Five Views of the Universe

The universe is a large and unwieldy object, and finding a proper spot from which to regard it in a good light is a problem, considering that the spot, the spectator, and the light are all part of the spectacle to be viewed.

Nonetheless, the universe is such a large, and, frankly, intrusive object that one cannot help but view it, and, since there is no such thing as a viewpoint from nowhere, one must have a viewpoint. The viewpoint will determine which aspects of the view loom large, which diminish with distance, which are hidden by obstructions in the landscape, and so on. Which viewpoint is best? Well, that depends, I suppose, on your viewpoint.

From my viewpoint as a science fiction and fantasy writer, I am particularly interested in the views of the universe produced by imaginative fiction, or speculative fiction.  So this is a question in two parts, the first describing what imaginative fiction is, and the second describing to what points of view it naturally lends itself.

As a science fiction fan, you have no doubt heard this topic discussed far past its sell-by date, but I must needs cover these well-worn tracks to reach the second and more interesting half of the question: so what is science fiction? What is fantasy?

Imaginative fiction differs from all other genres only in one respect. In addition to the elements of character, plot, theme, setting and style, which must indeed be handled with the same adroitness and craft as any mainstream yarn, the imaginative story of science fiction or fantasy must also have world-building.

Myself, I do not prefer the term “speculative fiction” first, because it is too hoity-toity for tales about scantily-clad space-princesses of Mars or even Mongo, and second, because stories of magic and monsters and the perilous realm of elfland do not contain any speculation properly so called, but such tales form one arm of the archipelago of imaginative fiction, even as science fiction forms the other.

World-building is that set of explicit or implicit laws of nature, be they magic or super-science, which defines what can and cannot happen in the plot or to the characters.  In order to be a fantasy story, the laws of nature must allow for the supernatural, for magic. In order to be a science fiction story, the laws of nature must allow for scientific or technical progress beyond the world of today.

By the laws of Middle-Earth, for example, donning the Ruling Ring bestows the power to dominate the world, but also inevitably corrupts anyone who uses it. That rule defines the action of the plot and the course of the character arc for our hero. The story could not be told in a Western, or a Love Story, or a Pirate Story, or a tale about the Spanish Civil War, simply because in none of those settings is does the law of nature allow for a ring to tempt and corrupt with a true promise of absolute power. The theme can be told in other genres — there are any number of stories about the temptations of power — but if the mechanism of the tale involves rules of how the world works different from this world’s rules, it is an imaginative story. In a fantasy story, the things that act like curses and act like magic in real life, can in that world be literal and palpable.

Hence, the imaginative story is not merely a matter of setting. TWILIGHT as well as HARRY POTTER takes place on this earth, our world in the modern day, but in areas of the world unknown to the general public, areas where different laws of nature apply.

A story that took place in space, such as APOLLO 13, but which did not involve laws or technology different from those we know today, would be taking place in the typical science fiction setting, but would not be science fiction.

A story that takes place in the future of necessity must involve at least some speculation about changes to science, technology, or society, and those changes of necessity involve some change in the rules of the world, or at least the rules of what the reader might legitimately expect. Even a future precisely like the present would involve at least some speculation—for it would take an imaginative leap to envision a world whose nature did not allow for progress, regress, or change, and to explain that nature.

The imaginative tale will not appeal to any reader unwilling or unable to make the leap of imagination from his own world to the new world with its new laws of nature.

Where the reader is willing to make the leap, questions can be addressed that mainstream literature can only reach metaphorically. A story with a robot as a main character, for example, can talk about the relationship of man to his Creator, or can talk about the nature of free will and necessity, which a Western, or a Love Story, or a Pirate Story, or a tale about the Spanish Civil War cannot embody in a cowboy, a lover, or a pirate.

Again, in time travel stories, effect can precede cause, and so plots can run in circles and knots. Because the laws of the world are open to speculation, all other elements of the story have a freedom which mainstream tales cannot know.

It also, by the way, requires some discipline on the part of the writer to avoid basic errors. It is easy to produce a Deux Ex Machina, or other artificiality in the plot motion or character growth, when the laws of the world are optional. The leap of imagination runs a greater risk of dashing the reader’s suspension of disbelief. It is harder to read a space opera than a soap opera.

The imaginative tale is very popular these days, but that is not because this hard element of the imagination has dropped out of the genre. Rather, it is because certain sets of these imaginative or unreal laws of nature have become so well-known and widespread, that the leap of imagination required for them is merely a hop.

Everyone knows vampires burn in the sunlight (or, at least, sparkle) and are turned back by the crucifix; everyone knows witches fly on brooms, have familiars, and use magic wands to cast their charms. No great leap of the imagination is requires to know the rules, and hence to know what to expect.

Everyone knows the in a galaxy far, far away, TIE fighters and X-Wings and so on make banked turns in space, engines roaring the vacuum, shooting out clearly visible slowly-moving bursts of laser light like tracer fire, and in all ways act like World War One fighter biplanes. No great leap of the imagination is requires to know the rules, and hence to know what to expect.

Jedi have psionic powers, so it comes as no surprise that in addition to being able to feel disturbances in the force and to speak cryptic words from beyond the grave, in the sequel EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the Jedi were also suddenly granted telekinesis.  As far as I know, no one in the audience was shocked out of his suspension of disbelief or even startled at the additional power, because, like being able to brew a love philter or turn a prince into a toad is a basic “given” for a witch, being able to move objects with your mind is a “given” for a psychic. It is part of the consensus background.

My point here is that to have spaceships move and fire they way they actually would move and fire in the conditions of space would require an explanation on the part of the writer and a leap of the imagination on the part of a tech-savvy audience, but in unimaginative imaginative story, no such leap is asked of the audience, and no savvy is required.

Likewise, the magic system in HARRY POTTER does not require any explanation, because we all know from Halloween what witches and wizards act like and look like; but the magic system in Jack Vance’s THE DYING EARTH does require an explanation and a leap of imagination (at least for those of you who have not played Gygax’s Dungeons and Dragons).

We have many an unimaginative imaginative tale. In science fiction, the name for these is Space Operas (my own genre), where the setting of the science fiction tale is used, but the laws of nature are those from the shopworn conventions of two generations of science fiction serials, comic books, and television shows. There is no name for the shopworn and unimaginative treatments of fantasy tropes, most of which were popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien and Gary Gygax, but I propose the term “Elf Opera.”

Let me add two more points of terminology.

For the purposes of this essay, a book which otherwise would be shelved with Horror stories becomes part of Imaginative Literature if it requires a leap of imagination to world-laws unlike our own, involving ghosts or the living dead. Since most people know what ghosts are, the imaginative leap is small. Where the imaginative leap is large, such as when H.P. Lovecraft explains about alien inhuman gods that once ruled the Earth, where the worldview is markedly different from our own, the horror tale falls deeper into the territory of the imaginative tale.

FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelly, under this definition, is solidly science fiction. It order to seem convincing, the audience has to believe, or to be willing to suspend disbelief, that since anatomists can galvanize dead limbs and make them jerk, a more complete understanding of electricity could restore dead limbs completely to animation, and if limbs, then why not organs, nerve, heart, brains? No ancient Greek, be he howsoever philosophically inclined, could comprehend the basic assumptions of the world where the tale of Frankenstein’s Monster takes place, because the ancient Greek world-view did not allow for the possibility of resurrecting the dead by means of electrical science. Without the science, there is no story.

Hard SF, so called ‘nuts-and-bolts’ science fiction, is the disciplined attempt to keep the speculation to a minimum, that is, to assume a technology that differs from the modern technology, while assuming the science, the basic laws of nature and how things work, is roughly the same.

To what point of view does the imaginative tale naturally lend itself?

One is tempted to say that science fiction and fantasy are naturally inclined to the imaginative point of view, that is, that the imaginative tale tacitly upbraids the quotidian, the bourgeoisie, the settled and self-satisfied viewpoint of the overfed burgher, and tacitly applauds the revolutionary, the visionary, the unsettling, the frontiersman. But a brief survey of the science fiction field does not show this. It is true with some approaches but not others.

For the purposes of this essay, let us divide science fiction history into five periods or movements:

The Victorians—Jules Verne and HG Wells and Olaf Stapledon defined the early science fiction genre. Verne’s works were what we would today call technothrillers or Hard SF.  Wells and Stapledon, however, writing farther afield from the fields we know, cast their tales across the immensities of space, to the Moon and Mars, or far down the dark corridors of time, to the rising glories of men like gods, and then to the desperate triumph of entropy and darkness. Their worldview was one of Promethean grandeur followed by Wagnerian downfall.  The near future was always one of technological triumphalism for Wells and Stapledon, and the far future was a vast and bleak abyss stretching to a cosmic emptiness, and either to no god, or, in the case of Stapledon’s STARMAKER, to a sadistic and uncaring one.

The period between the Victorians and the Golden Age is mostly filled with rubbish, with one or two stand-out authors who should be savored merely for their adventurous bravado of imagination: I mean ‘World-Wrecker’ Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, Jack Williamson, and the author I take to be the exemplar of the whole era, E. E. “Doc” Smith.  Writers who wrote for the pulps but who achieved more lasting fame, indeed because they brought more craft and imagination to the task than most, include Abraham Merritt  and Robert E. Howard, who invented the Sword and Sorcery genre, HP Lovecraft, who invented the Cosmic Horror tale. I regard this as a transitional period, retaining many elements of the cosmic despair of the Victorians, and foreshadowing much of the exuberant optimism of the Golden Age.

The Golden Age—John W. Campbell Jr. gathered a stable of writers and encouraged others to write to a specific theme of optimistic technical progress, the supremacy of reason, and within the specific genre later called “Hard SF”, that is, a return Jules Vernes’ discipline of using real (or realistic) scientific principles and technological extrapolations.  Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke are exemplars of this period, as well as the unfairly neglected A.E. van Vogt, who lacked the discipline of Hard SF writing, but certainly shared the optimism of rational man’s central place in the universe. The Golden Age can be best understood as the reaction of a sober adolescent wishing to be taken seriously against the playful boyish exuberance and undignified adventure yarn of the pulp era. The Golden Age writers dismissed the cosmic despair of the Victorians by simply not addressing the issue. The preference was for stories in the near future rather than the far. Ultimate philosophical issues, such as oppressed Wells or Stapledon, were dismissed as impractical.

Despite the obvious anachronism, I am going to list Arthur C Clarke’s CHILDHOODS END with the Victorian science fiction, as well as 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, because the vision of the future, particularly the far future, is much the same as that of HG Wells or Olaf Stapledon. Clarke’s vision in these two books was of apotheosis through science, a transcendence into some higher state of being which, not without melancholy, rejects human nature as it rejects human limitations. His other works are solidly within, and helped to define, what I call the Golden Age of Science Fiction. CITY AND THE STARS, for example, has a Golden-Age style optimistic ending: man achieves spaceflight once again, after aeons of neglectful cowering in utopia. That is pure Campbell. Contrast this with the final scene in CHILDHOODS END: the children of men are incomprehensible superhumans who destroy the planet and fly away as spirit-beings while the last true human left alive dissolves, more awed than frightened. That is pure Stapledon.

The first two volumes CS Lewis’ planetary trilogy (OUT FROM THE SILENT PLANET, PERELANDRA) is a rebuttal to Wells, specifically to FIRST MEN IN THE MOON and to THE TIME MACHINE, in the same way that Arthur C Clarke’s CHILDHOOD’S END is a rebuttal to Lewis. They all take place within what I call the Victorian movement (which, unfortunately, is a very misleading term). Lewis and Wells and Stabledon and Clarke contemplate the ultimate end of man in a fashion that the more pragmatic Asimov and Heinlein (see below) never do. The Victorians  all place emphasis on the scope of what the scientific world shows: that man is a small thing indeed. For Wells, that is a source of ironic despair, whereas for Lewis, a source of Christian humility and even joy, and for Clarke, a combination of the despair and joy which I regard as akin to Gnosticism. I should mention that Olaf Stapledon’s DARKNESS AND LIGHT ends the same Gnostic way as CHILDHOOD END does, with evolution creating a nonhuman yet superhuman creature to replace man, as if that is a happy rather than tragic fate for humanity. (I place THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH by Lewis in a different category; it is more akin to Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR than anything else.)

The 1950’s saw the expansion of science fiction out from the pulp magazines and into the slicks and even into novels.  The addition of softer SF themes and the expansion to novel lengths allowed writers greater latitude to explore the human dimension of science fiction. Writers such as Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester, James Blish, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Hal Clement, Clifford Simak and Walter M. Miller can be listed as typical of this period, but this Silver Age was in philosophy and outlook at continuation and development of the Golden Age, and encompasses many of the same writers.

The New Wave—In the 1960’s and 1970’s Michael Moorcock and other experimental writers self-consciously attempt to bring the modern literary forms, or freer forms, from mainstream literature into the science fiction field.  Phillip K Dick, JG Ballard, Samuel R Delany and Norman Spinrad can be considered typical of this period. Cordwainer Smith and Roger Zelazny used the freer forms the New Age allowed, but did not seem to follow the New Wave message, so whether they are considered New Wave or not is a matter of debate. The New Wave is explicitly a reaction against the complaisant ‘establishment’ of the Golden and Silver Ages of Science Fiction, an attempt to subvert the Yankee individualistic optimism of writers like Heinlein, Asimov, and Van Vogt in the more fashionable gloom and bitterness of European pessimism and collectivism. This movement was the Trahison de Clercs of the science fiction world.

The Pastoral Age—This is a period, or a movement, which perhaps only exists in my imagination, because, for the life of me, I can recall no other observer seeing it or commenting on it. In the 1970’s and 1980’s there were a number of books and stories which set in futures gentler than the harsh steel skyscrapers and soaring rocketplanes of the Golden Age, what one might call “Green” futures of eco-friendly anarchic utopias, usually aided by psionic powers, or in dystopia showing the opposite side of the question.  Ursula K LeGuin was the most skilled and famous writer who attempted such tales. Sherri S Tipper and Cecilia Holland, Dorothy Bryant, Marge Piercy, and Joanna Russ are typical of this period.  The Pastoral movement is a reaction against the materialism and gloom of the New Wave, as well as being antithetical to the factory-smoke clanging shipyard and militaristic materialism and optimism of the Golden Age.

(You might think it odd I can think of not a single male writer who wrote in this movement, and attribute it to a vast oppressive conspiracy of matriarchs excluding us from the genre. You might also think men and women are alike in all ways, biological, neurological, and spiritual, not just equal in the legal sense. Your thoughts would, in that case, be false and filled with resentment, no doubt encouraged by your poor choice of viewpoint from which to regard the universe.)

Cyberpunk— A second generation of science fiction was possible in the eighties, which made abundant use of the tropes and stereotypes of previous generations of writers, so that the future was imagined not as being different in one or two ways from the present, but in nearly every way. Cybernetics, downloaded consciousness, and various shades of transhumanism and subhumanism were the central concerns. William  Gibson,  Greg Bear, Walter Jon Williams, Bruce Sterling are typical of this movement.  Dan Simmons and Neal Stephenson use many of the same hyper-imaginative tropes, but without the message of despair. The movement is called “punk” because it glamorizes the dropouts and street thugs and grifters of an overcrowded and overpolluted society when humanity is being dehumanized. Cyberpunk rejects the gentle mysticism of the Pastorals, the angry collectivism of the New Wave, and the technophilic optimism of the Golden Age. It also lacks the grandeur of the Wagnerian conception of the cosmic despair of the Victorians, being content to despair about matters deeper in the dirty gutter, closer to home, and happening tomorrow.

As to the movements or period since that time, I cannot speak with authority, since my reading has been sporadic ever since I became a professional writer, and not enough time has passed for me, at least, to see matters in clear perspective or pick out a pattern. I also cannot speak with humility, since I am a member of the New Space Opera Renaissance, and I have a self-interest in promoting that school of writing, something that is a reaction against the herolessness and dinginess of Cyberpunk. So let us pass over the Nineties, the Naughts, and the Teens in silence. You, dear reader, no doubt know more about those times than I, and can speak more objectively.

And even this division into periods and movements is slightly arbitrary, since it simplifies matters dangerously: many of the most famous books typical of one period fall outside their period. I would say DUNE by Frank Herbert is the best example of a book from the ‘Silver Age’ wave, for example, and it was published in 1966, smack in the middle of what I identify as the New Wave.  So the taxonomy here lacks the precision of Linnaeus, but it is useful enough for our purposes, which is to identify points of view to which imaginative tales lend themselves.

Having covered Science Fiction in some detail, I will treat with Fantasy next: The Victorians among Fantasy included the writers from William Morris to E.R. Edison, who were the oddities and outliers of pre-Tolkien fantasy. Tolkien by himself was the Golden Age; Robert E. Howard was the Silver Age; and between them High Fantasy and Sword-and-Sorcery was born.

The Victorian Fantasy, the Golden and the Silver all held one idea in common, namely, that the Modern Age had lost something precious which the Middle Ages or the Bronze Age or the Stone Age had retained. Different authors identified the missing and precious thing differently, but they all agreed on their distaste for the dark, satanic mills of modernity, the claustrophobia of civilized behavior, or the incivility of modern behavior.

The main difference is that Sword and Sorcery feels nostalgia for the lusty barbaric freedom imagined by some Romantics to have existed before the meshes of civilization trapped and emasculated man. These are paeans to the myth of the Noble Savage. I would list Edgar Rice Burroughs in the same breath as Robert E Howard, but I am not sure if Barsoom or Darkest Africa technically are within the perilous realm of Elfland, or lay brooding in forgotten ages between the rise of the Hellenes and the sinking of Atlantis. But the myth of the noble savage is on full display, as if the sense that civilization is corrupt.

(I take it to be no coincidence that the romantic glorification of the healthy savage gained predominance in the years following the Great War, when all the West was traumatized by the betrayal of Victorian belief in endless progress in the muddy trenches of the Somme, or the sorrows in Flanders Fields among the poppies.)

Where the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis fall in this taxonomy is questionable. These novels treat fairyland not as the perilous realm or lost age but instead as a place where the same truths which rule our world are met in disguises (such as Christ dressed a lion) that the truth may be known without bias, even as a prince will disguise himself as a pauper to win a maiden’s hand. They have, for this reason, less of the nostalgia for antiquity as other Golden Age fantasies, but it can still be found, particularly since Mr Lewis, a medievalist himself, knew well what the Thirteenth Century, whatever its wants in other areas, did as well as the blood-soaked and totalitarian Twentieth Century did, or did better.

George RR Martin writes an as-yet-nameless a reaction against this unrealistic sentimentality about what were really somewhat dirty and despicable periods, by writing realistic fantasy with the blood-and-iron flavor of history. His GAME OF THRONES is not the only “Hard F” fantasy story, but at the moment it is one of the more famous. In stories like this, the mysterious missing element (which, as I say, depends on the viewpoint of the author) is not found in the antique world any more than in the modern. In such books the most noticeable rejection is of the elevated speech and sheer poetry of expression which characterizes works of the Victorians, or the Golden Agers.

There are a group of fantasy novels which otherwise defy classification but which have a family resemblance, a resemblance of philosophy, despite being written in different decades: A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay, AEGYPT by John Crowley, and THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman. These have the opposite approach from realistically grim fantasy, in that they seem to reject realism even as they reject the material world. They are idealistic, but Gnostic, it is a paranoid idealism that rejects all the basic assumptions of fantasy, both the Medieval flavor of High Fantasy, and the Blue Collar flavor of Sword and Sorcery. These are works reacting against and rebelling against the viewpoint of the Golden Age. They are works meant to subvert the dominant paradigm of the world-system. Mr. Pullman explicitly characterized his ‘Dark Materials’ book as being an Anti-Narnia.

Ursula K LeGuin in her Earthsea envisioned a sublime Taoist-flavored fantasy world, not one based primarily on Western models as Tolkien’s Catholicism or Howard’s Greco-Roman paganism, which should have started its own subgenre, but, to my knowledge, has not. This Oriental Fantasy, if I may give it a perhaps misleading name, agreed with the Golden Age that modernity was missing something, but disagreed as to where that something might be found. (That this one author is listed as the primary inspiration for two genres, one in fantasy and one in science fiction, is humble tribute to her genius.)

Lewis, Tolkien, Lindsay, and Pullman all have a defined system which informs the mood and atmosphere of their make believe worlds: LeGuin’s Earthsea is something more mystical, organic, and ineffable, world seeking equilibrium rather than seeking a goal. The worlds of Lewis, Tolkien, Lindsay, and Pullman are headed toward a Fourth Age; or a Last Battle; or a final burning enlightenment; or a final escape from Authority. Earthsea is seeking balance.

There are authors whose names I cannot recall, and whose books I have not read, which are akin to the cyberpunk of science fiction, whether set in modern urban settings or in sprawling sewer-age worlds filled with disease and corruption. I do not know what this genre is called. Perhaps it should be called Elfpunk. These are variously called Urban Fantasy and New Weird, but in terms of their viewpoint, they do not form distinct genres. They are the same in mood and reflect the same philosophy.  These worlds are worse than the modern world, not better.

You may be wondering what pattern, if any, is to be found in this rough survey of imaginative literature? Why do I propose these groupings and not others?

My hunch—I dare not dignifying it by calling it a theory—is that literature reflects life, and a man’s attitudes towards storybookland is roughly the same as his attitude toward life.

My hunch is that imaginative literature stands above and beyond mainstream literature in the same way that philosophy stands above and beyond all other disciplines of art and science, namely, it is the only genre that treats directly, not as metaphor, with the fundamental rules and laws of reality, precisely because it is the only genre where the fundamental rules can be changed, played with, contemplated, reversed, warped, and otherwise inspected. All mainstream tales take place in a world with the same metaphysical background as the intended reader’s world. Imaginative worlds can make the metaphysics a contrast with our own, or make concrete there what is merely metaphorical here.

If these two hunches are correct, this implies a third hunch: that the viewpoint of imaginative literature reflects the viewpoint, not of life in the material sense, natural life, but reflects the higher life of the spirit, supernatural life.

No matter what you think a science fiction or fantasy story is about, it is actually about God.

Admittedly, this is an overly dramatic way of saying it, but the reader’s eyes are no doubt glazing over by now, considering the length of this essay, so I wanted to say something dramatic to startle you.

(Come now, my dear groaning agnostics! To expect a Christian not to draw everything back to God is like telling an infatuated lover not to talk about his beloved. God is the fundamental reality from which all things come and the final destination drawing all things ultimately to Him, so any discussion on any topic that ranges above the quotidian and dull reality of daily life has one foot on some rung, high or low, of the ladder of Jacob.)

But even if I do not startle, or I say it more gently, please consider this: the stages or movements I listed both for fantasy and science fiction follow a similar pattern. It is a pattern we might recognize from the Gospel, from the four or five basic viewpoints around which Jews tended to gather at the time of Christ.

First, the Sadducees were collaborators, friendly to Rome, men of pragmatic character, less concerned with ultimate questions and more concerned with the here and now. They did not believe in the afterlife. The kind of man who thinks religion is a private matter, and should be kept out of the public square, who mistrusts organized religion, he would make a good Sadducee. The attitude of Campbellian authors in the Golden Age of Science Fiction mimicked this. The Ultimate fate of man, which so depressed the Victorian authors, they ignored. The Hard Fantasy of authors who take grim history as their model might be the parallel in the fantasy world.

Second, the Zealots were angry rebels, the opposite of the pragmatic Sadducees. This is the New Wave among the Science Fictioneers, and the Gnostics among the Fantasists. They wish to subvert the dominant paradigm.

Third, the Essenes were retiring mystics seeking inner purity. The method was the opposite of the Zealots, a feminine and nonconfrontational method. This would be our Pastoralists among Science Fiction, the Mystics among Fantasy. (Admittedly, a small group in both cases, but then again, the Essenes were a small group.)

Fourth were the Pharisees. These were the ultimate conformists, who believed entirely in men’s laws, and had very little concern for true righteousness, or none at all. The hypocrites. These would be the nihilists who write imaginative literature, putting great effort and meaning toward the message that tells the readers that all effort is futile and no meaning is meaningful. Do not be deceived: such writers pretend to be nonconformists, but their code of speech and conduct and thought-control is more exacting than any hierarchy. Cyberpunks, Urban Fantasy, and New Weird do tend to sneak ever closer toward the brink of the abyss of this Phariseeism of nihilism, but none of the books I mention above are wholly loyal to nihilism.

Of course, by its nature, one only can be partially loyal to the concept that no truth is true, and no action worth doing. Likewise, no Pharisee can be a perfect Pharisee because no hypocrite can be a perfect play-actor. No man is fake all the way to his roots. Some real part of him is putting on an outward show for some real inner reason, merely not the reason shown to the world.

There is, of course, a fifth viewpoint which is older and logically prior to all of them, from which they derive, and against which they rebel, the orthodox viewpoint. Ironically, the orthodox viewpoint of literature is that literature is not meant for its own sake, as the romantics say, nor is it meant for entertainment, as the pragmatists say, nor does it offer crystal revelations into sublime truth, as the mystics say, nor is it nothing but a propagandistic ‘narrative’, as the nihilist say.

The orthodox ergo correct opinion is that art serves to augment the glory of God. He allows us, in small, to create as He Creates in large. We are his only creature who can do so. Every sublime work of art praises the universe as if with a silent shout of joy, and all the stars in heaven sing.

Fantasy, by its nature, is more concerned with the beauty and terror of the world than Science Fiction, when tends by its nature to be a little more dry and intellectual. What genre in Science Fiction and Fantasy would be the viewpoint toward nature which corresponds to the Orthodox viewpoint toward supernature? It would have to be, in both cases, a work which pointed at something beyond itself and for which it was made.

Alas, I can think of only four stories which seem to fit this property of pointing to a higher reality than themselves, books written for a purpose deeper than art or entertainment or pelf or propaganda. NINETEEN EIGHTY FOUR by George Orwell; A BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley; THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING &c by J.R.R. Tolkien; THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER &c by Gene Wolfe.

Oddly, both Science Fiction novels I list here are nightmarish dystopias, warning as stern as anything written by Jeremiah or terrible as the Apocalypse of St John; and both the Fantasy novels are dreams of mingled light and dark that end as with a dawn, when the maimed Ringbearer is sent to the Gray Havens and thence to the paradise of the Uttermost West, and the lame Autarch is sent to the elevated universe of Yesod to revive the glory of the dying Sun.

As for why that should be, alas, dear reader, I have no theory, hypothesis, nor hunch.

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