Science Fiction Studies
#39 = Volume 13, Part 2 = July 1986
H. Bruce Franklin
The dubious credit for inventing nuclear weapons and projecting nuclear war belongs indisputably to SF. Indeed, for almost four decades, nuclear weapons could be found nowhere but in SF, and the imagination of SF has, for better and for worse, been inextricably intertwined with the threat of actual nuclear warfare.
So this special issue on Nuclear War and SF could hardly have a more vital, or more ambitious, task. Strangely enough, it is only in the past several years that major explorations have been undertaken on the relations between SF and what looms as the most important subject of our historical epoch. Paul Brians' bibliographic essay, "Resources for the Study of Nuclear War in Fiction," shows just how recent this work iswhich suggests that suddenly, at long last, we students of imaginative literature have begun to extricate our heads from the sand. This special issue itself may be understood as part of the very recent awareness of our own psychological numbing and a growing refusal to ignore the most menacing reality.
"Through Logic to Apocalypse" by Merritt Abrash and my own "Strange Scenarios" try to show just how crucial the imagination and ideology of SF are to a comprehension of our actual predicament, living under the threat of alien forces created with what seemed to their creators the best of motives and reasoning. Martha Bartter's "Nuclear War as Urban Renewal" explores some of the hidden desires lurking beneath the purported rationality of the manufacture, deployment, and threatened use of nuclear weapons. Both Bartter and David Dowling, in his "The Nuclear Scientist in Early Science Fiction," go far beyond merely describing what they find in existing SF to extrapolating imaginative and ethical guidance toward escape routes from our predicament.
Editing this special issue has reinforced a conclusion that I have drawn from all my work in this area: the wealth of SF materials on nuclear weapons and nuclear war is an invaluable resource that more of us should be using, and in more ambitious ways. This truth is highlighted by three essays that look closely at three profoundly disparate SF authors, and from radically different viewpoints: Thomas Morrissey's "Zelazny: Mythmaker of Nuclear War," Dominic Manganiello's "History as Judgment and Promise in A Canticle for Leibowitz," and Daniel Zins' "Rescuing Science from Technology: Cat's Cradle and the play of Apocalypse." By showing the richness and diversity of the materials, and of the methods for exploring them, these essays suggest how much work remains to be done, and how critical it is that we do itwhile we can.
As these essays demonstrate, SF has offered us crucial insights into the sources, dangers, and dimensions of our nuclear nemesis. But it was SF that helped form the imagination that got us into this mess, and today a treacherous form of SF is being used to seduce us into militarizing space and automating control of our destiny. At this fateful moment, when SF conceptions become a focal point of history, it may be fitting to turn to SF for projections of ways out of our predicament. Certainly no other imaginative literature is as well equipped for the job. So the study of Nuclear War and SF, as I hope this special issue shows, may have a special mission in helping to create what can now only be imagined as a form of SF: a planet free from nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war.
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