Science Fiction Studies

#86 = Volume 29, Part 1 = March 2002


Neal Bukeavich

"Are We Adopting the Right Measures to Cope?": Ecocrisis in John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar

Abstract. -- Few scholars have acknowledged the contribution of John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968) to our understanding of the intersections of politics, science, society, and the environment. This essay considers Brunner’s foregrounding of false representations of ecosocial conditions that are predicated on Western fantasies of unending economic growth, material abundance, and technological innovations. Set on an overcrowded Earth in 2010, the novel examines the ways in which Western socioeconomic structures inevitably shape political and technological responses to population-resource pressures. In so doing, it critiques mid-twentieth century unicausal theories of environmental problems and dramatizes the ideological blinders that prevent societies from taking corrective action. Furthermore, the novel departs from conventional narratives that emphasize individual agency and linear notions of ecological fall and recovery, focusing instead on the ways that various power structures shape and limit individual and cultural attitudes about ecosocial problems. Part fiction, part cultural theory, and part case-study for reading narratives of politics, science, and culture through and against one another, Brunner’s novel suggests that taking effective social action in response to real-world ecosocial crisis demands an interdisciplinary sensibility and a commitment to dissolving capitalist fantasies about endless resources and technoscientific fixes.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. 

On the Grotesque in Science Fiction

Abstract. -- The "sense of wonder" traditionally attributed to sf is closely allied to the grotesque, the aesthetic of representing objects interfused and combined in an unnatural fashion. In the postmodern period, the grotesque becomes a kind of norm, since science is able to detect and synthesize an unprecedented number of things never before seen in nature. The science-fictional grotesque begins from this premise, embodying in its central repertoire of anomalies a host of monsters, cyborgs, and aliens. The sf grotesque usually involves a descent from intellectual apprehension of anomalies into relentlessly mutable and mutating bodies, and these are often coded as feminine challenges to phallocratic scientific rationality. The essay treats Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris as a quintessential example of the literary sf-grotesque. In it, the grotesque core-object, the plasmic ocean, forces the Solarist scientists to reconceive their scientific rationality, while the narrative itself mutates from one form to another. The Alien films, by contrast, represent the spectacular sf-grotesque. In them, the bodies of the Aliens, the androids, and the humans undergo constantly metamorphosing embodiments and bodily relationships.

Anthony Enns

Mediality and Mourning in Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris and His Master’s Voice

Abstract. -- This essay examines the representation of communication technologies in Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris and His Master’s Voice. Following John Johnston's definition of "mediality" as "the ways in which a literary text inscribes in its own language the effects produced by other media" (175), I argue that Lem employs the scenario of alien contact in these novels in order to represent the effects produced by competing media technologies. By metaphorically presenting these technologies as apparently sentient alien beings, Lem illustrates the notion that new technologies shape and determine consciousness by perceiving, recording, and storing information which was previously unrepresentable and which therefore belonged to the realm of the unconscious. Solaris and His Master’s Voice ultimately reveal the ways in which new media technologies, such as phonography and film, influence human consciousness by prolonging the work of mourning through the preservation of voices and images of the dead.

Arthur B. Evans

Gustave Le Rouge, Pioneer of Early French Science Fiction

Abstract. -- A prolific writer of French pulp fiction at the dawn of the twentieth century, Gustave Le Rouge (1867-1938) penned an estimated 312 works in a wide variety of genres: science fiction, horror, detective fiction, spy novels, historical dramas, poetry collections, theater and screenplays, biographical studies, essays on occultism, and even cookbooks. His best-known sf works include such scientific-adventure tales as La Conspiration des milliardaires (1899), La Princesse des airs (1902), and Le Sous-marin "Jules Verne" (1902); an imaginative two-volume space opera Le Prisonnier de la planète Mars (1908) and La Guerre des vampires (1909); and an eighteen-volume pulp epic, Le Mystérieux docteur Cornélius (1912-13). This essay attempts to familiarize English-language readers with the life and works of Gustave Le Rouge, one of the unjustly neglected pioneers of early science fiction.

Umberto Rossi

From Dick to Lethem: The Dickian Legacy, Postmodernism, and Avant-Pop in Jonathan Lethem’s Amnesia Moon

Abstract --. This article attempts to map the relationships among postmodernism, science fiction, and Avant-Pop by focusing on the writings of Philip K. Dick, a purportedly postmodern sf author, and Amnesia Moon, an sf novel by an Avant-Pop author, Jonathan Lethem. The Finite Subjective Realities that are depicted in Amnesia Moon are read as an important element of the "Dickian legacy," since ontological fragmentation is such an important feature of several of Dick’s works, such as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Eye in the Sky. The fragmented, amnesiac, and post-catastrophic US shown in Lethem’s novel through Dickian lenses is discussed in the context of Jameson’s analysis of postmodernism and late capitalism (especially his study of enclosed social/architectural spaces, and his idea of cognitive mapping through "portulans") and Dick’s early insights about politics in a mass-media-saturated society.

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