Science Fiction Studies

#78 = Volume 26, Part 2 = July 1999

Veronica Hollinger

Contemporary Trends in Science Fiction Criticism, 1980-1999

It is not that we are connoisseurs of chaos, but that we are surrounded by it, and equipped for co-existence with it only by our fictive powers.—Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (1967, 67)

The past two decades have seen an explosion of critical writing about sf beyond what anyone might have expected. On the academic side, sf has come to be perceived as centrally relevant in many explorations of contemporary culture, evidenced, for instance, in the institutional "respectability" of journals like SFS and Extrapolation; in the growing number of sf and sf-related courses in colleges and universities (over 400 courses listed in the special section on "Science Fiction in Academe" in the Nov. 1996 issue of SFS); and in the proliferation of cultural studies of science and cyberculture which routinely include references to science fiction. At the same time, sophisticated and complex full-length studies devoted to science fiction are filling our shelves in ever greater numbers. Outside the academic arena, the establishment of publications like Science Fiction Eye and The New York Review of Science Fiction, as well as the continuity of magazines like Asimov’s, Analog, and the British Interzone, all of which regularly feature critical material, have provided a range of venues for ongoing commentary by sf writers, readers, and fans. While there still remains something of a division between academic and popular commentaries in the field, both Science Fiction Eye and NYRSF welcome contributions from the academic community, and Extrapolation and SFS publish interviews with and occasional essays by a fair number of professional writers. (Another notable source of interview material is the long-running Locus: The Newspaper of the Science Fiction Field, which appears monthly and includes at least one author interview per issue.) The British journal Foundation resolutely straddles the divide, balancing contributions from all available sources. And new journals, devoted at least in part to sf, continue to appear, including the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts (a publication of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts) and Para-Doxa (devoted to wide-ranging literary and paraliterary genre studies). To make any kind of sense out of this wonderful chaos is to challenge one’s fictive powers to the fullest. Out of necessity, I’ve organized my selections according to some quite specific criteria.

I’ve confined my discussion to works available in English, for instance, and most of them are full-length studies. Since I’m not much of an internet surfer, there’s not a single website address to be found here. Being relatively unfamiliar with the various non-academic sf communities, most of my highlighted studies are scholarly ones. And I am, by inclination, attracted to theoretically-inflected analyses, which also influenced my selections. I’ve divided my material into the following sections: 1) "Mapping the Field," which recommends some histories, genre studies, media sf studies, and reference guides; 2) "Sf Writers on Sf," which calls attention to a number of non-fiction and critical works by sf authors, as well as to some author interviews; 3) and "When It Changed," which discusses a variety of both feminist and postmodern studies of sf. In some instances, my decisions about where to situate specific titles have been unavoidably arbitrary. H. Bruce Franklin’s Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction (1980), for example, combines single-author study, cultural history, and genre critique, and defies tidy classification (this is the only author study I’ve included, because it tells us as much about the history of the genre as it does about one particular science-fiction career). I invite readers to undertake their own cross-referencing between and among these listings, and to decide for themselves what I’ve left out, as well as what I should never have included in the first place. Projects like this one are nothing if not interactive.

I. Mapping the Field: Histories, Genre Studies, Media Studies, and Research Guides

This selective overview of sf criticism since 1980 should really begin one year earlier, with the publication of Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (1979), discussed in some detail above by Donald M. Hassler. This remains one of the most significant full-length studies of the genre written to date. Although it has attracted as much argument as agreement (given, among other things, its dismissal of most genre sf as relatively worthless), no theoretical construction has enjoyed as much deserved attention as Suvin’s definition of sf as "a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment" (7-8). Applying a concept developed by Ernst Bloch, Suvin builds on this definition by arguing that "SF is distinguished by the narrative dominance or hegemony of a fictional ‘novum’ (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic" (63). One of the most currently contentious issues in Suvin’s account of sf is, as his subtitle indicates, his characterization of sf as a literary genre. Here is scholarship making a case for intrinsic worth based upon the twin qualities of intellectual content and aesthetic accomplishment. This remains a hotly debated issue, of course: if we are to make a case for our own work in science fiction, must we also make a case for its intrinsic worth, based upon some set of values which are fixed and unchanging? These questions have haunted the field of sf studies for at least the past twenty years. More than any other study, Suvin’s Metamorphoses is the significant forerunner of all the major examinations of the genre produced in that time. See also Suvin’s very detailed critical and bibliographical guide, Victorian Science Fiction in the UK: The Discourses of Knowledge and of Power (1983), an informed and informative overview of sf’s nineteenth-century British ancestry.

I.1. Histories

In this first section I want to call attention to some of the wealth of historical work on sf which has appeared since 1980, works which explore the "origins" of the genre or which focus on particular features of the field in some detail, as well as a variety of studies which offer significant histories of the field as a whole. My first recommendation is a single-author study which contributes much to our understanding of American sf. This is H. Bruce Franklin’s Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction (1980). Its relevance, as its title indicates, lies in Franklin’s historical-materialist reading of Heinlein’s career within the context of the American socio-political and cultural scene which, in part, shaped him as one of the most successful sf writers of all time. As Franklin argues, "Heinlein was the principal American responsible for leading some science fiction out of the ghetto, first to become integrated into American popular culture and later to gain token acceptance in high-class literary neighborhoods" (67). Although this may not be the definitive overview of Heinlein’s body of writing, given that it was published before the author’s death, it remains one of the most useful studies of any sf writer published to date. Franklin studies Heinlein’s career as paradigmatic of the fortunes of both American sf and America itself over the course of much of the twentieth century, and he provides strong and convincing readings of the individual fictions which go to make up this exemplary sf career. I also recommend Franklin’s War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination (1988), which continues his cogent study of the American cultural imaginary.

Colin Greenland’s The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British "New Wave" in Science Fiction (1983) is an unusually concentrated history of one key moment in the development of Anglo-American sf, the British New Wave phenomenon of the late 1960s and 1970s as it cohered in the pages of New Worlds magazine under the editorship of Michael Moorcock. Greenland offers a detailed survey of the fiction and the literary manifestos of the period, and he devotes individual chapters to the very different but equally influential careers of Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, and Moorcock himself. While acknowledging the ultimate dissipation of the creative and political energies of the New Wave writers, Greenland also notes their on-going influence on the literary achievements of more recent sf. His construction of the New Worlds phenomenon is developed around what he sees as "the central paradox of the NW group: the conviction that form is degenerating and energy dissipating, asserted with remarkable formal resourcefulness and an energy of expression so compelling we may well call it exhibitionist" (194). The elegaic tone of this study is interestingly colored by the fact of its publication one year before the appearance of William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the ensuing construction in the USA of the very different but equally explosive cyberpunk movement.

Thomas D. Clareson’s Some Kind of Paradise: The Emergence of American Science Fiction (1985), a companion volume to his annotated bibliography, Science Fiction in America, 1870s-1930s (1984), is history with a specifically American focus. Clareson was one of the academic community’s most indefatigable promoters of sf, involved in organizing the first sf seminar at the MLA, in founding the Science Fiction Research Association, and in establishing Extrapolation. In Some Kind of Paradise he usefully situates early American sf within the context of the impact of technological changes between 1870 and 1910, and proceeds to read a wealth of titles (sometimes overdoing the plot summaries) from the perspective of their early roots in ghost and horror stories. He then moves on to concentrate on future war fictions, stories of science and technology, the thematics of utopia and catastrophe, and journeys to both unknown lands and unknown worlds. Although this is a study which emphasizes scope rather than complexity, Clareson’s coverage is excellent, as is his delineation of the parallels between American and British sf in the forty or so years which are his focus. Another useful examination of specifically American sf is John Huntington’s Rationalizing Genius: Ideological Strategies in the Classic American Short Story (1989), which takes as its representative sample the stories collected in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume I (1971).

A good historical study emphasizing British sf, which appeared at the same time as Clareson’s, is Brian Stableford’s Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890-1950 (1985). Stableford is a sociologist, an sf writer who has published dozens of well-received novels, and one of the most astute critical voices in the field. His thesis is that "scientific romance" was a particular kind of generic writing which flourished for about sixty years in Britain, constituting a tradition quite separate from American sf of the same period. Stableford’s construction of this literary tradition goes much further than simply a review of the early novels of H.G. Wells, including as it does an overview of authors such as George Griffith, Arthur Conan Doyle, and J.D. Beresford in the pre-war period, S. Fowler Wright, Olaf Stapledon, and John Gloag in the period between the wars, and ending with the post-war works of writers like C.S. Lewis and Gerald Heard. After a relatively brief post-war period, according to Stableford, scientific romance fused with the more influential streams of American-style sf and virtually disappeared as a separate entity. Stableford makes a convincing argument about the particular character of the scientific romance (as opposed to science fiction); for instance, its fascination with and treatments of evolutionary theory (the implications of which tended to be avoided by most early American sf writers). For Stableford, "Scientific romance is the romance of the disenchanted universe: a universe in which new things can and must appear by virtue of the discoveries of scientists and the ingenuity of inventors, and a universe where alien places are populated according to the logic of the theory of evolution" (9).

The following year saw the publication of one of the most comprehensive introductions to the field, Brian W. Aldiss’s (and David Wingrove’s) Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1986). This updating and expansion of Aldiss’s 1973 Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction, written from the inside by one of sf’s most celebrated British authors, is both intelligent and contentious. Trillion Year Spree develops from two convincingly argued but not unproblematic theses: 1) that Frankenstein is the first "real" sf novel; and 2) that sf can be defined as "the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode" (25). It is divided into two sections: "Out of the Gothic," an overview beginning with Shelley and continuing into the 1940s with John W. Campbell’s editorship of Astounding; and "Into the Big Time," covering the 1950s to the 1980s. The penultimate chapter, "How to be a Dinosaur," offers a series of cogent (re)evaluations of the continuing popularity of writers like Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, and Clarke, whose work continues to represent sf for many readers while new directions in the genre tend to be overlooked. Trillion Year Spree itself tends to overlook the impact of feminist sf, including its virtual revitalization in the 1970s of utopian fiction, but this shortcoming does not detract from its significance as one of the most authoritative sf histories written to date.

Perhaps the best recent history of early proto-sf is Paul K. Alkon’s Origins of Futuristic Fiction (1987), which demonstrates how various forerunner modes of futuristic fiction and aesthetic developments, arising mostly in France, provided a basis for the eventual development in the nineteenth century of sf as a specific genre. Alkon includes detailed readings of early texts such as Jacques Guttin’s Epigone, histoire du siècle future (1659); Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s L’An 2440 (1771); Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733); Louis Geoffrey’s Napoléon et la conquête du monde—1812 à 1832—Histoire de la monarchie universelle (1836); and Félix Bodin’s Le Roman de l’avenir (1834). He also offers a close look at Bodin’s insights into "a poetics for futuristic fiction." Alkon’s study constructs a significant history of the search for a style in which to write about the future. His position, which offers a relatively unconventional outlook on the "origins" of sf, is that the context for early future fictions was less technological than it was aesthetic, psychological, and philosophical; thus he reads these early works as solutions to formal problems, rather than as resolutions of socio-cultural conflicts. Alkon concludes, however, that it was science which "suggested the possibility of a new aesthetics, with corresponding forms such as the future history, based upon reversal of hitherto-accepted connections between plausibility and verisimilitude" (114).

David Ketterer’s Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1992) is both literary history and cultural history, written by a Montréal-based scholar who has long been a presence in the field of sf studies. It is also an attempt to disentangle, if only for the sake of argument, Canadian sf and fantasy from their American counterparts. After a brief theoretical introduction to the genres of non-realist narrative, Ketterer takes readers through a historical sweep which includes James De Mille’s classic A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888)—arguably the first Canadian sf novel—as well as little-known works such as Ralph Centennius’s The Dominion in 1983 (1883) and Jules-Paul Tardivel’s Pour la patrie: Roman du XXe siècle (1895), two early utopian novels. Moving back and forth between science fiction and fantasy, and between English-speaking and French-speaking Canada (with few exceptions, Québec writers, mostly untranslated, have consistently produced the really ground-breaking sf in Canada), this study contains more lists and plot synopses than it does analysis; this is probably inevitable, given that most of this material has never been gathered together in one place before. It also raises important questions about the feasibility of its own enterprise, questions which are particularly relevant to contemporary Canadian concerns about cultural identity. What exactly is Canadian sf or Canadian fantasy? How/where can one locate provenance and identity? While Canada’s efforts to retain its own cultural identity may be doomed to failure, the questions raised here are pressing, given the present world-wide tensions between nationalism(s) and globalization.

Origins of Futuristic Fiction provides much of the background material for Paul K. Alkon’s Science Fiction Before 1900: Imagination Discovers Technology (1994). Alkon’s overview of pre-twentieth century sf, which focuses on developments in England ("New Viewpoints"), France ("Technophilia"), and America ("Technophobia"), is both concise and informative. Rather than undertake a wide survey of his field of interest, he traces the beginnings of the genre in the context of the voyages extraordinaires and other precursor texts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and then reads a series of key texts in detail—including Shelley’s Frankenstein, Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Robida’s Le Vingtième siècle, and Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court—in order to suggest sf’s "advent as a distinct genre" (xii). Alkon makes good use of the rather rigid format required by Twayne in this particular critical series—opening with a relevant Chronology, followed by four chapters of analysis, and concluding with a Bibliographic Essay and Recommended Titles (this same format shapes the 1997 study on 20th-century sf by Brooks Landon which functions, to some extent, as a sequel to Science Fiction Before 1900 [see below]). I also recommend David Seed’s edited collection Anticipations: Essays on Early Science Fiction and its Precursors (1995), which offers generous coverage of a range of mostly nineteenth-century precursor texts.

Edward James’ Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (1994) is even-handed, accessible, and comprehensive, and, as a British historian (and editor of Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction), James includes a good close look at the British sf world as well as its American counterpart. This is a very well organized study, quickly sketching out the late-nineteenth-century origins of the genre, including details about publishing history and market realities, and taking into account as well the rise and influence of the various fan communities. James’s position outside the American academic orbit is emphasized in his report on "The Victory of American SF, 1940-1960," and his cautious take on the "postmodernization" of sf leads to equally cautious conclusions about the current state of the field (either "maturity" or "decadence," and only time will tell). Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century includes a very useful chapter on "Reading Science Fiction," which explores in detail various theoretical reading strategies pertinent to the genre. This is an excellent study through which to introduce non-specialists to the field. The fact that it’s available in paperback is also worth noting, since so much other potentially effective classroom material is either unaffordable or out of print.

The latest history of genre sf to appear to date is Brooks Landon’s Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars (1997). This is both a sequel of sorts to Alkon’s Science Fiction Before 1900 and a unique history of the genre constructed in the context of contemporary theory. Like Alkon’s, Landon’s Twayne study provides a Chronology of sf titles and includes five chapters of historical analysis: "The Culture of Science Fiction—Rationalizing Genre"; "From the Steam Man to the Stars"; "Science Fiction outside Genre SF"; "Countercultures of Science Fiction—Resisting Genre"; and "New and Newer Waves." It also includes a Bibliographic Essay and a list of Recommended Titles. Landon is a critic familiar with the tangles of postmodernist theory and his history, which pays ample attention to feminist challenges to mainstream sf, the uncertainties of Dickian ontology, and the radical premises and promises of cyberpunk, is itself a postmodern product, built up through a series of careful layerings and circlings. In his detailed Preface, he sets the scene through an emphasis on sf as a "literature of change" (xi), invoking Octavia Butler’s representation, in Parable of the Sower, of change as the only lasting truth, and pinpointing what he calls "science fiction thinking" (xiii), which has propelled sf past the formal limits of literary genre into a mode and a discourse which have infiltrated Western culture at large. In conjunction with James’ more straightforward history, Landon’s Science Fiction After 1900 provides an indispensable overview of twentieth-century genre sf.

I.2. Genre Studies

Much more than a literary history, Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction also stands as a benchmark genre study, and the past two decades have seen the appearance of many more scholarly inquiries aimed at explaining what sf is and how it works. The sheer diversity of these readings, however, demonstrates a lack of consensus about sf which is frustrating, fascinating (at least to me), and, no doubt, inevitable: is sf a narrative genre? a field of discourse? a mode of thinking? a body of literary texts? the compendium of mediatized entertainments which have grown up around the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises? Where exactly are its borders (does it have borders)? Is there something like an sf effect? When, if ever, should we call it science fiction, speculative fiction, sf? What do we do when we read sf? And what’s it got to do with anything outside itself?

One of the best of the early-1980s genre studies is Mark Rose’s Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction (1981). Rose’s approach, which might be characterized as "pre-postmodern," is influenced by structuralist methodology and examines sf from the twin poles of extrapolation and metaphoricity, focusing, for the most part, on the shift in emphasis of sf’s "modernist" writers from the former to the latter. Looking ahead, Rose traces the outlines of what has since become a recognizable shift in the genre, towards what Bruce Sterling calls "slipstream" sf (see below), and which Rose tentatively identifies as "a third phase in the genre’s development" (17), tracked as the shift from metonymy to metaphor in sf’s later phases. He concludes that "science fiction’s history as a distinct genre may be approaching its end" (23) as it shifts from genre to mode. Alien Encounters thus signals a transformation in thinking about sf which has since become the focus of much contemporary criticism. Developing his readings of individual texts around the paradigmatic opposition between the human and the nonhuman, and consequent subversions of this paradigm, Rose offers a wealth of intelligent analyses—of, among others, H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, Pamela Zoline’s "The Heat Death of the Universe," which functions for him as a kind of limit-text, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World—in chapters demarcated by the broad categories of "space," "time, "machine" and "monster."

This period saw the publication of a variety of notable genre studies. Two works which were deservedly influential when they first appeared, and which continue to offer much to sf studies, are Patrick Parrinder’s genre introduction, Science Fiction: Its Criticism and Teaching (1980), and Gary K. Wolfe’s The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction (1979). And see also Carl D. Malmgren’s more recent formal study, Worlds Apart: Narratology of Science Fiction (1991), which, in spite of its title, is more influenced by structuralist reading strategies than by theories of narratology.

Although only tangentially concerned with sf, Rosemary Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (1981) is perhaps the best general study of the fantastic published in the last twenty years, and it provides a complex and compelling background against which to consider sf as a fantastic sub-genre (Jackson uses "fantasy" in the expansive sense more often connoted by "the fantastic"). While Jackson begins with Todorov’s influential theoretical work on the fantastic, she develops it and extends it; her theoretical context owes much to Freud, Lacan, Cixous, and Foucault. For Jackson, fantasy, as the "other" side of realism, is a literature of desire, of otherness, of the marginal and the repressed; it is also a potentially powerful imaginative mode through which to critique and subvert dominant forms of reality (although Jackson does not claim that all fantasy aims to subvert dominant ideological systems): "Far from construing [fantasy’s] attempt at erosion [of hegemonic ideology] as a mere embrace of barbarism or of chaos, it is possible to discern it as a desire for something excluded from cultural order—more specifically, for all that is in opposition to the capitalist and patriarchal order which has been dominant in Western society over the last two centuries" (176). Kathryn Hume’s Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature (1984) is another wide-ranging study which also situates sf within the broader field of fantastic literature.

W. Warren Wagar’s Terminal Visions: The Literature of Last Things (1982) announces as its task the study of how "a dying culture—in this case, the national-bourgeois culture of the post-Christian West—has chosen to express the loss or decline of its faith in itself" (xiii). This is an indispensable study of the "literature of last things" as it has come to be expressed in speculative writings of the past two centuries. After providing a brief but sweeping overview of eschatological narratives in Western history, Wagar turns his attention to the secularization of these narratives, reading Mary Shelley’s The Last Man as an exemplary terminal (re)vision. Wagar’s readings of stories like Wells’s The Time Machine and the disaster novels of J.G. Ballard, in which our waning trust in nature as caring mother feeds the scenarios of apocalypse, are particularly interesting. He makes a strong case for the fact that, when history overtakes myth as the context for the apocalyptic imagination, speculative fiction becomes the new locus for the narratives of eschatology. Wagar’s Terminal Visions concludes with a listing of over 300 relevant novels, stories, plays, and poems published over the past 175 years. See also Martha Bartter’s more narrowly-focused genre study, The Way to Ground Zero: The Atomic Bomb in American Science Fiction (1988), as well as Paul Brians’ bibliographical guide, Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984 (1987).

Moving from Wagar’s sweeping Terminal Visions to a more specific, but equally terminal, vision of sf, I want to call attention to Fredric Jameson’s "Progress Versus Utopia, or Can We Imagine the Future?" (1982). This is a theoretical meditation undertaken in the context of Jameson’s ongoing critique of contemporary multinational capitalism, and his long-standing interest in the possibilities of the utopian imagination. Jameson argues that sf as a narrative mode is inherently contradictory, extending as it does into a (limitless) future while nevertheless being constrained to arrive at some kind of novelistic resolution which functions as "the mark of that boundary or limit beyond which thought cannot go" (148). Jameson argues that "The common-sense position on the anticipatory nature of science fiction as a genre is what we would today call a representational one" (150), that the work of contemporary science fiction is, in fact, "to defamiliarize and restructure our experience of our own present" (151); he concludes that sf’s "multiple mock futures," rather than attempting to imagine any kind of "real" future, "serve the quite different function of transforming our own present into the determinate past of something yet to come" (152). As a result, Jameson argues, sf more properly functions as a marker of our present imaginative limitations than as any kind of future anticipation. For him, this demonstrates the contemporary failure of the utopian imagination; as a genre, sf "becomes transformed into a contemplation of our own absolute limits" (153).

In the context of sf’s intersections with utopian fiction, Tom Moylan’s Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination (1986) deserves special attention. This important study examines four major sf novels of the 1970s which almost single-handedly revived the flagging tradition of utopian literature. Moylan reads these novels—Russ’s The Female Man, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, and Delany’s Triton—as "critical utopias," as texts which "keep the utopian impulse alive by challenging it and deconstructing it within its very pages" (46). Moylan examines the utopian tradition from within a contemporary Marxist theoretical framework, arguing convincingly for the particular oppositional function of twentieth-century utopian texts. Demand the Impossible is divided into two parts: the first is a theoretical discussion of both the utopian imagination (building upon the work of Foucault and Jameson, Mannheim, Bloch, and Marcuse)and the literary utopia (considering its particular textual functions and effects); the second situates Moylan’s four selected novels within these contexts, reading them as paradigmatic instances of the twentieth-century critical utopia: "Critical utopias can be read as metaphorical displacements arising out of current contradictions within the political unconscious. The utopian societies imaged in critical utopias ultimately refer to something other than a predictable alternative paradigm, for at their core they identify self-critical utopian discourse itself as a process that can tear apart the dominant ideological web" (213).

Darko Suvin’s Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction (1988) brings together important essays by one of the field’s most demanding theoreticians and critics, collecting pieces published between 1973 and 1984, including "For a ‘Social’ Theory of Literature and Paraliterature: Some Programmatic Reflections" (1980); "Science Fiction and Utopian Fiction: Degrees of Kinship" (1974); and "SF as Metaphor, Parable and Chronotope (with the Bad Conscience of Reaganism)" (1984). Suvin’s discussions of the field emphasize the importance of sociological and ideological analyses which take into account the contingency of history; and they develop within his own very influential theory of "cognitive estrangement" as the central effect of sf’s fictions. Like Stanislaw Lem (see below), Suvin has little patience with the "weaker" examples of the field, and he focuses attention on the inherent tension between its potential as radical critique and the socio-economic pressures which discourage subversive practice. Suvin works to fuse formal and sociological discussions of sf, and to think about what critics and academics are doing/should be doing when we do sf studies (thus he includes in this collection, "On Teaching SF Critically" [1979], written with Charles Elkins).

Damien Broderick’s "SF as a Megatext" (1992) is a brief semiotic study with broad implications for our understanding of both the writerly and readerly conventions of the sf genre. Broderick identifies and discusses what he sees as the "the extensive generic [sf] mega-text built up over fifty years, even a century, of mutually layered sf texts" (9). The result is a kind of conceptual "universe," in Broderick’s terms a more or less heterogeneous world of icons, images, and ideas which constitute the intertextual material through which sf writers build their imaginative worlds, and through which sf readers, applying their competence as readers, come to their undertanding of those imaginative worlds. Broderick bases his analysis in part on the concept of "megastory" or "parallel story" applied by Christine Brooke-Rose to her structuralist examination of the techniques and functions of the realist text in A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic (1981). He argues convincingly that this concept is also relevant to sf, since the genre now constitutes a heterogeneous "universe" of themes and tropes which are available to writers and readers both within and outside the field. Among other things, Broderick’s article provides a conceptually accessible method through which to introduce non-specialist readers to the demands of sf’s specific reading protocols and generic conventions. He develops these ideas in more detail in his Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (1995), which, in spite of its title, is more useful as a study of Samuel R. Delany’s influential theoretical writing about sf than it is as an analysis of conventional concepts of postmodernism.

Nicholas Ruddick’s Ultimate Island: On the Nature of British Science Fiction (1993) is an excellent examination of the specific nature of British sf defined as a literary field (rather than a genre). Ruddick constructs a convincing picture of the homology between British "literature" and British sf, based upon the key narrative motifs of the island and the catastrophe. Consciously working out his own position against Brian Stableford’s Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890-1950, Ruddick identifies an ongoing intertextual dialogue among British literary and sf texts; in the process he distinguishes this intertextual development from the historical discontinuities more evident in the American sf tradition. Ruddick provides an informed review of the critical discourses which have previously helped to construct the field of British sf and is consciously involved in dialogue with the likes of C.S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, Stableford, and Brian Aldiss, among others. He also provides cogent overviews of the treatment of islands and catastrophes in British fiction before and after WWII. Central to Ruddick’s work are key texts by H.G. Wells, William Golding, and J.G. Ballard, and he is particularly good in his analyses of Ballard’s fiction, concluding with readings of Crash and High-Rise. Ruddick’s Ultimate Island, whether or not one finally agrees with its very specific construction of British sf, is a rich study which deserves to be widely read.

I want to end this section with yet another "terminal vision," Roger Luckhurst’s "The Many Deaths of Science Fiction: A Polemic" (1994). This self-proclaimed polemic traces some of the crises and transformations which have fueled the many and recurring lamentations over the "death" of science fiction. One central strand of sf’s history, for instance, recounts sf’s yearning to dissolve itself (back) into the mainstream, thus achieving literary respectability: "The SF history strenuously seeks to elaborate a fantasy of non-origin, of being indistinguishable, identical, to the ‘mainstream’: in such narratives of embedding SF into a larger historical unfolding there is clearly a desire to return to an earlier state of things, before the genre divide, before the boundary of high and low" (42). Luckhurst’s theoretical frame for his ironic examination of sf’s death wish is Freudian theory as elucidated, for instance, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and he undertakes a kind of parodic psychoanalytic reading of sf’s generic unconscious. Reactions to each of the genre’s many movements, such as the New Wave or feminist sf, have been symptomatic of sf’s contradictory desires: each has been welcomed, on the one hand, as working to demolish those ghetto walls, and, on the other hand, each has been anxiously constructed as a perversion of sf’s generic specificity: "SF moves from crisis to crisis, but it is not clear that such crises come from outside to threaten a once stable and coherent entity. SF is produced from crisis, from its intense self-reflexive anxiety over its status as literature...." (47).

I.3. Media Studies

The past twenty years have seen the publication of a number of very good studies which focus on sf in film and on television. This is an area of growing importance, because, in fact, most sf fans are viewers, not readers. While for many scholars in the field, the term science fiction refers most obviously to a body of literature, for many people it means Star Trek, Babylon 5, Independence Day, and The Matrix, or perhaps such relatively "high culture" products as Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner. In any case, it is only relatively recently that sf scholarship has taken account of the fact that media sf is more than simply an offshoot—frequently constructed as both dismal and banal—of a more complex and intelligent literary field. As a result, there is a small but growing body of critical work which focuses on the very specific aesthetic features and formal requirements of media sf.

Vivian Sobchack’s Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (1987) is an expanded edition of her The Limits of Infinity: The American Science Fiction Film , 1950-1975 (1980). A most important addition to Sobchack’s original study is the final long chapter, "Postfuturism," which reads contemporary sf film through the lens of Fredric Jameson’s analyses of postmodernism as "the cultural logic of late capitalism," and in the context of the explosive popularity of late-seventies sf films, in particular George Lucas’ Star Wars and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For Sobchack, these films were responsible for ushering in a new period in the history of American sf film, one strongly shaped both by expanding technological possibilities and by expanding commodity culture. Sobchack’s earlier chapters already make up one of the best studies to date of the sf film’s formal structures; they include detailed examinations of the range of visual iconography, as well as the use of sound (dialogue, sound effects, and musical scores). In contrast, "Postfuturism" details some of the ways in which the spatiality of sf’s filmic images is influenced by and linked to the spatiality of contemporary Western consciousness, as theorized in Jameson’s very influential writings on postmodernism. As Sobchack argues, "Our contemporary cultural inflation of the value of space and surface has several existential and aesthetic consequences, which ... find symbolic dramatization in the formal structures and narrative thematics of the contemporary SF film" (272). I also recommend George Slusser and Eric S. Rabkin’s edited collection, Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film (1985), for an informative introduction to some of the technologies and thematics of sf as cinema.

Brooks Landon’s The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)Production (1992) is another significant entry in the field of sf film studies. Landon, a scholar conversant with both literary and film/video sf cultures, and interested in thinking about how they are and are not like each other, suggests some stimulating conclusions here, not least of which is that sf film is in the process of taking a back seat to other forms of visual technologies requiring concommitantly different critical strategies. For Landon, there is a science fiction of the cinema—that is, the sf film’s non-narrative elements—as well as science fiction in the cinema: "To the traditional consideration of the metaphoric function of action, characterization, and icons within the semblances of SF film I want to add the metonymic consideration of the technologies and implications of the film production practice itself" (xxiii). Landon concludes that the increasingly sophisticated capabilities of video technologies (computer-generated special effects) are steadily outstripping the sf film’s rather limited narrative capacity and he foresees a gradual transformation in these narratives as they adapt to the pressures and possibilities of their own formal techno-logic. As film study, The Aesthetics of Ambivalence is rather a hybrid product, but it’s both convincing and original in its examinations of sf fiction and sf film as, finally, quite different kinds of science fiction. Annette Kuhn’s edited collection, Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema (1990), is also of interest here, as is J.P. Telotte’s just published A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age (1999). This latter fills a gap in film scholarship by concentrating on international sf film of the 1930s, specifically in the context of modernism’s hopes for and anxieties about technology.

Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (1992) is an excellent introduction to the phenomenon known as "media fandom." Jenkins writes as a participant-observer, and his ethnography was undertaken with the support of many individual fans. Jenkins observes in his discussion of fan writing that "Most academic studies of fan writing have focused primarily ... on Star Trek zines.... This focus reflects the important role of Trek fandom in developing the conventions and setting the standards for media zine publishing" (161); Star Trek fandom is more or less central to Textual Poachers, as providing a kind of paradigmatic instance of such popular communities. Jenkins also emphasizes the "origins" of sf fandom and fan writing in the letter columns of Hugo Gernsback’s pulp magazines. This is a richly detailed work that covers areas of interest such as "slash" writing and the gender questions raised by such writing; it also addresses some of the more negative stereotypes associated with fan culture, such as the long-standing criticisms aimed at those whose attachment to the products of "mass" culture is deemed to be too extreme. Textual Poachers is an important introduction to an aspect of the sf field which many scholars would, perhaps, prefer to ignore, and it balances sympathetic appreciation with intellectual rigor. Like Michel de Certeau, from whose theoretical work he has borrowed the term "textual poaching," Jenkins argues for the counter-hegemonic possibilities of individual involvement in popular culture: "Fans construct their cultural and social identity through borrowing and inflecting mass culture images, articulating concerns which often go unvoiced within the dominant media" (23). Readers interested in the formations and activities of sf fandom will find the following studies also worth consulting: Joe Sanders’ edited collection, Science Fiction Fandom (1994), and Constance Penley’s recent NASA/TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America (1997).

I.4. Research Guides

This section recommends some research guides which provide crucial support and information for anyone working in sf studies. Bibliographies and encyclopedias provide our most detailed maps of what has become an expansive and diverse geography and the last twenty years have seen a proliferation of excellent critical and research guides. All I can do here is suggest something of the wealth of material which has appeared in that time. I should note as well that there are a range of quite specialized materials which are also well worth looking into: one of the most useful, for instance, is Gary K. Wolfe’s Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy: A Glossary and Guide to Scholarship (1986); another is Walter M. Meyers’ study of linguistics in science fiction, Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction (1980).

Everett F. Bleiler’s Science-Fiction, The Early Years: A Full Description of more than 3000 Science-Fiction Stories from Earliest Times to the Appearance of the Genre Magazines in 1930, with Author, Title, and Motif Indexes (1990) is a vast survey which fulfills the impressive promises made in its subtitle. In addition, it provides a section on "Background Books" which aims to contextualize the historical and intellectual currents for these thousands of sf stories, novels, and plays. Bleiler’s index of motifs in fact amounts to a massive taxonomy of themes, concepts, and story elements. As well as the very useful annotations and indexes, Bleiler also provides an introduction which offers a brief history of the development of the genres, story clusters, and motifs through which he makes sense of his material, from sf’s origins in the seventeenth century to the Gernsback moment which, for Bleiler, is the moment at which sf began to take shape as a viable commercial enterprise. Science-Fiction, The Early Years is an indispensable source of information for the student of sf’s history. Most impressive, perhaps, is the fact that Bleiler used no secondary sources in preparing his entries; he actually read, over the course of six years, all the stories which he describes here. Note also Bleiler’s most recent bibliographical project, undertaken with the assistance of Richard Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years (1998).

Another impressive bibliographical guide is Eric Garber and Lyn Paleo’s Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (1990). This is an annotated bibliography of hundreds of works dealing with "variant" sexuality by two of the editors of Worlds Apart: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Science Fiction and Fantasy (1986). Uranian Worlds provides a powerful challenge to the conventional notion of fantastic literature as a more or less conventionally heterosexual body of writing. As such, it serves a political as well as a scholarly purpose, and brief introductory essays by Samuel R. Delany and Joanna Russ highlight the important contribution which Uranian Worlds makes to bibliographical studies in sf and fantasy. Coverage ranges from 200 A.D. (Lucian’s True History) to 1989 and includes classics like Polidori’s The Vampyre, Lefanu’s "Carmilla," Gilman’s Herland, and Stapledon’s Odd John, as well as works by Russ and Delany, along with other such familiar sf writers as Robert Silverberg, Thomas Disch, Ursula Le Guin, J.G. Ballard, and Octavia Butler. Garber and Paleo provide a chronological as well as an alphabetical index; they also supply some very helpful appendices, including "Selected Anthologies, "Selected Films and Videos," and "Selected Fan Organizations." In their Preface, Garber and Paleo point out that Uranian Worlds does not confine itself to gay and lesbian texts only, but aims to call attention to the many and varied treatments, especially positive ones, of non-normative genders and sexualites which have appeared over the centuries in the the literature of the fantastic.

John Clute and Peter Nicholls’ The Encylopedia of Science Fiction (1993), the updated version of Peter Nicholls’ 1978 Encylopedia of Science Fiction, is perhaps the single most important reference work ever published about sf. Aided by contributing editor Brian Stableford and technical editor John Grant, Clute and Nicholls have produced a massive compendium of nearly everything having to do with science fiction, its history, its generic properties, its thematic focuses, its individual authors and texts, its forays into film and television, its interactions with neighbor genres such as realism and fantasy ... and on and on and on. Amazingly, Clute, Nicholls, and Stableford are responsible for about 85% of the writing. Just look at the numbers: over 1,300,000 words, covering over 4300 entries and approximately 2100 cross-references. There’s little point in my trying to describe The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction in more detail: if you are already aware of it, then you know how significant it is; if you are not familiar with it, then make a point of buying a copy as soon as possible; it may be the best one hundred dollars you’ve ever invested. There is also a CD-ROM version available from Grolier which is not without its glitches, but which is, nevertheless, also worth having for those who prefer on-screen research and/or multi-media add-ons.

My final recommendation in this section is perhaps the only work that can rival the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia for sheer indispensability. Produced by Barron and a pool of contributors including James Gunn, Brian Stableford, and Gary K. Wolfe, Neil Barron’s Anatomy of Wonder 4: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction (1995) is the latest edition of one of the sine qua nons of the field’s research tools (as I confirmed for myself while working on this present project). Divided into two broad sections listing primary and secondary titles, it contains introductory essays to, and annotated listings of, a vast range of materials, including (in the section on primary texts) essays on specific historical periods, young adult science fiction, and sf poetry, and (in the listings of secondary and research materials) publishing and libraries, general reference works, history and criticism, media sf (film, television, and radio), and information about library research collections, as well as information about relevant comics, magazines, and teaching materials. Anatomy of Wonder 4 includes critical evaluations of over 2100 works of fiction (from the sixteenth century through 1994) and 800 works of nonfiction; and it provides superb indexes which make it easy to find individual author and title entries. Virtually the only drawback to this present edition is its elimination—due to lack of space—of coverage of sf not already translated into English.

II. Sf Writers on Sf

Sf writers and editors have, almost from the beginning, also written about sf, and many such accounts have appeared since 1980, including a few by writers who no longer associate themselves with sf. The best of these commentaries have provided an important arena of intelligent and sophisticated debate about the field, and they have also on occasion offered perspectives which are intriguingly different from those we find in academic studies. Before turning to some of these writerly commentaries, however, I want to call attention to two collections of interviews which allow us to hear the voices of a wide variety of sf writers. The first is Charles Platt’s two-volume Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction (1980); and Dream Makers, Volume II: The Uncommon Men and Women Who Write Science Fiction (1983). Platt, an sf writer and critical commentator, has put together an impressive array of relatively brief but telling author interviews which range across some of the most important terrain of American and British sf as it developed during the 1960s and 1970s. The list of interviewees in the first volume reads like a Who’s Who of the New Wave: among its twenty-nine names are Thomas Disch, Samuel Delany, Barry Malzberg, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, J. G. Ballard, Ian Watson, and Brian Aldiss. This first volume isn’t simply an ode to the New Wave, however: its subjects also include Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Alfred Bester, Philip José Farmer, Robert Sheckley, John Brunner, Philip K. Dick, and A.E. van Vogt. Platt’s second volume of interviews, all of them conducted in the early 1980s, suffers somewhat in its neglect of the many women writers who, by 1980, were having such an influence on the field, but it does at least include Joanna Russ, Joan Vinge, James Tiptree, Jr., and Andre Norton, among others. It also contains some surprises, such as interviews with John Sladek, D.M. Thomas, and L. Ron Hubbard. While Platt’s interviews are neither as lengthy nor as detailed as those in Larry McCaffery’s Across the Wounded Galaxies, the scope of his two volumes makes them an invaluable resource.

The second collection of interviews I recommend is Larry McCaffery’s Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers (1990), a collection put together by the scholar who has done more than anyone else in the American pop-cultural scene to link sf and postmodernism. Across the Wounded Galaxies contains fascinating conversations with Gregory Benford, William Burroughs, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Thomas Disch, William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Bruce Sterling, and Gene Wolfe. McCaffery’s attention to contemporary sf as it had developed by the late 1980s is amply demonstrated by the diversity of his interview subjects and their varied politics, aesthetics, and thematics. One significant feature of most of these interviews is the extent to which these writers represent a generation more or less self-consciously building upon and altering already-extent generic conventions. Across the Wounded Galaxies was published at the height of the postmodern excitement of the late 1980s, which clearly influenced McCaffery’s choice of interview subjects. As he writes in his introduction, "This focus ... has the benefit of creating a ready-made subtext having to do with the interaction between SF, the pop underground, and postmodernism" (5). At the same time, it’s spacious enough to accommodate a fine discussion with Benford, whose writing McCaffery characterizes as "a particularly successful example of the ‘modernist’ branch of contemporary SF" (9). It also includes a conversation with Gene Wolfe, whose allegorical originality tends to defy all efforts at categorization.

For a rare full-length sf autobiography, a kind of extended interview, see Jack Williamson’s Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction [1984], an account of one of the longest-running careers in American sf by a writer who began publishing within two years of the launch of Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, and who is still writing and publishing today.

A relatively early series of articles on sf has been collected in Barry N. Malzberg’s The Engines of the Night: Science Fiction in the Eighties (1982). The pieces gathered here were written in 1979/80 by a prolific writer and editor who more or less gave up writing sf at the end of the decade. Both a loving and an anguished discussion of the sf field, these pieces provide insight into the careers of sf authors as producers of mass-market cultural products. Malzberg has included personal recollections—a moving description of his meeting an aged John W. Campbell, for instance—commentary on the sf magazines and the early publishing scene, and a wealth of commentary on the 1950s. This is a decade which Malzberg both valorizes and criticizes, comparing it to his own moment in the late 1970s when, at least for him, the future for serious sf writing seems particularly unpromising. This collection of brief and fragmentary essays adds up to a valuable textual whole; it’s a personal, passionate, and ambivalent look back at a loved and scorned genre by a writer who perhaps felt himself to have reached the end of his own career in the field. Malzberg’s final piece, "Corridors," is a fictional attempt to capture the inevitable failure but also the real effort of the professional sf writer to celebrate the fact that "in whatever form the spirit could yet sing amidst the engines of the night" (17).

Stanislaw Lem’s Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy (1984) demonstrates that, as well as being one of the world’s most respected science fiction writers, Polish intellectual Stanislaw Lem has always been one of the field’s most demanding and least satisfied critics. His European perspective and his curmudgeonly view of the field make his work both exhilarating and annoying; what is never in doubt is the original and incisive nature of Lem’s critical ideas. This collection draws together some of Lem’s most significant critical pieces published between 1970 and 1984, including "On the Structural Analysis of Science Fiction"; "Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans"; "The Time-Travel Story and Related Matters of Science-Fiction Structuring"; and "Metafantasia: The Possibilities of Science Fiction." Microworlds provides a broad overview of Lem’s efforts to balance sf’s generic possibilities with its continual shortcomings, especially as they are manifested in American sf. During the course of his polemical critique of sf fiction and criticism, Lem identifies himself as both a satirist and a humanist, driven, like Swift and Voltaire, "to despair and anger by the conduct of mankind" (29). Lem has, more recently, sworn off any further involvement with sf.

We get an editorial rather than a writerly perspective in David G. Hartwell’s Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction (1985). Hartwell is one of sf’s most experienced editors—and a founding editor of The New York Review of Science Fiction—and his understanding of the realities of sf as a commercial enterprise is probably unmatched. Age of Wonders is his history of sf in the market and in the fan communities, the world of sf writers and readers. "Sense of Wonder" is central to his construction of the sf project: "Science fiction stories are performances, just like the Christian mystery plays of the Middle Ages.... A science fiction story clothes and enacts in narrative a wonder" (52). Like many others, Hartwell notes the science-fictionalization of the present, influenced as it is by the never-ending circulation of sf images in popular film and television. He also notes, from his vantage point in the early-to-mid 1980s, the diffusion and fragmentation of the field as it was then occurring—although cyberpunk, the next "new" thing, doesn’t actually make an appearance—sensibly situating this dispersal as yet one more example of the various crises which have marked sf since its beginnings. Hartwell’s reading of sf valorizes it as a literature of historical change and cultural flexibility and Age of Wonders is equally optimistic and expansive, concluding that "The golden age of science fiction is the present" (199). A slightly revised and expanded second edition of Age of Wonders appeared in 1996, notable especially for its addition of several appendices, including recommendations for further reading and an essay on hard sf co-written with Kathryn Cramer.

This section on sf writers writing about sf would be incomplete if it did not also call attention to the entire first issue of Stephen P. Brown’s Science Fiction Eye (Winter 1987). This first issue quickly established the character of the magazine, which functioned for quite a few years as sf’s hip, alternative, counter-cultural voice, one strongly marked, at least in the beginning, by the cyberpunk phenomenon, as well as by other areas of "cutting edge" culture which were helping to shape the sf field. Bruce Sterling, Takayuki Tatsumi, John Shirley, William Gibson, John Kessel, and "Sue Denim" (Lewis Shiner) all contributed to SF Eye #1, which, among other things, includes an interview with Gibson, the first of Sterling’s many "Catscan" features, the transcript of a contentious panel discussion on "Cyberpunk or Cyberjunk" (from the 1986 SFRA Conference in San Diego), Kessel’s "Humanist Manifesto" (a critical response to cyberpunk), and Tatsumi’s report on the fortunes of Gibson’s Neuromancer in Japan. Reading that first issue of SF Eye was eye-opening, to say the least: we can see how writers like Sterling and Shirley, as well as critics like Tatsumi, were in the process of constructing "cyberpunk" as an sf category even as they also initiated some of the terms of the critical debate which was in the process of developing around this self-styled "new" sf. (While Science Fiction Eye has not officially ceased publication, it has appeared only infrequently over the past few years; the most recent issue appeared in Fall 1997.)

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (1989) is a collection of wide-ranging non-fiction pieces by one of the most respected American sf writers. Dancing provides a satisfying update on Le Guin’s ideas about language, writing, feminism, gender, and science fiction (her first collection of essays, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Susan Wood, appeared in 1980). The revision of her 1976 essay on language in The Left Hand of Darkness, "Is Gender Necessary?," is particularly significant: in "Is Gender Necessary? Redux," Le Guin rethinks her relationship to the gendered language of this classic sf novel. Equally usefulis her construction of "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction," which suggests alternative models to the masculinist narratives of competition, stress, struggle, and conflict to which we have become accustomed in conventional literature of all kinds: "Science fiction properly conceived, like all serious fiction, however funny, is a way of trying to describe what is in fact going on, what people actually do and feel, how people relate to everything else in this vast sack, this belly of the universe, this womb of things to be and tomb of things that were, this unending story" (170). Also of interest is the final section, "Reviews," a selection of Le Guin’s critical responses to a range of texts, including Doris Lessing’s Shikasta, Mervyn Peake’s Peake’s Progress, and Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves. As always, Le Guin’s writing is graceful, her grasp of ideas is generous, and her intelligence is gratifying.

Another worthwhile collection of essays is Norman Spinrad’s Science Fiction in the Real World (1990). A long-time sf writer and one of the important voices of the American New Wave, Sprinrad has for many years also published a regular column in Asimov’s Magazine. Most of the pieces collected here, with very few exceptions, were published in that venue between 1985 and 1988. They constitute a series of valuable insights and observations about the field, including Spinrad’s influential first essay on cyberpunk, collected here as "The Neuromantic Cyberpunks"; "Inside, Outside," which pays intelligent attention to the cross-over phenomenon of mainstream writers like Russell Hoban and demonstrates Sprinrad’s very sensible grasp of the parameters of the sf field; and "The Emperor of Everything," a wise meditation upon the nature of some of sf’s central wish-fulfillment fantasies. Spinrad’s discussions of the interactions "between publishing realities and aesthetic imperatives" (219) are particularly good and demonstrate his familiarity with the institutional face of popular publishing. However, Spinrad appears to be remarkably oblivious to the work of women writers, especially those who began publishing in the 1970s. In this, of course, he is not alone. I am reminded of Samuel R. Delany’s critique of the cyberpunks for a simliar "forgetting" of their feminist "mothers."

Samuel R. Delany’s Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics (1994) offers an update on another long sf career, this time taking the form of a collection of written interviews. One of American sf’s most honored writers, Delany is also familiar with the discourses of critical theory and he is well aware of the more "distanced" nature of this particular material, at once so very personal and yet so carefully constructed. In all, Silent Interviews is composed of an introductory essay on the nature of the written interview; ten interviews with Delany, most of them conducted during the mid-1980s (one by the fictional critic K. Leslie Steiner); and an an interview conducted by Delany himself in 1986—with Anthony Davis, composer of the opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X. Delany makes a case for his own sf novels as a form of sf criticism, involved with textual interpretation and attempting to recount new and more interesting critical "plots" about the genre. Silent Interviews contains some of Delany’s most interesting statements about the field, including Takayuki Tatsumi’s interview "Some Real Mothers ..."; "The Semiology of Silence: The Science-Fiction Studies Interview"; and the Camera Obscura interview, "Sword & Sorcery, S/M, and The Economics of Adequation." Among other things, Silent Interviews adds up to a very personal account of Delany’s long fascination with the complexities of critical theory, and develops his thoughts about literary theory, psychoanalysis, semiotics, and deconstruction as they intersect with his interests in sf. Other critical collections by Delany, only the former of which emphasizes sf, include Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (1984) and Longer Views: Extended Essays (1996).

John Clute’s Look at the Evidence: Essays and Reviews (1995) is comprised of pieces published between 1987 and 1995 by one of the field’s foremost wordsmiths; it’s a more than satisfactory follow-up to his earlier Strokes: Essays and Reviews, 1966-1986 (1988). Based for many years in London, Clute is a long-time, and award-winning, sf reviewer and critic, and sometime sf writer, closely involved with both Interzone and Foundation; his critical writing amounts to a highly original and acerbic ongoing commentary on the fortunes of sf. Look at the Evidence collects several of Clute’s conference and convention presentations, a wide array of individual and survey review-articles, and a range of other pieces written for various collections, newspapers, and magazines, both specialized and general, all of which material is organized according to year of original publication. Clute’s opening essay, "Necessary Golems," is his reviewer’s manifesto: "Reviewers who will not tell the truth are like cholesterol. They are lumps of fat. They starve the heart" (3). Look at the Evidence, as might be expected from a critic who has never been one to pull his punches, is both good for the arteries and simulating for the brain, offering a veritable low-fat feast of critical observation and incisive commentary. For Clute, sf "has become, once again, and after a long intermission in the coils of nostalgia, a literature of the future, or (now that we have come out of the monocular glare of the old First SF programme) the futures. Once again, now that we know we are differently futured, we can learn from sf" (278).

It seems ironically appropriate to complete this section of critical works by sf writers with Thomas M. Disch’s The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World (1998), which identifies its task as "to show in what respect the science fiction of the last half-century ... [prophesies] to the converted and [assists] in the deceptions of the self-deceived" (39). This is a witty and acerbic polemic by an erstwhile sf writer who has also worked as an editor, a poet, and a theatre and literary critic. For Disch, sf is an Adornoesque cultural phenomenon representative of the lowest kinds of popular fantasy which nevertheless enjoys unprecedented influence: "It is my contention that some of the most remarkable features of the present historical moment have their roots in a way of thinking that we have learned from science fiction" (12). Unfortunately, for Disch these features include the rise of millennial cults, Oliver North, Madonna’s wardrobe, and toxic waste cover-ups. The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of is guaranteed to annoy and provoke. Consider, for instance, Disch’s contention that no one would have read Frankenstein if Mary Shelley hadn’t had the right family connections; or his conclusion that even if Octavia Butler’s work is politically incorrect, no one would dare to point it out to her. The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of is as short-sighted as it is intelligent, as clever as it is annoying—and it is always entertaining.

III. When It Changed: Feminism and Postmodernism

The title for this section is borrowed from Joanna Russ’s short story, "When It Changed" (1972), one of the classics of feminist science fiction. Russ’s story is about a planet of women whose centuries-old way of life is threatened with destruction by the arrival of male astronauts from Earth. The story follows the growing awareness of Russ’s characters that, inevitably, they will be confronted by transformations in everything they hold dear both as individuals and as a society. Intriguingly, in William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive (New York: Bantam,1988), the final novel in his Sprawl trilogy, "When It Changed" is the phrase used by "the old cowboys" (127) to refer to the techno-transcendent coming-into-being of mysterious intelligences in cyberspace—signaling, perhaps, cyberpunk’s recognition of its literary debt to earlier feminist writers. Both the feminist consciousness represented by Russ’s story and the postmodern aesthetic of Gibson’s writing influenced the development of important new perspectives in sf studies. While neither feminism nor postmodernism can claim to have effected the kind of radical change which is the subject both of Russ’s story and Gibson’s novel, each has left ineradicable, if very different, marks on the field.

III.1. Feminist Studies

Feminist critics have produced an important body of writing over the past twenty years, and have had a positive influence on sf scholarships’s growing maturity and sophistication. One of the first signs of what was to become a large and complex body of critical work appeared in 1981, with the publication of Marleen S. Barr’s Future Females: A Critical Anthology. Although occasional critical pieces had appeared before 1980 attesting to the increasing influence of women’s and feminist voices in the field—such as Pamela Sargent’s fine introductions to her three-volume Women of Wonder collection—Future Females marks the first major critical enterprise devoted to the work of women sf writers. As Barr wrote in her introduction, "Science fiction, the realm of bulging blobs who devour partially undressed, distressed damsels, is also the home of speculations about future females. Science fiction should form a major current in the contemporary stream of feminist thought" (4). Barr was right: the emergence of women’s voices in sf during the 1960s and 1970s was, and continues to be, one of the most significant developments in the field, and feminist scholarship has responded to this development, focusing on feminist and women’s writing in particular, but by no means neglecting the field as a whole. One of the more exciting aspects of the feminist contribution has been the (re)discovery of many works by women who wrote sf before there was anything like a coherent feminist movement.

Feminist criticism recognizes that there are political stakes in scholarly work (just as there are in all aspects of our social and cultural lives). It is the kind of criticism which insists on re-inserting the object of study back into the world, in the same sense that Marxism reinserts its objects of study back into the world of institutionalized discourses and power formations. Feminism itself—again like Marxism, although Marxist critics might not welcome the comparison—is an intensely utopian enterprise, one which finds a singularly appropriate imaginative location in the field of sf studies. It is also worth noting the relatively recent appearance of other kinds of politically-engaged criticism at least in part encouraged and made possible by the existence of a flourishing body of feminist criticism. While considerations of race issues, for instance, have long been neglected in sf studies—in spite of the fact that the figure of the alien which is so central to sf narratives would seem to invite such considerations—two recent publications suggest that perhaps this is in the process of changing: Elizabeth Anne Leonard’s edited collection, Into Darkness Peering: Race and Color in the Fantastic (1997), and Daniel Leonard Bernardi’s Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future (1998).

Barr’s Future Females: A Critical Anthology (1981) is an admirably pragmatic collection, and its up-front political engagement, coming as it did at a time when the most significant political readings of the field tended to be Marxist-inflected, remains refreshing. Barr, who has made her career as a feminist critic of sf, prefaces this collection with the kind of qualifying statement that I like to think is no longer necessary: "if the mere mention of this genre [sf] causes a ruffling of academic feathers, then, relating it to women is analogous to placing all those simply ruffled feathers in front of a wind machine" (1). Of the sixteen pieces in Future Females, Joanna Russ’s "Recent Feminist Utopias" is probably the best known. Also of interest is Roger Schlobin’s "Selected Checklist through 1979," a ten-page listing of selected titles by women sf writers. Other participants in this early feminist project include Suzy McKee Charnas, Norman N. Holland, Susan Kress, Carol Pearson, Eric S. Rabkin, Scott Sanders, Robert Scholes, and Lyman Tower Sargent. Barr recently edited a companion volume, Future Females: New Voices and Velocities (Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999). To date, her most substantial full-length study has been Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction (1992), in which she argues, not always convincingly, for the abolition of feminist sf as a category in favor of the broader and more inclusive "feminist fabulation."

The first significant full-length study of women’s and feminist sf did not appear until several years after Barr’s collection was published. Sarah Lefanu’s In The Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction (1988) argues that "the plasticity of science fiction and its openness to other literary genres allow an apparent contradiction ... it makes possible, and encourages (despite its colonisation by male writers), the inscription of women as subjects free from the constraints of mundane fiction; and it also offers the possibilities of interrogating that very inscription, questioning the basis of gendered subjectivity" (9). In the Chinks of the World Machine is divided into two sections, the most useful of which is a generous overview organized around a series of issues and areas of concern, including considerations of textual representation, varieties of utopia and dystopia, an all-too-brief study of the treatment of romantic love, and analyses of the tensions between authority and sentiment. Lefanu’s second section offers close readings of the works of James Tiptree, Jr., Ursula Le Guin, Suzy McKee Charnas, and Joanna Russ. For Lefanu, sf can offer feminist writers a particularly useful narrative form through which to construct imaginative resistances to the limitations of gender representation in realist fiction. She relates this to the ability of sf to estrange aspects of the "real" while, at the same time, to pose at least a potential challenge to the structures of the "real": "Feminism questions a given order in political terms, while science fiction questions it in imaginative terms.... If science fiction demands our acceptance of a relativistic universe, then feminism demands, no less, our acceptance of a relativistic social order. Nothing, in these terms, is natural, least of all the cultural notions of ‘woman’ and ‘man.’" (100).

The ways in which feminism(s) might (or might not) intersect with postmodernism(s) have long been a source of critical debate, and this question of potential intersections is the focus of Jenny Wolmark’s Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism (1994). Mapping both the various parallels as well as the incontrovertible contradictions between feminist and postmodernist positions, Wolmark explores what she terms their "shared theoretical moments" (20). In a very useful introductory chapter, she lays out the context for her readings of specific texts which make up the bulk of Aliens and Others, constructing this framework through a dialogue with postmodern theorists such as Fredric Jameson, Jean Baudrillard, and Linda Hutcheon, and feminist theorists such as Meaghan Morris, Sandra Harding, Nancy Fraser, and Linda J. Nicholson. As Wolmark states early on, Aliens and Others is "primarily a study of the ways in which feminist science fiction addresses questions of subjectivity, identity and difference, and challenges the dual definition of the ‘alien’ as other and of the other as always being alien" (2). These issues, to a greater or lesser extent, are also central to postmodernism. The four chapters that follow her introduction—"Unpredictable Aliens," "Destabilizing Gender and Genre," "Troubles in Women’s Country," and "Cyberpunk, Cyborgs and Feminist Science Fiction"—read a wide range of texts to demonstrate how, in the context of feminist sf, "the decentring of the modernist legacy, along with the decentring of the unitary subject, have been of immense importance as far as feminism and feminist cultural production is concerned, enabling the question of gendered subjectivity to become part of the postmodern agenda" (11).

Joanna Russ’s To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995) is a particularly valuable document in the history of feminist sf criticism. It reprints some of the most important essays of this very influential sf writer and critic, including "Towards an Aesthetics of Science Fiction" (1975), "Amor Vincet Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction" (1980), and "Recent Feminist Utopias" (1981). In addition, there are fine discussions here about H.P. Lovecraft, the contemporary gothic romance, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wallpaper." Russ’s thinking cuts through potential piles of verbiage to arrive at witty, intelligent, and thought-provoking conclusions. To Write Like a Woman challenges feminist readers—indeed, it challenges all serious readers—to apply continuous and resistant pressure on the power structures which help to define the field of science fiction: "Once a radical politics (or literary criticism) is limited and diluted to the point where it can safely become part of the establishment, it can also be dispensed with" (166). Russ is one of the few writers—we can also include Samuel R. Delany and Monique Wittig—who demonstrates in both her fiction and her criticism an astute and critical approach to gender issues in general and queer issues in particular. In the words of my most esteemed colleague, R.D. Mullen, "this book is special, if only because we need to have available all the work, fiction and nonfiction alike, of this brilliant but not especially prolific writer" (SFS 23.2 [July 1996]: 286).

Jane Donawerth’s Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction (1997) proposes Frankenstein as a paradigm of women’s sf writing and identifies three crucial "problems" which Shelley’s novel both introduces and addresses (and which serve to organize the three sections into which Donawerth divides her study): "In creating the genre of science fiction, in fusing the romance with enlightenment rationality, Shelley created a genre that gave women writers enormous freedoms.... But Shelley also created a genre inheriting the limitations of her patriarchal society: a society in which women were denied education and careers in science, in which women were constructed as aliens, and in which men retained the license to speak and control the stories" (xxvi). While Donawerth’s subsequent discussions of the fictional constructions of "utopian science" and "alien monster-women" by women sf writers responding to these perceived limitations may not add substantially to previously published critical work, they nevertheless serve to (re)introduce readers to a broad cross-section of women writers, many of whom, like Jayge Carr, Carol Emshwiller, Cynthia Felice, Rebecca Ore, and Cherry Wilder, have not yet attracted much critical attention. Donawerth’s third section, on the "cross-dressing" strategies of women who "speak through" male narrators, focuses attention on a crucial—and very interesting—"problem" in narrative construction about which there has been, to date, a paucity of critical analysis. Donawerth avoids essentializing "feminist sf" by calling attention to the fact that the narrative strategies which are her focus are not "innately female, but instead [are] narrative strategies that work as resistance because they are also similar to the conventions of ‘realistic’ science fiction narrative" (135). Donawerth is also co-editor, with Carol A. Kolmerten, of Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference (1994), a well-organized collection of essays that traces the historical development of women’s utopian writing from the sixteenth century to the present.

By far the most influential document in the case of feminist sf studies appeared less than five years after the publication of Future Females, and, although it contained passing references to writers like Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany, it seemed at first to have little directly to do with sf. This is Donna J. Haraway’s "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" (1985). Rarely has any single article so helped to shape so much ensuing critical work. The "Manifesto," "an ironic dream of a common language for women in the integrated circuit" (149), is an early example of Haraway’s ability to suggest resonant allegorical figures with weirdly unsettled ontologies as a means to construct narratives that explore the implications for life in the context of technoculture. Her cyborg is an exemplary figure, appealing to us as both material and fantastic. The "Manifesto" is one of the first, and remains one of the most powerful, statements of a feminism which recognizes technoculture as an ineluctable presence and a crucially shaping influence. It has also become recognized as one of the most influential theoretical constructions of postmodernism written to date (perhaps only Fredric Jameson’s "Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," noted below, has equalled its impact on theoretical constructions of "the postmodern condition"). "A Cyborg Manifesto" initiated another metamorphosis in the sf critical project: the cyborg has become an increasingly familiar figure in the landscape of technoculture, imaginatively embodying a wide range of perspectives on the nature of the human subject in the context of contemporary technological developments. See, for example, Anne Balsamo’s Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women (1996) and N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics (1999).

III.2. Postmodernism

Haraway’s "Manifesto" appeared within a year of the publication not only of Fredric Jameson’s massively influential essay "Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," but also of William Gibson’s quintessential cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer. This concatenation of events helped to propel sf in the direction of a postmodernity which suggested, for some students of the field, new ways to configure sf’s relationship to contemporary reality. Many readers and critics began to see in this erstwhile product of a ghettoized popular culture an image-bank and a discourse through which to construct new understandings of life at the end of the twentieth century. When even the Wall Street Journal was publishing articles and interviews about cyberpunk, it became obvious that Gibson’s novel, whether or not it fit comfortably into any particular "movement," had hit a cultural nerve. Only five years after the appearance of Suvin’s Metamorphoses, and ably abetted by the manifestos and polemics of a range of postmodern theorists, Neuromancer helped to direct sf criticism into the broader context of contemporary cultural critique.

"Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" (1984) is Jameson’s classic annunciation of postmodernism as our contemporary cultural dominant, an essay which can claim to have constructed many current ideas about the postmodern even as it set out to map them. In his introduction, Jameson famously identifies "an inverted millennarianism" (53) as one defining feature of postmodernity, and he then goes on to note "the effacement ... of the older (essentially high-modernist) frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture" (54) as central to the postmodernist aesthetic. Science fiction is only one of many popular cultural forms which have been incorporated into contemporary cultural production as the conventional modernist boundaries between high and low have become, if not downright demolished, then at least eroded and subverted. Another particularly resonant observation which Jameson offers, significant to any study of sf, is that postmodernity marks the collapse of historicity and a cultural "fall" into a kind of surface-model spatiality. In the terms of Jameson’s critique, the future itself, like the past, seems to have been placed under a kind of erasure, a construction which has at least theoretical ramifications for sf as a future-oriented literary genre. In the "final" analysis, for Jameson, "every position on postmodernism in culture ... is also at one and the same time, and necessarily, an implicitly or explicitly political stance on the nature of multinational capitalism today" (55).

In contrast, a particularly European take on the postmodern is offered in Jean Baudrillard’s "Two Essays" ("Simulacra and Science Fiction" and "Ballard’s Crash," 1991). These two brief pieces by the apocalyptically-minded French social and cultural theorist make explicit the interest in sf and sf-related perspectives which has long been implicit in his theoretical writing. The first piece is a restatement of Baudrillard’s construction of the "three orders of simulacra," while the second emphasizes his conviction that J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel offers a paradigm for speculative fiction’s account of "technology [as] the deadly deconstruction of the body" (313). In "Simulacra and Science Fiction," Baudrillard argues that the world of postmodern and global commodity culture is dominated by the order of "simulation simulacra ... [whose] aim is maximum operationality, hyperreality, total control"; among other things, this has resulted in the death of the "good old SF imagination": "True SF, in this case, would not be fiction in expansion, with all the freedom and ‘na´veté’ which gave it a certain charm of discovery. It would, rather, evolve implosively, in the same way as our image of the universe. It would seek to revitalize, to reactualize, to rebanalize fragments of simulation—fragments of this universal simulation which our presumed ‘real’ world has now become for us" (311). For Baudrillard, Ballard’s Crash is exemplary of the new sf imagination: "In Crash, there is neither fiction nor reality—a kind of hyper-reality has abolished both.... Crash is the first great novel of the universe of simulation" (319). While readers may find much to disagree with in both Baudrillard’s pronouncements on the "death" of conventional sf, and in his elevation of the more disturbing aspects of Ballard’s self-proclaimed novel of technological pornography to some kind of apotheosis of hyperreality, these statements about the intersections of sf and the imploding universe of simulation reward thoughtful reading and suggest new perspectives on the genre within the context of postmodern technoculture.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.’s "The SF of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway" (1991), which appeared in the same issue of SFS as Baudrillard’s two essays, is a densely argued interpretation of the theoretical writings of Jean Baudrillard and Donna Haraway as examples of a particular kind of sf writing. Csicsery-Ronay’s starting point is that sf "is not a genre of literary entertainment only, but a mode of awareness, a complex hesitation about the relationship between imaginary conceptions and historical reality unfolding into the future" (388). He suggests that we can understand the work of Baudrillard and Haraway—critical theorists who both make use of sf as a central trope in their cultural analyses—as examples of how sf has been transformed from narrative genre into discursive practice, and he proceeds to read the work of these two very different figures in the context of "the science-fictionalization of theory" (389). Csicsery-Ronay’s discussion is an extremely informative evaluation of two theoretical "moments" which have had immense influence on the postmodernization of sf. Discussing Baudrillard, he argues, for instance, that, in Baudrillard’s terms, "‘science fiction’ is dead because it is fiction. SF exists, in no small part, because theoretical discourse like Baudrillard’s (and Haraway’s) discerns the problematic topology that SF is called upon to articulate" (391). In contrast to the ironic nihilism of Baudrillard’s position, Haraway’s work is both politically engaged and optimistic: "For Haraway, SF is ... the necessary hopefulness that comes with knowing that neither the initial conditions ... nor the outcome ... of any process, no matter how highly rationalized, can be determined" (394). Haraway’s cyborg exists in the theoretical site of an open-ended future. "The SF of Theory" identifies an important way in which sf-as-discourse functions (allegorically) as a strategy of cognitive estrangement in some influential constructions of "the postmodern condition." At the same time, it offers, at least in outline, a convincing reconsideration of the nature and function of sf at the end of the twentieth century.

Slipstream fiction (see the reference to Sterling’s "slipstream" article below) is a centrally important presence in Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction (1987), although the term wasn’t yet available to McHale. This is one of the first attempts to map, more or less comprehensively, the aesthetics, formal strategies, thematics, and ontological obsessions of postmodernist literature. Its relevance to sf studies arises from its by-now familiar construction of science fiction as "postmodernism’s noncanonized or ‘low art’ double, its sister-genre in the same sense that the popular detective thriller is modernist fiction’s sister-genre" (59). As McHale argues in his introduction, "Science fiction ... is to postmodernism what detective fiction was to modernism: it is the ontological genre par excellence (as the detective story is the epistemological genre par excellence), and so serves as a source of materials and models for postmodernist writers (including William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Italo Calvino, Pynchon, even Beckett and Nabokov)" (16). In sections entitled "The science-fictionalization of postmodernism" and "The postmodernization of science fiction," McHale offers an overview of slipstream texts such as Burroughs’ The Soft Machine and Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar, reading these in conjunction with what he identifies as postmodernist sf texts such as Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, the early disaster novels of J.G. Ballard, and New Wave novels like Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. While McHale’s study tends to maintain the conventional divide between "high" and "low" cultural production, his insertion of sf as a genre into the cultural territory of postmodernism continues to provide useful ways to think about sf in contemporary theoretical terms. McHale’s later study, Constructing Postmodernism (1992), concludes with two detailed chapters on cyberpunk sf.

Bruce Sterling’s "Slipstream" (1989),a brief article which appeared in the "Beyond Cyberpunk" issue of Science Fiction Eye, introduces a very helpful term with which to identify the rapidly increasing number of non-sf texts by more-or-less mainstream writers which "appropriate" sf tropes, images, and themes. Slipstream texts are (probably) not sf, although they are clearly related—most obviously, the relationship is one of "high" and mainstream culture borrowing from the tropes of popular culture; they are also, arguably, prime examples of postmodern literature. Slipstream texts include everything from J.G. Ballard’s Crash to Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to Joseph McElroy’s Plus to Jeff Noon’s Pollen. In his discussion, Sterling suggests that "the heart of slipstream is an attitude of peculiar aggression against ‘reality.’ These are fantasies of a kind, but not fantasies which are ‘futuristic’ or ‘beyond the fields we know.’ These books tend to sarcastically tear at the structure of ‘everyday life’" (78). While Sterling assumed that his category term would never catch on, it has in fact become quite familiar in sf critical discourse—and is even occasionally used in bookstores—especially since the slipstream itself continues to expand as a narrative field. Sterling thoughtfully provided a "slipstream list" of well over a hundred titles to accompany his article; that list would be much longer by now, given the continuing proliferation of slipstream fiction.

The original version of Larry McCaffery’s Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction (1991) was published in 1988 as a special issue of the Mississippi Review, and, in its ambitious scope and coverage, McCaffery’s "casebook" is an important document in the history of the postmodernization of sf. If McHale’s study imports sf into postmodernist literature, then Storming the Reality Studio imports postmodernism into the sf field. In his introduction, McCaffery identifies as its context "the recent evolution of what I will call ‘postmodern science fiction’" (2) and the concurrent appearance of "experimental, quasi-SF works" (2) by major mainstream writers (Sterling’s slipstream). McCaffery’s densely-packed collection of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction is significant for a variety of reasons. Most obviously, it is itself a postmodern project, a collage of fictional styles, of voices, of theoretical statements. The fiction section contains representative samples from the writings of Acker, Ballard, Burroughs, Laidlaw, Pynchon, Rucker, Sterling, and Vollman, among others; and the non-fiction section contains writing by Baudrillard, Derrida, Jameson, Leary, Lyotard, Porush, and Suvin, to mention some of the most notable. McCaffery’s collection perfectly captures the hip, cool, rather macho excitement which surrounded both cyberpunk and postmodern theory at the end of the 1980s; and the tone of his introduction demonstrates the rather ironic pessimism associated with one version of postmodernity—it’s significant, for example, that Baudrillard is represented here, while Haraway is not. Storming the Reality Studio can be characterized as an exercise in literary/critical sampling, analogous to the sampling practices of much contemporary music. Nothing else quite like it has ever been assembled in the field of sf scholarship, and it attracted both high praise and high dudgeon when it was first published. It is, in itself, as postmodern an artifact as the sf which it claims as "the breakthrough ‘realism’ of our time" (16). Although certainly not as pyrotechnical, I also recommend the collection edited by George Slusser and Tom Shippey, Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative (1992), which contains several excellent articles on cyberpunk, especially on Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Scott Bukatman’s Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (1993) is perhaps the most extensive and coherent study of contemporary sf published in the past decade. Bukatman plugs into the products of both popular culture and critical theory in order to construct the subject of postmodern technoculture from the perspective of the genre—science fiction—which is currently providing that technoculture with some of its most powerful descriptive metaphors. He convincingly demonstrates how we inhabit a time/space which we perceive as already science-fictional. Terminal Identity is his examination, through an impressively wide range of cultural forms and discourses—fiction, film, video, comics, critical and cultural theory—of how "The discourses of science fiction and philosophy have constructed a metaphorical subject redefined to permit its situation as a biological being within an electronic world" (301). Terminal Identity is an attempt to explore some of the pressures, and some of the resistances to those pressures, which go into the constitution of the postmodern self, that dispersed, fragmented, processual, indeterminate, and problematized subject which is, at least in part, the product of an increasingly pervasive technology. Bukatman comes at his postmodern subject from several directions, to each of which he devotes a section of his study: "Terminal Image," "Terminal Space," "Terminal Penetration," "Terminal Flesh," and "Terminal Resistance/Cyborg Acceptance." Perhaps the most important work that Terminal Identity undertakes is to raise crucial questions about the possibilities for individual resistance to the very real attractions of spectacle, static sublimity, and technologization to which contemporary culture is currently subjecting us with almost unimaginable force. Dystopian fiction conventionally carries the warning "if this goes on." Terminal Identity, whose title puns both on computer culture and millennial extremity, assures us that it will. An excellent companion piece to Bukatman’s quite dense study is Mark Dery’s very accessible Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century (1996), a fascinating report on the contemporary technoscene which situates sf as one element within the broader complex of cyberculture trends and communities.


Sf’s ongoing generic "metamorphoses" have been at least partially responsible for the increasing heterogeneity of the contemporary critical enterprise. "Sf" no longer refers only to a literary subgenre: it is also a particularly popular kind of cinema and television; it provides the visual stimulus for a whole range of video games; it spills over into slipstream fiction; its aliens and spaceships feed into some of our culture’s most acute millennial anxieties. As both a body of imagery and a field of discourse, it provides particularly apt imaginative portrayals of contemporary technoculture. The late 1980s and early 1990s were remarkable for the intensity of interest generated by cyberpunk, for instance. Both the professional and academic communities engaged in contentious debates about the nature of this soi-disant "new" breed of sf, while many theoretically-oriented critics saw in cyberpunk, whether for good or ill, the "apotheosis of postmodernism." I have already mentioned the large number of sf and sf-related courses currently being taught in colleges and universities, and the recent establishment of the Modern Language Association’s Discussion Group on Science Fiction, Utopian, and Fantastic Literature is another indication of the increasing academic acceptance of sf studies (however, as this is not the first time that such a group has been formed within the MLA, it is all too possible that some reversal of cultural fortune might again turn things around).

The widespread attention which cyberpunk attracted from outside the sf field has been one important factor in its growing prominence as an object of study in a variety of disciplines. New perspectives in critical and theoretical work—influenced, for example, by post-structuralism, by feminism, by race and gender studies, and by the multiplex of postmodernisms—have also found in sf an especially rich source of cultural material. In particular, sf is increasingly featured in the expanding areas of cyberculture studies (see Dery’s Escape Velocity, for example) and cultural studies of science and technology (such as Balsamo’s Technologies of the Gendered Body). What should we make of sf’s incorporation into such a variety of disparate theoretical discourses? Are they a promise that sf studies will continue to develop and to expand? Or are they threats that sf studies—as the specific study of a specific literary field—will disappear as it becomes dispersed over a variety of other academic sites (even as the literary product itself threatens to disappear into the vast terrain of multi-media sf)? It is not difficult to feel a certain scholarly anxiety in the face of such apparent disarray. One might easily be tempted to work at delimiting the field according to very specific generic criteria, to place conceptual guards at the borders to control sf’s "appropriation" by everyone from Jean Baudrillard to feminist critics of science. But resistance is probably futile, and it will be fascinating to follow the fortunes of sf and of sf studies into the new millennium, that site of the near future which stubbornly remains, no matter how closely it looms, such a product of the sf imagination.

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