Science Fiction Studies

#138 = Volume 46, Part 2 = July 2019

Timothy S. Murphy

Labor of the Weird: William Hope Hodgson’s Fantastic Materialism

Abstract. -- Although many of weird fiction’s pioneers were anti-materialist writers, the tradition’s central figure, H.P. Lovecraft, advocated a philosophy of “mechanistic materialism” in his letters and essays as well as his fiction. His materialism is essentially contemplative and theoretical, however, focused on intellectual investigations of and philosophical reflections on the weird. The English writer William Hope Hodgson, author of The House on the Borderland (1908), The Ghost Pirates (1909), and The Night Land (1912), introduced a different kind of materialism into weird fiction: a materialism not of aristocratic contemplation, scientific experimentation, and resulting madness, but of manual labor, physical struggle, and psychological resistance. Hodgson’s protagonists, and through them his readers, encounter the disruptions of natural law that define the weirdness of his vision through the forms of labor which define the characters’ lives, and those encounters reveal the weird itself to entail a kind of labor that encompasses and exceeds human activity. The labor of the weird and the resistance to it transform the human subject who undergoes them and those transform-ations are reflected in the language of Hodgson’s tales, imposing a labor of the weird on the reader as well. This attention to labor, its psychological effects and textual representation, makes Hodgson’s fantastic materialism relevant to contemporary debates over the controversial aesthetics and politics of the weird.

David L. Pike

China Miéville’s Fantastic Slums and the Urban Abcanny 

Abstract. With few exceptions, China Miéville’s oeuvre is built out of urban imaginaries. Miéville’s cities are dynamic and dialectically conceived spaces; their key element, where most of the action takes place and most of the energy is invested, is the slum in all its variations, generating and providing the primary setting for the weird horror at the heart of Miéville’s imagination, for the attenuated but omnipresent utopianism both obscured and enabled by that horror, and for the space for thinking them through together. Steampunk and the New Weird have incorporated the city into post-genre fantasy in new ways. In particular, they propose an alternate genealogy of the urban fantastic in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modernism that both repudiates the slum as a space of recidivism and resistance and locates alternate possibilities within its alien confines. What Miéville and other contemporary writers recognize as newly available to us from the nineteenth century is not only the slum’s vast image-storehouse of suffering and horror, but also its radically new epistemology. Miéville’s New Weird has found a way to locate and spatialize not only the uncanny, but also the repressed abcanny, the known and knowable truths of capitalism, now so familiar to us that they circulate everywhere in the culture industry as dystopia and post-apocalypse. The abcanny is that which is not, and never was, and never can be part of our imaginary or imagined by us.

Dustin Crowley

Cosmos and Polis: Space and Place in Nnedi Okorafor’s SF        

Abstract. While much work on postcolonial and African sf centers on temporality and possible futures, this article argues for a consideration of the geographic imaginary as well. Using Nnedi Okorafor’s recent works Lagoon (2014) and the Binti series (2015-2018), it examines issues of space and place in the texts, especially how the use of a cosmological scale allows for a utopian rethinking of belonging, identity, and who counts as “alien.” In particular, the article claims, Okorafor’s narratives engage a flexible understanding of place as the scale shifts from city to cosmos and back, arguing not for the dissolution of place in favor of universalism, but for transformative communication and connection across geographic and discursive boundaries. Okorafor’s fiction envisions a genuinely postcolonial world in which Afro-centered identities and relations are simultaneously enabled, complicated, and transformed by and within complex geographies of planetary and cosmological connection, while nevertheless maintaining and valuing local particularity. 

Mengtian Sun

Imagining Globalization in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Chen Qiufan’s The Waste Tide

Abstract. A growing number of twenty-first century sf novels have taken up the complexities of globalization from a variety of perspectives. While Anglo-American sf has tended to receive a lot of academic attention, texts from other parts of the world that can provide valuable alternative viewpoints and narratives have not been so widely studied. This essay looks at a Chinese sf novel, The Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan, which imagines the future of globalization from the perspective of a small town in southern China. I compare it to Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, examining how Chen’s novel reveals the hidden faces of globalization and provides new ways of seeing and dealing with it. Although the two novels manifest some interesting similarities, they also have one major difference: The Waste Tide criticizes the neo-imperialist tendency of contemporary globalization by depicting the global flow of e-waste from developed to developing countries, and it corrects The Windup Girl’s misreading of the waning of the nation-state resulting from the rise of transnational corporations.

Gabriel Mamola

Opus Dei: The Divine Invasion and the Philip K. Dick Canon

Abstract. In this article I explore the critically neglected Philip K. Dick novel, The Divine Invasion. Working from Gregg Rickman’s interviews with Dick, Dick’s attempts to describe or unify his own canon, what little scholarship focusing on The Divine Invasion that is readily available, and a close reading of key metafictional passages in the novel, I push back against the dearth of scholarly consideration of the novel and against readings of the novel as only “partially successful” science fiction or metaphysically speculative literature. More positively, I argue that The Divine Invasion stands as Dick’s attempt to bring certain themes common to much of his corpus to a literary, rather than a philosophical or speculative, conclusion.

Philip Smith

The American Yeoman in Andy Weir’s The Martian    

Abstract. In this essay I seek to place Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011) in discourse with two imbricated genres: the political and cultural history of the American frontier, embodied, in this case, in the archetype of the yeoman, and the scientific and fictional history of Mars. The red planet has historically served as a site where, by way of the mythic American frontier, authors have sought imaginary solutions to contemporary anxieties. In the case of The Martian, Andy Wier draws upon the intellectual heritage of the American yeoman to present Mars as a habitable alternative to the Earth. His rhetoric is problematic not only because it lessens the apparent urgency of interventions into global climate change, but also because it reinforces the apparent verisimilitude of a certain version of American history. The Martian, I argue, represents the latest fold in the Martian fantasy of American frontierism in that it presents a version of the America’s mythic past centered upon the white male experience and free of human or ecological victims. It thus seeks to sustain and invigorate a literary tradition predicated upon cultural, environmental, and physical violence as well as the marginalization of people of color in narratives of American history.

Phoenix Alexander

Octavia E. Butler and Black Women’s Archives at the End of the World    

Abstract. This essay argues for the critical importance of archives and archive-building in the life and work of Octavia E.Butler in the face of both real-world and imaginative narratives of apocalypse and species suicide. I read Butler’s Parable series and selected archival texts combining a Derridean understanding of the archive as both a “shelter” and an “authority”—an ongoing and unruly process as much as an object of study—and black feminist theory that imagines a “home place” for preserving authorial voice and agency. I read archival practice as central to the new generic term “visionary fiction” since it provides black women writers in particular a space to record their lives and voices in deliberate ways that allow different political and ontological possibilities for the future. Butler’s archive is vital to understanding her work.

Peter Paik

The Self Without Interest: The Return of Sacrifice in The Leftovers         

Abstract. While it is often said that the destruction of the world is easier to imagine than the end of capitalism, this essay reads The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta as a work of speculative fiction that explores the demise of the values that underpin the social order and economic system of bourgeois capitalism. The novel is set in a world that has experienced the mass disappearance of millions, in a manner that recalls the Rapture. The consequence of this supernatural catastrophe is to bring about a fundamental shift in values. The economic impulse that has long shaped suburban bourgeois life gives way to the will to sacrifice, portending the revival of archaic forms of religiosity with the disintegration of middle-class life. The characters in the novel find themselves overwhelmed and fascinated by strange and grotesque combinations of emotions, which lead them to act in ways that would have been unthinkable before the disaster. Drawing on the work of Nietzsche and Baudrillard, the essay examines how the deliberate negation of liberal values by the protagonists of the novel points to the arrival of a new, post-liberal age.

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