As much as I adore the fantastical landscapes and riot of colors and shapes that so often populate the sci-fi genre, most of it sucks. Even the big budget stuff can get pretty bad (I cite Star Wars Episodes 1-3). That's not even to mention the spectacular campiness of low budget movies, half of which have been mocked by an equally campy show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yet, this genre has a devout following that fills convention centers and maintains obscure costume shops across the country. There may be a lot of pulp, but it's well loved pulp.
And it makes me cringe just thinking about it.
As a writer I feel I have an obligation. I am the first to admit that I prefer reading (and writing) fantasy to sci-fi (though fantasy has just as bad a history as sci-fi, if not more so). I also prefer watching fantasy to sci-fi, however, there just isn't a lot of it out there (and how many times can you watch Stardust?). That said, I would rather watch a sci-fi flick than something based in reality any day. I would watch Firefly or Avatar over a schmaltzy romantic comedy every time. The question is why?
Sci-fi allows us to deal with issues that are difficult to face. It is a lot easier for people to confront difficult truths about existence in a fantastical framework. At the same time we may be confronting these things, we're also able to escape completely. People like genre fiction for these reasons. It's enjoyable. It's fun - even though it can also be painful (think: 1984).
The problem of course, is because these genres have such a cultish fan base, they encourage bad writing. Yes, I'll just come right out and say it. There are very few good genre fiction writers (speaking as someone who writes genre fiction). There is a time and a place for pulpy crap. People addicted to the stuff will often buy poorly written stories in order to escape, not really caring how well the characters are developed or the story is crafted. While the bar has been raised recently because of the upsurge in nerd-cool (thank GOD!), it's still possible to write something absolutely ridiculous and have people eat it up. Quite a lot of people actually enjoy Star Wars Episodes 1-3, and to them all I can say is, you need to watch Firefly.
So, writers of sci-fi, please, please, PLEASE! I beg you! Take time to craft a beautiful story! Don't get caught up in the weird random details of the universe you create. They aren't the important bits. The important things are the plot and your character development. I promise as I delve into sci-fi myself, I will do my best to make sure it's as awesome as I can possibly make it. I promise to steer clear of cliched one-liners and cookie-cutter characters. I promise not to blatantly steal from those who came before, but to do something original and fantastic.
Let's pinky swear on it.