Science Fiction Studies


#99 = Volume 33, Part 2 = July 2006


John Clark

"Small, Vulnerable ETs": The Green Children of Woolpit

Abstract. -- This article considers the multifarious interpretations and influences of the story of the two green-skinned children who, as it was reported by two medieval writers, suddenly appeared in the fields of an English village in the middle of the twelfth century. Some have explained it as a folktale, some as a garbled account of unusual but mundane events, and some as a record of intervention by extraterrestrial beings in human affairs. Other authors have found in it inspiration for fictions of their own: not just simple retellings, but stories that draw on it or refashion it in unexpected ways. In particular, the paper considers two cases where the Green Children have found a place in works of science fiction: Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone in the seventeenth century and Herbert Read’s The Green Child in the twentieth. Some of the most effective versions have been those that have best retained the inherent mystery and romance of the original story.

Matthew Beaumont

Red Sphinx: Mechanics of the Uncanny in The Time Machine

Abstract. -- This article commences with the familiar claim that science fiction is a literature of estrangement and argues that, at times—as in the seminal case of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895)—sf produces a particularly unsettling form of estrangement that can be identified with Freud’s notion of the “uncanny.” The Time Machine is an uncanny text because it portrays an alien future in which the not so much militant as triumphant working class is secreted in the late nineteenth-century present. The first section of the article sets out the theoretical framework for this argument, using Ernst Bloch’s concept of the Not-Yet-Conscious, which he explicitly opposed to Freud’s concept of the unconscious in order to revise the standard understanding of the uncanny by adding a historical dimension to it. Section 2 focuses on the central symbol of the sphinx in The Time Machine as a means for discussing Wells’s contradictory attitudes toward the destiny of class relations at the end of the nineteenth century. Section 3 explores the Time Traveller’s various interpretations of the mysterious society of 802,701 and examines the uncanny effects of his encounter with the Morlocks. Finally, Section 4 relates the novel’s uncanny revelations about the present and future of class society to the middle-class fin-de-siècle fascination with the threatening specter of the proletariat in the English metropolis. The article offers a political reinterpretation of The Time Machine and, more broadly, attempts to develop further the concept of estrangement in relation to science fiction.

Rob Latham

Sextrapolation in New Wave Science Fiction

Abstract. -- This essay traces how the representation of sexual content within sf became increasingly acceptable during the 1960s. Rather than treating this development as an epochal achievement of the New Wave movement, however, it argues that a significant number of innovative treatments of sexuality—as well as a sophisticated discourse regarding the pernicious effects of censorship—had already emerged within the genre during the early 1950s. The 1960s New Wave built on this tradition in substantial ways, from Michael Moorcock’s ambitious renovations of New Worlds to the original anthology series pioneered by Damon Knight and Harlan Ellison. The essay tracks the controversies that surrounded the explicit depiction of sexual acts and fantasies in science fiction, culminating with a three-part anatomy of New Wave approaches to “sextrapolation”: feminist sf, which sought to provide an ethical counterweight to the excesses of the sexual revolution; pornographic sf, with its often lurid but sometimes arresting visions of polymorphous sexual otherness; and more straightforward extrapolative renderings of furturistic sexual mores and behaviors.

Helen J. Burgess

“Road of Giants”: Nostalgia and the Ruins of the Superhighway in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias Trilogy

Abstract. -- In this essay I look at two novels in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias Trilogy, The Gold Coast (1988) and The Wild Shore (1984), in which the image of the superhighway represents a site for the tension between progress and nostalgia and plays a key role as marker of future human survival. These books, as alternative futures, provide us with a choice: will we continue to create the conditions that will lead to our destruction, a highway to a future of ruins? Or will we try to harness the best of what technology has to offer in order to avert such a catastrophe? I argue that a focusing point for these debates is the superhighway, as a representation both of the “road to the future” and a road to nowhere. The Three California novels are concerned with finding a way to develop a balance between technological progress and the need for sustainable resource consumption. But both The Gold Coast and The Wild Shore also engage critically with the narratives of past and future expansion so evident in highway literature of the twentieth century. It is these narratives, embodied in the ruins of the superhighway, that I believe are important.

Amy J. Ransom

Oppositional Postcolonialism in Québécois Science Fiction

Abstract. -- This essay examines Québécois and Franco-Canadian sf through the lens of postcolonial theory. Drawing specifically on Vijay Mishra and Bob Hodge’s concept of “oppositional postcolonialism,” it argues that the extrapolated futures, other worlds, and alternate histories of “SFQ,” la science-fiction québécoise, reveal the same preoccupations found in the works of writers more commonly referred to as “postcolonial.” Using the three defining traits of oppositional postcolonialism as an organizational framework, the article examines the elements of racism, second language, and political struggle in a representative body of texts, including Jean-Pierre April’s “Le Vol de la ville” [The Flight/Theft of the City], Sylvie Bérard’s Terre des Autres [Land of the Others], Alain Bergeron’s “Le Prix” [The Prize], Jean-Louis Trudel’s “Report 323: A Quebecois Infiltration Attempt,” and Elisabeth Vonarburg’s Tyranaël series.

Pablo Santoro Domingo

Science Fiction in Spain: A Sociological Perspective

Abstract. -- Although many sociological studies have included attention to the field of sf, little work has been done to develop a specific sociology of sf; that is, to focus on the social dynamics within the world of sf writing and reading, and especially in the peculiar environment of fandom. In the light of studies such as Camille Bacon-Smith’s Science Fiction Culture and John Tulloch and Henry Jenkins’s Science Fiction Audiences, and in the context of Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical work on the notion of the literary field, this paper surveys the problem of the relationship between sf and mainstream literature, with special attention to the positioning of fandom. The case of the sf field in Spain, which is currently enjoying a period of expansion and a publishing boom that makes this problem increasingly relevant, is analyzed through interviews with writers, editors, and fans. I argue that the various definitions of the genre espoused by different actors in the field function as differing responses from within sf to the problem of exclusion from the mainstream.

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