restricted access The Cosmic Dancers: Exploring the Physics of Science Fiction, and: Clockwork Worlds: Mechanized Environments in SF, and: The Intersection of Science Fiction and Philosophy: Critical Studies (review)
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Reviewed by
Amit Goswami (with Maggie Goswami). The Cosmic Dancers: Exploring the Physics of Science Fiction. New York: Harper, 1983. 292 pp. $18.50.
Richard D. Erlich and Thomas P. Dunn, eds. Clockwork Worlds: Mechanized Environments in SF. Westport: Greenwood, 1983. $35.00.
Robert E. Myers, ed. The Intersection of Science Fiction and Philosophy: Critical Studies. Westport: Greenwood, 1983. 262 pp. $29.95.

It is rare even in currently vogue genres such as science fiction to find within the span of a single season three such inspired, complementary, and useful guidebooks made available to both the specialist and general readers. Yet this is precisely what we find in the three titles under consideration. And perhaps no areas of formal inquiry have been more in need of serious critical appraisal and precise articulation within the sf establishment than the three tackled by these concurrent volumes: the mutual dependencies between sf fantasies and those three richest sources from which its practicing authors continuously seek to draw. First there are ongoing explorations and discoveries of theoretical physics; next, the historical evolution of our human struggle to find and impose order on an encroaching chaotic universe; and finally the formalisms of philosophical inquiry into the realms of human and physical reality. The three works under review here provide an enlightening overview of the complex interdependences between the sf genre and precisely these three sources upon which individual authors and works draw for their sustaining subject matter as well as their special fictional techniques. To read them in turn is to discover a wealth of source material and kindle a renewed appreciation for the complexities and significance of one of the very richest veins of modern fantasy writing. The sf industry faces one serious critical obstacle. There has been to date alarmingly little agreement as to what precisely sf is, what the formal parameters that delimit and define the genre are, or what is the nature of the sources sustaining it. This is essentially the issue that gives rise to the ingenious and thoroughly entertaining book provided by Professor Goswami, himself a physicist by profession and a science fiction devotee by avocation. [End Page 374]

Perhaps the necessary introduction to Goswami's highly original book is the author's concise definition of what constitutes science fiction as a literary genre:

Science fiction is that class of fiction which contains the currents of change in science and society. It concerns itself with the critique, extension, revision, and conspiracy of revolution, all directed against static scientific paradigms. Its goal is to prompt a paradigm shift to a new view that will be more responsive and true to nature.

Indeed a lofty social motive, and one that clearly delimits the field (as Goswami sees it) to works of an indirect, if not controlling, didactic bent. Goswami suggests that modern science is such a huge and amorphous enterprise that its effect is often to dwarf and render impotent the human imagination; scientists become like bricklayers, piling their individual intellectual bricks upon the immense edifice that is science with little if any idea of what the true nature of the structure is or wherein the purpose in its construction lies. But often it is revolution in perspective (rather than the evolution of the edifice) that is most essential to human progress. And although sf does not produce such revolutions (or paradigm shifts) in our thinking, it is the medium through which we may best discover precisely when such a shift is most essential. Put in slightly different terms, the practitioners of science and the practitioners of science fiction are engaged (to adopt Goswami's ingenious controlling metaphor) in a never-ending and mutually sustaining "dance" of human inquiry. Our apprehension of this dance provides insight into the most basic questions surrounding sf: what does sf contribute to scientific thought? And how does the realm of pure science adapt and integrate those very best fictional representations that challenge the reigning scientific theories? The formula is simple enough: not bound by the strict rules or methodologies of scientific inquiry, sf writers are free to imagine worlds that contradict the precise and universal "laws" articulated by physicists to "explain" the...


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