Swancon 17 – Festival of the Imagination 1992 – Programme Book – Raiding the Illusion Chest

This was from the souvenir book from the Festival of the Imagination 1992 – Swancon 17. Pages 56-57. Attempted to maintain all and any typos. Some hyphenation may be end-of-line but has been included where it was not obvious as to whether it was specifically intended.

Raiding the Illusion Chest

Okay … let’s get silly.
Let’s get pretentious.
And let’s begin with a definition.

Visual SF: Science fiction that is predominately visually based; relying principally on shape, form, texture, colour (and a diversity of sound) to cross the suspension bridge of belief from the factual real to the fantastic unreal, surreal and hyper-real.

There we have it; a rather inadequate definition for the term “Visual SF”, but one which is reasonably appropriate for delineating fantasy and science fiction as depicted in film, video, software, hologram, virtual reality and the inked page – an appropriate definition for that playground of the imagination which encompasses the spectrum of Visual SF. Indeed, it’s an appropriate way to (dare I say) romanticise these organised groupings of semiotic squiggles and fractals which exist preeminently in order to help us attain that which is so resoundingly sought by the modern Intellectual (or demi-Intellectual); escapism.

Escapism is that urge within us to retreat into the realm of the intuitive soul, where exists that which is both pre- and post-language (another definition to where I’m journeying; journeying being the key word, with most of you being, like me, journeyfolk – or perhaps journeysophonts – of the intuitive, emotive and intellectual experience often sought in the sensoral ingestion of particular visual science fiction, whereby we attempt to assimilate that which is wholly false and non-real so as to create a new perception of aspects of our local reality. And we do this most commonly through the act of “escapism”). This selfish act is like dreaming; something that we have to do in order to survive and to develop, almost certainly physically as well as emotionally. It is a way of surviving, by building a reality from a subsumed fantasy.

“Believe it… or not…”, as good ol’ Jack Palance would rasp exuberantly, grinning his smug grin as we view, on the television, the figure of a mummified priest, sealed away in a gold embossed chest for five hundred years, being gently lifted from its musky confines for the first and last time. Then good ol’ smilin’ Jack would turn to the camera, beam cloyingly out through the monitor and into our lives, and ask that we picture what this mysterious holy man might have looked like so many centuries ago. It’s here that each individual’s image of this no-longer man is unique; here is the process of creating a fantasy from a reality.

You see, as a journeyman of Visual SF you have to make it work both ways or it will never work at all. Reality from fantasy and fantasy from reality; it has to be a continual cycle, backwards and forwards, forwards and backwards, like the roving laser of a matte-black robot reconnoitering the dark interior of a freshly-opened crypt deep in the mountainside of an airless moon. Fantasy from reality, reality from fantasy; the continuous cycle of perceiving true illusion; an act made more fervent when you, fellow journeyman, are within the swirl of the maelstrom born of the flows and currents from those deep tides which swell about the outer rim of that multi-dimensional entity known as … Visual SF.

It must be admitted that the term “Visual SF” is a vagary, in light of what goes to make up this spectrum. The encompassing light of the term shines down upon a fair range of alternative worlds of differing views and perspectives – of places, people and things that could never be – all with widely differing styles and attitudes. Its light touches Hard Science Fiction, New Wave Horror, Pseudo-phantastique, Post-modernist Space Opera, Tech-noir, Pretentionoir, Hyper-thriller-noir, Mechaflash Violence, Alienesque, French Re-Impressionism, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Splatterpunk, TechnoGoth, Gothik Haze, Hippie Hype, Psychomaticism, Fluffy Unicorn Fantasy, Neotech and Cube Romance (it’s so easy to create sub-genres, and they’re being created all the time.) All of these are played across shimmering screens in the dazzled twilight. It’s a burning light; a powerful, iridescent glowing. It gives off flashes of dynamics and its energy flows through the sub space aether of personal communication, attuned to the artificial, the unreal, surreal and hyperreal, spurning the inception of fresh realities and new experiences, creating landscapes of and for the imagination. It initiates those vital electrochemical reactions in our synapses, and so inspires the emotional, electrical rush brought about through new perception.

So … is all this silly? Is this pretentious? Damn right it is! And it should be. This stuff, this “visual science fiction”, relies on the absurd, the silly, and the pretentious. That’s the attitude – the state of mind – required to successfully incept, interpret and analyse the unreal; to catch the fantasy. This suspension-of-disbelief, this creation of fantasy, is the very act of being pretentious. This act of silliness is what makes the journey something much more than a dry, semiotic exercise. “Pretentionism” creates the experience – the construction of a fantasy from reality, a reality from fantasy. And that experience is what it’s all about.

This creation of a “false experience” is what turns the wooden pieces into the living, breathing boy. Without it, all the fantasy we encounter will mean as little to us as if Pinocchio had stayed a puppet. But with this false experience, things happen. The wooden boy comes alive; the mummified body becomes the smiling Tibetan monk; a computer graphic becomes a machine built from liquid metal; an inked drawing becomes a personality with the potential to influence our lives. King Kong was only eight inches high, yet he picked up Fay Wray and knocked a biplane out of the sky from the top of the Empire State Building. The Tardis is a fake police box, yet it contains infinite space. The Millennium Falcon is made up of old model kits, yet it can do the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs(!). The Discovery is a six-foot model, yet without it Hal could never have sung “Daisy” to Dave. Animation is painted paper and plastic, yet the greatest fantasy on screen was created in that media. Creating the false creates the real.

Still being silly? Still being pretentious? Indeed we are.

All this may be merely the Dreams of Mice and Protozoans, but rephrasing it for more modest ears would still not disguise the assertion that the act of suspending disbelief can and should be active in enhancing the way we perceive our psyche and its wanderings through the surrounding environment (often having a jolly good time, I might add). The involvement in these fictional worlds, with their never-living characters and ungoable places, becomes an aide-memoire for our mythic unconscious (you might have guessed that I’m a bit of a fan of Jung). They become our safe agents provocateur and provide a clarity in our viewing of bitter reality. They illuminate Pandora’s box, making the demons within seem to withdraw to whence they came.

So go ahead. Take that colour, shape, form and construct that can only be fabricated in the 3D charting package of our cerebra. Empty out your pre-conceptions onto an already cluttered floor and absorb the fresh and exciting creations from the machinations of minds who are busy exploring the frontier of the imagination: Visual SF. If it doesn’t work for you then I’m afraid you’ve got neural dieback, a visual cortex with Dutch Elm’s Disease; you’re brain dead and imaginatively flatlined. If you can’t manage to sprinkle chocolate on the cappuccino in your own virtual cafe then you’re a sad case indeed.

So get up. Look back, look forward – see what is the now and ride with it.

So let’s get pretentious.

Let’s get silly.

Let’s raid the illusion chest.

Robin Pen
Co-ordination of Visual SF,
SwanCon 17

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