To understand Elon Musk, all you have to do is (re)read science fiction classics
According to legend, when Elon Musk was asked how he got the idea to market electric cars and build rockets, the eccentric entrepreneur replied: “I’m reading a book.”
The anecdote, maintained by an Elon Musk guarantor of a legend that contributes to the growth of his bank account, has become a kind of epigraph on the stone of his technological empire. The kind word of the richest man on the planet turns out to be less anecdotal than his bold side suggests.
By founding the car manufacturer Tesla and being the herald of space exploration with SpaceX, the billionaire has built a multinational with futuristic overtones and powerful technology. Rockets, studying life on Mars, cars of the future or brain implants… The most modern projects are piled up in the offices of his companies based in the United States. Elon Musk set himself a mission: to build the future.
“Shy of the science fiction books he’s been reading since childhood, he has a sincere, if somewhat wacky, ambition: he wants to make the fictional worlds of the novels he’s devoured real”. comments Olivier Lascar, author of a particularly well-informed biography of the character, Investigating Elon Musk, the man who fights science.
“He considers that what is written can be achieved. In his eyes, there is no gap between fiction and the real world. adds up Yannick Rumpala, expert in science fiction literature and author of the article Elon Musk, a science fiction character? published in the columns of the weekly newspaper Le 1. Because of SF stories from the 1960s to the 1990s, Elon Musk was the product of an imagination he stretched. This fascination for the insights offered by the fictional universe drove the teenager into entrepreneurship.
Asimov in orbit
Elon Musk’s youth was marked by loneliness. The Brinquebalé between the two parents turned towards personal aspirations in which their son had a subordinate place, the teenager took refuge in science fiction books. Between the two software projects he mounts on the massive machines that fill his teenage room, he devours fantasy literature classics like The Robot cycle by Isaac Asimov. He will also pay tribute to the Soviet writer during the launch into orbit of his Falcon Heavy rocket, in 2018, carrying a crystal with an effigy of Foundation Cyclea collection of short stories written by Asimov in the 1950s.
Elon Musk’s relationship with the world is shaped by so many books that he often mentions in his conferences, media appearances or in front of his employees. “Of all the references the Tesla boss could cite, one keeps coming back: Iain M. Banks”, recalls Olivier Lascar. The Scottish writer who died in 2013, known for his flowery illustrations and recognized as one of the greatest stylists of science fiction literature, said Elon Musk borrow some of his inventions. Among them, the neural lace.
In 2016, the eccentric entrepreneur worked on a project to create a brain-computer interface that would allow the processor to be controlled only by the power of thought. It needs a catchy name to launch this great technological project. He chose “neural lace”, a short, memorable and almost convenient formula. In fact, the term already exists. The concept is also, straight out of the cycle of Culture by Iain M. Banks. “Parenting is obvious”, note by Yannick Rumpala. In South African eyes, literature appears to be a form of a great universe crossed with futuristic objects and technological programs waiting to be transferred to the real world.
Role in composition
Elon Musk developed his visionary character by drawing from several authors. His geeky humor that he deploys on the social network Twitter reminds of its tone The Galactic Traveler’s Guide by Douglas Adams. His company’s philosophy is part of Robert A. Heinlein’s legacy, a testament to the ideas of neoliberal capitalism. His desire to colonize the planet Mars was directly inspired by the theory of terraforming developed by Kim Stanley Robinson, father of The Martian Trilogy: Mars the Red; Mars is Green; Mars is Blue…
Elon Musk is a literary patchwork. A role composed of several influences. Science fiction is the key to understanding the personality of the powerful businessman. He also pushed literary mysticism to the point of giving his children the surnames of characters in the novel. Thus, the first name of his son, Siderael, is a reference to the character of lord of the ringsGaladriel.
“His love of literature was unfeigned, deciphers Olivier Lascar. It does not quote authors or allude to works of fiction for display purposes. It is a legacy. Science fiction forged Musk’s imagination and gave birth to a belief in him: technology would hold the keys to solving humanity’s problems.
Without his multiple references to works of science fiction, would Elon Musk be able to raise so much enthusiasm for his avant-garde project? Can this be understood? He was not a scientist but a captain of industry who had the inspiration to surround himself with experts to fuel his ambitions. The tour de force achieved by the business magnate has always resided in his ability to get economic and scientific circles to follow his futuristic ambitions. Literature and many references contributed to it. “Elon Musk was able to play with imaginations, to build a story based on novels, “ summary by Yannick Rumpala.
Elon Musk is a storyteller… with his twist. It is important to point out all the shortcomings and misinterpretations in Elon Musk’s reading of many classics. Starting with his masters: Kim Stanley Robinson and Iain M. Banks.
Culture de Banks is a brutally harsh critique of capitalism and no scholar of the author would dare to build a bridge between the two personalities. “I think that Banks, as a utopian socialist and anarchist, really cannot identify himself with the capitalist and libertarian project of Musk”, moderators Yannick Rumpala.
There is also uncertainty when discussing the filiation of the British Douglas Adams. The writer behind the legend of The Galactic Traveler’s Guide, constantly scoffing at the authority of the powerful, the authoritarian captain of industry would no doubt be scoffing if he hadn’t suffered a heart attack at age 49. He’d also have little taste for the idolatry perpetuated by the Elon Musk character.
From the beginning of his technological venture, Musk has staged himself, played with the figure he represents. A heroic process, again borrowed from literature. “I don’t know if he thinks of himself as a hero of a novel, but Musk has a sense of representation. He is convinced of being someone apart.studying Olivier Lascar.
Long compared to the character of Manfred Maxx, the inventor who oscillates between idealism and pragmatism as depicted by the British writer Charles Stross in his novel Accelerando released in 2005, Musk rarely enters the stories of contemporary writers. In the cinema, the entrepreneur made a brief appearance in Iron Man 2 and some see Sir Peter Isherwell, the film’s character Don’t Look Upthe ghost of Telsa’s boss.
Because of his superpowers, doing his least speaking as a regulator of cryptocurrency markets, today it is Elon Musk who himself inspires science fiction, whether in books or on the screen. And that is probably his biggest dream.