Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A definition of science fiction

SF marks a point, or many points, of difference between the world we actually live in and the world of the text. For this reason, the grain of SF is dystopian. 'For this reason?' you ask. 'Surely not! A point of difference in the text can as well be an improvement over the real world as a disaster!' And so it is, obviously; we can all think of many utopian or quasi-utopian examples. But this is the thing: human sensibility is geared to notice negative differences more acutely than positive ones. If our lives improve, incrementally, we barely notice it; if they go into incremental decline we whine and whinge and raise all hell. If a man loses all his earthly possessions he will raise his arms to heaven and cry, with tear-stricken face, 'why me, O Lord? Why me?' But if a man should double his net worth he will (of course) be pleased, and may even raise a glass of champagne. But he won't -- and this is the crucial thing -- he won't cry to the sky 'why me, O Lord? Why me?' The gradiant runs the other way. And so for SF.

1 comment:

Matt Hilliard said...

You are right that it is human nature to, having achieved something long desired, become unsatisfied with it and desire something else. Whereas, if the same person loses something long possessed, the anguish is lasting.

Yet when someone reads SF, they do not possess the world they read about. Instead they desire it (if utopian) or fear it (if dystopian).

It's true we live in an age when people's fear of the future is far greater than their desire for it, but I think this is a merely cultural disposition, not something universal.