What do we imagine when we hear the phrase “science fiction”? Blasters, galactic ships, a bunch of unknown races and … secrets that go straight to the origins of the universe. Also, it is quite likely that we imagine the foolishness, the naivety of the philosophy there, the carelessness of the adventures lived.
This idea of science fiction is fundamentally wrong. The reason for it, probably, lies in the substitution of concepts: we get the brightest impressions of children, fools, starting with the most “unsteady” examples of the genre – “Star Wars”, “The Fifth Element”, stories that do not imply any scientific character. These are space operas (the theater of continuous action!), which are supposed to captivate, not teach.
Only with age and experience does an understanding of real science fiction come to us, usually stuffed with the above-mentioned tools, but demonstrating it in a different way. Classical narratives teach, torture, confronting the global problems of being head-on, and do not even involve the sweet pills of escapism.
Fantasy and harsh truth are pitted on an unprecedented scale.
The ability to predict, outline the future is a great success for any science fiction writer. But far more successful (and, as the experience of literature has shown, more durable) is that shaky line between science fiction and a scientific treatise, where the main role is played by the problem. Outlined, balanced, presented insinuatingly and unmistakably, it develops the reader’s imagination and raises much more important questions before us.
Arthur Clarke (1917-2008) – on December 16 he turns 105 years old – like no one else taught humanity the sobriety of perception. The most unprecedented and tragic events took place in his novels. Mankind was disappearing as a species – about this, perhaps, one of the most exciting works of Clarke “Childhood’s End” – faced the boundless perfection of space aliens, obeyed the will of artificial intelligence, reached incredible peaks of evolution (colonization of planets, super-technologies) and at the same time did not forget about frail earthly strife.
A panopticon of stupidities and fatal errors is presented by Clark in those details that even realists are sometimes afraid to talk about. The factor of scientific detachment makes it possible not to identify oneself with humanity and to conduct a “spectral analysis” of what has been done over several turbulent paradoxical millennia. The challenges outlined by Clark are terribly convincing and at the same time conditional, like birds depicted by the arc of a fountain pen.
The scale of distance provokes the growth of personality exactly at those moments when phenomena, events, facts and persons that seemed extremely important, fundamental, recede into the background. Clark’s universe is based on comparison. Mankind, which has achieved so much, brought up a generation of exceptional long-livers – brave citizens who feel like thirty at the age of one hundred and twenty, sharply becomes smaller when the mysterious Rama appears on the horizon of its development.
The legacy contained in it exceeds the wildest expectations, it is not the next stage of evolution, not a modification of consciousness, but a fundamentally different method of life. In comparison with him, sober humanity sees itself as petty, insignificant, having lived too little, and an irresistible thirst for the best moves it to study the mysterious world. He turns out to be much less perfect than it seems at first. Clark does not allow absolute clarity. In his opinion, any element of being has a reverse, shadow side. The ideal is doomed to tragedy because it is not rooted in the fact of consciousness. Only a half-hearted and rapidly changing something, called a personality, is capable of gaining full weight, since it is not subject to completeness and is constantly supplemented by something new.
Unlike other masters of science fiction, be it Asimov with his textbook humanism, the sarcastic Garrison, the mystical visionary Heinlein, who lives in Delaney’s stylistic experiments, or the wary Lem, Arthur C. Clarke is deliberately strict, uncompromising, cruel in relation to the created worlds.
There is a British sense of self, and early metaphysical discoveries associated with death and birth (World War II, moving to Sri Lanka, comprehending the spiritual life of foreign peoples), and an unusual variety of hobbies. With each of his novels, Clark builds a bridge from the animal-human to something that is not yet defined, hinting that we are too lazy in overcoming the self.
It is she who gives rise to cataclysms that are unusual for the peace of galaxies, it is she who calls for the wonders of other worlds that can either sober up or, if the lesson is not learned, carry into oblivion. Warnings, riddles, puzzles that require complete dedication – this is the whole Clark. And despite the fact that the language of his novels now feels somewhat ponderous, deceptively anachronistic, his art is unparalleledly alive due to the love, passion and sensitivity with which the master describes the human and the cosmic. His sadness is bright, and his joy is vague, but the main thing is that the lessons of his stoicism, firmness in the face of universal challenges have not at all become outdated and, perhaps, have only become more relevant, because how can you wish and justify the excesses of your own relatives when such distant stars?