Quote Origin: We Live in a Science Fiction Age. Yesterday’s Fantasy Is Already Today’s Fact

Isaac Asimov? Leonard Nimoy? Allen Ginsberg? Jane Kramer? Donald A. Wollheim? Chester Whitehorn? Ric Ocasek? Greg Hawkes? Apocryphal?

Quote Investigator®
8 min readMay 16, 2023
Geometric shape embedded in space from Pixabay

Question for Quote Investigator: Nowadays technological changes are occurring with vertiginous rapidity, and I am reminded of statements like these:

We live in a science-fiction age. Yesterday’s fantasy is already today’s fact.

There’s nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now.

Surprisingly, these pronouncements were made several decades ago. Would you please help me to find citations?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Here is an overview with dates and attributions which presents a sampling of similar declarations:

1954: We live in a science-fiction age. Yesterday’s fantasy is already today’s fact. — Chester Whitehorn, Editor of short-lived “Science Fiction Digest”

1957 Jan: The bizarre fact that we do live in a science-fiction world. — Canadian Journalist James Cameron (not the moviemaker)

1968 Jun: We do live in a science fiction age. — John M. Connor, Librarian

1969: There’s nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now. — Allen Ginsberg, Poet

1971: I have had the disturbing conviction that we are all living in a science-fiction story. — Donald A. Wollheim, Science fiction editor

1974 May: We live in a science fiction age. — Leonard Nimoy, actor who played Spock in “Star Trek”

1975: We live, indisputably, in a science fiction world. — James E. Gunn, Science fiction scholar and author (not the moviemaker)

1978: Everything is science fiction. And I ought to know. — Ric Ocasek and Greg Hawkes, members of the rock group The Cars

1982: I think we’re living in a science fiction world right now. — Isaac Asimov, Science fiction author

2023 May: On what date do you expect @GreatDismal to go from being science fiction writer to historian? — UK director Duncan Jones

In 1954 optimistic editor Chester Whitehorn founded a periodical called “Science Fiction Digest”. Sadly, only two issues were published before the effort failed.¹ Whitehorn was convinced that the world had entered a new era of futuristic possibilities. He wrote the following in an editor’s note:²

We live in a science-fiction age. Yesterday’s fantasy is already today’s fact; and today’s imaginings, well, perhaps only 24 hours from now, they too will have come to pass.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1957 journalist James Cameron wrote a piece in the “Saskatoon Star-Phoenix” of Saskatchewan, Canada about a new arms control proposal made by the U.S. to the U.S.S.R. The proposal contained ideas and terminology that seemed frighteningly futuristic to Cameron:³

It accepts the bizarre fact that we do live in a science-fiction world, and urges international control of “earth satellites,” “intercontinental missiles,” “long-range unmanned weapons,” “space platforms,” and all the other maniac notions that will shortly drive us all barmy.

In 1968 a conference of librarians was held in Los Angeles, California, and “The Signal” newspaper of Santa Clarita, California printed remarks from John M. Connor who was a librarian for the Los Angeles County Medical Association:⁴

“Man’s knowledge now doubles every eight years,” Connor explained. “We do live in a science fiction age and hardly a day passes in some new marvel or discovery is not revealed to us. Businessmen today are particularly dependent upon computerized information systems in making judgments.”

In 1969 journalist Jane Kramer published a book titled “Allen Ginsberg in America” about a famous U.S. beat generation poet. A student asked Ginsberg to explain remarks he had made about the importance of hippies:⁵

“What I meant,” Ginsberg said, “is that the past is bunk for people now. All past consciousness is bunk. History is bunk. Like Henry Ford said about technology — there’s nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now. All the revolutions and the old methods and techniques for changing consciousness are bankrupt. We’re back to magic, to psychic life.”

In 1970 “The Guardian” newspaper of London reviewed Kramer’s book and repeated the quotation referencing science fiction. Thus, Ginsberg’s pronouncement achieved further circulation:⁶

What I mean, he tells a student, holding forth on a California campus, “is that the past bunk for people now. All past consciousness is bunk. History is bunk. Like Henry Ford said about technology — there’s nothing to be learned from history any more. We’re in science fiction now. All the revolutions and the old methods and techniques for changing consciousness are bankrupt. We’re back to magic, to psychic life.

In 1971 SF editor Donald A. Wollheim published “The Universe Makers: Science Fiction Today” which included remarks describing his reaction to the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945:⁷

Ever since the day that I first heard that an atomic bomb had been exploded over Japan I have had the disturbing conviction that we are all living in a science-fiction story.

Atomic power and atomic bombs were old stuff to me at the time, for as an ardent science-fiction fan I had known all about them and their potential for at least a decade. But when the bomb was actually invented and used before the founding of the world state (which was the way it was supposed to have been) I knew we were in for it.

Actor Leonard Nimoy was best known for playing the character Spock in the television series “Star Trek”. The original series ended in 1969, and an animated series was broadcast in 1973 and 1974. Nimoy visited several college campuses and spoke to students in 1974:⁸

Nimoy says he talks about science fiction, the occult, news, television and politics — he ties them all together.

“I show the audience we live in a science fiction age,” Nimoy says. He does a lot of reading to keep up, adding that much of what he reads today in the media could be used for a “Star Trek” script.

In 1975 SF scholar James E. Gunn published “Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction” which included the following comments:⁹

In any case we live, indisputably, in a science fiction world. All around us we see evidences of a new order: life is not what it was for our fathers and certainly not what it was for their fathers. Life moves faster, and we move with it. We are on the back of galloping technology, and we cannot dismount without breaking our necks.

In 1978 the rock group “The Cars” released an eponymous album containing a track titled “I’m in Touch with Your World” which included the following lyrics:¹⁰

Everything is science fiction
And I ought to know

Band member Ric Ocasek wrote the lyrics of this song; however, a comment by keyboardist Greg Hawkes presented in the liner notes of the deluxe edition of the album indicated that the original song did not mention science fiction. Hawkes was responsible for inspiring the revision of the lyrics:¹¹

Note also the original lyric “everything you say is fiction.” I always misheard it as “everything is science fiction” [hence the funny synth sound]. When I mentioned it to Ric, he changed the lyric to accommodate me. (G.H.)

In 1982 SF luminary Isaac Asimov was interviewed on a radio broadcast called “Ralph Gardner’s Bookshelf”. Asimov employed an instance of the saying under examination:¹²

ASIMOV: I think we’re living in a science fiction world right now, and people see it as that. When I was young, forty years ago, first getting into the field, why, science fiction was widely perceived to be a crackpot sort of thing nuts talked about. It was not respectable. In fact, children had to hide their copies. Parents would confiscate it.

In 2023 UK film director and screenwriter Duncan Jones tweeted the following about prominent SF author William Gibson who uses the twitter handle @GreatDismal:¹³

Guessing game-
On what date do you expect @GreatDismal to go from being science fiction writer to historian?

In conclusion, many people have expressed the notion that the era they were experiencing had the characteristics of science fiction. The examples above begin in 1954, but QI suspects that earlier citations exist and welcomes the help of other researchers.

Image Notes: Illustration of geometric shape embedded in space from spirit111 at Pixabay. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: This article is dedicated to the memory of science fiction fan and librarian extraordinaire Dennis Lien who asked fascinating questions and helped QI on many occasions. Special thanks to Charles C. Doyle who accessed the issue of “Science Fiction Digest”. Also, thanks to Ben Zimmer who told QI about the tweet referencing William Gibson. Additional thanks to Fred Shapiro who placed the quotation from Alan Ginsberg in “The New Yale Book of Quotations” where QI encountered it for the first time.

Update History: On May 18, 2023 the 1954 citation was updated with details after the hardcopy of issue number 1, volume 1 was accessed. Also, on May 18, 2023 the tweet from Duncan Jones was added to the article.

[1] 1993, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, Entry: Science Fiction Digest, Quote Page 1064, Column 1, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans)

[2] 1954, Science Fiction Digest, Volume 1, Number 1, Editor Chester Whitehorn, Article Title: S.F.D. Notes, Quote Page 1, Publisher: Specific Fiction Corporation, New York. Note about date: The month of the issue was not specified in the hardcopy; “The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction” (1993) edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls states that issue number one appeared in February 1954. (Verified with hardcopy)

[3] 1957 January 26, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Around The World: Paradoxes Persist by James Cameron, Quote Page 13, Column 6, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. (Newspapers_com)

[4] 1968 June 5, The Signal, Librarians Confab: Written Records May Bury Us, Quote Page 10, Column 2, Newhall, Santa Clarita, California. (Newspapers_com)

[5] 1969, Allen Ginsberg in America by Jane Kramer, Part 2, Chapter 1, Quote Page 86, Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)

[6] 1970 February 5, The Guardian, Daddy of them all by Mordecai Richler, (Book review of “Paterfamilias: Allen Ginsberg in America by Jane Kramer), Quote Page 9, Column 6, London, England. (ProQuest)

[7] 1971, The Universe Makers: Science Fiction Today by Donald A. Wollheim, Chapter 1: The Day It Began to Come True, Quote Page 1, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)

[8] 1974 May 9, Decatur Daily Review, Nimoy’s No Introvert by David L. Mahsman, Quote Page 44, Column 6, Decatur, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

[9] 1975, Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction by James Gunn (James Edwin Gunn), Chapter 1: The Shape of the Present, Quote Page 13, A & W Visual Library. published by arrangement with Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)

[10] YouTube video, Title: I’m in Touch with Your World, Uploaded on September 11, 2015, Uploaded by: TheCarsOfficial, (Quotation starts at 2 minutes 26 seconds of 3 minutes 31 seconds) (This song is by the rock group The Cars. The lyrics were written by Ric Ocasek. The song appeared on the album The Cars released June 6, 1978), (Accessed on youtube.com on May 14, 2023) link

[11] 1999, The Cars Deluxe Edition Liner Notes, Disc 2, Section: Rarities, Loner Note for Track 4: I’m In Touch With Your Worlds (Demo) A, Issued by Rhino Entertainment Company. (Verified with scans at siddalls.com on May 14, 2023) link

[12] 1989, Writers Talk to Ralph D. Gardner by Ralph D. Gardner, Interview with Isaac Asimov in 1982, Start Page 1 Quote Page 7, (Interview with Isaac Asimov occurred in 1982 according note on page 18 and note on page xii of Foreword and Acknowledgments), The Scarecrow Press, Metuchen, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)

[13] Tweet, From: Duncan Jones @ManMadeMoon, Time: 12:04 AM, Date: May 15, 2023, Text: Guessing game- On what date do you expect @GreatDismal to go from being science fiction writer to historian? (Accessed on twitter.com on May 18, 2023) link

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Quote Investigator®

Garson O'Toole specializes in tracing quotations. He operates the QuoteInvestigator.com website which receives more than 4 million visitors per year