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Science Fiction - January 15.pdf

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Mike Johnstone

ENG237: Science Fiction What is "Science Fiction"? How did we arrive at the term "science fiction"? It wasn't widely used until the late 1920s. Wells called his novels "scientific romances". In this sense "romance" referred to any sort of narrative or story with an unrealistic element to it. Wells was focusing his on scientific aspects. In the 1920s Hugo Gernsback started out with "scientific fiction", then changed it to "scientifiction", and then coined "science fiction". The subculture consolidated around that term.Around this time the SF community really was a subculture, and everyone involved in it was in contact with each other. Nowadays we also use "speculative fiction", "SF", and "sci-fi". The community today (with blogs, internet, etc.) in a way recalls the SF subculture in the 1920s. Science fiction is almost an oxymoron in a sense. Science is a particular practice/discourse/ ideological perspective. It is a rational understanding of the world. On the other hand, fiction is made up. The label science fiction suggests stories that imagine and respond to the impact of science as a means by which we understand and shape the world. The label arises from sociocultural conditions, founded upon a techno-centric world view. This view became dominant by the late 19th century. The key tropes and images in the genre are expressing this world view. "Science Fiction" - Historical/CulturalApproach Origins of SF have been pinpointed as far back as ancient Greece, or more recently in the late 19th century. Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction suggests that SF can be traced back to ancient Greece, but it especially began in the 17th and 18th century: the period of enlightenment. In the 16th and 17th centuries we begin to see stories that deal with planetary travel. In 1634, Kepler wrote a novel that presents a view of Earth from the Moon. Roberts argues that after the Protestant reformation, religious splits lead to splitting between fantasy and science fiction. He says that SF developed "as an imaginatively expansive and "crucially" materialist mode of literature..." SF deals with real-world objects, with physical properties of the world, as opposed to magic. With science fiction there is usually an explanation, but this is not the same with fantasy. SF perhaps has a focus on the "how". SF may not be possible now, but it is plausible. SF involves machines, physical things that physically affect the nature of our world or our beings. Roberts also suggests that the idea of science as a way of understanding the world dates way before the 17th and 18th centuries, and that it can be traced back to as far as ancient Greece. Roberts: "SF is better defined as 'technology fiction' provided we take 'technology' not as a synonym for 'gadgetry' a mode of 'enframing' the world, a manifestation of a fundamentally philosophical outlook.As a genre, therefore, SF textually embodies this 'enframing'..." SF can be used as a lens through which we can look at issues our society faces today. Luckhurst: SF is a literature of technologically saturated societies. It is a genre that can only emerge late in modernity. It is a popular literature that concerns the impact of Mechanism on cultural life and human subjectivity. Late Victorian life was very involved in Mechanism. Science and technology were rapidly and radically changing the world. There is a sense of wonder in progress. Things will keep moving upward and getting better, and Victorians used this idea of progress in terms of everything in their lives. There was also a sense of trauma and terror to this advancement: things had changed so fast and rapidly that it was difficult to process fully. The late 19th century is an intriguing time in terms of science fiction. The "trauma and terror" aspect can be seen in H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds. Things had changed so much that it was hard to understand, and his novel reflects this. Luckhurst:All of this is what lead to a new type of popular scientific fiction in the late 19th century: mass literacy, new print vectors, a coherent ideology and emergent profession of science, everyday experience transformed by machines and mechanical processes. Increased literacy: happening since especially the 1840s. So by the end of the century there is a sort of explosion of literacy. There was an appetite for reading material, for being entertained. Cheaper printing methods: made more reading material available, and made it cheaper. Science as a profession, and as an authoritative ideology. More and more people turning to science over religion. Visibility of science and technology. The world was changing in a very noticeable way. Roberts and Luckhurst are both aiming to legitimize science fiction by focusing on its cultural and historical context. "Science Fiction" - Formal/AestheticApproach Tropes and conventions of SF: - spaceships, interplanetary/interstellar travel - aliens, the encounter with the alien - advanced or unusual technology - mechanical robots, genetic engineering, biological robots (cyborgs) - time travel - alternative history - futuristic utopias and dystopias Gwyneth Jones says that the icons of SF announce the genre: they warn the reader that this is a different world, and at the same time constitute that difference. These icons signal that we have science fiction. Example: the shoulder laser. This tells us that the world is different in some way, and this difference is what is crucial to science fiction. SF is fundamentally invested in that difference. SF frequently gets called "the literature of the encounter with the difference" or "the literature of the encounter with the other".All of the strategies of SF function to defamiliarize a story's world from our own. We could say that all fiction relies upon some kind of degree of difference. That is, all fiction relies upon the fact of its fictionality. Difference 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, aliens, trans-humans/post-humans, 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 a metaphor, and science fiction is a 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, etc. The future in fiction is a metaphor--but for what? Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin says that SF is a distinctly modern genre. When reading SF, ask what these things suggest or imply. What is a spaceship a metaphor of? What is an alien a metaphor of? What is someone's temporal autism a metaphor of? Weinbaum:Aliens and/as Others Alien stories are central to science fiction. Th
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