C

cosmos

Given Bruce’s weekend posting on definitions of science fiction, I thought it ripe to tackle C of the Difference Engine SF Blog of Fame

Though some may strike out in favour of queen of cyberpunk fowlerc/patcadigan.html”>Pat Cadigan or the Slartibartfastian Orson Scott Card (‘Ender’s Game’ the best SF film still to be made?), but most will stump for Arthur C Clarke, named Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1986 .

And I guess that’s fair enough. Author of more than 60 books with more than 50 million copies in print, winner of all the field’s highest honours. Who can argue with an Oscar Academy Award nomination for 2001:A Space Odyssey, and classics such as Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama? Who can argue with a man who made the sarong trendy before Beckham?

Well, I can.

My vote goes to scientific revolution, and the discovery of other worlds, inspired by the name of Copernicus. It marks the paradigm shift of the old universe into the new.

Aristotle’s cosy geocentric cosmos was all about us. But the NEW universe of Copernicus was decentralised, inhuman and infinite. So, science fiction is a response to the cultural shock created by Copernicus’ discovery of humanity’s marginal position in a universe fundamentally inhospitable to man. Science fiction is our attempt to make human sense of the new universe. Simple really.

Okay, he might have been crap with telescopes.

But he left it to Italian poser Galileo to use the spyglass to unravel the practical aspects of the new universe he made possible. Galileo then produced a map of the knowable, just as the unknown was at the point of becoming known. Galileo’s revolutionary pamphlet The Starry Messenger, written in 1610, describes shadows cast by lunar mountains and craters, implying that there may well be creatures dwelling on the Moon.

Thanks to Copernicus it’s the first time the Moon becomes a real object for us, but at that same instant one feels an enchanted state of suspension, or estrangement, from the new reality. Estrangement necessarily implies a state of partial or imperfect knowledge. It is the result of coming to understand what is just within our mental horizons.

It is this same sense of wonder, or estrangement, that is common to science fiction.

Little wonder that Copernicus and Galileo inspired contemporaries such as German astronomer Johannes Kepler to maintain that if Jupiter has moons then it also must be inhabited. Kepler inspired H G Wells to write, nearly 300 years later ‘But who shall dwell in these Worlds if they be inhabited? Are We or They Lords of the World? And how are all things made for Man?’ And of course Kepler was inspired to write the first ever work of SF, Somnium, written in 1634.

In Torun, the part of Poland from which old Nick hails, his name ‘Koppernigk’ is still used as slang for a cock-eyed proposition

And what is SF if its not cock-eyed?



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