Science Fiction Studies

#81 = Volume 27, Part 2 = July 2000 


David A. Kirby

The New Eugenics in Cinema: Genetic Determinism and Gene Therapy in GATTACA

Abstract. -- The direct manipulation of human genes, or gene therapy, represents one of the major bioethical issues facing society as it heads into the twenty-first century. The 1997 sf film GATTACA projects, from today’s limited use of gene therapy, a fictional world where genetic manipulation of humans is encouraged. Essentially, the filmmakers act as bioethicists, forecasting the consequences of unrestricted human-gene therapy. The construction of GATTACA as a bioethical text centers around three prominent issues: 1) genetic discrimination, 2) the cultural implications of predictive genetics, and 3) the loss of human diversity. The film is unique in that it does not fault the technology itself, but rather questions societal acceptance of an ideology that holds that humans are nothing more than the sum of their genes (genetic determinism). In the language of Bruno Latour, genetic determinism becomes a closed "black box" once it is taken for granted and accepted as accurate and useful. In essence, GATTACA is a film that tries to break open the black box that has been constructed by scientists who portray a world dominated by genes. The genetics-research community’s negative reaction to GATTACA indicates the stake that human geneticists have in the depiction of their science in popular culture.

Kenneth Krabbenhoft 

Uses of Madness in Cervantes and Philip K. Dick 

Abstract. -- Philip K. Dick brought to science fiction a vision of reality that does not easily differentiate between objective fact and delusion. Ragle Gumm, the protagonist of Time Out of Joint (1959), straddles that unstable boundary: he finds himself living in a phony world that has been created out of his own neurosis, simultaneously perpetrator and victim of a compelling deformation of reality. An important precedent for this character and his situation is Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605-1615), the first work of fiction that systematically conflates obsessive fabulation and disinterested "truth." This essay reads PKD through Don Quixote in order to define the sf writer’s contribution to the Cervantean tradition of the modern novel.

Amanda Fernbach

The Fetishization of Masculinity in Science Fiction: The Cyborg and the Console Cowboy 

Abstract. --Drawing on pop-culture images of hypermasculine cyborgs and cyberpunk’s "jacked-in" console cowboys, this paper will argue, by foregrounding a fetishized technomasculinity, that these images suggest a critique of the rigid gender dichotomy of orthodox theories of fetishism in which the fetishist is always masculine and the fetishized subject is always feminine. It argues that, despite their differences, these two models of cybermasculinity suggest a technofetishization of the white, heterosexual male body in a discourse of postmodernism where the privilege of that identity is purportedly under siege, experiencing itself as relative, rather than universal, partial rather than complete. In these texts, technoparts function as fetishes by disavowing male lack and the feminization of the male subject in postmodern discourse. Thus these fetishistic fantasies can be seen, to some extent, to recuperate patriarchal authority in a posthuman context. On the other hand, these fantasized fetishized masculinities are transgressive of gender norms. Both fantasies confirm that masculinity is not natural, but is performed and constructed through technological props, and both types of masculinity—one hypermasculine and the other feminized by technological prosthetics—are in excess of traditional notions of masculinity. This paper traces both the transgressive and conservative dimensions of popular images of fetishized technomasculinities and suggests how a postmodern technofetishism might provide new possibilities for breaking down old cultural hierarchies.

De Witt Douglas Kilgore  

Changing Regimes: Vonda N. McIntyre's Parodic Astrofuturism

Abstract. -- Although contemporary spaceflight no longer represents the cutting edge of technological or social speculation, its rhetoric of frontier, freedom, escape, and renewal remains a useful resource for writers of politically engaged fiction. Vonda N. McIntyre reworks this old rhetoric to create anti-racist feminist narratives of space exploration. I argue that the space-future narratives of her Star Trek novelizations and her Starfarer series eschew the boys’ own nostalgia that is the dominant mode of post-Heinlein hard science fiction. Opting for a strategy of respectful parody, McIntyre does not so much "feminize" a masculinist genre as hold it to its own claims of enabling new ways of thinking about the future. Her critics are wrong to claim that her turn to popular and mainstream sf represents the disavowal of a recognizably feminist sensibility. Because it allows spaceflight narratives to imaginatively authorize social transformations, McIntyre’s parodic astrofuturism is feminism under different rules of engagement. McIntyre creates a future in which the race and gender markers of subject constitution are open to resignification. In so doing she exchanges the conquest of space for an exploration that avoids reinscribing the patriarchal and racial stratifications that dominate conventional space-future speculation.

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