Comforting Words of Science Fiction

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, October 2, 2017

I’m restless. I became depressed after hearing about the mass killing in Las Vegas. I needed uplifting and realized I hungered for a comforting science fiction story, the kind I found inspiring in my youth. I pulled out my iPhone and brought up my ebook copy of The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. “Desertion” by Clifford D. Simak called me to read it. It’s a huge book, as big as The Bible. I believe I turned to this story today like the faithful turn to a favorite passage in their good book. My unconscious mind picked it for me, and as usual, it was right.

The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

After reading the story I hankered to hear it. I prefer listening to fiction, and once again I prayed my atheist prayers for an audiobook edition of The Big Book of Science Fiction. (Audible, are you listening?) If you are a believer try listening to an audiobook version The Bible, and you’ll know why.

I was able to find “Desertion” in the audiobook version of City, a fix-up novel Simak created from several unrelated short stories that he tied together about myths of extinct humans told by surviving robots and dogs. I’ve saved the video to where the story starts.

For those you who prefer to read with your eyes, here’s a .pdf of the story.

Whether you listen or read, the story is not very long. Take some time to enjoy it. Any true believer of science fiction will find it moving, even heartwarming. “Desertion” provides the kind of sense of wonder that many of us true fans feel define science fiction. Warning, I hope this story will make you cry, it should if you’re not a misanthrope.

I’ve often written there are many similarities between the appeal of religion and the attraction of science fiction. Maybe that’s why I find the sense of wonder in this story so comforting on this bleak day.

“Desertion” is a tale of pantropy and transhumanism – think born again. I’m an atheist to both religion and science fiction. Even though their stories are unbelievable, they are comforting. I lost my faith in God when I was twelve. I’ve been a humanist ever since. However, in my last third of life, I’m even losing my faith in humanity. Does that make me a post-humanist?


6 thoughts on “Comforting Words of Science Fiction”

  1. No, Jim it doesn’t. It just proves you are human.

    The existence of doubts, the worry of questioning a decision, the concern after decisions made and acted upon are just part of the wonderful and fearful act of being human.

    The lack of those things (and others) is a sign of the loss of your humanity.

    And I’m not worrying about your humanity.

    The list of those who do concern me would exceed the limits of your WordPress account.

  2. Hi James

    A great choice, I think of Desertion as the story of a do over for the human race where the focus is now on stopping to smell the roses rather than the collecting weath. I read somewhere, travelling so I don’t have my books, that Simak wrote city when he had begun to lose his faith in humanity and decided dogs would make a better role model. Can’t say he was entirely wrong based on what I am seeing lately.

    All the best

  3. As a chilling adjunct to my earlier comment, I need to tell you that I went to the same high school as the recent shooter in Las Vegas. I vaguely remember him at Poly High, and some of my still-in-contact alumni remember him better than I do. I have no clue as to what, how or why this happened. Hopefully, the officials and the media will come up with information that may make this more understandable.

    In my ignorance, I cannot say much about all of this with anything other than opinion. That won’t stop me of course.
    Humans are a social species, and anyone who wishes to argue differently is welcome to do so. Our history makes it pretty clear to me. Whether you focus on our so-called history of Western Civilization (non-existent without the mathematics of the Arab nations in the middle east), our cultural beginnings in Europe (the Catholic Church), the retention of hundreds of years of culture and science by the monks of western Europe/the British Isles, the influx of different ideas from the trade with the East, or the hegemony of the European royalty leading into the wars of the following centuries, we are a bunch of mongrel and needy people with rapscallion leaders. And the “People” as we call them now, had very little do with what went on. They just survived.

    Unfortunately we are still in that very same process; the People are in it to survive. Whatever the future brings, the only way for our Culture, aka the essence of who we all are, to survive is to either force change, or to adapt to change forced upon us. The former suggests an opportunity to re-right the ship of Western Culture and build a new concept/belief/hegemony that will straighten things up and fly right.

    The latter suggest that our so-called Civilization is already circling the drain and can only be saved/redeemed by an outright revolution of ideas.

    I have lived through enough so-called revolutions (although not as a client or as a subject) to think that such a solution is the very last one to choose. It literally means that every other possible choice is not only exhausted, but dead wrong. It means blowing up everything that we know is right, because it is now wrong (shades of the Firesign Theater!)

    I still have hopes that there is room to maneuver, and space for us to make the changes necessary to create a near world-wide understanding of how human life, and humane treatment is necessary for the continued existence of humans in this world. However, if I was a betting man, I’d be spreading my bets in Vegas just in case.

    1. I don’t have much hope for civilization either. But like you said, we are a species who is great at surviving. We are social, but I don’t know if we are 7 billion social. As individuals, we were probably happier in our hunting and gathering state. Remember the killer ape theory, maybe it’s true. We’re just too good at it.

      Although, there are books out, like Our Better Angels by Steven Pinker that suggest we are getting less violent overall.

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