“Utopia Parkway”

(Draft preface for The Amount to Carry)

by Carter Scholz

These stories appeared, more or less uneasily, in various science fiction publications between the late 1970s and the late 1990s. “Science fiction” has always been a shifty and problematic term, but during this period what it was able to mean changed permanently. Lucasfilm, for one, overwhelmed and usurped it. So it has become necessary to explain what “science fiction” once tried to mean.

It was always both a literary genre and a publishers’ marketing category. The category marketing insisted that it was good harmless fun for kids and weirdos. The genre insisted on saying deadly serious things that the Official Literary Culture wanted no part of—about, for example, what sort of a world (for better or worse) technology was forcing upon us. The message was often garbled or compromised by the marketing side, but for all that it remained clear; the boosters and the skeptics of technology both agreed that the matter of science fiction (about the style there was no agreement) should be as contemporary as reality. The way I understood its meaning, science fiction was a class traitor to both science and fiction, and was therefore able to tell the kinds of truth that only class traitors can tell.

Even in that context, these stories were oddballs, anti-generic, traitors to both “science fiction” and the Official. Looking them over now is a little alarming. It’s like peeping into Joseph Cornell’s workroom out there on Utopia Parkway. Somebody has some time on their hands, if you know what I mean. And what’s that smell? Some potpourri of memory, desire, stubbornness, and glue.

These stories were looking for a place to inhabit that wasn’t quite science fiction, and wasn’t quite naturalism. What I still like about them is their refusal to get with the program. If “science fiction” is a class traitor to both science and fiction, these stories are adamant in their refusal to be wholly “science fiction” or wholly “literary” or even to acknowledge that the distinction means anything. They show a fascination, if not obsession, with oddballs and mavericks, people who mistrust their received culture and look for some other way. Of course in the end there is no other way, because the world is the world. It is more than enough and it is also not enough. That is the paradox and the dilemma. That’s the amount we have to carry.