Thursday, January 18, 2018

An Interview with Henry Wessells - Part 2

You note that H G Wells created for himself a role as a “public intellectual of the first order”. Can science fiction still lead thinking and debate in this way? Is it still involved in a “conversation”, or is it just talking to itself now?

Lead in the sense of walk along untrodden pathways and offer concrete fictional models for thought, yes. Whether those outside the field pay attention to science fiction is ultimately a different question.

One thing about the twenty-first century is clear, science fiction writers do not turn away from their roots when their intellectual engagement takes them into a broader public sphere. As Phillip K. Dick wrote, the world became increasingly phildickian during the 1970s. The publisher of William Gibson may no longer use the science fiction label to market his novels, but Gibson has not forgotten where he comes from.

You mention Philip K Dick’s “vision of disintegrating reality” but also say “his books are about what it means to be human.” That suggests a bleak view of the human position. Is SF increasingly a pessimistic genre?

No! Emphatically, no! I am the least pessimistic person you can think of. Science fiction is the literature of imaginative possibilities. The real point of interest in recent dystopian fiction is not the immediate circumstances of the dystopia, but an idea most clearly articulated by Christopher Brown in an essay entitled “Dystopia Is Realism: the Future Is Here If You Look Closely”: “We need to write our way through our own ruin to have any hope of finding what could be on the other side.”

Lastly, what’s your current reading in SF and the Fantastic?

Gnomon by Nick Harkaway; Little, Big by John Crowley (to re-read: I resisted the temptation all last year while writing my ‘Conversation’); and I want to read some ghost stories of the interwar years, to follow up on some of the suggestions in Richard Dalby & Rosemary Pardoe’s anthology Ghosts and Scholars (1987).

1 comment:

  1. I happened to review "Gnomon" just last week, and was greatly impressed with the book. If anyone cares to see that piece, a link to it--and to all my pieces for The Washington Post-- can be found at I plan to start reading "A Conversation larger than the Universe" tomorrow and am very much looking forward to it.