© Cambridge University Press 2011 and Cambridge University Press, 2011. The mutant mind-reading robot in Isaac Asimov's “Liar!” (1941) wants to know about the human world that so puzzles him. Accordingly, as he explains to robopsychologist Susan Calvin, science books “just don't interest me. There's nothing to your textbooks. Your science is just a mass of collected data plastered together by make-shift theory-It's your fiction that interests me. Your studies of the interplay of human motives and emotions.” As Asimov (and his robot) knew, there was much to learn from fiction about the laboratory of life. “Science fiction,” as the genre was defined and developed in the early to mid twentieth century, grew out of a faith in the revelatory and speculative power of fiction, which could help to fathom and probe the scientific discoveries and technological innovations that lay beyond contemporary understanding. Its initial proliferation in popular culture made it a “pulp” genre appealing more to devoted fans than to literary critics, but increasingly science fiction has drawn attention both from literary critics and from scientists intrigued by the unique formulations, speculations, and theories offered by the most sophisticated examples of the genre. As the titles of the early magazines devoted to science fiction make clear, amazement, wonder, and awe are key words of the genre, but it is wonder inspired by the possibilities of science that distinguishes science fiction from the literature of fantasy. The speculation associated with the genre emerges from cognitively plausible-if sometimes far-reaching-scenarios that imaginatively engage and potentially challenge the most unquestioned scientific assumptions about human capacity and the world.
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