Did I Miss Brave New World’s Anti-Gravity Boots?

A couple days ago, an article surfaced in my news feed. Its title: Fan of Sci-Fi? Psychologists Have You In Their Sights.

After ducking in case they meant “laser sights” – I was wearing a red shirt, after all – I read further because really, who doesn’t want to dig into a title like that. Submitted for your approval, the highlights are as follows.

Exhibit A: Author Ian McEwan “dismissed science fiction as the stuff of ‘anti-gravity boots’ rather than ‘human dilemmas.'” To which I say: Sir, if you have never experienced a human dilemma while wearing anti-gravity boots, yours is a sad and lonely life. The full range of human emotional is heightened to extrasensory peaks and troughs when one is elevated solely by one’s footwear several yards above the planetary surface. It gives new meaning to the phrase “pulled yourself up by your bootstraps.”

Continuing on to Exhibit B, which is something psychologists call the “great fantasy migration hypothesis.” Yes, please, read it again. One more time for good measure. Now, doesn’t that sound like something that needs an epic soundtrack? I’m thinking a bird’s-eye-view shot of mountainous tundra. As the camera pans across the majestic landscape, the viewer sees a troop of tiny human figures trudging onward. We zoom in. Their faces are rugged yet noble. Their eyes are fixed on the far horizon. Everything they have ever called home is behind them, everyone they have ever called family is with them, everything they hope for the future is before them in…THE GREAT FANTASY MIGRATION HYPOTHESIS. COMING SOON TO A THEATER NEAR YOU. Sequels definitely included, merchandising guaranteed.

We’ll assume the fandom has already abbreviated the above to GFMH, which is how it will be referred to henceforth. The plot of GFMH runs thusly: a group of young people are crushed beneath debt, underemployment, etc. Unable to bear this harsh world, they “…consequently migrate to a land of make-believe where they can live out their grandiose fantasies.”

Last I’d checked, a living wage and economic stability weren’t considered grandiose fantasies. I’ve probably been frozen in carbonite too long. The hibernation sickness is real, folks.

Ah, well, enough fun. Gavin Miller, the article’s author, is a senior lecturer in Medical Humanities at the University of Glasgow. His overall view is that psychologists were a bit overboard in their criticisms of the science fiction genre, and that science fiction creators’ robust responses to this criticism made science fiction better. He concludes that science fiction has become a “…literature that faces up to social reality” – a development partially owed “…to psychology’s repeated accusation that the genre markets escapism to the marginalized and disaffected.”

Mary Shelly. H.G. Wells. Jules Verne. George Orwell. Aldous Huxley. Begum Rokeya1. All of these writers were expanding science fiction as a literature of the mind, a literature of societal potential and caution, long before the psychologists started to diagnose rampant cases of sci-fi-itis2 in the 1950s.

Psychologists certainly did influence the development of the genre. All the great science fiction writers were broad in their reading and shameless in their borrowing of other fields’ best and brightest ideas. Huxley and Orwell in particular drew from contemporary psychological theories.

But good science fiction has always done more than simply “face up to social reality.” Science fiction isn’t meek. It’s not for the faint of heart (maybe that’s why the accusations of insanity fly fast and heavy around it). Read the authors above, and try not to view your fellow humans (or fellow social experiments, or fellow aliens, as the case may be) differently. Good science fiction shapes the world. It shapes humans, it shapes societies, it shapes technology. It shapes the types of government we’re able to form and willing to accept. It shows us what we could be. It teaches us childlike enthusiasm and critical self-skepticism, both necessary to move towards the future. It paints a path in words and stars. And slowly, the world wakes up, looks around, and rubs the space dust into its eyes.

As for the anti-gravity boots, I admit they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. All it takes is one loose shoelace, that’s all I’m saying.

1 Begum Rokeya was a Bangladeshi author, thinker, feminist and political activist. She is most known to English-speaking audiences for her story Sultana’s Dream, in which the traditional roles of men and women are reversed.

2 Prescription: Take two soma and call me in the morning.

Published by Marushka

I dream curiosity and write words that change brains.

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