Science Fiction Studies

#67 = Volume 22, Part 3 = November 1995


Karen Cadora

Feminist Cyberpunk

Abstract.-- Until very recently, cyberpunk has been a predominantly masculinist project with few strong female characters. Often characterized by a nostalgia for an organic, pastoral past, feminist sf remains largely untouched by cyberpunk's enthusiasm for technology. In the last few years, however, a handful of feminist writers have ventured into the field of cyberpunk, engaging with, and even taking pleasure in, the technology that their feminist predecessors avoided while overturning the politics of gender and sexuality espoused by their masculinist predecessors. The characters in feminist cyberpunk blur the boundaries between human and machine, human and animal, and the real and the unreal, deconstructing the human body without forgetting the real exploitation of specifically female bodies. The characters are partial, fragmented, polluted, yet ultimately successful. Feminist cyberpunk envisions something that feminist theory badly needs: multiply positioned subjects who can negotiate and succeed in a high-tech, postmodern world.

Cassie Carter

The Metacolonization of Dick's The Man in the High Castle: Mimicry, Parasitism, and Americanism in the PSA

Abstract.-- With the postcolonial writings of Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Rob Nixon as a theoretical base, I argue that the Japanese-occupied PSA of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle represents an America colonized and oppressed by a simulation of itself. In effect, Dick's Japanese have colonized America following the guidelines set in Asia by Western imperialists. As products of centuries of Western colonization themselves, Dick's Japanese characters, Tagomi and the Kasouras, are mirror images of Western ideals and values, reflecting back the West's Orientalist construction of the East. At the same time, Dick's "native" Americans, especially Childan, are parodies of nonwestern peoples displaced through colonization. Because Dick's colonized state is enforced by people constructed by Western colonialism and through the same values and practices upon which the United States was founded, The Man in the High Castle interrogates Americanism, our cherished beliefs about America, as a world view alongside the Taoism and Nazism of America's "colonizers."

Carol Franko

Dialogical Twins: Post-Patriarchal Topography in Two Stories by Kim Stanley Robinson

Abstract.-- Two recent works by Kim Stanley Robinson, "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations" (1991) and A Short, Sharp Shock (1990) are "dialogical twins" in that they examine the same problem of human subjectivity as a relational and historical process. Both tell a story of a rational male subject in a violent world, and both use the struggles of this broadly representative protagonist to question gender-neutral explanations of the modern human condition. Both narratives are preoccupied with memory and with "topography," with mapping physical, historical, and psychic journeys. Both Everyman protagonists travel to a physical and historical end that demands the question "what next?" Both stories suggest that we can't imagine a better "what next" unless we reconsider Western Civilization's master narrative of how humans get to be rational adults. This narrative presumes two conditions for personhood: complete differentiation from and conflict with others whose own subjectivity must remain problematic for the rational subject. Thus selfhood is defined as an autonomy suspicious of and in conflict with other selves, and this supposedly unique and inevitable mode of subjectivity is used to explain the continuing strife in human relations. By retelling this same old story vividly, Robinson's "twin" stories question its adequacy, suggesting that the master narrative of how humans become rational subjects is not the full and coherent map it purports to be. Instead, both stories suggest that the master narrative is "androcentric," conflating human with male human, and positing the female as exemplary "Other," who symbolically represents the lack of both reason and subjectivity in order to undergird the position of the rational male subject. "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations" and A Short, Sharp Shock call attention to how cultural space has been "gendered" according to this androcentric, binary model of sexual difference. In different ways, both stories retrace the male public and female private, or domestic, spaces that have structured experience at least since the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the middle class and of capitalism. Both stories estrange readers from this "gendered geography" by reversing or otherwise disrupting its public /private topography. Finally, both struggle to tell an "other" story of subjectivity embodied in both female and male humans, and founded on relations other than the imperative to differentiate from and then to dominate or submit to the "Other." Robinson's male protagonists resist being "written" as exemplary rational subjects who must doubt others' subjectivity in order to believe in their own. Homeless, since they don't fit into the narratives of post-Enlightenment patriarchy, these subjects-in-crisis, melancholy travelers, are feeling their way to a post-patriarchal landscape.

Elana Gomel

Mystery, Apocalypse, and Utopia: The Case of the Ontological Detective Story

Abstract.-- Apocalypse in sf is often linked to a utopian transformation that creates a "brave new world" on the ruins of the old one. This is a pattern that has often been noted by critics. However, a number of sf works display an interesting twist on this pattern, linking the apocalypse and the subsequent utopian transformation to the solution of an ontological mystery. Thus, they form an sf subgenre that might be described as the "ontological detective story." The typical plot of the ontological detective story, exemplified by Christopher Priest's Inverted World (1979), centers on the protagonist growing up in a world whose nature he/she does not understand. The world, then, is presented as a mystery to be solved, often with criminal undertones (the sinister conspiracy of an elite group), that further link this sf subgenre to the classic detective story. The solution of the mystery precipitates a wholesale ontological transformation, described in a language borrowed from the millenarian tradition of eschatological speculations. The article discusses this plot pattern in a number of recent sf works, such as Gary Kilworth's Theatre of Timesmiths (1984), Ian Watson's THE RIVER trilogy (1985, 1985, 1986), and Michaela Roessner's Vanishing Point (1993). It analyses the ideological implications of the ontological detective story as a generic hybrid between mystery fiction and utopia. While on the one hand the subgenre borrows its rationalistic bend and belief in the power of knowledge from the classic detective story, on the other hand it contains quasi- mystical elements, ultimately deriving from the Book of Revelation. Thus, it can be seen as grappling with the contemporary problematic of history in which the historical process often appears as an irrational nightmare or an enigma waiting for a solution. Yet the ontological detective story also demonstrates that no solution is final as the subgenre itself endlessly repeats the cycle of mystery-apocalypse-utopia.

Mary Catherine Harper

Incurably Alien Other: A Case for Feminist Cyborg Writers

Abstract-- The fictions of feminist-oriented cyborg writers such as Pat Cadigan, Misha, Laura J. Mixon, Lisa Mason, and Sue Thomas indicate a critique and refiguration of the gendered humanist subject. However, the emerging subjectivity depicted in feminist cyborg literature is not necessarily as anti-humanist as cyberpunk literature. Instead, such novels as Synners, Red Spider White Web, Glass Houses, Arachne, and Correspondence entertain various ways of incorporating the marginalized, feminized body into what is traditionally constructed as the masculine transcendent mind. The cyborgs of these novels, associated with the Alien Other Feminine, are representations of a subjectivity which will not be cured of its humanist foundations. Rather, these cyborgs are mind-driven, willful agents even as they are commodified, technologized bodies. Feminist cyborg literature articulates our culture's inescapable humanist dream of transcendence while creatively addressing the condition of diversity in gender, technology, and biology.

Cyndy Hendershot

Vampire and Replicant: The One-Sex Body in a Two-Sex World

Abstract.-- This article explores Dracula, Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers as texts which complicate stable masculinity by introducing a body in flux. The vampiric body and the replicant body are read as instances of a one-sex body, following Thomas Laqueur's study of pre-18th-century Western anatomical models. The article argues that the metaphor of the one-sex body resurfaces in these three works, all of which attempt to ground their treatments of sex/gender in the two-sex model, due to their cultural production at historical moments in which traditional gender alignments were in flux.

J.P. Telotte

Enframing the Self: The Hardware and Software of Hardware

Abstract.--The science-fiction film seems grounded in a constant tension between the speculative and the visceral, between our hopes for what might be and our very human--and physical--fears of what such developments could entail. The recent British film Hardware particularly reflects this tension. In fact, it foregrounds that tension by "quoting" numerous other science-fiction and horror films--by a sort of collage strategy that enables it to frame key questions about the nature of the science-fiction genre, about the technology from which it draws its life, and about what audiences expect from such films. In its reflexive treatment of what has become a commonplace of recent science-fiction films, that is, a deadly confrontation between humans and a humanly-crafted/human-destroying robot, Hardware not only raises the usual concerns about the fragile nature of humanity and the threatening potential of our technology; it also suggests how our films--themselves a product of technological craft--can help us deal with those concerns by drawing on that generic tension to better "frame," as Heidegger put it, our humanness. 

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