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Science Fiction - March 5.pdf

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Mike Johnstone

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. The "Pulps": 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 scientific ingenuity. 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 "space opera" - 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 "scientifiction". These pulps could be why many see space operas and SF as "cheap" and simply for entertainment, and why many look down on it. GoldenAge SF: - 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 men" - "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 problems - 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 Cyberpunk - 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 personlaities - 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 limitations - 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 in SF. 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 event 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 cognitive estrangement. 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 phenomenon. 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
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