#133 = Volume 44, Part 3 = November 2017
Bicycles Across the Galaxy: Attacking Automobility in 1950s Science Fiction
Abstract. This essay focuses on several works of science fiction from the 1950s that function as counter-narratives to the hegemony of the automobile during this decade and to the accompanying dismissive perceptions of the bicycle. In its analysis of a novel by Robert A. Heinlein (The Rolling Stones, 1952), a novella by Poul Anderson (“A Bicycle Built for Brew,” 1958), and a short story by Avram Davidson (“Or All the Seas with Oysters,” 1958), it asserts that some of the leading figures in Golden Age sf were not content to relegate bicycles to the status of a technological obsolescence fit only for children. Instead, they chose to portray bicycles as useful, potent, and agentic—images that counter the prevailing ideology of “automobility” that was crystallizing with such durability in postwar America.
Uses of the End of the World: Apocalypse and Postapocalypse as Narrative Modes
Abstract. Through a broad survey of fictional, religious, philosophical, and political end-time narratives, this essay identifies two strategies for telling stories about the end of the world. Apocalyptic narratives use the idea of the end to give structure to the experience of history. By narrating the end as a moment of rupture that creates an absolute division between old and new worlds, they frame history as a series of clearly defined and therefore comprehensible transitions between distinct moments or epochs. Postapocalyptic narratives complicate this neatly organized account by narrating “ends” as complex historical transformations that involve survivals and continuities and thus blur before/after distinctions. Rather than providing a comprehensive and therefore existentially stabilizing overview of history, they draw attention to the indeterminate nature of ongoing processes of historical change. By focusing on the conceptual understanding of historical change that underwrites different kinds of end-time narratives, the essay clarifies the theoretical terminology of apocalypse and postapocalypse, and articulates a clearer understanding of the ways in which different kinds of contemporary stories about the end of the world are used to provide conceptual support for political action in the present.
Degenerate Utopias: Dystopian Revisions of Disneyland in Early Twenty-first-century Italian Fiction
Abstract. In 1973, Louis Marin described Disneyland as a “degenerate utopia,” a concept that Darko Suvin reprises in his Defined by a Hollow (2010). Here I apply this notion to two short stories written by the Wu Ming collective, “Pantegane e sangue” [Rat Harvest, 2000] and “Canard à l’orange méchanique” [A Clockwork Duck à l’Orange, 2000], and to Paolo Zanotti’s novel Il testamento Disney [Disney’s Last Will and Testament], originally written in the early 2000s and published posthumously in 2013. Under the guise of a satirical but ultimately escapist divertissement, the authors represent the “degenerate utopia” of late capitalism, revealing the dystopian side of capitalism’s self-proclaimed eutopia. On the one hand, these works can be read in light of Tom Moylan and Raffaella Baccolini’s category of “critical dystopia” for their self- reflective, radical, and open quality, as well as for their multiple genre crossovers. On the other hand, their critical gesture is best understood against the backdrop of Italy’s rising slipstream, which both Umberto Rossi and Luca Somigli identify as a fertile ground for reflecting on political and historical alternatives. Finally, I will demonstrate how, by reversing the capitalist fantasy of perfection into a horrific and inescapable pseudo-reality, Wu Ming and Zanotti implicitly engage with the problematic legacy of postmodernism, still a controversial topic of debate in today’s Italy.
Fledgling, Symbiosis, and the Nature/Culture Divide
Abstract. Responding to Octavia E. Butler’s notes and early drafts of Fledgling, located in the Huntington Library, I argue that Butler employs themes of symbiosis in Fledgling to disrupt views of the nature/culture divide. Butler depicts two key examples of symbiosis in Fledgling: the symbiosis of the Ina/symbiont relationship and the symbiosis of DNA within Shori as a genetically modified individual. The results of these two types of symbiosis are polar opposites; while the Ina/symbiont relationship is often strained, the symbiosis of genes in Shori work together perfectly to make her a powerful transgenic organism. This difference suggests that it is the cultural aspect of symbiosis that is problematic—while nature is inherently symbiotic, the cultural aspects of the Ina/symbiont relationship (sexual relations, power struggles, racism, speciesism) make it more difficult for Inas and symbionts to engage in mutualistic symbiosis.
Treasured Strangers: Race, Biopolitics, and the Human in Octavia E. Butler’s XENOGENESIS Trilogy
Abstract. The XENOGENESIS trilogy, written during a period of rapid growth in the neoliberal bioeconomy in the United States, is increasingly relevant today, when our ability to manipulate life has outstripped the ethical and theoretical considerations of
reproductive/genetic research and technologies. In this essay I seek to bring the trilogy into conversation with a broader dialogue around reproduction in relation to race, drawing on discussions of scientific racism and medical apartheid. Butler’s work draws on a variety of biopolitical discourses and is deeply concerned with the figure of the black woman as breeder, the history of reproduction as eugenics, and the contemporary “tissue economies” (Waldby and Mitchell) that continue to exploit the reproductive labor of non-white and third-world bodies. The XENOGENESIS trilogy illuminates the links between colonialism and biological capital, and uses apocalypse to show how the “human” is constantly being discursively and biologically reconstructed. By contrasting the genetic determinism of the Oankali with humans’ insistence on biological and reproductive independence, Butler enacts a politics of ambivalence that situates reproduction as an ongoing dialectical process within the context of broader ecological systems. Although her work is certainly concerned with genetic engineering, she emphasizes the importance of generation rather than reproduction, articulating a theory of symbiogenesis that sees human evolution as reliant on dynamic relationships with other species and environments.
Hollywood on the Moon: “Scientifilm,” the Pulps, and the SF Imagination
Abstract. This essay examines how the movies, the movie industry, and a movie consciousness filtered into the pulp magazines during sf’s formative, pre-World War II era. It measures that early film/literature relationship by surveying the primary pulp magazines associated with the beginnings of sf publishing in the United States and framing them in the context that Francesco Casetti applies to early cinema when he suggests that the movies, as a pre-eminent modernist form, provided a kind of “script for reading the modern experience,” one that “not only proposed a reading of that experience, but at times imposed a pattern for its expression and communication” (5).
This approach locates similar impulses for “reading” and shaping—via film—in stories that involved film or the film industry, in film-related advertising, in editorial matter and readers’ letters, in reviews, and in cover illustrations, all suggesting an interest in, even fascination with “scientifilms,” as they were often termed. In sum, it looks at the haunting traces of another medium in the early discourse surrounding sf in order to determine how a cinematic mindfulness influenced or played a part in this formative era and, in the process, helped us expand those boundaries usually associated with the early history of and sense of sf as a cultural idea or genre.
Duy Lap Nguyen
Alternate Histories of Korean National Sovereignty in 2009: Lost Memories
Abstract. This essay reads the South Korean sf thriller 2009: Lost Memories as an allegory about the history of Korean national sovereignty. Set in an alternate timeline in which this national history has been erased as a result of a Japanese conspiracy, the film’s time- travel plot focuses on a group of Korean resistance fighters who struggle to restore the “lost memory” of an authentic Korean national past. This alternate timeline—a timeline in which the national past is portrayed, paradoxically, as the product of an alternate present—achieves two related ideological functions. First, by erasing the problems posed to Korean national identity by the collaboration of a Korean elite during the colonial era, the film’s allohistorical narrative perpetuates the myth of an effective anti- colonial movement. Second, the alternate timeline provides a fictional mechanism to circumvent what Michel Foucault has described as the historical limit imposed by the atom bomb (and threat of mutually assured destruction) upon the institution of sovereignty and its ability to wage all-out war. Unable to assert its sovereignty in a war with Japan, Korea carries out its anti-colonial myth in the form of an allohistorical narrative. This nationalist appropriation of the genre of alternate history, however, fails to suppress what Marx describes in the Eighteenth Brumaire as the reduction of tragic action to farce, resulting from the repetition of historic events. In Lost Memories, the same time-travel narrative that allows the film to live out its anti-colonial fantasy has the unintended effect of reducing its nationalistic melodrama to an inauthentic historical parody.
Amandine H. Faucheux
Race and Sexuality in Nalo Hopkinson’s Oeuvre; or, Queer Afrofuturism
Abstract. This essay argues for an intersectional approach to Afrofuturism, a genre defined by Mark Dery as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture—and, more generally African American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future” (“Black to the Future” 180). Joining together black queer theory and afrofuturist theory, I introduce the concept of queer Afrofuturism, a term designating Afrofuturist texts in which race is inextricably tied to gender and sexuality so that it is impossible to talk about one without always already signifying the other. In a second part of the essay, I use queer Afrofuturism as a theoretical framework and analyze Nalo Hopkinson’s novels The Chaos (2012), The Salt Roads (2003), and her short story “A Habit of Waste” (2001). I argue that Hopkinson’s work is a particularly striking example of queer Afrofuturism because she uses intersectional characters with complex identities and genre-bending tropes to challenge rigid notions about identity, the body, and relationships.
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