Why skeptics like science fiction?

I have been following the skeptical movement for about two years now and I feel very identified with it because I have always been a skeptic at heart. And I feel more and more a part of this way of thinking when I realize that my passion for science fiction is shared with so many of my skeptical colleagues.

Maybe skeptics like science fiction because many of the best and best known SF writers of the 20th century were also skeptics. Arthur C. Clark lets readers clearly see his agnosticism/atheism; Isaac Asimov defends science and the scientific outlook in both his fiction and non-fiction writings; he was the original skeptic. And you can feel the skepticism in Heinlein's and Van Vogt's work. While you are at it, don't forget Gene Roddenberry and his Opus Magnum, Star Trek.
So, many good SF writers were (or probably were) skeptics. But what about our own mindset when we read (or watch) science fiction? Interestingly, us SF fans classify these works of art into "good SF" and "bad SF". How come? Most SF requires some suspension of disbelief in order to be enjoyed. Yeah, yeah, Dr. Krauss, I understand that beaming someone using a Star-Trek-type transporter would require so much information storage as to make it unpractical... but watching the special effects of Captain Kirk being "beamed up" and "down" does get us thinking how good a change to our daily conmute that would be and wouldn't it be good to have one of those at home. On the whole, Star Trek is regarded as good science fiction, warp drive non-withstanding. On the other hand I personally consider Star Wars a very low grade SF work... although many of my skeptically minded friends like the movies. What is the difference?

For me at least, the difference is that, while Star Trek at least tries to base some of the stories on some kind of science, Star Wars does not. When Captain Janeway asks for a "tachion beam", we already know that time disturbances are somehow linked to these "tachions" which, maybe, will now be discovered by the LHC. But "the Force" is so "mystical" and "religious" that I am personally turned off by it. It is like the Matrix - they do things that are impossible, only you know that "in the Matrix" they can be explained by manipulation of the "reality-producing" algorithms while there is no good explanation of how "the Force" works short of being a deist and considering a mysterious spiritual bonding of every atom of the universe... a concept I really shy away from.
So that most be the reason why Asimov and Clarke are considered among the top SF writers of the last century - two authors who consistently used good science and reasonable extrapolations of current knowledge throughout their stories, while some other writers (and I don't read them, so I don't want to name them) might best be classified as fantasy rather than SF authors.

And there is the "in-between" category. For instance, I am currently listening to J. C. Hutchins "7th. Son" trilogy. J.C.'s story has a wonderful flow that really grabs you and forces you to listen forsaking TV, sleep, sex and meals... well, maybe only TV. But I find that the need of suspension of disbelief is, at times, a little too much. For instance, J.C. postulates the existence of the mysterious "Aurora" aircraft and then narrates that it takes an Aurora 20 minutes from Virginia to the middle of Texas. OK, I think, maybe fly over Virginia and into Texas in 20 minutes... but landings and take-offs would easily consume an additional 10 minutes each considering the extreme heights at which such an aircraft would have to operate. And then you have the refueling problem (no refuelings occur...) and the Auroras, in the novel, seem to be kind of a flying 4X4, able to take off and land in almost any strip. It really strains my skepticism until I remind myself that "7th. Son" is a thriller more than a SF novel.

Maybe that is the reason I, as a skeptic, like SF. It flexes my critical thinking muscles and forces me to look beyond and try to see these things really happening... are they at all possible? If most of them are, in light of our current knowledge and a reasonable extrapolation into the future, then you are reading good SF.
J.C. Hutchins novel is available at Podiobooks.com. While you are there, be sure to check Mur Lafferty's excellent "Playing for keeps", which is now also in print and available at Amazon.com. I highly recommend both even if they are not all that "believable" but they are definitely enjoyable. Image above was found in this excellent blog, Trevize's computer.

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