Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

17
An Indication of Monsters

Colin Greenland

My friend Janet, a physiotherapist, was quite incredulous that the 1986 Eaton Conference proposed to consider papers on the subject of aliens, creatures that don't even exist. She felt confirmed in her diagnosis of collective insanity when she saw that the program listed only one female speaker out of nineteen. "That's because we're all too sensible," she said. "Women know there are enough real monsters in the world already without going around making them up."

Making up monsters is surely psychotic behavior, even if you get paid for it. There are writers of science fiction who expressly agree. In the introduction to his collection The Golden Man, Philip K. Dick identified himself explicitly with this model. "That's me," he wrote, "paralyzed by imagination. For me a flat tire on my car is (a) The End of the World; and (b) An Indication of Monsters (although I forget why). This is why I love SF. I love to read it; I love to write it. The SF writer sees not just possibilities but wild possibilities. It's not just 'What if -- ' It's 'My God; what if -- ' In frenzy and hysteria."1

Philip K. Dick may have been paralyzed as an impromptu auto mechanic, having to fix a flat tire, but as a writer he was not at all "paralyzed by imagination," of course. His writing is characteristically restless, energetic. However, he seems to be saying here that science fiction is an expression of neurosis, even of paranoia. Someone who is paralyzed by imagination is like Hamlet, unable to act because of his apprehensions. It's not that he doesn't know what to do, but that he doesn't know what to think. He thinks the wildest things. He jumps to conclusions. He blames the aliens.

The alien appears at the moment of disaster and doubt: the flat tire. In the lore of those who study UFOs, the presence of the alien craft can frequently stop a car engine; and it's interesting how often that conjunction crops up in the monster movies, to which I'll be

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