Mark A. Carter
 

CATACLYSMS and Dooms

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter has reprinted an article by J. G. Ballard from The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction for your edification.

Visions of world cataclysm constitute one of the most powerful and most mysterious of all the categories of Science Fiction, and in their classic form predate modern Science Fiction by thousands of years. In many ways, I believe that Science Fiction is itself no more than a minor offshoot of the cataclysmic tale. From the deluge in the Babylonian zodiac myth of Gilgamesh to contemporary fantasies of twentieth-century super-science, there has clearly been no limit to man's need to devise new means of destroying the world he inhabits. I would guess that from man's first inkling of this planet as a single entity existing independently of himself came the determination to bring about its destruction, part of the same impulse we see in in a placid infant who wakes alone in his cot and suddenly sets about wrecking his entire nursery.

J.G. Ballard

Orderly and predictable in life, savage and sinister in his work ...

Photograph: David Levenson/Rex Features

Psychiatric studies of the fantasies and dream life of the insane show that ideas of world's destruction are latent in the unconscious mind. The marvels of twentieth-century science and technology provide an anthology of destructive techniques unrivalled by even the most bizarre religions. As Edward Glover comments in War, Sadism and Pacifism -1947, "Nagasaki destroyed by the magic of science is the nearest man has yet approached to the realization of dreams that even during the safe immobility of sleep are accustomed to develop into nightmares of anxiety."

As an author who has produced a substantial number of cataclysmic stories, I take for granted that the planet the writer destroys with such tireless ingenuity is in fact an image of the writer himself. But are the deluges and droughts, whirlwinds and glaciations no more than over-extended metaphors of some kind of suicidal self-hate, the expressions of deep internal conflicts resolvable only in a series of spasmic collisions with an ever-yielding external reality? Though I am even more suspicious of my own motives than of other people's, I believe that the catastrophe story, whoever may tell it, represents a constructive and positive act by the imagination rather than a negative one, an attempt to confront the terrifying void of a patently meaningless universe by challenging it at its own game, to remake zero by provoking it in every conceivable way.

Within the realm of fiction, the writer of the catastrophe story illustrates, in the most extreme and literal way, Conrad's challenge ­ "Immerse yourself in the most destructive element - and swim!" Each one of these fantasies represent an arraignment of the finite, an attempt to dismantle the formal structure of time and space which the universe wraps around us at the moment we first achieve consciousness. It is the inflexibility of this huge reductive machine we call reality that provokes infant and madman alike, and in the cataclysm story the Science Fiction writer joins company with them, using his imagination to describe the infinite alternatives to reality which nature itself has proved incapable of inventing. This celebration of the possibilities of life is at the heart of Science Fiction.

Ballard, J.G, "Cataclysms and Dooms" in Brian Ash ed. The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (New York: Harmony Books, 1977), p. 130.

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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