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The World Beyond the Hill

Where do the roots of science fiction lie? What themes have shaped the genre, and how has it changed over the years? All these questions are pondered in the wonderful book The World Beyond the Hill (Amazon US and UK), by Alexei and Cory Panshin. Subtitled “Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence”, the book won a Hugo Award when originally released in 1989, garnering rave reviews from some of the leading lights of science fiction (with good reason). Happily, the book has recently been re-released by Phoenix Pick, for all of us who missed the original edition. It’s certainly a book that I think Grailers will get a lot out of.

Here’s a summary from the book’s Preface:

The world that we live in has been formed in the image of the myth of science fiction. Anything we use today may have been made by a robot. Children play interactive games with household computers, and thinking machines play championship-level chess. Men in rockets have traveled to the moon, and we have even sent off greetings to the stars.

The story of the complete life cycle of this myth is presented in this book, beginning with the first faint glimmerings that “science” might be a new name for higher possibility, and ending with modern mythmakers able to imagine that mankind might assume control of its own destiny, establish a galaxy-wide stellar empire, and evolve into a higher order of being.

For those who are interested in the dynamics of myth, this book tells
how a new myth comes into being, how the makers of myth conceive and produce their stories, how myth both responds to worldly change and anticipates it, and how one myth at the conclusion of its usefulness may evolve into another.

For those who have love for the myth of science fiction, this book shows where its central ideas and images came from and how they developed, from a time prior to the point when this literature even had a name up until the moment of crisis and opportunity when mythmakers came to the realization that their sense of higher human potential could no longer be contained by the name “science” and began to use another.

And for those with dreams of a sounder, more holistic, more human way of life beyond the fragmentation and purposelessness which presently dominate our society, this book indicates not only how our myths change us, but how we change our myths. It shows how the storytellers of SF, having come to recognize the limitations of a world built upon scientific materialism, altered their myth and laid down the basis for a new age of higher consciousness.

I’ve spoken with the publisher about posting an extended excerpt from the book as a feature article in the near future (though it’s a tough decision to choose which part of the book to touch on). However, I can categorically recommend The World Beyond the Hill as a worthy addition to your bookshelf, so why wait? Grab a copy from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

  1. Synchronicity

    It shows how the storytellers of SF, having come to recognize the limitations of a world built upon scientific materialism, altered their myth and laid down the basis for a new age of higher consciousness.

    This is a very current topic for me as I am re-reading a Science Fiction classic that I first read some 40 years ago. The book is “More Than Human” by Theodore Sturgeon and is, to my mind, not only a classic of SF but of American literature full-stop.

    However, the point I had in mind as I read this book was how, in 1953, Sturgeon was able to publish a story as Science Fiction when the plot centres around the paranormal: telepathy and telekinesis in particular. While I’m a fan of SF in general, I’m certainly no aficionado but would I be mistaken in thinking that since the “Golden Age” of SF in the 1950’s, the stories have tended towards the materialistic? Isn’t this what they call “Hard SF”? This quote from a review of a 1967 Robert Silverberg novel (SF Reviews website) illustrates my point:

    [quote=Thomas M. Wagner] One by-product of their genetic changes (and this will probably annoy hard SF purists) is a sharp increase in such paranormal abilities as telekinesis, which Vorst sees as the key to breaching interstellar distances. Yes, ordinarily my eyes roll so much they making a sloshing noise when I encounter such things as ESP, precognition, and other psychic hooey in a science fiction novel. [/quote]

    Sturgeon probably felt no threat to his credibility in 1953 but these days, it seems to me, SF writers appear to be feel duty-bound to thump the drum for materialism and atheism. I feel so sad about this because “More Than Human” is such a beautifully written story that I’m sure it could be enjoyed by even the most hardened materialist.


    1. The bias of hard S-Fiers
      That bias towards PSI and UFOs among the most successful authors of the golden age is quite interesting indeed. They deliberately steered away of such themes, and although Asimov was fond of envisioning galactic empires, he detested the idea of flying saucers coming to Earth.

      Maybe they revolted the prospect of unintentionally creating a new religion? Well, at least most of them.

      I think Dune marked the end of the classic ‘hard’ Sci-Fi, and began to explore once again themes related to what I would call ‘the bigger questions’. Thus, the mystification of Sci-Fi was complete with Star Wars —Lucas tried to give a bit of a ‘science-y’ explanation to the Force with those god-damned midiclorians, and that was a HUGE mistake IMO.

      1. L. Ron
        Coincidentally, it seems that it was Theodore Sturgeon who related that famous Hubbard quote:

        [quote=Wikipedia]Theodore Sturgeon vividly recalled being in the same room with L. Ron Hubbard, when Hubbard became testy with someone there and retorted, “Y’know, we’re all wasting our time writing this hack science fiction! You wanta make real money, you gotta start a religion!” Reportedly Sturgeon also told this story to others.[/quote]


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