#134 = Volume 45, Part 1 = March 2018
“Soul-stealing Sand”: War and Time in Xin jiyuan [The New Era]
Edited and translated by Nathaniel Isaacson
Abstract. This article takes as its subject the late Qing science-fiction novel Xin jiyuan [The New Era, 1908] and, through close reading, investigates how the imagination of tomorrow’s world was affected by racist discourse and how it unconsciously replicated the logic of colonialism. It reveals that although the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) calendrical system advocated by the author is a replica of the Gregorian calendar, China’s native time measurement still played a role in the novel. Along with the author’s own perplexity, brought on by the apparent zero-sum contest between Chinese and western culture and epistemologies, the entanglement of different time systems also provided a starting point for the narration of the future. The result is that the “future of China” described in this fiction is little more than a description of the contemporary west. Magic weapons such as “soul-stealing sand” (zhuihun sha), which determine the outcome of the war in this story, have long been regarded by researchers as the remnants of Chinese novels about spirits and devils. By tracking relevant information about these magic weapons, however, this article demonstrates that the author borrowed these speculative and fantastic novelties from contemporary newspaper and magazine reports introducing the latest western inventions.
Monstrous Motherhood and Evolutionary Horror in Contemporary Japanese Science Fiction
Abstract. This essay examines how the reproductive female body has been deployed in contemporary Japanese evolutionary horror to connote the counter-hegemonic potential of postmodern identity and social formations. In particular, it focuses on two novels—Hideaki Sena’s Parasite Eve and Ken Asamatsu’s Queen of K’n-yan—published in the mid-1990s as Japan was undergoing dramatic social, political, and economic transformation. My analysis of Eve examines the monstrous mother as an articulation of neoconservative anxieties concerning the subordination of patriarchal paradigms to the maternal principle. My reading of K’n-yan focuses on the monstrous mother as a metaphor for the violent underpinnings of the contemporary state and as a signal of the urgent need for Japan to acknowledge its wartime past beyond the prevailing rhetoric of Japanese victimhood and to curb its compulsion toward renewed violence as a means of national rehabilitation.
Micah K. Donohue
Borderlands Gothic Science Fiction: Alienation as Intersection in Rivera’s Sleep Dealer and Lavín’s “Llegar a la orilla”
Abstract. Since its 2008 debut, Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer has received an impressive—and impressively varied—amount of critical attention. The film has been read as a critique of NAFTA, as a meditation on virtual labor in an era of technological globalization, and as a foundational entry in a growing archive of US-Mexico borderlands sf. In this essay, I extend Sarah Ann Wells’s and Lysa Rivera’s trail-blazing work on the “emergent genre” of borderlands sf to demonstrate how that emergent genre in fact borders on—and encroaches into—another nascent form: the cybergothic, especially as its contours have been mapped by Fred Botting. Through a reading of Rivera’s Sleep Dealer supplemented by analysis of Guillermo Lavín’s short story “Llegar a la orilla” (1994),I argue that borderlands sf and the cybergothic are imbricated and mutually illuminating genres that reimagine so as to more trenchantly critique technological forms of economic and existential alienation. Borderlands sf and the cybergothic revise traditional representations of alienation—and particularly Marx’s claim that alienation “estranges man’s own body from him”—into cybernetic reconfigurations of technology-driven capitalism throughout the Americas and the world.
Nicholas M. Kelly
“Works like Magic”: Metaphor, Meaning, and the GUI in Snow Crash
Abstract. Computers might well be said to work “like magic.” Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) allow computers to work predictably but inscrutably. Central to the design of GUIs are visual metaphors that help users understand the function of interface elements. In 1992, as GUIs were supplanting command-based interfaces, Snow Crash was published. In it, Neal Stephenson offers a new take on the SF/cyberpunk conceit of “cyberspace” with “the Metaverse,” a VR world Stephenson claims was inspired by real-world GUI design principles. Yet in Stephenson’s 1999 essay “In the Beginning… was the Command Line,” the author rails against metaphor-based interfaces, claiming such software separates users from total control of their systems, control that can only be achieved by learning computer code. Similarly, in Snow Crash, programming code itself is cast as magical, an analog to a pre-Babelian speech that can control human minds as if they are computers. While Stephenson’s novel does show that GUIs can constrain what users can do with their computers—as well as articulate ideas about what computers are for—it does something else. Despite itsattack on GUIs, Snow Crash sees the appeal of cyberspace visions as rooted in a human desire to interact with computers in a human way. The real “magic” of making computers mean something on a human level occurs through metaphor-based mental operations which long predate computers.
The Altered Shall Inherit the Earth: Biopower and the Disabled Body in Texhnolyze
Abstract. The anime series Texhnolyze (2003) is set in the underground city of Lux, where the human body’s ability to heal and repair itself has degraded. Those who wield power and can afford it have their amputated limbs replaced with advanced robotic prosthetics in a process known as texhnolyzation. The disabled body is many things in this world: a marker of class, a political cause, the locus of religious zealotry, and the symbol of humanity’s decline. The disabled body within this text is deeply enmeshed in biopolitical systems that organize power. By examining the flow of power throughout the series among the three leading groups in the city, the medical and scientific discourse surrounding texhnolyzation, and the violent actions of the Class, the city’s elite, I trace the operation of different forms of biopower and examine the series’ relation to the disabled body and to the prosthetic technology of texhnolyzation. I argue that Texhnolyze resists ableist cultural and medical narratives as I examine how it engages with problematic representations of posthuman ideologies.
Theorizing “The Nature of Things” in Bruno Latour’s Aramis, or the Love of Technology
Abstract. This essay examines Bruno Latour’s use of the literary device of prosopopoeia—or the attribution of voice—in Aramis, or the Love of Technology (1993) to explore the subjectivity and political status of objects. I argue that Latour’s prosopopoeic rendering of the train Aramis’s voice fails to make a compelling case for the inclusion of objects as political subjects, as it must rely on the intervention of a voice to enable Aramis to become politically viable. As long as liberal democracies subscribe to the idea that the expression of a voice is the key characteristic that qualifies one for the rights of subjecthood—an assumption challenged in cases such as Terri Schiavo’s and questions over fetal personhood, but not yet overcome—objects cannot be subjects, political or otherwise. Latour’s characterization of the Aramis train’s interiority, however, successfully reveals the sameness of objects and human subjects in another way: through the identity- and subjectivity- shaping forces of the market. If the human/object divide dissolves in Aramis, it does so through the power and logic of the market, which renders both objects and humans ontologically equal as laborers and consumers.
Social Criticism in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt: Cataclysm as Contemporary British Tableau
Abstract. This article argues that Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Professor Challenger tale, The Poison Belt (1913), uses the story arc of a disaster narrative as a means of providing a tableau of contemporary Britain both for the purposes of socio-cultural assessment and for burgeoning spiritualist exploration. A conservative text, The Poison Belt uses its science-fictional premise to establish a “condition of England” critique informed by Victorian anxieties about social degeneration before offering a wish-fulfilment conclusion of cultural reinvigoration.
Null-A Aesthetics: Science-Fiction Separation in Jean-Luc Godard’s Adieu au langage and A.E. van Vogt’s Null-A Three
Abstract. Near the end of Adieu au langage (2014), Jean-Luc Godard inserts a brief shot of A.E. van Vogt’s novel Null-A Three (1984), evidently to foreground a narrative strategy of continuous separation or disconnection characteristic of what I term “Null-A aesthetics.” This fission of images is discussed in terms of Godard’s film, van Vogt’s novel, and another text used in the film, Clifford D. Simak’s Time and Again (1951). All allude to Alfred Korzybski’s self-improvement book Science and Sanity (1933), which describes his concept of General Semantics, although all use Korzybski’s ideas somewhat differently. Discussion of writings by Graham Harman, Brian Stableford, and China Miéville are also used to develop this argument. Godard manipulates both the texts he uses and the 3D images of his film to foreground challenges to ordinary assumptions about the connection between objects and their apparent qualities. This leads to new connections being revealed, a key feature of what I term Null-A aesthetics, a science-fictional technique for the representation of the unrepresentable.
“Jerry was oscillating badly”: Gender and Sexuality in New Worlds Magazine
Abstract. This essay follows the life of the character Jerry Cornelius from his initial appearance in New Worlds magazine in the short story “Preliminary Data” (1965) through his swan song in the final book of the Cornelius Quartet, The Condition of Muzak (1977). I argue that the character and the stories in which he appears disrupt narrative through ambiguity, irony, and experimental technique—reflecting a supposed historic rupture in the late 1960s. In particular I posit a queer reading of Jerry Cornelius: the character moves or oscillates among different binary identity positions, focusing specifically on gender, sex, and sexuality, with the oscillation of the character finally rupturing the narrative form of the stories.
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