On Sci-Fi’s relation to anxiety

An interesting piece in the Irish Times on debut novelist (and, surprisingly, sister-in-law of Sally Rooney) Catherine Prasifika and her assertion that sci-fi is derived form uncertainty and that it can teach us what it’s like to live as a young person today. Hey, for an old guy, what is threshold for young now? Are millennials still young? Or are we talking the Zs, like my kids? But there’s something to this. I remember being especially attracted to sci-fi that either mirrored the world I saw coming (media- and tech-driven cyberpunk) or the one I saw going (oppression from cold war and fascist relics) and less attracted to the vagaries of interstellar wars and ship battles, etc. I mean, I liked the thought experiments behind books like the Ringworld ones, but the stories? Meh. Even books by authors I’d no longer read because they turned out to be terrible people (ahem, Orson Scott Card), were formative not just because they featured young protagonists, but because they leaned heavily into the anxiety of the times (worldly: xenophobia; locally: pressure to do well in school, etc.)

She lights up when she talks about fantasy literature.

“There’s this incredible power in science fiction and fantasy to evoke feelings that are difficult to evoke in realism. Sometimes if you’re writing realism, you’re writing books based on previous books that you’ve read, not reality as it is.” Her novel’s mysterious crack in the sky was “this way to use science fiction to evoke the anxiety of being a young person alive today”.

It is apt that Prasifka’s novel is about living with uncertainty, written as it was in the tumult of 2020. “I refer to it as my weird little book because I wrote it during the pandemic like a gremlin in my little cave.”

She had been working as a creative writing teacher in her old school, St Conleth’s in Ballsbridge, but then went on the pandemic unemployment payment. “I was like, have your anxiety spiral, then look at this as an opportunity. Never again will I be paid to stay home and to do nothing.” By December 2020 she had signed with an agent.

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