January 16 , 2012
Science Fiction & Aliens
What is Science Fiction?
H.G. Wells referred to his novels as “scientific romances.” “Romance” refers to fiction –
fictions that were not attempting to me naturalistic interpretations of everyday life
(ghosts, vampires, etc.).
Science fiction was coined in Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Science Wonder Stories in
The term itself identifies an ideological foundation of the genre itself – science, for
instance. Intriguing yoking together of oxymorons. Science has a specific discourse and
language, and it is embedded in a very specific, imperialist worldview. Focus on facts,
objectivity, and a certain notion of truth. On the other hand we have fiction – the
speculative, imaginary. If you put the two together gives us an idea of what stories we
have – stories that address and respond to the influence of science upon our lives. One
idea is that SF rises out of specific social and cultural conditions that were highly
influenced by technology (techno-scientific worldview). This is a worldview that
becomes most dominant by the time we come to the late 19 century.
(1) Historical/cultural approach: trying to think about how we might establish a history of
SF as tied to particular to certain social/cultural conditions. In the 1500/1600s we have
found stories of interplanetary travel. Roberts indentifies these stories as maybe the more
proper beginning of Science Fiction. After the Protestant Reformation, the Protestant path
evolved into its own worldview that led to the more rationalist, scientific worldview. The
Catholic path adheres to a more magical/supernatural worldview (developed as what we
know today as fantasy literature).
Adam Roberts: “SF is better defined as ‘technology fiction’ provided we take technology
not as a synonym for ‘gadgetry’ but… as a mode of ‘enframing’ the world, a
manifestation of a fundamentally philosophical outlook. As a genre, therefore, SF
textually embodies this ‘enframing’…”
Luckhurst (we can’t take about SF until post-1880): For me, SF is a literature of
technologically saturated societies. A genre that can therefore emerge only relatively late
in modernity, it is a popular literature that concerns the impact of Mechanism (older term
for technology) on cultural life and human subjectivity.
Ex. electricity, photography, film was invented. People’s lives were profoundly changed;
people could travel long distances by train for the first time. Human subjectivity was changed as a result, who are we and how do we respond in this changing world?
There’s a particular social and cultural condition that produces Science Fiction.
In the late 19 century, there are two responses to the saturation of technology: (1)
technology was a physical manifestation of progression and (2) a response of
trauma/terror. Things have changed too quickly, and there was uncertainty for what the
future might hold. In late Victorian SF, we see this response (ex. H.G. Wells’ War of the
Luckhurst identifies specific cultural conditions of the late 19 that assisted in the
evolution of Science Fiction: mass literacy, new print vectors, a coherent ideology and
emergent profession of science, everyday experience transformed by machines and
Even into the 1860s books were still quite expensive, especially for those of the
lower/middle class. By the 1880s/90s we get more widely available and cheap books.
What Roberts and Luckhurst are doing by attempting to establish a context for SF is a
way of legitimizing the genre. It’s representing very specific worldviews – Luckhurst
seems to represent SF in a better way.
(2) Formal/Aesthetic Approach: there are particular tropes/convention that we relate to
Science Fiction (ex. spaceships, androids, and aliens).
Gwyneth Jones: The icons (tropes) of Science Fictions are the signs which announce the
genre, which warn the reader that this is a different world; and at the same time constitute
Science Fiction as “the encounter with difference”
Science Fiction narratives present worlds that are (often radically) different from our own
in some way. Science Fiction makes difference its foundation – the sense of difference
from our everyday world is crucial. Characters are also tangibly different. With
characters in particular, we can also get certain subjectivities – different ideas of identity,
seflness, consciousnesses, and individuality.
-Dislocation, displacement, disjunction
Metaphor is going to be crucial for how we understanding the books we’re reading this
Aliens & Others Kinds of images of aliens we see mark and embody specific attitudes towards the other
and otherness. Aliens can be metaphors or allegories that represent our fascination or fear
Definition: Belonging to another person, place, or family; strange, foreign, not one’s
own. Of a nature or character differing from, far removed from, inconsistent with our
origin. The alien can influence dichotomies with us vs. them, and can destabilize these
distinctions. The alien can be threatening and undesirable, especially going back to Alien.
Aliens are incompatible with the image/vision of what it means to be human. Often the
alien serves to question or subvert our investment in humanity as a norm or the apex of
Alien Invasion/Contact Narratives
-Commentary on and critique of social/political context and h