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Maureen Dowd and Philip K. Dick in Space

Posted by samgr on December 30, 2009

Damn it, Maureen Dowd.  From her column:

Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.

We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and 5-year-olds, confiscating snow globes and lip glosses.

Completely ignoring the fact that this whole column is kind of stupid and pointless — what Philip K. Dick depictions of technological utopias is she referring to, exactly?  Are there any?  He’s not exactly known for his boundless faith in ability of technology to positively transform society.  I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I have some skepticism whether Maureen Dowd has ever read anything by Philip K. Dick.

Namedropping sci-fi authors is fine if you have some vague idea what you’re talking about, but they’re not interchangeable.  Also, technological utopias are pretty clearly the exception, rather than the rule, in science fiction.  Dystopias are more common, probably because they’re more fun to write about.

To transform my irritation into a positive exercise: what are some actual technological utopias in science fiction?  The world of Star Trek is one.  Iain Banks’ Culture novels basically are, although they’re sophisticated enough to challenge their own premise.  Ray Bradbury I think — although he obviously writes about dystopias — has at his heart a pretty profound faith that technology is ultimately positive.  See the story “No News, or What Killed the Dog,” which I think I’ve mentioned before.


While I immediately fixated on the Dick thing, other readers are pointing out that the column in question is actually full of utterly bizarre and nonsensical references.

Here’s my new, and incredibly generous take on what she’s trying to suggest, though.  She mentions “Total Recall,” which I think has a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger walks through a machine in an airport and we see his skeleton and concealed weapons on a screen.  My best guess is that Maureen dimly remembers this scene as some kind of ideal model of airport security, and vastly overestimates the movie’s reliance on Philip K. Dick source material.  That’s what I got, but it’s pretty weak.


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