Moving away from its home star…

“Maybe that’s why we’ve never heard a peep from anywhere. It’s not just that the universe is too big. Which it is. That’s the main reason. But then also, life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet. It’s something that water planets do, maybe. But it develops to live where it is. So it can only live there, because it evolved to live there. That’s its home. So, you know, Fermi’s paradox has its answer, which is this: by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it’s too smart to want to go. Because it knows it won’t work. So it stays home. It enjoys its home. As why wouldn’t you? It doesn’t even bother to try to contact anyone else. Why would you? You’ll never hear back. So that’s my answer to the paradox. You can call it Euan’s Answer.” Later: “So, of course, every once in a while some particularly stupid form of life will try to break out and move away from its home star. I’m sure it happens. I mean, here we are. We did it ourselves. But it doesn’t work, and the life left living learns the lesson, and stops trying such a stupid thing.” Later: “Maybe some of them even make it back home. Hey—if I were you, Freya? I would try to get back home.” Later: “Maybe.” 

 Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora.


“Science is a way of thinking about reality that takes its objectivity for granted. Fiction is a way of describing reality that assumes the subjectivity of experience—for every fiction, a different way of seeing things, a different reality. The two words together contradict each other. A thing cannot be both “science” and “fiction” at the same time, any more than it can be both “reality” and “fiction.”

“We don’t talk about “reality fiction”; we talk about “realistic fiction,” literature that seems real even though we know it is fictional. But despite numerous attempts to change the name, we do talk about “science fiction.” I suspect the name evokes the central paradox of the genre; science fiction pretends to take the objectivity of the world it describes for granted, yet clearly does not describe the objective world as we know it to be. It is “scientific,” but clearly unrealistic.

“[Darko] Suvin’s “Cognitive estrangement” is the “factual reporting of fictions.” For Suvin, this has the significant effect of separating or “estranging” us from our usual assumptions about reality. “Estrangement” is Suvin’s version of Bertold Brecht’s “Verfremdung,” usually translated as “alienation.” Brecht was talking about describing familiar things as if they were unfamiliar; not quite logically, Suvin borrows the phrase to comment on how science fiction describes unfamiliar things as if they were familiar. But for Suvin the final effect is the same; by Brechtian distancing or by the unfamiliarity of science fictional worlds, we are estranged from our assumptions about reality and forced to question them.”

Text: Perry Nodelman, The Cognitive Estrangement of Darko Suvin, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly Volume 5, Number 4, Winter 1981.

Video: Transizion, Suna Celik [2013].

First and last men

“On waking one morning, B was surprised to see that Shepperton was deserted. He entered the kitchen at nine o’clock, annoyed to find that neither his post nor the daily newspapers had been delivered, and that a power failure prevented him from preparing his breakfast. He spent an hour staring at the melting ice that dripped from his refrigerator, and then went next door to complain to his neighbor.

“Surprisingly, his neighbor’s house was empty. His car stood in the drive, but the entire family—husband, wife, children, and dog—had disappeared. Even more odd, the street was filled by an unbroken silence. No traffic moved along the nearby motorway, and not a single aircraft flew overhead toward London Airport. B crossed the road and knocked on several doors. Through the windows, he could see the empty interiors. Nothing in this peaceful suburb was out of place, except for its missing tenants.


“Thinking that perhaps some terrible calamity was imminent—a nuclear catastrophe, or a sudden epidemic after a research-laboratory accident—and that by some unfortunate mishap he alone had not been warned, B returned home and switched on his transistor radio. The apparatus worked, but all the stations were silent, the Continental transmitters as well as those of the United Kingdom. Disconcerted, B returned to the street and gazed at the empty sky. It was a calm, sun-filled day, crossed by peaceful clouds that gave no hint of any natural disaster.

“B took his car and drove to the center of Shepperton. The town was deserted, and none of the shops were open. A train stood in the station, empty and without any of the passengers who regularly travelled to London. Leaving Shepperton, B crossed the Thames to the nearby town of Walton. There again he found the streets completely silent. He stopped in front of the house owned by his friend P, whose car was parked in her drive. Using the spare key that he carried, he unlocked the front door and entered the house. But even as he called her name he could see that there was no trace of the young woman. She had not slept in her bed. In the kitchen, the melting ice of the refrigerator had formed a large pool on the floor. There was no electric power, and the telephone was dead…”

The Autobiography of J.G.B, The New Yorker. Read more

The numinous dimension

“In keeping with the tendency of science to objectify the natural world, space, the numinous dimension, was gradually stripped of its mythic qualities and made an extension of earthly reality. An atlas of the year 1652 illustrates a halfway point in this process. Peter Heylyn’s World Geography places the moon in the same dimension of reality as the new territories of Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands; alongside them are maps of Utopia and Fairyland. New conquests and colonies fueled dreams of conquering space. In 1638 the Bishop of Chester published a book predicting the inevitable conquest of the moon by some airborne Drake or Columbus; what concerned the author was the pressing need for missionaries able and willing to convert the lunarian heathen. In the same year, and in 1659, popular romances by Francis Godwin and Cyrano de Bergerac described voyages to the moon that included the traditional layover in the Earthly Paradise setting. Instead of Eden, however, the paradisiacal locations were St. Helena’s Island and Canada. The numinous dimension had been thoroughly assimilated to the expansion of colonial empires.


“The changing view of space paralleled the cultural transition from the belief in maternal nature to the modern concept of inanimate nature. With the objectification of space, nature is physically appropriated, while its numinous aspect is pushed off the map of a newly rationalized world. (An interesting side effect of all this involves the sense of – time. The numinous dimension was timeless and changeless. But when space became conquerable territory, time was also objectified. History became a charted map of exploration and conquest, while the future was more of the same, an automatic extension of the map of conquest. In other words, if you looked at Peter Heylyn’s map, you saw lands that had already been conquered, history and lands that hadn’t yet but would be, in the future.)”

Myths of The Final Frontier in The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Reality, by Sharona Ben-Tov. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1995. pp 90-91.

Image: FRONTISPIECE: The early modern moon. From Johannes Hevelius, Selenographia: Sive, Lunae descriptio; atque accurata . . . delineatio…. Early Modern Space Travel and the English Man in the Moon

New Vision of a Visionless World


“Over the last seventy-five years it has been science fiction, more than any other genre, that has appropraited [the Hegelian] vision and continued to develop it. In 1926 Hugo Gernsback published the world’s first magazine dedicated to science fiction, and even in the introduction to that first issue, science fiction was already designated as “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision.” Here, the ideas of “science”, “vision” and “future” (suggested by “prophecy”) are already clearly indicated. From these three ideas emerged the golden age of the forties, followed successively by other grand “prophetic visions” such as Robert Heinlein’s Future Histories series and Issac Asimov’s Galatic Empire series (1950-52).

“Ironically, it was precisely at this time that grand narratives like these were becoming obsolete in the real world. The thirties marked the dawn of science fiction and at the same time saw the Nazi’s narrative give birth to Auschwitz and witnessed the Marxist-Lenninist narrative turn into Stalinism. By this time, science fiction’s American consumers were probably aware that it was the uncontrollable spread of these “sciences” and “prophetic visions” that was causing the world to fall apart. Of course, people cannot live without some sort of dream or vision…

“This essence of the genre hasn’t changed much. On its surface, of course, science fiction has gone through a huge transformation since the forties. […]. If someone were to ask what characteristic lies at the core of science fiction, I believe that many fans would still say it is the “grand narrative” or “grand vision.” For science fiction to be science fiction, some kind of vision must be proposed, even if it is a vision of science’s failure or of a dark, foreboding future.In the eighties, cyberpunk filled this role. It was not that the worlds of cyberpunk lacked vision, these authors captured readers’ attention precisely because of their elegant new vision of a visionless world.

“At the core of the science fiction genre lies the paradoxical doctrine that it must continue to depict visions, even when grand visions are impossible. In other words, it is in science fiction that the ideal of the nineteenth century philosophy – the desire for the whole of twentieth century philosophy had to reject – still lives and breathes.”

SF as Hamlet: Science Fiction and Philosophy, Azumi Hiroki [trans. Miri Nakamura], in Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Romay Jr & Takayuki Tatsumi [eds]. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007. pp 77-78.