Science Fiction Studies

#125 = Volume 42, Part 1 = March 2015


Graham J. Murphy.

Archivization and the Archive-as-Utopia in H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon and “The Empire of the Ants"

Abstract. At one point in Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (1995), Jacques Derrida waxes speculatively upon what “might have been” had late-twentieth century archives and archival technologies been available in the Victorian era. Engaging in an act of “retrospective science fiction” to ruminate upon the “scenes of those other archives,” Derrida reveals that what is at stake in archives and archivization is as much the collection, storage, and transmission of data as the construction of meaning and, by extension, material instantiation itself. Inspired by Derrida’s “retrospective science fiction,” this essay turns to H.G. Wells’s “The Empire of the Ants” (1905) and The First Men in the Moon (1901) to probe the scenes of those other archives that are grounded in an incommensurable insect ontology. Such arc-hives destabilize the human-animal species hierarchy and disrupt the utopian impulse for unified fields of knowledge (i.e., the archive-as-utopia) in ways that are relevant to our contemporary informational landscape of digital archivization.

Steven Mollmann

Air-Ships and the Technological Revolution: Detached Violence in George Griffith and H.G. Wells

Abstract. This article looks at the idea of the “technological revolution”—the political revolution enabled by technological development—in George Griffith’s The Angel of the Revolution (1893) and a novel that directly responded to it, H.G. Wells’s The War in the Air (1908). Both novels use air-ships as a marker of detachment between the creator of violence and his target. Both assume that massive violence is necessary for massive political change; yet while Griffith rationalizes and idealizes such detachment, Wells claims that military technology is ultimately regressive.

Ian Campbell

Science Fiction and Social Criticism in Morocco of the 1970s: Muhammad `Azīz Lahbābī’s The Elixir of Life  

Abstract. This paper addresses the Moroccan science-fiction novel, ‘Iksīr al- ayāt [The Elixir of Life, 1974] by Muhammad `Azīz Lahbābī from the perspective of the efficacy of sf’s cognitive estrangement in providing a class-based and highly charged political critique in and of a repressive society with little or no class mobility. The novel depicts a Morocco fallen into chaos after the introduction of a (never-seen) immortality elixir. A young, impoverished medical student tries to obtain food in the wake of massive disruption caused by the poor’s belief that the elixir will be reserved for the rich. His inability to leverage his educated status over his low birth provides a caustic critique of Moroccan society. The wrapping of this critique in two layers of displacement enables Lahbābī to undertake this critique while remaining insulated from the very real consequences of making it directly.

N. Katherine Hayles

Greg Egan’s Quarantine and Teranesia: Contributions to the Millennial Reassessment of Consciousness and the Cognitive Nonconscious

Abstract. The broader landscape in which Greg Egan’s two symmetrically themed novels, Quarantine and Teranesia, unfold includes new research in neuroscience on the cognitive nonconscious (or proto-self) in humans. The cognitive nonconscious, which emerges from underlying neuronal processes, interacts with consciousness and the unconscious through its superior information-processing abilities. Egan links this new research with von Neumann’s suggestion in the 1950s that the “wave collapse” in quantum mechanics, in which the superposition of particles creates indeterminacies through the particle’s eigenstates, “collapses” so that, upon measurement, only one value is observed. While Quarantine explores the ways in which human consciousness is complicated by its interaction with quantum processes, Teranesia, in remarkable symmetry, investigates the possibility that the cognitive nonconscious may also emerge from and interact with quantum processes. Thus Egan plays with realigning into different configurations the three categories of consciousness/ unconsciousness, the cognitive nonconscious, and material processes. As a result, the two novels constitute an important contribution to the millennial reassessment of the costs of consciousness and the rise of the cognitive nonconscious, serving as narratives to think with and through the recursive paradoxes and conceptual complexities inherent in this paradigm shift.

Joseph P. Weakland

“Forked Tongues”: Languages of Estrangement in China Miéville’s Embassytown       

Abstract. China Miéville’s recent novel Embassytown (2011) places the properties of human and non-human language under science-fictional examination. Both a scholar and sf author, Miéville encodes an array of discourses concerning language into the story of humanity’s encounter with an alien race known as the Ariekei. I first situate Embassytown within its larger generic lineage and then open up several avenues for reading the novel alongside the theories of language that it re-visions, including those of Walter Benjamin and Jacques Lacan. I conclude by bringing the narrative into conversation with critical discussions of the role of language in intra- and interspecies contact zones advanced by thinkers such as Mary Louise Pratt and Donna Haraway.

J.P. Telotte

The Empire’s New Robots 

Abstract. This essay examines the curious persistence of certain robot images in our films from the 1930s to the 1950s. In an effort to apply Matthew Fuller’s theoretical vantage of “media ecology” to a group of films, it looks at the “fidelity,” “fecundity,” and “longevity” that mark the use of the same or similar robots—often referred to as the “tin can” variety—as they surfaced in a variety of films, and as they reflected both our hopes for and fears of the development of modern technological culture.

Brian Baker

“Here on the Outside”: Mobility and Bio-politics in Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46

Abstract. In Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46 (2003), recurrent motifs of global mobility and securitization encode contemporary anxieties about mobility, migration, and terrorism through motifs of genetic, biological, or viral disruptions of national and bodily boundaries. These can certainly be located in terms of the 9/11 and 7/7 events, but also in terms of Anglo-American overseas involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the consequences of these actions for indigenous and US/UK populations, and in the ethical and ideological distortions they produce. This article uses the work of Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, and Michel Foucault in the field of bio-politics and bio-power to analyze Code 46 in terms of its representations of subjectivity, inclusion and exclusion, and systems of regulatory control. Like other contemporary sf and horror films that focus on bio-politics, Code 46 presents a world of globalized mobility striated by class, gender, and ethnic difference.

Nidesh Lawtoo.

Avatar Simulation in 3Ts: Techne, Trance, Transformation       

Abstract. This article argues that James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) represents contemporary preoccupations with the “reality” of virtual reality. Rather than reading Avatar as a wishful return to a state of nature, this article takes the computer-generated world of Pandora as a self-reflective anthropological, psychological, and ontological mirror of a network society haunted by the specter of what I call “hypermimetic” simulations. Neither fully human nor fully virtual, yet animated by both human and virtual links, the hybrid figure of the avatar emerges from the interface where the indigenous other and the posthuman self, nature and techne, reality and simulation, meet, clash, and, above all, reflect on each other.

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