In 2020, is science fiction still a loophole?
Members of Los Angeles Science-Fantasy Society (LASFS) lived through the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Space Race, numerous forest fires in California, etc. But how do they see the psychodrama of the current COVID-19 pandemic?
Ahead of his 86th birthday this week, we spoke to LASFS President Matthew B. Tepper, a member since 1969, to get his take on how to respond when the quondam fantasy turns into everyday reality.
Matthew, these are deeply bizarre sci-fi story-style moments. The philosopher Aristotle gave us the concept of art as catharsiscatharsis. Would you say we need science fiction more than ever to deal with the pandemic? MBT: Great art should provide a window into the human condition, into the way we as people interact with the universe and with each other. Science fiction expands the available playing field, in space and time, and sometimes robots or aliens can replace humans. Our current crisis is a crisis whose resolution is unclear, at an unknown future time. Science fiction writers can speculate on what might happen and pass it on to readers. We need to be confident that there can be a better future, but with the caution that things might not always turn out as we hope.
Do you think science fiction–and if so, which books specifically–can also give us a plan to coexist while we are all masked, sanitized and anchored until further notice?MBT: The 1957 Isaac Asimov novel The naked sun depicts a society, on a planet of descendants of earthlings, who hate physical proximity and only meet through what we now call telepresence, while their robots – thousands of them for each person – do all the work . But it’s portrayed as a sick culture, not something you would want to use as a model.
Good point. Do you have more uplifting storylines?MBT: A happier example is in Vernor Vinge’s 2006 novel End of the rainbows where children and some elders attend distance school. There, it is beneficial, even if the pupils get out of the MPs on the sly, the equivalent of passing notes in class.
On the subject of intelligent futures: I had the chance to interview Ridley Scottinterview Ridley Scott and, of course, the subject of Blade runnerBlade runner has come. Weirdly, we’re now beyond her ‘Los Angeles November 2019‘‘ title card. You came from ‘Where’s my jet-pack?’ school, or are you relieved that we don’t live in the dystopia of Philip K Dick? MBT: [Laughs] I usually hear it like “Where’s my flying car?” The problem with creating sci-fi in the near future is that, if it lasts, you’ll find out just how wrong you got. Or sometimes on the right: in Space cadet (1948), Robert A. Heinlein, LASFS member, has the hero using his cell phone! Communicators of Star Trek helped popularize the idea, of course. Phil Dick lived, how shall I put it, in his own reality… or realities.
As president of LASFS, can you tell us about its origin story?MBT: The publisher of one of the first science fiction magazines – one of the so-called “pulps” of that time – thought he could increase circulation by starting a Science Fiction League, with fans. encouraged to form chapters in their hometown. The Los Angeles Science Fiction League was the fourth of these chapters, and one of only two surviving to date, the other being the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society. At one point our meetings turned weekly, every Thursday comes hell or high tide, even on Thanksgiving.
Are you meeting remotely due to current circumstances?MBT: Yes, we kept that chain intact and moved from physical meetings to Zoom meetings in March.
Now, your own story: Besides being president of LASFS, what area are you / were you in professionally, if not too intrusive?MBT: Not at all! Having failed to become a famous symphony conductor, I pursued a career in IT. I do some IT work and fundraising for a local nonprofit human rights organization, but hope to retire in a few years, so I will have more time to read.
Speaking of reading, I looked at your Goodreads listinglisting, which has many deep cuts of the genre. How did your love of science fiction come about?MBT: I cut my teeth on Isaac Asimov’s fiction and non-fiction, and before long I was reading everything I could find, new and old, books and magazines. Two of the magazines I read, Astonishing and Fantastic, have been published by Ziff-Davis for many years; Did you know ?
I did, mainly because that’s where I found vintage tales from LASFS member Ray Bradbury. It was long before you arrived, but do you have any memories of meeting him?MBT: If you walked through all the libraries and bookstores in the Westside of LA like I did when I was a kid, it was tough do not to meet Ray! He was always there somewhere, always awesome, always ready to bask in adulation. The last time I saw him was just before his 90th birthday, in a bookstore.
There must be a lot of writers who have emerged from LASFS over the years.MBT: Yes, we have had many authors among our members. The best known is Larry Niven, author of Annular worldAnnular world, and he always attends our Zoom meetings.
How did you hear about LASFS, and where was your first meeting and how did it go?MBT: My first meeting in 1969 took place at one of the members. I saw a group of people from all walks of life who shared my interest in SF, and felt like I had come home.
LASFS has had multiple physical homes, hasn’t it? MBT: Yes, we’ve bought and sold three – in Studio City, North Hollywood, and Van Nuys – each larger than the last, and we’re hoping that when the current crisis is resolved, we can buy (or long-term lease) a new one. meeting hall, where we can unpack our library and other personal effects.
If any of the PCMag readers want to join, how much does it cost to be part of LASFS?MBT: It’s $ 10 for applyapply for membership, which lasts forever: Our motto is, “Death will not set you free.” That’s why Ray Bradbury is still a member! But we welcome guests, who can attend up to three meetings before they need to join. After that, you only pay dues for the meetings you attend, currently $ 4 per week.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to have the 86th IRL birthday.MBT: True. But there is plenty of time to plan a big party for our 90th, and I hope I’ll still be around for the centenary in 2034.