My romance with speculative fiction started with science fiction. This was the one place where people seemed to ask the kinds of questions that permeates my own thinking. When I say “permeate” I think I really mean "makes my thinking soggy", "distracts me for hours on end".
When I was in second grade, I remember asking the teacher why is two and two four. I’m sure she had not been asked that particular question before because she proceeded to explain how to count or add. That wasn’t what I was asking. I wanted to know how we came to figure out adding in the first place, who named it “two” and “four”, things like that. It turns out that it wasn’t a bad question. A couple of guys asked the question about 20 years ago, now and had were, admittedly, challenged to answer it. They wrote a book called Where Mathematics Comes From.
Did you know that there are people in the world who don’t count past three or four? They just have words like our “some”, “several”, “many” and “lots.” Have you considered the word “ginormous?” Or, the favorite topic of our now-defunct cafe tribe--a butt load? These are concepts we don’t consider, usually. One of the writers that has inspired me is Ursula Le Guin. She has been my educator in thinks like magic (The Earthsea Trilogy), shamanism (The Lathe of Heaven), gender (The Left Hand of Darkness). However, she wrote a short story that I remembered as being about the person who discovered the number “0” (zero). Did you know there was a time when we did not use zero as a place holder? Or negative numbers for that matter. But the idea of someone trying to persuade a world that there is a state of nothingness, that was an intriguing idea.
I haven’t provided a title because I’m not even sure the story is real. I could just be an idea that she inspired. But that is exactly the appeal of science fiction, in particular and speculative fictions in general. It’s an environment in which we can grow the things that the physics of the world we experience everyday does not allow. We can explore ideas about society, about ourselves and about the way the world works. For me, this is greater than the simplicity of just asking “what if”. Why? How? Who said? Why not? There are also the explorations of speculative fiction.
What kinds of questions does speculative fiction inspire you to ask? What kinds of questions do you ask that you find explored in its genres? Do you have authors you go back to, like favorite teachers?