The world of science fiction often appears glitzy and futuristic: full of spaceships and robots, aliens and clones, time machines and parallel worlds. While these and other tropes give recognizable color to the genre of science fiction, they are not necessarily of the utmost narrative significance. For, science fiction is a genre of allegory. The settings, the creatures, and the technologies belonging to these stories matter only in that they provide a unique narrative context to explore contemporary issues and ideas.

In the introduction to her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin suggests that the work of a science fiction story is that of a thought-experiment. She explains: “the purpose of a thought-experiment…is not to predict the future…but to describe reality, the present world”. Le Guin’s assertion has a few immediate implications. Firstly, a writer can only create from her own present; her fictional stories naturally reflect the interpersonal and institutional problems of her reality. Therefore, while the question of a certain technology, such as time travel, might propel narrative plot, its potential existence or plausibility are not the primary focus of the story. The true narrative significance lies beneath, communicated through the use of allegory. For example, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, presents a discussion of colonization and outsider anxiety through the plot of a violent alien invasion. Through the use of the allegorical depiction of the Martians, the novel makes deft political critiques relevant to the Victorian era and British imperialism.

Ultimately, the genre of science fiction as a whole is deeply impactful precisely because its stories are a source of entertainment in addition to offering crucial commentary. Such stories are not overly didactic or pedantic but interesting and insightful. As a result, the reader, in theory, learns from allegory because she enjoys it first on a narrative level.

 

Works Cited

 

Le Guin, Ursula K. (1980). Introduction. The left hand of darkness (1st ed.). New York: Harper

& Row.

 

Wells, H. G. 1995 (1897). The War of the Worlds. New York: Oxford.