Science Fiction Studies

#84 = Volume 28, Part 2 = July 2001


David Galef

Tiptree and the Problem of the Other: Postcolonialism Versus Sociobiology

Abstract. -- The work of Alice Sheldon, better known as James Tiptree, Jr., is marked by conflict between a desire to overcome imperialist habits of mind and a scientist’s fatalism about the limits of altering human behavior. Accordingly, much of her fiction vacillates between the two poles of postcolonialist theory and sociobiology, though with a decided leaning toward the latter, as an analysis of works from Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home (1973) to The Starry Rift (1986) shows. A focal examination of the short story "I’ll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty" (1971) demonstrates the complexity of these contradictory forces at work.

Cyndy Hendershot

Anti-Communism and Ambivalence in Red Planet Mars, Invasion USA, and The Beast of Yucca Flats

Abstract. -- I focus on representations of the "Communist threat" in three sf B-films—Harry Horner’s Red Planet Mars (1952), Alfred E. Green’s Invasion USA (1952), and Coleman Francis’s The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961). Rather than using metaphors such as alien invaders or giant insects (like so many films of that era), all three directly address Communism, using it as an important element in their plots. Yet while each invokes the threat of a dangerous Soviet enemy, each also raises the possibility that internal conflicts in the United States allow that threat to flourish, holding up a mirror to US flaws and weaknesses.

John Johnston

Distributed Information: Complexity Theory in the Novels of Neal Stephenson and Linda Nagata

Abstract. -- This paper examines a strand of contemporary sf that draws significantly on complexity theory, in particular on new ideas about computation and information processing that bear on questions about the origins of life and intelligence, and evolution in complex adaptive systems. After a theoretical overview, it considers early examples of this influence in Bruce Sterling’s first stories and novel Schismatrix. Most of the paper is then devoted to extended readings of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and Linda Nagata’s trilogy, The Bohr Maker, Deception Well, and Vast. Assuming but extending beyond 1980s cyberpunk fiction, both authors project future worlds profoundly transformed by nanotechnology, in which the boundary between mechanical machines and biological organisms begins to break down. Specifically, Stephenson envisions a shift from algorithmic computation (i.e. Turing machines) to a new form of biological computation in which sex provides the means of information exchange and processing. Nagata, on the other hand, deploys Artificial Life scientist Christopher Langton’s theme of "life at the edge of chaos" to re-imagine the encounter with alien modes of being and to depict new spaces of adaptation and communication.

Carol McGuirk

The Rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith

Abstract. -- Defining historical, biographical, and literary contexts for Smith’s writings, I analyze his oblique, elliptical style and discuss his approach to the portrayal of heroes. Smith’s consistent focus, even in such non-sf as Ria (1947), Carola (1948), and Atomsk (1949), is on isolated protagonists caught in a maelstrom of contrary impulses; Martel in "Scanners Live in Vain" is torn between body and spirit, domesticity and duty, indoctrination and independent thought. Smith’s sf also assesses the "human" cost of shifting paradigms—sudden social and scientific change—and provides a haunting critique of social control, a matter addressed covertly in his fiction and quite openly in his military intelligence textbook, Psychological Warfare (1948). Inherently speculative, science fictional, in his bold extrapolation (into a very far future) of postwar social and epistemological issues, Smith is unique among postwar writers in rejecting the violence and xenophobia of the popular tradition and also the tidy closure of Campbellian hard sf. During the 1950s and 1960s, his enigmatic stories redrew the boundaries (and re-stocked the visionary imagery) of science fiction.

Ian F. Roberts

Maupertuis: Doppelgänger of Doctor Moreau

Abstract. -- Though many candidates have been proposed as models for Wells’s character Doctor Moreau, none seems a particularly likely inspiration. This article argues that the scientist-philosopher Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis is by far the most strikingly similar historical precursor of the fictional Moreau. Maupertuis’s family name, his surgical and breeding experiments with animals, his scientific interests and experiments, his unconventional religious and philosophical beliefs, his association with imagery from Wells’s novel, and his life history combine to make him a real-life doppelgänger of Wells’s fictional creation.

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