Science Fiction and Empire

By Patricia Kerslake | Go to book overview

4. Thinss Fall Aoart:
Kciativity, Distance ana tne Jrenpneiy

It lay only three seconds away yet that was enough. He had travelled
a mere million kilometres in less than half a day; but the sense of
separation was already almost complete. it was intolerable to wait six
seconds for every reaction and every answer; by the time a reply came,
he had forgotten the original question.1

Travelling from Titan to 'Imperial Earth' for the first time, Duncan Makenzie begins to understand one of the problems posed to communications by interplanetary distances. in a universe that conforms to the principles of relativity nothing comprised of matter can move faster than the speed of light.2 Arthur C. Clarke (1917—) thereby has Makenzie experience, at first hand, the primary hurdle faced by any imperial authority seeking to control colonies that are located beyond its physical grasp: distance as time. And imagining or dealing with distance, the crossing of massive spans of empty space, is a significant form of experiment within the skilful creations of future empire and the colonising of planets, both of our own solar system and of remote stars.

However, before considering the theoretical connections between empire and the application of science, either as a movement in itself or through the medium of SF, it should be understood that the relationship between empire and the technological problem of overcoming distance has been extant since the early 1800s.3 Authorial experiments based on real science, which extrapolate what we already know and accept into areas that we might consider fantasy, have long been an integral part of the genre. The connection between the rampant progress of eighteenth-century imperialism and the sudden ascent of technology was due, in the main part, to the Western ideology of 'development', which supported both spheres. Aaron Perkus acknowledges that Technology was seen as a racial progression across time … the possession and exploitation of technology guaranteed superiority along an evolutionary continuum'.4 Once explored, this interconnection also reflects the complexity of imperialist and postimperialist issues as they affect and are affected by SE is SF. designed as the handmaiden, the smoking gun or the nemesis of the imperial project?

-63-

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