Science fiction with real-world lessons

Staying In

Book review
Bríd Conroy

In the bookshop we have a ‘Science Fiction’ corner, tucked away in the back of the shop, along with some props from the many movies Neil on which worked.
Science fiction has been defined as ‘speculative fiction’ or a ‘literature of ideas’. Normally set in some future time period, it explores technological advances in humanity’s existence and seems to be a genre that readers either just love or don’t pay any attention to whatsoever.
The film ‘Dune’, based on the series of novels by Frank Herbert, first published in 1965, has just been released this week on the big screen again. So I pick up my old copy of the first novel, and by page seven, I am totally hooked again.
The Dune series, along with the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, are amongst my favourite books of all time. I always envied Herbert and Asimov’s ability to create worlds that humanity may go to in the future, and to explore in their writing the possibilities of just what is out there in the big wide universe we know so little about.
‘Dune’ starts with the coming of age of a boy called Paul, whose mother is a member of the Bene Gesserit order. The Mother Reverend of the Bene Gesserit is coming to test the boy’s humanity. His hand is placed in a box and a poisoned needle at his throat. Moving either will have mortal consequences for him. He must invoke the ‘Litany of Fear’ as his mother taught him.
Is he the Kwisatz Haderach, the promised truthsayer of extraodinary abilities? He is destined to go to the desert planet Arrakis and discover how to control the most valuable resource in the universe, the spice melange. In a world where technology has been banned, this spice can expand the human mind to perform complex calculations that can fold time and space.
There are six books in the original series, and a number of spins-off since. The stories as they unfold are epic in their depiction of life 11,000 years from now. I am looking forward to the movie, but I know it will not even touch the brilliance of these books.
First published as a series of short stories in 1942-1950, the Foundation series is set in the waning days of a future Galactic Empire, which has endured for thousands of years. All the planets of the Galaxy are colonised by humans, and included in a centralised rule, sometimes tyrannical, sometimes benevolent, always orderly. Human beings have forgotten that any other form of existence is possible – all except Hari Seldon, the last great scientist of this empire, whose job is to use mathematics and probability to predict the future.
Seldon predicts the decline of humanity, but he cannot stop it. Instead, he bring together the galaxy’s top scientists and scholars with the aim of preserving the accumulated knowledge of humankind and starting a new civilization based on art, science and technology.
There were three books in the original series, but a number of prequels and sequels followed afterwards. Foundation is now being serialised on Apple TV.
Both series encompass themes of heroism, environmental concern, belonging, democracy and human rights. So I am left wondering, is it not time to take science fiction out of its cubby-hole existence and bring it into the light?

Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.

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