Science Fiction Studies

#117 = Volume 39, Part 2 = July 2012


Elana Gomel

Posthuman Voices: Alien Infestation and the Poetics of Subjectivity

Abstract.This article analyzes narrative representations of posthuman subjectivity in a range of sf texts that deal with a takeover of human beings by aliens, from Golden Age classics such as John Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” (1938) and Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1951) to the contemporary blockbusters Infected (2006) and Contagious (2008) by Scott Sigler. I argue for a narratological analysis of such texts in terms of their deployment of the techniques of voice and point of view and suggest that, rather than being dismissed as naïve political allegories, these works should be read in terms of discursive and ideological tensions within humanism.

Thomas M. Barrett

Heart of a serpent? The Cold War Science Fiction of Murray Leinster

Abstract.This article argues that the Cold War science fiction of Murray Leinster has been either mischaracterized or unfortunately ignored. Starting with the Soviet writer Ivan Efremov’s attack on Leinster’s 1945 story “First Contact,” his postwar work has too often been depicted as paranoid, cartoon-like, and war exalting. Instead, with a few exceptions, he was a consistent voice for peaceful coexistence in numerous books and stories dealing with issues of nuclear destruction and superpower confrontation. He also bristled at censorship and at legal strictures and bureaucratic torpor that he felt constricted scientific development. This article also examines the reasons behind Efremov’s attack and the overall positive Soviet reception of Leinster’s work. Based on extensive archival research, interviews with Leinster’s daughters, and a comprehensive reading of his works, this is one of the most substantial treatments to date of Leinster’s career as one of the twentieth-century’s most prolific and popular sf writers.

Carl Abbott

Rocky Mountain Refuge: Constructing "Colorado" in Science Fiction

Abstract. Colorado has long functioned in American culture as the epitome of the American West, identified both as a safe refuge and as a place for starting over. This essay examines the ways in which writers of speculative fiction have drawn on Colorado’s historically constructed identity as the setting for stories of refuge and retreat. The discussion examines parallels in the use of the Colorado setting by sf writers Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Leigh Brackett, and Ursula K. LeGuin, by political novelist Ayn Rand, and by mainstream thriller writers Stephen King and Justin Cronin. The analysis suggests that popular ideas about regional characteristics can play important roles in framing the science-fiction imagination.

Umberto Rossi

The Shunts in the Tale: The Narrative Architecture of Philip K. Dick's VALIS

Abstract.Though several articles and book chapters are devoted to Philip K. Dick’s VALIS (1981), scholars often seem to display critical embarrassment when dealing with the novel (and others that emerged during the final years of Dick’s career). The pervasive religious elements in the novel have often been read as symptoms of the author’s insanity. This article aims at proposing a different approach to those elements, by means of a blow-by-blow analysis of the plot that shows how its underlying ontological uncertainty works in narratological terms. In this reading, the novel operates by means of a series of “genre shunts” that shuttle back and forth among realistic fiction, theological sf, postmodern metafiction, and other literary forms.

Amanda Thibodeau

Alien Bodies and a Queer Future: Sexual Revision in Octavia butler's "Bloodchild" and James Tiptree, Jr.'s "With Delicate Mad Hands"

Abstract. In this essay, I employ recent queer theory and queer science-fiction criticism to argue that the alien body can be used to represent utopian ideals of queerness and to challenge heteronormativity and its related systems of power. I discuss the short stories “Bloodchild” by Octavia E. Butler and “With Delicate Mad Hands” by James Tiptree, Jr., as two texts that imagine alternate worlds and intimacies in order to critique sex/gender systems in various ways. I argue that these texts queer the alien body and the alien/human relationship, and by doing so also queer the very impulse for space exploration. The generic conventions of space exploration—layered by race, imperialism, and desire—are subverted by these authors to reveal instead a utopian desire for queer futurity.

Andrew Hageman

The Challenge of Imagining Ecological Futures: Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl

Abstract.This article analyzes the complex ecological components of Paolo Bacigalupi’s award winning novel The Windup Girl (2009). Beginning with the short stories he published in Pump Six and Other Stories (2008), Bacigalupi has geared his science-fiction narratives to ecologically germane technoscientific developments such as agri-corporate production and trademarking of genetically-modified organisms. While ecologically engaged science fiction has increased since the 1970s, this article argues that The Windup Girl appears as part of a consistent ecological-sf agenda on Bacigalupi’s part. More importantly, this article argues that The Windup Girl is exceptionally sophisticated and ideologically savvy in its analyses of ecological crises and the challenges of trying to imagine our way out of them.

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