The purpose of all fiction is to sell the author's wares. The purpose of science fiction is to sell the author's wares.
Is the purpose of something the same as the function of something? One function of a beating heart making noise, but it s the purpose of the heart to be a noise-maker?It is the obligation of realistic fiction to the "true to life" and thus truth is one of its objects. But truth is an active kind of verb: you must be true "to" something and that requires some thought. But there are other kinds of fiction -- fables, for example -- which needn't be true to life. They contain other truths. The truth of Beauty and the Beast is that sometimes a person must be loved before he becomes lovable. At other time, a fiction need only entertain.
Science fiction that tells the truth is exceedingly rare and it seems too much to hope for, to be honest, although it can be wonderful when it happens. The lower bar of provoking thought is more easily attained and nothing to be ashamed of.
Either or both.
Would you rather read the fiction of a great liar or a great truth-teller?
“So, not ‘the Truth of Art’ but, yes, truths in the arts” — William S. Wilson[HWW]
Some of Lafferty's best stories are prodigious lies, for example "One at a Time." So I suspect telling the truth may not be a requirement. On the other hand, Barry Hughart tells us in A Bridge of Birds that "Fable has strong shoulders that can carry more truth than fact can." And at the end of Arrive at Easterwine Epiktistes tells us that (if I remember correctly) "It is no more telling a lie to build a myth than to plant a field." So yes, SF should provoke thought, and perhaps it can also convey the truth, but possibly in an unexpected manner.
I don't know the function of SF is to provoke thought, but I'm pretty sure it's not to tell the truth, with or without a capital T. I don't think any artistic medium has that purpose. Contrary to Keats.
I think I should add a comment by a cynic who is obviously NOT a lover of SF:"Science fiction is to technology as romance novels are to marriage: a form ofpropaganda." Jason Pontin,TECHNOLOGY REVIEW, February 2005. Actually, I suspect that some kids are turned on to science by reading science fiction. I know I was, but I have to wonder about others.
Keats may have been onto something. There's the passage in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where life itself is held in contempt of the court for not being beautiful enough to be true: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/309180-the-hitchhiker-s-guide-to-the-galaxy-is-an-indispensable-companion.
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