Science Fiction Studies

#110 = Volume 37, Part 1 = March 2010


Rob Latham

SFS Symposium: Histories of Science Fiction

When I was hired as an sf specialist in the English Department at the University of California, Riverside, in Fall 2008, one of my top priorities was to explore collaborative ventures between Science Fiction Studies, on whose editorial board I have served since 1997, and the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature, which has been housed in UCR’s library since 1969. It seemed logical to find ways that one of the field’s preeminent journals and its largest publicly-accessible research archive—both born in that crucial moment during the late 1960s/early 1970s when the serious scholarly study of sf was beginning to take shape and focus—could work in synergy.            

One of these initiatives, the R.D. Mullen Research Fellowship, brought three top-notch graduate students to work in the collection during the 2009-10 academic year. I am very grateful to my co-editors—and of course to the late Dale Mullen, founder of SFS—for their unstinting provision of the resources, intellectual as well as financial, that made this venture possible, and to the Mullen Committee—Andrea Bell, Neil Easterbrook, Brooks Landon, and Veronica Hollinger—for their hard work in vetting applicants. By the time you read these words, we will have settled on a slate of Mullen finalists for 2010-11.            

While the Mullen Fellowship helps to seed future scholarship, the Science Fiction Studies Symposium, the second major collaboration between SFS and the Eaton Collection launched in 2009, provides a showcase for state-of-the-art sf criticism. This annual Symposium brings together three major scholars to speak on a topic of methodological or theoretical concern, the goal being to prompt high-level reflection on the “meta” issues that guide research and critical writing in the field. The 2010 Symposium will focus on “Animal Studies and Science Fiction” (for more details, see my news item on “Upcoming Events at UCR” in the Notes section of the current issue).            

The 2009 Symposium, held in the reading room of the Special Collections and Archives Department of UCR’s Rivera Library on April 30, focused on the topic “The Histories of Science Fiction.” The three speakers—Roger Luckhurst, De Witt Douglas Kilgore, and Veronica Hollinger—were invited to discuss the theoretical problems and intellectual debates implicated in the construction of sf history—historiographic issues, in short, peculiar to sf as a genre or mode of production. The purpose was provocatively to raise—rather than definitively to settle—significant questions about how sf history gets narrated, such as: how do we identify the chronological origins of sf? how do we construct an sf canon? how has the emergence of identitarian movements such as women’s history, ethnic history, working-class history, gay and lesbian history, etc., impacted the field of sf studies? is there a single consensus history of sf or only multiple histories based on competing critical agendas?            

The event was very well attended and stimulated an energetic conversation, which unfortunately it is impossible to reproduce here. But we are delighted to be able to bring you the three talks, edited only lightly for publication in order to retain the lively spirit of their original presentations. By design, these are not formal scholarly articles but rather critical meditations, invocations, and exhortations whose aim is to inspire further colloquy.            

In conclusion, I would like to thank the three speakers for their participation in launching this event; Art Evans, Managing Editor of SFS, for his gracious support; and the staff of the Special Collections and Archives Department of UCR’s Rivera Library for allowing us to use their wonderful reading room—in particular Melissa Conway, Head of the Department; Gwido Zlatkes; Darien Daries; Sarah Allison; Sara Stilley, for crafting the poster and flyer announcing the event; and Mary Jones, for organizing the reception that followed.—Rob Latham, SFS

Laurel Bollinger

Symbiogenesis, Selfhood, and Science Fiction

Abstract. -- Biologist Lynn Margulis developed the concept of symbiogenesis, or speciation through symbiosis with microbes, a theory that proposes cooperation rather than competition as the engine of biological change. Perhaps the best-known feature of her theory concerns mitochondria, sometimes called the power-plants of cells, which Margulis describes as symbionts whose absorption into other cells created the first eukaryotes, or multicellular organisms. Science fiction’s response to this theory has included authors such as Peter Watts, Hideaki Sena, Octavia Butler, Madeline L’Engle, and Joan Slonczewski, and this essay traces the range of responses to the “individuality through incorporation” Margulis’s theory suggests. Such incorporational identity evokes the feminine, itself defined through its potential to incorporate other life, and the writers’ response to symbiogenesis connects tightly to their responses to and definitions of gender.

Lisa Swanstrom

Capsules and Nodes and Ruptures and Flows: Circulating Subjectivity in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash

Abstract. -- This article considers persistent tensions between encapsulation and penetration in the network systems of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1993) that contribute to a networked sense of self, especially in relation to the role of the hacker, who has literal access to the human mind in the novel. The network structures depicted in Snow Crash offer a compelling way to think of subjectivity in circulation: neither completely tied to the Cartesian model (which describes identity as an indivisible soul or mind encapsulated within a physical body) nor to an excessively open model that treats subjectivity as a mass of societal affiliations with no roots or grounding. A subject in circulation is instead a complex, distributed network of embodied systems who exists in a state of perpetual flux of encapsulations, enclosures, ruptures, and flows.

Robert P. Fletcher

The Hacker and the Hawker: Networked Identity in the Science Fiction and Blogging of Cory Doctorow

Abstract. -- This essay examines the science fiction and blogging of Canadian writer Cory Doctorow to argue that both his works and advocacy of his publishing methods are indicative of current battles over the cultural implications of electronic textuality and serve as harbingers of the novelist’s place in a networked world. On the one hand, Doctorow acts as entrepreneur, promoting his own work tirelessly via the Internet and, on the other, he advocates Creative Commons licensing and open access to creative works. These dual interests, seemingly in conflict, demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the networked nature of identity and power, an understanding also evident in the conflicts in Doctorow’s fiction, which increasingly warns about the dangers to civil liberties in a technologically-mediated society while nevertheless retaining some optimism about the future.

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