Perhaps most of what is considered “science fiction” today do not deserve such a prestigious title. Rather, they should fall under the genre of space adventure, or one of the many fantasy genres. This is what Philip K. Dick argues in an essay titled My Definition of Science Fiction. He regards stories that simply take place in the future—typically in space—cannot automatically be considered science fiction even if they involve advanced technologies beyond our current understanding of the universe. Dick wrote his definition in 1981, and his claims do align with many of his written stories; We Can Remember It for You Wholesale is one such story. First published in 1966, it is universally considered science fiction and effectively serves as an example for what science fiction should be.
In his definition, Philip K. Dick states that a science fiction story must be based on our current reality. It must use that reality as a “jumping-off point” (Dick “Definition” 99), meaning the majority of the fictional reality must be the same as our own. However, the fictional world must have at least one “distinct new idea” (99). A new idea that creates a clear distinction between the real world and the fictitious one, but not just any idea. The change must be a conceptual one, Dick argues, it must be enough to produce “in the reader’s mind, the shock of dysrecognition.” Dick wants us to know that science fiction is supposed to get readers thinking about what the world would be like if for example infinite energy, or a different intelligent race were a part of it. A reader’s mind should be stimulated and be set on a “chain reaction of ramification ideas” (100). Would humans and another race coexist and form a u...
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...d science fiction is an excellent facilitator of philosophical thought.
We Can Remember it for You Wholesale is an explicit example of Philip K. Dick’s idea of what science fiction should be. He states that science fiction world must be based on our own with at least one key piece of “conceptual dislocation”. At least one twist that creates a reality shockingly different from our own, but is also a plausible reality that the reader believes can happen or could have happened. The aspect must lead the reader down a path of interesting and thought-provoking ideas. It is not a perfect definition however. He excludes space adventures, but these can still fit his other requirements. Meeting an alien civilization would be a twist on our own reality, and it can lead us to question our nature and our innate feelings of xenophobia. Would we build a wall around our solar system?
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