Looking Back

Science Fiction seems always to be looking back at something — often at childhood. Standing baffled and dazzled in the imperial spaceport of Trantor, we recall the trip from the shtetl to the City and on the the New World. Dreaming of Electric Sheep, we’re alone in the long city night, our parents gone, and we feel inexplicable attraction for something alien and dangerous and forbidden. —Mark BernsteinLooking Back (Mark Bernstein)

Mark contributes to the cross-blog thread on SF and fantasy that I’ve found enlightening. (He gets mucho points in my book for referring to Babylon 5.)

It’s probably safe to say that everything humans do looks back at what has been done before… so I too was puzzled by Torill’s statement that SF doesn’t look back. Of course, we are all speaking relatively here. I like Torill’s observation that SF which seeks answers from the outside has a blind spot. Carl Sagan’s Contact intriguted me, because its central character had rejected traditional religious faith in favor of a zeal to contact alien life (though when she does make contact, the incompleteness of their answers suggests that the search for ultimate Truth is a unversal need that can never be solved, no matter how advanced the technology).

Escapist science fiction can be reduced to “bad guy with evil weapon and lots of henchmen thwarted by good guy with cool gear,” but not all science fiction is escapist. Likewise, not all fantasy is escapist. There’s nothing wrong with escapism, of course, but it’s possible for popular literary forms to comment meaningfully on society while at the same time fulfilling the audience’s expectations. If I can risk being too reductive, and suggest that the Mysterious Artifact of fantasy and the Advanced Technology of science fiction are both vehicles through which an author invites us to inspect our own lives and society, it seems to me very hard to differentiate clearly between fantasy and SF. (Case in point — Star Wars. Do we really need pseudo technobabble about mitichlorian blood-counts to justify The Force? And did Little Darth need to be miraculously conceived for us to appreciate his importance?)