about a man pulled out of his timeline along with a younger and older version of himself and then placed in a replica of his home town on a desert planet populated with pseudo-clone robots who look like the people he knows as part of some grand alien experiment gone wrong...all to make a statement about the poor choices we make in life and how they can shape who we are.
Science fiction is also inspiring. Look at how much tech has been inspired by science fiction: the cell phone, nuclear fusion, computers, iPad, XBox Kinect. The list is nearly endless, but you can find a list of ten recent gadgets and their direct link to science fiction here. Who knows what kind of tech will be inspired by current science fiction? It would be weird to invent some kind of device in one of my novels and see it in reality later on in life.
Science fiction is exciting. Some of the best action stories came from science fiction concepts. Most people in the U.S. are in need of excitement for whatever reason, mostly because they are bored and because the information age has possibly made them feel like they have "seen it all". Whatever the reason, the main complaint about a science fiction film heard by test audiences is "not enough action". Pacing of science fiction films for example were much slower in the '70's (2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek the Motion Picture) versus today (Transformers, Oblivion, The Hunger Games). Best selling science fiction is no different, with all parts of the novel that do not further the action being cut out in favor of more peril, more action scenes and more cool technology that is beyond imagination.
What is your favorite current science fiction story or novel or other media? List it below, but make sure to list why you like it so much. Perhaps if enough people post about it, then we can get a random cross section of why it has become so popular. Until then, I'll be writing my own science fiction novel.