Science Fiction Studies

#94 = Volume 31, Part 3 = November 2004

Neil Easterbrook

A New Addition to the Critical Toolbox

Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. xxvii + 295 pp. $60.00 hc; $24.00 pbk.

It’s a truly miraculous time. Behold the strange, the absurd, the surreal facts: within several days in June, the new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle opened (carved out from the space of a rock-music museum that wasn’t attracting tourists), to great acclaim. A private company launched a piloted space flight—SpaceShipOne—funded by Paul Allen (a 20-million-dollar loss leader in the competition to capture the 10-million-dollar Ansari X Prize). The Cassini-Huygens space probe settled into orbit around Saturn—no crashes, no explosions, no silent flatlines, just streaming telemetry reports. The March number of PMLA, a special issue devoted to sf, appeared in my mailbox. Earlier, in a March ceremony on Capitol Hill, Representative Danny Davis (a Democrat from Illinois) crowned the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who immediately declared himself the world’s “savior, Messiah, returning Lord, and true parent.” Then it got weirder, much weirder. Saddam Hussein went on trial in an Iraqi court. Michael Moore retracted a conspiracy theory. Robert Ludlum published his fifth book since he died in 2001. (Actually, since V.C. Andrews died in 1986, she has written and published more novels than when she was alive.) Here in Texas, it rained for eleven days straight—in summer.

Curiouser and curiouser. Surely these are End Times, since the Cambridge University Press has now published a book devoted to science fiction, in the same series that treats serious academic topics—Renaissance Humanism, the Eighteenth-Century Novel, and Immanuel Kant. A series with Kant and sf? A PMLA special issue? Could sf be finally finding domestic bliss within the academy? Of course not, as implied by Carl Freedman’s remarks in PMLA “that the governing board of the journal saw fit to reject many excellent articles submitted by MLA members and favorably refereed by knowledgeable scholars in the field” (546a). Sounds like there won’t be more essays on sf forthcoming in PMLA. But the new Cambridge Companion, ably edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, constitutes a significant step toward full recognition and acceptance. This is a solid, intelligent, sophisticated scholarly assessment from a major academic publisher. Every bit the intellectual equal of other titles in the Cambridge series, it will likely become one of the most referenced secondary works in the study of sf, especially in pedagogical contexts.

James and Mendlesohn’s excellent collection presents a general overview of the genre and its current scholarly reception in twenty-one chapters divided into three sections—six chapters of “history,” four chapters of “critical approaches,” ten chapters of “sub-genres and themes,” and a substantial introduction on sf’s reading protocols. The book gives little additional apparatus, although, following the pattern of titles in the Cambridge series, it does provide an historical chronology of important publications, a bibliography of “further reading” in the secondary scholarship (subdivided according to the book’s structural divisions), and an index; more on this apparatus later. James Gunn contributes a brief “Foreword,” an appropriately nostalgic gesture of passing the torch to another generation of critics, those represented by CCSF. Of uniformly high quality and usefulness, the chapters are written by accomplished, authoritative scholars and novelists; most have published in SFS, and all will be familiar to and respected by its readership.

Not a Popular Literature. Too many projects in sf, especially those of the omnibus variety, suffer from a lack of intellectual ambition. This is not one. Consider a telling detail: CCSF excludes fan culture, that most sociologically curious and most intellectually embarrassing fact for academic scholars. In James’s earlier Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (now out of print in the US), almost twenty percent of the book discusses “The SF Community,” from fanzines to K/S (Kirk/Spock) fiction to the “lunatic fringe” (147), which Brian Aldiss characterized in This World and Nearer Ones (1979) as “people who … believe … in Flying Saucers and telepathy and Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle and God as astronaut and acupuncture and macrobiotic foods and pyramids that sharpen razor blades” (qtd. 147-48). A bizarre but fascinating aspect of sf culture, it distracts other academics who aren’t scholars of sf—almost as if those of us who don’t work on, say, medieval literature couldn’t see the value of the academic study of, say, Chaucer because we fixated on The Society for Creative Anachronism or such summer carnivals as “Scarborough Faire,” an annual spring festival and tourist trap in Waxahachie, Texas. CCSF addresses the problem by ignoring it altogether, placing its primary focus on literature and its scholarly representation.

A second telling detail comes in Mendlesohn’s quip in an early, deeply significant aside: “whatever else it is, sf literature is not popular, even while ‘sci-fi’ movies pack the cinemas” (1). Though emphasizing “non-popular” literature, CCSF seeks to cover the entire range of sf history, theme, and topoi in several media, and to outline the several theoretical schemes that dominate scholarly approaches to and appropriations of sf. All in 275 pages. As such, it fails, as any such book would, since sf remains too large, too old, too grand, and too diverse to exhaust in 275 pages, even twice that. Nevertheless, it will be necessary reading for everyone concerned with sf scholarship. CCSF will rightly take its place beside John Clute’s and Peter Nicholls’s magisterial The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) as bookends in every sf scholar’s personal library, and it will be one of the first books we recommend to beginners. Since CCSF appeared in late fall 2003, it’s likely that you’ve already obtained a copy or adopted it for classroom use, as I have, and you’re aware that the British Science Fiction Association awarded their prize for best non-fiction essay of 2003 to Mendlesohn’s “Introduction: reading science fiction.”

In those opening comments, Mendlesohn announces the book’s target audience: “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction is intended to provide readers with an introduction to the genre and to its study” (1). She then gives the book’s two operating assumptions: “that you, the reader, know what sf is, and that everyone who has contributed to this book shares the same criteria”; and that “Science fiction is less a genre … than an ongoing discussion” (1). The second of these assumptions seems reasonable, and for three reasons: it accurately captures the contentious debates about the nature and value of sf; it enables the book to side-step the thorny convolutions and history of genre theory, which while important for advanced study probably should be deferred from an introduction; and it nicely though silently accommodates the initial Aristotelian view of genres as modes of discourse, a notion Gérard Genette has labored to restore. The first assumption, however, proves paradoxical: the justification that the book will be “an introduction to the genre” oddly undermines the parallel assumption that readers already know what the genre is. In his 1992 Strategies of Fantasy, Brian Attebery elegantly offered an alternative solution to this problem of genre by borrowing the vocabulary of mathematics (via George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By [1999]) to treat genre as a “fuzzy set,” a concept that takes seriously Wittgenstein’s nominalist claim that universals share a “family resemblance” (31ff.) produced by “language games” rather than a strict ontological correspondence to empirical objects. The fuzzy family set then comprises a “focus defined category,” in which a small set of objects called paradigms (or prototypes) is used to identify other texts that more-or-less parallel the paradigms; once you’ve got a big bunch of examples, it may be possible to develop an abstract model (called a “genre”). That these models will still be metaphoric constructions rather than physical things, concepts rather than objects, may be a difficult notion for beginning students, but Attebery’s solution nicely addresses the theoretical problem without committing to a dubious assumption.

This logical problem aside, Mendlesohn’s opening essay powerfully and eloquently offers an introduction to sf’s reading protocols, using as an example Greg Egan’s 2002 Schild’s Ladder. She then covers a dozen fundamental features of sf, and ways readers may respond conceptually—sense of wonder, Suvin’s “novum,” thought experiments (as opposed to character development), conceptual breakthrough, didacticism, “legacy texts” (her term for a text’s intertextual relations to the sf megatext), estrangement, “embedding” (how writers layer their texts with detail to build fully realized fictional landscapes), and others. In raising these matters, she nicely anticipates the twenty chapters to come and delivers a clear, compelling account of how skilled readers approach sf. None of the book’s other chapters will be as important to the novitiate as Mendlesohn’s, one reason why the British Science Fiction Association was so impressed.

History and Hypotyposis.
The section on history features four essays on historical periods, one on visual media, and one on influential editors. Brian Stableford considers proto-sf from Francis Bacon to Gernsback; Brian Attebery covers the magazine era from Amazing Stories to the rise of the paperback by 1960; Damien Broderick sorts out the impact of the New Wave through 1980; and John Clute assesses the last two decades. While each individual era deserves a separate volume of 275 pages (perhaps in some future universe Cambridge will commission such an historical series), these writers do remarkably well in the ultimately untenable task of providing—without distorting reductions— succinct, accurate, expository review while still turning the odd phrase, proposing a novel insight, or proffering some amusing, even heretical aside.

By beginning in the seventeenth century, Stableford can supply a clear statement of sf’s roots without being embroiled in disputes about Gilgamesh or Lucian or More’s Utopia. Instead, he rightly sees the nascent genre’s engines in satire, the cosmic tour, and especially the French conte philosophique, properly setting the stage for the more familiar nineteenth-century developments led by Poe, Verne, and Wells—and leading to the pulps. Attebery wisely avoids the inherent ambiguities of the nostalgic term “Golden Age” (even though other contributors don’t), then does a terrific job capturing the complex dynamic between the excitement of writers and readers over burgeoning technological advances, the exigencies of material publication, and the developing literary sophistication of writers (such as Heinlein) who emerged in the 1940s. Similarly, Broderick makes the New Wave a product of larger cultural developments rather than merely a literary anomaly within sf. Surely, 1960s American cultural politics, the new French cinema, the creative explosion in popular music, and the still beating beat aesthetic of the 1950s were as decisive as a few writers’ flirtation with prestigious literary quarterlies. More vividly expressionistic than Attebery, Broderick modifies the tone to prepare readers for Clute, who first distinguishes between sf “as a series of outstanding texts” and as a “shaping vision” of the world, one that gradually “becomes indecipherable from” the reality you and I inhabit (64). In the late 1970s and 1980s, pulp consciousness reemerged as industrial sf, spin-offs from Star Trek and Star Wars (et alia), which Clute understands as “a kind of infomercial for a fixed product.” The emergence of cyberpunk was one possible rejoinder to sf’s “crisis” (68), as was the development of talents as different as Greg Bear, Orson Scott Card, Kim Stanley Robinson, Iain M. Banks, and Neal Stephenson. Clute singles out Gene Wolfe as the singular “great” writer of the last decades (69).

Following Clute, Mark Bould’s chapter on film and television supplies the book’s only sustained discussion of any form other than written sf. Attempting to differentiate authentic, imaginative cinema from the pure spectacle of Hollywood’s sci-fi schlock, Bould begins with Georges Méliès and ends with small, independent, or international films that promise “a diverse, challenging and distinctive audio-visual sf” (95). His economical, balanced, and brisk account of an entire century’s developments proves especially attentive to a film’s internal narrative logic, and to the ways in which the ideologically progressive cinema became TV’s sf melodrama—“the shift in 1980s cinema away from the social towards the magical resolution of personal problems” (92)—a conservative involution centered around the blockbuster Star Wars (1977), although clearly anticipated since the mid-century. Gary Wolfe’s discussion of important editors initially overlaps with Attebery’s account of the magazine era, but he quickly moves on to identify how book editing transformed the genre. The stage may be an actor’s medium, film a director’s medium, and fiction a writer’s medium, but the anthology is surely the domain of the editor; beginning with Donald A. Wollheim’s The Pocket Book of Science Fiction (1943), the first in a series of increasingly successful titles, anthology editors convinced publishers that science fiction could sell in book form. Wolfe clarifies how absolutely transformative this change was: certainly “the field could not have evolved into its level of complexity and variety without the energetic and persistent advocacy of its best editors” (109).

While throughout this first section the quality of the writing is consistently high, combining clever observation, crisp phrasing, and edifying illustration, I imagine most beginners will find the central compositional strategy of these chapters—the list—rather difficult to assimilate. It’s likely, in fact, to present a considerable obstacle to all but more experienced and informed readers, and perhaps even a few of these will find their eyes glazing as they scan past the names, the titles, the dates. In a short space, with the obligation to offer clear but not reductive commentary, the list is our most typical formal device, even in fiction. At one point in his The Name of the Rose (1980), Eco has his narrator Adso comment that “This list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis” (81). Hypotyposis, the figure of indices or deixis, describes the general pattern of cataloging or listing, either in the sort of vivid outline that precedes a work or in the sort of descriptive catalog that amplifies a claim. As an aesthetic, examples of the latter would be any of Whitman’s realistic catalogs, or Borges’s fantastic digressions. Lists can entertain, and they can inform. Yet to the untutored eye, catalogs can also obscure conceptual claims, reducing crucial abstractions to mere transitional patter between italicized titles. Of course, one might also dispute those particulars on or off each list (Clute may make too much of Gene Wolfe; Bould never mentions The Matrix [1999]); though while each list represents the individual contributor’s idiosyncrasies, together they also carry the persuasively authoritative weight of the essayists’ considerable expertise.

Theory and Theme, Subgenre and Subversion
. Since the final 14 chapters have no structural obligation to offer historical or chronological lists, they can concentrate on conceptual distinctions, thematic patterns, and quotidian tropes, so the academic acolyte will find them more immediately useful. Like the first seven chapters, they are also extremely well-written, though of course with expected variations in quality, clarity, or originality.

The section on “critical approaches” contains discussion of marxisms by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., feminisms by Veronica Hollinger, and post-modernisms by Andrew M. Butler; it concludes with an account of queer theory and sexuality by Wendy Pearson. Wisely, none of these essays reduces the method to a single dogma; instead, they trace the diverse variants of theoretical positions. Csicsery-Ronay’s extraordinarily lucid essay, balanced between historical fact and conceptual model, identifies Marxism’s utopian cognitive economies, nicely beginning with history, culture, and literature before introducing any technical vocabulary—critical utopia, defamiliarization, estrangement, or negative totality. Csicsery-Ronay ends with incisive commentary on the school’s intellectual blind spots. Perhaps the best chapter in the book, his essay provides the very paradigm of intellectual rigor within accessible prose. Hollinger’s account of the “variety of conceptual models” within feminism allows her to identify how “all feminist theories resist the ideological[ly] … masculinist … expression of a homogeneous ‘human nature’” (125); drawing on writers as productively problematic as Heinlein and Tiptree, she concisely demonstrates how sf supplies “imaginative re-presentations of the gendered subject” (127). Butler has the unenviable task of treating poor, dreary, beleaguered postmodernism, and he admirably marches through Lyotard, Jameson, and Baudrillard while simultaneously giving clever examples of how literary and theoretical postmodernism differ. In another of the book’s best chapters, Pearson takes special pains to show how queer theory offers means for reading all forms of human sexuality, and her selective use of secondary figures (primarily Eve Sedgwick and Judith Butler) permits her to focus on the claim that “epistemologies of sexuality are just as binding and just as important to the construction of any future society as are epistemologies of science” (159); queer theory, she argues persuasively, provides “useful analytic tools” (such as “performativity”), especially for contemporary sf (158). Csicsery-Ronay, Hollinger, and Pearson are particularly good at suggesting the practical advantages of active theoretical readings that consciously subvert traditionally passive reading strategies.

While the final section on subgenre and theme contains about half the book’s chapters, it is disproportionally smaller—only about 40 percent of the total pages—a reasonable imbalance since these chapters have neither the historical imperative to provide comprehensive surveys nor the theoretical imperative to capture ethereal convolutions. Consequently, they can be more selective and more idiosyncratic than the essays in the first two sections. With one exception, they fall into two loose groups roughly corresponding to the natural sciences and the human sciences. The exception is Gwyneth Jones’s lively discussion of sf icons, a term she uses in an idiomatic rather than technical sense—“the signs which announce the genre” (163); making liberal use of her own fiction and other generally contemporary texts, she names objects (spaceships, robots), other bodies (cyborgs, aliens, animals), stock figures (Faust, the epic hero, the damsel), and so forth.

The essays centered around the natural sciences include Joan Slonczewski and Mike Levy on the life sciences, Kathryn Cramer on hard sf, and Gary Westfahl on space opera. Slonczewski and Levy rightly situate “biology as the ‘hard science’ frontier of the future” (174)—at least recent research there suggests several fertile lines for sf’s development, for which they supply a taxonomy with vivid examples. Cramer constructs the familiar but still relevant case that hard sf is sf’s essential core even though it attracts little critical attention. Quoting David Hartwell’s introduction to their Ascent of Wonder, she too builds a taxonomy of hard sf’s qualities (188) before efficiently cataloging the subgenre’s subgenres, including the too-smart kid, the big-idea story, and the problem puzzle (190). One outstanding feature of her commentary appears when she identifies both how hard sf has been “apolitical,” then isolates the politics frequently masquerading behind such mystifications (193). If critics tend to neglect hard sf, surely they usually ridicule its idiot cousin space opera, an all-too-typical dismissal that Westfahl has spent more than a decade aggressively contesting. Space opera remains sf’s most popular manifestation and sentimental favorite. And with good reason: it carries the feral excitement of epic adventure; it captures the sheer wonder and sublimity of space. If space opera “often succumbs to formulaic plots and mediocrity” (198), perhaps suggesting “the sub-genre’s exhaustion” (207), Westfahl ably shows how postmodern or satirical innovations may impart something more than elegiac collapse.

With the exception of Banks, Westfahl doesn’t mention the “British Boom” (nicely explicated by Butler in SFS #91), even though it has been central to a renaissance in space opera. Alastair Reynolds works in that mode, as does (with qualifications) Ken MacLeod, who offers a simply wonderful, and wonderfully funny, discussion of sf’s politics and of politics in sf. I will predict that he offers what will be the single most quoted and most influential sentence of the entire volume, the deceptively simple point that “Science fiction is essentially the literature of progress” (231). Compared to other similarly quotable formulations of sf’s essence, MacLeod pithily combines both the natural and the human sciences with the huge abstraction of “change” and the concrete particular of logical interrogation; while he does not dwell on the point, the concept of progress descends to us from the European enlightenment, and even a quick outline of its history identifies an almost exact parallel with the history and function of sf (see my discussion of this term in the forthcoming The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes, ed. Gary Westfahl [Westport, CT: Greenwood]). MacLeod intelligently covers liberal and reactionary political systems, the politics of feudal nostalgia, didactic infodumps concerning civics, pluralism, anarchism, and feminism. His several witticisms are more than refreshing, especially insofar as he combines them with acute analytical claims: “Vinge … accomplishes for political philosophy what Heinlein achieved for world-building: the economical avoidance of explication, by what is taken for granted. In Vinge’s works, unlike Heinlein’s, few authorial spokesmen dilate” (239).

Along with MacLeod’s essay, the cluster of chapters centered on the human sciences includes Andy Duncan on alternative history, Helen Merrick on gender, and Elizabeth Anne Leonard on race/ethnicity. Duncan assesses representative texts, including those with time-slips and time-loops, then observes the way that some contemporary mainstream historians (such as Niall Ferguson) now frequently engage “counter-factual” conditions, once properly the sole domain of sf. Merrick’s cogent discussion, among the book’s very best, both suggests the slippery subtlety of how sf treats gender and gives a clear account of how we can address its typical registers—from the clichés of masculinity and “battle of the sexes” stories to “wet-diaper” tales and profound subversions of gender normativity. Leonard accurately observes that most sf “deals with racial tension by ignoring it” (254), but sees sf as a medium where race and ethnicity can be addressed as vectors of human meaning-construction and cultural change (262).

Finally, the two volume editors also contribute articles. Edward James addresses Utopia—most interesting for his important observation that the central incommensurability between utopian narrative and sf is that sf necessitates change—and Mendlesohn wraps up the book with a thoughtful meditation on the relation of religion to sf. As editors of the collection James and Mendlesohn have done a superb job—recruiting outstanding contributors, making intelligent compromises in how to apportion coverage, and insuring supporting parallels while preventing excessive overlap. If the quality varies among the twenty-one chapters, I do not think it was an editorial mistake to include them all (as is sometimes true of essay collections). Perhaps some chapters don’t seem so hot only because of the company they keep—the essays by Bould, Broderick, Csicsery-Ronay, MacLeod, and Merrick are extraordinarily good, and almost all of the rest are first-rate.

Mistakes, Omissions, Apparatus. For such a large, complicated project, CCSF is surprisingly free of small errors of fact, grammar, or clarity. I found an incorrect date or two, a wrong title, a few syntactical errors, some missing punctuation, and perhaps a dozen over-hasty generalizations—but nothing particularly embarrassing or contradictory. More troubling, however, is the consistently inconsistent and equivocal use of some of literary criticism’s technical vocabulary. At points in the collection, different things are called by the same name, and at others, different names are used for the same phenomenon. Strangely, it’s not complicated terms that present trouble, it’s the simple ones—theme, topos, trope, symbol, allegory, metaphor, motif, icon, et cetera. I’ll take a concrete example from an otherwise excellent chapter: in describing the patriarchal erasure of women (and issues of human sexuality) from early sf, Merrick comments, “The majority argued that sex had no place in the logical, scientific, ‘cerebral’ topos of sf, and ipso facto, that there was no place for ‘woman’” (243). Rather than topos—which means topic or commonplace, either of theme (as in eidoi topoi) or object and situation (as in konoi topoi)—Merrick probably should use the word “model,” if she wishes to name the notional abstract constructed by patriarchy; or “paradigm,” if she wishes to identify some shining example of patriarchal blindness (within the context, the former word is appropriate). Especially given the terminological slippages and differences between chapters, taken together these terms string out in metaleptic chains that obfuscate rather than clarify. But, truth be told, this is a minor complaint just as easily directed at almost any current volume of literary criticism, and my observation here may say more about my own obsessively annoying pedantry than about the volume under review.

Probably a more legitimate complaint concerns what CCSF omits. Leonard’s essay on race and ethnicity could have been substantially better by pointing out that race isn’t a meaningful category in biology, or that, as Henry Louis Gates points out, “race is a trope” (147); discussing the etymology of “ethnos,” or defining its specific use in the social sciences might have been equally helpful. Attebery intelligently omits the phrase “Golden Age,” but he probably ought to have included a comment on why this was a phrase best avoided, especially since others do use it. Although James titles his chapter “Utopia and Anti-Utopia,” and he clearly shows the anti-utopian status of sf, he certainly might have included some discussion of dystopias, actually more common in sf than utopias. Everyone who reads the book will identify moments such as these. A larger question concerns missing chapters or absent topics: Wouldn’t a “cultural studies” chapter have been an important part of “approaches”? Don’t non-Anglophone sf after 1926, slipstream, and the technothriller constitute very significant omissions? Wouldn’t a detailed discussion of sf’s legitimation anxiety—in the form of a formal history tracing how both the academy and important literary reviews have neglected sf, or seen it as trivial escapism, or openly denigrated the genre—be of great practical use to students beginning to enter the conversation? Perhaps I simply desire CCSF, a book as detailed and as useful as it is, simply to be more. Don’t ask me what I would have left out when the staff at Cambridge restricted CCSF to its current size—just about the same as other titles in the Companions series—and it’s hard to imagine that James and Mendlesohn didn’t desire more space.

Most of the titles in the Companions series have an identical apparatus, so perhaps however useful a glossary would have been it would not have met the template. Well organized and representative, the bibliography will serve the target audience’s needs. The index, however, is simply inadequate and marred by many errors. Long on names but short on topics, the index makes many peculiar decisions. Entries on “organlegging” and “share cropping,” but nothing on change or progress? No estrangement or performativity, though we do find R.R. Winterbothem. No reading protocols. No embedding. But entries do include Newt Gingrich, Hale’s Tours, and Donald Palumbo. Even when the index does give an important conceptual term, its indexing often remains incomplete—”defamiliarization,” for instance, lists one page, though several writers use it explicitly (and often implicitly). While many beginning students will never use the index, more advanced students and scholars will, and it stands as the book’s one glaring weakness.

The Literature of Progress. The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction means to be a sort of practical summa, and it is very, very good. But as such, it stands still, presenting a diorama of current thinking. All of the book’s categories are traditional—the sober, sane, standard categories of conventional sf lit crit, suitably appropriate for staid, solid, scholarly publishers such as Cambridge. We all should be glad to have the book, which performs a considerable and important service: it will be a core text of our critical toolbox for years to come.

I’m using it in the classroom this fall. The only current competition in the classroom market will be two books from Routledge—Adam Roberts’s Science Fiction (2000) and Brooks Landon’s Science Fiction Since 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars (1995/2002). While Roberts’s straightforward book strikes the right linear tone for the absolute novice, it is riddled with odd errors and facile ambiguities, something that should be remedied by a second edition; Landon’s far more sophisticated, far more detailed, and brilliantly convincing book nevertheless presents considerable difficulty to the true novice—even some students familiar with the genre will have trouble negotiating the elliptical opening chapters that furnish a non-definition of sf, a point first made by Veronica Hollinger in a review in these pages (SFS #74, March 1998). The Roberts and Landon volumes will still have certain market advantages—because they remain slightly more competitive in price; because they have features CCSF doesn’t (Roberts adds a glossary, Landon annotates a list of “recommended titles”); and especially because they both contain sustained study examples of close readings in representative, major texts, something that most teachers desire for their students. I suspect, then, that professors who adopt CCSF for classroom use will still want a small supplement, an exemplary close reading or two.

But imagine, if you will, another book constructed around different, perhaps less orthodox organizing categories—alterity, slipstream, uncanny, tropes, megatextuality, aporia, gadgets, Geisteswissenschaften, teleology, interrogation, progress, near future, far future, 800 words, steampunk, fort/da, ambiguity, time, sensawunna, anachronism, cognition, Little Tailor, invention, bodies, authority, Nachträglichkeit, topos, subjunctivity, reading, commodity aesthetics, glop, opening, change, apotheosis, or ethos/logos/pathos. It might afford a more speculative adventure, a more science fictional scholarship.

It might even suggest the scholarship of progress.

Attebery, Brian. Strategies of Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.
Butler, Andrew M. “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the British Boom.” SFS 30.3 (November 2003): 374-93.
Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. 1980. Trans. William Weaver. New York: HBJ, 1983.
Fishelov, David. Metaphors of Genre: The Role of Analogies in Genre Theory. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1993.
Freedman, Carl. “Polemical Afterword: Some Brief Reflections on Arnold Schwarzenegger and on Science Fiction in Contemporary American Culture.” PMLA 119.3 (May 2004): 539-46.
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.
Genette, Gérard. Introduction to the Architext. 1979. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Berkeley, CA: Quantum, 1992.
─────. The Work of Art: Immanence and Transcendence. 1994. Trans. G.M. Goshgarian. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1997.
James, Edward. Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
Landon, Brooks. Science Fiction after 1990: From the Steam Man to the Stars. 1995. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2000.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. 3rd ed. Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

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