by Marian Powell


     “The last man on earth sat alone in his room.  There was a knock on the door.” (From Knock by Fredric Brown)


     Question:  What does that famous quote from a short story have in common with a novel, Rendevous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke?

     Answer: They are the two best examples I can find of what I call the spirit of science fiction.  There are endless discussions and essays and debates, peaceful or vitriolic, as to what defines science fiction.  An excellent essay was published recently by the author, Tom Purdom http://www.broadstreetreview.com/index.php/main/article/the_lure_of_science_fiction_an_insiders_view/
     I can’t pretend to compare with that but I’ll still offer my definition based on the two works.  Rama shows mankind facing the ominous puzzle of a huge spaceship that enters the solar system but does not contact earth.  The novel is a classic in part because we never meet the aliens.  They are not here as evil invaders and destroyers nor are they wise counselors to show humanity its true path.  The ship simply circles the sun and leaves.  The novel is about our efforts to learn all we can by going to the ship.  And that to me is the definition.  Science Fiction is humanity facing the mysterious unknowns of the universe without a map or a list of instructions. 

     Knock presents the same in two sentences.  What would the third sentence be?  There are literally thousands of possibilities just as Rama has thousands of possible answers.

     Knock is even more poignant for the man is totally alone and he is about to confront Something.  All of science fiction can be summed up by the possible confrontations and his possible actions.

     That is why I see the field as essentially optimistic.  Even when the answer is ugly or dystopian, it still shows people going into the unknown future, taking action, struggling to solve the riddles of the universe.