Science Fiction Studies

#25 = Volume 8, Part 3 = November 1981


Albert I. Berger

Love, Death, and the Atomic Bomb: Sexuality and Community in Science Fiction, 1935-55

Abstract .--"Golden Age'' SF from the 30s, 40s, and 50s is often criticized for its inability to adequately and sufficiently portray complex characters, interpersonal relationships (particularly sexual), and the political, economic, and social contexts in which the futuristic technology was developed. This study attempts to demonstrate how these three insufficiencies in classic SF are necessarily related, given the historical era in which these texts were written.

Samuel R. Delany

Some Reflections on SF Criticism

Abstract .--SF traditionally appropriates its critical terminology from a literary discourse foreign to its "paraliterary" position in the constellation of discourses that constitutes the contemporary cultural array. This essay examines the origins of certain phrases typical of SF--e.g., "sense of wonder,'' "a literature of ideas,'' "New Wave,'' "cognition and estrangement,'' etc.--and demonstrates how these terms are often appropriated from the literary field to the SF field. This critical terminology, because it is appropriated, suggests that similarities between the two are much more pervasive than they actually are.

A more fruitful way to characterize the distinction between genres is to view it as a set of distinctions between reading protocols, between ways of reading, between ways of responding to sentences, between ways of making various sentences and various texts make sense. The genre is not a set of texts or of rhetorical figures but rather a reading protocol complex: different genres involve different complexes. The texts central to the genre become those texts that were clearly written to exploit a particular protocol complex--texts which yield a particularly rich reading experience when read according to one complex rather than another.

The essay concludes with a discussion of the author's book of SF criticism The American Shore and remarks made on this text by P. Parrinder in SFS (Nov. 1979).

[A response by Damon Knight, and Samuel R. Delany's reply, appear in SFS 26 (March 1982).]

John Huntington

Thinking by Opposition: The "Two-World" Structure in H.G. Wells's Short Fiction

Abstract.--The co-existence of opposites is a fundamental structural element in all of Wells's early fiction. It is particularly apparent in narratives like "The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes,'' "The Plattner Story,'' "The Crystal Egg,'' and The Wonderful Visit. In all these stories, Wells makes use of the presence of two opposing, discordant worlds for the creation of ironic rather than satiric effects. It also allows Wells to meditate on the deep contradictions that he finds in human experience--as in "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid,'' "The Stolen Bacillus,'' and "The Lord of the Dynamos''--and more generally on the opposition between civilization and nature. But at the edge of the two-world structure inevitably lurks the question of deception and fraud--i.e., the narrator discovers that the extraordinary truth is impossible to prove to his peers--and raises interesting questions about the status of fiction itself.

Patrick A. McCarthy

Star Maker: Olaf Stapledon's Divine Tragedy

Abstract .--Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker (1937) is without doubt an unusual work of SF, but it follows the pattern of other extraordinary voyages like Dante's Divine Comedy and Swift's Gulliver's Travels in that the anonymous traveller's cosmic voyage is a metaphor for his journey toward spiritual discovery. The narrator crosses space and time in a metaphysical quest to find answers to fundamental questions about human existence and humanity's place in a seemingly indifferent universe.

Frank Scafella

The White Sphinx and The Time Machine

Abstract .--This essay is a detailed analysis of the episode in The Time Machine where the Time Traveler attempts to free his time machine from the White Sphinx. This episode is interpreted in the light of Francis Bacon's essay entitled "Sphinx: or Science'' and is seen as a paradigm for the transformations the human spirit must traverse when using knowledge for practical purposes instead of strictly for contemplative ends. In examining Wells' hero from this perspective, a greater understanding is achieved of how Wells viewed the role of science in the modern world.

Jeanne Murray Walker

Reciprocity and Exchange in William Golding's The Inheritors

Abstract .--It is one of the literary oddities of the age that William Golding's second novel, The Inheritors, has been so neglected. Astonishing in its sensuousness, stunning in its economy, desperate in its intensity of focus, glittering in its irony, the novel has nevertheless been a commercial failure. Golding's novel uses the common SF device of alien contact to make the reader explore the conditions necessary for social exchange. To do this Golding depicts two equally untenable societies. The first is devoid of possessions but absolutely dependent for survival on its communal life. Against that society Golding sets a band of New Men, brilliant in their ability to conceive objects of beauty and utility, but almost devoid of communal exchange. By becoming involved in the powerfully emotional conflict which results--a conflict between two groups clearly defined as opposites--the reader is compelled to carry out the intellectual task which the narrative requires.

In this essay the author wishes first to propose a working definition of SF, then to define more clearly the differences between the two social systems The Inheritors opposes. Finally the author will show how the reader's close and sometimes painful involvement in the text leads ultimately to his conception of a social system more tenable than either in the novel, combining the best characteristics of both.

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