science fiction in the 21st century
The True Nature of Science Fiction
There are three genres to true science fiction. The first is epitomized by Jules Verne -- that is the introduction of advanced or new science into the present world. All environments except the one are completely within the norm. To achieve this, the author must be able to see beyond the present technology, biology or geology. Verne was writing in the late nineteenth century, so his adventures into submarines, time machines and rockets to the moon were remarkable, as evidenced by the eventual emergence of many of his concepts. The beauty of this format is not only the imagination of the creator, but also the ability to foresee the impact a new science would have on the current environment, whether the new science is secret or public.
The second genre is the introduction of alien races and cultures. This might be done by humans travelling away from earth, as in the Star Trek television and movies series, or by the introduction of an alien race into the present circumstances. An excellent example of the latter would be Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. This allows the author to envision the adaptability of the human race to advances in human technology and alien sciences. It gives us a fresh viewpoint for our present ethics and government.
The third genre would be the complete shift into the future, as exemplified by most of Isaac Azimov's writing and Herbert's Dune series. This perspective allows the author to predict the growth of human nature, biology and civilization, while allowing the writer to admit to the "unchanging" parts of human nature and how they will impact the growth of human beings.
A possible fourth genre would be time travel, since this might slide the observer into any of the three given genres. But again one would need to recognize actual human nature and possible impacts of the time travel experience.
Please note that at no time do I refer to dwarves, pixies or gladiators. Fantasy is fine and has its place in entertainment, but it is not science fiction; rather it is pure fiction. With all due respect to JRR Tolkein and Lewis Carroll, these do not challenge the imagination of the scientist.
In as late as the 1930s, science fiction was the stuff of dime novels. By the 1960s, the genre started to gain respect among literature reviewers, and the introduction of televised science fiction widened the audience. Now we have The Matrix and 2010: A Space Odyssey. With popularity comes knock-offs and it is now more difficult than ever to find a medium for science fiction with integrity. But it does exist, and has become more and more challenging to read.