We arrive at the launch of Terra Two. The hand that writes this is that of an earthbound detractor. Yet if you put your ear to the ground of the good earth, the dear Terra One, you may just hear the sound of one hand clapping. The sound, now unmistakable, has risen to a deafening roar. Quite as a responsible critic should, let me attend to the business of each hand, making clear my resistance and justifying my applause.
Incipiently, I must be allowed to agree most wholeheartedly with the caretaker in what beneath her sanguine, forward-looking, jolly-good British demeanor is an outlook apocalyptically grim. Ah, yes. Beyond the tipping point, here we find ourselves. Hello, doom! Such an honest appraisal deserves to be commended. We stand together, she and I. But if doomed I stand, like her, undefeated.
Where I stand as contrarian is simple. With the venture to go where no one has gone before I am afforded of little faith. Rocket science’s blithe assumption that distances in light years will eventually be “solved” for space flight strike me as just as naïve as science’s assurance that life chanced forth originally, just because the universe had such an infinity of time on its calendar that it was bound finally to happen. And even NASA—never mind those stargazers in the private sector signing up billionaires for their Buck Rogers bucket seats—is steering clear of discussion of radiation out there, a lethal shield quite possibly prohibitive to manned space flight. Then, beyond the traveling, think of any conceivable destination. Has someone genuinely alive to the gorgeousness of this planet upon which we so insouciantly thrive fully imagined what it would be like to exchange it for some barren wasteland resembling the moon? Fairy tales, just like sports, video games and Disneyland, offer a salutary escape hatch from the stress of reality’s harshnesses. The folly of continuing beyond childhood to clutch them as a substitute for reality, however, is all too clear. As for me, then, where am I left?
Whether its final reckoning is to come from global warming or nuclear holocaust is still a long shot wager best left for a bookmaker, but the planet has been put on notice. This globe, you’d better believe it, is going to blow. But now see the slender foothold upon which I place my faith. I quote the caretaker, then snatch only a slice from her quote: “The problem is precisely this: our planet is dying. It will probably rejuvenate, but many scientists predict that for a very long time, from an as-yet undefined point in the near future, it will be rendered largely uninhabitable for human and other animal life forms.”
It will probably rejuvenate. Not, then, in some unreachable star, but in this Earth’s rejuvenation after the terrible fact of its destruction, I shall hazard my faith. That I whistle while placing my bet, think not, science fiction in both print and film having all too plainly dramatized what must await our planet post-apocalyptically. Yet I believe that this star, once green, might come green once again. Best of all, it’s HERE. We are thus relieved to turn all the cunning of our technology to rebuilding what’s here instead of to the farfetched of the far-flung, the far less likely successful travel to and survival in the great elsewhere.
Having cantankerously dissented from what I am quite sure will represent the predominant view of sf enthusiasts, now I turn and embrace Terra Two in the spirit of its mission. That mission I endorse with all my heart, and not blindly, but with what I trust will be found good reasoning to follow.
I concur that those who see themselves as representing the arts and the humanities bear responsibility to help direct the rebuilding in the time to come. Literature in particular I view as a perpetual awakener, and hence a superior instrument of ethical guidance. The great moralists, such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, have indirectly (non-didactically) counseled us at least as wisely as any scripture.
I must concede that the literature of the young 21st century seems too exclusively preoccupied with mere Zeitgeist, too concerned “to fasten down the spirit of its time, to make a heightened simulacrum of our recognizable world in order to present it shaped and analyzed” (The Abundance, Annie Dillard, p. 112). But it is precisely in this regard that, on the whole, the “community” of sf authors comprises a notable exception. Were I to choose three great novels written by the trio I named above, say David Copperfield, Daniel Deronda and The Wings of the Dove, as exemplary and trenchant studies in good and evil, we might without slightest compunction place Ursula K. le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness alongside, one more seminar in Socratic virtue taught by a genius whose skill is only exceeded by wisdom. Can anyone seriously doubt the enormous influence exerted by these pillars of posterity, shaping the ever-unfolding generations of our culture?
As the caretaker of this emerging website has indicated, science fiction, now coming to its maturity, is unabashedly moralistic. This it need make no excuses for. This is its glory. This is literature rediscovering its true water level, resuming its grand 19th century traditions. Le Guin’s oeuvre is both example and bugle-call, a summons to all who would write “fantastic realism”, directing surviving earthlings in the work of rebuilding in the time to come.
This means what is offered here in nebulous cyberspace is opportunity of rarest good fortune. For if, as we believe, purposefulness takes us deepest in our quest of felicity, it is into deep space, after all, that Terra Two stands to take its contributors and its readers.
Dr. T.J. King’s B.A. Bates College, Maine; M.A. in English, New Mexico State U; Ph.D., English, the U. of Denver. Through a long life wisely declining the meretricious lures of the publishing industry, his self-publications for the astonishment of his friends included his Ph.D novel, as well as books of essays and poems, during a 30 year career teaching at American River College, Sacramento.