May 18, 2009

Chain-reaction of ideas

Category: Science Fiction,Teaching — Biella @ 9:25 pm

One day, I would love to teach a class on the culture and politics of technology and ditch all of the academic pieces and replace with a string of novels and fictional short stories. Though it may be a few years before I can pull this off, I am already compiling my list and there is naturally a healthy serving of science fiction (along with Kurt Vonnegut, who I adore).

Perhaps one my favorite science fiction authors is Philip Dick who edges his readers close to delirum and sometimes insanity and all through mere words. But one of my favorite writings by PD comes not from his fictional fun house but from a regular (and staid) letter composed of a simple and elegant description of what makes science fiction so e(special):

I think Dr. Willis McNelly at the California State University at
Fullerton put it best when he said that the true protagonist of an sf
story or novel is an idea and not a person. If it is *good* sf the
idea is new, it is stimulating, and, probably most important of all,
it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification-ideas in the mind of the
reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader’s mind so that the mind,
like the author’s, begins to create.  Thus sf is creative and it
inspires creativity, which mainstream fiction by-and-large does not
do.  We who read sf (I am speaking as a reader now, not a writer) read
it because we love to experience this chain-reaction of ideas being
set off in our minds by something we read, something with  a new idea
in it; hence the very best since fiction ultimately winds up being a
collaboration between author and reader, in which both create–and
enjoy doing it:  joy is the essential and final ingredient of science
fiction, the joy of discovery of newness. Philip Dick (in a letter)
May 14, 1981

Truth be told, I don’t really know much about science fiction outside of the classics but I look forward to reading more and slowly am adding a few pieces to my collection. And when I need to find out something about sci fi, I turn to Sumana who is pretty well schooled in its ways. She has recently co-edited a new anthology of science fiction stories including one on hardware hacking and faith that some of you might enjoy.

1 Comment »

  1. Love the quote, and love the idea for using SF to teach and discuss the culture and politics of technology.

    I suppose you’re familiar with Daniel Suarez’ “Daemon”? It’s a fun and exciting exploration of where current technologies may go in the near future – and very hackish as well.

    I’m always looking for new reading recommendations, so I’d love to hear what you’ve put on your list so far.

    I try to keep track of my books on goodreads, in case you want to compare notes:


    Comment by Andreas — May 27, 2009 @ 5:54 am

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