I have been a reader of science fiction for my entire life, picking Arthur C Clarke of my mum’s book shelves as soon as I could read. For the last decade I’ve been a student of science fiction. I’ve read as widely and deeply in the genre as possible, often writing about what I have learned for my regular column in The Guardian. I’ve studied at the Clarion writer’s workshop, and had the good fortune to meet, interview and learn from many of science fiction’s greatest writers. I’ve become involved with the academic discussion of science fiction, at conferences including Weird Council, New Genre Army and The Weird. Today the wonderful team at The Ascender have published my longform essay Rebuilding the World, which brings together many of my thoughts to date on science fiction.
Extract from “Rebuilding the World”.
“It’s not outrageous to think that science fiction inspires science. Captain James T Kirk’s five year journey on the starship Enterprise inspired both the name of the first space shuttle, and some of the mobile phones we carry today were modeled on Star Trek communicators. In the 1980’s the “cyberpunk” stories of William Gibson were an intrinsic part of the emergence of “cyberspace” and virtual worlds. As Albert Einstein stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Knowledge is limited to what we know, while imagination reaches into the unknown. As science radically expanded what was known through the 20th century, we needed ever more powerful feats of imagination to guide its development and shape its outcomes. And among the most important products of the 20th century imagination was science fiction.”
At the heart of my essay for The Ascender is a question that I run in to again and again in considering science fiction. It’s a question that has sometimes brought me in to conflict with the wider science fiction community, even as it has helped me find many other like minds in the genre. Is there a higher purpose to science fiction?
We’re used to discussing science fiction in the the context of entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with it fulfilling that role. But science fiction seems to offer something more. It represents a meeting point of the sciences, which are quickly transforming our world, and the arts, which seek to understand the world and our lives upon it. It is, as the esteemed literary critic John Clute so aptly argues, a planetary literature, that has emerged in step with our evolving understanding of our own world. But most importantly, in my view, science fiction represents a powerful re-emergence of the human imagination. That thing which Einstein called “more important than knowledge.”
In Rebuilding the World I try and think about what the higher purpose of science fiction is to me. I don’t think it is a question easily answered, but I do think it is a debate worth having. Does science fiction have a higher purpose? Or should it think of itself simply as an entertainment? If it is a planetary literature, what does it say about our planet? I’d love to know you thoughts.
Read the full essay at The Ascender.
- The revolution will not be realism (damiengwalter.wordpress.com)