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Bernal, J D

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1901-1971) UK physicist and political philosopher, Marxist polemicist, whose The World, the Flesh and the Devil: An Enquiry into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (1929 chap) manages, with astonishing clarity and concision, to provide models for the understanding and exploitation of the future that sf writers – some knowingly, some ignorant of this small work – would mine for decades. Its influence was acknowledged by Olaf Stapledon in the Preface to Star Maker (1937). A good example of his swift prescience might be his description of Space Flight developments: that after Space Stations and vast Space Habitats had given humanity a toe-hold in the solar system, and ships driven by solar sails had given us cheap mobility as well, we should then go travelling, in Generation Starships, to distant stars, which we will need on arrival to turn into heat engines (see Dyson Sphere). Humans meanwhile will evolve into Cyborgs as a stage in our Evolution into entities encased in proprioceptive gear and armour, like ships who sing; at which point brains will join brains, sentiences join sentiences, in "a state of ecstasy" not unlike that, in the end, experienced by the Transcendent group minds at the End of the World who populate the work of Scientific Romance authors such as Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter. Bernal's cultural speculations as to how these dreams might be diverted also prefigure in abstract in much socially conscious sf and sf Satire; and there is an ominous appeal to his suggestion that the homeloving portions of humanity could be left behind on Earth, which would become a kind of Reservation (under benevolent supervision), while the adventurous leave on their journeys into the universe. Bernal did not only delineate the large dream of twentieth-century sf familiar to devotees of Hard SF; he also adumbrated the nightmarish side of the possibility that the dream might be realized. [JC]

see also: To-day and To-morrow.

John Desmond Bernal

born Brookswatson, Tipperary, Ireland: 10 May 1901

died London: 15 September 1971



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