ENG237: Science Fiction
***Remember to print out the academic integrity thing with the essay.
ABrief History of Science Fiction:
1. Modern Origins (late 19th to early 20th century): Verne, Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs; era of
the "pulps"; Hugo Gernsback, editor of Amazing Stories.
2. GoldenAge (1938-1946)
3. Post-War Era (1946-1965)
4. The New Wave (mid-1960s to early 1970s)
5. Cyberpunk (early to late 1980s)
Science ﬁction has its own periods and evolutions. There are several ways of breaking down the
history of SF, and we are looking at one in particular. There are various ways we can think of
what deﬁnes each period--particular editors have played a crucial role in the periods.As well,
the eras are characterized by particular authors. We can also look at the topics and thematic
concerns that highlight each era.
1890s to 1920s. These are located in magazines are periodicals. In the 1890s we start to have
magazines focused on speciﬁc genres of stories, as well as when we start having the various
genre classiﬁcations: mystery, SF, romance, western, etc. Pulps take their name from the paper
that was used for publishing these types of periodicals. Pulps were written by proliﬁc hack-
writers and printed on cheap paper to lower costs. The pulps are a type of story but also a way
of producing stories. The stories are aimed at entertainment.
Pulp stories revolved around solving a problem through scientiﬁc means (BrianAttebery).
The story in the pulps reﬂects the cultural shift in the late 19th century as science as the
authoritative means of explaining humanity. Scientiﬁc information was doled out throughout
these tales in info-dumps. The SF stories are scientiﬁc mysteries, and these info-dumps are
like a gathering of clues.
The scientist/engineer as the hero. There is a problem, and it is solved by some sort of
There are several key points that led to the emergence of SF and pulps (Luckhurst). Pulps are
aimed at feeling this need to be entertained.
Characters and Conventions:
- appealing to a mass literary culture
- aimed at entertaining readers
- stories concerned with adventure and excitement--"a literature of distraction" (Roberts)
- SF stories predominately set in outer space or other exotic locations
- use of plots/conventions from mysteries, westerns, lost-world romances--development of
- elements from other genres used
- her os a man-of-action, strong, competent, ingenious; often a young (male) scientist or
engineer, who saves the world with an invention
- Gernsback was the key editor in the pulp era (HugoAwards)
- Gernsback desired stories that were instructive, imparting scientiﬁc knowledge - he believed that SF stories should impart scientiﬁc knowledge, teach readers about science,
and encourage readers to becoming scientists
- he wanted to make the world better through science--to him, this was the function of SF
Gernsback was the one who settled on the term "science ﬁction"--earlier on he used the word
These pulps could be why many see space operas and SF as "cheap" and simply for
entertainment, and why many look down on it.
- 1930s-early 1950s
- John W. Campbell Jr. is the key editor of this era
- editor of "Astounding Science Fiction"
- also had a particular idea of SF
- had a signiﬁcant inﬂuence on what constituted SF
- wanted to avoid "mysticism" and to appeal to an audience of "technically trained, mature
- "hard SF" involves linear narratives, heroes solving problems, etc.
- aims to get the science right
- space opera or technological-adventure idiom
- using science to solve problems
- Roberts: Campbell liked ideas rooted in recognizable science---heroes using science to solve
- extrapolating from current science
- heroes express a "can-do, individualist, free-enterprise ideology" (Roberts)
- hero is a "tough, taciturn engineer who uses reason and practical know-how to solve seemingly
insurmountable problems" (Attebury)
- very masculine SF
- in terms of the gendering
- writers/editors/readers mostly men
- many, even today, still consider GoldenAge SF as proper SF
- SF synonymous with GoldenAge
- called GoldenAge because it is a formative time in SF
- when Campbell changed the name of his magazine to "Astounding Science Fiction", the
community came together around this term
The New Wave
- mid-late 1960s to mid-early 1970s
- act of rejection of GoldenAge SF
- aesthetically as well as ideologically
- idea for new age writers was that they were "renovating SF" by taking advantage of
developments in modernism and post-modernism
- "new wave" echoed the "nouvelle vague" in French cinema
- unconventional and experimental in terms of subject matter
- aim to make SF more literary--give more focus to characterization, style, story, etc.
- GoldenAge was primarily idea ﬁction; not so concerned with "good literary prose" - turn to "inner space" (i.e. psychology, introspection, inner landscapes)
- rejection of outer space
- theme of entropy (i.e. everything moves inevitably toward dissolution)
- things breaking down and dissolving
- Philip K. Dick = exemplary author in terms of entropy
- response to the post-WWII reality
Comments by New Wave writers:
- Bester: "average quality of writing in the ﬁeld is extraordinarily low"
- Moorcock: "SF betrayed by lazy/bad/stupid writers who can't stimulate the mind and emotions
at the same time"
- "poorly-informed notions of 'GoldenAge' SF tells nothing about human character or
condition and follows a pulp-derived styles"
- Ballard: "like to see more psycho-literary ideas"
- these comments represent the rejection of GoldenAge SF that occurred during the New Wave
- 1970s to 1990s
- shaking up SF, which had become ﬂat
- radical shaking up
- combines a return to GoldenAge sensibility (hard SF) with ideas from New Wave
- after New Wave
- 1970s is a weird, intriguing decade in SF
- "cyberpunk" coined by Bruce Bethke in 1983 as a title for a story
- inﬂuenced by aesthetic and cultural aims of the New Wave (inner space)
- response to the New Right and hypercapitalism of the Thatcher/Teagan era
- Neuromancer: most important/ﬁrst major cyberpunk novel
- near-future settings, urban dystopias
- integrations between body and technology (cyborgs, hybrids, posthumans, "matrix")
- artiﬁcial intelligences and other sentient/semi-sentient machines, downloaded/uploaded
- character in cyberpunk often marginal or socially-excluded, on the fringes of society
- attempts at technological/electronic transcendence
- various ways in which the body is limited, and technology helps us transcend these
- drugs, drug use, marginal, socially-excluded, criminal characters
-last major movement in SF
- cyberpunk is profoundly inﬂuential on SF
- aesthetics, various tropes, ideological perspective
Since cyberpunk, we have some key trends in SF. One of them for a while is the "new space-
opera". In the earlier years space-operas were looked down upon.--the term is pejorative. New
Space Opera rejuvenated this tradition, starting in the late 1990s and continuing today. This
combines elements of cyberpunk with hard SF as well as literary sensibility. The new space-
opera (predominately by British writers) is seen as some of the best SF today. Other more recent movement is feminist SF, queer SF, as well as more women writers
emerging in SF. In the last 5-10 years there is a lot of focus on post-colonial SF. SF by writers
in other parts of the world.Also, writers turning to what we might call a post-colonial setting
Wilson, Spin - The Spin and theArchway
- 4*10^9A.D. i.e. 4,000,000,000 years in the future)
- a date
- this date is the present time when Tyler is telling the novel
- the narrative structure alternates between this present and the events in the past (our present)
- we learn that four billion years in the future is the actual date of the earth and the solar system
(in the world of the novel)
- the novel is about how humanity would react to its imminent end
- what's signiﬁcant about what Wilson is doing here is the way in which the looming end of
humanity is predominately approached is a foundation of rational, scientiﬁc explanations for
The novel was initially published in 2005. The events in the beginning of the novel are meant to
take place in our time ("October Event"). However, it is our known and familiar world steadily
made strange. Wilson very quickly establishes cognitive estrangement in the novel. He tells us
that we are four billion years in the future from our own time.
In Tyler's narrative, we get a conﬂation of past and present. On Earth, the time is our time (at
least in the very beginning). Outside the Earth, the real date is four billion years on from the
beginning of the Spin. Cognitive estrangement relates to how time is handled, and how the
characters perceive time.
In the second chapter, Wilson intensiﬁes the cognitive estrangement. This is where we get Tyler's
narrative of the October Event. They witness the stars disappear, as the Earth is enclosed in
what they later learn is the "Spin membrane".
From the disappearance of the stars onward, we get the process of the response to the Spin and
various attempts to understand/make sense of/react to it. This response is predominately a
scientiﬁc, rational, cognitive response--particularly through Tyler. But also through how much
stage time Tyler gives to Jason, a scientist.
The story starts with a very far future, and then the disappearance of the stars--escalating
The more thought that is given to the Spin, the more this estrangement is heightened. The idea
of the hypotheticals heightens this cognitive estrangement. There is also the process of
ﬁguring out the time discrepancy between Earth and the universe outside the Spin.
In the 4th chapter, we get a more accurate description of the Spin. This is from a scientiﬁc,
rational, cognitive point of view. This POV lends a legitimacy and authority to explaining this
Time is passing normally in the universe, but is slowed down on Earth. The time gradient has
been engineered. This is fascinating for Jason but disturbing for Tyler.
This is no accident. The barrier is not hiding them--it is protecting them.
The question is, for the characters: why? Cognitive estrangement is steadily escalated throughout the novel. The time gradie