We so often as a culture quote the greats of science fiction as prophets. If you were to ask me, I have almost no doubt that they considered themselves no such thing. Though much of what they say comes true, I don’t think we should deify their works because of their foresight, which I disagree that it is even that. No, these men and women should be hailed as great, not because of their visions and pontifications, but because of their understanding of human circumstance.
A fiction author is someone who creates a world and characters in which events conspire that never actually happened. The illusion of reality comes from the reader’s ability to correlate the letters and words on the page into images and people that become mentally and somewhat spiritually tangible. This illusion allows the characters to present themselves in the light of human truth and experience. Through this we learn more about ourselves, others, and the world around us.
As we know from the Utopia article, science fiction succeeds by failing to describe a true future. This failure is because we will inevitably be constrained by where we are right now and the ongoing circumstances of our lives. Therefore by definition these men are anything but prophets. They just have a deep understanding of who we are and what our collective, political, and individual tendencies are as human beings. They were more historians than prophets. With a deep understanding of humanity one can begin to see past the circumstance and into who we are despite circumstance. With this knowledge they are able to create veritable fictions that can stand as reality despite circumstance, because circumstance is always changing, but we rarely do.
These authors may be quotes as prophets, but only in a specific way. This prophet can be summarized by a quote from Thomas in Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ:
“A prophet is one who, when everyone else despairs, hopes. And when everyone else hopes, despairs. You’ll ask me why. It is because he has discovered the great secret: that the wheel turns.”
The wheel turns, and all it takes is giving it a good spin to test who we really are. So in the end, these men and women are just testing the torque.