Science fiction wins a Nobel

Dystopian futures don't just belong to the cyberpunks. Doris Lessing could play post-apocalyptic with the best of them.

Published October 11, 2007 2:38PM (EDT)

Doris Lessing, dubbed by critic John Leonard as "one of the half-dozen most interesting minds to have chosen to write fiction in English in this [the 20th] century," has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

As I review the list of previous laureates, it occurs to me that Lessing may well be the first writer of science fiction and fantasy ever to have won the award. She may be most famous for "The Golden Notebook," but she has also dreamed up scads of dystopian post-apocalyptic landscapes and alien intergalactic civilizations that toy with humanity like cats with crippled mice.

Who's next? William Gibson? George R.R. Martin? Ursula Le Guin? The sky, as we like to say in sf-land, is no longer the limit.

John Leonard, again, from "The Spacing Out of Doris Lessing," his 1982 review of "The Making of the Representative for Planet 8."

It is Mrs. Lessing's fancy to press us by glacier through a microscopic web. The passage is inside. The atom agitating in a vacuum speaks for itself. Mrs. Lessing has spoken elsewhere for Idries Shah, the pedagogue of Sufism. We need not be experts on the conservation of energy and mass or the protocol of self-annihilation in the Absolute to realize that she marries, metaphorically, Rumi's dervish to the whirl of modern molecular physics. Idries Shah meets Erich Von Daniken, and Werner Heisenberg skyjacks a lapwing. The mind is blown.

UPDATE: Reader Nancy Ott nominates 1982 Nobel-winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose "magic realism" may also qualify as fantasy writing. But not science fiction!

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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