Didactic Dialogue in Science Fiction: Theories of the Universe

The group of friends sat around the fire during the winter storm. The glow of the crackling fire warmed the room as much as the bourbon in their glasses.

The Writer said, “What have you been reading lately?”

The keen eyed Philosopher said, “Marx and late Plato.” The Writer mused at the thought of late Plato, and what that meant for his oeuvre. Did he suddenly turn radical near the end of life and regret his discussion of a grand republic?

Another, a rotund, freckled fellow, the Scientist said, “String theory papers. And you?”

The Writer’s eyes gleamed in the light of the fire, “Oh, nothing. Just some science fiction.”

“Why do you read that garbage,” said the Philosopher, “there’s a reason the pulps fell into desuetude.”

“Science fiction is my mistress,” the Writer mused, “I wanted to share an observation of mine from the novels I’ve read.”

“Why would I want to listen to such bullocks,” the Philosopher said.

“What if I told you that it could be the key to your future success as a professor and thinker?” The writer looked at both the Philosopher and the Scientist, who both feigned not being interested though their attention was obviously piqued.


“What ever do you mean?” the Scientist finally asked after a moment of silence.

“I have been reading science fiction, which I see as more of soothsaying than anything else, both from the past and the present. Whatever the culture, it seems speculation entails teaching. From H.G. Wells to Asimov to even Chinese science fiction, didactic dialogues inform the reader and immerse him in the science and fantasy of a world. There is always a moment in science fiction novels where a character educates those around them. A dialogue ensues in which the protagonist will explain some new concept that stretches from our current understanding of science. If not through dialogue, not too dissimilar from this one, it is through original texts- experimental logs, myths, textbooks- you name it.”

“And what does that have to do with us,” the Scientist said, “the nature of my work is completely different from fiction.”

“In that we should remember that science is only as powerful as the people who understand it. Science Fiction teaches us that science and its success requires the vernacular, not the technical. A question I pose to you is this- how powerful is science if the masses do not understand it?”

The Scientist puffed his chest, “You make science sound like a cult. Who cares if the hoi polio doesn’t understand it? As long as the theoreticians continue their work, progress and science will triumph over ignorance. ”

“But science is a cult,” the Writer continued, “only the most important kind. Can you imagine a more important religion on which the future depends? What I’m saying to you, my friends, (and don’t give me those smirks) is that science must learn the art of didactic dialogue, the means to immerse their audience and teach them. That is the only way the cult will not die. Can you imagine if science captivated people as much as science fiction and fantasy! How many diehard fans would that cult have. And how many more discoveries.”

The Writer suddenly quieted, as if having exhausted his energy, and the three friends listened to the wind that pressed against the windows and whispered to them of the coming spring.


2 thoughts on “Didactic Dialogue in Science Fiction: Theories of the Universe

  1. Love this! “If not through dialogue, not too dissimilar from this one,” hah, very nice. I’m reminded of an essay titled “On the Cult of the Factish Gods”: http://film.ncu.edu.tw/word/Latour_ch-1.pdf. Total satire, been planning to read it, now you’ve inspired me to do so! “[A]nd the three friends listened to the wind that pressed against the windows and whispered to them of the coming spring.” Also lovely.


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