Science Fiction Studies

#59 = Volume 20, Part 1 = March 1993

Roger Bozzetto

Moreau's Tragi-Farcical Island

Abstract.-- The Island of Doctor Moreau, though it can be thought of as allegorical in that it is clearly intended to "reflect upon" the human scene, is not the sort of allegory which is reducible to a univocal interpretation. Just as the work is indebted to the likes of Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels (especially), Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so it is susceptible to a wide variety of readings, more or less correlative to the diversity of generic contexts that it suggests: adventure-story, utopian fiction, mythical narrative, etc. Moreover, it calls for situation with regard not only to literary tradition(s) but to history--specifically to the ongoing imperialist enterprise of "civilizing" "inferior" races. Indeed, it may be that historical connection which best puts in relief Moreau as a farcical tragedy.

James A. Connor

Strategies for Hyperreal Travelers

Abstract.--Hyperreality occurs in a culture when that culture loses the distinction between image and thing, appearance and reality. By reifying the image, the hyperreal culture opens a new level in ontology midway between textual reality and object reality. The difference between original and copy, thing and mirror image collapses, so that all stand at the same ontological level. In this way, a culture has "More," viz. that added bit of hype-turned-sense-impression that is blended into the original mixture to create a new experience. The colors on color TV are more colorful than in real life, as the fake desert at Disneyland is more desert-like. Women and men in magazines are more beautiful than real people, and a pinch of monosodium glutamate brings out the flavor in every meal.

There are two strategies for creating hyperreal cultures. The first is "apophatic," a term borrowed from Medieval mysticism, meaning "The Negative Way." In this strategy, the real world is deconstructed into mirror images, its reality undercut. This is the way used by Borges and Lem, Borges by associating the world with mirror images, Lem by constructing a "carousel" form of reasoning, whereby each argument leads to its opposite, and then leads back again to the original premise.

The second strategy is "cataphatic," or "The Positive Way," which raises the sensory order of appearance until it approaches that of the default, real world. Here, more and more of the real world is assimilated into the simulation, reproduced in the reproduction, until the two versions of the world approach one another asymptotically. This is the strategy employed by the creators of Virtual Reality technology. The real world gradually becomes indistinguishable from the simulacra.

Hyperreal cultures are produced by both of these "ways." Gradually, image and reality mix, until a new kind of reality is produced.

Robert Crossley

Censorship, Disguise, and Transfiguration: The Making and Revising of Stapledon's Sirius

Abstract.--New manuscript evidence reveals that Olaf Stapledon's 1944 novel Sirius was censored by editors worried about anatomical explicitness and moral subversion in the attraction between an intelligent dog and his human "sister." However, in the two-year process of revising Sirius to avoid charges of obscenity, Stapledon managed to keep intact the central narrative situation, deepening its psychological import and sharpening its satirical bite. As he rewrote the book, he continued to draw on his own "tangled relationship" in an extramarital affair as the immediate inspiration for a novel he described, with an accuracy never full grasped by his readers, as "a fantasy of love and discord." In Sirius Stapledon managed, at once, to pacify the censors, disguise the real-life models and anxieties which underlay the novel's creation, and transfigure an unsuccessful private love into a work of art that charts the spiritual landscape of loneliness and interrogates our definition of humanity.

Dominick M. Grace

Rereading Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy"

Abstract.--Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy" has been subject to criticism for its apparent sexism. The depiction of the ideal woman as a robot whose personality has been formed by exposure to soap operas hardly accords with contemporary ideas, but del Rey's story is subject to attack on such grounds only if one accepts that the story presents Helen as a serious ideal, one to be desired by the reader as well as by the emotionally-arrested men who idolize her in the story (the narrator clearly acknowledges his adolescence of taste); such a reading misses the ironic nuances of the tale. "Helen O'Loy," a satire on male fantasies, is far from the "classic of sexist SF" it has been called by Peter Nicholls.

Robert Kelley

A Maze of Twisty Little Passages All Alike: Aesthetics and Teleology in Interactive Computer Fictional Environments

Abstract.--Interactive fictions, particularly computer-simulation games, engage the user as a co-creator of a fictional world. Recognizing that the interactive freedom he or she experiences even in the most complex of interactive fictions is a mirage, the user can become keenly aware of the teleology inherent in all fictional works. At their best, however, these interactive fictions are less like novels and more like children's games of make-believe in which objects and stories serve as props in an intensely creative world-building environment or as extensions of real life with gamelike qualities. The burgeoning technology of Virtual Reality serves as an environment conducive to the creation of interactive fictions, but while VR is still in development, hybrids of textual interactive fiction and cyberspace--MUDs--are currently available on Internet. As discussion nodes configured as physical spaces, MUDs foreground the possibility for interactive environments in which creativity is constrained not by available tools but by selected rules, and in which computers are not artificial intelligences (AIs) but intelligence amplifiers (IAs).

Carl D. Malmgren

Self and Other in SF: Alien Encounters

Abstract.--Alien-encounter SF involves the introduction of sentient alien beings into the actantial system of the fictional universe; one or more of the actants are nonhuman or superhuman or subhuman. By staging a confrontation between an alien actant and a terran representative, alien-encounter SF broaches the question of Self and the Other. The reader recuperates this fiction by comparing human and alien entities, measuring the Self by examining the Other.

Alien encounters can be discriminated according to the extent to which the alien actant adheres to or departs from anthropocentric norms; in simple terms, we can distinguish between "human aliens" and "alien aliens." This article examines the nature of human aliens by analyzing Orson Scott Card's Ender trilogy, a work which theorizes and surveys possible sets of relations between terran and alien actants. It explores the problematics of alien aliens by looking at appropriate texts by Lem, Benford, and Clarke.

Stephen Scobie

What's the Story, Mother?: The Mourning of the Alien

Abstract.--Alien 3 concludes the trilogy begun by Alien and Aliens; although each of the films has a different director, there is enough thematic unity between them to consider them a single work. Previous criticism has focused on the implications for feminism in the role of the protagonist, Ripley, and in the presentation of images of the mother. This paper considers two further extensions of the image of the mother in these films: its connections to narrative and to mourning. The opening scenes of the first film thematize the connection between motherhood and narrative. But whereas the first two films are dominated by their narrative drive, the third film is more a meditation on guilt and mourning. Drawing on Jacques Derrida's treatment of mourning, this essay presents a reading of Alien 3 which suggests that the guilt Ripley feels as a "sole survivor" is incorporated as the "alien" inside her. The closing scenes of the film finally resolve, in an ironic mode, motifs that have been central to the wholes series.

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