Science Fiction Studies

#73 = Volume 24, Part 3 = November 1997


Thomas A. Bredehoft

Origin Stories: Feminist Science Fiction and C.L. Moore's "Shambleau"

Abstract.-- C.L. Moore's "Shambleau," too often read as a symptom of Moore's supposed self-alienation or self-loathing, is here read alongside later origin-narratives based on "Shambleau" by Moore herself and Lester del Rey. Employing Donna Haraway's critical framework of the cyborg, which links issues of technology, gender, subjectivity, and the process of retelling origin stories, the author suggests that "Shambleau" can be read less dismissively as a story which exposes the dominant discourses' reliance upon a narrative of the Fall of language which defines the feminine as both marginal and subject to masculine control. Central to this reading are the intersections of technology and gender which resonate between Moore's story and Moore's own narration of her story's origins and which suggest that the re-narration of origin stories is a process central to feminist sf.

Roger Bozzetto and Arthur B. Evans

The Surrealistic Science Fiction of Serge Brussolo

Abstract.--. The sf works of French author Serge Brussolo have been, since the early 1980s, hugely popular in France. Although still untranslated into English, Brussolo's 50+ sf novels and anthologies present a unique approach to the genre. By infusing into classical sf topoi wildly hallucinatory imagery and dreamscape encounters of all sorts, Brussolo offers the reader an alternative experience to the traditional sf novum. Much like J.G. Ballard, Brussolo uses the protocols of sf as an effective jumping-off-point for a sometimes Kafkaesque exploration of the human subconscious. Recalling the "convulsive beauty'' esthetics of André Breton, Brussolo's works exemplify the palpable link between surrealism and science fiction--a kinship which remains largely unexplored in modern sf scholarship.

I.F. Clarke

Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900

Abstract.--The Tale of the War-to-come--from Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove to The Invasion of England in 1803--is immediately recognizable as the most self-contained area of future fiction, since the basic propositions of these projected accounts of wars still-to-come derive from the political or technological possibilities of their day. They first began to affect the thinking of nations after the extraordinary success of Chesney's Battle of Dorking in 1871. That warning to the British people was an immediate reaction to the new kind of warfare revealed in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; and it proved to be an ideal model for the many tales of "the next great war'' that became a familiar means of anticipating technological advances in warfare and of presenting arguments for bigger fleets and greater armies. From 1871 to 1914, as the major European powers advanced towards a conflict all expected, a continuous stream of these anticipations gave their readers highly selective accounts of salutary defeats or well-deserved victories in "the next great war'' that would be fought between one or another of the international groupings of that time. With the emergence of the mass press in the 1890s, this future-war fiction became a favored means of warning a nation of the urgent need for more troops or more ships. In a most ironic way, however, these anticipations of wars-to-come were grounded in the assumption that, when the Great War began in earnest, it would be an old-style affair of decisive fleet actions and one-day infantry engagements. 

Victoria de Zwaan

Rethinking the Slipstream: Kathy Acker Reads Neuromancer

Abstract.--. The paradigmatic view of cyberpunk, both inside and outside sf literary-critical circles, is drawn from Larry McCaffery's Storming the Reality Studio, which charts an ostensible "interaction'' between sf proper and avant-garde mainstream fiction which is signaled as a particular feature of cyberpunk and, moreover, described as an inevitable product of the emergence of late capitalist culture. This paper explores the implications of what Bruce Sterling conceptualizes as "slipstream'' fiction by way of an interpretive analysis of Kathy Acker's plagiarism in Empire of the Senseless of William Gibson's Neuromancer. Acker's "reading'' of Gibson reveals the very real differences between her own avant-garde and experimental metafiction, and what turns out to be the fundamentally stable and realist text that Gibson offers us. The argument that Neuromancer, or sf in general, is losing its generic specificity is itself an interesting phenomenon that, as Roger Luckhurst has already suggested in SFS, has to do with the problem of legitimation that haunts sf criticism, and that, if "solved,'' will result in the destruction of the powerful and intrinsically valuable generic wall that defines sf.

Jill Galvan

Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Abstract.--. As staged in Dick's novel, the android inaugurates a crisis of subjectivity. What does it mean to be human in an era wherein human conjoins with machine, biology with technology, nature with manufacture? Clearly, it is a question confronted by Rick Deckard, protagonist bounty hunter of the twenty-first-century cyborg. Rick's ability to empathize with other creatures--the defining aspect of humanity, according to the juridical system that employs him--leads him to an ethical conundrum: he begins to empathize with the android, the very creature he has been consigned to exterminate. Far from reassuring him of his existential privilege as human, then, Rick's empathy underscores the speciousness of that hierarchy. It throws into relief the contrived ontological imbalance between self and other, human and android.

This paper explores this failure of empathy to secure Rick's prerogative of human selfhood. Extrapolating from ideas expressed in Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch's The Embodied Mind, the author argues that Rick's new respect for android lives stems not from the ethic of empathy promulgated in the narrative's Mercerist theology, but from another, more authentic form of empathy, one that dramatically challenges traditional notions of existence. This version of empathy (or "compassion," as The Embodied Mind names it) is sensed by one who conceives his self as, in fact, a non-self--as a being that amounts to no more than a sequence of embodied experiences. Such a being does not (as Rick has been told to do) insulate himself from external depreciations, but rather perceives himself in an existential continuity with the other that materially shares his world. It is this eventual understanding that provokes Rick's empathy for the android, one of the many technologies with which he resides in a state of mutual determination. Indeed, human subjectivity, as the novel posits it, has always already been infringed upon by these technologies--the television and the empathy box most notably. This fact is hyperbolized in the human community's dependency upon them, a dependency that the author explicates in terms of Scott Bukatman's discussion of "image addiction." In effect, Rick's experience of this broad technological landscape awakens him to his basic planetary contingency--to the cooperative materialization of human and machine in the posthuman collective. (JG)

Donald K. Meisenheimer, Jr.

Machining the Man: From Neurasthenia to Psychasthenia in SF and the Genre Western

Abstract.--. Culminating in the recent publication of 3001, Arthur C. Clarke's Odyssey series configures a masculinity in evolution towards disembodiment, or pure mind. Although working within the tradition of H.G. Wells, Clarke also draws heavily, the author argues, from the genre-Western's "basic situation" as established in turn-of-the-century collaborations between Owen Wister and Frederic Remington, specifically The Virginian and John Ermine (1902). In reaction to nineteenth-century crises of American manhood, Wister and Remington founded not only a hardbody masculinity in their fiction and illustrations, but at the same time installed the generic formula which drove Western fiction until the war in Vietnam. Along these lines, Western novelist Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose (1971) may have represented a cultural autopsy for the discredited cowboy hardbody, but only after Clarke and Kubrick's covert appropriation of the genre Western in 2001 had already hosted a rejuvenation or rebirth of that dying masculinity in the disembodied Star-Child. Such a transference and recuperation of cowboy masculinity reveals the cooperation of the genres in service of the same equilibrium: white heterosexual manhood. In his 1977 novel Fork River Space Project, however, novelist Wright Morris mounts an explicit rejection of cowboy masculinity's transformation in 2001, further articulating the nature of such a masculinity's impasse--an impasse that is unsuccessfully engaged in the latter three Odyssey novels. Owen Wister's original flight from neurasthenia almost a hundred years ago thus assembles a hardbody masculinity which, in Clarke's 2001, snaps inside-out on the generic boundary between the Western and sf, resulting in a psychasthenia or disembodied masculinity whose claim to a transcendence of history only accelerates the progress of its self-engendered cultural irrelevance.

Batya Weinbaum.

Sex-Role Reversal in the Thirties: Leslie F. Stone's "The Conquest of Gola''

Abstract.--Leslie F. Stone is a little-known woman writer from the early days of science fiction. In the story examined here, "The Conquest of Gola," she posits a matriarchal planet in which men are kept by women as houseboys and playthings. This planet is invaded by men from another planet who want to colonize it for their own purposes. The women of Gola don't take these invaders seriously. A war is fought, in which the women use superior technology and thought-forms to defend themselves and to battle the men. In this reversal, Stone spoofs not only sex roles, but also imperialism and colonialism. Her story predicts certain inventions such as laser beams, and demonstrates the strong influence of H.G. Wells. Her work seems to reflect intellectual currents of the times, including the popularity of psychoanalysis and the call for more egalitarian inclusion of women in the cultural arena.

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