Science Fiction Studies

#61 = Volume 20, Part 3 = November 1993


Mick Broderick

Surviving Armageddon: Beyond the Imagination of Disaster

Abstract.--This survey argues that the substantial sub-genre of SF cinema which has entertained visions of nuclear Armageddon primarily concerns itself with survival as its dominant discursive mode, not disaster as suggested by Susan Sontag. From the early post-Hiroshima films which anticipated global atomic conflict, the '50s cautionary tales of short- and long-term effects, through to '80s hero myths of apocalypse, a discernable shift away from an imagination of disaster toward one of survival is evident. These films have drawn upon pre-existing mythologies of cataclysm and survival in their renderings of post-holocaust life, the most potent being a recasting of the Judeo-Christian messianic hero. The cinematic renderings of long-term post- nuclear survival appear highly reactionary, and seemingly advocate reinforcing the symbolic order of the status quo via the maintenance of conservative social regimes of patriarchal law (and lore). In this way the post-nuclear survivalist cycle of the '80s has signified another mode by which a generation has learned to stop worrying and love--if not the bomb--a (post-holocaust) future, which promises a compelling, utopian fantasy of a biblical Eden reborn in an apocalyptic millennia of peace on Earth.

Hélène Colas-Charpentier

Four Québécois Dystopias, 1963-1972

Abstract.--Social progress and SF pessimism seem often to go hand in hand. This apparent paradox occurs in Québec between 1963 and 1972: the majority of Québécois SF written during this period of important social change known as the "Quiet Revolution'' are dystopias--Surréal 3000 by Suzanne Martel (1963), Api 2967 by Robert Gurik (1966), Les Nomades by Jean Tétreau (1967), and Les Tours de Babylone by Maurice Gagnon (1972). These Québécois SF works may be called "ambiguous dystopias'' in that they tend to exemplify or express indirectly (in form and message) the ambiguity and contradictions of their times, and in particular the complex attitudes of the Québécois towards the social effects of change related to science and technology. Pessimistic yet hopeful, they also represent a call for a deeper, more humane, and more global renewal of society.

Arthur B. Evans

Optograms and Fiction: Photo in a Dead Man's Eye

Abstract.--A popular belief during the late 19th and early 20th century held that the image of the last thing seen at the moment of death remained imprinted forever upon the retina of the eye. It was called an "optogram.'' This belief developed concurrently with rapid advances made in photography during this historical period, and was seemingly validated by certain scientific experiments in ocular physiology done in the 1870s. Looking for the "photo in a dead person's eye'' soon became an accepted police investigative procedure and an established touchstone of much turn-of-the-century SF and detective fiction. In later 20th century literature and film, a modern variant of the optogrammic photo emerged: the dead brain itself was now "read'' using high-tech scanners to record the deceased's final vision (or thoughts) before death occurred. The goal of this article is to examine this pseudoscientific literary motif, its origins and evolution, and to show how science fact can sometimes become science fiction and take on a life of its own in the popular imagination.

Ilan Stavans

Carlos Fuentes and the Future

Abstract.--In discussing why Mexico, a nation obsessed with its collective past, does not have a solid tradition in SF, this brief essay examines Carlos Fuentes's interest in chronological and "cultural'' time and analyzes his very limited interest in SF. It distinguishes between SF and mythic writing (i.e., "magical realism'') and, after placing in context some of Fuentes's most celebrated works, focuses on his anti-utopian novel Christopher Unborn, a tribute to H.G. Wells, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley.

Eric White

The Erotics of Becoming: XENOGENESIS and The Thing

Abstract.-Evolutionary theory has often figured in science fiction as a powerfully resonant topic, a privileged point of departure for the staging of a variety of highly charged concerns and conflicts. In some narratives, the positing of a shared kinship between humans and other animals provokes revulsion at the implied refusal of any claim to human preeminence in the greater scheme of things. But the erosion of "Man'' as a putatively ontological category and the prospect, moreover, of reality as a Joycean "chaosmos'' of perpetual change or metamorphois can also be depicted affirmatively. The theoretical elaboration of an evolutionary universe need not exclusively elicit horror and anguish. It may also prompt the speculative imagination to extrapolate a future for what might be dubbed "the post-human body becoming.'' This essay examines a number of exemplary responses in SF to the advent of modern evolutionary thought. Discussion focuses in particular on John Carpenter's 1982 version of The Thing and Octavia Butler's more recent XENOGENESIS trilogy as evolutionist narratives offering respectively traumatized and affirmative perspectives on a world in which, as Heraclitus long ago put it, "everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.''

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