Science Fiction Studies

#36 = Volume 12, Part 2 = July 1985



Paul Alkon

Samuel Madden's Memoirs of the Twentieth Century

Abstract.--The first work of prose fiction set in a chronologically specified future, Samuel Madden's Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733), is satire, not SF; but nevertheless provides excellent evidence about the origins of SF. Although Madden's satire fails, the framework of his narrative--documents transported backwards in time from the 20th to the 18th century--is in many ways better for futuristic fiction than the idea of transporting a narrator forward to the future, a device first used in Louis Sébastien Mercier's more influential utopia L'An 2440 (1771). Memoirs of the Twentieth Century suggests a formalist hypothesis to supplement the theories of Aldiss, Suvin, and others about social conditions that made tales of the future an accepted genre by the end of the 18th century. In addition to industrial and political revolutions that led writers to seek novel ways of depicting (or inducing) change by describing it from a future vantage-point, the literary scene in 18th-century England was distinctive for its encouragement of formal experimentation, especially creation for satiric purposes of works that parodied existing genres and in the process sometimes created viable new forms. Just as The Beggar's Opera led to the musical comedy, Madden's less influential attempt to parody history by writing a chronicle of the future resulted in creation of a viable new genre, the future history, that might have spread more quickly had Madden not suppressed his book. Even more significantly, Madden also noted the aesthetic importance to that genre of a transformation induced by science in accepted standards of probability: astonishing scientific discoveries had by 1733 reversed the accepted connections between plausibility and verisimilitude when thinking about possible future developments, thus placing a premium in futuristic fiction upon apparent implausibility as the test of verisimilitude.

Marc Angenot

The Emergence of the Anti-Utopian Genre in France: Souvestre, Giraudeau, Robida, et al.

Abstract.--The great anti-utopias of the 20th century can be placed in a tradition whose thematic constants, along with the ideological preoccupations attending them, are the creation of the previous century. Before Orwell, Huxley, Zamyatin, and others, the anti-utopia emerged--in mid-19th-century France--as a specific and stable ideological formula. In effect, writers like Souvestre, Giraudeau, and Robida, and later Kolney and Jullien, resorted to a genre which looked with contempt upon emergent technologies and social developments tending to upset the status quo. These anti-utopists evince a conservative anarchism hostile to industrialization and socialism alike. Basing their plea for the status quo upon a static conception of human values as something immutable, they oppose the "natural" needs and aspirations of the individual to the collective rationality of "progress." Their narratives typically attempt to subject "progress" to a reductio ad absurdum reasoning which would expose it as despotic, immoral, dehumanizing.

Peter Fitting

"So We All Became Mothers": New Roles for Men in Recent Utopian Fiction

Abstract.--One of the most significant features of the revival of utopian themes in US popular fiction has been the impact of feminism. Through an examination of seven novels, I will argue both for the importance of feminist ideals in reshaping utopian writing, especially in its portrayal of everyday life in worlds without the present hierarchies and gender system, and for the effectiveness of such writing in awakening and giving shape and direction to existing emancipatory hopes. I selected the seven as being particularly representative of the range of recent utopian writing. Four are well-known SF novels: Samuel Delany's Triton (1976), Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974), Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975). To these I have added three others: Suzy McKee Charnas's "science fantasy," Motherlines (1978); an example of a recent feminist fantasy, Sally Gearhart's The Wanderground (1978); and a popular example of a recent utopian novel written "outside" the conventions of fantasy and SF; Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia (1975).

Nadia Khouri

Reaction and Nihilism: The Political Genealogy of Orwell's 1984

Abstract.--Contrary to a major trend which claims that Orwell is a humanist and a socialist who, in 1984, produced an original and powerful critique of totalitarianism, this article argues that Orwell's political and literary genealogy is nihilistic and reactionary. 1984 inscribes itself within, and shares the axiomatic traits of, the old tradition of anti-utopia, which emerged with the large-scale transformations of bourgeois industrial society. As the polemic counterpart of utopia, such a tradition has always posited a nostalgic yearning for an individualistic and anti-egalitarian system of values. Like all other anti-utopias, 1984 pits its whole textual rhetoric against rising historical forces which threaten to destroy traditional structures and assumptions. It does this by producing a fiction based on the presumed unchanging nature of human beings against utopian reason, the latter disfigured by a paranoid vision of state control. In this connection, 1984 does not appear as a plea for the group's common weal against the oppression of totalitarianism. It is rather a claim for a distinction with a difference which would allow the individual to dissociate her or himself from the destiny of the group, and to pursue that freedom dreamt by the private doublethinker, a freedom which is far from reflecting a truly progressive or socialist perspective.

Jacques Lemieux

Utopias and Social Relations in American Science Fiction, 1950-80

Abstract.--The evolution of the utopian project of American SF from the 1950s to 1980 should be seen in relation to the vicissitudes of a certain social category, the scientific and technical petty bourgeoisie, whose form of imaginative expression SF constitutes. The technological and positivist utopia of the '50s gives way during the '60s to dystopias of totalitarianism, social disintegration, or ecological catastrophe, and these in turn are succeeded in the early '70s by a renewal of utopian thinking. That new orientation, however, proves to be at once incomplete and ephemeral; and the utopian project presently degenerates, around 1980, into feudal-technocratic reveries. This ideological evolution of SF parallels that of another cultural expression of the scientific and technical petty bourgeoisie: American sociology. Both can be accounted for in terms of the ambiguity of class interests and of the fall from social power of the sub-group of the petty bourgeoisie whose mentality the two reflect.

Patrick Parrinder

Utopia and Meta-Utopia in H.G. Wells

Abstract.--Wells had a lifelong but uneasy relationship to the utopian mode. A Modern Utopia (1905) is a manifest "meta-utopia," interweaving a fictional narrative with an essay in comparative utopography--in effect, a synthetic résumé of the whole utopian tradition. The narrative drive of the book leads inexorably to the narrator's meeting with his samurai "double." Through the voice of the "double," the text is briefly transformed from the status of comparative utopography to that of direct utopian prophecy. Yet the prophecy is cut off short, the "bubble bursts," and Utopia vanishes. Three kinds of conflicting forces contribute to the poetics of Wells's unstable utopianism. These are (1) nostalgia for the Morrisian metaphor of the Earthly Paradise, which Wells rewrites in terms of idyllic sexuality; (2) an ironic destructive element asserting the "perpetuity of aggressions" in human life; (3) a synecdochic note of apocalyptic prophecy. All three elements are recurrent in Wells's work, and of them it is the prophetic strain which is most deeply at odds with the premises of the classical utopia.

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