Academic journal article Extrapolation

Stars in My Pocket

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Stars in My Pocket

Article excerpt

He was a man obsessed with the idea which is at this moment circulating all over our planet in obscure works of "scientifiction," in little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs, and between the covers of monstrous magazines, ignored or mocked by the intellectuals, but ready, if ever the power is put into its hands, to open a new chapter of misery for the universe. It is the idea that humanity, having now sufficiently corrupted the planet where it arose, must at all costs contrive to send itself over a large area: that the vast astronomical distances which are God's quarantine regulations, must somehow be overcome. [...] In Professor Weston the power had at last met the dream.

C. S. Lewis, Ver elandra (70)

Prelude: A Dickian Odyssey

What was Philip K. Dick's view regarding the space program? Gary Westfahl, in "The Case against Space," and based solely on Dick's comments on an anthology edited by Don Wollheim,1 categorizes him on the side of the optimists: "writing in 1969 [...] Philip K. Dick maintained that 'it was essential that we send a man to the moon; exploration is natural to man; [...] a force in man so powerful that it cannot be denied'" (194). These words might echo, when taken out of context, the final paragraph of Solar Lottery, that reads, in the mouth of one of the characters:

"It isn't senseless drive, [...] It isn't a brute instinct that keeps us restless and dissatisfied. I'll tell you what it is: it's the highest goal of man - the need to grow and advance ... to find new things ... to expand. To spread out, reach areas, experiences, comprehend and live in an evolving fashion. [...] To keep moving on ... " Solar 188)

Neither, though, gives an accurate portrait of Dick's position. In the first case, the circumstances surrounding the statement - the republication of a collection of stories about men on the Moon - were biased toward that kind of remark. In the latter, a deeper look at the novel is enough to tell a different story. And, as I will argue, that different story, when placed in the wider context of his work, leads also to an alternative - some might say "virtual" - concept of space.

The Stars, Our Destination?

The trope of space exploration has been a staple of "genre SF" since its birth, to say nothing of "proto SF" classics such as Jules Verne's De la Terre à la Lune (1865), or H. G. Wells's The First Men in the Moon (1901). Even today, despite the genre's evolution, it may still be considered one of its fetish tropes: it is not by mere chance that the trophy for the oldest and best-known SF writing prize, the Hugo Award, is a spacecraft. As stated by the late author and critic Thomas M. Disch, in The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of,

there can be no question that the rocket ship is the genre's primary icon. [...] the image of the rocket - preferably a 50s model kind with Pontiac tail fins - remains the sci-fi image of preference. [...] It is an identifier, like the cross or the hammer and the sickle, with a single all-encompassing meaning, one that transcends all distinctions of class, taste, or even logic." (57)

Still deemed impossible in the late 1920s when science fiction as a publishing category was established, and unthinkable while the war effort became a priority, the exploration of outer space started to be taken seriously as the 1950s were approaching. The new geostrategic balance, polarizing the so-called civilized - i.e., more technically sophisticated - world between the American and the Soviet blocs into a Cold War climate, practically required that these governments invested in all kinds of propaganda devices to display, both to their citizens and abroad, that technical improvement (at least as important, in the collective imagination, as the comfort of citizens) was a direct function of the political regime. Space programs, enabled by the adaptation to a peaceful context of technologies developed in wartime, became one of the most effective forms of that propaganda, while simultaneously allowing the conversion of a significant number of jobs. …

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