Science Fiction Studies
#107 = Volume 36, Part 1 = March 2009
Monsters, Monsters Everywhere: Spooky TV and the Politics of Fear in Post-9/11 America
Abstract. -- This essay examines the recent but short-lived spate of sf television programs focused on alien invasions of the US Homeland, including Surface, Invasion, and Threshold. It argues that these programs provide tools for thinking through the Bush administration’s politics of fear and its consequences for US security.
“Call Me A Protestant”: Liberal Christianity, Individualism, and the Messiah in Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune, and Lord of Light
Abstract. -- Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), and Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (1967) are important works of 1960s sf that share an emphasis on the social ramifications of scientific developments, particularly in the domain of religion. Centered on ambiguous messianic figures, the three novels use science-fictional worlds to critique contemporary religious institutions and beliefs and to explore possible alternatives. This paper argues that while many features of traditional theism and organized religion are rejected in this process, certain concepts and values of religious origin remain relatively unchallenged. For the most part, the values that are retained are those of one of the most liberal and well-educated segments of 1960s American society: the mainline Protestant upper and middle classes.
Daughter of Earth: Judith Merril and the Intersections of Gender, Science Fiction, and Frontier Mythology
Abstract. -- Although Judith Merril is well known as an important editor and anthologist during the formative period of North American sf from the 1940s through the 1970s, her fiction has been largely overlooked by sf scholars. Even feminist work tends to proceed from the assumption that women did not become an important force in sf until the 1970s, and so excludes Merril’s writing from consideration as feminist sf. This article reconsiders the importance of Judith Merril as an sf writer, arguing that she played a far more central role in the emergence of feminist sf than has generally been acknowledged. Our critical framework situates Merril’s writing in the context of frontier themes in science fiction, which gained prominence and respect in American culture as the US space program opened up what many observers of the day considered a new phase in America’s legacy as a frontiering nation. Just as feminist scholars of women’s writing of the American west have identified differing patterns in how women write about the western frontier, we similarly identify key ways in which Merril’s space frontier departs from male-centered paradigms, particularly with respect to her representations of gender and gender relations in space, the remaking of the family in space and in newly contacted worlds, and the point of view of both the colonizers and colonized in space. Her innovative fiction, we argue, qualifies her as a founding figure in the history of feminist sf, as well as one of the most important writers of the mid-twentieth century.
The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Abstract. -- This essay explores the representation of the human relationship to technology in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by incorporating Heidegger’s conception of technology in his essay “The Question Concerning Technology” to argue against the claim that Dick’s novel protests against the dehumanizing effects of technology. The essay argues that the novel instead protests against the dehumanizing effects of individualism and demonstrates how technology can be used to reclaim the essence of humanity.
Eugenics and the Classical Ideal of Beauty in Philip K. Dick’s “The Golden Man”
Abstract. -- Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Golden Man” (1954) is a compelling portrayal of the threat to the human race posed by a beautiful male mutant. It is also a powerful critique of the classical ideal of male beauty that was integral to the early-to-mid-twentieth-century eugenics movement. Dick wrote “The Golden Man” at a time when eugenics had lost much of its appeal due to its association with the Nazis and their racial projects. Yet the classical ideal of beauty had already become a widely accepted norm due to its incorporation into American manufacturing via the streamlining movement. The mutant in Dick’s story is a competitive threat to humanity and particularly to human males because his beauty and superhuman fitness make him especially attractive as a prospective mate for human women. In fact, his innate inability to form emotional attachments makes him wholly suited to seducing and impregnating women in order to reproduce his kind. It is precisely the deceptive nature of his appearance—beautiful on the outside but efficient to the point of ruthlessness within—that makes the ideal of beauty he represents so dangerous.
A Little Something About Dead Astronauts
Abstract. -- J.G. Ballard’s short stories have repeatedly presented readers with the image of the dead astronaut. This article analyzes five stories published between 1962 and 1982—“The Cage of Sand,” “A Question of Re-Entry,” “The Dead Astronaut,” “Notes Towards a Mental Breakdown,” and “Memories of the Space Age” —in which dead spacemen have a pivotal role connected to a place that looms large in Ballard’s imagination: Cape Kennedy/Canaveral. The essay focuses on the recurring religious symbols and metaphors Ballard uses in the stories, examining their social, cultural, and political implications against the background of the US space program, from the Gemini capsules to the space shuttle.
A Short History of Utopian Studies
Abstract. -- This article presents a brief review of the constitution and development of utopia as a field of study, with an emphasis on the years preceding its revival in the 1970s. The study follows a similar trajectory to the one outlined in various articles in the special issue of SFS devoted to the history of sf criticism (#78, July 1999)—a growing awareness, first of all, that there are similarities between certain works which lead to attempts to group together such works as well as to identify what they have in common and to give this new genre a name. In the case of utopia, awareness of a new genre can be traced to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as writers imitate More’s Utopia (1516), often taking advantage of the imaginary voyage to imagine alternative societies. Until the nineteenth century, however, most commentators continued to use such terms as "political," "allegorical," or "philosophical" to refer to literary utopias, and it was only in the nineteenth century that we can observe the emergence of the term utopia to designate these works. The next step (in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth cen
turies) was to try to develop a canon of these works, one which, until the 1950s, often explicitly excluded science fiction. The study of utopia took on new life following the upsurge in utopian writing at the beginning of the 1970s.
Back to Home