I’m always wary and dismayed when running into people who don’t read. Although from what I recall of my schooling, which pretty much resembled a low grade pseudo-Satanic experiment in boredom and mind control — the joys of reading were low on the “things to inspire in the pupils” scale. (Somewhere below “fear,” “stop thinking” and “learn how to conform”).
Let me say this now. Science fiction rocks. And good science fiction — which has all kinds of wildly subversive and thoughtful issues — is one of the best brain foods you can get, outside of being chatted up unexpectedly by a pretty woman. So I thought I’d point you towards some of the writers who’ve altered peoples thinking by their writing. And they’ve done it simply with what appear to be “merely” science fiction stories. (I’m aware that in more advanced societies, these writers are studied in schools, but not here.) So if you’ve never taken the time to look at these authors, hopefully this might inspire you a tad.
First up is a sci-fi writer whose concepts have been filmed, and which you’ve probably seen. (Blade Runner, Minority Report) Phillip K Dick was profoundly different in his thinking — although some might say “totally disturbed”. His official site is at Phillip K Dick But you can get a better sense of the man via this interview The Mainstream Through The Ghetto Flows. A quote of his that works for me is “Reality is that which refuses to go away when I stop believing in it.” Dick was also deeply influenced by Gnostic thought — no it’ll take too long to explain here — so discover some levels to religion that go beyond Sunday school stories at Phillip K Dick The Other Side as well as Resources on Gnostic Tradition. Then for an overview and hopefully enough info to make you start reading his work, try Phillip K Dick, The Unicorn and Mind Control.
The next writer has been so influential, he has a crater on the Moon named after one of his works — Dandelion — named after his Dandelion Wine collection of stories. Meet Ray Bradbury. His official site is at Ray Bradbury. But as usual, there’s often more info to be gained elsewhere. Try this Interview with Ray Bradbury. And here’s another interview: The Romance of Places. Bradbury was writing about fairly advanced issues of love, race-relations and politics, way back in the forties and fifties — wound up amidst a series of beautifully poetic stories dealing with the colonisation of Mars, known as The Martian Chronicles. Just to demonstrate that elsewhere, students get to learn about real writers, take a look at this online Study Guide for The Martian Chronicles.
Then for an “official” Bradbury site — try Ray Bradbury Online. Bradbury was also the mind behind that story of our probable coming future, where book-reading is banned, and firemen burn books — called Fahrenheit 451. Do yourself a favour if you haven’t read it — it ranks alongside 1984 and Brave New World as one of the few titles to capture the essence of a “hidden-in-plain-sight” fascist global government. It’s also fun to read, by the way. “We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.” (Ray Bradbury) If you have the bandwidth, listen to an audio interview (or just download it) at Bradbury Interview.
Then saving the best for last. Robert Heinlein’s work is not only fun reading, it’s been massively influential in a variety of ways. Throughout much of his work, he addressed adult issues ranging from ethics, to sexuality, to militarism and patriotism — causing waves of controversy which still continue today. His book about a human raised with Martian beliefs, who comes to Earth and begins a new anti-religion, with its themes of free love and cannibalism, became one of Charles Manson’s favorite books (Stranger in a Strange Land) — and his Starship Troopers — with its glorification of a militarised society, remains a book to argue about, decades after its release.
Start your journey at Essays on Heinlein. Then to begin to dig in deeper into the complex thoughts of this writer, take the time to read Libertarianism, Objectivism and Robert Heinlein. Three of my favorite quotes of Heinlein are: “In a society in which it is a moral offense to be different from your neighbor, your only escape is never to let them find out.” “Sex should be friendly. Otherwise stick to mechanical toys; it’s more sanitary.” and “Specialization is for insects”.
To get a sense of the man himself behind the amazingly imaginative fiction, read the fascinating Interview With Robert Heinlein.
These sites don’t begin to cover the wealth of information online about these three writers — and I’m aware that there is a vast pantheon of other equally deserving writers who have also changed the face of society, like Asimov, James Blish, Poul Anderson, Damon Knight and Arthur C Clarke, (writer of what became 2001 A Space Odyssey). Clarke was the first to suggest the concept of satellites in Earth orbit.
There’re far too many names to mention, but hopefully — some of the info above will nudge you towards ignoring the lurid cover of a tatty-looking book, the next time you’re in a book shop — and buying one of the titles listed above. In this modern society of apathetic television watching turning our brains to sludge, reading can provide you with a lot of what you didn’t realize you were missing.
Until the next time, if fans of writers I didn’t mention, don’t get me.
Ian Fraser is a playwright, author, comedian, conspiracy nut, old-time radio collector and self-confessed data-junkie. Winner of numerous Vita and Amstel Awards, he’s been an Internet addict and games-fanatic since around 1995, when the Internet began to make much more sense than theatre.