I recently returned from a holiday to Bali, where a strange experience made a lasting impression in my mind. We were there during Nyepi, a day of silence and seclusion that marks the Balinese New Year. Part of the tradition of Nyepi is that all residents on the island lock themselves indoors and spend the day in self-reflection. There is to be no working, no entertainment, and as little noise as possible. Television channels are off-air, even the airport is closed. Tourists are told to stay inside the hotel on threat of being arrested.
So I joined the crowd of tourists on the roof of the hotel as they looked forlornly over the deserted landscape of Kuta. It was a surreal sight. The streets, normally bustling with vans and scooters and ringing with the sounds of engines and horns, were utterly empty. The famous beach was deserted. Not a single person could be seen. The kites that usually adorned the sky were conspicuously absent. Even the pollution seemed to be less pervasive, the air tasting fresh and salty. Only the ocean was still in motion, lapping away at those abandoned sands.
It’s a strange feeling, when the public spaces that we take for granted are suddenly forbidden to us. When our freedoms are compromised. But the strangest aspect of this deserted landscape was its sheer familiarity. I’ve seen these sights before. I’ve walked through the empty streets of London in H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. I’ve contemplated deserted cities in John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. I’ve experienced this surreal claustrophobia in Richard Matheson’s immortal I am Legend. And I’ve even seen it on screen, in the (deplorable) film adaptation of the same name. Science fiction has prepared me for this moment.
It brought home to me a concept that I’ve been reading about for years: science-fictionality.
Science fiction has ceased to be a mere genre. It has grown beyond its infancy, becoming a global phenomenon that not only reflects, but informs our experiences of reality. It has become a mode of awareness. It allows us to treat our reality as if it were science-fictional. With our society undergoing such rapid technological growth, technologies that only a decade ago were treated as “mere science fiction” have become a reality. They have become domesticated, normalised. With the climate changing before our eyes, the future has become uncertain. For the first time, we cannot guarantee that our descendents will inhabit a better world than our own. Dystopia looms large, menacing.
Science fiction has already mapped this future that we are now living. It continues to map our own future. And it is to science fiction that we must turn to make sense of it all.
In this blog, I plan to explore science-fictionality in all its forms. I hope to investigate the myriad intersections between science and literature. How does science continue to benefit our society? How is literature evolving to reflect contemporary scientific concerns, such as climate change? Most of all, I hope to scrutinise science fiction itself, examining how this fascinating genre has grown beyond the traditional boundaries of literature. It’s going to be an exciting journey.