Science Fiction Studies

#87 = Volume 29, Part 2 = July 2002


Philippe Mather

Figures of Estrangement in Science Fiction Film

Abstract. -- This essay offers a descriptive system intended to address film-specific phenomena in terms consonant with Darko Suvin’s analysis of the forms of estrangement found in sf literature. I propose a semiotic analysis of sf film, focusing on a typology of figures of estrangement, conceived as a centripetal relation between processes of alienation and naturalization. My typology of figures is based on Louis Hjelmslev’s chart illustrating the structure of the linguistic sign as adapted by the Belgian Mu Group. Since the sf genre’s distinctive traits are not tied to medium-specific criteria, I argue that a structural approach can usefully characterize sf film’s formal strategies without severing its rhetorical and ideological ties to other forms of sf, including literature.

Cornelius Partsch

Paul Scheerbart and the Art of Science Fiction

Abstract. -- Science fiction studies has long been an interpretive arena marked by the discontents of the overarching generic classification. Through a reading of Paul Scheerbart’s Lesabéndio: An Asteroid Novel (1910), a text that operates on the edges of several genres, this article examines the historical and conceptual differences between Anglo-American and German sf scholarship and derives from recent genre theory a critical principle of explicit openness, one in which genre can become constitutive of complex and hybrid narratives. Scheerbart’s text refers extensively to its discursive environment, drawing on both fictional and scientific writing—including popular, alternative, and speculative science—as well as some of the important cultural debates of its time. Parallel to its evolutionist plot, the construction of a gigantic tower as a means to finding the "secret" of life and to advancing the species, Lesabéndio is itself a highly contrived and dynamic narrative edifice. It challenges its readers to move in and out of generic ideas, discursive formations, and, as sf, to negotiate the interactions between cognition and estrangement.

George Slusser and Danièle Chatelain

Conveying Unknown Worlds: Patterns of Communication in Science Fiction

Abstract. -- Sf narrative, at its origins, makes use of two conventional narrative forms: the travel narrative and the historical narrative. Working according to its material imperative, sf has also seen scientific discoveries challenge these conventions and ultimately prove them inadequate. This is especially true in the case of the sf narrative conveying information about unknown worlds of the past or future to its reader. Some sf narratives, even in situations of extreme displacement of the narrator’s audience in relation to its flesh and blood reader, continue contrafactually to rely on conventional forms and to shut their eyes to the problem. Others, however, such as those discussed in this essay, both are aware of problems created by spatiotemporal displacement and clearly seek to develop new narrative patterns to deal with them. "Newness" in sf is usually claimed for themes and content. Theme and form are inseparable, however, and we hope to show how sf, in responding to new time-space situations generated by science, proves highly creative on the formal level as well.

Richard Swope

Science Fiction Cinema and the Crime of Social-Spatial Reality

Abstract. -- This article analyzes the recent films Dark City and The Thirteenth Floor (both 1998) as metaphysical detective stories in which the detective protagonist’s investigation of a murder turns into a confrontation with the nature and limits of the spaces he inhabits. Using Henri Lefebvre’s notion that space is a social product, I suggest that both films contribute to an understanding of the production of social space in their exploration of the recent technological "advances" through which late capitalism has sought to extend its reign over space and of the role that virtual spaces have played within the "ideological fantasy" that constitutes our present social (spatial) reality. I conclude that these films ultimately reveal that while "advanced" technologies promise to produce new, liberated spaces, they in fact extend the Enlightenment/capitalist dream of a social space that can be rationally ordered and controlled.

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