Introducing Why SF?: Underwords’ New Interview Series

I am pleased to announce that Underwords will be doing a new interview series called Why SF? This series will explore how science fiction has affected the lives of a variety of creative and influential people. Interviewees will range from writers, to inventors, to perhaps even a NASA astronaut. The combination of imagination and science in fiction is a powerful gift, and I am thrilled to present the Why SF? series to you through Underwords.

When I first came up with the idea for the Why SF? interview series, I was excited about  the potential interviewees who might participate. As I sat down to develop the questions for my interviewees, questions that they could really dig into, it became clear that Why SF? needed an introduction from me to clarify some of the concepts behind the series. Why is science fiction so important to me? Why is science fiction something that I feel needs to be shared and promoted among readers–both young and old? The answers to these questions touched on personal life issues that I wasn’t sure I was ready to talk about publicly. However, I also realized that I can’t possibly hope to interview anyone, asking them “Why SF?”, if I wasn’t willing to talk about my own experiences.

A year and a half ago my mother died. After almost three decades of fighting cancer, the disease finally invaded her bones, various other parts of her body, and her brain. While the cancer was slow moving and medicine fended it off for a long time, it was still debilitating. My mother was a LVN nurse in a convalescent hospital, and she spent most of her adult life making the lives of others more bearable during their last years, months, and days in this world–all the while she was battling for her own life. I believe that to some extent the scientists, researchers, and doctors who developed the cancer treatments taken by my mom had to be influenced in some way by science fiction, by imagining new ways to convert the impossible to possible, and by the dreamers whose minds were turned “on” by science that was made fun and interesting. After all, science and science fiction often go hand-in-hand.

When I was in fifth grade, the mother of one of my classmates started a book club for the people in her daughter’s class. Being a latchkey kid with nothing better to do, I joined not really knowing what to expect. I was introduced to classics such as The Yearling, Where the Red Fern Grows, Watership Down, Anne of Green Gables, and The Black Cauldron. While I enjoyed all of these books, it was Lloyd Alexander’s book The Black Cauldron that sparked a sustaining reading interest for me. We didn’t have much money at the time, which meant that once the book club ended so did my supply of books. While the school library did a decent job of satisfying my new reading appetite for a while, it couldn’t keep up with the newest publications that were hitting the bookstore shelves. Meanwhile my mom was a single parent, working three jobs, raising two daughters, and starting her battle with cancer. There wasn’t money in the budget for books. So, I went out collecting bottles and cans to trade in at the local supermarket for cash to buy my books. With just enough money for a new book and a bag of gummy coke bottles, I struck off for the bookstore to find that they had mixed the fantasy with something called science fiction.

I must have pulled out every book from Asimov to Zelazny, scrutinizing the covers and reading the blurbs. I had come for fantasy, and I left with science fiction. After reading dozens of books by authors like Bradbury, de Vinge, and Le Guin, I understood that the reading about “the possible” and “the probable” was just as fascinating as reading about the fantastic.

By the time I was fifteen, I was knee deep in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Sadly, by that time, I was also hit with the reality of my mom’s disease. It seemed like a thousand people must have asked me if I was okay. I wasn’t okay, but I told them I was so that they wouldn’t worry. They smiled, happy to have done their job of checking on me and then they each went about their own business. I was not okay. I was scared. I was sad. I was depressed. My father had abandoned me and now I was in danger of also losing my mother. There was no part of me that was okay. While the people who checked on me left, my books stayed with me–each of them gaining a special spot on my bookshelves and in my heart.

My mom continued working multiple jobs. It bothered her than I had to come home to an empty house, but what she didn’t understand was that I came home to my books. Through reading, I found solace and strength that I couldn’t find in the real world. I learned about honor, integrity, work ethics, criminals, war, poverty, desperation, triumph and so much more. I found kindred spirits in the children and adults in the novels I read, and they stuck with me, guiding me through the difficult times until I was able to make it on my own.

The truth is that fantasy, science fiction, and horror are all important to me in different ways. These genres helped me to become a better person. They taught me how to dream. They helped me to find my path and, in so doing, they saved me from depression that threatened to remove me from the world. Fantasy helped me to imagine, horror helped me to overcome my fear, but it was science fiction that helped me to imagine my future. That is Why SF is so important to me.

When I look around bookstores today, I see a lot of fantasy and horror, but I don’t see nearly as many science fiction novels–especially science fiction anthologies for young adults. Why am I so passionate about science fiction for young adults? Although I’d like to think I’m special and that my experience with science fiction was unique, I know that’s not true. Science fiction has inspired generations of children and adults who have worked together over time to build our world, which could easily have been a science fictional location in any of the stories written by the pioneers of this incredible genre.

I could never have imagined my future days when I was a young adult, if it weren’t for the writers who shared their imaginations of tomorrow with me. This is why I love science fiction, this is why I am a strong supporter of young adult fiction, and this is why I am taking Underwords independent in order to publish the best YA science fiction anthology that my co-editor Hannah Strom-Martin and I can create. We’re going after the best fiction we can find in order to make Futuredaze a reality. This is my answer to Why SF? What’s yours?


Underwords is also excited to announce that our Kickstarter project to help fund the production of Futuredaze is going strong. However, we could use your help to reach our goal of $1,700. Every dollar counts since we don’t collect anything if we don’t reach our goal.

We truly appreciate anything that you can do to help — whether you pre-order a copy of Futuredaze, back us for a higher amount, or just spread the word to others who might like to help support science fiction for young adults. You can click here to back Futuredaze on Kickstarter now! Thank you for your support.

About Erin Underwood

BIO: Erin Underwood is the senior event content producer for MIT Technology Review’s emerging technology events. On the side, she reads, writes, and edits SF.
This entry was posted in Futuredaze, Science Fiction, Signal Boost, Uncategorized, Why SF?, Young Adult Literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Introducing Why SF?: Underwords’ New Interview Series

  1. E A M Harris says:

    This is a brilliant intro to the series. I look forward to reading the interviews.

  2. Jed says:

    What a beautiful and sincere post. Thank you for sharing your story, Erin. I can’t wait to hear more from other authors

  3. Pingback: SF Tidbits for 5/7/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

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