Science fiction has long been maligned as a subpar genre of literature. That sentiment has legitimate roots, of course. The major criticism of the genre, and why it has been frowned upon in higher literary circles, is that it is not sufficiently reverent towards the human spirit. Specifically, the gem of civilization has always been that it produces beings that have a depth of consciousness, that is in many ways, so complex, and so wonderful, that it constitutes an end in itself, a new perfect thing, that has a place in creation alongside the animals and plants and flowers and mountains. Of course the sanctity of the human soul is something to be protected.
And of course, historically, science fiction has generally been found to be heavy on the plot and environment, to the detriment of its focus on the fineness of the hero's character and consciousness. But what a more careful look will show, is that that lack of depth is purposeful, that it exists in order to allow the reader space to contemplate the particularities of their life, of the society in which they live. In a sense, a large part of any work of science fiction, and particularly of the characters that dwell in those worlds, is the contemplation of the specifics of existence. The general religious view towards life, and civilization as it progresses, is that the human soul stays fixed, and that technology is basically trivia that exists in the ever fixed stage of the human experience. The great work of science fiction has been to dismantle that fallacy.
This is necessary. People without a sense of responsibility towards the fruits of technology make decisions that are unwise and irresponsible. The fact is that technology has added an aspect to the world that is new, and is dealt with by everyone everyday. It has altered the point of view of humanity, thus altering the human experience. It has created the very real possibility of creating worlds that resemble the human dreamscape. Science fiction, by emphasizing the mundanity of the characters, ironically enough, wakes up the reader to their own sublimity, in any environment, and takes measures to preserve the human spirit as our world tumbles into the future.
There is of course an entirely different function of science fiction, which is that it serves a larger purpose in the progression of art and literature. Many have said that the integrity of art had been compromised around 1900, citing science fiction as an example of the death of literature, but I believe the world is headed towards a renaissance of art, and science fiction may very well be a bridge towards the new era, and much like Rudolph's red nose, will lead the way.