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  • Who is An SF Writer?CEA Chapbook, 1974
  • Philip K. Dick

I've watched high school kids grow from an avid reading appreciation of sf to their first hesitant submission, their first sale. They may disappear soon, or become only one of many. But they may also become like Ted Sturgeon, a unique and powerfully lovely contributor. In any case there is a tremendous motivation to make the statement, the written submission. "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, a contribution.

In the sciences when experimental work reveals some law or principle previously unknown, the researcher knows he must publish his results. What scientist could determine that such-and-such is a universal scientific principle and then say nothing about it? This practice shows the affinity between the sf writer and the true scientist; having discovered something new it is incumbent on him, morally incumbent, to publish a little piece in print about it, and whether that publishing will make him immortal or rich, the ethic is the same. It would be purposeless, for example, to determine in scrupulous laboratory conditions that mice fed on nothing but canned mackerel live twice as long as the control group and then, the experiment having been conducted and the results obtained, never mention it to anybody. Thus, I think, we in our field have that grand drive of the true research scientist, to acquaint people with something heretofore overlooked. All other factors, the need to earn a living, to impress people, to be "immortal," those are secondary.

Probably what we see in an sf writer (I will use myself as an example) is a boy growing up and wanting to be a scientist. (I wanted to be a paleontologist, for example). However, science does not leave room for a factor vital to us: speculation. For example, an anthropologist finds a humanoid skull in Africa almost 3 million years old. He looks at it, subjects it to tests, and then in his article in Nature or Scientific American, tells us what he actually found. But I can see myself there with Leakey finding those incredibly ancient humanoid skulls with an 800 c.c. skull, and when I see it, wild speculations which I cannot prove come to my mind. If X then Y. If true humans lived that long ago … and I imagine a whole culture, and speculate, as in a voluntary dream, what that person's world might have been like. I do not mean his diet or how fast he could run or if he walked [End Page 193] upright; this speculation is legitimate for the hard sciences to deal with. What I see is what I suppose I would have to call a "fictional" environment that skull tells me about. A story that skull might tell. Might is the crucial word because we don't know, we don't have the artifacts, but I see more than I hold in my hand. Each object is a clue, a key to an entire world unlike our own—past, present or future. It is not this immediate world, yet this skull tells me of another world, one I must dream up myself. I have passed out of the domain of true science. If I wish to write about my dream, to ask "What if these people had developed a method of controlling their environment by …" then I must write what we call science fiction. It is first of all the true scientific curiosity, the wondering, the dreaming, that motivates us. We also have a desire to fill in all the missing pieces in the most startling or unusual way: to add to what is actually there, to piece out the concrete reality which can only say so much and no more, to share my own glimpse of another world. A world I will never see fully, perhaps never even to a great extent, but which one object has given me a clue to.

The sf writer is not, however, a thwarted scientist who couldn't...


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pp. 193-197
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