[The] demise of feeling and emotion has paved the way for all our most real and tender pleasures — in the excitements of pain and mutilation; in sex as the perfect arena, like a culture-bed of sterile pus, for all the veronicas of our own perversions; in our apparently limitless powers for conceptualization — what our children have to fear is not the cars on the highways of tomorrow but our own pleasure in calculating the most elegant parameters of their deaths.
… science fiction [...] represents the main literary tradition of the 20th century…
To document the uneasy pleasures of living within this glaucous paradise has more and more become the role of science fiction. I firmly believe that science fiction, far from being an unimportant minor offshoot, in fact represents the main literary tradition of the 20th century, and certainly its oldest — a tradition of imaginative response to science and technology that runs in an intact line through HG Wells, Aldous Huxley, the writers of modern American science fiction, to such present-day innovators as William Burroughs.
The main ‘fact’ of the 20th century is the concept of the unlimited possibility. [...] What links the first flights of the Wright Brothers to the invention of the Pill is the social and sexual philosophy of the ejector seat.
Given this immense continent of possibility, few literatures would seem better equipped to deal with their subject matter, than science fiction. No other form of fiction has the vocabulary of ideas and images to deal with the present, let alone the future. The dominant characteristic of the modern mainstream novel is its sense of individual isolation, its mood of introspection and alienation, a state of mind always assumed to be the hallmark of the 20th century consciousness. [...] On the contrary, it seems to me that this is a psychology that belongs entirely to the 19th century, part of a reaction against the massive restraints of bourgeois society, the monolithic character of Victorianism and the tyranny of the paterfamilias, secure in his financial and sexual authority. Apart from its marked retrospective bias, and its obsession with the subjective nature of experience, its real subject matter is the rationalization of guilt and estrangement. Its elements are introspection, pessimism and sophistication. Yet if anything befits the 20th century it is optimism, the iconography of mass-merchandizing, naivety and a guilt-free enjoyment of all the mind’s possibilities.
… science fiction at least attempts to place a philosophical and metaphysical frame around the most important events within our lives and consciousness.
The kind of imagination that now manifests itself in science fiction is not something new. Homer, Shakespeare and Milton all invented new worlds to comment on this one. The split of science fiction into a separate and somewhat disreputable genre is a recent development. It is connected with the near-disappearance of dramatic and philosophical poetry, and the slow shrinking of the traditional novel as it concerns itself more and more exclusively with the nuances of human relationships. Among those areas neglected by the traditional novel are, above all, the dynamics of human societies (the traditional novel tends to depict society as static), and man’s place in the universe. However crudely or naively, science fiction at least attempts to place a philosophical and metaphysical frame around the most important events within our lives and consciousness.
[...] I was convinced that the future was a better key to the present than the past. At the time, however, I was dissatisfied with science fiction’s obsession with its two principal themes — outer space, and the far future. As much for emblematic purposes as any theoretical or programmatic ones, I christened the new terrain I wished to explore ‘inner space’, that psychological domain (manifest, for example, in surrealist painting) where the inner wold of the mind and the outer world of reality meet and fuse.
… if it were possible to scrap the whole of existing literature, [...] all writers would find themselves inevitably producing something very close to science fiction
Primarily, I wanted to write a fiction about the present day. To do this in the context of the late 1950s, in a world where the call-sign of Sputnik 1 could be heard on one’s radio like the advance beacon of a new universe, required completely different techniques from those available to the 19th century novelist. In fact, I believe that if it were possible to scrap the whole of existing literature, and be forced to begin again without any knowledge of the past, all writers would find themselves inevitably producing something very close to science fiction.
[B]y an ironic paradox, modern science fiction became the first casualty of the changing world it anticipated and helped to create. The future envisaged by the science fiction of the 1940s and 1950s is already our past. Its dominant images, not merely of the social and political relationships in a world governed by technology, now resemble huge pieces of discarded stage scenery. For me, this could be seen most touchingly in the film 2001: a Space Odyssey, which signified the end of the heroic period of modern science fiction — its lovingly imagined panoramas and costumes, its huge set pieces, reminded me of Gone with the Wind, a scientific pageant that became a kind of historical romance in reverse, a sealed world into which the hard light of contemporary reality was never allowed to penetrate.
The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.
[...] In addition, I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decades. Increasingly their roles are reversed. We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind — mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the pre-empting of any original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.
[...] The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction — conversely, the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads. Freud’s classic distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream, between the apparent and the real, now needs to be applied to the external world of so-called reality.
Given these transformations, what is the main task facing the writer? Can he, any longer, make use of the techniques and perspectives of the traditional 19th century novel, with its linear narrative, its measured chronology, its consular characters grandly inhabiting their domains within an ample time and space? Is his subject matter the sources of character and personality sunk deep in the past, the unhurried inspection of roots, the examination of the most subtle nuances of social behaviour and personal relationships? Has the writer still the moral authority to invent a self-sufficient and self-enclosed world, to preside over his characters like an examiner, knowing all the questions in advance? Can he leave out anything he prefers not to understand, including his own motives, prejudices and psychopathology?
… the writer knows nothing any longer. He has no moral stance.
I feel myself that the writer’s role, his authority and licence to act, have changed radically. I feel that, in a sense, the writer knows nothing any longer. He has no moral stance. He offers the reader the contents of his own head, a set of options and imaginative alternatives. His role is that of the scientist, whether on safari or in his laboratory, faced with an unknown terrain or subject. All he can do is to devise various hypotheses and test them against the facts.
– from an introduction to the French edition of Crash, 1974