science fiction noun
Abbr. sf, SF
A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.
science fiction, literary genre to which a background of science or pseudoscience is integral. Although fantastic, it contains elements within the realm of future possibility. Science fiction began with the late-19th-cent. work of Jules VERNE and H.G. WELLS. The appearance of the magazines _Amazing Stories_ (1926) and _Astounding Science Fiction_ (1937) encouraged good writing in the field, which was further spurred by post-World War II technological developments. Contemporary writers of science fiction include Robert HEINLEIN, Isaac ASIMOV, A.E. van Voght, Alfred Bester, Arthur C. CLARKE, Frederik Pohl, Stanislaw LEM, William Gibson, Doris LESSING, and Ursula K. LeGuin. The genre's effectiveness as an instrument for social criticism can be seen in such works as Aldous HUXLEY's Brave New World (1932), Ray BRADBURY's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Kurt VONNEGUT's Cat's Cradle (1963). Science Fiction
Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really
do not know anything. We can't talk about science, because our knowledge
of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful.
Philip K. Dick (1928-82), U.S. science fiction writer. _I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon_, Introduction, "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" (1986).
Individual science fiction
stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers
of today-but the core of science fiction, its essence … has become crucial
to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.
Isaac Asimov (1920-92), Russian-born U.S. author. "My Own View," in _The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction_ (ed. by Robert Holdstock, 1978; repr. in Asimov on Science Fiction, 1981).
Everything is becoming science
fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung
the intact reality
of the 20th century.
J. G. Ballard (b. 1930), British author. "Fictions of Every Kind," in Books and Bookmen (London, Feb. 1971; repr. in Re/Search, no. 8/9, San Francisco, 1984). Ballard continued: "Even the worst science fiction is better … than the best conventional fiction. The future is a better key to the present than the past."
Space or science fiction has become a dialect for
Doris Lessing (b. 1919), British novelist. Guardian (London, 7 Nov. 1988).
Executive: We must confess that your proposal seems less like science and more like science fiction.
Dr. Ellie Arroway: Science fiction. You're right, it's crazy. In fact, it's even worse than that, it's nuts. You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an airplane, you know you get people to go in, and fly around like birds, it's ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon? Atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right? Look, all I'm asking is for you to just have the tiniest bit of vision. You know, to just sit back for one minute and look at the big picture. To take a chance on something that just might end up being the most profoundly impactful moment for humanity, for the history... of history.
personally, i'm more interested in non-fiction, but to me, sci-fi is the art of not only predicting, but molding the future.
example: a kid sees _Star Wars_ (vhs/ntsc)for the first time in 1977 and is blown away for whatever reason (memes manifest in mysterious ways...). a handful of these kids grow up to be engineers. scientists. technicians. one or more of them let's say, invents new technologies that can launch vehicles into hyperspace. let's say you can design the look of this thing anyway you want. the memes that have been sown as a child and imprinted with associations of joy and wonder and success (as star wars did for me) would manifest itself. we now have a real life ship that behaves exactly as it did in fictional form.
this is the way of the meme.
it matters not if people are living in a fantasy world, or attending the school of hard knocks. what matters is that the ideas enter the brain. the more interesting angle is how these ideas go about carving a niche for itself. which ones last, which ones succeed. that is why positivity is important. that is why i'm turned off by dystopian cyberpunk settings. this is the id fear manifesting. it might be dark, interesting, and cool or chic, but it's a waste of time and attention. not all positive things have to be cheesy. it's difficult to achieve, but that is the challenge. it's too easy to be grunge, (goth) and depressing.. _The Matrix_ (vhs/ntsc)(1999) was a good example. it is the beginning of weening away the dark future, through hopes of a spiritual uplift. not cheesy at all (except maybe for the ending.) it is no longer an issue with most people to decide on chic-ness using black and white methodologies. it is getting more complex. throw in the hipness of irony and you have a very big chaotic stew. - @Om* 5/28/00
reality is a consensual hallucination - it's an agreed upon state of things. anything outside of it is labelled an "illusion" or "fantasy" as though hierarchically inferior to perceived "reality". fiction is much more interesting. science fiction is the bridge between the two. the trick is to get minds and consciousness to agree upon a particular set of belief systems (b.s.), so that you can go about engineering it within networked reality. what this means is that the actual goal is to convince people that something is possible. once this is done, it's a matter of networking specialized minds into engineering that particular reality. my personal approach is "hard idealism", which means take the usual cosmic hippie shit and ground it so that you can "sell it" to the hard science minds. Damien Broderick and Terence McKenna are talking about the same exact things. no need to argue who is right, because it's simply a matter of aesthetic taste - hard science or new edge mantra? singularity or the spike? your choice. whatever path you choose we are all eventually going to collapse into the omega point, so live it up whichever you choose. - @Om* 3/7/02
A science fiction writer, after
witnessing the spectacle of a child in hypnotic symbiosis
with a video arcade game, invents a fictional reality
called Cyberspace -- a "consensual hallucination" accessed through
the computer, where one's thoughts manifest totally, and reality itself conforms
to the wave patterns. Then, in a bizarre self-fulfilling prophecy, the
science fictional concept of a reality that can be consciously designed begins
to emerge as a held belief--and not just by kids dancing
at all night festivals. A confluence of scientists, computer programmers, authors,
musicians, journalists, artists, activists and even politicians have adopted
a new paradigm. And they want to make this your paradigm, too.
- Douglas Rushkoff - _Cyberia: Life In The Trenches Of Hyperspace_ (1994)
Science Fiction - can it work?
by George Hay
The biggest problem about getting science fiction applied in what is laughingly called 'the real world' is the old Catch-22. It is best exemplified by Arthur C. Clarke's explanation of why he is not rather better off than he actually is. When he first had the idea of the communications satellite, he tried to get it patented. 'Come, come, Mr. Clarke,' said the people at the Patent Office. 'We're a serious outfit, we haven't got time to waste on fantastic ideas like this.' Years later, when the first satellite (with which Arthur was actively involved) actually went up, and the nations were queuing to get their own satellites up, Arthur went back to the Patent Office. 'But, Mr Clarke,' they said, 'the satellite already exists. You should have come to us earlier.'
'The A-Bomb (H.G.Wells) and the tank (Major-General Swinton) were described originally in sf stories'
See what I mean? If you try to convince someone to apply sf, they say, 'Oh, that's science fiction. I mean, you can't actually do it. Maybe in the year 2000...' If you point out to them that ideas as disparate as the water-bed (Robert Heinlein), the dracone (Frank Herbert), the A-Bomb (H.G.Wells) and the tank (Major-General Swinton) were all described originally in sf stories, they just blink, and then look away from you. There can be precious few people who do not know what a television set is - but how many know that the word 'television' was coined by an sf editor (Hugo Gernshack) in the early years of this century?
I am not saying that sf cannot be applied. As you can see from the examples I have cited, it has been applied. What I want to get across here are two key points: firstly, if you wish to get someone to make use of an sf idea, check first whether to him or her the word 'sf' is simply a synonym for 'fantasy' or 'impossible'. If it is, do not mention sf. Call it futurology, or lateral thinking or any term you wish, as long as it is one he will feel safe with - something respectable.
Secondly, there are as many sf ideas in the genre that deal with the soft sciences - sociology, linguistics, political science, etc - as there are ones that deal with hardware, and these are mostly constructive, not destructive. I know that the 'Star Wars' system (which harks back to dear old Doc Smith's 'Lensman' stories of the 1930s) is supposed to protect us, but some of us may have doubts about this. How about something completely different? For example, Suzette Haden Elgin, a current sf author, has created 'a language for women by a woman', Laadan. I know no more about it than that it exists, but I cannot help feeling that a discussion about Laadan might be more helpful than one about lasers in the sky...
'How many people know that the famous crescents of Bath were designed from an idea in an sf novel?'
It is important to grasp that sf speaks to the heart and soul, and does not consist merely of delayed adolescents in uniforms playing with death-rays - and can speak effectively, at that. How many people know that the famous crescents of Bath were designed from an idea in an sf novel - Thomas More's 'Utopia'? That H. G. Wells wrote a novel mentioning robot-induced unemployment in 1913, or that G. K. Chesterton wrote one in 1909 dealing with the nastier implications of psychiatry? Speaking of H. G. Wells - it is not well enough known that the introduction of the Declaration of Human Rights was really down to him, and could, not unfairly, be described as sf for its day. How's that for a social invention?
Good enough, you may say - but how about something fresh out of science fiction, something we could set about here and now without having either to invent or fund some vastly expensive technological whatsit? Well, I could mention the Argo Venture, formulated in 1984 by Lord Young of Dartington, the object of which is to set up a one-year simulation of the start-up of a Mars colony, in an isolated environment, and for which there have already been hundreds of volunteers. The social invention I would propose is an adaptation of an idea put out a year or two back by Frederick Pohl in his novel, 'The Years of the City', in which he deals with the future of New York. It would take more space than I have here to go into it properly, but basically, it could not be more simple - a real-time electronic voting system for dealing with current big city issues (or small-city either, for that matter). All the technology already exists - we are already the wired society. There could of course be problems with local authority ordinances, but, if there were goodwill from the local politicos, these could be dealt with - if there were not, then the general public might have to be seriously consulted. But then, that is what it is all about!
- George Hay (founder of the Science Fiction Foundation),
53b All Saints Street, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 3BN (tel 0424 420634).
- The Science Fiction Foundation, Polytechnic of East London, Longbridge Road, Dagenham, Essex, RM8 2AS.
Science fiction has always functioned as an interface between scientists and the interested lay public. A fair number of scientists write SF, in part to relax, in part to publicly explain ideas near and dear to them and also perhaps to play with ideas their colleagues wouldn't appreciate seeing in formal journals. Many, many more scientists enjoy reading it (if they have time, after the journals, to read anything!). But SF also opens up the playing field to artists and writers who can explore scientific issues in ways scientific journals don't or won't. Social modeling of the implications of scientific discoveries is necessary to both science and society — whether it be positive or negative or balanced!
- Greg Bear
And yet the strange thing is, in some way, some real way, much of what appears under the title "science fiction" is true. It may not be literally true, I suppose. We have not really been invaded by creatures from another star system, as depicted in _Close Encounters of the Third Kind_ DVDx2 (1977). The producers of that film never intended for us to believe it. Or did they?
And, more important, if they did intend to state this, is it actually true? That is the issue: not, Does the author or producer believe it, but -- Is it true? Because, quite by accident, in the pursuit of a good yarn, a science fiction author or producer or scriptwriter might stumble onto the truth... and only later on realize it.
- _How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later_
by Philip K. Dick 1978
"The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is completely fiction."
- J.G. Ballard
Interview with Grant Morrisson, author of _The Invisibles_
THE PULSE: You said you view some of the world's greatest religions like sci-fi. Howso? Or is it just some religions that are like sci-fi?
MORRISON: Imagine a new technology which allowed ideas to be somehow grasped from the air, transformed into symbols and recorded on stone or papyrus. When gazed upon by an educated person, these images would then transform themselves magically into consistent sounds in the head.
We're so familiar with written language that we sometimes forget how outlandish a concept it must have seemed to our ancestors. Writing allowed people to copy and transfer their thoughts and their tribal codes of conduct to others, even unto generations they themselves would not live to personally instruct, affect or control. The words themselves must have seemed alive and immortal and as "holy" as ghosts. Written law was thus a way of mastering time and influencing the future, a weapon greater than fire and steel, I hope you'll agree. When read, the written word made the head buzz and ring and fill up with voices and commands from nowhere, as if god himself had come thundering down through the symbols, off the page and into the room, fertilising and impregnating the mind with his Ghostly, unmistakable presence.
So god (ie yahweh, jehovah, allah) always watching us, always judging, is, I believe, a living concept which emerged along with the early development of alphabets, to prey on developing human minds. In return for providing a lush spawning ground, the "God" meme rewards the human mind with simple satisfying but ultimately incomplete explanations regarding its place in a complex and frightening universe. What the three "Religions of the Book" call "god," I call a virulent and hard-to-kill memetic structure finding its perfect technological carrier medium at a critical time in the history of humanity.
The wholly masculine "god" of the monoreligions is a personification of written law and its strange effect on our brains. "He" is the cop in the head who constantly checks our behavior to ensure that we don't step too far beyond the limits our culture has established and expected us to internalise. "He" demands obedience and the performance of irrational rituals in "His" name. We've got so used to that hectoring critical voice in our heads and have so many new explanations for it that most of us don't call it "god" anymore and churches are emptying.
THE PULSE: Are you religious, if so how do your beliefs mirror science fiction?
MORRISON: Can't I have a simple question, Miss? What's my favorite species of butterfly? Who's the best dancer: Fred Astaire or Christopher Reeve?
That kind of thing.
Okay ... I've had 24 years of occult experimentation and a "contact" experience in Kathmandu in 1994 which brought me to a point where my own experiences and the lessons I'd learned became much more meaningful, real and important to me than some old book that was written a long time ago by people no more special than me or anyone else. My beliefs are firmly grounded in nuts and bolts reality but probably sound strange because of the sci-fi style language of biology etc.
So based on my own experience, I've come to the conclusion that the individual human body is no more, no less than one of the billions of skin cells we lose every day. Each of those cells was once bursting with youth and health before it lived its allotted span, shriveled and then fell as dust. Now, if a skin cell became conscious and forgot that it was only a temporary and recyclable part of a much larger living body, it too would no doubt feel the same existential trauma experienced by all living, sentient creatures. It would fear its own demise as we do, because it would have forgotten its purpose and function within a larger context and become trapped in the illusory yet painful cage of individuality.
Like skin cells or perhaps more like immune cells, we as individuals are all part of one immense intelligent living creature which has its roots in the Cryptozoic era and its living tendrils - including us - probing forward through the untasted jelly of the 21st Century. The body of this vast and intelligent lifeform - the biota as it's known - is still in its infancy and still at the stage in its life cycle where it must consume the planet's resources like a caterpillar on a leaf. What looks like environmental destruction to us is, I believe, the natural acceleration of an impending metamorphosis; just as a caterpillar gorges itself to power its transformation into a butterfly, so too does the biota consume everything in its path, in preparation for its own imminent transformation into adult form.
Quite soon now, possibly within ten years even, the infant creature in the body of which we are all merge cells will awaken to its true nature, the concept of individuality will vanish overnight, as the imaginary walls separating our minds collapse, we will realise there is only one mind, and our mega-maggot will metamorphose, leaving the planetary cradle and the four dimensions of spacetime to be born at last as a fully-formed adult creature designed for existence in a higher dimension fluid continuum or informational supermembrane. As immune cells inside this gigantic, living, tree-like body that's currently huffing and puffing its way towards maturity, it's our job to do everything we can to keep the larva healthy and developing normally. That's if we want to be born as adults into hyperspacetimelessness and quite frankly, I fancy the idea.
That's my religion and it didn't come from a book and it's not based on my blind faith but on my own direct experience of and conversation with my "God." "Grant" is an immune cell in the body of "God" - the biota - does its thinking and its sensing through tiny, self-replicating cell-creatures like me and you and all the other examples of life on earth. All life is the same life. All thoughts are the same thought. No one dies at all, except in the way that a baby has to "die" for a child to be born and the child has to "die" for the adult to be born. That's all death is at every stage - scary transformation. And, although individual "bodies" seem to wither, fall away, and be lost, consciousness remains as a function of the biota.
YOU CAN FOLLOW ME IF YOU LIKE. I'VE GOT MY OWN CULT AND