Ever since the days when Lar, of the tribe of Ug, told fanciful tales of the wonderous beings that inhabited those parts of the world just across the river or over the mountains, men have been telling and writing fantasy.
When they began to know something of science, those fantastic tales began to be based on science. Kepler, an ancient German scientist, wrote one of the first of such novels, in Latin. Jules Verne is probably best known among the earlier writers of what we now call "Science Fiction," with H. G. Wells, one of this new literature's founding fathers.
In the beginning the machine was the thing; the great invention, the wonderful mechanical wizard, the supreme gimmick. There was little attempt at characterization or plot -- just so some tremendous mechanical or scientific, concept was employed. We refer to that beginning now, as "the gadget era".
Then came writers like Edward E. Smith, Phd, John Taine, who is Dr. Eric Temple Bell, the great mathematician of California Institute of Technology, John W. Campbell, Jr., of MIT, and other really excellent scientific minds, who infused into this type of story more of true story values. They began to look not so much upon the machine or the wonderful invention itself, as upon its effects on people.
They began to explore the universe, travelling in their ships of space to the far corners of this and other galaxies, describing the kinds of alien life that might be found there, and the tremendous conflicts between those aliens and the men of Earth. This was the "space opera era".
Then, in the mid-forties, another trend began to manifest itself. Editors, publishers and authors began to say, "We have the spaceships, the time-machines, the means of travelling to other dimensions. So let's forget the gadgets, the machines and concentrate on what effect these things will have on the people."
And so the psychological angles of science-fantasy imagination came into being. Nowadays we use as the basis for our science fiction stories, the same old spaceships, the time machines, the robots, the great inventions. But they are merely the background -- what writers call the "gimmick" behind their story. Actually, what we are now doing is trying to figure out -- to extrapolate -- the economies, the mores and taboos, the forms of government the philosophies and religions, the ways of love and business, of the peoples of the future who live in a civilization and a culture where these advanced sciences and technologies are as commonplace as electricity, automobiles, airplanes, radio, television, and telephones and so on are to us of today. Ray Bradbury, a local boy, is perhaps the top man in this field today, with Theodore Sturgeon and others close behind.
As you can see, I am approximately sixty years old. Yet in my lifetime I have seen practically all of the things we take for granted today, come into being and general use. In the past fifty years the advance in our knowledge of science, technology, and philosophy, are such that the world today is no more like that I knew in my childhood, than the so-called fanciful cultures of which we write as being found in the future or on other planets.
In no other type of literature today can writers put down as freely their thoughts and hopes and conclusions as to "whither are we going?", as can be done in science fiction. In the western story or the historical novel, writers put down "what has been". In the detective, or whodunits, in the love story, in the ordinary though excellent modern story, they write what now is. In what we call true fantasy they write what might be. But in science fiction they write what they think "will be".
Now let us turn for a moment to who is writing such stories. Many of us, like myself, are common ordinary people who have the urge to write, yet who have imaginative, far-seeing minds. We are the ones who are, as it has been called, "eternity and universally conscious". We think not so much in terms of today as of tomorrow.
But, beyond us there are the "masters" of science fiction -- the scientists, the technicians, the highly-educated men and women who, have studied extensively these things, and who, usually as a hobby, write their findings and their conclusions in the form of science fiction stories. Such men as George O. Smith, one of the country's leading electronic experts; Isaac Asimov, one of the finest chemists in the country; David H. Keller, one of the leading psychiatrists of the day; Norman Weiner, the man who probably knows as much about cybernetics and the huge electronic or mechanical calculators as any other living being, and many many more. These scientists KNOW their field, as well as many other allied scientific fields. They have thought and studied deeply as to where our present scientific and mechanical technology is leading us. They write these stories with a fund of absolutely correct scientific knowledge and background, and study the impacts such cultures and those which will undoubtedly grow from what we now know and what we are learning, will lead us.
They are, gentlemen, thinking in terms of tomorrow, and are studying and planning -- IN ADVANCE -- what we will most surely find in the years that lie ahead. Their stories extrapolate from known science, along the lines it is most likely to take, and the characters in their stories envisage both sides of the cultures that will undoubtedly be forced on the men of tomorrow.
Take, for instance, the idea of robots -- machines that can think and act independently, whether they are made in man-like shapes or not. Fanciful, weird, silly, you say? Well, let us look at today. What is an electric eye that can see and judge far faster and more surely than the human eye and brain? What are the great calculators, that can solve in minutes the problems that would take our finest mathematicians, years and years -- if they could do it at all? What are the automatic-pilots in airplanes; or the "brains" in guided missiles? These gentlemen are the robots of today and they are daily growing more intricate and capable of ever greater marvels.
So try to look fifty years ahead of today, and think what our culture will be like if these robots become so efficient and numerous and self-sufficient that they take over our household tasks, our factory workers' jobs, our farm work and many if not most of our trades and professions. What then, will be the status of the ordinary human being? Robots -- independently-thinking machines called robots merely the fantastic creations of crazy-minded science fiction writers? Ah, no -- they are the surety of tomorrow, and they will bring terrific economic and social problems with them. We science fiction writers are trying to study and perhaps offer solutions to just such problems. My own, "Little Miss Martian" deals with that particular angle of tomorrow's problems.
We are accustomed nowadays to the thoughts of rockets. Yet twenty-five years ago, when we science fictionists first began to write about them, they were "those crazy dreams of silly kids". We know about today and are afraid of, the atom and hydrogen bombs. Something new, you say? No, atomic energy as a source of power and as a weapon was used as early as 1921, when Dr. Edward E. Smith wrote his first "Skylark of Space" novel.
Let us then, consider a culture in which space ships are as commonplace as trains or autos or planes are today. Several other planets have been colonized by people from Earth, and are gathered together into a Federation, somewhat like the United Nations of Earth today -- without quite as much bickering, let us hope. Then suppose it begins to appear as though there is a plot on one of those planets to "take over" the Federation. A member of the secret service is detailed to solve this puzzle, and find an alien being from a so-far unknown world, who is back of that plot. What will he do; how will he keep the peace intact; what will be the consequences to all the planets of the Federation? My just-published, "Man of Many Minds" and its sequel now in preparation deal with such a problem.
What will be the results of the first contact between us of Earth and alien beings of unknown size, shape, and mentality -- except that we will know they have great science else they could not build spaceships, to come and meet us? This is another problem our science fiction writers tackle, study and try to solve in advance -- in as many ways as possible. The same basic problem will be involved in many stories by many writers, each seeking a possible solution.
There are men today who, reading this type of story in their boyhood, became so fired with the concepts written in their favorite literature, that they have devoted their entire lives to making these fantastic concepts become realities. They have grown up to take college and universities to fit themselves to handle these problems. I personally, know a number of boys who, for these reasons, have become experts in electronics, nuclear energy, astronomy, chemistry and the like. One of them, a Dr. Thomas Gardner, who as a high school boy was so fired by a story of immortality that he studied biochemistry and genetics, and is today making strides towards a real, actual longevity serum that would amaze you.
Science Fiction, gentlemen, is no longer the "Buck Rogers" type of thing the radio, television, movies, and comic strips persist in making it. The science fiction of present day books and magazines is now mature, forward looking scientifically and psychologically correct -- and is mankind's greatest hope of tomorrow.
--- E. Everett Evans
EDITOR'S NOTE: The above is a speech, given by Mr. Evans
before the Northeast Los Angeles Rotary Club on October
29th, 1953 ...
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