Challenges Facing Science Fiction Genre Discussed at SCRF 2017

  • Diminishing availability of sci-fi work in Arab world leads to disengagement with science, say authors

The diminishing genre of sci-fi literature in the Arab world is leading to youth disengagement with science, so said authors at a panel discussion held on Sunday. Taking place at Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2017) and forming part of its ‘Cultural Activities’ programme, the panellists discussed creativity in science fiction literature and addressed ways and means of boosting the genre.

Participating in the discussion were Noura Al Nouman, Emirati science fiction author, whose book ‘Ajwan’ won her the Etisalat Children’s Literature Award for ‘Best Young Adult Book’ in 2013, and Dr. Nabil Farouq, a best-selling Egyptian author who has written more than 600 titles across various genres, including espionage, science fiction and politics.

According to Al Nouman, science fiction literature is scarce in today’s Arab world when compared to a few decades ago, saying that she wasn’t sure of the reason why.

“Perhaps it is a lack of interest from the readers, but I doubt that. It could be a lack of support from publishing houses. One thing is for sure though – the effect of this scarcity is that young people are less inclined to become engaged with science as a discipline, resulting in a lack of creativity in the science field. This is ultimately detrimental to the advancement of society,” she said.

“I believe that if we were to ask scientists today what kind of fiction they read when they were young they would say that they read science fiction, as this is the genre that gives them a glimpse into the next phase of science,” said Al Nouman, adding that science fiction nearly always discusses social, economic and political issues but with the events being placed within a different realm, on a different world or at a different time.

Speaking about the role of creativity in science fiction, Dr. Farouq explained the difference between fantasy writing and science fiction. “Fantasy has no limit, whereas science fiction needs to be based on a scientific concept and must explore the question: ‘what if?’” The limitations of creativity when writing science fiction are the same that apply to all literary forms. Personally, my limitations are ethical and religious. It is a very personal choice for each writer to decide what his or her limitations are,” said Dr. Farouq.

Both Al Nouman and Dr. Farouq emphasised the importance of reading in the science fiction genre before attempting to write in it. “Arab writers can’t find science fiction written in Arabic and so only those writers who can read English will be able to access these books,” said Al Nouman.

Agreeing with her, Dr. Farouq said that sometimes he receives manuscripts that show that the writer hasn’t done enough reading. “My advice is that writers need to read a great deal until they get the real urge to write. Reading as much science fiction material that they can find will inspire them,” he said.