Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

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

Anticipating the Past: The TimeRiddle in Science Fiction

Marie-Hélène Huet

What is prophecy? We know of several different types, spanning many centuries. In biblical prophecy, the vision of future times takes the form of a privileged dialogue between God and his spokesman. The prophetic voice speaks of a future determined by God alone, and the prophet receives his apocalyptic knowledge with an incomparable immediacy, in the very presence of God.1 Another type of prophecy developed in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. Far from being God's chosen interlocutor and witness, the Renaissance prophet was, in fact, often excommunicated by the church, since it was felt that knowledge of the future should be confined to the biblical prophecies. Any other form of insight was therefore suspect; thus, the prophet stood alone, and had access to a vision of the future through a text which was invisible to all but himself. In this type of prophecy, the prophet makes the invisible visible: he can read the stars and decipher the meaning of their movements; he can write the history of centuries to come. Nostradamus is perhaps the best known of these figures: half astronomer, half visionary, his writings are inextricably linked to the movements of the heavens. For example, the following quatrain allegedly speaks of the 1980s: "Lorsque Venus du Sol sera couverte / Sous l'esplendeur seront formes occultes/ Mercure au feu les aura découvertes / Par bruit bellique sera mis à l'insulte." (When Venus is eclipsed by the Sun / Occult shapes will hide under the splendor / And they will be uncovered and ignited by Mercury / Warlike tumult will follow provocation.)2

Thus the world reads like a book of future eras, but in such a mysterious and coded form that the prophecy itself remains unclear: the text is never explicit, but is loaded with symbols which often defy interpretation. Because of its inherent obscurity, the prophetic text

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