SCIENCE FICTION AND CREATIVITY
by Willis E. McNelly
Outstanding Professor Lecture
California State University, Fullerton
May 12, 1976
"When a civilization comes to a 'time of trouble,' such as we are now in, and individuals here and there turn from the outer world of political and social chaos to the inner world of the psyche, there comes upon them the vision of a new way of life; they form the nucleus of a 'creative minority' through which that civilization might find renewal."
Thus social historian Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee is not, of course, a doom-sayer, predicting the imminent end of our civilization. Rather he is the perceptive analyst, who, even as he wrote that statement some twenty years ago, was aware of the almost imperceptible changes then taking place in our society, changes which today seem to merge on all levels of the societal institutions within our culture. In fact, Theodore Roszak, our colleague at Cal State, Hayward, called it "the counter culture." Charles Reich in The Greening of America called it "Consciousness Three." Carl Sagan termed it the "Cosmic Connection." Carlos Castenada spoke of the "Journey to Ixtlan," and Allan Toffler called it "Future Shock."
However much these writers may differ in accidentals, they all suggest that the creative minority in this Age of Aquarius is turning from the totally objective, the rational, the intellectual, and returning to the subjective, the intuitive, the creative again. But this is not a new consciousness; I am certain that pre-Heraclitean philosophers, perhaps hunched over some cave fire, must have debated whether the spirit of the saber-toothed tiger survived the tiger, and might [word missing?] called "discoveries of the under-thirty generation of the last dozen. years have, as their mythological antecedents, deep roots in the history of man, in what Jung tanned the "collective unconscious."
The emerging creative minority described by Toynbee and by so many others must inevitably face a host of new problems. Because of the simple fact that mankind now has it within its power to exterminate itself, the need for change, simply for self-preservation, has become overwhelming. In certain directions the human mind has achieved an enormous development, while in others it stands bewildered or arrested. Has man created a civilization which seems too large to contain his expanded mental capacity alongside a limited spiritual vision of what and who he is? Is the destiny of man heading dangerously and impetuously into prolonged confusion and perilous crisis, the darkness of violent, shifting incertitudes?
No wonder ours has been called, or rather, calls itself, an Age of Anxiety. We know of course, that the Age of Reason succeeded the Age of Faith, and so, therefore, I hope that this New Age of Consciousness, or whatever it will ultimately be named, will come swiftly to supplant this Age of Anxiety. And so my thesis today is this: creative and intuitive speculations are very much alive, indeed, and continue to appear in literature and in science fiction writing as well, and they may be viewed as integral to this New Age. But before we examine some of the implications of my assertion, I would like to return to another pivotal time, a transitional time when the Age of Faith was supplanted by the Age of Reason, and DaVinci from the Renaissance, who leads to the arrival of RenÈ Descartes.
Whatever other major contributions, and they are considerable, may be ascribed to Descartes, it is safe to say, without grievous over-simplification, that he provided modern science, indeed all of western thought, with the foundation for rationalism and scientific exploration of the known and unknown universe that is so characteristic of scientific speculation and achievement since his day. In his brief life (he was born in 1596 and died in 1650) he produced a series of works so cogent, so profound, and so integral that his influence on the modern mind is incalculable. Indeed, the modern French philosopher Jacques Maritain once remarked, "By the time one knows Descartes well enough to refute him, one will already be infected by him."
Educated by the Jesuits--who themselves have a great tradition of both scholarship and spirituality--Descartes began his system by doubting everything. However, this very doubt became the incontrovertible fact for which he sought. The existence of a doubt implied the existence of something that was doubting, hence the existence of himself. He expressed this concept in the famous Latin phrase: Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.
I do not propose to try to explicate the Cartesian system. That's not germane here. I merely wish to ask what made Descartes such a pivotal figure in modern rationalism? For that matter, what were the sources--aside from his doubt and the fact of his being--drawn upon by this giant of rationalism, this patron saint of the Age of Reason? Here we must examine one memorable event which Descartes himself regarded as the turning point in his life. In 1619 Descartes was 23. His scientia mirabilis had been incubating for some time, and as he indicated later, he was aware of the potential historical import of his discovery. The night of November 10, 1619, was, as Karl Stern so aptly named it, the "Pentecost of Reason." Descartes' ruminations needed only illumination to provide them with the fire of being. But as Stern also indicated:
Yet paradoxically enough the illumination appeared in the guise of something dark. The door to the castle of reason was opened with a sense of the shadowy and oppressive.
One might almost say that the Cartesian victory of abstract rationalism which produced the scientific revolution had its origins in the creative imagination, or the creative unconscious. For on that night Descartes had three famous dreams. He recorded them in his journal the next morning in considerable detail. They have provided a few Freudian or Jungian commentators with some interesting material, but it is noteworthy that none of the dozens of books in our library which explicate his theories at sometimes interminable length see fit to mention these dreams. I cite them here simply to indicate that Descartes himself felt that they were of profound importance in his life, that he felt that the fruition of his theory had its source in those dreams. The Angel of Truth, he often said later, had come to illuminate him. When he woke up, he vowed to make a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to the famous shrine of Our Lady of Loretto in France.
I shall not burden you with details of his dreams, mentioning only a few salient features, although I intend to return to them later. In his first he had a pain in his right side, and in the courtyard of his college he met an older friend who presented him with a melon from an exotic country. In his second dream he believed that he heard a very loud, very violent noise. He took it to be a clap of thunder--the French phrase he used was coup de foudre--and immediately woke up. His third dream was much longer, but it concerned an unknown book of poetry as well as a hitherto unknown dictionary. Descartes wrote, upon awakening, that he had begun to interpret this last dream while he was still asleep, and that he knew one should not be surprised to find in poets, and all those who seem to be given to "foolish leisure," much more serious, reasonable, and better expressed thought than that found in the writings of any philosopher.
Despite the fact that Descartes has been called the father of modern philosophy as well as the father of modern science and that he produced major work after major work, rationalist creed after rationalist creed, not many people realize that Descartes throughout his life slung to his opinion about the supreme value of poetry and, hence, the value of all art.
Descartes is not, of course, responsible for the excesses of his followers in whose hands the deification of the scientia mirabilis necessitated a virtual elimination of poetic knowledge, indeed a virtual elimination of the intuitive creative faculty. Descartes merely created the Cartesian climate which seemed, in a certain reductio ad absurdum way, to lead inevitably to the hypothesis that "All truth will eventually be known by scientific exploration." Descartes would be the first to deny that concept, to be sure, but the dreadful devaluation of the intuitive, the creative, the subjective aspects of our nature and being for the benefit of the rational, intellectual, masculine, objective side is an unfortunate emphasis in our Western heritage.
I do not mean to indicate that contemporary western society has totally ignored those aspects of our nature which I have lumped into the general designation " intuitive or creative." It is obvious that we have not, although our era has dealt rather shabbily with the intuitive, artistic or creative faculties. After all, we are 'realists' and we deprecate fantasy in our hard-nosed, pragmatic, problem-solving, technological culture. But we are also, as Shakespeare put it, "Such stuff as dreams are made on." Thus it may be time to recognize, as Harvey Cox put it in The Feast of Fools, the very significant study of the role of fantasy in modern life, that "Science is not designed to demonstrate what is real, but to investigate that portion of reality for which its methods are appropriate."
That statement is so important I would like to repeat it: "Science is not designed to demonstrate what is real, but to investigate that portion of reality for which its methods are appropriate."
Exactly. Science became a search for facts, not a search for wisdom. And when dreams lead Descartes to discover rationalism, and when Watson and Crick make their final monumental breakthrough of the nature of the double helix in the DNA molecule as they swirled a glass of ale in a Cambridge pub, we must at least come face to face with some mysterious, undefinable, luminescent, transcendent quality that exists, unmeasurable in the laboratory, undecantable in any beaker, or uncomputable by IBM.
Now what of literature? Of fiction? We normally associate the words with novels and short stories, and our English department is cluttered with courses bearing titles such as The French and German Novel, the Novel in the 19th century, or Contemporary American and British Novels. But what of the derivation of the two words "novel" and "fiction?" "Novel" has been derived from the Italian word novella, something newly-minted which thus presents a fresh insight into man and his nature. "Fiction," through various transformations, has been formed from the irregular Latin verb of the third conjugation facio meaning "to do" or "to make." A work of fiction, then, is something newly made, a created thing, a work of art, a product of the artist's imagination. In the end, it is a product that, no matter what the intellectual processes the writer undergoes as he slaves over his sheets of foolscap or his typewriter, has its wellsprings in the deep recesses of intuition of the unconscious.
Critics and students for centuries have debated the seeming eternal--and interminable--problems of the conscious or deliberate artist versus the unconscious artist. There may be no final answer to this apparent Opposition--and for that matter I suggest that there need be none--but few critics would disagree with my assertion that the most deliberate, conscious novelist of the 20th century was the writer James Joyce. Every English major knows, or at least should know, that Joyce plotted and planned "Ulysses" in such excruciating detail that, for most people, it is impossible to read "Ulysses", to say nothing of "Finnegans Wake, without consulting a host of other books which, satellite-like, have grown up around them. There is an entire Joyce industry where otherwise sober Joyce scholars in major universities beget Ph.D.s who in turn inflict their enthusiasms on weary students in courses in the Modern English Novel and publish articles in the James Joyce Quarterly entitled "Twenty Years in Search of a Footnote." I myself was guilty of that latter piece of satiric ephemera. How scholarly, how rational, can we get?
Joyce wrote "ulysses" at a time when two great revelations of consciousness were being made in the world. One was the exploration of the inner life of the mind or psyche led by Freud and Jung. (It may interest you to learn, by the way, that Joyce and Jung were friends in Zurich) - The other was the expansion of the Cartesian three-dimensional world into the fourth dimension of space-time by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein was also a friend of Jung's. Joyce stands at the pinnacle of the literary rationalist enlightenment, and all of early 20th century naturalistic or realistic fiction seems to lead up to "ulysses", just as later 20th century fiction seems to lead away from it. Joyce's themes are history, technology, and reason on one hand, balanced by the contrapuntal themes of body, mind, and spirit. His major characters, Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and Molly Bloom, represent mind, body, and spirit. Moreover, the thinly veiled satire on rationalism, science, and history pervades "ulysses". "History," says Stephen, "is a nightmare from which I am trying to escape," and Leopold Bloom's continual ruminations about parallax, to give only one example, are only slightly less significant than Molly Bloom's vivid earthiness and her magnificent affirmation of the life force in her eternal "Yes, yes, yes, yes, I will, Yes."
(There is one amusing and ironic footnote here, by the way, about Joyce's relationship with science. He will always be remembered by scientists because his created word "quark" from "Finnegans Wake--"three quarks for muster mark"--forever adorns a sub-particle in the atomic nucleus.)
Joyce himself, early in the pages of "ulysses", provided a fascinating comment about the importance of rational deliberation in a work of art. He has Stephen Dedalus say, "A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery. " If this be the case, we may deduce that everything in the works of Joyce was the product of his deliberate, rational, intellectual consciousness. But what were the sources of Joyce's art? What was the sea level, so to speak, from which he sprang and over which he soared? Briefly, they were his family, the Roman Catholic Church, his Jesuit education, and Ireland. "I will fly the nets," he says. "I will not serve that in which T no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely or as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use--silence, exile, and cunning. "
In his early novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and throughout "ulysses", Joyce has his characters, some of whom are personae for Joyce himself, embark on this search for substitutes not only for country and church, but for father as well, for "ulysses" is also, among many other things, a search, not only of a son for a father but of a father for a son. Even more profoundly, it is also a search for the mother. Entwining some theological parallels, mentioning many great heresies of the past, all of them dealing with the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Trinity, Joyce's scholarship is 'meticulous, his learning prodigious, and his references literally formidable. One need not know Migne's Patrilogica Latinae or Patrilogica Graecae to understand "ulysses", but we may be sure that Joyce knew them. And used them to the despair of scholars, critics and professors, to say nothing of students.
The triad of reason, technology, and history forms an infrastructure in "Ulysses", just as the triad of home, homeland, and church forms a superstructure, nut in these two triangles no corners meet.
However, and this is what is so marvelous, Joyce adds a fourth dimension, the space-time continuum of the mind in his use of the stream of consciousness technique, an art which if he did not develop, he at least perfected, incorporating the Freudian-Jungian-Einsteinian movements of his time. So dominant was this theme in "Ulysses" that more than one novelist since 1922 has grumbled that Joyce forever make it possible to write a conventional novel.
In "Finnegans Wake, Joyce's mind becomes a furnace, not a scientific warehouse, where like the sun, destruction and creation go on simultaneously, shedding light and warmth on the great final triad of myth, magic, and mystery. Understand clearly: when I say myth I am not speaking of children's fairy tales, something patently untrue; when I say magic I do not mean prestidigitation or sleight of hand, and when I say mystery I do not mean detective stories or crossword puzzles. Rather, I use the three terms as metaphors to help us discern earth's epiphanies, to seek the substance of the dream, and to find divinity in humanity. The three sets of triads are the means which Joyce uses, not to create further dichotomies, or artistic tensions: not mere updated versions of either/or; body/spirit/ man/God. In fact, they are the very techniques by which Joyce creates his City of God in Dublin, June 16, 1904. In so doing he forges his eternal myth in the smithy of his own soul.
Joyce had anticipated much of this movement between the poles of intense intellectualization and superb intuition as early as Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. His famous epiphanic visions contrast vividly with the Thomistic, scholastic, rational discussions of the nature of art. Stephen remarks: "This supreme quality of the intuitive is felt by the artist when the esthetic image is first conceived in his imagination. The mind in that mysterious instant Shelley likened beautifully to a fading coal." He then cites the Italian scientist and physiologist Luigi Galvani, saying that this is a "spiritual state," an "enchantment of the heart."
Phrases like "enchantment of the heart," "spiritual state," and " conceived in the imagination", are given to us from the intuitive James Joyce alongside the supremely conscious, deliberate rational artist, also James Joyce. These phrases indicate that Joyce was profoundly in touch with the creative unconscious, as well as his intellectual scaffolding. At this point then we might well turn, as we did with Descartes, to an examination of several significant dreams which Joyce incorporated into "Ulysses". Significantly, both Stephen Dedalus, the prototype of the son searching for a father, and Leopold Bloom, the father searching for a son, have had virtually identical dreams the night before "Ulysses" opens. Both Stephen and Bloom dream of melons from an exotic land, and Bloom even has a stitch in his right side. Shades of RenÈ Descartes! The possibilities for coincidence in something like this identicality of dream are astronomical.
Joyce's own Jesuit education had exposed him to Descartes, of course, but the coincidences become compounded when we remember that Joyce-Stephen, like Descartes, also feared loud noises; that Joyce throughout his life identified thunderclaps with the voice of God, and that the ten 100 letter thunderwords in "finnegans Wake are clearly the voice of God. In fact, Joyce in the Wake, which is itself a 628 page dream (although some would call it a nightmare) , makes a number of multi-lingual puns, some of them scatological, on coup de foudre. I could explore this further by suggesting that Descartes' book of poetry which speaks more wisdom than the serious, rationalistic works of philosophers might be identified with "finnegans Wake itself. But all of this speculation is preliminary, and a final analysis will undoubtedly be found in an expanded form in some future issue of the James Joyce Quarterly under the title, "The Jungian Concept of Synchronicity in the Dreams of Descartes and Joyce."
Pending such further development as the ideas may demand, let me suggest a few implications which I perceive in Stephen and Bloom's identical dream of melons from an exotic land. In Stephen's mind, the melons became identified with a magic talisman, and moly plant, such as used by Odysseus against Circe, which can release him from the spells cast by country, home, or church. In Bloom's mind, the melons are clearly identified in various ways with his wife Molly. One of her symbols is the melon, and the progression is quite clear: Melon--moly--Molly. Thus both dreamers have all of the creative forces of the anima on their side. Stephen may never actually meet Molly, but metaphorically he departs from 7 Eccles street in Dublin to write "ulysses". And just as metaphorically, Bloom falls asleep, perhaps to dream "finnegans Wake where he assumes the identity of HCE--Here Comes Everybody, the prototype of all men; and where Molly assumes the identity of ALP, Anna Livia Plurabelle, all women, the goddess mother heralding the birth of the new consciousness.
Here we must pause to ask another of the very simple questions I have been posing throughout this discussion. What are dreams and what is their importance? Whatever we know about dreams, we do know that they are not the products of the intellect or the rational mind. What CPA, after all, writes the scripts for our dream life?
Succinctly, then, and with apologies to my colleagues from the psychology department, let me suggest that dreaming, envisioning, and fantasizing are the writer S methods of probing the collective unconscious. The non-verbal, the intuitive, and the subjective are the sources the writer unites, weds, weaves with his rational constructions. The created myth-making of a vast variety of writers who probe their own subconscious, the subconscious of their characters, or the collective unconscious of the human archetype, create the reasoned body of language we call literature.
Dreams speak from primordial chaos--the uncreated conscience of the race, Joyce called it--and present the creative tensions of wholeness and separateness; the one and the many; totality and otherness. In the search for wholeness we see the alchemical transformation of base matter derived from the life of the individual transformed into something of transcendent value. It is no accident that on the publication day of "Ulysses", February 2, 1922, Joyce's 40th birthday, he took the book in his hands and said, gravely, as he symbolically presented it to the world, "Hoc est corpus meum. This is my body. My work. My life." Thus the metaphor of the written word becomes the symbolic, incarnated Word, created from the flesh of his striving. While the Word may be accompanied by the tutelary spirits of Descartes, Homer, and Icarus, at its center we see supremely and only Joyce, the fabulous artificer.
What impulse stirred in Joyce to undertake this wearying and often fearsome inner journey? Whence came this fierce desire to enter into the abyss of himself? We may perhaps provide a metaphysical answer. When astronaut David Scott of the Apollo 15 mission set foot on the lunar surface, he said, "As I stand out here on the wonders of the unknown at Hadley, I sort of realize that there is a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest."
We are on the moon, he is saying, because it is there.
What impulses stirred in mankind to send Scott and his companions on his wearying, fearsome journey? Whence came this fierce courage to penetrate the abyss of space? Again a metaphorical, perhaps a metaphysical answer: the creative intuition of thousands of scientists and technicians acting upon the dreams of DaVinci, Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, Kepler, and Einstein.
Thus exploration of both inner and outer space has its source in the same well-spring of creative intuition. Recall, in this connection, Anais Nin's recent cogent observation: "In America we favored the one-dimensional writers who pictured a one-dimensional world. We treated all lyrical flights as disorders rather than flights of the imagination. Imagination was permitted only in science or science fiction. Every flight of fantasy has been condemned as a departure from reality. "
If on the side of creativity and wisdom, we place myth, magic, and mystery, and if, on the side of objectivity, we place history, science, and technology, we can see that both stem from the same source: the intuitive. Recall here the inspiration of Descartes' dreams which ushered in the Age of Reason, thus science. Recall as well what many perceptive thinkers have said about Descartes' specialty, mathematics, the purest of the sciences. While mathematics may calculate the worlds of the stars and their courses, may we not consider mathematics to be poetry as well? And to see it as poetry, we must become poets ourselves, and say, with Einstein, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. "
This subjective penetration of the mysterious, the intuitive reach of the imagination, bursts forth in scientific revelation as well as artistic creation. The flights of the imagination can take visible form in the exploration of outer space and can take verbal form in the subjective investigation of inner space we call literature. Intellect and subjectivity, reason and intuition, science and nature, fact and fiction can and do, merge.
The intuitive procedure of art incorporates and subsumes the logical procedure of the mind and its age. The intuitive heart calls the intellect to a reckoning, beckons it to an examination of the forces of mindless intuition as well as heartless reason. Interwoven in this courtship, science and fiction merge and re-merge into what has been called "science hyphen fiction."
With these considerations in mind, let me make several assertions about fiction. Fiction speculates about probabilities which portray men in action. Arising from the writer's imagination, fiction opens subjective doors and against them juxtaposes new relationships of consciousness. It suggests, presents, and constructs new ways of thinking, feeling, and seeing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent literary phenomenon known as "science hyphen fiction." Probability situations involved in and created by the singular development of modern man, new areas of relationships, unexplored potentials verging on fantasy as well as speculation, all suggest new ways of apprehending and new intuitive sources. Science fiction probes potentials, as well as present and future alternatives. It questions mindless pragmatism and suggests imaginative options. It tests the quality of life under present conditions and poses the expected consequences of premises and constructs. Exploring the inner space of imagination, it contemplates the outer realm of reality. It indicates survival or non-survival options by challenging assumptions and clashing mystiques.
In this new literary area of consciousness, which science fiction mirrors, the relationships between the objective and the subjective not only merge, but also obstruct, conflict, and clash. The madness of the totally rational world of Walden II or Brave New World and the insanity of unreasoning ecstasy in Brian Aldiss' Barefoot In the Head or Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man confront each other. I also add that science fiction, bubbling up as it does from our popular culture, not only reflects our Age of Anxiety, but presents utopian visions of the greatness of human potential as well, particularly in works such as Austin Wright's Islandia or Le Guin's The Dispossessed.
Any discussion of the imaginative muse, the subjective, the Fantasizing aspect of creativity automatically must include the works of Ray Bradbury. Impossible to classify, he is at once a fantast, a poet, a nostalgia buff, a philosophical commentator, an innovative visionary. Hailed by such traditional critics as Gilbert Highet, Bradbury remained for years the darling, almost the house pet of a literary establishment which was otherwise unwilling to admit any quality to the technological speculations known as science fiction. In Fahrenheit 451, for example. Bradbury's themes weave the past, present, and future into a constantly shifting kaleidoscope whose brilliance shades into pastels and is as suddenly transformed into coruscating vibrations by his verbal magic. While Bradbury seems to say, "I feel, therefore I am," or even "It was wonderful yesterday, therefore I am happy today," he nonetheless insists on the primacy of creative intuition. "Once you begin to write about something self-consciously," he says, "all the real creativity is destroyed. The ability to fantasize is the ability to survive."
Almost at the opposite pole from Bradbury is that school of science fiction writing known as "Hard core SF." In general these writers echo H.G. Wells in positing the ultimate triumphs of science and the scientific method. Two excellent examples are Dr. Isaac Asimov, sometime professor of biochemistry, and Arthur C. Clarke. Asimov, whose work I greatly admire, seems to echo Descartes: "I think therefore I am," or perhaps, "I think, therefore, I will be." Or even, "Unless I think I will not be." Through the dynamics of what Asimov calls "psycho-history," mankind continues his slow, evolutionary progression through the application of more and more advanced science and technology until the ultimate invention of the bionic robot and the positronic brain. At this point, however, Asimov turns from hard-core science to pose another, more fundamental question: When is a being human? If you have, he asks, a being who follows an ethical system as high or higher than any developed throughout civilized history, is that being not human? If, as has happened to so many individuals in the modern world, flesh can no longer feel, why cannot simulated flesh--wires, transistors, mini-computers--begin to feel?
These questions are certainly not answerable by any system of rational syllogisms. However, their implications stem from Asimov's strictly logical Three Laws of Robotics which date back to the early 1940's, although they might well be called the "Golden Rule" for robots:
1. A robot may not injure a human being, nor, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
And while Asimov himself does not provide answers, the tact that he asks transcendental, subjective questions may put the lie to his easy categorization as a "hard core" science fiction writer.
What of Arthur C. Clarke whose work I also greatly admire? He is first, another trained scientist whose serious monographs range from studies of coral life in the great barrier reefs off Australia to many written about the applicability of radar during the Battle of Britain. Yet novel after novel of Clarke's, no matter how rationalistic or mechanistic in outward appearances, deals with the importance of something beyond the rational, whether it be the Overlords of Childhood's End, or the luminous black slab and peering embryonic baby of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The intuitive side of man? The Creative? The transcendent? Yes, of course.
Certainly one of the most significant developments of science fiction in the last dozen or 50 years has been the growth of what has been vaguely called 'the new wave. variously defined by its various practitioners ranging from Harlan Ellison in America to Brian Aldiss in England, it produced such a savage jolt in the early 1960's that science fiction would never be the same again. These writers, and the names of Robert Silverberg, Ursula Le Guin, Thomas Disch, Barry Malzberg, and Philip K. Dick should be included in any list, were both outraged and outrageous. They threw away plot. They discovered Freud, Joyce, Jung, four-letter words, and sex. They jolted, excoriated, pleaded, and fought, using as their weapons flashing stylistic pyrotechnics, assaults on the psyche, and shocks to the emotions. Their thrust was anything except rational, and hard core fans immediately wanted to run them out of the science fiction fraternity. But as Ellison has put it, "We who write the stuff will ignore catch phrases and analyses and continue to dream our dreams as we choose. "
While many of these dreams may resemble a mordant existentialism, revisited, they are intuitive, emotional speculations, not rational creations. In fact, Ellison seems to say "I suffer, therefore I am," or "I am angry, therefore I am." Either assertion, however, is "non-rational," incapable of demonstration in a lab.
One outgrowth of the "new wave" was the increase in the use of the "soft sciences " as subject matter. But this very use of subjects such as anthropology, mythology, sociology, theology, psychology, and religion required writers to think objectively about material which was essentially non-scientific. Time does not permit me to list many of these works in detail. Suffice it to say that the very best of science fiction works written in the last dozen years include such diverse non-technological, non-historical, and non-rational subjects as the I Ching, Hindu mysticism, the relationship of the animus and anima, solipsistic philosophy, the respective roles of power and justice versus mercy and love, the ethos of a pure capital Anarchic society, and the Apollonian-Dionysian conflict, to name only a few.
To be sure, about 90 per cent of what is being written under the guise of science fiction these days is not very good, but the best is very good indeed, and it may well be that science fiction today is in the position of the English theater of 1580, awaiting only a Shakespeare to give it form, substance, and greatness. My colleague Professor Mark Hillegas of Southern Illinois University has said in this respect:
"What I am expecting someday is a work of the magnitude of Paradise Lost, which seen in the context of its time we could describe as at least akin to science fiction. Like Paradise Lost, this major work of science fiction will be written by someone extraordinarily learned and talented who will write his masterpiece over many years. It will also be someone with a coherent vision of the universe and man's place in it and the ultimate meaning of it all. Only when the great epic appears, we will not call it science fiction."