Imagination Unchanged

Imagination Unchanged by John Sayle 

Ask people what their strongest memory of science fiction is and you’ll get a variety of replies. Rutger Hauer sitting on a rooftop telling Harrison Ford I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. The zero-gravity ballet of astronauts in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL warning the Captain I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Dave. Colonel Kassad’s firefight in the Valley of the Time Tombs, or Father-Captain De Soya’s assault on an orbital forest in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos. Deckard learning to program certain moods in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep; I finally found a setting for despair… so I put it on my schedule for twice a month; I think that’s a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything…
It has been said that the scientist may predict the car, but it takes a science fiction writer to
predict the traffic jam. Richard Morgan’s novel Altered Carbon features technology that digitises human consciousness and can then ‘re-sleeve’ it in a new body. This shapes the setting – for example, Catholics consider re-sleeving as attempting to circumvent divine judgement and refuse it, so the courts try compelling murdered Catholics to testify at their murderer’s trials – but it also develops character and plot; Takeshi Kovacks is a former soldier whose mind was edited to make him a better killer. After cops shoot him, he is sprung from prison by a man who recently died – the police say it was suicide, but he claims he was murdered and wants Kovacks to investigate…
The development of these ideas is at the heart of all speculative fiction. If vampires existed, might they have engineered the Renaissance and the triumph of reason over superstition to protect themselves? What if the Roman invasion of Britain had been foiled by the magic of the druids, or the world’s electronics were destroyed by a solar flare? What if we could manipulate wormholes, outpacing light to visit distant stars? What if we couldn’t? According to Einstein, travelling close to the speed of light slows down time. Joe Haldeman’s Forever War considered the effects of relativistic travel on soldiers fighting an interstellar war. After every mission, they would return to find the Earth centuries older, leaving them alienated from society. As a Vietnam vet, Haldeman was writing of his own experiences of estrangement from American society. This is another speciality of speculative fiction; it is subversive. Unpalatable ideas are more acceptable when cloaked in the guise of sci-fi or fantasy; we consider them from a new perspective. In Battlestar Galactica, when Cylons invade New Caprica the humans form an insurgency – the ones strapping suicide vests on and blowing themselves up are the good guys! Where else in America in 2006 would this have been not only acceptable fiction, but popular and thought-provoking? Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Alternate History, all the varied facets of speculative fiction free us to consider different perspectives, diverse circumstances and their implications. Create new worlds, characters and stories. Entertain and provoke thought. Fascinate, and move hearts. Is there a better genre to let your imagination run wild?

This semester John will be teaching Worlds of Wonder: Writing Sci-Fi Fantasy and Speculative Fiction from Tuesday 7 October, 7-9pm for Continuing Education for details click here 

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