Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

By George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland et al. | Go to book overview

Storm Warnings and Dead Zones: Imagination and the Future

George E. Slusser

. . . more like a man Flying from something that he dreads, than one Who sought the thing he loved.

-- Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey"

We might think of science fiction as a literature in love with the future. For it is alone in possessing this dimension, alone in seeking to imagine, as things to come, realms that, in a maximum way, seem to respond to our sense of wonder. And yet, if we heed some of SF's most famous texts, and increasing numbers of its commentators, the very opposite is true. Seen in this light, SF's future imaginations are dominated instead by terror. And this terror is tautology, closure: for if SF lets us see the future, it is to enable us to experience dread, thus to be warned away from an activity which, if pursued, leads us inexorably from bad to worse.

But why is this so? Wonder and terror, the two valences I mentioned for SF's futures, make conflicting claims for its use of speculation. The question of why one is chosen over the other is a cultural matter. Such a mechanism of selection, however, elevating certain works out of a vast body of texts to represent a generic whole, must be dealt with, if we are to see through to the subtler nature, actual and potential, of future imagination. If many SF futures terrify us, and in doing so warn us away from the act of imagination itself, this does not mean that SF cannot imagine futures of wonder. There is a tradition of future "storm warnings" running from Wells to Orwell, one very influential in shaping our collective sense of the SF future. But this is not the only current. The issue here is much larger than Wells's relation to the development of SF. It is no less than the birth of an open literature of future imagination out of what seems, at

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