Three Sci-Fi Authors View the Future

from Scholastic Voice January 17, 1974: pp. 8-9.

The PKD bibliography compiled by Daniel J H Levack lists “Three Sci-Fi Authors View the Future” as a non-fiction piece appearing in Voice. The citation is repeated in the Phil Stephensen-Payne and Gordon Benson, Jr. updated bibliography, Philip Kindred Dick Metaphysical Conjurerer. Frank Bertrand listed the piece as one of the out-of-print “interviews” that he is attempting to locate. Bertrand classifies it as an interview because that’s what Phil calls it. In a letter to Ursula K. Le Guin dated February 2, 1974 Phil writes, “Also, I was interviewed by Voice, a magazine used in school.”

There are a couple of things wrong with all of this. The article does exist but it is neither a nonfiction article by Phil nor an interview. Also, the title of the publication is wrong, or rather it is incomplete.

“Three Sci-Fi Authors View the Future” appeared in the January 17, 1974 issue of Scholastic Voice, a national publication for high school students. My wife, Esther, remembers reading this magazine in her high school days in Kansas City. The three “sci-fi” authors are Phil, Kurt Vonnegut and Michael Crichton. The short essays are not interviews in the sense of written questions and answers but are instead general overviews of the writers’ books with pull quotes plugged into the narrative. Someone at Scholastic Voice – there is no byline given – must have called them up or submitted questions in some manner then incorporated the results into the essays. The section on Phil is quite short, little more than a column length.

“This is an illusion. Make good use of your time, buddy boy.”

The colonists on Mars write notes like this to themselves before they take the drug Can-D. Once the drug takes over, they’ll enter the good-time world of the Perky Pat miniaturized layouts. The notes will remind them that illusions don’t last. When the drug wears off, they will find themselves huddled in hovels on barren Mars.

This is only one of the many worlds created by Philip K. Dick. Can-D and the unwilling Mars colonists exist in his book The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich. Like all Mr. Dick’s science fiction books, this one has a plot resembling a Chinese puzzle, with boxes hidden inside boxes. You never quite get to the bottom of his stories, but you’re likely to keep trying even if it means reading them again and again.

Here are some other startling ideas Mr. Dick has written about:

  • Germany and Japan win World War II, and occupy the U.S. But some Americans find a tool that may help them fight back – the I Ching (Book of Changes)! (The Man in the High Castle)
  • Radioactive dust has turned the earth into a wasteland. Almost all living animals are extinct, and most humans have emigrated to other planets. But bounty hunter Rick Deccard stays on Earth to destroy enough criminal androids (man-made humans) to earn the price of the greatest luxury of all – a live animal. (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep)

“Of all its roles, science fiction acts best as a guide by which people can cope with their present environment,” says Philip Dick. “It should sharpen our concern and our ability to handle current problems. Science fiction has lost its escapist aspect. It now is deeply rooted in the reality of today, which is always passing into tomorrow. And it’s tomorrow we have to control if we are to survive.”
Many of Philip Dick’s stories have a haunting sadness. The characters often seem trapped and hopeless.

Dick says this reflects his own view. “I do feel our destiny is tragic in the long run. But we have the power to respond to this condition with dignity and courage. It helps to have a sense of humor, so that you can learn to see the madness in the universe as well as in us, and to realize that the universe is trapped exactly as we are. The mind is a universe, too, and that’s why science fiction must deal now with inner space.”

What about mankind’s future? “I think eventually we’ll have to emigrate to other planets for survival – but that’s at least 50 years away. Until we can do that, I think we’ll gradually go back to the kind of existence our ancestors had 100 years ago, to save energy. It could be a better existence than we have now.”

One thought on “Three Sci-Fi Authors View the Future

  1. “This is an illusion. Make good use of your time, buddy boy.”

    In many ways, science fiction explores religious and philosophical concepts and applies it to science and its application. The concept of an illusion (as in the mind) is found in Buddhism and Hinduism, so I find the plot of Philip K Dick’s book fascinating.

    I have no idea where the human race will end up, but thanks to science fiction, we have access to free-thinkers that have the courage to explore the future, without the confines of present-day limitations, for us.

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