I have a review of C.S. Lewis massively underrated Space Trilogy up on Culture 11.
But why is it comforting to be insignificant? Isn’t insignificance at the heart of the fiction of Wells and his heirs? Isn’t man’s nothingness at the base of the horror in Wells or (for example) in Lovecraft? At first that seems to be the case, but when you look closer, it’s less clear. In The Time Machine, for example, what terrifies and disgusts the narrator is not the absence of man, but his presence — the hideous hopping creatures which, in more and more degenerate form, populate the far future. Frankenstein’s monster is horrifying not because he isn’t human, but because he is. The gothic tradition on which much of sci-fi rests is about doubling; about recognizing one’s own twisted visage in the face of infinity. The supposed evolutionary ruthlessness, the acknowledgment of the “truth” of man’s insignificance, is, in these books, a kind of ruse. The real emotional power is in man’s proliferation; man is everywhere, inescapable. The future does not create the sci-fi writer; rather it is the sci-fi writer who creates, in his or her own image, the future.
I was thrilled to get a chance to write this. The Space Trilogy is one of my favorite works of twentieth century literature, period. Peter Suderman, the arts editor at Culture 11, very kindly agreed to let me write the piece, and to pay me for it, though there’s no discernible news hook for it anywhere in sight. So thanks, Peter.