Science Fiction Studies

#121 = Volume 40, Part 3 = November 2013


Edited by Rob Latham

  • N. Katherine Hayles. Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae: Mirror Text to The Cyberiad
  • David Wittenberg. Indecision and Splendid Excess: Analogies of Evolution in Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae
  • Pawel Frelik. Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae as Impossible Utopia
  • Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. The Summa and the Fiction

  • Mariano Martín Rodríguez. Longing for the Empire? Modernist Lost-Race Fictions and the Dystopian Mode in Spain
  • Eileen McGinnis. Remediated Readers: Gender and Literacy in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age
  • Jonathan Newell. Abject Cyborgs: Discursive Boundaries and the Remade in China Miéville’s Iron Council
  • Stephen Dougherty. The Dangerous Rays of the Future: Democracy, Media, Science Fiction

  • N. Katherine Hayles

    Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae: Mirror Text to The Cyberiad

    Abstract. Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae (1964), published for the first time in English nearly fifty years after its first publication in Polish, is of interest today primarily for the ideas Lem formulated that have not yet been taken up in a serious way, and for the light it sheds on his fiction, especially The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age, published a year after Summa . Whereas the prose of Summa is serious to the point of being stilted and awkward (according to Summa’s translator), the language of The Cyberiad is pyrotechnic, with allusions, puns, neologisms, metaphors, and alliterations abounding. It is as if the strain of writing a text that Lem hoped would establish his credibility as a serious thinker in the international scientific community registered stylistically as ponderous prose, creating a kind of inverted mirror text to the linguistic creativity and freedom on display in The Cyberiad. The same kind of mirror relationship is apparent in the conceptual structures of the two texts. Ideas mentioned but scorned in Summa as being too much like ungrounded sf speculation form the bases for several of The Cyberiad’s stories, appearing there as witty satires that explore the ethical, cultural, and linguistic significance of scientific and pseudoscientific ideas mentioned in Summa . The English translation of Summa thus invites new and rich interpretations of The Cyberiad , perhaps Lem’s most well-known work in the Anglophone world.

    David Wittenberg

    Indecision and Splendid Excess: Analogies of Evolution in Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae

    Abstract. Summa Technologiae (1964) represents Stanisław Lem’s endeavor to theorize the history of technology and to make predictions about its future based on complex and sometimes divergent analogies he uncovers between technological and biological evolution. I argue that Lem’s persistent indecision or ambivalence concerning the exact relationship between technology and biology is actually a strength of the book, possibly its philosophical essence. While Lem generally opts for a technical vocabulary borrowed from cybernetics, his prose is populated with other quasi-scientific and quasi- fictional personae, not all of whom agree about either the method or the implications of analyzing techno-evolution. At times, voices in the text adopt anecdotal or satirical strategies that fruitfully undermine Lem’s own over-serious use of biological analogies to discuss topics such as virtual reality (“phantomatics”) or communications media. The result is prose that oscillates between something close to sociobiological doctrine and a freer stance resembling the parodic or sardonic raconteurs of Lem’s fiction. To conclude, I briefly suggest that the underlying theory of language in Summa may inhibit a fully adequate analysis of techno-evolution but that this inadequacy may itself have the salutary effect of enabling the multiplicity of unrestrained speculations that Lem’s monumental book comprises.

    Paweł Frelik

    Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae as Impossible Utopia

    Abstract. Stanislaw Lem’s Summa Technologiae (1964) is the most complete and systematic presentation of the writer’s vision of the future of science and technology, which can prove particularly useful in the interpretation of his fictions. As a text in its own right, however, Summa is severely compromised by its complete lack of attention to the social, economic, and political embedding of science and technology. This is unusual in Lem’s work since an attention to political issues, more or less explicitly, is present in most of his other writings. The article contextualizes this depoliticization of Summa
    and suggests possible reasons for Lem’s stance.

    Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

    The Summa and the Fiction

    Abstract. The themes of Stanisław Lem’s Summa Technologiae (1964) are reprised in many of the author’s fictional works, especially His Master’s Voice (1968) and Golem XIV (1981). These novels demonstrate how Lem varies his motifs by narrating them in different registers. Golem XIV presents the Summa ’s conception of triumphant techno- evolution through the voice of one of its beneficiaries, a computer AI on the threshold of becoming a singularity. His Master’s Voice presents the theme of humanity’s cognitive limits from the perspective of Professor Hogarth, for whom the neutrino “Message from the Stars” represents the hope that technological civilizations can become benevolent and “biophilic.”

    Mariano Martín Rodríguez

    Longing for the Empire? Modernist Lost-Race Fictions and the Dystopian Mode in Spain

    Abstract. Lost-race fictions are often considered to be ideologically imperialist and pro- colonialist. There exist, however, some lost-world romances that are clearly dystopian; examples include several noteworthy Spanish texts which are both historically and artistically significant. As citizens of a then-subaltern country, many Spanish intellectuals were ambivalent towards colonialism and the symbolic heritage of Spain’s (former) empire. This can be observed in the negative picture of degenerate conquistadores ’ children isolated in fallen El Dorados as described in “En la caverna encantada” [In the Enchanted Cavern, 1929], by José María Salaverría, and El Dorado (1942), by Ricardo Baroja. Both works are sophisticated pieces of modernist writing, due to the reflective quality of their narrative voices, which question the plausibility of the events described. Thus these adventures in South American lost worlds are actually speculative parables of dystopian postcolonial societies.

    Eileen McGinnis

    Remediated Readers: Gender and Literacy in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age

    Abstract. With its emphasis on proper pedagogy and “young lady” programmers, Neal
    Stephenson’s The Diamond Age (1995) slyly subverts the conventions of earlier cyberpunk, which tends to focus on anti-establishment male heroes. These modifica- tions, I argue, are a response to critics of the 1990s who see computer culture as a threat to human subjectivity cultivated through the act of reading; instead, Stephenson asserts that learning to code can have the same cultural capital as learning to read. This paper explores the pervasive and sometimes troubling ways in which gendered and racialized bodies are used to stabilize this assertion. It begins by tracing how Nell’s interaction with the Primer is an education into the values of her society, in contrast to the male loner working outside of or against the system. Further, I examine how Miranda’s articulation of the Primer recalls nineteenth-century practices of reading instruction, which simultaneously elided the maternal reader and “naturalized” the act of reading. I also address the imagined community created when the Primer is distributed to an army of orphaned Chinese girls, showing how ideologies of reading can perpetuate inequalities and systems of power. Ultimately, by attempting to “domesticate” the computer, The Diamond Age spawns a more alienating vision of the printed book: as a machine embedded in prescriptive gender roles, imperialist agendas, and capitalist logics.

    Jonathan Newell

    Abject Cyborgs: Discursive Boundaries and the Remade in China Miéville’s Iron Council

    Abstract. China Miéville’s Iron Council (2004), as one of the major texts of the New Weird, is a prime example of weird fiction; as a novel concerned with the establishment and extension of territorial and economic boundaries, however, it is also a western in its thematic ethos, its aesthetic sensibilities, and its preoccupation with notions of the frontier. This article explores the social boundaries of the titular train, the Iron Council. Using Judith Butler’s notion of the social abject and the materialized/ dematerialized body, the article first looks at the abjected bodies of the Remade and how they are discursively and socially constructed, finding parallels with the queer figures in the novel. It then uses cyborg theory to theorize the ways these abjected bodies can be rewritten and recuperated (made to matter, in Butler’s terms) and examines the ways in which the novel troubles notions of stable ontological and social boundaries, blurring distinctions among human, animal, and machine and locating, in this dissolution, the opportunity for transgression and revolution.

    Stephen Dougherty

    The Dangerous Rays of the Future: Democracy, Media, Science Fiction

    Abstract. This essay investigates the recent Singularity fictions of Robert J. Sawyer and Adam Roberts. More specifically, it explores how these science fictions—Sawyer’s WWW trilogy and Roberts’s New Model Army —are motivated by very different attitudes towards the future. These respective attitudes, I will argue, are in turn shaped by competing ways of understanding the relationship between democracy and media technology.

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