7th May 1959

So what is so important about this date and how is it important to science fiction?

Well that was the date C P Snow delivered his lecture about two cultures. One culture is the ‘shallow optimism’ of the scientists. The other culture is the humanities / artists with their ‘total lack of foresight, peculiar lack of concern with their brother men, in a deep sense anti-intellectual, anxiety to restrict both and thought to the existential moment.’ Worse, there was a lack of dialogue and interaction between the two cultures.

His view was borne out of him having a foot in both camps as he was both a physicist and a novel writer. He could see the usefulness of the cross-connecting between the cultures: how art can inspire the development paths of science and engineering; and how science can enhance and develop new artistic endeavours.

There is one area in our lives where the cultures meet, science fiction. We are not talking about the fantasied science fiction here, but true science based science fiction. We are talking about authors like David Brin, Ben Bova, Alastair Reynolds and Greg Egan, though I must admit that some of these authors’ novels have strayed towards fantasy.

But has anything changed in how these two cultures since the lecture was given over fifty years ago?

Well in 2012 the Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said the current problems related to security and freedom in cyberspace are the culmination of the absence of dialogue between the two cultures.

This echoes my own experience. The science fiction of today can be divided into ‘fantasy’ and ‘true science fiction’. I have seen novels containing elves, wizards and fairies without any scientific explanation or hint of scientific explanation being called science fiction. Worse the fantasy and true SF do not really talk and interact with each other. The fantasy people don’t understand the science or even want to understand the science in science fiction. As far as they are concerned it is magic, but with the label of science attached to it. The true science people are fed up this hand-waving attitude, which to them means nothing more than lack of homework and lazy writing.

So science fiction has its own two cultures. The one trying to look to the future, trying to find the good positive things that could come our way if we only let it. The other burying their heads in the status quo of the thought of the current moment of, for want of a better word, hedonism.

Which do you want? Self-indulgent fantasy or thought-provoking useful true science fiction?

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