Science Fiction Studies

#63 = Volume 21, Part 2 = July 1994



Carol Franko

Working the "In-Between": Kim Stanley Robinson's Utopian Fiction

Abstract.-- This essay treats four works by Kim Stanley Robinson: three Mars narratives from the eighties--Icehenge (1984), "Exploring Fossil Canyon" (1982) and "Green Mars" (1985)--and Pacific Edge (1990), the ecotopian "conclusion" of his Orange county trilogy. In these science fictions Robinson writes utopia not so much as an alternative social structure but as an alternative historical process that emerges from the intersecting histories of subjects. Like many contemporary feminists, Robinson portrays subjectivity as a largely opaque, never-finished process that is constituted as much through a need to recognize the subjectivity and difference of others as through a need for others to recognize one's own (constantly changing) subjectivity. The author argues that Robinson inscribes a feminist vision of subjectivity as intersubjectivity in his characterizations, imagery, plots, and narrative strategies in general, and that this vision of the alterity of the self and the subjectivity of the other is the enabling condition for his privileged but alienated protagonists to act and to link their individual histories to utopia as alternative historical process.

Kenneth Krabbenhoft

Lem as Moral Theologian

Abstract.--In his novels about Contact With Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI), Stanislaw Lem investigates humankind's ability to understand the nature and actions of alien Others. This essay explores the way Lem uses the language and concepts of Christian theology to frame the ontological and moral implications of Contact. Focusing on his most recently translated CETI novel, Fiasco, it argues that his thinking about the possibility of peaceful Contact has changed significantly over the years: where early novels like Eden and Solaris hold out the possibility of communication, or at least stalemate, between humankind and alien, Lem's latest work describes a violent escalation that begins with incomprehension and fear of the Other, and ends in exocide. Lem's point seems to be increasingly that science cannot provide meaningful guidelines for moral action in the face of the unknown. He illustrates this in Fiasco by assigning the role of skeptic not to a scientist, as in his previous works (including The Invincible and His Master's Voice), but to a Dominican moral theologian.

Carol McGuirk

NoWhere Man: Towards a Poetics of Post-Utopian Characterization

Abstract.--While topographical and topical (i. e., extrapolative) considerations remain essential to analysis of "hard" and "soft" sf, the primacy of topos in critical discourse has resulted in the neglect or misreading of such visionary, post-utopian writers as Frank Herbert, Theodore Sturgeon and Cordwainer Smith, whose work (emphasizing symbolic displacement, not topographical orientation) goes against the grain of sf's utopian heritage. All good fiction in any of the sf subgenres will be careful partially to defamiliarize the landscape; but visionary sf goes further, insisting upon the utterly inexplicable or singular nature of the hero's experience (his/her narrative "place"). Such post-utopian heroes as Paul and Virginia in Smith's "Alpha Ralpha Boulevard"--a story set at a point in Smith's future history where "eutopia" has been achieved but rejected--test the limits of the rational and discover its tragic insufficiency. Smith's stylized language and ruminative (not neatly extrapolated) narrative pacing show his rejection of the functional narrative design of both hard and soft sf, where "heroes" serve to flesh out the topos, serving transparently as incarnations or emblems of an author's intentions. (Two examples from hard and soft sf respectively are Robert Heinlein's "Man" in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Ursula LeGuin's "Ai"--"I"--in The Left Hand of Darkness.) Beginning with discussion of a spectrum of sf approaches to characterization--with hard and soft sf at one extreme and space-opera at the other--this essay situates the post-utopian heroes of Frank Herbert, Theodore Sturgeon and Cordwainer Smith at a dramatic and neglected midpoint, arguing that criticism (hampered by its long obsession with topos) has not yet begun to do justice to sf's visionaries.

[A response by Darko Suvin, and Carol McGuirk's reply, appear in SFS 65 (March 1995).]

Randy Schroeder

Determinacy, Indeterminacy, and the Romantic in William Gibson

Abstract.--Postmodernisms reject both realism/antirealism and determinism/ indeterminism as western ontological binaries. In this context, William Gibson can be read for residual modes of thinking: his fiction invokes western ontological terms, in conjunction with "romantic" patterns of depth and surface. Determinism and indeterminism form a simple narrative binary. Romantic strains oppose both determinism and indeterminism by affirming meanings outside the realm of signs, giving rise to a triadic narrative pattern of opposition and overlap. At the same time, this narrative pattern reintroduces traditional modes of representation, where "meaning" is finally located within depth, ambiguity, and metaphor.

Ann Weinstone

Resisting Monsters: Notes on Solaris

Abstract.--Since its origination with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, sf has served as an oppositional literature to science-as-colonialism, or science as the quest for control over evolution, nature, and nations. In responding to 19th-century dialogues about scientific man's mastery of nature and the imperialist thrust to maintain subject races, Shelley created the first in a line of man-made monster offspring who successfully resist destruction and servitude. Shelley's daemon resists domination by refusing oversignification via either/or dualisms such as man/monster, insisting on both his humanity and his monstrosity. In contemporary sf, resisting monsters, such as cyborgs and aliens, take up the daemon's demand by refusing totalizing identities and by insisting on their own multiple subjecthoods and the multiple perspectives these bring. Rheya, from Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris, is just such a resisting monster. She is a multiply constructed, ontologically vexed being, manufactured by a sentient, alien Ocean from an image in the mind of her lover, Kelvin, a male scientist. By confusing boundaries such as subject/ object, human/nonhuman, and biological entity/machine, Rheya resists colonization via oversignification and builds her own subjectivity, escaping the bounds set for her by her Ocean creator, by Kelvin, and by the text.

Donna Glee Williams

The Moons of Le Guin and Heinlein

Abstract.--Strong similarities and sharp contrasts exist between Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Both books experiment imaginatively with anarchist societies that develop from colonies of exile, on a moon in Heinlein's book and on a twin planet in Le Guin's. In both cases, selective immigration, harsh new environment, and enforced isolation from the decaying parent culture dictate new social patterns. Extrapolating these new directions in which society might grow allows each author to create a model based on chosen philosophical principles. For Heinlein, the principles might be described as "masculine," individualist, libertarian, laissez-faire capitalist, anarchist, and Christian. For Le Guin, the principles might be described as feminist, communal, centrally coordinated, anarchist, and Taoist. In spite of plot similarities between the books, the governing principles chosen by the two writers are often nearly diametrical in their opposition. The one exception to this is anarchism, which both books seem to espouse. Fundamentally, though, even this is a difference: Le Guin's anarchism is based on faith in the cooperative nature of humans, while Heinlein's is based on belief in the ultimate inability of large groups of humans to cooperate rationally. Like the adversarial but inescapably linked societies represented by Le Guin and Heinlein, these two books orbit each other, exerting strong mutual gravitational forces. Neither can be understood alone.

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