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August 23rd, 2007

Disadvatange: Working in a library means I have access to millions of books, encouraging my checking them out and forgetting that I have them, thus reading them once they are over due and taking notes.
The book: Science Fiction The Academic Awakening. A Chapbook published in 1974.
The Article: Science & Science Fiction by Gregory Benford
The Assertion: The major role of science in science fiction is to teach science. (Attributed to Hugo Gernsback)
My God, does that mean Science Fiction was the first form of 'edutainment'? Is science fiction to blame for the modern society's demands that everything is fun, all the time, and entertainment value trumps everything?
Fortunately, the answers are No and No.
The first form of edutainment was probably the fairy tales of Aesop, but I'm sure a qualified anthropologist will point out that the first stories told around the fire (or even in the cave) were entertaining and educational. I suspect most of the stories of religion are edutainment.
So science fiction isn't to blame, it's built in to our desires to escape from the world. Even now, with people who have incredibly easy lives, we want to escape.
So what about educating the reader about science? It may seem old fashioned and I suspect  most everyone will disagree. Benford points this out in the essay. But I think it's true in a general sense. Any fiction that makes an impression should leave me feeling like I understand the world better than I did. Sure, I read plenty of escapism stories, but I have to feel changed to really like a novel.
Oddly enough, I think I don't read those novels more than once, but I re-read my escapism collection all the time. Very strange.
In the end, I'll walk away with a lesson. I still think the big idea of Starship Troopers is the notion that a punishment has to be cruel and unusual to be effective. Sadly, that's my only immediate example.
I think any embedded lesson needs to be accurate enough to establish the reality of it in the story. Benford refers to the verisimilitude of science. Science manages to make our stories possible because of the reference to science, and most everyone accepts science as a pretty good explanation of things. A good story can use a hypothetical science, or just a rough theory, and make it believable. Witness jaylake's Mainspring.
The science also introduces limitations that run-of-the-mill fantasy doesn't offer.
There are also university courses called "the Physics of Science Fiction" I think, mostly debunking Star Trek but the real science gets explained.
Science fiction can teach you some principle of science and entertain you. Bad science fiction can teach you what not to do. The challenge is knowing the difference  

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