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The frontier and science fiction

In 1893 the historian Frederick Jackson Turner published a paper entitled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.”  He argued that the experience of coping with an untamed frontier led Americans to abandon the cultural baggage of their European background and become more egalitarian, self-reliant, practical, democratic and innovative, or in other words distinctively American.

Legacies of the time reveal personal libraries devoted largely to books on self-improvement, a tradition that persists to this day, with self-help books featuring regularly among the top sellers.  The significance for science fiction is that many writers suppose a future that features an open space frontier, with humanity heading out to cope with unknown difficulties and dangers.  In a way that parallels the American frontier and the Turner thesis, the characters of SF novels tend to be individualistic, self-reliant and optimistic.  They cope with danger by drawing on reserves of rugged independence.  They do not look to authorities for relief and rescue; they solve their problems themselves.

I follow in that tradition with my science fiction books for young adults.  They are optimistic, in that the characters show the strengths of character needed to overcome adversity.  They exhibit courage, loyalty, and a firm moral sense that guides them through the hazards that the universe throws their way.  A few SF works feature closed-in dystopias, but for most stories the emphasis is on the challenges and dangers of an open frontier, and on the character and cultural impact this brings with it.

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