Why is science fiction considered the ugly duck of literature, and why should we groom our reading habit?

Literature: art or mainstream?

Restrictively, literature is an art form. Just like anything else considered to be art. Painting, music, dance, sculpture, movies, theater, poetry, and so on. Not every artistic manifestation is art. Anyone can write, paint, act, or compose. But not every artistic act can be called art.

Although relying a lot on imagination, art is a very rigorous concept. Every human being has imagination. But art’s freedom breathes a different air than common freedom. The air art need is filled with conceptual ideas and to be able to breathe one needs subtle technical skills.

Not just the creator needs those skills, but also the consumer. It’s like climbing. Not everyone can survive on top of the mountain. You need special training and mindfulness to breathe the rarefied air there. To be able to see and appreciate beauty, and to be conquered by the emotional power that it brings, you need to train your mind and spirit.

This is why art and mainstream will never see eye to eye.

Whether we are taking movies, music, or literature, the mainstream will always argue that people are buying, thus it is valuable. And art will always graciously smile saying that, if everyone gets it, then it isn’t art. For everyone to get it, it means that it is explained. Art doesn’t explain itself. It just is. Either you get it, or you don’t.

Mainstream feels offended by art because art considers it to be mediocre. Art is offended by the mainstream because mainstream claims it is art. Both the creators as well as the consumers roll their eyes when they are put together.

So, maybe, the smart thing to do would be to separate them. But that is an impossible thing to do given the common ground they share. All writers use words. They all publish books.

Why is science fiction considered to be an inferior literary genre?

All genres are considered inferior to big literature. Fantasy, romance, crime, horror, inspirational, utopian, dystopian, superhero fiction, science fiction, and so on, they are all the bourgeoisie of literature. They rarely become noble literature. The main reason is that they are speculative fiction.

Speculative means that it is based on conjecture rather than knowledge. It bends the truth to suit their purpose of entertainment. Most of those genres are too young – they were the product of the last century – and they say too little. They are pure entertainment. People pay for them and they get exactly what they expected. Their content doesn’t generate catharsis, it just satisfies the scratches the itch you already had.

The cons of reading too much science fiction literature

Commonly, people who only read science fiction are considered to be nerds, and not in the good way speculative literature tries to portrait them. Nerds as people who can’t adapt to reality and use science fiction, utopian, dystopian, or superhero fiction to make them feel good about themselves. To escape a world, they feel they don’t belong.  A study even claimed that reading science fiction can affect cognition up to the point where people can become stupid.

When it’s just an escape exit, literature isn’t any different than any other drug. It alters consciousness by modifying perception, feelings, and emotions. But it doesn’t help people to adapt. The world can’t be changed. It is us who need to face the world and make peace with it. And science fiction doesn’t help that. It just gives a false impression that there is a world out there that suits us.

Moderate science fiction reading has its benefits.

All that doesn’t mean that science fiction doesn’t have its pros. It promotes ethical thinking. It stimulates the understanding of human differences. It can alleviate the feeling of anxiety and make reality feel bearable. Since it isn’t real, it gives the reader the opportunity of emotional distancing from a subject, so to understand it objectively. Young people can learn about coping and surviving. It may also result in resilience and creativity.

Why should you make reading a habit?

No reasonable mind can hope that 7.8 million people will read Dostoievski, Mann, Pessoa, Proust, Marques, Pamuk, Faulkner, Kawabata, and the list includes tens of names, not to mention their oeuvres. A lifetime isn’t enough to read all the books you want to when you are a passionate reader. Only 5% of the population read more than 50 books per year.

But reading is a good thing, even if it means one or two books a year. And it looks like half of the American adult population does so. Even if they are science fiction, those two books can slow down cognitive decline in old age, a slower decline in memory and other cognitive capacities.

Reading also reduces stress. It enhances critical thinking, emotional intelligence, memory, focus, and imagination. There is no job in this world that doesn’t need imagination, focus, memory, and no human being that wouldn’t be better with a lower stress rate. So, no matter what you do, reading will only do you good.