Liking science fiction and fantasy makes you a genius

Your brainA lot of people are unbearably snooty about genre fiction – especially SF, fantasy and horror. I’m not the first to remark on this – the debate rages daily across the interwebs. But I think I’ve finally worked out why there are so many folk who feel this way.

It’s all the fault of education.

Consider this interesting fact: in 1968, NASA developed a test to measure creativity. The test was given to over a thousand kindergarten children. 98% scored genius level. When the same test was given to adults, how many do you think ranked as genius? The answer’s just 2%. Think about that for a minute.

Recently, Sir Ken Robinson picked up on this bit of research to illustrate his belief that schools kill creativity. I’m inclined to agree. More specifically – and to return to my argument – I think the priority given to academic achievement at school crushes the urge to read highly creative fiction.

When we’re little, the books we read are full of monsters and magic and strange twisted worlds. As we grow up we’re encouraged to put such stories aside for more ‘adult’ fare. By the time we’re in our teens, what’s on the curriculum? An endless stream of so-called ‘classics’. I don’t know about you, but I never read Thomas Hardy for pleasure. No wonder so many kids get turned off reading. Offer them a chance to study Douglas Adams for their GCSEs and I guarantee an upsurge of interest.

And it’s not just reading that suffers. It’s the whole gamut of right-brain activity: lateral thinking, intuition, creativity. I speak from experience. I attended a grammar school whose sole purpose was to get its students accepted at either Oxford or Cambridge University. I’m proud to say I spent most of my time in the art department and eventually found my way to a college that taught life drawing and sculpture. But I had to fight all the way. Alas for all those poor souls who chose the darker path.

I submit to you that those of us who read and write stories about ghosts and demons and time travel are part of that 2% who have managed to retain their childhood sense of wonder. In short, their genius. We’ve always known we’re in the minority. Now we know why.

As genre fans, you and I therefore have a collective responsibility to educate those around us who missed out first time round. Next time you’re on the train, make sure the book you take has a particularly lurid cover featuring spaceships, fire-breathing dragons or nasty things with tentacles. Preferably all three. Wave your book in the air. Read it with a large grin on your face. Brandish it at the sneering businessman intent on his copy of Left-Brain Monthly. You never know, someone might get the message.

At the very least, you can feel smug in the knowledge that your brain is superior to that of everyone else in the carriage.

(By the way, listening to Sir Ken Robinson is an education in itself: Changing Education Paradigms.)

Comments

  1. This reminds me, uncomfortably, of the old “Fans are Slans” buttons…
    And, frankly, I’m the proof that being genre-bound with SF and fantasy doesn’t automatically indicate genius.
    Cuz I love me and I think I’m pretty special in my own way – But, I’m not a genius. And I have enough genre-addicted friends, who are not even as bright as I am…
    We’ve just absorbed a lot of factoids, concepts and skewed perspectives to be seen as thinking differently from the (another golden oldie here like “fans are slans”) “Mundanes”…

    • Maybe it’s a case of genius is as genius does – I think Sir Ken’s challenging us to reconsider the meaning of the word, and not simply apply it to traditional measures of high academic ability. The “Fans are Slans” mantra makes me smile but, like you Steve, I wouldn’t want to take it too seriously. I’m just curious about whether there’s a correlation between all those left-brain attributes and a liking for spaceships and sorcery.

  2. It seems to me that most of us SF and fantasy folks are no more remarkable – geniuses – than generations of poets and poet wannabes who also thought a bit differently from the mainstream of folks. The poets noodled about expressing deeply significant thoughts through linguistic fiddle-faddle…. The SF/F fans thought (for example) “Wow, “The Matrix”… XY&Z authors came up with that in stories and novels years ago…” And then, after tracing the general precedents, the fans proceeded to argue about whether the business of generating power by tapping the brains of artificially sustained humans actually made any sense… etc.
    See, my contention is that fandom may derive from a slightly different mind-set – and it may lead to a rather different set of concerns (FTL – Is it reasonable to allow “hard” SF to include something that seems physically impossible OR If you record your personality to some storage medium and then set it “running” in an organic or in-organic “brain”, is that a human being?). But these concerns are really the sort of thing that often, and not unreasonably, gets labeled Fan-wank.
    I’m wondering if SF (ignoring for a moment fantasy in general) doesn’t inspire a few bright folks at just the right time and simultaneously gains an unearned respectability for a time… In the late ’50s and early ’60s spaceships became real and SF intersected with reality. But a most of the engineers and scientists responsible were certainly not SF fans. They simply saw that going to the moon was in the realm of the real, not the imaginary. More recently SF and the real world have been intersecting in confusing ways relating to information systems… SF had robots and thinking computers while the real world was developing computers interconnected in ways rarely conceived in SF. I’ve lot track of the race, but SF can always take the lead by inventing whatever is required – AIs, shared conciousness through net/matrix, imortal disembodied entities, multiverses within multiverses, ad…infinitum or absurdum – depending on your mood.
    Think I’ll just watch another episode of Star Trek TOS and then get back to work on my scenario for Call of Cthulhu.

    • I think you’re right about SF inspiring real-world science – and I’m equally sure there are plenty of folk at NASA who read SF. Makes me think of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournellle’s Footfall, in which the US government respond to an alien invasion by forming a think-tank of SF authors. As I recall they end up building a nuclear powered Orion ship to challenge the aliens in orbit. Talk about wish fulfilment!

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