Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

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

Knowing the Unknown: Heinlein, Lem, and the Future

Bradford Lyau

In spite of experiencing some periods of uncertainty in the recent past, Americans, unlike Europeans, remain, for the most part, optimistic about their prospects for the 1980s and beyond. The causes of this difference surely lie in the respective historical circumstances of Europe and America. These circumstances, in turn, have produced two very different modes of thought. And because these modes are not merely attitudes, but ways of dealing with the material world (and of knowing and potentially controlling that world), they may be called epistemologies. Such a divergence of epistemologies may help explain the different reactions in Europe and America to future possibilities in general.

The epistemologically derived attitudes in question here are the pessimism from theoretical skepticism in Europe and the optimism from empirical pragmatism in the United States. Isolating these stances in their most extreme forms will readily reveal how they operate. Two works of fiction will be chosen as exemplars for analysis, since they both, despite widely varying first appearances, have as their central concern the examination of epistemological approaches to the unknown as the basis for arriving at the best decision for action. Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem, and Time Enough For Love, by Robert A. Heinlein, are two such works.1 Furthermore, not only do their opposite views of knowledge also become the basis for their conclusions about human nature and its future, these novels also serve to define and identify two distinct modes of science fiction-- European and American.

This selection of two works from the field of science fiction was made by design and was not a result of serendipity. Science fiction is the literary form that most purports to deal with alien encounters in

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