Science Fiction Studies

#35 = Volume 12, Part 1 = March 1985



Judith E. Boss

The Season of Becoming: Ann Maxwell's Change

Abstract.--Change (1975) by Ann Maxwell features a female hero, Selena Christian, whose psychological development through the course of the novel unifies the plot and converts a seemingly conventional work of SF into an example of both the female Bildungsroman and a Jungian individuation of the female. Selena's maturing process takes her through the four archetypes of female character--the amazon, the hetaira, the "great mother," and the medial woman--to the integration of these archetypes into a female Seywith a sense of belonging to her society. While using the Jungian concepts, Maxwell modifies their sexist bias sufficiently to provide her hero with a fully individuated and potentiated Self.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

The Book is the Alien: On Certain and Uncertain Readings of Lem's Solaris

Abstract.--Stanislaw Lem's Solaris invites at least two contradictory, but complementary readings: as a romance of achieved contact with the alien planet, and as a satire on the illusion that the Alien-Other can truly be known. The reader's attempt to find a unified interpretation of the novel corresponds to the Solarists' quixotic efforts to arrive at a unified scientific understanding of Solaris. Lem inscribes this complementary contradictoriness in the novel through the literary techniques of "semantic indeterminacy" he describes in the conclusion of his Fantastyka i futurologia: the hermetic ambiguity associated with Kafka's The Castle and the mutual interference of narrative structures associated with the French nouveau roman.

Robert Murray Davis

The Frontiers of Genre: Science-Fiction Westerns

Abstract.--Although the western and SF share a common setting on a frontier, a common theme of survival, and a common mechanism in which force is sanctioned, the western emphasizes the physical, the individual, the instinctive and unarticulated, and the static and timeless. In contrast, SF celebrates the cerebral, the social, the technological, and the changing and developing. More interesting than these differences are the ways in which the two conventions have been variously combined by John Jakes and John Boyd to create a doubled, ironic perspective by which to evaluate, judge, and grudgingly testify to the power of the two forms and of the values which they embody .

Boris Eizykman

Temporality in Science-Fiction Narrative

Abstract.--The temporal distance called for in SF between the future imagined in the story (also that future's future, which the narrator necessarily inhabits) and the author's and reader's present is what endows the genre with its unlimited narrative openness. All too often, however, this potentiality inherent in SF for offering a temporal vision that is more or less truly different, or alternative, has been denied, and not just in space operas, but (with deliberation) in Wells 's "A Story of the Days to Come" and (somewhat unwittingly) in Verne, Asimov, Williamson, etc. Indeed, most writers of SF up through (and even beyond) the late 1950s either expressly or in effect resort to the future tense to recount events which from the fictive narrator's standpoint properly belong to the past (Simak's City is one notable exception); and correlatively, they conceive of the future in terms of "identical evolution "--i.e., as more or less an extension of the past. Nor is this the case merely in a superficial sense. Their futures replicate not only the world we have inherited from the 19th century but also the exclusionary notion of order that goes with it. In other words, they would proscribe or contain what the Romantics termed Energy, those "instinctive" or "unconscious" impulses whose traffic introduces the element of chance, or indeterminacy, as inimical to present-day capitalism as it is to a totalitarian society (in which respect, this essay extends the argument of "Chance and Science Fiction: SF as Stochastic Fiction," in SFS no. 29). However, that tendency to reduplicate the mechanistic, or disciplinary, conception of order still rampant in the technological world at large (a tendency evident in much utopian and anti-utopian fiction and a reactionary component in the work of Freud, Marx, and Saussure as well as in certain SF) is one that Brunner, Lafferty, and others have opposed. Stand on Zanzibar, say--and here Dick, Drode, the Burgess of Clockwork Orange, et al. anticipate Brunner--rather than reiteratively incorporating the dominant (idea of) order, duplicates--i.e., multiplies--(temporal) perspectives. Like a number of other SF narratives, most of them dating from the 1960s on, Zanzibar exhibits a sophistication in dealing with temporality that has been evolving (slowly and not always surely) since the end of the last century. Such narratives, by virtue of that perspectival complexity, bring SF ever closer to realizing its vocation to be a literature of "réalterités," giving us alternative orders and concepts of order and thereby transforming our perception of "reality."

Stanislaw Lem

Zulawski's Silver Globe

Abstract.--Jerzy Zulawski's On the Silver Globe is one of those rare books that we read with enjoyment in childhood and rediscover with pleasant surprise in our maturer years. Concerned with an ill-fated expedition to the Moon, it celebrates the kind of heroism that Zulawski's Swedish contemporary, the explorer Salomon August Andree, epitomized--the kind of heroism that eventually opens new regions of life experience for humanity. The book is not without its flaws; but its enthusiasm for heroes, the basis of its appeal up to now, will continue to ensure that it will always have readers.

Kenneth Mathieson

The Influence of Science Fiction In the Contemporary American Novel

Abstract.--The publication of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch in 1959 marked the beginning of a distinct influence of SF on "mainstream" fiction. It developed most notably in the next two decades in the works of Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon. Within the genre, the same period saw the emergence of a group of writers attempting to extend the perceived boundaries of their form, led by Philip K. Dick and Samuel R. Delany. While this influence has often been noted, there has been no sustained attempt to bring together the particular structural and linguistic features of the genre which would allow us to identify SF as a distinct kind of writing, and apply them to works arguably not SF. I begin by regarding SF as both estranging and cognitive, creating an alternative fictional world (Suvin) whose discourse is characteristically trivalent (Delany). It has a distinct level of subjunctivity (Delany and Russ) and employs a missing paradigm (Angenot); it permits an actualization not open to other forms, and makes a particular structural use of science in establishing the ground rules of the fictive worlds. These criteria I then use in discussing the influence of SF on mainstream fiction, and in describing the way the boundaries of the genre are challenged in the works of the writers listed above. Among other texts, I focus on Delany's Dhalgren and Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow as the exemplars of a kind of extended SF.

Nicholas Ruddick

The World Turned Inside Out: Decoding Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama

Abstract.--Unlike Clarke's other alien encounter novels, Rendezvous with Rama has seemed to critics to offer a vision of cosmic indifference rather than human transcendence. This is a serious misreading, the result of a failure to distinguish the relevant enigmas within the hermeneutic code on which the text heavily relies. Properly decoded, the text becomes a mirror in which the reader can glimpse a transcendent future for humanity achieved without any need of supernatural intervention.

moonbut.gif (4466 bytes) Back to Home