Hello, SE readers! Today I will again focus on inspiration–but with a twist. I’ve been thinking about Mark Twain, and not because I live a couple of hours from the Mississippi River. Rather, it’s because I read some of his science fiction work and was haunted by his comment: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
It seems to me that Twain nailed it. Truth is stranger than fiction, and November 2020 is evidence. Most of us could not have imagined the craziness that has unfolded this year. But if anyone could have, wouldn’t it have been the science fiction writers? Those visionaries who populate outer space with odd-looking creatures, who make intergalactic wars part of our vocabulary, who go deep into the earth and uncover cities of strange beings? Yes, those writers.
Inspired by Twain’s statement, let’s visit a few science fiction writers and see what they have to say.
The first visionary is Ray Bradbury. Consider the following:
Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science,
the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.
I had to read this quote multiple times before I understood what he meant. It’s undeniable that fiction depends upon dreams, some that are nocturnal and others that float freely throughout the day, but Bradbury doesn’t stop there. He suggests that our dreams lead us to concrete action, and then he makes the outrageous claim that our entire history is science fiction. Really?
Given his position, I doubt Bradbury would have worried about conspiracy theories or who/what we can trust — or not. After all, he perceived reality through the lens of science fiction.
Ursala K. Le Guin is another notable science fiction writer, and her position is similar to that of Bradbury. In her distinct style she writes:
If a soldier is imprisoned, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?
…if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, then it’s our duty to escape,
and to take as many people with us as we can.
Le Guin’s words seem to carry a challenge, one that suggests we need to flee from the limitations of accepted assumptions. Could there be a better escape than the imaginative world of science fiction? Maybe if we stepped back from the current dramas and envisioned an alternative universe, it would add perspective — unless, of course, we’re living that alternative now.
Octavia E. Butler builds on Le Guin’s premise and explains the following:
I was attracted to science fiction because …
there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.
Butler’s comment sounds like a declaration of freedom. If she could conceive of it, she could write it. And did! Fictional worlds, mysterious characters with super powers, time travel — all were hers and ours to enjoy. She joins Le Guin in charting a path through the unknown, and similar to Bradbury, she understands the world in terms of science fiction.
E. B. White offers the final thought:
Remember that writing is translation, and the opus to be translated is yourself.
For White, the gold mine is the writer, and to bring inspiration to paper means personal digging. This is why there are traces of the writer strewn across the pages of her or his work. A mannerism, a dream, a memory may find expression through the heroine or the villain, the lover or the foe.
Returning to the beginning of this post, what does any of this have to do with 2020 and inspiration? Consider with me, what would happen if everyone took to heart the messages from each of these science fiction visionaries? What if we really are the opus that must be translated, what if we really are the creators of our world?
Sometimes writers will say, I write because I must. Hmm, what is the story writers are driven to tell?