Ken MacLeod on Science Fiction

Terrific essay by Ken MacLeod, at a site called OpenDemocracy/Transformation, which is called Science fiction: taking science personally.

I say it’s terrific because it expresses my own thoughts that science fiction is mainly a way of thinking about the world. The essay describes Ken and Iain Banks chatting in a pub with another writer.

We explained that SF was the language we used to engage with big questions: the dizzying vistas opened by science and technology; how societies work and how they change; what might yet be and what might have been. At its strongest, strangest moments SF gives its readers what some of them call ‘the sense of wonder’ – that distinctive, addictive kick of the sublime which comes from vividly imagining oneself in the presence of the immense: deep time, deep space, and natural or artificial objects of gigantic scale or fascinating complexity.

This other writer thinks, “It sounds like science fiction is your religion.” Well, in a sense, as MacLeod says:

Like religion, SF gives us a symbolic relationship with a reality beyond, and yet intrinsic to and underlying, everyday life. That reality is the universe as we’ve come to understand it through science: vast, ancient, and indifferent; and inarguably there.
Where SF differs from religion is that the reality isn’t apprehended by faith, but by everyday sense and reason.


I’ll resist quoting more, but I appreciate the observation that in contemporary fiction, outside the SF genre, the realities of the universe “are barely acknowledged”. OK, one more quote:

In literary fiction, unless the plot demands Australia, the Earth might as well be flat. A novel as much influenced by the findings of current psychology and neuroscience as some 20th-Century fiction was by psychoanalysis has yet to be written…

And the para “These three features…”

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