Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How to Build a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later

A middle-of-the-week tangent:

Philip K. Dick is the writer that I admire most in the world. He's best known as the author of the stories that formed the inspiration behind Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report; over his (far too short) life, he wrote 44 novels and over a hundred short stories, which collectively represent one of the richest and most significant bodies of work in the history of science fiction. But more important to me than all his fiction combined is a little-known and little-read essay entitled "How to Build a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later."

It's rambling and nonsensical at times, but this essay forms the basis for my view of science fiction and, really, my outlook on life. Hidden within it are some of the most succinct and salient truths I have ever encountered. On the topic of this blog:
"Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can't talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful. A few years ago, no college or university would ever have considered inviting one of us to speak. We were mercifully confined to lurid pulp magazines, impressing no one. In those days, friends would say me, "But are you writing anything serious?" meaning "Are you writing anything other than science fiction?" We longed to be accepted. We yearned to be noticed. Then, suddenly, the academic world noticed us, we were invited to give speeches and appear on panels—and immediately we made idiots of ourselves. The problem is simply this: What does a science fiction writer know about? On what topic is he an authority?

"It reminds me of a headline that appeared in a California newspaper just before I flew here. SCIENTISTS SAY THAT MICE CANNOT BE MADE TO LOOK LIKE HUMAN BEINGS. It was a federally funded research program, I suppose. Just think: Someone in this world is an authority on the topic of whether mice can or cannot put on two-tone shoes, derby hats, pinstriped shirts, and Dacron pants, and pass as humans.

"Well, I will tell you what interests me, what I consider important. I can't claim to be an authority on anything, but I can honestly say that certain matters absolutely fascinate me, and that I write about them all the time. The two basic topics which fascinate me are "What is reality?" and "What constitutes the authentic human being?" Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again. I consider them important topics. What are we? What is it which surrounds us, that we call the not-me, or the empirical or phenomenal world?"
I encourage anyone reading this to read the essay in its entirety here. It's a bit long, but I guarantee that it will be well worth your time and effort.

1 comment:

dana said...

That kind of research study appears weekly on Wait, Wait . . . and never fails to make me question who the brilliant scientists are who are conducting these studies. Science fiction writers seem to have the liberty to eschew such silliness and come up with their own "science," which in many cases, is much more interesting.