Science Fiction Studies

#65 = Volume 22, Part 1 = March 1995


Susan Ayres

The "Straight Mind" in Russ's The Female Man

Abstract.-- In The Female Man Russ contrasts our present-day heterosexual society with two revolutionary alternatives: a utopian world of women and a dystopian world of women warring with men. The novel functions as what Monique Wittig calls a "literary war machine" because it tries "to pulverize the old forms and formal conventions." Specifically, Russ critiques the "straight mind"--heterosexual institutions that regulate gender--by showing how two representatives from "our world" respond to those institutions. She also shows two alternative worlds that further undermine, but do not solve, the way heterosexual institutions regulate gender. In responding to the straight mind and to the consequences of being the female Other, one character from "our world," Joanna, changes into a female man. Joanna becomes the female man by appropriating language and therefore "resolv[ing] contrarieties, [by] unit[ing] them in her own person," and in this way she destroys gender as Wittig describes by "lay[ing] claim to universality." Russ contrasts Joanna's solution with the alternative worlds inhabited by Janet (on the all-women utopian Whileaway) and by the cyborg Jael (on the dystopian world of warring Manland and Womanland). Russ's literary war machine deploys various weapons against the Straight Mind. Of these, the most successful is language, which allows women to kill the myth of Woman and to abolish the class of women. In short, Russ demonstrates Judith Butler's suggestion that women can "speak their way out of their gender."

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

Antimancer: Cybernetics and Art in Gibson's Count Zero

Abstract.--By systematically inverting the construction techniques of its blockbuster predecessor, William Gibson's second novel, Count Zero, is crafted as a critique of Neuromancer's slick futurism. In Count Zero, Gibson adopts devices that weaken the cyberpunk-thriller plotting and its thematic parallel, the vision of technological domination. Through the Boxmaker and its boxes, Gibson also attempts to recover a place for the individual artist (like himself) and work of art from the postmodern vortex that Neuromancer ultimately affirms. Count Zero's story can be read as the struggle between the ecstatic futurist cyberpunk vision and its Other--a dispersive, fragmenting and liberating vision of an "Antimancer." Count Zero substitutes dispersion, delay, and resistance for Neuromancer's convergence, headlong rush, and "exultation." Where Neuromancer heightens the futurist sense of interpenetration and synthesis, Count Zero heightens surrealist disjunction and juxtaposition. Neuromancer's quest for transcendence concludes with a technological apotheosis that excludes human beings, while Count Zero tries to affirm negative transcendence, the freedom that attends recognition of alienation. Count Zero's attempt to exorcise Neuromancer's cyberpunk repressed is ultimately unsuccessful, however, as Neuromantic elements regain control of the narrative.

Arthur B. Evans

The "New" Jules Verne

Abstract.-- The recent publication in France of a "lost" novel by Jules Verne called Paris au XXe siècle (Paris in the 20th Century) is of watershed importance in two rather ironic ways. On the one hand, it refutes the false but enduringly popular notion that Verne was always an apostle of scientific progress; on the other, it confounds certain literary scholars who have sought to redefine Verne's relationship to sf. For the former, this chillingly dystopian portrait of Parisian life in 1960-63 is totally inconsistent with what the general public has come to expect from the legendary "Father of Science Fiction," at least from his most famous works. For the latter, the publication of Paris au XXe siècle comes as an unexpected bombshell. After having clearly demonstrated that Verne's similar tale called "In the Year 2889" (among many other works attributed to him) was actually written by Verne's son Michel, respected literary critics had begun to assert that--despite his reputation in America--Verne never wrote a truly futuristic novel and therefore should not be viewed as a writer of "real" sf at all. The existence of Paris au XXe siècle is proof to the contrary.

Elana Gomel

The Poetics of Censorship: Allegory as Form and Ideology in the Novels of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Abstract.-- The article discusses the generic nature of the Strugatsky brothers' oeuvre in terms of two opposing generic modes: sf and allegory. Allegory is seen as striving to produce a total control of meaning and to direct the reader's hermeneutical activity to a specific end, while sf texts are open to multiple interpretations. Allegory is widespread in authoritarian societies as a strategy of protection against censorship; neverthless, it is an itself an authoritarian form whose rigid structure often runs counter to its politically subversive meaning. In the Strugatsys' works allegory appears first as a subsidiary generic element but its importance intensifies toward the end of their joint career. Their major novels are discussed as structured by the tension between allegory and sf.

Cathy Peppers

Dialogic Origins and Alien Identities in Butler's XENOGENESIS

Abstract.-- There is a dominant trend in postmodern analyses of literature and culture to reject origin stories because they, like all such master narratives, are seen to produce only oppressive, essentialist identities. Far from "forsaking the pursuit of the origin," however, the author reads Octavia Butler's XENOGENESIS trilogy as contesting origin stories on their own turf. This paper maps Butler's use of our culture's most powerful origin stories: the Biblical, the sociobiological, the paleo-anthropological, and the African-American story of diaspora and slavery. In the process of putting these stories into dialogue, the trilogy exposes the stakes involved in continuing to tell and retell origin stories, and helps readers imagine the origins of identity in powerful new ways.

Gary Westfahl

Wanted: A Symbol for Science Fiction

Abstract.--  In 1928, Hugo Gernsback sponsored a contest to devise a symbol for sf, launching the creation of visual definitions of sf. The symbols he presented--an eye, gears driving a pen--suggest that sf means a type of perception or process of writing; but a later symbol he offered--a spaceship--became the most common symbol, suggesting only that sf meant stories about space travel. Popular symbols with similar meanings include Saturn, an atom, and aliens. Such symbols connect sf to hard science and juvenile adventure, explaining in part why these associations remain strong. Bookcovers offer alternative visualizations of sf--collages, alien landscapes, adaptations of classic artworks, abstract scenes--but no symbols to date are fully satisfactory.

[Responses by Brian Aldiss, Anthony Lewis, and David Ketterer appear in SFS 66 (July 1995).]

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