Taking Notes: 'Who Is an SF Writer?' (1974) by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick, "Who Is an SF Writer? (1974)" in Lawrence Sutin (ed.), The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), pp. 69-78.

p. 71
...... SF is an accretional field, built up layer by layer, year by year with constant reference to all that has come before. Unlike the Western story writer, you do not sell the same story twice, with new character names and a new title; each time you must produce something genuinely new. The SF reader -- all exceptions granted -- insists on one thing before all else: The new stories and novels must not duplicate those that came before, and woe unto the novice writer who does not know all the SF classics back to 1930; he must -- and almost certainly did -- absorb them before he began writing himself. ...... Heinlein has written what he calls "future history," and much of SF is. And much of the motivation that drives the SF writer is the motivation to "make" history -- contributes what he sees, his perception of "... and then what happened?" to what all the rest of us have already done. It is a great colloquy among all of us, writers and fans and editors alike. ...... because they sense a continuity and the possibility, the opportunity, the ehtical need, if you will, for them to add onto this growing "future history."

...... "Nobody has thought yet of this," the SF writer says when an idea comes to him, but it is not merely an outre idea that he senses germinating in his head; it is an addition and a contribution to a vast, extant body. In the
p. 72
sciences proper, when experimental work reveals some law or principle previously unknown, the researcher knows he must publish his results; why determine that such-and-such is a universal scientific principle and then say nothing about it? This shows the affinity between the SF writer and the true scientists; having discovered something new, it is incumbent on him -- morally incumbent -- to publish a little piece in print about it, whether that publishing will make him immortal or rich -- the ethic is the same. ...... So, I think, we in our field have that grand great drive of the true research scientist, to acquaint people with something heretofore over-looked. ......

Probably what we see in an SF writer (I will use myself as an example) is a boy growing up and originally wanting to be a scientist (I wanted to be a paleontologist, for example). But science does not leave room for a factor vital to us: speculation. ......
p. 73
It is first of all the true scientific curiosity, in fact, true wondering, dreaming curiosity in general, that motivates us, plus a desire to fill in the missing pieces in the most startling or unusual way. To add to what is actually there, the concrete reality that can only say so much and no more, my own "glimpse" of another world. ......

...... We as SF writers see many objects again and again as clues to other universes, other societies. We sense the rest, and this sensing can't be separated from literary, artistic imagination. ...... The SF writer sense that story, or many stories from the clues of tangible reality around him, and does the rest; he talks for the objects, the clues. He is driven to. He knows there is more, and he knows that he will not live long enough to see all the scientific data actually brought forth ...... they may never be. The writer, then, begins to sing about those battles and those deeds. He places them in the future only for concenience; it is the placing of the story mostly in an imaginary world, but bound by small actual clues to this world, that drives him into expression. It might be said that where Homer sang about Troy after those events, the SF writer wishes to sing about events ahead because he feels that this is really the only reasonable place where those events could occur. It is as if Homer wrote the Iliad before those events, and had he done so it would be authentic speculative or science fiction.

This shows, I think, the affinity between the SF writer and the scientist as such: But his impatience, his inventiveness, his discovery that he pieces and bits around him (and they can be in our present actual world or in other SF) tell stories not yet told and that without him might never get told -- this is one facet characteristic of the SF writer's mind and shows why the term "science fiction" still lingers to describe what we do, even if we write about a purely religious society set not even in the future but in a
p. 74
parallel Earth. It is not the stories are about science; it is that the writer is motivated along parallel lines motivating research scientists. But he is not content. He is stuck with a discontent; he must improve or change what he sees, not by going our and politically agitating but by looking deep into other possibilities and alternatives manufactured within his own head. ......

He will create, on the basis of the known data or plausible data, how it could all be better, or how it could all be worse. His story or novel is in a sense a protest, but not a political one; it is a protest against concrete reality in an unusual way. He wishes to sing, rather than chant and carry signs. He will sing to us of hells far worse than what we actually endure, or better worlds, or just worlds in which these elements are simply not present: worlds based on other premises. I would say, he is an introverted activist, not an extroverted one. ...... he sees the dangers but, being an introvert, the idea of social action, of acting out publicly and politically, is not his natural response. He would look funny out there marching and chanting. He is self-conscious and shy. He will instead write down rather than act out.

So I would say, the SF writer shares a little of the political mentality just as he does the scientific. Scientists improve things by staying in their labs; activists go out and petition. The SF writer glimpses totalities, some good, some bad, some merely bizarre, and he wants to bring these glimpses to our attention. Hence he is also a literary figure as well as a little of the politician and the scientist; he is all three and probably something more. But to speak of his work as escapist -- no view of SF, at least nowdays, could be less true. He is writing about reality with as much fervor and conviction as anyone could muster to get a bad zoning ordinance changed. This is his way, because he is none of the three types listed above but a fusion of all. ......
p. 75
"Flexibility" is the key word here; it is the creating of multiverses, rather than a universe, that fascinates and drives him [the SF writer]. "What if ..." is always his starting premise. Part scientist, part political activist, but with the conviction of the magic power of the written word, and his restlessness, his impatience -- he will spin one new world for you after the other, given a set of facts or even one sole datum to take off from. He wants to see possibilities, not actualities. But as I say, his possibilities are not escapist (although, again, much hack SF is escapist, particularly when tending toward power fantasies) because the source of them lies firmly rooted in reality. He is a dreamer with one eye open, always coldly appraising what is actually going on. ...... 〔科幻雖探究種種可能性,但仍與現實保持密切的聯繫〕The SF writer is able to dissolve the normal absolute quality that the objects (our actual environment, our daily routine) have; he has cut us loose enough to put us in a third space, neither the concrete nor the abstract, but something unique, something connected to both and hence relevant. So we do cut loose, but with enough ties still remaining never to forget that we do live in one specific
p. 76
society at one specific time, and no legitimate SF writer would want us to forget that, want us to drift away inside our heads and ignore the actual problems around us. ......
p. 77
...... This brings up one more point, crucial, I think, in determining what sort of person becomes an SF writer: He has a warmer heart than the scientist, and would like to play and chat and be close to others, and he resents this aspect of his work; he is torn within, and when he can, emerges from his studio to fraternize with whomever he can buttonhole. Probably, as I do, most SF writers, like most fiction writers in general, solve this by creating characters in their stories to keep them company during the long, lonely, isolated chore of work. I have a strong feeling, having met so many of my colleagues over the years, that there is almost universally among them a love of human beings and a concern for them, a desire for closeness that, in itself, might explain why the SF writer chose that field rather than one of the pure sciences. SF writers are not loners. Caught halfway between going out to petition versus retiring into solitude -- caught between the political activist and the pure scientist -- they have or at least I have found SF a workable compromise: I can be with my characters when I write, I can love them and support their anguished hopes as I would my "actual" friends -- we do, in the final analysis, write about people, however idea-oriented our stories -- and yet I don't have to be manning the barricades, be out on the street waving a banner, where I really don't belong.
p. 78
...... Writing SF requires a humanization of the person, or, put another way, I doubt if that person would want to write SF unless he had in him these empathic needs and qualities. Too timid to demonstrate, too warm to retreat to a sterile lab and experiment on objects or animals, too excited and impatient to allow all knowledge to be confined to the limits of absolute certitude -- we live in a world of what a radio SF show once called "possible maybes," and this world attracts persons who are not loners but are lonely; and between those two disinctions there is a crucial difference.

* 不負責感想:
Dick 的小說要是寫得像他的論述一樣清晰易讀又感人肺腑,不知該有多好哇......T_T

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