In 1959 Poul Anderson gave a talk at the Detroit Science Fiction Convention titled: A Renaissance for Science Fiction. During his talk he defined key differences between entertainment and amusement. It’s a fantastic insight and something every genre author should read and ponder:
“The first duty of science fiction, as for all art, is to entertain. But too many people misunderstand that word entertainment is no identical with amusement. Too much science fiction today only wants to amuse us, or kill time for us. lt does not really entertain.”
Anderson urged writers to create:
“…not merely clever variations on a theme, but stories which are about people and about science and about history and about art and about philosophy and about the way a mountain looks at twilight when the stars are just coming forth. That kind of fiction is entertaining.”
The goal for any writer—as Poul Anderson is suggesting—should be entertainment not amusement. True entertainment resonates with the reader, it’s deep and substantial, it challenges the reader with its existence, and it can influence them. Amusement on the other hand, is fun for a time, but it is quickly forgotten.
Thanks to my friend Jonathan for pointing me at this over on twitter. I’m in the process of trying to track down a full transcript of the talk, if you have a copy or know where I can get one, please let me know.