A special treat this week! We have been given permission to republish a 1997 interview with pioneering Visionary Fiction author John Nelson. Inspiring in itself but also an authentic piece of VF history from a writer who was part of the early experiment with our genre at Hampton Roads Press in the ’90s along with the likes of Monty Joynes, Frank DeMarco, and Bob Friedman.
Do Visionary Novelists Dream of Cloned Sheep?
An Interview with John Nelson, Part One
by Jerry Snider (Magical Blend Magazine, August 1997)
The breakout success of James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy brought a new literary genre to the public attention. Bearing a striking resemblance to science fiction, it transcends sci-fi’s preoccupation with technological development, and instead places emphasis on human spiritual development necessary to keep up with technology’s mad dash to the future.
John Nelson has been pioneering this literary form since the late seventies. His first novel, Starborn, takes a whimsical look at reincarnation, wondering “what if” a child was born with the accumulated knowledge and psychic powers of over fifty lifetimes. His second novel, Transformations, hailed by Jess Stern as the first truly New Age novel, involves a genetic experiment by an advance race of ETs to show humanity that evolution cannot be “engineered” but is the result of spiritual self-transcendence. In Matrix of the Gods, Nelson depicts a future dimensional shift into two worlds: one that struggles with the aftermath of a cataclysmic ecological collapse and another of spiritual awakening and integration with Gaia, each responding to the vibratory levels of its inhabitants.
To Nelson, the important promise of this new breed of “visionary fiction” is its ability to tackle multiple levels of reality and guide the reader’s imagination into an emerging future where our old limitations begin to fall away, leaving us to sort through outworn customs and beliefs that must be transcended before we can realize a new human identity. This, he says, is both the promise and the challenge of our times.
In addition to his own novels and screenplays, John Nelson supports this message as an editor at Hampton Roads Publishing in the visionary fiction genre. He is also the editor of Solstice Shift: Magical Blends Synergetic Guide to the Coming Age for Hampton Roads Publishing, to be released in August . Mr. Nelson lives in Charlottesville, Virginia and is currently working on a fourth novel.
How do you describe visionary fiction? What separates it from science fiction and/or fantasy, which used to be the only two categories allotted for this kind of speculative fiction in bookstores?
John Nelson: Probably the definitive difference between science fiction and visionary fiction is that it acknowledges the higher spiritual aspect of the characters, and, consequently, of the author. Many of the writers I’ve talked to say that working in this genre has helped them to get in touch with the higher aspects of themselves. Certainly the novels I have written mirror breakthroughs in my own self-development.
Why do you think visionary fiction is finally being recognized as a separate genre alongside science fiction?
John Nelson: Visionary fiction is sort of an offspring of science fiction. Both genres deal with the social upheaval technology is bringing about, but visionary fiction takes it a step further by looking at the upheaval human development is bringing about. All you have to do is look around to see that it’s not just technology that’s changing, so is our whole definition of what it means to be human. That’s why I believe visionary fiction is the most promising genre for defining how we live in the closing days of the twentieth century and the opening days of the twenty-first century.
Why do you think fiction is a more appropriate form for understanding this dynamic than nonfiction?
John Nelson: There are a number of reasons. For one thing, nonfiction rarely achieves the distance necessary to put what’s happening in society into a larger framework of meaning. Discovering the “moral” of the tale is what fiction is all about, and the modern novel can be seen as charting the development of the major issues we have been dealing with as a people.
The so-called “Great American novels” of the thirties addressed the issues of displacement in a rapidly changing society. Faulkner and Steinbeck both wrote poignantly about the effect of outworn class distinctions in a newly mobile society. Then, postwar fiction turned to the exploration of the personality and the schism between the inner psyche and social expectations. Today, we are discovering not just our inner selves, but our multiple selves. We are dealing with issues of the transformation of the personality, the incorporation of the higher self and the spiritual self. Our reality is becoming so kinetic that we are becoming as Jean Houston calls it, “polyphrenetic,” in terms of our multiple selves and the multiple parts of ourselves. And it requires fiction, particularly the novel form, to really capture that.
Also, what we’re going through in terms of releasing old restrictions, in terms of us owning our power, in terms of us summoning forth different parts of ourselves, can best be dealt with through fiction, because fiction can deal with different levels of reality and different levels within people. In as much as it will be able to do that, visionary fiction promises to be the definitive literature of our time.
What do you see as the moral tale of our time?
John Nelson: The stories I see us telling, the ones with the most profound message, deal with the struggle of becoming part of larger whole without losing individuality. [One of the themes of Nelson’s soon-to-released: I,Human (2016).] One of my all-time favorite reading experiences was Arthur C. Clarke’s A Childhood’s End, in which he wrote about children who, by book’s end, had become part of a group soul or mind or whatever you want to call it. These children didn’t lose individuality; they became something larger.
And I think that’s the issue of our time. You can look at history, or at least Western history, as the struggle of the individual pulling him or herself out of the social matrix, of standing up to be counted and respected as a unique human being who also contributes to the whole. And that process has led us to where we are today. But the paradox is that, while it takes a true individual to recognize his/her part in the larger scheme of things, we have become obsessed with individuality that we’re scared to death of losing it. Until we resolve this conflict, individual needs and social needs will be at war.
So I think the moral tale of our time is that as you become stronger and more individualized, you also become more intrinsic and integrated in the whole. The byproduct of that is you become more of an individual as well. So you don’t lose your individuality; you gain more, and the whole gains more. And I think this is where we’re heading as a global society. The Internet and most of the new technologies are pushing us in that direction. And, as we move along in that direction and learn that becoming truly individual means becoming truly global, we’re tapping into something that spirituality has always talked about. I think that twenty or thirty years from now we’re going to find ourselves in a spiritual milieu that’s beyond our imagination at this point.
Click link to visit John Nelson’s website.