George Walford: Science Faction?

Perhaps we should pay more attention to science fiction. In Soldier, Ask Not Philip K. Dick envisages a future in which the human race has not only spread to planets scattered over the galaxy but also separated off into specialised races. Bodily specialisation determined by the conditions of the planet inhabited is of course a common-place of the genre; Dick looks deeper and presents a psychological splitting, in which the inhabitants of each planet specialise in one mental ability. The Dorsai develop military skills, the Friendlies (the title is ironic) acceptance of a single faith for all, the Exotics something Dick calls philosophy, giving them the power to predict the social future. These are the Splinter Cultures; the inhabitants of Old Earth remain full-spectrum people. The next development is to be the fusion of these specialised segments into a new, richer version of full humanity.

Given that the object was entertainment (though more thoughtful than most) the scheme is well worked out, lacking mainly any motive force (other than “racial instinct which we haven’t completely charted yet”) that might produce these effects. Scattering, even over galactic distances, seems insufficient, since transportation is instantaneous and there is no mention of any earlier time without this facility.

Bearing in mind Herbert Spencer’s definition of evolution as a movement from incoherent homogeneity to coherent heterogeneity (in fact we never have been able to bear that one in mind; those unwieldy phrases are only part of it) one is impelled to ask whether Dick’s conception is quite as deeply original as at first appears, but it is certainly more so than those of nearly all other novels, whether in science fiction or other genres. But it assumes that such things happen only in fiction. There is in fact a pattern of development, observable by anybody willing to take the trouble, which goes beyond Dick’s not only in range and complexity but also – more important – in the degree of realisation it has attained. Without leaving earth the human race has divided itself into a number of sections, each of them mentally specialised for particular functions, which co-operate together, each contributing its specialised abilities to the common enterprise. They are known as the major ideological groups.

from Ideological Commentary 37, January 1989.