Bryan Appleyard has some interesting things to say about science fiction (hat-tip, Glenn). As a commenter said in the Times’ letters section though, Bryan focuses a little too much on the dystopian side of SF, on science-out-of-control. There are some nice touches though: he is right to examine how SF has affected the course of science, as well as the other way round.
The problem with a newspaper article like this, unfortunately, is that you can only really skim the surface of the subject. SF is pretty vast – hey, like the universe itself! There are bound to be vast tracts of land that get overlooked. Appleyard does not mention the more positive, life-affirming side of hard science fiction in the works of people like John Varley or Vernor Vinge, for instance (two of the best writers of the lot, in my opinion). And he barely mentions Arthur C. Clarke, Neal Stephenson, Ken MacLeod and R.A. Heinlein. Mention of the latter, of course, brings us onto the fact that SF has often been quite daringly political; it has used imagined futures to play around with cultural, social and ideal political scenarios (regular readers of this blog will know what I mean, such as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Stephenson’s Snow Crash, etc).
But, to be fair to Appleyard, he takes SF seriously. As he points out, there seems to be more interest in fantasy instead: the enormous popularity of Lord of the Rings, Terry Pratchett, being just two examples. Maybe I am missing something, but I have never been interested in that side of the genre. My wife keeps badgering me to read Pratchett. Another sub-genre is what one might call “techno-military” SF; Heinlein wrote some of this in things like Starship Troopers; a good current example are the writings of John Scalzi.
Here’s a pretty good dictionary of science fiction.