Science Fiction Studies

#148 = Volume 49, Part 3 = November 2022

Christopher Palmer

Early Robinson: Memory, History, and the Local

Abstract. -- This essay discusses Kim Stanley Robinson’s early fiction: short stories and novellas, Icehenge (1984), and the trilogy set in Orange County (1984-1990). Robinson’s early fiction is varied, exploratory, and experimental. Discussion begins by sketching his take on some common genres and topics in sf (for instance, settlement off-Earth), and then focuses on his varied treatment of memory and history. Memory is unreliable or missing; history is uncertain, faked, controverted. The short stories examine these issues from multiple angles. Icehenge depicts memory as haunted and the truth of the past as elusive, controverted, and arguably faked. The main characters are isolates and anomie prevails in the novel’s world. With the Orange County trilogy, Robinson realigns his fiction. The setting is now local and restricted; the central characters are young and have scope for both follies and development. Each embarks on a narrative which has an oblique relation to the past. History is both a burden and a blank in The Wild Shore; crowded contemporary society entraps and overwhelms the protagonists in The Gold Coast, but a history reaching back into deep time is achieved; a community in which free life in the present can be enjoyed is achieved by the time of Pacific Edge, but it is bounded by death and unhappiness.

Jeremy Withers

Automobility Without Automobiles in Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140

Abstract. --This essay argues that Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 understands something fundamental but far from obvious about automobility: it is an ideology that over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has grown so vast, complex, and multi-faceted that it encompasses much more than just materially existing cars. The novel provocatively (but menacingly) shows that automobility is so entangled with and bolstered by other ideologies such as capitalism and hegemonic masculinity that automobility can even survive the disappearance of cars due to catastrophic climate change. Further, this article addresses how some female characters in the novel use walking and airships to challenge the unpalatable capitalist and masculinist values that threaten to sponsor present and future modes of transportation.

Sara Martín

A Celebration of Mature Love: Posthuman Sexuality, Gender, and Romance in Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312

Abstract. --Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 2312 (2012) has been mainly approached from an ecocritical perspective. I focus here, however, on the love story between its protagonists, Swan Er Hong and Fitz Wahram. Robinson considers posthuman sexuality and gender, and the meaning of marriage in the posthuman future of our species. Swan and Wahram disrupt intersexuality, heterosexuality, femininity, and masculinity from a progressive perspective, but Robinson’s main challenge to his readers is his focus on love. Relying mainly on Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love, I argue that, beyond the freedom which humans enjoy regarding sex and gender in Robinson’s twenty-fourth-century solar system, in 2312 he is specifically celebrating mature love beyond superficial passion. Robinson considers, besides, how posthumans aspiring to extreme longevity may see marriage from an angle that defies Zygmunt Bauman’s views about the ephemerality of romantic relationships and the current questioning of marriage itself.

Carol McGuirk

J.G. Ballard and American Science Fiction

Abstract. -- Offering something of a group portrait, this study focuses on Ballard’s first decade as a published writer (1956-1966), seen in the context of US science fiction—its stories, writers, communal obsessions (including NASA’s Mercury Program), and above all its shared writing practices. During the early Cold War years, science fiction regularly recast the genre’s own earlier moments, a practice that tied even the pointed social critique of noir sf in the early 1950s—stories that first drew Ballard to the genre—to earlier pulp science fiction, including the space adventures of the 1930s and 1940s. An especially striking quality of this postwar generation is what seems an unusual degree of prescience; for Ballard’s early sf—like that of the US writers who inspired him (sometimes to emulate, sometimes to critique)—regularly offer uncanny intimations of our own contentious historical moment today.

Ron S. Judy

Chinese Post-humanism and Chen Qiufan’s Political Science Fiction

Abstract. --One of the youngest of the major sf authors active in China today, Chen Qiufan is most often associated with cyberpunk, mainly because he is grounded in a critique of the near future and concerned with the ways in which biotechnology affects and alters our perception of the human body. This essay examines the “posthumanist” dimensions of three sf stories by Chen Qiufan (a.k.a. Stanley Chan): “Smog Society” (2010), “Year of the Rat” (2009), and “The Flower of Shazui” (2012), with the aim of establishing whether there are any substantial differences between posthumanism in the Chinese and Euro-American cases. I tentatively conclude that there are differences and that the main one is that the Chinese variant is more directly “post-humanist” (i.e., affiliated with philosophical humanism) insofar as it remains deeply concerned with the Marxist-humanist idea of alienated agency.

David Boucher

District 9 by Neill Blomkamp: Derrida’s Spectrality and the Alien Migrant Crisis

Abstract. -- I explore the relation between Neill Blomkamp’s science fictional District 9 and Derrida’s philosophy in the light of South African history. My aim is to show that this film tells the story of the twenty-first century migrant crisis in Johannesburg, exploring past, actual, or future xenophobic/racist experiences and events, especially those of apartheid and of possible future systems of segregation anticipated in the movie. While Blomkamp was filming District 9 in Johannesburg in 2008, the logic of apartheid was reactivated during a migrant crisis, proving that the ghosts of the past continue to haunt the country. Many South-African natives were hostile to newcomers from Zimbabwe in search of job opportunities and arriving by the thousands every month. I use Derrida’s notion of spectrality to shed a new light on the dialectical construction of historical temporality in Blomkamp’s aesthetics. On the same subject of history, I unveil the allegorical dimension of the two main characters in District 9, Christopher Johnson and Wikus van der Merwe, to show how their destiny echoes those of the South African freedom fighters, thus telling implicitly the story of this country. They propose a solution to a “3.0 version” of apartheid possibly in the making. I finally show that xenophobia transcends eras, borders, and races in District 9, as an ultimate lesson from Blomkamp to avoid errors of the past.

Jeremy Chow

Zoo-Optics: Mutant Ethology and Nonhuman Visualities in VanderMeer’s SOUTHERN REACH Trilogy

Abstract. --Literary, theoretical, and zoological discussions of the nonhuman animal often default to ethological observation; that is, how humans observe and make sense of nonhuman behavior. This essay reworks that paradigm to highlight how nonhuman animal mutants participate in their own form of ethological observation with particular attention to Annihilation—both Jeff Vandermeer’s novel and the film adaptation by Alex Garland. It theorizes a notion of zoo-optics from the seemingly panoptic presence of mutated creatures in Annihilation to offer a new method of seeing and experiencing in the Anthropocene. Zoo-optics makes visible the entanglement of environmental, social, and planetary realities that we must navigate in our era of climate change.

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