Science Fiction Studies

#46 = Volume 15, Part 3 = November 1988


Marc Angenot and Darko Suvin

A Response to Professor Fekete's "Five Theses"

Abstract.--The authors reply polemically to the theses just put forward by Professor Fekete. In these theses they see the standard expression of deconstructionist ideology, of a cognitive relativism which leads Fekete to reproach Marxism--as dark fiction and eschatological utopia--for having made the error of "presupposing the real" as the basis of its narrative settings. The authors remind us that Fekete's radical relativism and his epistemological nihilism lead to aporia. They attribute the current vogue of deconstructionist ideologies to a panic in face of the inertia of the powers that be. They attempt to make out a real mandate for SF, beyond the infinite diversions of simulacra and of the narcissism of impotence.

[A response by Carl Freedman appears in SFS 47 (March 1989).]

John Fekete

The Stimulations of Simulations: Five Theses on Science Fiction and Marxism

Abstract.--My five theses are these: (1) SF in the 20th century has become a narrative encyclopedia of technological culture, with Marxism a linguistic subset of that encyclopedia. (2) SF linguistically constructs counterfactual worlds which undermine the opposition of factual vs. counterfactual by resisting "referential redemption." Modeling the "hyper-real" (to use J. Baudrillard's term), the SF text functions as a "real simulacrum." (3) The novel's generic function is to enact a representational correspondence between the literary model and what is given by convention as being empirically the case. SF operates under no such constraint; and hence (at least in principle) there is no limit to the existential elements, stylistic strategies, and narrative forms that can be accessed and brought together within its generic frame except as its possibilities are determined by the constitutive conditions of its reception. (4) The reception of a text is to some extent indeterminable in advance, thanks to the complexity of the social transactions which embed, and are embedded in, that text. Nevertheless, it can be hypothesized that the mission of SF is to expand or adapt its respondents' minds to the culture and practices of simulation, to reinforce the sense of being a child of a modular culture, to stimulate the awareness of manipulable fields of play in the relations between sentient beings and objectifications, and to program the expectation of pleasure and significance from ever new differences. (5) As Marxism has searched for substitutes for its original, and now vanished, referents, it has become less plausible as Leninist-Stalinist ghost story than it is as methodological organon for interpretation. Yet even a hermeneutic Marxism, with its continuing insistence on militant rationalism and binary logic, is only a problematical variant within the institution of SF, at best sharing in the latter's interesting if ambivalent destinies.

[A response by Carl Freedman appears in SFS 47 (March 1989).]

Carl D. Malmgren

Towards a Definition of Science Fantasy

Abstract.--SF and fantasy have a locus of intersection, science fantasy, an unstable narrative form which combines features from each genre. A science-fantasy world is one in which the characters or settings or events presuppose at least one clear violation of natural law or scientific necessity, but which explicitly provides an organized or scientific explanation for that violation and which grounds its discourse in a scientific episteme. Science fantasy, like SF, assumes an orderly universe with regular laws, but, like fantasy, contains at least one explicit reversal of current natural law. An examination of two science-fantasy texts, Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife (1953) and Stanislaw Lem's The Investigation (1959), enables us to establish the boundaries and thematic concerns of this narrative form. The types of science fantasy can be identified by the nature of the violation of natural law. Four main types involve the time-loop motif, the alternate-present world, the counter-scientific world, and the hybridized world. As a subgenre, science fantasy tends to interrogate science by calling into question basic scientific assumptions about the physical world. At the same time it explores fantasy by questioning the unreality of the terrors and desires that haunt the value-laden world of dreams. Like "magic realism," with which it shares some features, science fantasy is experiencing a growing popularity, in part because in its counter-natural worlds, the actual and the imaginary, the prosaic and the magical, the scientific and the mythical, can meet and interanimate, in part because these worlds provide us with "such beauty, awe, or terror as the actual world does not supply" (C.S. Lewis).

Jean Pfaelzer

The Changing of the Avant Garde: The Feminist Utopia

Abstract.--Both feminine discourse theorists and utopian authors are concerned with the narrative function of space. Both disciplines deconstruct material space in order to portray what has not happened yet. Feminist discourse theorists deconstruct representational space to subvert traditional perceptual orders, while authors of feminist utopias construct ideal spaces in order to subvert political inequality and notions of historical inevitability. A consequence in both disciplines is the literalization of women's marginality and the reinscription of women's "otherness."

Susan Stone-Blackburn

Science and Humanism in Gregory Benford's Timescape

Abstract.--Greg Benford's Timescape is hard SF with a difference. Benford is a scientist with literary taste and talent, and Timescape addresses the interplay between contemporary scientists' and humanists' concerns. The characters' scientific and personal problems mirror each other in significant ways. The new and unfamiliar map of reality that modern physics presents is conveyed partly in terms of psychological truths that the reader is likely to find relatively familiar. And humanists' experience with subjectivity has significance for scientists, who are finding that scientific objectivity is an impossible ideal. Though Benford often seems to feel the bipolarity of science and humanism strongly, the opposition dissolves in Timescape, as does the distinction between hard SF and the type of mainstream "irrealism" that Borges writes. The integration of humanistic values and scientific ones in Timescape is illuminated by the aesthetic and mystical dimensions of theoretical physics experienced by Greg Markham, a character who can be seen as the author's alter ego.

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