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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dreaming of Science Fiction Landscapes

The universe is a strange and wondrous place. We know this because NASA has shown it to us, in surprising detail with such modern scientific marvels as the Hubble Space Telescope and CERN. What once was thought of as nothing more than a vast, sparkling nothing is now a wonderfully complicated and expansive space of black holes, colorful nebulae, and exoplanets. Who would have thought we’d be here today thinking about all these amazing things?

And with these great discoveries looming above us comes an astonishing flood of fictional and non-fictional imagery through which the characters of science fiction can interact. Our minds are rendered full with details once only imagined—the illusory perceptions of the universe humans have designed are made real. Now the question must be raised: what happens to the imaginative nature of science fiction if our imaginations can no longer function in that state? Here we see the death argument in place; science fiction must surely die when we can no longer imagine its existence as a fictional entity. The world is science fiction; science fiction is the world. Never mind that the galactic and interstellar empires that make up so much of science fiction’s landscape have yet to be made true, because, in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters. The science fiction fan knows better, but they have yet to gain the authority necessary to mount a proper assault against the pessimistic literary purists, whoever they may be, and so the proclaimed death of science fiction continues to loom like a smoky specter.

Can science fiction die, or is its death an impossibility so long as the future is imminent? Can it die if we still have hope for a place in the landscape of the future? The day science fiction dies is the day we can no longer imagine the future; death reigns when our minds collapse and deny us the right to envision our place in the world of tomorrow. Has such a travesty occurred? Not yet, and perhaps it would take the darkest of dystopias to finally collapse the human mind, to remove our ability to hope for a better, different, or more sparkly tomorrow. We’d need 1984 to become more than just a book.

And there are places where this has already happened, where to dream is to invite hardship—some parts of Africa and the Middle East, and even places in countries you’d never expect to have created the conditions for the loss of hope. But these places have occupied themselves with other subjects, with literatures that readily commit to a more personal or local condition, and to great effect, for what dominates their landscapes must be written about, in some form or another, in order to create some piece of mind, to forget the past and acknowledge that the present is still flawed. And from the ashes of despair can spring hope once more—a phoenix from the ashes, destined, as it were, to flood new minds with the great will to believe that there is something beyond, something too important about where we might end up to allow to go unsaid.

If only they could see it, this always present, persistent hopeful future. But they cannot imagine it, because they have reached the low, the Big Brother moment that took the future in its hands and ripped the life out of it. To them, science fiction is dead, or never began.

Science fiction, however, cannot die. It can only be made dormant. We are always imagining it, even if some of us think otherwise. The future may be bleak or wondrous, depending on the individual, but it is always there, and so long as it exists, so too does science fiction. The genre may waver, but it will always burst forth and shine again, perhaps not here in the “civilized” countries, but somewhere else, where science fiction has been nothing more than a vague thought, a marker of someone else’s imaginative thinking. Proclaiming the death of science fiction, the nations that have already been there seem to forget where the genre has found its new roots: India, China, and even South Africa. And there are many new places where the future is no more than an afterthought or dormant. They too will join the ranks, and here, where we have pioneered the genre, in the United States, England, Russia, Canada, and a handful of other places, it will live on, always welcome in the human soul, and ever-changing.

Science fiction is eternal; it is the demigod cousin of literature itself, a cat with an infinite amount of extra lives. Long live science fiction.

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