Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

to it. In both Williams' and Martel's work, reason and emotion, nature and knowledge, are seen as complements, not antagonists.

Keith Roberts seems to endorse the idea of the suppression of nuclear science in Pavane ( 1966), a series of stories set on a parallel earth where the defeat of the British by the Spanish Armada has allowed science to be controlled by the Catholic church much longer than in our world. 36 As a deliberate matter of policy, knowing that the premature discovery of fission will be catastrophic, scientific progress is retarded so that civilization can mature more fully before confronting the bomb. The novel seems to illustrate the dilemma of our time-- that we have matured scientifically without having matured ethically. Even in Roberts' novel, however, the advance of science is welcomed. Only in the 1960s, then, is a science fiction writer willing to acknowledge in a novel dealing with nuclear war that it might be wise to retard science, even temporarily.

Finally in 1978 appears Joan D. Vinge "Phoenix in the Ashes," in which a Brazilian mining engineer learns to value the antitechnological but ecologically sound peasant culture of the natives and rejects the exploitative industrial civilization of his homeland. 37

There remains something of a mystery about the stimulus for the long tradition of strenuous defense of science in the postholocaust world before the late 1960s. As Michael J. Yavenditti makes clear in "The American People and the Use of Atomic Bombs on Japan: The 1940s," hardly anyone in the U.S. press was publicly blaming the scientists for the bomb or even expressing the notion that its invention was a mistake in the years following Hiroshima. 38

It is probable that science fiction writers, predisposed to be hypersensitive to criticism of science, overreacted to the few expressions of antipathy toward science generated by the bomb's use. The fact that some of them grasped the implications of the bomb more clearly than the general public may even have prompted them to extrapolate a backlash without any other stimulus. Once the first few stories had been written, the image of the new dark age had been formulated; from that point on it probably fed on itself. Science fiction remained ghettoized during the 1940s and 1950s, and it is not difficult to imagine that such a view of public attitudes toward science could be maintained for a considerable length of time with very little confirmation from the world outside.


NOTES
1.
Albert I. Berger, "Nuclear Energy, Science Fiction's Metaphor of Power," Science Fiction Studies 6 ( 1979), pp. 125-26. Other useful sources on the subject of nuclear war in science fiction are Albert I. Berger, "Love, Death and the Atomic Bomb: Sexuality and Community in Science Fiction, 1935-55," Science Fiction Studies 8 ( 1981), pp. 280- 95; Harold L. Berger, Science Fiction and the New Dark Age ( Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1976); Gary K. Wolfe The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction ( Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1979); Warren W. Wagar: Terminal Visions: The Literature of Last Things ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982); and Eric S. Rabkin, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D.Olander

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