quinta-feira, fevereiro 27, 1997

Non-Predictive SF: “Clans of the Alphane Moon” by Philip K. Dick


(My own copy)


The actual potential, some of it realized already, of science is mind boggling & dizzying, and SF and TF both provided dazzling and wondrous possibilities to people's minds, especially young people's minds. When Phil Dick was writing there was a great deal more wonderment, and a great deal less expectation, in TF. Although there is more wonderment now in one sense, in that science and technology are making the stuff of SF real almost as fast as SF or TF writers can imagine it. Phil Dick's futurologies were quirky and although quite science/techno fictional, did not seem to care much for prediction. He must have known that by 1992 there wasn't going to be anything remotely like his futures, but he chose to do it that way anyway. I think he was trying to get at the present using SF, but not any kind of predictive techno fiction.

Clans of the Alphane Moon is about a world where the lunatics have taken over the asylum and the "Clans" refers to the tribes that, sort-of, self-organize according to whatever major class of mental illness they are suffering from. That characters from such an alternate reality wouldn't conform to today's rigid and non-flexible ideological demands is hardly surprising: most mentally ill people don't. It's one of the reasons they're designated as mentally ill. I think you can make a strong argument that the writing style employed by figures like Phil Dick is actually very sophisticated, in its own terms, at doing what it is trying to do, which is create a sense of a strange, ugly, disorienting, “science fictional” world. “Literary” fiction has its own set of different aims and criteria for success and I think it is a mistake to merely consider science fiction as a necessarily inferior subset of that.

(Bought in 1997)


I would go on to say that the general assertion that certain kinds of writing are inherently superior to others is an innately politicised value judgement. It is therefore not surprising that we might find more comfortable or pleasant the more domesticated contemporary forms of science fiction, which perhaps do not concern themselves with directly questioning (our) humanist/rationalist/bourgeois/liberal assumptions and values about persons, bodies, sexual relationships etc. It seems to me the value of this sort of thing lies exactly in its difficult ugliness (not despite it). But Phil Dick didn't go to an elite university, so the special magic critical goggles that enable scholars to see how Thomas Pynchon is reworking idioms from popular fiction, theology and grade-school math weren't issued when Dick's books were coming out, three a year with wonky covers. Pynchon gets the benefit of the doubt and endless critical exegeses. Apply the same toolkit to Dick's work and it's equally interesting, with better jokes. Although endless key presses have gone into defining SF, I believe the element of it that was there from the beginning, but grew ever more important, is what one might call tech-fi. In its origins SF was TF, but it was more inspired by science itself and the drastic mental changes that were forcing themselves on people. An end to metaphysics and theology, for some at least if not everyone. Man's place in the cosmos and the cosmos itself as mental constructs were changing drastically, perhaps even disintegrating, in varying degrees and were changing society in varying degrees. Much of those changes also came about by applying science, technology, to our lives. Medicine, industrial organization, advances in warfare and communications that made e.g. the British Empire into a unique world machine on a scale never seen before or after. SF was almost required. As time went on, and certainly now, it became a more and more relevant form of techno fiction, not just about the way the future would be because of this or that device, but also about the device itself. Once created and existing in a sufficiently large mass market that also grew and diversified, sf grew and diversified according to individual tastes as well as market forces. But techno prediction is no longer about future shock, we all expect those futures, demand them, and eagerly anticipate them. We all, most of us at least, want to buy/have tomorrow's whatever, today.


SF = Speculative Fiction.
TF (aka Tech-FI) = Technological Fiction.