Only Human: The Limits Of SF Imagination
We writers are only human.
Oh, in the course of storytelling, we can imagine that we’re something else, by taking on a point of view of, say, a Martian, and whisking the reader away with us for the journey. But the sad, immutable reality is that our imaginations are constrained by our experience as homo sapiens, mammal bipeds on this tiny planet in a rustic, backwater star system, in the prosaic “Milky Way” (as the late Carl Sagan would remind us, just one of “billions and billions” such galaxies).
“Write what you know,” the old saw goes. And yet all that we know is Earth (and a tiny bit about our immediate neighbors). Actually, the sad fact is that many of us who live in the United States have seldom traversed past even its borders. We lack even first-hand knowledge of our own planet!
So it is that we writers of spec fic (often prideful of our sophistication beyond “the mundanes”) are akin to the inhabitants of a small, isolated hamlet in Appalachia, who’ve never experienced anyone else, and conjure up wild stories of what the outside world must be like. We’ve been doing it for millenia, under the guise of cosmology, myth, and religion. We’ve only been doing it as self-aware speculative fiction (recreational myth) for the past few hundred years.
Given the dilemma of our smallness, what would an alien civilization think of our science fiction? My guess is that they would look at almost all of it as naively provincial, influenced more by the limits of our biology and geography than our imagination. Our planet is three-quarters water, so it is common to read of a “sea of space”. The implements for interplanetary travel are referred to as “ships”. We speak of Earth as an “island home”. Our modern SF is full of military “armadas” and “Captains” along with not-a-few “pirates” in space.