Sci-fi writers are better than other writers. Isaac Asimov was once accused of making this claim, which infuriated a great many writers. Given his famously large ego, this seemed like something he would say, but his actual words were more along the lines of ‘all things being equal, a sci-fi writer could write passably well in other genres without additional training, but other genre writers probably could not do the same in sci-fi.’
There is a grain of truth to this argument. Every genre has conventions that it prefers you follow, but sci-fi demands some knowledge of science and sci-fi lore. You don’t need to be an expert, but you have to know the basics. Take Star Wars, for example. Modern physics says that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Well, that’s a serious problem if you’re planning to create an evil galactic empire. So George Lucas had to either come up with his own scientific-sounding solution or use one of the existing sci-fi conventions like the hyperdrive. If he did neither, Star Wars would cease to be sci-fi and become fantasy, a related but completely different genre.
So are sci-fi writers better than other writers? No, not inherently at least. Ego or no ego, Asimov knew better than to make such a ridiculous assertion. His words were twisted by those who did not like the suggestion that sci-fi was somehow different or special. Asimov didn’t argued that he could write romance better than a romance writer – only that he could write romance, whereas a romance writer probably could not write passable sci-fi without research. This is because romance is within the realm of common experience, unlike hyperdrives. Sci-fi writers are not “better” for knowing science and sci-fi lore, but such knowledge does grant them the ability to operate in the sci-fi genre.
Asimov was not a ‘great writer’ in the literary sense, and he was acutely aware of this. He rarely wrote about romantic love, and many of his stories have very little action and character development. But sci-fi is largely a concept-driven genre, and Asimov was a ‘great sci-fi writer’ because his ideas were so good and he presented them with remarkable clarity. As I have written previously, the topic determines the creative skills needed.