Lesson 6: Invoking the Social Sciences

Lesson Objectives
After completing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe how science fiction uses the “soft” sciences, such as sociology and linguistics, as the foundation for speculation.
  • Identify the historical context that led to the rapid development of social science fiction.

Readings
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
The Languages of Pao, by Jack Vance

Introduction

Groff Conklin was one of the great anthologists of the post-World War II period. In 1946 he edited The Best of Science Fiction, which mined a three-quarter century of science fiction with a perspective shaped by John W. Campbell’s “Golden Age” transformations, such as his discoveries of Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon and van Vogt and recruitment of De Camp, Simak, Williamson, and others. At the same time, Raymond J. Heal and J. Francis McComas edited a similar big anthology, Adventures in Time and Space, which is still in print. Its selections are almost entirely from Campbell’s Astounding and Campbell’s predecessors at Astounding. Together the two anthologies contributed to the postwar boom in science fiction publishing by showing an unaware public (and renewing fan enthusiasm for) the gold hidden in all that pulp dross.

In his first anthology, Conklin lamented the fact that he found almost no science fiction based on the social sciences. In his second anthology, A Treasury of Science Fiction, published a year later, he noted his surprise at the number of social-science stories that had been published in the interim. Within three years, H. L. Gold would publish the first issue of Galaxy Magazine, which would make the social sciences its special province, and five years later Isaac Asimov would write a chapter on “Social Science Fiction” for Reginald Bretnor’s significant collection of pieces about science fiction, Modern Science Fiction.

One of the big novels serialized in Galaxy in its first two years, and one that would be a signature work for the new magazine (the other was Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants, published the same year), was Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. It was Bester’s explosive return to science fiction after publishing a dozen stories between 1939 and 1942 and then moving into the more lucrative fields of comics, radio, and early television (“Tom Corbett: Space Cadet”).

As Bester prepared for his return to writing science fiction for print publication, he began working with Galaxy editor H. L. Gold. Just as Campbell gave ideas to writers such as Asimov, who visited his office regularly, and Williamson, who corresponded with him, Gold sparked work from his Stuyvesant Town apartment, where he was confined by agoraphobia.

The basic concept Bester refined in his discussions with Gold was how one could get away with murder in a telepathic society. The Demolished Man mined psychology for its portrayal of a brilliant mind turned toward ingenuous homicide by Freudian traumas and its ideas on saving valuable human material by demolishing the personality and rebuilding it. It also constructed a society in which telepathy could function without creating the kind of conflict envisioned by other treatments, and it imagined the kind of culture telepaths might create for themselves.

Jack Vance, who was born in 1916, just three years after Bester, published his first story in 1945 but had a far different career. He focused his efforts on the lesser magazines that published adventure stories, such as Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories. Within these pages he revived and reinvigorated what later became known as the planetary romance, beginning with “Big Planet” in a 1952 issue of Startling Stories. A second, and even more critically acclaimed, avenue was his creation of what became known as the Dying Earth fantasy. His The Dying Earth (1950) collection of linked stories described an Earth late in its evolutionary path, when science has been replaced by magic. It and its sequels would influence the later directions of fantasy and fantasy writers, including Michael Moorcock, and science fiction author Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.

The Languages of Pao, as was typical of Vance’s works, was published in a short-lived magazine, Satellite Science Fiction. The serial version appeared in 1957; it was reprinted in book form the following year.

The novel represents a departure from Vance’s usual narrative. Although it is richly described and inventively detailed, as are his award-winning shorter works such as “The Moon Moth,” “The Dragon Masters,” and “The Last Castle,” The Languages of Pao is one of the few science fiction stories to use linguistics as a science. (Another is Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17, published in 1966). Vance’s work particularly explores the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis: the idea that language determines what we are capable of perceiving. From that premise, Vance speculates that, if you wish to change behavior, you must first change the language. (Interestingly, Vance denied that he was aware of Whorf-Sapir when he wrote the novel.)

The Languages of Pao also is sociological in linking mass psychology to environmental conditions and suggesting that only radical changes can counteract the adaptability of humans to their environment.

Writing Assignment 6
Consider some or all of the following questions and submit a brief (approximately 500-word-long) writing assignment. Your assignment need not be formal, but it should demonstrate comprehension of the required readings and a well-developed understanding of how this lesson's material relates to the development of the science fiction genre.

  • Why did Bester include the executive code midway in Chapter One? Did you look back to check D’Courtney’s answer? Does it matter if you knew Reich had misread it? That is, what is the difference to the reader if he/she knows that the answer is an acceptance but Reich considers it a rejection? Why does Reich misread it?
  • Why is it virtually impossible to commit an unsolvable murder in this society? How does Reich hope to get away with it?
  • Clearly Espers have significant advantages in business, gambling, investment, fraud, and other activities by means of which ordinary citizens gain wealth and power. How do Espers and non-Espers co-exist in this society? What kind of occupations do Espers enjoy, and why is this tolerated? How do they express their differences? What does it mean that Reich is able to suborn a Class I Esper? To the social system? To Espers?
  • Interpret The Demolished Man in terms of Freudian psychology. Willis E. McNelly wrote in the Magill Survey of Science Fiction Literature that “the Demolished Man is not simply a work of science fiction wedded to the detective story, but a novel of death, rebirth, and resurrection as well, a novel of mothering and fathering, a story of growth, development, and final maturity of both ‘heroes.’” Can you identify each of these categories?
  • What do you think of the process of “demolition?” If you had a choice between being “demolished” and executed, which would you choose? Why? Why does this society choose to demolish and rebuild rather than incarcerate or execute? What does it mean in the final third paragraph from the end that the resurrected Reich addresses Powell in italics?
  • The plot of The Languages of Pao is simple: The panarch of Pao is assassinated by his brother; the panarch’s son flees to another world, gains knowledge and allies, and returns to regain is rightful place. This is also the plot of Dune (and nearly that of Hamlet), although the action, tone, and consequence are far different. Pao is a big, bountiful world; Arrakis is a desert world. Nevertheless, both nurture humans conditioned to behave in particular ways. How does Pao condition the Paonese? What place on Earth does it resemble? Why is it so easily conquered by 10,000 members of the Brumbo clan? What does that resemble?
  • There is no “I” in Paonese. Why? There is no “I” in the Breakness language. Why? Are the reasons the same? What conditions the Breakness dominie? What does Breakness remind you of? Why are the Breakness dominie susceptible to emeritus status? Why do they have many sons? What appeals to Palafox about helping Beran?
  • Are you convinced about the efficacy of Palafox’s linguistic transformation of the Paonese? How does Beran solve the problem of the inability of the three groups of Paonese to communicate? How does that prepare Pao to cope with the rest of the universe?

Submit your assignment following the email instructions.

The Languages of Pao represented a departure from Vance’s typical narrative. Although it was richly described and inventively detailed, as were his award-winning shorter work such as “The Moon Moth,” “The Dragon Masters,” and “The Last Castle,” The Languages of Pao is one of the few SF works to use linguistics as a science. (Another is Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17, published in 1966). Vance’s work particularly explores the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis: the idea that language determines what we are capable of perceiving. From that premise, Vance speculates that, if you wish to change behavior, you must first change the language. (Interestingly, Vance denied that he was aware of Whorf-Sapir when he wrote the novel.)

The Languages of Pao also is sociological in linking mass psychology to environmental conditions and suggesting that only radical changes can counteract the adaptability of humans to their environment.

The Languages of Pao, as was typical of Vance’s works, was published in a short-lived magazine, Satellite Science Fiction. The serial version appeared in 1957; it was reprinted in book form the following year.
Writing Assignment
Consider some or all of the following questions and submit a brief (approximately 500-word-long) writing assignment. Your assignment need not be formal, but it should demonstrate comprehension of the required readings and a well-developed understanding of how this lesson's material relates to the development of the science fiction genre.

• Why did Bester include the executive code midway in Chapter One? Did you look back to check D’Courtney’s answer? Does it matter if you knew Reich had misread it? That is, what is the difference to the reader if he/she knows that the answer is an acceptance but Reich considers it a rejection? Why does Reich misread it?

• Why is it virtually impossible to commit an unsolvable murder in this society? How does Reich hope to get away with it?

• Clearly Espers have significant advantages in business, gambling, investment, fraud, and other activities by means of which ordinary citizens gain wealth and power. How do Espers and non-Espers co-exist in this society? What kind of occupations do Espers enjoy, and why is this tolerated? How do they express their differences? What does it mean that Reich is able to suborn a Class I Esper? To the social system? To Espers?

• Interpret The Demolished Man in terms of Freudian psychology. Willis E. McNelly wrote in the Magill Survey of Science Fiction Literature that “the Demolished Man is not simply a work of science fiction wedded to the detective story, but a novel of death, rebirth, and resurrection as well, a novel of mothering and fathering, a story of growth, development, and final maturity of both ‘heroes.’” Can you identify each of these categories?

• What do you think of the process of “demolition?” If you had a choice between being “demolished” and executed, which would you choose? Why? Why does this society choose to demolish and rebuild rather than incarcerate or execute? What does it mean in the final third paragraph from the end that the resurrected Reich addresses Powell in italics?

• The plot of The Languages of Pao is simple: The panarch of Pao is assassinated by his brother; the panarch’s son flees to another world, gains knowledge and allies, and returns to regain is rightful place. This is also the plot of Dune (and nearly that of Hamlet), although the action, tone, and consequence are far different. Pao is a big, bountiful world; Arrakis is a desert world. Nevertheless, both nurture humans conditioned to behave in particular ways. How does Pao condition the Paonese? What place on Earth does it resemble? Why is it so easily conquered by 10,000 members of the Brumbo clan? What does that resemble?

• There is no “I” in Paonese. Why? There is no “I” in the Breakness language. Why? Are they the same reasons? What conditions the Breakness dominie? What does Breakness remind you of? Why are the Breakness dominie susceptible to emeritus status? Why do they have many sons? What appeals to Palafox about helping Beran?

• Are you convinced about the efficacy of Palafox’s linguistic transformation of the Paonese? How does Beran solve the problem of the inability of the three groups of Paonese to communicate? How does that prepare Pao to cope with the rest of the universe?

The Languages of Pao represented a departure from Vance’s typical narrative. Although it was richly described and inventively detailed, as were his award-winning shorter work such as “The Moon Moth,” “The Dragon Masters,” and “The Last Castle,” The Languages of Pao is one of the few SF works to use linguistics as a science. (Another is Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17, published in 1966). Vance’s work particularly explores the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis: the idea that language determines what we are capable of perceiving. From that premise, Vance speculates that, if you wish to change behavior, you must first change the language. (Interestingly, Vance denied that he was aware of Whorf-Sapir when he wrote the novel.)

The Languages of Pao also is sociological in linking mass psychology to environmental conditions and suggesting that only radical changes can counteract the adaptability of humans to their environment.

The Languages of Pao, as was typical of Vance’s works, was published in a short-lived magazine, Satellite Science Fiction. The serial version appeared in 1957; it was reprinted in book form the following year.
Writing Assignment
Consider some or all of the following questions and submit a brief (approximately 500-word-long) writing assignment. Your assignment need not be formal, but it should demonstrate comprehension of the required readings and a well-developed understanding of how this lesson's material relates to the development of the science fiction genre.

  • Why did Bester include the executive code midway in Chapter One? Did you look back to check D’Courtney’s answer? Does it matter if you knew Reich had misread it? That is, what is the difference to the reader if he/she knows that the answer is an acceptance but Reich considers it a rejection? Why does Reich misread it?
  • Why is it virtually impossible to commit an unsolvable murder in this society? How does Reich hope to get away with it?
  • Clearly Espers have significant advantages in business, gambling, investment, fraud, and other activities by means of which ordinary citizens gain wealth and power. How do Espers and non-Espers co-exist in this society? What kind of occupations do Espers enjoy, and why is this tolerated? How do they express their differences? What does it mean that Reich is able to suborn a Class I Esper? To the social system? To Espers?
  • Interpret The Demolished Man in terms of Freudian psychology. Willis E. McNelly wrote in the Magill Survey of Science Fiction Literature that “the Demolished Man is not simply a work of science fiction wedded to the detective story, but a novel of death, rebirth, and resurrection as well, a novel of mothering and fathering, a story of growth, development, and final maturity of both ‘heroes.’” Can you identify each of these categories?
  • What do you think of the process of “demolition?” If you had a choice between being “demolished” and executed, which would you choose? Why? Why does this society choose to demolish and rebuild rather than incarcerate or execute? What does it mean in the final third paragraph from the end that the resurrected Reich addresses Powell in italics?
  • The plot of The Languages of Pao is simple: The panarch of Pao is assassinated by his brother; the panarch’s son flees to another world, gains knowledge and allies, and returns to regain is rightful place. This is also the plot of Dune (and nearly that of Hamlet), although the action, tone, and consequence are far different. Pao is a big, bountiful world; Arrakis is a desert world. Nevertheless, both nurture humans conditioned to behave in particular ways. How does Pao condition the Paonese? What place on Earth does it resemble? Why is it so easily conquered by 10,000 members of the Brumbo clan? What does that resemble?
  • There is no “I” in Paonese. Why? There is no “I” in the Breakness language. Why? Are they the same reasons? What conditions the Breakness dominie? What does Breakness remind you of? Why are the Breakness dominie susceptible to emeritus status? Why do they have many sons? What appeals to Palafox about helping Beran?
  • Are you convinced about the efficacy of Palafox’s linguistic transformation of the Paonese? How does Beran solve the problem of the inability of the three groups of Paonese to communicate? How does that prepare Pao to cope with the rest of the universe?
  • Writing Assignment
  • Consider some or all of the following questions and submit a brief (approximately 500-word-long) writing assignment. Your assignment need not be formal, but it should demonstrate comprehension of the required readings and a well-developed understanding of how this lesson's material relates to the development of the science fiction genre.
  • Why did Bester include the executive code midway in Chapter One? Did you look back to check D’Courtney’s answer? Does it matter if you knew Reich had misread it? That is, what is the difference to the reader if he/she knows that the answer is an acceptance but Reich considers it a rejection? Why does Reich misread it?
  • Why is it virtually impossible to commit an unsolvable murder in this society? How does Reich hope to get away with it?
  • Clearly Espers have significant advantages in business, gambling, investment, fraud, and other activities by means of which ordinary citizens gain wealth and power. How do Espers and non-Espers co-exist in this society? What kind of occupations do Espers enjoy, and why is this tolerated? How do they express their differences? What does it mean that Reich is able to suborn a Class I Esper? To the social system? To Espers?
  • Interpret The Demolished Man in terms of Freudian psychology. Willis E. McNelly wrote in the Magill Survey of Science Fiction Literature that “the Demolished Man is not simply a work of science fiction wedded to the detective story, but a novel of death, rebirth, and resurrection as well, a novel of mothering and fathering, a story of growth, development, and final maturity of both ‘heroes.’” Can you identify each of these categories?
  • What do you think of the process of “demolition?” If you had a choice between being “demolished” and executed, which would you choose? Why? Why does this society choose to demolish and rebuild rather than incarcerate or execute? What does it mean in the final third paragraph from the end that the resurrected Reich addresses Powell in italics?
  • The plot of The Languages of Pao is simple: The panarch of Pao is assassinated by his brother; the panarch’s son flees to another world, gains knowledge and allies, and returns to regain is rightful place. This is also the plot of Dune (and nearly that of Hamlet), although the action, tone, and consequence are far different. Pao is a big, bountiful world; Arrakis is a desert world. Nevertheless, both nurture humans conditioned to behave in particular ways. How does Pao condition the Paonese? What place on Earth does it resemble? Why is it so easily conquered by 10,000 members of the Brumbo clan? What does that resemble?
  • There is no “I” in Paonese. Why? There is no “I” in the Breakness language. Why? Are they the same reasons? What conditions the Breakness dominie? What does Breakness remind you of? Why are the Breakness dominie susceptible to emeritus status? Why do they have many sons? What appeals to Palafox about helping Beran?
  • Are you convinced about the efficacy of Palafox’s linguistic transformation of the Paonese? How does Beran solve the problem of the inability of the three groups of Paonese to communicate? How does that prepare Pao to cope with the rest of the universe?