Science Fiction Studies

#114 = Volume 38, Part 2 = July 2011


Kevin LaGrandeur

The Persistent Peril of the Artificial Slave

Abstract. This article surveys and analyzes the pre-industrial history of artificial humanoid servants and their historical persistence. The idea of artificial slaves—and questions about their tractability—is present not only in the literature of modern times but also extends all the way back to ancient Greek sources; and it is present in the literature and oral history of the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well. Furthermore, at each of these intervals, this idea is connected with an emotional paradox: the joy of self-enhancement is counterpoised with the anxiety of self-displacement that comes with distribution of agency. The idea of rebellious and dangerous artificial slaves is an archetype that spans Western history and persists not only in the pre-modern and modern imaginations, via stories about rebellious AI servants, but also in ancient scientific accounts and in modern systems theory, which is the basis for real AI.

Geraldine Lawless

Unknown Futures: Nineteenth-Century Science Fiction in Spain

Abstract. This article provides an overview of studies of nineteenth-century science fiction in Spain, arguing that scholars’ attitudes to this subject have changed dramatically over the past fifty years. It examines in detail two sf narratives from this period, Antonio Flores’s Ayer, hoy y mañana [Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow] and Leopoldo Alas’s “Cuento futuro” [Future Story] and suggests that both these works represent important developments in the history of sf because of their totalizing attitudes toward the future. In the final section of the article, it is suggested that the perception of Spain’s scientific backwardness during the nineteenth century might, ironically, have led to innovative experimentations in the sf genre there.

Pavla Veselá

Neither Black Nor White: The Critical Utopias of Sutton E. Griggs and George S. Schuyler

Abstract. While Tom Moylan has famously located the origins of the critical utopia—a utopia that is critical both of the status quo and of the traditional utopia itself—in the aftermath of the social turmoil of the 1960s, I argue that the metamorphosis of the genre began even earlier. Like the oppositional movements that inspired its emergence, the critical utopia has been in the making throughout the twentieth century, particularly in marginal works. This article discusses two such interventions: Imperium in Imperio (1899) by Sutton E. Griggs and George S. Schuyler’s Black Empire (1936-38). Both these texts, although critical of the status quo, differ from traditional utopias in that they feature an active protagonist and, as in Moylan’s critical utopia, portray imperfect, multiple, and ambiguous “better worlds.” These innovative features, I argue, stem from the authors’ engagement with the utopian genre’s insufficient and problematic treatment of race.

Thomas Van Parys

A Fantastic Voyage into Inner Space: Description in Science-Fiction Novelizations

Abstract. This article analyzes science-fiction novelizations from a specific narratological angle, namely the literary description. It has been argued that novelizations contain a small amount of description, which is remarkable considering the emphasis on visuality characteristic of sf cinema. The essay highlights a few striking features of descriptions in novelizations, with examples taken from the novelizations of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Terminator (1984), The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998), and The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008). Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage (1966) is presented as the main case study, for description plays a central role in this novel, not only formally but also thematically. Passages from Asimov’s novelization are positioned against relevant scenes from the film, with a focus not only on the difference between the two media but also the discrepancy between media within the sf genre. Finally, the article attempts to open up the discussion, arguing for contextual and medium-specific factors in the disproportion between the abundant visuality of film and the descriptive content of novelizations, and calling for more attention to the vital cognitive side to adaptation.

Nicholas C. Laudadio

“Sounds like a Human Performance”: The Electronic Music Synthesizer in Mid-Twentieth-Century Science Fiction

Abstract. This article examines the role electronic music and musical instruments played in the musicological discourse of the mid-twentieth century by analyzing two early sf stories about synthesizers: Charles Harness’s novella “The Rose” (1953) and Lloyd Biggle, Jr’s short story “The Tunesmith” (1957). It argues that science fiction echoed both the concerns of critics fearful that new electronic forms would “dehumanize” music and the optimistic rhetoric of those who dreamt of the technology’s enormous potential. I argue that by examining sf’s contribution to the perception of electronic music and musical instruments, one can find a prescient analysis of the consequences of an increasingly technologized culture, as well as a farsighted and thoughtful analysis of a nascent technology that would soon become one of the most significant cultural developments of the twentieth century.

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