Science fiction, everybody knows it's a genre of fiction that is only enjoyed by weirdo, geeky types – not high literature and not all that great as mindless entertainment either. The characters are shallow (even moreso in Science Fiction Horror films where they are regularly even worse than in other horror), the plotlines predictable… well basically it's soap opera's in space right ?
Oh how wrong. As a few English literature professors to name their top ten greatest pieces of literature from the 20th century and two books are almost guaranteed to be on both lists. Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a strange land" and J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" – one science fiction, one fantasy – both prescribed works for every literature degree in the world today, as important to the history of English literature as Shakespeare.
So it seems that science fiction can in fact be high literature. Stranger in a strange land is particularly telling – it is set against what was, at the time of writing, one of the most overdone memes in the genre: crude humans attempting to interact with a much more advanced and civilized Martian culture.
Yet on this meager basis is crafted a tale that is not only very good fiction (I'm quite shocked that there is no film of it – perhaps because it's just too deeply honest) but one of the best studies of true human nature. It was not only a literary masterpiece – it was also a bestseller in the popular mind and to this day the term "grok" which it gave us remains in use (though it's not longer quite so strong a counterculture as it was in the 70's).
So science fiction is in fact very often very good fiction. Stranger in a strange land is just the most powerful example but no such discussion would be complete without mentioning Arthur C. Clarke and many other greats of the genre. Science Fiction it seems can be truly great fiction.
But how about the science ? Again there is the good and the bad. Among true science fiction aficionados the vast majority of the science fiction that gets made on television or in film are considered the worst of the genre – not least for frequently being ignorant of science. When the science fiction has bad science, people tend to complain. Rare exceptions are allowed where the fiction is so good that we don't mind if the science is flagrantly ignoring the laws of physics. Firefly springs to mind, and the way most S.F. fans are prepared to forgive George Lucas for putting sound in space, their stories we love for their exceptional fiction – not their particularly good science… which is why none of us will ever forgive him for Jar-Jar Binks !
In fact – with good science fiction we find an incredible complicity between science and science fiction. Science inspires science fiction – which inspires young people to become scientists and engineers – often with the dream of perhaps helping to realize some of those stories they loved so much in their youth.
This explains at least in part why so much of science fiction's impossible predictions do end up coming true in time. Verne predicted submarines nearly 80 years before we could build one – and got the majority of the details right ! When we did build one, we named it the Nautilus, after the fictional ship of Captain Nemo in "20 thousand leagues under the sea". Verne's "Paris 1930", written in the 1800's was never published (though the manuscript survives) the publisher didn't believe anybody would be convinced that by 1930 Paris would be a city with electric streetlights and people driving self-powered vehicles (the book was written well before the invention of either the lightbulb or the car).
Verne even wrote about a moonlanding, he predated rockets by a bit too much and his space ship was basically fired from a huge gun. Even then – he correctly predicted the location from where we actually did go to the moon nearly a hundred years later: Florida. The closest point in the USA to the equator. Verne knew, as NASA later did, that the closer you are to the equator the less energy you need to reach escape velocity (Newtonian physics explains why – look it up if you really must know).
And Jules Verne was probably the first science fiction author to ever live. Others who followed would go further. Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001 before the Moonlanding, and in the introduction to the sequel 2010 he writes that the moonlanding came ten years earlier than expected (it happened between the two books) and he adjusted his expectations accordingly. Sadly Clarke's vision was then rather too optimistic. The next few decades did not build on the Apollo 11 landing as it should have, but not because of technology problems (most of Clarke's predictions are now recognized as very likely) instead – politics got in the way.
Much later Clarke would complete the trilogy with 3001, in which his lost astronaut returns to earth a thousand years from now… to find a human civilization with ideas and technology that while far removed from our own is not only feasible but feels… likely.
And then there are those who take it all to a whole new level. Orson Scott Card springs to mind here, the series he began with Ender's game followed Einsteinian physics meticulously – ships were constrained by lightspeed but made use of time dilation – so a trip that took 80 years would feel to the passengers like it took a few months. In this manner humanity ultimately colonizes other planets, it's an idea that is obvious to any physicist as a possible approach but it does have downsides – for returning home it means a good chance of coming back to a planet where everyone you love is dead. Card realized however that it makes colonization of other planets feasible – colonists generally don't plan return trips after all. Then Card predicted a method for faster-than-light communications so these ships could still publish books and such. For this he invented the philote -most fundamental particle of all, and how it could be split. If you split a philote, and twisted one half – the other half would twist by the same degree regardless of how far away it may be.
He called this link an "ansible". Remarkably – modern quantum physics actually allows for exactly that, the names are different and we do it with electrons – but the methodology does in fact work and forms a crucial part of quantum encryption technologies, quantum computing and indeed quantum teleportation. Currently it is crude and costs a fortune to build – but there seems to be no practical reason why an ansible based on quantum interference could not be possible in future, and perhaps even allow faster-than-light communications, all without ever breaking Einstein's laws. The information isn't traveling, the matter is simply doing what matter does in a quantum universe.
Star Trek and the like invented warp drives to get around Einstein – and this inspired real phycisist to study their feasibility. Mathematically at least, it turns out warp drives do work ! You can trap yourself in a bubble of space time and then move that around – there is no limit to the speed at which space-time can move. Of course, that revealed a major catch: warp-drives create an event horizon… so our starship Captain will be flying blind and couldn't steer the ship. Not perhaps entirely impossible to get around, one could still potentially fire up the warp drive on some sort of pre-programmed route that automatically exits warp at the right time – though doing so without already knowing exactly what's on the other side would be risky in the extreme – not exactly ideal for exploration missions.
Science and science fiction – complicitely driving each other forward toward a better future for mankind… isn't that nice, and in the meantime – we get some of the greatest books ever written. Sometimes it's more science than good fiction. Asimov fell into that trap a few times – he was a great scientist himself and his books are excellent and believable science, but the fiction is often strenuous, I find Asimov hard to read as an author. His books are more like philosophy of science textbooks with a parable to explain than like stories… I enjoy them but I can understand why they are not particularly well known outside SF circles. Sometimes the fiction wins (firefly again) – but all the time there is a marriage in S.F. of two of the greatest achievements mankind can claim. Art and Science, and it produces some truly beautiful children. Weirdo geeky fans at conventions notwithstanding.
 Just some notes on this – which I felt should be clarified but would bog down the main text. Card wasn't the first to propose the concept and he didn't invent the name either. Card was inspired by the earlier works of Le Guin and in the books themselves subtly reference them as the source of the name although Card's ansible is remarkably better thought out than Le Guin's was and has a more accurate name in the books (ansible is basically the folk name by which people know the product). Quantum teleportation by entanglement is the current physics most like the ansible as a concept. However this may not be capable of superluminal communication at all (the consensus today is 'probably not' but it's by no means a settled question) and more-over current technology cannot maintain quantum entanglement over more than microscopic distances. Card was aware of the quantum physics and built on top of it – if an ansible is possible it will take significant development from what is currently possible and may require physics discoveries not yet made (or very widely anticipated), but since Relativity and Quantum still aren't consistent – we know our physics picture of the universe is incomplete… who knows what the next paradigm shift will bring.
 Sorry, but people e-mail me and complain if I don't point this stuff out. At least I put in a footnote, can you imagine how cumbersome it would have been to spell all that out in the article ?