Exploring our science fiction universe
We are blessed with far more than just a world
I’ve always heard Isaac Asimov coined the phrase “We live in a science fiction world.” I’m no longer certain about this. An online search reveals the late science fiction historian James Gunn attributed it to Asimov as early as 1985. Gunn was friends with Asimov, so he would have been in a position to know, but the earliest published instance I have found is science fiction critic Beverly Friend, in 1973:
”We live in a science fiction world: The H-bomb, moon landings, ecological catastrophe. Discussion, formerly the domain of the discursive essay, logically evolves from novels about pollution, overpopulation, and warfare.”
Friend does not cite Asimov, but this idea may have been “in the air” of the science fiction community for years prior to the publication of her article. An investigation of offline sources, particularly Gunn’s “Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction”, might reveal the true origin of the statement.
Attribution aside, the importance of the statement today is its obvious truth. We have become so used to our science fiction world, we no longer notice it day-to-day. When my dad brought home an Apple computer in the late 1970’s, it was a marvel. Today, my vastly superior MacBook Pro is no more surprising than a typewriter was in 1979. We have become inured to science and technology transforming our lives, our cultures, and our civilization.
Of course, we don’t just live in a science fiction world. From interstellar visitor Oumuamua, to frequent announcements of newly discovered exoplanets, to the first image of a black hole, the entire universe is a chronicle of mysteries—a cosmic codex, waiting to be read, studied, and understood. Science uncovers facts and tests our theories. Science fiction asks how this new knowledge will affect us as individuals, as communities, and as a species.
Much of what we used to consider science fiction—video phones, a permanent presence in space, hand-held computers—has become reality. I used to worry science fiction had run its course—the real world was catching up. Perhaps we no longer needed the wonder of sf.
I’m not worried any more. Every advance we make opens up more questions. We still face fascinating and perplexing phenomena for which we have no answers—in some cases we don’t even have convincing theories. Each riddle invites us to consider what the universe might be like. Each possible solution begs us to ask how it might change us, if it were so.
The Cosmic Codex is a journey into the mysteries of our universe, and an exploration of the stories that help us contemplate our place within it. I’ll share essays on recent scientific advances, thoughts about how science fiction might help us explore their implications, reviews of books and stories written by others, news from the literary sf community, and updates on my own fiction.
Please, join me! :)
In the meantime, tell your friends!