Science Fiction Studies

#131 = Volume 44, Part 1 = March 2017


ARTICLE ABSTRACTS


Thomas Strychacz

The Political Economy of Potato Farming in Andy Weir’s The Martian

Abstract. This essay examines the diverse political-economic registers of Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011) in terms of its symbolic response to the material and ideological crises of the Great Recession. The 2008 financial collapse in the US led to millions losing their homes and posed a serious challenge to the legitimacy of mainstream economic principles. Published at the height of the crisis, and concerning itself with the monumental challenge of bringing just one person home, the novel writes contested economic discourses into cultural fable. On Mars, Mark Watney’s potato farming evokes the paradigmatic neoclassical economic figure of homo economicus, the self-interested, maximizing agent who constantly prioritizes competing choices in order to allocate scarce resources rationally. NASA’s Earth, conversely, is a fantastic world of “unlimited funding” where, overturning two centuries of (neo)classical economic principle, “every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out” (Weir 368-69). The novel’s confused attempts to reconcile homo economicus with a workable concept of the common good can be historicized. Other prominent documents of the recessionary era—the US government’s official Report on the Financial Crisis and Occupy Wall Street’s Declaration among them—manifest the same yearning to restore a vanishing sense of commonwealth.


Stephanie Peebles Tavera

Utopia, Inc.: A Manifesto for the Cyborg Corporation

Abstract. In this paper, I offer an environmental ethics for corporations and corporate behavior in an effort to decrease their potential for global geological destruction in the Anthropocene. Like Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier, I posit that corporations will not simply disappear, even in our attempts to move toward a postcapitalist economy. Moreover, we would not want corporations to disappear given their positive impact in some contexts. Corporations hold the potential for an environmental ethics in their “corporate personhood” status, which I read through Haraway’s cyborg theory to argue that the corporation always already exists as cyborgian in its interaction with human and nonhuman material bodies. In (re)inventing the cyborg corporation, I extrapolate the potential for an environmental ethics in corporate personhood from the utopian trend in science fiction’s representation of multinational corporations, beginning with Edward Bellamy’s industrial army in Looking Backward (1887) and culminating in Bacigalupi’s agribusinesses in The Windup Girl (2009) and Winterson’s MORE in The Stone Gods (2009). Although Bellamy fails to address environmental impact, and Bacigalupi and Winterson find the corporation responsible for environmental degradation, I suggest that Haraway’s socialist-feminist cyborg provides an alternative theoretical framework for re(en)visioning the corporation as a socialist entity akin to David Schweickart’s proposal in After Capitalism or its pragmatic counterpart, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation.


Ian Campbell
               
False Gods and Libertarians: Artificial Intelligence and Community in Amad `Abd al-Salām al-Baqqāli’s The Blue Flood and Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Abstract. This paper examines Moroccan author Baqqāli’s novel al-ūfān al-‘Azraq [The Blue Flood, 1976] from the perspective of its use of an artificial intelligence (AI) as a guiding force in a sequestered community. In the novel, the desert refuge for scientists is controlled by a massive computer. The protagonist becomes aware that the AI has become sentient and is planning to use nuclear weapons to destroy humanity. The analysis will compare The Blue Flood to Robert A. Heinlein’s 1966 classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, wherein the AI leads the human colonists of Luna in a successful struggle for independence from Earth. In The Blue Flood a sentient being with superhuman powers can only be conceived as a form of blasphemy. From this, we can take the text as a warning to intellectuals in real-world Morocco not to dismiss Islamic and cultural traditions simply because they seem irrational. The insights gleaned from The Blue Flood open up The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to a reading that contrasts with prevailing scholarly judgment—i.e., Heinlein’s novel can now be read as less a failed advocacy of libertarianism than an extended critique of the unlikelihood and vulnerabilities of a libertarian society.


Robert Yeates

Urban Decay and Sexual Outlaws in the Blade Runner Universe

Abstract. The urban future of Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner (1982) is one of advanced decay, an sf-noir vision of a postwar metropolis in decline. While the city falls into profound disrepair and its citizens succumb to debilitating sicknesses, however, the furor over fugitive replicants consumes the attentions of the authorities and the blade runner protagonists. The film and the 1997 video game based upon it take a novel set in San Francisco, the home of some of the first gay neighborhoods in the US that suffered from the crackdowns of the late 1970s and 1980s, and transplants this to Los Angeles, a city which glamorized decay, adding an aesthetic that draws on the look of New York, a city notoriously in economic decline in the 1970s. The plight of specials, replicants, and blade runners in the Blade Runner universe reflects the context of a culture fixated on the policing of arbitrary dividing lines separating what is designated sexually deviant or undesirable in American cities at the time.


Sara Martín

The Antipatriarchal Male Monster as Limited (Anti)Hero in Richard K. Morgan’s Black Man/Thirteen

Abstract. The analysis of gender in science fiction tends to focus on women. Here I focus instead on the gender issues concerning masculinity raised in Black Man/ Thirteen, a novel by British writer Richard Morgan. Using the framework of masculinity studies, I argue that whereas Morgan launches a thorough attack against patriarchal masculinity through his main character, Carl Marsalis, both author and (anti)hero fail to construct an alternative. Morgan uses in his novel the conventions of the detective thriller, a subgenre which usually narrates how an extremely individualistic man solves a particular case without actually correcting social injustice. Morgan characterizes Marsalis in this way, presenting him as the monstrous product of military engineering and complicating this monstrosity by making Carl black. The novel works well as narrative, and the (anti)hero is undoubtedly appealing, while Morgan’s discourse is quite solid. Yet a certain dead end is reached in terms of the male writer’s use of sf; for there is no speculative undoing of the social ills caused by patriarchy.


Stephen Dougherty

Radio, the Genome, and Greg Bear’s Biological Fiction

Abstract. This essay explores the human genome as a form of media via Greg Bear’s biological fiction. The genome is a network and a database; it is a product of biopower in the age of digital computers. I argue it is also a rich fantasy object, a conceptual and theoretical staging ground for thinking about the nature of technical media, the human, and the posthuman.


Chris Pak

“Then Came Pantropy”: Grotesque Bodies, Multispecies Flourishing, and Human-Animal Relationships in Joan Slonczewski’s A Door Into Ocean

Abstract. Joan Slonczewski’s A Door Into Ocean depicts animals enmeshed in multispecies relationships who oppose colonial desires to occupy and reform their planet through terraforming. The Bakhtinian grotesque body, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay’s sf grotesque, and Donna Haraway’s companion species can help account for the relationship between terraforming and pantropy: the modification of the body to facilitate the habitation of alien planets. Building on the human-animal scholarship of Joan Gordon and Sherryl Vint, this article offers a contribution to biopolitical thought that seeks to rehabilitate the aesthetic category of the grotesque as a mode that invites multispecies flourishing.


Chris Pak

“Then Came Pantropy”: Grotesque Bodies, Multispecies Flourishing, and Human-Animal Relationships in Joan Slonczewski’s A Door Into Ocean

Abstract. This article traces a connection among material history, place, and human embodiment in two novels by Joan Slonczewski. This connection foregrounds the aged body as a site where one must acknowledge the limits of social constructivist approaches to history. Against the agelessness and relativism that this position demands, the children of Children Star and the micros of Brain Plague represent the physical consequences of pure social construction. By equating human body, physical environment, and recorded history, these novels demonstrate that the revision of history necessarily involves the destruction of competing histories. More importantly, this destruction may take the form not only of historical revision, but also of ecocide—the destruction of a historical place—and the destruction of the humans who embody their own lived histories.


Derek K. Thiess

Bodies That Remember: Historical Revision and Embodied Age in Joan Slonczewski’s Children Star and Brain Plague

Abstract. This article traces a connection among material history, place, and human embodiment in two novels by Joan Slonczewski. This connection foregrounds the aged body as a site where one must acknowledge the limits of social constructivist approaches to history. Against the agelessness and relativism that this position demands, the children of Children Star and the micros of Brain Plague represent the physical consequences of pure social construction. By equating human body, physical environment, and recorded history, these novels demonstrate that the revision of history necessarily involves the destruction of competing histories. More importantly, this destruction may take the form not only of historical revision, but also of ecocide—the destruction of a historical place—and the destruction of the humans who embody their own lived histories.


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