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FANTASTIC TANDEM: Henry Lion Oldie on the structure of reality and envisioning the future (Part II)

FANTASTIC TANDEM: Henry Lion Oldie on the structure of reality and envisioning the future (Part I)
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Dmytro Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky /


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Have you tried looking at the world from a different perspective? If not, it is best to do it with the hero of our interview — science fiction writer Henry Lion Oldie.

In truth, under this name hides a creative tandem of two Ukrainians — Dmytro Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky, who, with the story «The Unknown Painter,» were recently nominated for the prestigious BSFA Awards, awarded by the British Science Fiction Association.




Dmytro: It is a long-known philosophical assumption that nature is a kind of universal intelligent being that reflexively reacts to human violation of the natural laws of the universe. Therefore, various types of social and natural catastrophes arise. This idea is quite often exploited by the authors of fantastic books and movies.

In essence, it is almost the same as God. Even if we are dealing with impersonal laws, the violation of which is fraught with various troubles for us. The idea of a living and intelligent universe may well turn out to be not so fantastic. True, as in the case of God, there is no evidence for it yet.

However, there is also no evidence that the opposite is true. Unfortunately, these ideas do not stimulate humankind to change its mind. Apparently, a stronger push is needed to realize what can be done and what is categorically not allowed.

Oleg: In our novel «Messiah Clears the Disk» we also paid tribute to the concept of an intelligent Universe. We assumed that there is a law of karma, which is absolutely «non-human». And it is totally inconsistent with our conceptions of good and evil, punishment and retribution.

And now, let’s imagine that a small «human» stone suddenly falls into this perfect mechanism. And human morality blows up the law from the inside, which was based on quite different principles of thinking, free from our emotions or desires.

As a result, the law of karma begins to crack at the seams, and after it — and the whole universe. And then it is necessary to clean the disk of the «universe computer», to format it again.


Обложка книги «Мессия очищает диск»
Cover of the book «Messiah Clears the Disk» /




Dmytro: Trying to imagine the unimaginable is not the only but one of the possible motivations of a science fiction writer. Coming up with something that no one else has managed before you is very difficult but fundamentally possible. For example, China Miéville managed to do it within the aesthetic concept of his novel «The Last Days of New Paris».

I suspect that what happens to plot ideas, fantastic assumptions, philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic concepts in literature is about the same as what happens to notes in music or colors in painting.

There are many more musical masterpieces than notes, and the number of literary works is not exhausted by the number of «eternal» plots or letters in the alphabet.

Even assuming that the combinations are eventually exhaustible, there are still enough for a very long time. Those who like to repeat that «everything was invented for us long ago» do it either from ignorance or from laziness, from the habit of using something secondary.

Oleg: It’s worth adding that fiction for us is not an end in itself but a tool. We don’t have the task of creating some fantastic theory that no one has ever thought of before.

Even if we are talking about 15th-century China or traveling to a distant space, we still write about the present, about what concerns us now — there is no other option for us. Otherwise, why do we need fiction at all?

For us, this genre is an opportunity to sharpen the problem to the utmost, to look at it from an unexpected angle. It is an attempt to «wake up» the reader. We try to offer him a different lens through which he has not yet looked at the world. That’s why, for instance, when you write about the Trojan War, you talk about all the wars that came before and after it.

Suddenly, you notice that Odysseus was only 18 years old when he went off to fight. He was pulled out of his home, torn from his newborn son and young wife. This was not the life-long, bearded man we are presented with in popular culture. Tell me, how was he different from the modern mobilized man?

Homer needs a fantastic plot of unusual adventures and long wanderings in order for the reader to «come to his senses». He recognized in the fantasy something familiar, relevant to him, and said: «Indeed, all this is true; indeed, in life, everything is like this!»

Therefore, fiction is not the only but a very effective tool with the help of which humankind can test the foundations of its existence.


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FANTASTIC TANDEM: Henry Lion Oldie on the structure of reality and envisioning the future (Part II)
Cover of the book «The Unknown Painter» /




Dmytro: Any genre has certain creative limitations. Fiction uses the same techniques and methods as any other kind of literature. But plus it emphasizes one more technique — fantastic assumption, which significantly increases the degree of author’s freedom.

This is the main thing that distinguishes fiction from any other type of literature. In this case, the novelty of the idea is desirable but not obligatory. You can take an already known assumption and originally adapt it.

For example, time travel is described in thousands of books. But all the outstanding works on this topic — completely different! At least compare «The Time Machine» by H.G. Wells and «The End of Eternity» by Asimov. Some describe time travel from a psychological, others — from a social, and another — from a philosophical position.

The fundamental attribute of science fiction is a plot-forming fantastic assumption. But we see that the fantastic assumption itself, the plot, the character of the heroes, and so on within the same idea of time travel are infinitely variable — this is the highest degree of freedom of the genre.

Oleg: This freedom has led to the fact that in the history of world literature, there is an incredible number of fiction works, the number of which is probably impossible to even count.

Let’s say, «Gulliver’s Travels» Swift, only not adapted for children, but the full version — what is this if not fiction? And «Gargantua and Pantagruel» by Rabelais, «Shagreen Skin» by Balzac, or «Little Zaches called Zinnober» by Hoffmann?

Fiction is very different; it’s a broad concept. Although in the strict sense of science fiction appeared quite late. By the way, do you know who was one of the first science fiction writers? Cyrano de Bergerac! He has a novel about going to the moon and lunar civilizations.

It was a long way to the landing of American astronauts on the moon, but a fantastic assumption about the possibility of such an event was made by Cyrano in his book «Another Light, or the States and Empires of the Moon» back in the XVII century.




Dmytro: Fiction is a very practical thing, it has the most direct relevance to today. Studies conducted among the top management of the world’s leading corporations have shown that the most successful companies are those whose leaders were fond of science fiction in their youth.

China has not long ago realized the role of science fiction literature in the development of the economy and scientific and technological progress. Following the Americans, the Chinese discovered that these things are interrelated. And while the U.S. still holds the primacy here, the Chinese are paying more and more attention to the genre, to the point of introducing government incentive programs.

When Oleg and I make a sci-fi assumption, we take into account many different factors — biological research, trends in the development of artificial intelligence, social consequences of technological progress, etc.

For example, we can’t go past essential aspects of modernity, such as artificial intelligence and the virtualization of life. We have a number of works where we raise the topic of AI.

Our story «The Unknown Painter», which is nominated for the British Science Fiction Association Awards, is about artificial intelligence and the war currently being waged against Ukraine. In the story «Future», we reflect on the transfer of life into the virtual.

We recently finished the novella «Kali-Yuga», where we also explored the topic of artificial intelligence systems and swarming drones in the Russian-Ukrainian war. Of course, AI is on everyone’s lips today, it’s a topic that concerns many people and, naturally, we have our own assumptions about it.

Everyone interested in artificial intelligence can visit our website and get acquainted with our vision of this phenomenon.


FANTASTIC TANDEM: Henry Lion Oldie on the structure of reality and envisioning the future (Part II)
Cover of the book «Kali-Yuga» /


Oleg: Artificial intelligence is only a part of the radical changes that are happening to humanity right now. We don’t even notice how more and more of our lives are going virtual.

We no longer care so much about our bodies, the clothes we wear, or the houses we live in. It is enough to maintain body functions optimally, and you can live wherever and however you want — virtual reality allows it. If this trend continues to grow, 75% of our activities will move to virtual reality. Human beings will gradually begin to identify with «pure intelligence» rather than corporeality.

The next step is that even minimal support for this corporeality is unnecessary, as artificial intelligence will model our personality according to data in social networks and fixation of reactions to basic irritants.

As a result, we will get a world similar to the ancient Greek kingdom of the dead, where disembodied shadows roam. Only in ancient myths, these shadows have no memory, and in our case, all memory will be stored on a cloud server. So far, the virtualization of life is a matter of voluntary choice. For example, Dmytro and I are not interested in the virtualization of creativity.

In our tandem, artificial intelligence is a «third extra», so we do not apply ChatGPT. I suppose that AI can be used in some cases as an auxiliary tool, but to hand over the creative function to it completely is to deprive creativity of any meaning.

We’re simply not interested. We resort to chatbots only when creating online covers for electronic publications. Frankly speaking, the quality of their work is such that we have to «edit everything to perfection».

Creative cooperation with AI is not safe because, in the world of judicial practice, there are already a number of processes related to plagiarism. When the author-customer blindly trusted ChatGPT, which, in fact, did not creatively use other people’s ideas.


Read Part III


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