Visionary Fiction

Susan had set up the ironing board in the kitchen and upended the iron there while she sprinkled her blouse. I could not detect the heat waves rising from the face of the iron, but the morning sun showed them clearly on the refrigerator door, curling and uncurling in hypnotic arabesque. That became my image for visionary fiction: the play of the shadows of our invisible realities.

Alas. The shine soon wears off such nifty formulations. For someone else, the phrase might equally well describe religious painting, music, or even mathematics. Still I'm attracted to it, partly because of its Platonic overtones, mostly because the sort of literature I am trying to delineate is devilish hard to define.

Visionary fiction, as I conceive of it, cuts across several genres but totally includes, or is included by, none of them. It is fantasy, of course, but it is not heroic fantasy of the sword-and-sorcery type in which leather-clad heroes with leatherbound brains do battle with evil magicians. Conan the Conqueror lacks—to put it delicately—sufficient delicacy. It may occasionally appear as science fiction, as with C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, but generally it does not do so. Technology, with its fluorescent glare and antiseptic atmosphere, is inimical to the half-lights and shifting shades of the visionary modes. Visionary fiction is always allegorical, but it is not straightforward political allegory...

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