mapping the nightmare
Success at predicting the future has been slight. Until recently, SF could claim a separate function: that it catered the science & technology theme park on behalf of science itself. But increased media presence shows science taking charge of the scientific sublime; while gadgetopia can handle its own marketing–indeed, is its own marketing. What else is there to offer? A great deal. Science fiction opens itself unconsciously to its own fears. Judging by its typical subject matter, it has plenty. It is visibly in fear of death. It has a terror of not being special in the universe. It has a terror of being both vulnerable & out of control. It fears injury. It fears disease. It fears disorientation. It is frame dependent in the perceptual rather than the physics sense & will almost despairingly construct contexts & continuities to appear seamless. It fears the puzzled messiness of being human & is always seeking a fix or a cure or a techno-betterment. It is in denial of its understanding that “organisation” means something different to the universe than it does to human beings. It is afraid of entropy. It is afraid of the irreversibility of action & the rigid nature of objects. Its obsession with unlimited access to vast spaces indicates a deep undermining recognition of its own limits. It fears both that the universe is infinite & that it isn’t infinite enough. But sf’s greatest fear, other than that of generally being alive, is the fear of appearing to be wrong–that is, without argumentative defences: effectively a version of that nightmarish condition in which the individual is self-discovered naked in a public situation. Sf has always worked with these fears & others, offering them to the individual reader neither as a tour of the science theme park nor of the “future” but as a map of the human in its continuous & mostly-unacknowledged present.