Science Fiction Studies

#77 = Volume 26, Part 1 = March 1999




Wendy Pearson

Alien Cryptographies: The View from Queer

Abstract.--This article aims both to code and to decode, through the lens of queer theory, some of the "alien cryptographies" of science fiction. The figure of the alien, not surprisingly, is at the center of this (re)reading, which includes detailed analyses of two very different treatments of the alien/queer as the figure who moves invisibly through the territories of heteronormativity: John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" (1938) and Tom Reamy's "Under the Hollywood Sign" (1975). The purpose of this essay is to delineate some of the complexities of queer as both political positioning and intellectual perspective; it suggests the wide variety of ways in which both readers and texts may be queered and it is committed to the notion of a postmodern and anti-essentialist engagement with identity politics. Science fiction's propensity for rewriting the "common sense" narrative worlds of realism, its location on the margins of mainstream literature, and its techniques of cognitive estrangement are attributes which make of it a potentially powerful method of exploration in our ongoing attempts to envision worlds in which queer and alien no longer function as synonymous terms.

Veronica Hollinger

(Re)reading Queerly: Science Fiction, Feminism, and the Defamiliarization of Gender

Abstract.-- This essay aims to construct strategic intersections between queer theory and feminist theory, in order to suggest how queer theory's attention to issues of gender and sexuality can enrich feminist critical reading. Through detailed readings of C.L. Moore's "No Woman Born," James Tiptree Jr.'s "The Girl Who Was Plugged In," and Joanna Russ's "The Mystery of the Young Gentleman," I make use of some of the powerful insights of queer theory, such as its perspectives on gender performativity, in order to identify some of the complex ways in which sf, especially feminist sf, has ironized and problematized conventional concepts of gender and sexuality almost since its inception. Although science fiction tends to be an overwhelmingly straight imaginative discourse, queer theoretical perspectives, such as those developed by Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Sue-Ellen Case, and Monique Wittig, allow us to broaden our appreciation of the ways in which some sf has challenged the technologies of compulsory heterosexuality. These perspectives also suggest how queering feminist critical reading might help us to think against the grain of a naturalized heteronormativity. I aim to make a case in this essay for the utopian potential of queer as theory, strategy, and imaginative construction; it is my contention that such potential has already been outlined in a broad range of sf narratives by feminist and queer writers.

Lorenzo DiTommaso

Redemption in Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle

Abstract.-- Man in the High Castle is not a systematic theological tractate on the order of VALIS. It does, however, encompass significant amounts of basic Taoist and Christian theology. On the one hand, none of Dick's other novels comes close to containing the number of explicit references in MHC to Taoism, and the importance of these to the understanding of the novel has not been overlooked. On the other hand, the role of Christian theology in MHC has been almost completely ignored, and especially the vital part played by Dick's conflated comprehension of gnostic Christian dualism and fundamental Pauline theology. In MHC, Dick employs the standard terminology and categories of dualistic cosmologies to frame the redemptive journeys undertaken by each of the novel's five major characters--Robert Childan, Frank Frink, Nobosuke Tagomi, Rudolf Wegener, and Juliana Frink. These journeys towards personal (and sometimes corporate) salvation sit at the heart of MHC, and therefore to grasp the theological and philosophic content in which they are expressed is to apprehend better the meaning of the novel itself. MHC thus represents an important stage in an aspect of Dick's philosophy that has its origins no later than Time Out of Joint (1959) and that continues, in different manifestations, to its full flowering in the VALIS trilogy of the early 1980s.

Christopher Palmer

Galactic Empires and the Contemporary Extravaganza: Dan Simmons and Iain M. Banks

Abstract.-- This essay discusses sf by Dan Simmons and Iain M. Banks as a contemporary version of galactic-empire fiction. This fiction shares a set of characteristics: ambitious, multi-farious inclusiveness; uninhibited hedonism; complicated relations with textuality and intertextuality; a complicated depiction of space as noncoherent, subject to no uniform rules; decentered subjects, but, on the other hand, a return of depth. It is suggested that this fiction expresses the operations of a postmodern imaginary on the materials of traditional galactic-empire sf; this imaginary operates mainly by excess, overload, and exacerbation. A postmodernizing of the galactic-empire novel ends up expressing the anxieties of the postmodern condition.

Carl Silvio

Refiguring the Radical Cyborg in Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell

Abstract.-- Despite the fact that Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell seems to espouse a political agenda that is in keeping with feminist theorizations of the cyborg, it covertly reworks this agenda into an endorsement of conventional configurations of sexual difference. The film gratifies desires for a strong, multiply-positioned female protagonist who uses technology as a means of empowerment, while simultaneously containing her subversive potential by re-narrating it within an older and better known paradigm: the dominance of masculine mind and spirit over the feminine materiality of the body. The film thus functions as an instrument of ideological containment that seems to be subversive on its "surface" while contextualizing that subversion within traditional narratives of sexual difference.

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