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abstract image, multiverseThis article is an extract from my panel “SF and Border Science: an Italian point of view”, which took place on Thursday 30 August 2012, 4.30 pm, at Chicon 7 - 2012 Worldcon and Hugo Awards - in Chicago (IL).


In this panel I talked about fringe science in relation to italian culture and creativity, or, more precisely, in relation to open-mindedness.

Fringe science is scientific inquiry in a field of study that departs from mainstream thories so, is obvious that fringe concepts are highly speculative: for example M-Theory or also Multiverse-Theory meet the definition of fringe science; just think on tv series "Fringe" or "Eureka" for get an idea of what is fringe science. However, here, we do not want to enter in the actual scientific field, everything is in context: writing science fiction, reading science fiction, to do science fiction. So, I will speak of conservatism according to the content that we face here and now, without getting into specific positions of the scientific world: we will see how Italians view fringe science, we will understand its relationship with the readers and especially with Italian sci-fi writers.

From my point of view, many themes of science fiction without fringe science cannot exist, and fringe science often starts from science fiction. I must put next to "science" the word "fringe": why? Because in Italy science is a problem, because in Italy science is only the traditional one: conservatism is strong and a science outside of the mainstream is not permitted, creative science is not permitted and, attention, creative science does not mean science as a fairy tale, but I mean the one able to travel off the beaten track, in pursuit of original ideas, even extreme. Thus, the science that dares to go off the rails, in order to propose new and strange theories, is looked with derision by mainstream scientists. Here it is, the indissoluble link between science and science-fiction takes on, in Italy, an univocal appearance, there is no more positive and creative interchange: on one side there’s an almost inquisitorial science and, on the other side, a lonely science fiction.

I take an example from astronomy: imagine a binary star that remains without a companion, what are the consequences? The kind of interaction between the stars in a binary system depends on the distance that separates them. Less this distance is, then more the interactions are important: there are stars for which the distance between them is so small that a mass exchange can take place and... is it not our case? Are not fringe science and sci-fi binary stars, revolving around each other and so close together that mass - ideas and informations -  is exchanged?

In Italy science does not look at sci-fi as a traveling companion, as a good ally that increases the public's interest, but mainstream science sees sci-fi as entertainment: nothing more. Why? If in Italy people think that a relationship exists between science and sci-fi, then they would be taken to reason about new fringe-theories, on the ideas of alternative scientists and this means to take power away from the official science destabilizing its status quo. This has consequences not only on readers, but also on writers, for example we do not have scientists who are also science fiction writers [1], that would be considered a contradiction, I would say: a sort of heresy!

In Italy, mainstream science does not follow globalization but preservation.
The Italian scientific conservatism wants control but does not realize that it doesn’t have it any more: now we have the Web. Technology has made creativity more powerful, as well as new scientific theories did: fringe science and technology have given rise to endless possibilities. So many areas of fringe science, such as fringe archeology or Debora Montanari during her panel at Hugo Awards 2012, Chicagoquantum physics, came to imaginary of not only writers but also of researchers, philosophers, those who seek a truth about existence, the truth that official science has never been able to give. The science fiction writer tends to search for these truths, especially in Italy, where fringe science is almost hidden to the people: it is the writer who must try to show it, as far as he is able to do. At this point you'll realize that the Italian sci-fi writer has more responsibility: to tell, entertain, amuse; but also reveal and popularize fringe science. A good way to do it is to tell the public the theories on what the writer was inspired by to develop his ideas, make known the sources and then direct the readers to the right information.

If the relationship between fringe science and science fiction is unbreakable, then in Italy this relationship becomes crucial for a cultural issue. In front of exclusion of fringe-science, how does science fiction appear in Italy? Or better: how do writers show their sci-fi? Mainstream science interfered with fringe scientists to such a point that not only nowadays they are marginalized, but they are no longer considered as scientists: if they dare to go off the rails, there is a high risk for that they will not be invited to work in universities and in scientific fields, again.
I may quote the writer Ben Bova, who in his "Exiles" series brings into play the exile of frontier scientists in genetics, in order to prevent the status quo’s loss. Mr. Ben Bova in the 70s was already talking about exclusion of fringe science in the name of conservatism, but what made me think is that: in the first book, "Exiled From Earth”, the seat of world government is in Italy, in Messina. Coincidence or foresight?

In Italy a fringe scientist will always be seen as the mad scientist to marginalize, or to exile! Really, the mad scientist is like a sci-fi writer, he uses a form of "pre-vision" which, in our case, is not a paranormal ability but, looking for the most appropriate synonym, I would call it a “beyond-sight”... well, beyond what? Beyond the limits established by the mainstream, by society, and beyond the rails of normality.
What I call "beyond-sight" is not magic but the ability to develop theories, ideas, then... the endless possibilities already mentioned, that in Italy are in the sci-fi’s hands.

When an Italian writer applies these endless possibilities, he regards the fact that our scientific reality is strongly anchored to the status-quo, then he has the opportunity to lead the reader in front of fringe science themes. Everything he writes is, in fact, directed at an audience that is increasingly heterogeneous in cultural level, age and tastes: so, not only fans of sci-fi but everybody.
Mainstream science does not talk about alternative theories? No problem... sci-fi writers do it!

There is no conditioning on the thought of the sci-fi writer, it is more free than you can imagine: it sounds to you like a contradiction, but the fact that there is no information about fringe science, allows the Italian writer to move without interference and I'm not saying he can say nonsense, on the contrary, I am declaring that he can write and say what is actually said in the world of these sciences, without rules that may restrict the information; this explains, in part, because the contents of Italian sci-fi are so "cool". While in other genres academic rules or business rules may interfere, in sci-fi there is freedom. The use of fringe science’s theories then becomes the number one tool for us writers to create and support the "beyond-sight", as I said before, the elaboration of ideas and now I can say... the free elaboration of ideas and the creative proposal of science.

However, the absence of a fringe scientific culture can be felt also in sci-fi: in fact, some writers remain anchored to the conventional, to the future as a continuation of the history, or reversal of the history as in the case of Ucronic Narrative - very popular in my Country -. Sometimes you face a sort of sci-fi made up of social and scientific verism that has only one difference with our reality, it’s set in the future, but the plots do not engage fringe content. However, a good number of Italian sci-fi writers tries to express themselves through images that represent a different order of reality, all generated from the ideas of quantum physics and of the fringe science that takes us beyond traditional science, leaving the rails to travel to places never beaten.

Science fiction knows that expanding the horizons brings knowledge, but knowledge does not mean the information trapped by rules and human limitations, but implies the creativity that has no rules and can also travel off the rails, off the power plays, outside the academic impositions.
The highest expression of creativity is in science fiction that, just as fringe science, challenges the borderline between what is known and what is unknown.


[1] I specify that for “scientists”, I do not mean all graduates in scientific subjects, but only those who work as scientists in institutions, universities, private companies and so on.

Also published in English by Europa SF-The European Science Fiction Portal.


Photo credits
> image 1 - abstract image by Garik Barseghyan, from Pixabay
> image 2 - Debora Montanari during her
panel at Chicon7-Hugo Awards 2012, with
publisher Luigi Petruzzelli and author Barbara G. Tarn