Science Fiction Studies

#122 = Volume 41, Part 1 = March 2014

Brian J. McAllister

“You’ll remember Mercury”: The Avant-Garde Worlds of Edwin Morgan’s SF Poetry

Abstract. This essay investigates interactions between poetic form and science-fictional convention in the works of Scottish poet Edwin Morgan, tracing their connections to early-twentieth-century avant-garde projects. Typical histories of prose science fiction recognize the genre’s conceptual innovations but denigrate its “artistic” or “literary” qualities. Through his poetry, translations, and critical writings, Morgan connects the ontological concerns of sf with the aesthetic and political concerns of avant-garde poetry, particularly the linguistic experiments of Russian Futurist zaum poetry. His work offers science fiction, especially sf poetry, as an unrecognized continuation of the avant-garde aesthetic project.

George M. Johnson

Evil is in the Eye of the Beholder: Threatening Children in Two Edwardian Speculative Satires

Abstract. Two neglected Edwardian speculative satires, H.G. Wells’s The Food of the Gods (1904) and J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder (1911), present a darker construction of children than is typically associated with Edwardian Golden Age children’s literature. In both of these novels for adults, children are writ large, literally in The Food of the Gods when they grow to forty feet, and through mental capacity in The Hampdenshire Wonder, which depicts responses to a child genius. The novels have been misunderstood since not enough attention has been paid to the sophisticated narration though which the children are portrayed. The children challenge conventions and prompt a moral relativism as perceptions of them shift, until they are demonized by most in society. But evil is in the eyes of the beholders, since these works primarily satirize the threatened adults. These novels influenced subsequent sf explorations of children and remain relevant because they probe the perennial anxiety about children surpassing adults.

Andrew Lison

“The very idea of place”: Form, Contingency, and Adornian Volition in The Man in the High Castle

In his essay “Commitment,” Theodor W. Adorno elaborates on the paradox of poetry (or any form of literature) after Auschwitz: literature as form must somehow persist despite its barbarity. To this end, he champions “autonomous” art, often understood as abstract or non-representational, against “committed” political art. Another way of conceiving autonomy, however, might be in the form of aleatory occurrences that make possible new realms of perception and thought. In Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle, the classical Chinese oracle, the I Ching, plays just such a contingent role by alerting the novel’s characters to the fact that their history, in which Japan and Germany have emerged victorious from World War II, is untrue. Reconsidering The Man in the High Castle, an sf novel that Adorno himself would have surely dismissed as unliterary, in light of his paradoxical aesthetics, and re-examining the relationship between history and chance in the novel, we can see how the aleatory becomes autonomous, opening up the formal enclosures of both the novel and history from within.

Carl Gutiérrez-Jones

Stealing Kinship: Neuromancer and Artificial Intelligence

Abstract. William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) taps into anxieties surrounding humanity’s status in a world shared with artificial intelligences; in particular, Gibson asks what habits of thought might such intelligences inherit from their makers. Gibson is invested in the possibility of fostering kinship between humans and A.I.s, but he sees propensities in humanity that might well subvert this goal. From early religious beliefs through cyberspatial dreams of escaping the body, Western culture has often demonstrated disdain for fleshly existence. Gibson’s self-desructive hacker, Case, provides an opportunity to rethink this disdain; counter-intuitively, his climactic suicidal crisis enables a new, embodiment-friendly kinship. Gibson’s imagining of kinship also shapes the novel’s formal experimentation; Neuromancer anticipates hyperlinking technology and engages readers in an emulated version so that they might participate, to some degree, in a new form of hybridized intelligence. Specifically, readers practice a hypertextual construction of meaning, building on a convergence of digital (computer) and analog (human pattern-recognition) memory. As modeled by Case, this cognitive shift requires a radical rebooting. The experience of reading the novel, however, also offers an alternative model of transformation, one of extended adaptation that would more gradually reshape cognitive habits toward the kinship Gibson envisions. Ultimately, Neuromancer modulates between these more radical and more gradual models of adaptation.

Nicholas Serruys

Revisiting and Revising History through Subjectivity in Élisabeth Vonarburg’s Bridge Cycle

Abstract. This essay examines the role of agency and metatextuality in Élisabeth Vonarburg’s Bridge Cycle, comprised mainly of a group of short stories originally published between 1977 and 2002 and then revised in their definitive French versions for the collection Le Jeu des coquilles de nautilus (2003). The cycle’s main storyline involves the uncertain journey between parallel worlds by a series of recurring characters. Three intimately linked narrative components—each closely related to certain protocols of reading fiction and of particular interest to science fiction—form the theoretical and analytical bases of this study: the three recurring topoï of the protagonist-Voyager’s travels; character agency that in part drives the sense of these realms and their occupation; and the dénouement which gives a certain meaning and closure to the spaces in their diverse manifestations and to the characters who pursue their quests in these spaces. Vonarburg’s narratives place their protagonists in a situation precisely similar to that of the reader as she must negotiate the trans-world context, come to grips with her own relative lack of agency, and at the same time seek some level of control through knowledge. Such mise en abyme allows the author, through the choice of dénouement, to comment on the manner in which this universe and the real one are imagined, represented, and decoded, and on how meaning is conveyed.

Sean McQueen

Biocapitalism and Schizophrenia: Rethinking the Frankenstein Barrier

Abstract. Deleuze and Guattari’s becomings-animal are particularly useful in rethinking George Slusser’s “Frankenstein barrier”: the point at which the sf story folds back upon itself through the denial of futurity, which is accompanied by a regression into Oedipal relations. By analyzing and contrasting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, this essay argues that while the denial of futurity is Victor Frankenstein’s as much as the monster’s, the barrier is nevertheless an anthropocentric one. The essay examines the possibilities opened up by the becoming-animal of the nonhuman, and explores how this reworks the Frankenstein barrier in twenty-first century technoscientific biocapitalism.

Aaron Santesso

Fascism and Science Fiction

Abstract. A great deal of recent criticism has made the case that sf is “naturally” liberal and progressive. This essay will argue that such claims underestimate the diversity of the genre, overlooking the ways in which certain foundational tropes and narrative structures (evident most clearly in pulp-era sf) invite plots and figures aligned more closely with fascism than with progressive thought. For some critics, the anti-progressive politics of many pulp-era works is an unfortunate historical quirk, long since transcended and forgotten; this essay argues, on the other hand, that a kind of latent pulp-era fascism survives even in much ostensibly progressive contemporary sf. Tracing the afterlife of fascist tropes and themes complicates a host of critical claims about the ideological leanings of the genre.

Ewa Mazierska and Eva Näripea

Gender Discourse in Eastern European SF Cinema

Abstract. This article contributes to the relatively under-researched field of Eastern European sf cinema of the communist period by looking at gender discourse in two films with post-apocalyptic settings: the Czech The End of August at the Hotel Ozone [Konec srpna v hotelu Ozón, aka Late August at the Hotel Ozone] (1967), directed by Jan Schmidt, and the Polish Sex Mission [Seksmisja] (1984), directed by Juliusz Machulski. While made in somewhat different sociopolitical situations and featuring disparate modes of expression (art house versus popular comedy), both films stand out for representations of problematic gender relations and identities, which seem to question the heteropatriarchal norm. By linking gender discourse with colonial perspective, this study demonstrates that both films in fact use the unbalanced gender situations to denounce the communist colonial rule and to promote the close connection between heteropatriarchy and the nation state.

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