Science Fiction Studies

#124 = Volume 41, Part 3 = November 2014


Grzegorz Trębicki

Supragenological Types of Fiction versus Contemporary Non-Mimetic Literature

Abstract. This article elaborates on a model of supragenological types of fiction originally proposed by Andrzej Zgorzelski in the article “Is Science Fiction a Genre of Fantastic Literature?” (SFS 6.3 [Nov. 1979]: 296-303). It attempts to apply his model as a tool of taxonomical description to contemporary non-mimetic (“fantastic”) fiction in all of its richness and diversity. In the initial part of the essay, Zgorzelski’s theoretical assumptions are briefly summarized and explained. In the remainder of the essay, four non-mimetic supragenological categories—exomimetic literature, fantastic literature, antimimetic literature, and paramimetic literature—are discussed at some length and used as a source of reference for a preliminary analysis of a large group of texts.

Jonathan Alexander

Aesthetics and Artificiality from À Rebours to Avatar: Some Varieties of the Virtual since 1884

Abstract. This article attempts to reframe our understanding of the aesthetics and the ethics of the artificial by gesturing toward a “long” history of the virtual, from J.K. Huysmans’s novel À Rebours (1884) through twentieth-century and contemporary science fiction, most notably the film Avatar (2010). Such a history of the representation of the virtual suggests that the category of the artificial, and the aesthetic as artifice, is perhaps the key conceptual problematic in the figuration of virtuality. Ultimately, this discussion traces a split in representation between the scientific and the natural on the one hand and the aesthetic and the artificial on the other—a split that creates a binary that, over time, substantively comes to privilege the “natural,” so much so that the representation of virtual realities to this day remains haunted by the artificial as a potentially undermining problem in their reception. I demonstrate how the figuration of virtuality is frequently accompanied by a rhetoric of the natural—a rhetoric that might short- circuit our appreciation of and more conscious critical engagement with the artificial.

Andrew Pilsch

Self-Help Supermen: The Politics of Fan Utopias in World War II-Era Science Fiction

Abstract. This essay provides a case study of politically engaged fandom during the “superman boom” that corresponded with both the dawn of sf’s Golden Age and World War II, uncovering how, during a period of transition from Hugo Gernsback’s scientifiction to John W. Campbell, Jr.’s social science fiction, fan culture emerged in its modern form. This emergence is marked by a number of utopian responses to superman fiction wherein fans saw themselves mirrored in the genetically superior beings chronicled especially in the work of A.E. van Vogt. This rhetoric of genetic superiority and human evolutionary change—which fan organizer Claude Degler labeled “fanationalism”—echoes, whether intentionally or not, the nationalist rhetoric of European fascism. In tracing the development and decline of fanationalism, this essay considers the “Slan Shack” movement of fan-created utopian communities, the popularity of General Semantics among sf writers of the period, and Degler’s infamous Cosmic Circle as related instances of superman utopianism. The essay concludes by suggesting that the crisis provoked by the association between fanationalism and Nazism ultimately proved politically unsustainable, but the sense of community established during the period helped shape what we now know as modern sf fandom.

Andrew Ferguson

R.A. Lafferty’s Escape from Flatland; or, How to Build a World in Three Easy Steps

Abstract. R.A. Lafferty’s reputation for rollicking humor and poetic verve, as demonstrated in such stories as “Narrow Valley” (1966) and “Slow Tuesday Night” (1965) belies the considerable theoretical and narratological complexity of his entire body of work. This article draws on the vocabulary developed by Paul Ricoeur in Interpretation Theory (1966) and Time and Narrative (1983-85) to explore Lafferty’s process of world creation in light of his startling 1979 announcement that the cognitive world of humanity had come to an end. Thus, in this post-conscious state, it was left to science fiction to develop potential replacements. In his writings Lafferty seeks not only to project new worlds but also to reconstruct the world-building capacity in others, enabling readers and writers alike to collaborate toward a future for humanity.

Steffen Hantke

Star Trek’s Mirror Universe Episodes and US Military Culture through the Eyes of the Other

Abstract. Across the vast Star Trek franchise, a small number of television episodes have used the device of the alternative universe, or “mirror universe,” to comment specifically on war and the military. In contrast to the general political stance of the franchise, these episodes provide an embedded dystopian counter-narrative, legitimized by playful diametric reversal, which replaces the benign vision of peaceful exploration and co-existence with one of ruthless imperialist aggression. Conscious of their transgressive impact, these episodes encourage readings against the grain, yet contain such readings by re-absorbing them into the larger discursive paradigm of American military power.

Malisa Kurtz

Nomadic Figurations: Reorienting the Colonial Gaze in Ian McDonald

Abstract. Ian McDonald’s Evolution’s Shore (1995) and Kirinya (1997) examine the relationship between human and alien others to confront questions of subjectivity, identity, and alterity. Specifically, the Chaga series highlights how locating difference in a negative dialectical scheme supports the historical and material exploitation of people labeled racial, gender, and sexual others. This is made evident when an alien species known as the Chaga colonizes regions of the global South, exposing the epistemic and material violence enacted by the UN in the name of humanism. Contrary to the lies told by the global North, the Chaga is not harmful and instead offers refuge to people escaping poverty and persecution. McDonald’s texts do more than simply invert prevailing power relations in this alternate world. Evolution’s Shore and Kirinya use generic traditions to expose the epistemological assumptions behind sf’s colonial gaze, offering in place of human/alien binaries the possibility of envisioning difference through the lens of a posthuman, nomadic ethics. By presenting nomadic subjects, McDonald’s novels move towards a more ethical and empowering account of difference.

Stephen Dougherty

Adam Roberts’s Alien Invasion

Abstract. This essay investigates Adam Roberts’s novel Yellow Blue Tibia (2009). It interprets this novel as a meditation on the relationship between history and science fiction, especially in light of both postmodernist and Marxist critical traditions to which, I argue, Roberts is indebted both as a science fiction writer and a literary scholar.

Rhys Williams

Recognizing Cognition: On Suvin, Miéville, and the Utopian Impulse in the Contemporary Fantastic

Abstract. This article is an intervention into the recent Suvin-Miéville debate about cognition and the political value of fantastic literature. It recuperates the much maligned and misunderstood Suvinian notion of “cognition” and argues for its continuing relevance in an updated form, stripped of the vestiges of its time. This article rethinks cognition in light of the recent “post-genre fantastic” and contemporary political movements and links contemporary theory to practice, arguing that the utopian impulse can currently be found in the dissolution of the conceptual frames through which we imagine rationality, utopia, and the future.

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