Author of The Softwire, PJ Haarsma, writes about the importance of kids reading science fiction
What if I woke up in the morning and my entire house was filled with hundred dollars bills packed to the ceiling. There’s not even enough room for me to swing out of bed and put my feet on the floor. How would I get the money out? And better yet, what would I do with it?
What if I was able to transport myself to any part of the galaxy just by thinking about it? How would I know to choose a habitable planet? If I found others living on that planet, how would I approach them? Would I approach them?
What if I could transport myself back to the 1200s and I was only allowed to take one thing with me. But it couldn’t be a book. What would I take?
You might consider it sad, but this is how I get myself to sleep. I’ve been doing it since I was a child, often playing with the same question, night after night, for years. Sometimes, I change the rules or struggle with an issue I stumble upon, but this questioning never fails me. The voices (always mine) that plague my thoughts and prevent me from sleeping, know to shut up when I whisper, “what if”. My real world slips away taking my anxieties with it, and I play with the hopes my new universe provides.
This is why science fiction is so much fun.
Minds, much greater than my own, pose “what if” questions with extraordinary possibilities. These speculations, mixed with a little of the fabulous, always tend to make me rethink my answer. The authors don’t let me settle for the obvious, but force me to examine my choices and my actions in order to come up with a better solution.
Now, some people don’t want to think this hard when they read. And I have to admit that I’ve opened up a few sci-fi novels myself and felt pretty dumb after a few pages. But I’m always filled with shock when someone tells me, “I never read science fiction.”
A buyer at a major bookstore chain in the US once told me that, “children don’t read science fiction anymore.” Not only was I shocked; I was saddened, because the answers to those “what if” questions bring hope. Hope that things can be different. It makes me believe that right now, somewhere in the universe, there is another species that has it all figured out. We only need to find them to get the answer. Hope that man can overcome its own struggles right here on earth. That we can put aside greed, squash hypocrisy and reject the zealots in order to create an existence where I don’t need tricks to help me sleep at night.
Hope is the one part of the human condition that keeps us going. From the entrepreneur with a new idea in his head, to the mother who spies a sparkle of genius in her toddler. Hope gets us through the worst of times and makes us giddy during the best. And if I’m a little short on hope, all I need to do is reach for the bookshelf.
By the way, my answer is a bale of razor wire. That’s what I would bring back to the 1200s. Think about it.
Visit the websites of PJ Haarsma's Softwire series and join the virtual society The Rings Of Orbis based on the worlds in his books. You can read about his Kids Need To Read campaign on the SFX site here , from earlier in the week.
(opens in new tab) The SFX Summer Of SF Reading is in association with Waterstone’s (opens in new tab) , where you can buy all the books you’ll be reading about.