Science Fiction Studies

#120 = Volume 40, Part 2 = July 2013


Alan C. Elms

Building Alpha Ralpha Boulevard

Abstract. Cordwainer Smith’s novelette “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” is a central component of his future history, marking the onset of the period he called the Rediscovery of Man. Though it has come to be regarded as a classic, the story’s title, the behavior and fate of its central characters, and its underlying autobiographical sources have all retained an air of mystery. The title is identified here as a first statement of one of the story’s main themes, referring to both religious and astrophysical accounts of how the universe began. Other story elements draw upon such literary sources as the eighteenth-century French romance Paul et Virginie, Goethe’s Faust, and Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo. In addition, the story’s architecture and its principal actions mythologize such autobiographical components as Smith’s childhood experiences in Baden-Baden, Germany; his intense adolescent romance in Peking; and the failure of his first marriage, as related both to his suspicions about his wife’s interest in another man and her objections to his cross-dressing. The divorce initiated a 13-year writer’s block in which Smith was unable to put any fiction on paper with his own hands (though he could dictate it to secretaries or record it for later transcription). In writing “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard,” he confronted his feelings about his divorce, stressed the value of simple human kindness in his treatment of others, and thereby dissolved his writer’s block. He promptly wrote two more now-classic stories, “The Ballad of Lost C’mell” and “A Planet Named Shayol.” He was also able to settle more comfortably into his second marriage.

David M. Higgins

Psychic Decolonization in 1960s Science Fiction

Abstract. This article surveys three iconic 1960s texts in order to show how popular authors appropriate Frantz Fanon’s notion of “psychic decolonization” for the advantage of privileged male subjects. Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Frank Herbert’s Dune (1968), and Arthur C. Clarke’s novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) each offer a superficial critique of imperial expansion and colonial occupation; despite this, however, all three portray inward psychic voyages in imperial terms, and each text replaces or augments the conquest of outer space with a central focus on the conquest of inner space. Inner space explorations offer a way of freeing the racially unmarked male subject from the repressive internal colonization of the mind; in this sense, Fanon’s notion of psychic decolonization is appropriated in the service of the Western privilege it opposes in its intended context.

Carter F. Hanson

Memory’s Offspring and Utopian Ambiguity in Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Day Before the Revolution” and The Dispossessed

Abstract. Le Guin’s overlooked prologue story “The Day Before the Revolution” (1974) is crucial for understanding the onset of social stagnation that plagues the utopian society of Anarres in The Dispossessed. I contend that the way the anarchist leader Laia Odo is remembered and commemorated by her followers in “The Day Before the Revolution” continues to play out in the novel, which is set 150 years later. Using theories and models of collective memory developed by such cultural historians as Pierre Nora, Wulf Kansteiner, and Nancy Wood, the paper demonstrates that Anarres’s move toward centralization of power and social conformity stems largely from how Odo and her ideas are collectively remembered. Rather than being the embodiment of ongoing anarchist freedom and development, Odo is remembered as a “monument,” an unchanging site of archival memory. To counter the ossifying tendencies of collective memory, Le Guin asserts that such individuals as Shevek must bring the past (and the future) into the present to preserve the utopian impulse.

Jaak Tomberg

On the “Double Vision” of Realism and SF Estrangement in William Gibson’s Bigend Trilogy

Abstract. The article deals with the convergence of mimetic realism and science-fictional estrangement in William Gibson’s recent novels. It postulates that the poetics of Gibson’s Bigend Trilogy—Pattern Recognition (2003), Spook Country (2007) and Zero History (2011)—can be read as both realism and science fiction with equal plausibility. Contemplating the sf genre theories of Darko Suvin and John Rieder, Seo-Young Chu’s science-fictional theory of representation, and Michael Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s notion of a lack of an outside, the article explores and outlines the possible generic, cultural, and poetic conditions that enable science-fictional estrangement and realist plausibility indiscernibly to inhabit one and the same textual space in the poetics of William Gibson’s new-century oeuvre.

Arthur B. Evans

The Apocalyptic Science Fiction of Jacques Spitz

Abstract. Jacques Spitz (1896-1963) was the most important writer of French science fiction during the 1930s and 1940s. An engineer by profession and heavily influenced by Surrealism, Spitz specialized in sf narratives combining end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it catastrophes with highly realistic detail and black-humor satire. His most famous sf novels—most of which are not available in English—include L’Homme élastique [The Elastic Man, 1938],  La Guerre des mouches [The War of the Flies, 1938], Les Signaux du soleil [Signals from the Sun, 1943], and L’Oeil du purgatoire [The Eye of Purgatory, 1945]. In the history of French science fiction, Spitz was one of the last of a handful of pioneering sf authors in France who, during the early decades of the twentieth century, began to break away from the popular extraordinary voyage narrative recipe of Jules Verne and —following in the speculative footsteps of H.G. Wells, J.-H Rosny aîné, and Maurice Renard—experimented with a host of new sf variants.

Andrea L. Bell

The Critique of Chilean Industrialization in Hugo Correa’s Avatar Stories

Abstract. Beginning in the early 1930s, Chile subscribed to a program of rapid industrialization in order to foster economic development. In 1969, one year after the State abandoned this economic model, Chile’s premier sf author, Hugo Correa, published Los títeres [The Puppets], a volume of four stories featuring biomechanical avatars. This essay looks at how Correa uses the avatar to critique Chile’s industrial drive. The narratives condemn Chilean society for its infatuation with technology, which has led to apathy, alienation, and the advent of a posthuman world.

M. Elizabeth Ginway

A Paradigm of the Tropical: Brazil in Contemporary Anglo-American Science Fiction and Fantasy

Abstract. This essay analyzes contemporary science fiction and fantasy novels about Brazil written by Anglo-American authors using the paradigm of the “lost-race novel.” This provides a way to understand the mappings of these texts in order to question some of their premises as they create an image, often revealing hegemonic cultural misconceptions, of Brazil for English-speaking readers. The novels discussed include Kadrey’s Kamikaze L’Amour, Lewitt’s Songs of Chaos, Updike’s Brazil, Card’s Speaker for the Dead, Anthony’s Cradle of Splendor, and McDonald’s Brasyl. The article concludes with an analysis of three works that offer a more nuanced rewriting of cultural contact: Delany’s “Driftglass,” Hayward’s The Healer, and Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rainforest.

Umberto Rossi

Valerio Evangelisti: The Italian Way to Slipstream

Abstract. Though popular in Italy, France, Germany, and Spain, and widely considered to be the most important modern Italian sf writer, Valerio Evangelisti is almost totally unknown in English-speaking countries, as the ten novels of his Eymerich cycle (plus ten other novels belonging to different genres) have not yet been translated into English. But Evangelisti's fiction is an interesting specimen of the slipstream trend, and his novels based on the historical figure of the Catalan inquisitor Nicolas Eymerich represent a most interesting case study for all those interested in the dynamics of genre hybridization. Moreover, his exploration of the possibilities of cross-genre fiction has taken place in a cultural context quite different from the British and American ones. A synoptic analysis of the novels in the Eymerich cycle can thus be productive for all those interested in the ongoing debate on the border areas of slipstream, New Weird, and Avant-Pop.

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