JULY 8 , LECTURE 2, ENG237H1
What is “Science Fiction”?
Historical and Cultural way to define science fiction. Problem and absence of the
real. Real thing. Real people.
Voyages extraordinaries (Jules Verne, 1870s)
Scientific romances (H.G.Wells, 1890s)
Scientific fiction scientifiction science fiction (Hugo Gernsback, 1920s) credited
with making this into a term.
Speculative fiction (Robert Heinlein, 1940s)
Sci-fi (film, TV)
SF (literary forms)
Process in evolution of settling upon the term itself.
“But then coined “science fiction” in his magazine Science Wonder Stories in 1929.
When the rival magazine Astounding Stories changed its name to Astounding Science-
Fiction in 1938, the subculture more or less consolidated around the term.” Roger
Luckhurst, Science Fiction.
Science fiction appears in the title, most important in the magazine of publishing.
Subculture more or less consolidated around the term. Both defined and solidified a
community. Communal acceptance.
Label came in at a particular time in a response to social and cultural condition.
Development of this new genre this literature that requires a new label. Science
Fiction, term that identifies on the one hand of ideological foundations of a cultural
context of this genre. Intriguing and yoking together, oxymoron. Science (specific
kind of practice, specific ideological discourse and language, imperial and logical
experience of the world.) Fiction (imaginative and speculative, not true). Label of
science fiction that address the impact of science and technology. Science is by the
means we understand and shape the world. Imperialist, but on the other hand, made
up and imaginative and not true. Oxymoron. Label that stuck.
The term, really founded on techno-scientific world view. Becomes dominant by
later 19 century, post 1880. World view identified and expressed by with central
tropes. Space flight, time travel. Clear and identifiable tropes. Related to world view,
Historical/ cultural approach
“the cosmos expands before the probing inquiries of empirical science through the
17 and 18 centuries… it becomes increasingly a function of western Protestant
culture. From this SF develops as an imaginatively expansive and (crucially)
materialist mode of literature, as opposed to the magical-fantastic, fundamentally
religious mode that comes to be known as Fantasy.” Adam Roberts, The History of
Ancient Greece. Imperialist and scientific and rationalist view of the world. 1600
and 1700 and fiction about people going to the moon. Traveling to other worlds and
planets. Interplanetary travels. Catholic and magical experience. Materialist mode of literature? Things matter. Physical universe. The want, the
ownership. Sense of something that is tangible. Religion, anxiety about faith and
spirit. What is material and what is measurable? More valuable than faith.
Beginnings of scifi. Non-theological mode of understanding the natural world.
Roberts, justification of ancient Greek science. Homer’s Odyssey. By the means of
ship, by a technology. Roberts suggest that in Ancient Greek, technology plays a role
just as much as literature now.
“SF is better defined as ‘technology fiction’ provided we take ‘technology’ not as a
synonym of ‘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’…” How we see them and how we make sense of them.
“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 (to use an older term of technology) on cultural
life and human subjectivity.” Luckhurst, 3.
Supplant and displace theological understanding of the world. Darwin’s origin of
species. By the 1890s, Darwinian understanding came to influence the steady
dominance. Authoritative. Changing tangible. Mechanism: trains, weapons, even
everyday life. Impact by some scientific advancement. Like Roberts, Luckhurst
pinpoints technology in what is important, technologically saturated. Really kind of
late 19 century. Impact of mechanism of human subjectivity. Increasingly notable
presence. Changing the world, these changes are having profound effect. The ways
we relate to each other. Profound effect of human subjectivity. Very sense of self,
individually as well as socially. Scifi is having a very important role in response to
rapidly increasing role of every day life. We often see in literature and response to
things. Key of main response. Wonder.
Late scientific of Victorian era. Luckhurst places it in the late 19 century. “late
nineteenth century mass literacy; new print vectors; a coherent ideology and
emergent profession of science; everyday experience transformed by machines and
mechanical processes, released in a steady stream from the workbenches of
inventors and engineers.” Luckhurst, 29 Appetite for entertainment. Different kinds
of reading material. Luckhurst mentions print vectors, latter 19 century, printing
technology, printing presses. Allows for cheaper kinds of printed products and more
of them to be made.
Roberts and Luckhurst: legitimize scifi in social and cultural and history context.
Giving science fiction a certain kind of legitimacy and authority. Differences between
two: Roberts suggest that Ancient Greek science fiction, especially when Luckhurst
says that it’s technology saturated society. Roberts pushes it too far back, maybe say
it like a proto-scifi. Rather than actually scifi.
Tropes and conventions of SF
- Spaceships; interplanetary/ interstellar travel
- Aliences; the encounter with alien
- Advanced or unusual technology
- Mechanical robots; genetic engineering; biological robots (cyborgs)
- Time travel - Alterntaive history
- Futuristic utopias and dystopias
“The icons of sf are the signs which announce the genre, which warn the reader that
this is a different world; and at the same time constitute the difference.” Gwyneth
Jones, “The icons of science fiction”. These icons help and aware of this genre, crucial
to creating and estabilishing this difference.
Formal and Aesthetic approach
SF as “The encounter with difference”
- SF narratives present worlds that are (often radically) different from our
own in some way
- Dislocation, displacement, disjunction
- Newness/ the new
- Otherness/ alterity
Differnece in SF is signaled by
Setting- i.e., space; a future or alternate Earth; another planet; a spaceship; alien
environments and cultures; a technologically highly advanced society, etc.
Characters- i.e., robots, machines, AIs, Aleins, transhumans/ posthumans, cyborgs
(and other kinds of altered humans), etc.
Subjectivities: SF explores, presents, and challenges us with a variety of
“other” (even alien) subject positions: i.e., perspectives, identities, individualities,
consciousnesses, selves, etc.
“All fiction is metaphor. Scifi is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of
fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of
our contemporary life- science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic
and the historical outlook, among them… A metaphor for what?” Ursula K. Le Guin.
Description for rational and imperialist point of view. Le Guin is a distinct genre.
Scifi’s aesthetics have for Le Guin a specific context.
Space Travel, Future, metaphor of changing world, impossibilities, escapism,
colonization and imperialism, new notions, control.
Equilibrium is Inevitable: Chiang’s “Exhalation”
Extrapolating from social cultural conditions and imagining future outcomes.
“It has long been said that air (which others call argon) is the source of life. This is
not in fact the case, and I engrave these words to desc