Last night, I was reading up on NASA's upcoming spacecraft launch for the Orion, and while the article was interesting, what was more intriguing were the comments. It devolved into how science fiction really screwed up the space program because of layman expectations.
Now, I'll be the first to admit science is not one of my favorite subjects. I did well in it in school, but it's not something I pursued in my own free time. But I live in a house of scientists. My husband designs computer software and worked for Marconi before coming to the US in 1997. My fourteen-year-old daughter has been planning in going into some form of robotics since she was nine. My twelve-year-son has been all about how things work since he could put blocks together. And don't get me started on how this household appreciates what Neil deGrasse Tyson has done to try and inspire people with science. These are people who take their science very seriously. They are all invested in seeing organizations like NASA thrive, and yet, few in my regular circle were even aware that the Orion project was still alive. One friend even thought NASA had been closed down. That's how bad the current PR for them really is.
But is there some merit to the argument that science fiction has distorted what we expect in our space exploration? A little bit, yeah. There are legitimate problems that get overlooked when writing about space flight. It's worked the other way, of course. Gene Roddenberry and the world of Star Trek is an excellent example. Where do we draw the line in the sand? How creative can we actually be when we're telling our stories? Supposedly, genre fiction is all about the escape. Mundane details need not apply.
Or should they? If you're reading sci-fi romance, it has to be for a legitimate reason. Isn't science a part of that? Realism gives genre the verisimilitude it needs. Where's the balance?