Fan of sci-fi? Psychologists have you in their sights



Liu zishan via Shutterstock

Gavin Miller, University of Glasgow

Science fiction has struggled to achieve the same credibility as highbrow literature. In 2019, the celebrated author Ian McEwan dismissed science fiction as the stuff of “anti-gravity boots” rather than “human dilemmas”. According to McEwan, his own book about intelligent robots, Machines Like Me, provided the latter by examining the ethics of artificial life – as if this were not a staple of science fiction from Isaac Asimov’s robot stories of the 1940s and 1950s to TV series such as Humans (2015-2018).

Psychology has often supported this dismissal of the genre. The most recent psychological accusation against science fiction is the “great fantasy migration hypothesis”. This supposes that the real world of unemployment and debt is too disappointing for a generation of entitled narcissists. They consequently migrate to a land of make-believe where they can live out their grandiose fantasies.

The authors of a 2015 study stress that, while they have found evidence to confirm this hypothesis, such psychological profiling of “geeks” is not intended to be stigmatising. Fantasy migration is “adaptive” – dressing up as Princess Leia or Darth Vader makes science fiction fans happy and keeps them out of trouble.

But, while psychology may not exactly diagnose fans as mentally ill, the insinuation remains – science fiction evades, rather than confronts, disappointment with the real world.

The case of ‘Kirk Allen’

The psychological accusation that science fiction evades real life goes back to the 1950s. In 1954, the psychoanalyst Robert Lindner published his case study of the pseudonymous “Kirk Allen”, a patient who maintained an extraordinary fantasy life modelled on pulp science fiction.

Case studies from the edge.
Schnoodles blog, CC BY

Allen believed he was at once a scientist on Earth – and simultaneously an interplanetary emperor. He believed he could enter his other life by mental time travel into the far-off future, where his destiny awaited in scenes of power, respect, and conquest – both military and sexual.

Lindner explained Allen’s condition as an escape from overwhelming mental anguish rooted in childhood trauma. But Lindner, himself a science fiction fan, remarked also on the seductive attraction of Allen’s second life, which began to offer, as he put it, a “fatal fascination”. The message was clear. Allen’s psychosis was extreme, but it showed in stark clarity what drew readers to science fiction: an imagined life of power and status that compensated for the readers’ own deficiencies and disappointments.

Lindner’s words mattered. He was an influential cultural commentator, who wrote for US magazines such as Time and Harper’s. The story of Kirk Allen was published in the latter, and in Lindner’s book of case studies, The Fifty-Minute Hour, which became a successful popular paperback.

Critical distance

Psychology had very publicly diagnosed science fiction as a literature of evasion – an “escape hatch” for the mentally troubled. Science fiction answered back, decisively changing the genre in the following decades.

What if Hitler had written science fiction?
Amazon

To take one example: Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972) purports to reprint a prize-winning 1954 science fiction novel. The novel is apparently written, in an alternate history timeline, by Adolf Hitler, who gave up politics, emigrated to the US, and became a successful science fiction author and illustrator. A fictional critical afterword explains that Hitler’s novel, with its “fetishistic military displays and orgiastic bouts of unreal violence”, is just a more extreme version of the “pathological literature” that dominates the genre.

In her review of The Iron Dream, the now-celebrated science fiction author Ursula Le Guin – daughter of the distinguished anthropologist Alfred Kroeber – wrote that the “essential gesture of SF” is “distancing, the pulling back from ‘reality’ in order to see it better”, including “our desires to lead, or to be led”, and “our righteous wars”. Le Guin wanted science fiction to make strange the North American society of her time, showing afresh its peculiar psychology, culture, and politics.

In 1972, the US was still fighting the Vietnam War. In the same year, Le Guin offered her own “distanced” version of social reality in The Word for World is Forest, which depicts the attempted colonisation of an inhabited alien planet by a macho, militaristic Earth society intent on conquering and violating the natural world – a semi-allegory for what the USA was doing at the time in south-east Asia.

The Vietnam War reimagined.
Wikipedia, CC BY

As well as repudiating the worst parts of the genre, such responses implied a positive model for science fiction. Science fiction wasn’t about evading reality – it was a literary anthropology which made our own society into a foreign culture which we could stand back from, reflect on, and change.

Rather than ask us to pull on our anti-gravity boots, open the escape hatch and leap into fantasy, science fiction typically aspires to be a literature that faces up to social reality. It owes this ambition, in part, to psychology’s repeated accusation that the genre markets escapism to the marginalised and disaffected.The Conversation

Gavin Miller, Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities, University of Glasgow

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Battle Against Amazon in Australia


Readers of my Blog will know that I am a fan of Amazon and in particular the Kindle/Kindle Bookstore. I am not paid by Amazon and neither do I receive any perks from Amazon for being so. This is a choice I have made. In fact, I haven’t purchased anything else from Amazon – only ebooks. I think I present the other side of the equation via this Blog, even when I don’t necessarily agree with the other side – at times I do like to add a comment or two, such as here.

The link below is to an article that draws on the anti-Amazon forces here in Australia and I leave it to my readers to make up there own mind about who they will purchase ebooks from. I am happy with the Kindle and Kindle ebooks, but I would prefer to be able to have a more open format which would allow me to read my ebooks on whatever device I choose to without having to use Amazon devices. I also dislike the disparity in ebook prices depending on what country you are in, as well as several other little issues I have. 

For more visit:
http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/dump-your-kindle-bookseller-urges-as-amazon-targets-australia-20131113-2xgt6.html

Article: Amazon & Money Making – Shock, Horror!!!


There has been plenty of Amazon bashing over the years, with seasons of particular ‘violence’ against the business. I know plenty of people seem to have an issue with Amazon, however I have to confess to being a fan of Amazon (I’m also a fan of Google, Microsoft – Apple not so much). The link below is to an article that reports on another example of Amazon bashing.

For more visit:
http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2013/07/21/the-guardian-discovers-that-amazon-wants-to-make-money-on-books-and-does-not-approve/

Book Review: The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum


I am a big fan of the Jason Bourne movies (the first three anyway). I don’t know what the fourth one (The Bourne Legacy) will be like without Matt Damon, but I’m still keen to see it. So it was having watched the movies that I decided to read the books. Wow, what a massive difference between the movie and the book. There are obvious similarities, but they are quite different from each other just the same.

The Bourne Identity‘The Bourne Identity’ is action all the way and is a great read. It is a book that is always on the go and suspense carries you foward through the book. You want to read on and see what happens to Jason Bourne next. Will
he be able to rise to the next challenge that is thrown in his way, especially given that he is trying to figure it all out as he goes along, as well as trying to figure out just who he himself is – while also seeking to protect a woman he has picked up along the way.

This is the spy book of spy books. It is an action read at the top of its game. Jason Bourne is the master spy relearning his craft as the memory of who he is and what he is returns to him with each thrilling piece of the jig saw that is ‘The Bourne Identity.’ Once you start, you want to keep on reading and as the pace quickens you find yourself seemingly reading with an increased tempo, as you’re right there with Jason Bourne every step of the way.

An excellent first read in the Jason Bourne series. I am very much looking forward to the next volume with great expectancy. I highly recommend this book.

Buy this book at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Bourne-Identity-A-Novel/dp/0553593544/

Reading: The Bourne Identity


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

Bourne IdentityToday had been quite unpleasant outside. It has been pouring with rain at times, then not. When it hasn’t been it has been blowing a gale and it is also quite cold. It’s bucketing down yet again. So very little has been able to be accomplished outside today. No great outdoors for me on this wet and miserable day.

I have been spending a bit of time, as a consequence of the weather, reading ‘The Bourne Identity,’ by Robert Ludlum. I haven’t read the Bourne series of books before, but have seen the movies many times. I’m a big fan of the Jason Bourne movies. However, having seen the movies it has been difficult to some degree reading the book. The book is very different to the movie, more so than what ‘The Hunt for Red October’ was to the film version. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enjoying the…

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Reading: The Hunt for Red October and Jason Bourne


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

I am a big fan of Tom Clancy novels and in particular the Jack Ryan series. A number of years ago I read all of the novels published in the series up until the time I moved house and so for the last 5 years I haven’t read any new ones. When I moved I decided I needed to clean out some of my books (and I have a huge library), so I figured the majority of my fiction books could be cleaned out. I always regretted moving the Tom Clancy novels along, though I figured that at some point I could reclaim them as ebooks, which I am now beginning to do.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to start reading the series again – right from the beginning. I hesitated as to what order I should read them, given that Patriot Games really was set before The…

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Article: Google Book Suit


The link below is to an article reporting on the suit being brought against Google for alleged copyright infringement. Being a big fan of the Google Books project, I would dearly love to see a solution that allows the project go ahead, yet be a very good thing for authors with copyrighted works.

For more, visit:
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/google-wants-authors-to-drop-book-scan-suit_b51156

Article: Three Cups of Tea Scandal


If you are/were a fan of the book ‘Three Cups of Tea’ by Greg Mortenson, it would seem you have been duped, especially if you donated to Mortenson’s charity. Read all about the scandal via the links below.

For more visit:
http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-20054397.html
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/18/tagblogsfindlawcom2012-celebrityjustice-idUS410247919220120418