Archive for August, 2011

Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore were not the only SF writers of the early 40’s who were eager to reinterpret higher knowledge in terms compatible with the chaos vision. The story that immediately followed “The Proud Robot” in the October 1943 issue of Astounding — Fredric Brown’s “Paradox Lost” — was an even more bizarre exploration of chaos and higher reality.

I briefly mentioned “Paradox Lost” a couple of years ago, when I was first discussing the chaos vision. Its central figure is a mad scientist — driven mad, he says, by dwelling on time travel paradoxes — who has invented an imaginary time machine in which he travels to the past to hunt dinosaurs with slingshots. But in addition to the general wackiness of the story, there is a serious philosophical underpinning.

“Matter is a concept of consciousness,” the madman patiently explains to the viewpoint character, Shorty McCabe, whom he has lured out of a boring college lecture and hauled along with him to the Jurassic. “Now there is a normal concept of matter, which you share, and a whole flock of abnormal ones. The abnormal ones sort of get together.”

“I don’t quite understand,” Shorty replies. “You mean that you have a secret society of . . . uh . . . lunatics, who . . . uh . . . live in a different world, as it were?”

“Not as it were,” the little man answers, “but as it weren’t. And it isn’t a secret society, or anything organized that way. It just is. We project into two universes, in a manner of speaking. One is normal; our bodies are born there, and of course, they stay there. … But we have another existence, in our minds. That’s where I am, and that’s where you are at the moment, in my mind. I’m not really here, either.”

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The brief period between 1926, when Lovecraft wrote “The Call of Cthulhu,” and 1928, when it appeared in Weird Tales, was marked by a revolutionary change in the scientific worldview, as the explosive development of quantum mechanics substituted randomness for certainty and chaos for dogmatism.

Modern science fiction was born of this same shift in attitudes. Hugo Gernsback may have hoped when he launched Amazing Stories in 1926 that it would serve as a vehicle for sober scientific anticipations in fictional form, but both the title he chose for it and the original fiction he began to publish by 1928 revealed the untamed magic at its heart.

Amazing and its imitators were generally inhospitable to occult themes, but weird science was their bread and butter. It might be fair to say that the primary agenda of 1930’s and early 40’s SF was to bring weird science under human control and use it to establish domination over the vast, indifferent cosmos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

But although aspects of the chaos vision contributed to the new understanding of science which made that agenda possible, the physical universe as conceived by the cosmic engineers of the 30’s afforded little room for higher knowledge.

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