“I grew up in a family of science fiction readers. Both my parents read. My very first memory is actually watching Star Trek reruns with them,” said Dr. Lisa Yaszek said as she opened her neat office on the third floor of Skiles.
Yaszek, who earned her Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Wisconsin in 1999, is currently an associate professor at Tech as well as the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Literature, Communication and Culture.
Yaszek’s body of work is mostly academic non-fiction about various aspects of science fiction (SF) both historically and thematically. For example, Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women’s Science Fiction, released in 2008, is Yaszek’s collection of essays detailing how women writers of early SF used the genre to broach feminist topics.
This type of work is important in countering a few of the stereotypes about the science fiction community as an entirely male dominated genre.
For Yaszek, science fiction is a way of connecting the engineering side of Tech and communicating it and its possibilities.
As she explains, “Science fiction is the literature of the modern age; it’s the literature that allows us to talk about the impact of science and technology on society and vice versa. In that way it is the literature of engineers.”
It also helps people to understand how to relate technology to their daily lives and to relate to other cultures.
She explains the expansion of science fiction, pointing out, “Now globally, I mean everyone writes science fiction, so it’s a really good way to figure out if you’re going to work with people in a different culture. What is their history of science and technology, how do they see engineers?”
It also helps people see what the future could be. Science fiction does this because “It narrates. It thinks: what if we build this? What will happen? What will be the impact on humans, society, etc.?”
Science fiction contemplates what could be true in the future and how people will respond. The difference between science fiction and pure fantasy is that it needs some basis in reality to analyze these human reactions.
“Yes, because science fiction is about worlds that could be true and the extrapolation needs to be logical. But there is also the fiction part where there does need to be some bending of the facts or you won’t get a story,” Yaszek points out.
Now, where does all this knowledge of science fiction leave Yaszek in relation to Tech?
“Tech does have a lot of genre-focused researchers. In a way it shows how much Tech is interested in edge research—research that isn’t mainstream and in many liberal arts colleges—but Tech can see the potential to do innovative work especially at the intersection of science and literature,” Yaszek said.
This opens up areas for her to study science fiction as “a global language: a way that everyone who participates in modernity communicates.”
Yaszek still sees a bright future for science fiction in how it has expanded globally and points to how it has reached many cultures.
She explains that, “the center of energy used mainly to be in the United States and maybe Europe, but now it has definitely expanded globally, especially to places like China and Eastern Asia. A large part of this expansion has been the Internet and the movement of a lot of this energy to blogs.”
In the end, she believes that science fiction has a bright future because it informs people of what is possible and contemplates where the world is headed.