You’re a science fiction writer, but you have a background in philosophy. How do you see the articulation between the two?
Romain Lucazeau: I think there is an essential connection between philosophy and science fiction. When I left the university world after the aggregation of philosophy, I also reinjected into science fiction writing a central element of my training: speculation. Science fiction is about creating a framework in which we manipulate a number of parameters that are tied to our spontaneous understanding of the world, and extract all the consequences in a very rational way. In this, science fiction is not an imaginary genre, contrary to what one might think, but a speculative genre. It’s the principle of “what if?” What if the notion of time were abolished in space displacement? It is unthinkable to spend time on travel, and if you change this setting and draw the consequences out of it, this is where science fiction comes in. It is a prime place for speculation. it approaches something that runs through the whole of philosophy: the mental experiment.
“Science fiction is not an imaginary genre, contrary to what one might think, but a speculative genre”
Do famous philosophical thought experiments, such as René Descartes’ evil genius or John Locke’s The Prince and the Shoemaker, have anything to do with science fiction?
For sure ! If you do a mental experiment and reify it, that is, you transform it from idea into thing, from image to reality, you are doing science fiction. Science fiction is an experiment in philosophical thinking that is taken seriously … or rather, taken seriously. For example, if you read Germinal ofEmile Zola (1885), you will find a metaphor of the mine as a monster swallowing workers. If you’re writing a sci-fi book, you can imagine workers working on a giant live animal. The principle of science fiction writing, then, is this: the reification of metaphor.
Today from the movie Dunes (Denis Villeneuve, 2021) in the series Foundation (Apple TV +, 2021), we have the impression of witnessing a great return to SF. What do you think?
I think science fiction has never been so good. SF’s images and dreams now live immanently in popular culture and fantasy, such as Besson’s flying taxi in The fifth element (1997). It is a massive phenomenon throughout the West and increasingly prevalent in China, Korea and Japan. The themes, figures and symbolism of the SF are spreading to consumption everywhere and the TV series are mass-produced. This has economic consequences. To make your product attractive to mutual funds and public finance, set up they tend to combine with SF language and stories to “tell” their products. In the same way, everyone uses the term “artificial intelligence”, while in the strict sense it does not exist. What we have are algorithms that can do machine learning, which has nothing to do with intelligence. But economic actors prefer to let remote-controlled machines pass for robots.
“The principle of science fiction writing is the reification of metaphor”
There’s also talk of Silicon Valley, from Elon Musk’s space tourism to Jeff Bezos ’Blue Origin project, right?
Yes. They are now putting large sums of money into the real world to bring to the real world a series of intuitions that are part of the great stories of classical science fiction: the privatization of space, the deployment of new robotic tools, communication of thought, etc. We are in what seems to me a period of civilizing crisis, a crisis of the vocation of our very advanced societies. And in the face of the grayness of the future, positivist discourse (relying on the progress of science and knowledge), building and exalting the golden age of classical science fiction (1930-1960) becomes a great imaginary narrative, as when ancient Greece told the tales of the heroes of the golden age. When Elon Musk sends rockets into space, he becomes a sort of ersatz of the Golden Age.
Gray and fear of the future … How does science fiction take over?
From my point of view, science fiction does not imagine the future. Science fiction addresses fear. I can quote any SF author, my reading prism is always to ask myself what fear does it refer to. In addition, the most constant theme of science fiction since the mid-nineteenth centuryi century, is the fear of humanity disappearing, the existential danger. As such, ecological fear reached SF very quickly, in the 1950s Isaac Asimov (news from Foundationthe first of which was published in 1942, followed by those of robots), in the 60s with Frank Herbert (Dunes, 1963). In France, it can be read as early as the 1940s René Barjavel (Shattered). This is due to a great deal of anxiety that SF has been going through since the beginning: theboarding of the world runs the risk of the destruction of the world. What the German philosopher said Martin Heidegger : the idea that the technique leads to the destructuring of the simple and immediate inscription of the individual in a world, let’s say, rural. The lost memory of the good community of the people, the tear mitsein (“to be with”, “together”) the authenticity and projection of the individual in a cold urban world, where only the administrative machinery vibrates. It’s the aesthetics of the city that you see, for example blade runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), this kind of gigantic, dehumanized and ruthless megalopolis.
“The most constant theme in science fiction since the middle of the 19th centuryi century, is the fear of humanity disappearing […] Good SF stories are written out of fear, not hope. ”
So is science fiction basically a writing about the existential danger of humanity and ways to avoid it?
Yeah Al that sounds pretty crap to me, Looks like BT aint for me either. Good SF stories are written out of fear, not hope. There is currently a current of science fiction that wants to produce positive discourses and utopias, but I consider it doomed to failure. Try to make a movie with the utopia of Thomas Morethat would be deadly boring, meanwhile 1984 works much better! The figure of the SF hero faces a series of absolute terrors of our condition: the alien invasion, the dehumanization by a totalitarian society, the ecological collapse, the loss of meaning linked to space travel , the transformation of the organism, biological experiments. . The most utopian author of SF is Iain Banks (cycle of culture, published between 1987 and 2012). It relates a civilization called Culture, a posthuman, starry civilization, which works according to the idea of posthistory, as we find it formulated in the reading of A.lexandre kojève thesis of Hegel. There is no more work, society is in full swing and the conflict is gone, and so on.. But the story of Jain Banks only becomes interesting when his utopian future comes face to face with a radical opposite, which erupts in the form of a lawless alien invasion. Ian Banks then tests the limits of utopia, of these consequences of history that must be resisted in the face of danger.
You said above that the role of SF is not to think about the future. However, are you, along with other SF writers, participating in an army initiative to imagine future threat scenarios?
Indeed. We write scenarios to think about future threats that go beyond the traditional military planning framework. We invent types of dangers on which we want to cause a setback in our interlocutors. It’s a kind of applied science fiction. But to answer you, they don’t expect us to be predictive – they have futurists for that. Again, science fiction is not about predicting the future. No, they expect us to put them in awkward positions to see how they would react, to check that their planning and strategic thinking are agile enough to answer the most startling hypotheses.
Are they like “stress tests” when an organization is subjected to very unfavorable scenarios to test its resilience?
Exactly. And to broaden the point, I think SF plays this role on the scale of society. If you ask science fiction writers to find solutions to the pandemic, they won’t be particularly helpful. If you ask them to accompany the frightened population in writing, they will find their interest. When the pandemic began and the world discovered these images of governments asking people not to leave their homes, we immediately thought of zombie movies, apocalypse and fiction of the day of the final judgment of the 60s and 70s, images of New York completely empty with overturned cars. SF at the time – I really like the expression you use – played a role stress tests existential, yes. She makes him experience his fears, and as has been said Aristotle in the Poeticit allows you to extract both pleasure and a means to learn from it.
“SF’s images and dreams now live immanently in popular culture and fantasy, like Besson’s flying taxi in The fifth element”
So without looking to the future, can SF be a way to prepare for it?
Yes, but it is not their utility that makes the price of SF. I insist, because SF in France has a peculiarity, is that it is very militant and politicized – for example with Alain Damasio, Roland Wagner On Catherine Dufour. Science fiction writers write for many reasons, they can be fiercely conservative or ultra-Marxist. But this is not the main thing. For me, the best French author of SF is Maurice Dantec (see for example The roots of evil, 1995), which also represented an ultra-paranoid far-right movement. Ian Banks on the other hand, had a terrible day. Science fiction authors generally carry out great theoretical discourses of world explanation that are under their own political philosophy. In the house of HG Wells, you will find all the theories of biological competence and social Darwinism. In the house of Isaac Asimov, is clearly the influence of Marxism and historical determinism. But a successful SF book is not a booklet. There are great SF books on the left, there are great green books and others that are nothing. This is not what counts, because SF is neither there to imagine desirable worlds, nor political solutions. I don’t think literature should be expected to be useful. Literature can be beautiful and useless, it is above all an aesthetic experience. I wrote pages and pages about a conscious spaceship, drifting through space and reflecting on its own loneliness. It was useless but I thought it was nice. It just reminded me of what all SF readers look for when they open a book, what the English call the wonderful feeling that which provokes in philosophy speculation and the experimentation of thought: a metaphysical vertigo.