Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Every SF fan should read this book.  Why?  Because it is an anti SF novel.  

Let me explain…

The book begins with what would be a classic (though oddly punctuated) SF line.  

Now what I want is, Facts.  Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts.  Facts alone are wanted in life.

The words are spoken by

Thomas Gradgrind, Sir. A man of realities.  A man of facts and calculations.

In other words, a sterling SF character of the old school.  The thing that makes this book the opposite of SF, though, is that it sets out to show that Thomas Gradgrind is wrong.  How?  By demonstrating what happens to his children due to their logical upbringing.  Gradgrind realises the error of his belief in a world of facts and logic when he sees his daughter married to the wrong man and his son exposed as a thief, and all because they believe they are doing what he wished.

Now, this entry is not intended to criticise Dickens (that’s not what this Blog is for, after all.)  Hard Times wasn’t written as SF (nor should we expect every book to be), it was written to “Shake some people in a terrible mistake of these days” (Dicken’s own words), and it contains some excellent descriptions of life for the working classes in Coketown.  Anyway, I love Dickens work. 

However, Hard Times does beg the following question:

Does SF have an answer to this depiction of Gradgrind’s supposedly flawed character?    

Of course it does.   A good SF novel finds beauty in facts, it can find emotion and sensitivity in the cold equations of the universe.  That’s one of the many things that makes SF worth reading.

That’s what’s original about the genre.

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