Future Reflections Fall 2004
I am a science fiction fan. For those scoffers and eyebrow-lifters out there, I point out that Dr. Kenneth Jernigan—the great NFB leader and visionary who designed the newly opened NFB Jernigan Institute—was a science fiction fan, too. I rest easy in my fan status knowing that I am in good company. However, some years ago, I noticed a disturbing trend: I would check the spines of new books in the library, look for the SF designation, and pull out a book only to discover, to my dismay, that it wasn’t science fiction at all—it was a fantasy book! It still annoys me that there is no separate designation for fantasy, but I live with it. I even read an occasional fantasy book and enjoy it. But, personal taste aside, I still insist that science fiction and fantasy do not belong in the same category. Science fiction is based on scientific principles of the known world. Indeed, some of the far-out speculations of early science fiction stories actually exist today; for example, clones, space ships, and cell phones—just to name a few.
Fantasy, however, is just that—fantasy. It is about magic—the unexplained, the mysterious, the unbelievable, the scientifically impossible. Sure, the author of a fantasy novel may make up certain rules under which his or her fantasy world operates, but those have no connection to the scientific rules of the world and universe in which we live. Fantasy is escape from reality. On the other hand, science fiction strives to stretch the limits of the human imagination about what is possible. Sir William Bragg, the renowned British physicist, once said: “The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.” That’s what the “science” part in science fiction is about: new ways of thinking about existing facts.
And that’s what the National Federation of the Blind is about: new ways of thinking about blindness and stretching our imaginations about what is possible. In this issue we talk about blind people doing things that, even today, many members of the public scoff at as pure fantasy: blind people using telescopes, driving a car, fixing a car, launching a rocket, going to college, mixing and socializing at parties, and putting on blindfolds (sleepshades) and shutting out the little vision they have in order to learn how to be more independent. It isn’t fantasy, but only because those who dreamed of these possibilities took steps to turn them into realities.
It takes hard work, perseverance, and many false starts and failures before a blind woman can achieve her dream of becoming a rocket scientist, or a blind student with additional disabilities can read and write his own name in Braille. There are no short cuts. Blind students can launch a rocket, but not if they can’t read or do calculus. Blind students can succeed in college, but getting and keeping a job requires more than good grades; it requires skills—like knowing how to use, hire, and fire readers. Blind students may aspire to travel the world, but must first learn how to give the cabbie directions to the airport. Fantasies do not require such effort; possibilities do. As parents and teachers, your children and students look to you for guidance in distinguishing fantasy from possibility. We hope this issue helps you in this oh-so-important task.