Science Fiction Studies

#37 = Volume 12, Part 3 = November 1985


Anne Cranny-Francis

Sexuality and Sex-Role Stereotyping in Star Trek

Abstract.--The focus of the narrative and fan interest in the television series Star Trek is the characterization of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Kirk is based on a conventional male stereotype emphasizing qualities of aggression and dominance. Accordingly, his appeal for women viewers constitutes a reinforcement of traditional (submissive, passive) female qualities. As an alien, Spock is signified as "other" within the series--and this otherness is a point of recognition for female fans who are, by their gender, so signified in and by their society. But Spock's character is an amalgam of otherness with a conventional male stereotype, and the result is usually an even more powerful reinforcement of traditional male and female sexual and social roles. Considerations of the major villains of the series, Klingons and Romulans, reveals both the different levels of complexity involved in the characterization of human (=Klingon) and Vulcan (=Romulan), Kirk and Spock, and the sexist ideology which structures most incidents and characters. No strong female roles are developed in the series, which accords with the sexism endemic to it. Thus while a "liberatory potential" for women seems to be contained in (and has been ascribed to) Spock, as he apparently serves to associate otherness with strong, positive qualities, this idea about him is at best misleading; for on most occasions he functions as a reinforcement of conventional, restricted and restricting social and sexual roles, which are fundamental to Star Trek.

Lorenz J. Firsching

J.G. Ballard's Ambiguous Apocalypse

Abstract--"The Ultimate City" and "Low-Flying Aircraft" (both 1976) clearly display the structuring principles and thematic concerns operative in Ballard's first four book-length works of SF. In the two short stories, as in The Wind from Nowhere and The Drowned World (both 1962), The Drought (1964/65), and The Crystal World (1966), the fiction deals with three analytically distinct but interrelated levels of "experience": the "exterior," involving the protagonist's relation to his physical environment; the "intermediator," comprising interpersonal relationships; and the "psychic, " centering upon the main character's state of mind and the psychological alterations he undergoes correlative to changes on the other two levels. Typically Ballard begins with the "intermediator" level, which he then connects with an apocalyptic transformation of the environment. Just as typically, however, his apocalyptic vision is ambiguous, particularly as it confounds traditional distinctions (between life and death, for example) and otherwise leaves the reader at a loss about how to salvage meaning, or values, in the aftermath of the destruction of the old, familiar world. This uncertainty applies especially to the alternative that Ballard's embodiments of an "irrationalist" world-view hold out to the reader as they affront conventional expectations: of choosing to side with the old, and decadent, order or identifying with a terrifyingly incomprehensible new one.

Perry Nodelman

Out There in Children's Science Fiction: Forward into the Past

Abstract.--A surprising number of SF novels for young readers are set in encased cities: the young protagonists of these books almost always escape the sterile, artificial environment that is their home. and discover a world outside it that is both closer to nature and much like our own world. In allowing youngsters who live in a strangely exotic place to discover and admire a place which is strange and exotic to them but quite familiar to us, the writers of these books imply some interesting attitudes toward childhood, adolescence, and maturity. Furthermore, those attitudes may throw light on the peculiar nature of books which belong to two quite distinct genres, SF and fiction for young readers, at the same time.

[A response by Jill P. May, and Perry Nodelman's reply, appear in SFS 39 (July 1986).]

Mark Siegel

Foreigner as Alien in Japanese Science Fantasy

Abstract.--Science fantasy has long been recognized as an escape into as well as from common psychological and psychosocial situations, and collections of such works from any particular culture are likely to reveal the subliminal preoccupations of that society. For a nation that is occupying more and more of the world's attention, Japan remains surprisingly enigmatic to most people. Its image as an ultimately alien, inscrutably oriental culture is often opposed to the equally simplistic notion that, because Japan has adopted so many elements of occidental culture, it must be pretty much like the societies of the West. Concentrating especially on Japanese TV, I examine the ways in which Japanese science fantasies reveal and reconcile some of the complex, often paradoxical, cultural attitudes of the Japanese. In particular, I believe Japanese fantasy works display characteristic patterns in the portrayal of the relationship between the "real" world and fantasy worlds, and that these patterns reveal fundamental attitudes about their own culture and its relationship to the rest of the world.

Tony Williams

Female Oppression in Attack of the 5O-Foot Woman

Abstract.--British and American reviewers dismiss Attack of the 50-Foot Woman as unworthy of any serious consideration. It is arguable, however, that the original '50s' product deserves serious examination both against the background of American SF films of the 1950s and as it anticipates the concerns about aspects of female oppression more fully articulated a decade later in the Women's Liberation Movement. The film's latent content has the heroine a victim of sexual and economic oppression. But the "camp" element and Freudian mechanisms of condensation and displacement dissipate that significance. To recover it, we must look to the film's internal constituents, and particularly to its dialogue. The heroine then emerges as a figure of excess, a monstrous figure threatening patriarchal institutions and one who must therefore, leave the frame. Male violence, paralleling the psychological violence the heroine has encountered throughout her life, forces her departure.

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