Science Fiction for the Young and Educational Uses of Science Fiction

Solé i Camardons, Jordi
Quaderns Divulgatius, 11 1999

Olaf Stapledon says that writing science fiction is an attempt to complete the human race in its cosmic environment and to open up new values for ourselves. For Europeans at the end of the nineteenth century, science fiction was a necessity, while today with the vertiginous changes at the end of the twentieth century, science fiction helps us to overcome fear and perplexity. If it can have this key function, what does the surprising multiplication of science fiction in Catalan literature for young people tell us? First, I believe, like Jesús Palacios, that science fiction is "a bastard, symbiotic and changing literary (and extra-literary) genre and that we need to have many different types of science fiction", open to infinite possibilities. Again, with respect to the specific case of Catalan literature, one must bear in mind that this is a product of a cultural framework which is always shifting between the priorities of saving words and a normal existence. The option taken by many Catalan science fiction writers in addressing themselves to the young reader is doubly determined: the wish to find the greatest potential market and to satisfy a cultural vacuum with works created and written from within our own cultural space.
It was with the young reader in mind that Josep M. Folch i Torres wrote El gegant dels aires (The Giant of the Air), while from 1966 we have Sebastià Estradé's Més enllà no hi ha fronteres (Beyond There are no Frontiers), Pere Verdaguer's El cronomòbil (The Chronomobile), and Joaquim Carbó's La casa sota la sorra (The House Under the Sand). In 1968, Emili Teixidor published Les rates malaltes (The Ailing Rats). Then until the seventies we have no other works that come under the heading of "youth", and it was after 1974 with the publication of Manuel de Pedrolo's Mecanoscrit del segon origen (The Second Origin Typescript) that Catalan science fiction addressed to children and young adults would make an appearance. While four works were published in the sixties, thirty were published in the eighties and more than twenty in the nineties (to 1996).
All of these could constitute excellent educational material for teachers who wish to work with questions concerned with ecology, history, ethics, linguistic usage, sociolinguistic contacts and different ideas about language. Science fiction literature or film history can help to make the subject matter of the humanities and the more technical sciences more appealing: it helps to discriminate between science and pseudo-science and to awaken a critical and reasonably sceptical spirit in the student, while the interdisciplinary nature of the material becomes more evident and this then helps to break down the negative impression of an excessive separation between the different branches of knowledge.
Works of science fiction can have a number of educational applications: for remedial credits, reading sessions and commenting on texts, debates and writing workshops. However, science fiction has to be given the proper treatment, not only in Secondary teaching but at the University. When this becomes a reality, Catalan culture will have taken a good step forward.