You may have figured out by now that critical thinking is one of my hobby-horse topics. I donít think thereís nearly enough of it around, and some days I believe it is actively discouraged in some quarters. Certainly in the Land of My Paranoid Dreams, this is so — because those who donít think critically about current events and the choices of their chosen leaders can be more easily led in directions they might not necessarily want to go, had they stopped to consider the matter.
Science Fiction is a natural genre to encourage critical thinking, because the minute you begin to read or watch or listen to something, you are forced to begin to solve the mystery of how the situation being described differs from normal expectations. In addition, the fan community, as I have experienced it, tends toward the positive traits of being curious and open-minded. ďSaving the World Through Science FictionĒ strikes me as a banner worth rallying behind to actual effect.
I was recently privy to a discussion about the Science Fiction Museum, not quite a year old, physically based here in Seattle, Washington. At one point, a staff member related how one of the best rewards of being involved with the project was the delight and appreciation evoked in museum visitors, particularly high school students. Last issue, Heidi Kneale touched on a similar theme in her discussion of using SF and Fantasy to interest and encourage young people to read. You can expand that encouragement to adults; an advantage of reading is it requires mental interaction between the reader and the text. With luck, that interaction becomes somewhat addictive, and bleeds out into a curiosity and questioning of the world in general.
Perhaps Iíve tipped my hand here to some ulterior motives behind IROSF. No, not politics (right or left) — reality. Iím of the opinion that the essentialness of the universe is sturdy enough to withstand close examination, and by a means far more invasive than your average cyclotron. How about the human imagination, unleashed? Speculative fiction can open up politics, culture, religion, and all those uncomfortable topics in ways other literature can't. That's important, but it's not the limit. For all I know, there may be no limit!
To authors, I say — nay demand — this: Fold! Spindle! Mutilate! Peer curiously at the results to see what secrets may be revealed.
Moreover, if genre fiction is going to think critically about the ultimate secrets of the universe, and the mysteries of human existence, who is going to think critically about genre fiction?
You are, that's who. That's why you're reading this.