Lessing's prize is the first time I am aware of that the Academy has recognized a science fiction writer with the world's most prestigious literary award. Lessing's most famous science fiction work is the Canopus in Argos series, which deals with the evolution of societies at various stages of development. I haven't read the series, but now that the Academy has recognized a science fiction author, I will now proudly buy the first book in the series. Lessing writes that "science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time,*" and I agree 1,000,000%.
The peace prize has been similarly awarded on behalf of science. (I can only imagine the amount of whining that's going on in the right-wing blogosphere about now.) Lately, the Academy has been awarding the prize not just to traditional mediators and peacemakers, but also to those groups that fight the underlying causes of strife. They made this clear in last year's award to Muhammad Yunus and his organization Grameen Bank for their efforts to extend microcredit (small loans, sometimes as small as a few dollars of local currency) to poor people in developing countries. The academy reasoned that since microcredit had the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty, and poverty is a fundamental cause of war, microcredit could help a great deal in avoiding future wars.
The same could be said of groups that are trying to prevent the potential environmental catastrophe of global warming. Global warming may lead to floods and droughts that will leave millions homeless, vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organizations and warlord armies. By pointing out the dangers of global warming, the IPCC and Gore are doing their part to promote peace.
Two of the most prestigious awards in the world, recognizing both science and science fiction. In the U.S., we often feel besieged by forces allied against science, but we should take heart in the recognitions that science has just received.
*In an interview published on her web site