Dreaming the World — 2006

by David Redd


Three sci-fi writers were drinking at the bar when a fannish conversation started up behind them.

The first writer said, “Hear them fans on about sci-fi! Ain’t they got nothin’ better to do?”

The second writer shook his head. “Let’s move somewhere quieter.”

“Wait,” said the third writer, listening. “They’re saying something about novelists revisiting over-familiar tropes. Could be interesting.”

“No way,” said the first. “Robot babes is interesting. Writing about them ain’t.”

“Not necessarily,” said the second. “Look on the web. If fanzines or blogs aren’t about fans, they’re full of book and movie reviews. The fans do care about whether sci-fi is any good or not.”

“Maybe.” The third writer still listened. “Yes, they’re talking about us. Saying writers shouldn’t just rehash the same old plots and ideas. They want something different, something mind-stretching, something new.”

“Them’s livin’ in the past.”

“I can see why,” said the second writer. “Years ago, fans kept boosting science-fiction as a force for progress, a set of dreams about changing the world for the better. A lot of fans and writers dreamed of nuclear energy, space travel, immortality, robots and the rest. Science-fiction spread their dreams and helped achieve their goals. Fait accompli! We got to the moon, anyway. But because we’re living that future now, sci-fi has lost its old purpose, so now all we get are dark horror stories or mindless fantasy trilogies. Maybe we should go back to dreaming with that old sense of wonder — and start giving the world a new future!”

The first writer was sceptical. “Sci-fi don’t bother with the real future no more. It’s all rewrites of Doc Smith space battles or them alternate history fings. No new stuff.”

The third frowned. “But shouldn’t we try for something new?”

“I admit, the world’s taken some wrong turnings lately,” said the second writer. “Perhaps things could have turned out better if only we authors had worked at new ideas the way we used to. Why don’t we start dreaming a few real science-fiction dreams again?”

The third writer lost his frown. “That’s right! If we dream ourselves into the Jungian collective unconscious and reach enough people we could put right the mistakes of the past!”

“My editor needs puttin’ right,” said the first writer. “Told me noir was goin’ out and I oughter do Star Trek. Dream on, guys!”

“We will,” said the other two, meaningfully.

The fannish voices chuntered on, unheeded, as in three writerly minds the unaccustomed shapes of new s-f dreams took form.

1

The support act, Marc Bolan and T. Rex, also gave their services free at the World Aid concert. Between reprises of “Get It On” and “20th Century Boy” Bolan shouted to the audience that he had begged and screamed and pleaded to be the warm-up to the Fab Four. The reunion of The Beatles, even without their martyred leader, was the greatest event to hit the world since John and Yoko invented love. What else could save the planet?

The date was July 15th, the year 1985. Bolan had the good sense to quit the stage after only an hour.

“Magical Mystery Tour” swirled thunderously from the speakers as the stage crew slid the remaining gear into place. Then the opening chord of “Sergeant Pepper” brought the audience to their feet, all of them chanting along as the dry ice puffed and billowed from the wings. Suddenly a thunderflash cracked.

“George!”

Through the clouds of dry ice bounded a scarlet-coated figure, snatching up the lead guitar.

“Ringo!”

Jewellery flashed from his hands as the drummer sauntered on with a jaunty wave.

“Billy!”

A gasp from the audience, as 2,000,000,000 people realised that the organist of “Abbey Road” was a full and acknowledged Beatle at last.

And finally: “Paul!”

Inevitably they opened with the greatest rhythm track in the history of the world, “Get Back”...

2

The outstanding cinema success of 1990, the Australian movie “The Songlines,” was made for the minuscule sum — by Hollywood standards — of five million dollars. At first the director, the respected Peter Weir who had personally optioned the original novel, could only raise finance by directing Paul Hogan in a new series of Foster’s advertisements. His film treatment was scorned. Obscure philosophical musings about anthropology were not thought commercial, even if filmed in the stunning desert backgrounds of central Australia. Weir would have had to abandon the project, at considerable personal loss, had it not been for the intervention of Harrison Ford.

The American actor had never satisfactorily explained his interest in the project, which promised neither box-office success nor critical acclaim. He has merely stated that, on hearing of “Weir’s Christmas Turkey,” as the movie was known in pre-production, he felt impelled to arrange the finances, and then to join the cast at a peppercorn fee. His wife assisted Weir with the screenplay on the same basis, and Weir himself took the small part of Salman Rushdie, a minor Hassidic poet who accompanied Ford’s character through the Outback.

The industry consensus was unkind to Ford, to the screenplay and to the director. “Shallow — slow — simplistic.” Only the breathtaking desert photography found favour.

The critics were somewhat surprised, then, when “The Songlines” took over 300,000,000 dollars in U.S. theatres alone, and did a similar level of business in every country where movies were shown. Many viewers, particularly teenage males, saw it again and again and called it life-changing. Perhaps the attraction was Ford’s relaxed charm, or perhaps it was the hypnotic soft-rock soundtrack by Mark Knopfler, or even perhaps the sequence of Aboriginal manhood rites in which a penis was slowly shorn of its skin...

3

The English national predilection for genteel nostalgia has never been portrayed better than in the charming “Flower Diary of an Aleppo Lady.” This small volume of botanical water-colours, with its accompanying texts and quotations carefully lettered by the artist, was a publishing sensation when first reproduced in 1980. Yet, for many years, this quintessentially English little gem had been thought lost forever.

Mrs Dora Altounyan, the late artist, had lived in both England and Syria — hence the flowers illustrated were both homely and exotic — but she had been forced to flee the Middle East during the post-war political upheavals. Many years later, workmen clearing a ruined house in Halab found a somewhat ill-treated book in the rubble, and sold off their find to a passing tourist, a Mr Hilary Rubinstein, who fortunately had some connection with publishing.

Success was immediate and prolonged. The “Flower Diary of an Aleppo Lady” remained on the British best-seller lists for well over three years, a feat only equalled a decade later by Hoyle and Wickramasinghe with their “Life, the Universe and Everything.” A new English aesthetic was born, eclipsing the punk movement and returning the nation to its traditional values and traditional leadership of the world. The delightful illustrations soon found their way onto calendars, Hansard, commemorative plates from the Franklin Mint, tea-caddies and other essentials of civilised life. In Aleppo, terrorists upgraded to entrepreneurs, organising high-revenue flower tours of the city...

* * *

Thus the three writers each dreamed their dreams. Then they looked at one another in puzzlement, sensing that these had not been quite the dreams they had hoped for.

“Hey, notice somepth’n?”

The second writer nodded. “I’m afraid so. All those dreams were about a better world — we achieved that much — but they were all media-centred, and they were all set in the past!”

“Like most contemporary sci-fi,” sniffed the third writer.

“Exactly,” said the second authoritatively. “I can diagnose the whole problem. We authors have lost our imaginative eye for believable characters in genuinely new situations, a case of the blind leading the blind. These days we think no further ahead than the average politician. No, if sci-fi is to save the world, we writers must learn futurology again, and quickly.”

“Sounds like work.”

“Well, true. Producing one good original short story for Asimov’s takes more effort than writing an entire fantasy trilogy.”

“Don’t give in, you two. We’ve got to start gradually, and build up until we all feel a real sense of tomorrow. Not 2006 — not today — but tomorrow! Ready? Start dreaming those real science-fiction dreams again and make some progress. NOW !

1

The support act, Philip Oakey and the Human League Green, also gave their services free at the World Aid concert. Between reprises of “Don’t You Want Me” and “The Lebanon” Oakey shouted to the audience that he had begged and screamed and pleaded to be the warm-up to the Fab Four. The reunion of The Beatles, even without their martyred leader, was the greatest event to hit the world since John and Yoko had invented love. What else could save the planet?

The date was November 29th, the year 2001.

* * *

(Remix of “Dreaming the World” by David Redd, from The Olaf Alternative issue 6, edited and published by Ken Cheslin, December 1993.)


Copyright © 2006 by David Redd

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