Guide Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (Popular Fictions)

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The Martian Chronicles charts events from the first human landing on the planet in January to the annihilation of humanity on Earth, leaving the last human family on Mars in October Arthur C. A black monolith appears to prehistoric humans and alters our evolution. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, another monolith is discovered on the Moon, sending out an electromagnetic signal towards Saturn, and five years later a ship, the Discovery, is sent to investigate. The novel is a serial extrapolation, in as realistic a form as possible, from the technological position of the late s.

Neuromancer is the novel which is largely incorrectly credited with inventing the sub-genre of cyberpunk. Written in the early s, Gibson creates an urban twenty-first century dystopia in the Sprawl, a sleazy extrapolation of techno-capitalism. Its style is a similar sort of futuristic vernacular used by Gibson. Run-down landmarks of present-day Manchester are extrapolated into a dystopian setting where the world of vurt encroaches on the real-world.

These novels represent different versions of the same point in the future, seen from different decades in the twentieth century. I am not claiming here that they are idealised versions of the decades to which they belong. There are many texts contemporary with these which present radically different versions of the future, and there are many points of connection in both style and presented universes between early and late science fiction. However, there is, intuitively at least, something that is archetypally s, s or s and so on about these selected texts, and part of the purpose of this analysis to investigate precisely what this is.

With early science fiction, for example, it is often easy to identify the precise dates at which the novels are set, since these are given explicitly in the text. Stapledon even has a diagram showing the timescale of his novel, and Bradbury presents the text as a chronicle, with date headings for chapters.

In more recent science fiction, however, the precise target setting is more vague, and can only be discovered by closely reading the text. In the discussion so far, the main issues have centred around spatio-temporal relationships between past and future, time of writing and target time of setting, time of writing and time of reading, characters as past and present narrating enactors, future narrators and present readers, and readers existing in the future of writers. These relationships are further complicated by the internal relationships within the fictional universe, in which manuscripts from the distant future are delivered to present-day editors and purport to deal with the more recent past - which is, of course, in our future.

Such temporal complexity means that we cannot even strictly say that the characters and events are fictional because they never happened, since from the reality-point of the text they have not had a chance to happen yet. This is a strange sort of reverse history. The only way to un-earth the workings of the future is to examine closely the structure of these artificial artefacts, and this is the matter of the rest of this chapter.

These are usually set in a past that is not our past, and often take a pivotal point in history as the catalyst for the story: Napoleon was not defeated, Hitler was assassinated, the atomic bomb was not dropped, the Axis powers won the Second World War, and so on. However, thinking about this narrow definition of science fiction, for the sake of argument, can be illuminating. Imagine a few technological advances, either real such as the moon landing, personal computers, fax machines, mobile phones or yet to come the Mars landing, final proof of the impossibility of faster-than-light travel, alien first contact.

With these in mind, which science fiction texts would cease to be science fictional as soon as the technology was actually invented? Out of these, what other elements remain that still make the story science fictional? Answering this question takes you some way to deciding what other aspects of science fiction are central and peripheral to the genre. She says of science fiction: It seems, from this brief examination, that in science fiction and stories about the supernatural, readers and viewers will still attempt to build and maintain frames. Indeed in some cases, monitoring of contexts and characters may be a more complex task than for other types of text.

Without contextual monitoring by means of frames, the reader of a story would be disorientated. Emmott This section addresses the further development of the framework by looking at the precise detail of the ways language can be used to indicate objects and relationships within a frame: this is the area associated with deixis, explored below.

Chapter 7 returns to consider these issues further. Deixis is the name given to uses of items and categories of lexicon and grammar that are controlled by certain details of the interactional situation in which the utterances are produced.

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These details include especially the identity of the participants in the communicating situation, their locations and orientations in space, whatever on-going indexing acts the participants may be performing, and the time at which the utterance containing the items is produced. A particularly clear exposition in terms of poetry is outlined by Semino , after Levinson , and the basic deictic categories which follow are mainly adapted from there. There is an initial problem, however, in that deixis is primarily a feature of spoken, face-to-face conversation, a situation quite different from literary reading, and most of the linguistic work on deixis concerns this primary context.

Green , b argues that deictic usage in literature should be treated in essentially the same way as primary examples of deixis, with the generic context taken into account. In relation to literature, Bex argues that the particular genre which is under consideration can affect the deictic usage quite significantly. The traditional terms are also rather inelegantly collocated and are imprecise, I think.

My intention throughout the following discussion is to use the categories of deixis as a means of examining some historical developments in science fictional writing. Though the exploration focuses on science fiction, clearly other literary genres also use deixis in particular characteristic ways. I recommend my relabelled categories for their study too, though a comparative analysis of deixis in science fiction and other literature is beyond the scope of this chapter.

The literary fictional deictic categories are correspondences rather than equivalents, because they are internal to the world of the text. All of these aspects are expressed in the lexical and grammatical choices of the text. To handle these difficulties with fictional reading, it is necessary to conceive of another level or frame in which the deictic elements encode a world of pretence. Syntactic deictics encoded as interrogatives and imperatives uttered by a speaking voice located in a specific place are also compositional rhetorical features in science fiction, all designed to increase the plausibility of the text.

These special features of deixis in the context of literary fictional reading require a brief discussion of deictic projection in terms of cognitive frames. This is perhaps alright for face-to-face conversation. Lyons allows derivative uses of deixis so that deictic expressions can be seen to be used by characters in different contextual frames.

This is deictic projection, and it applies to every framed context in science fiction and fictional literature generally. Fillmore regards this as a shift in point of view. If by this he means focalisation, then this is a matter of perceptual deixis 2. In short, the traditional account of deixis is too producer-oriented and too egocentrically focused. This is most evident with science fiction which foregrounds notions of temporality and the relative authorities and contextual knowledge of writer, narrator, addressee and reader. My desire for a holistic view of deixis in the context of fiction is supported by Jones , in a critique of the traditional account.

We should have spoken sooner. But we had hoped that you might go on your way if left alone. The spheres turn out to be ancient Martians who have escaped sin by evolving beyond their physical bodies, but for the sake of the science fiction reader and Fr. Peregrine, they are still able to communicate using the conventional English pronoun system.

Third person forms are excluded as being non-participatory. This distinction cannot hold in relation to fictional discourse. Strictly, there are no participants in literature other than the reader. First, second and third person deictics must all be included in perceptual deixis since they are aspects of the contextual framing managed during reading.

They all operate at an embedded discoursal level, and so they all have a status different from the reader. Furthermore, authors often have narrators describe the apparently internal thoughts or spoken words of a character in the third person, such as in indirect discourse and free indirect discourse Leech and Short In this way the third person form attrracts a deictic dimension, as far as the reader is concerned, just as much as other characters who are presented similarly indirectly by the author through a narrator.

Levinson 68 indicates the importance of participant roles within person deixis, noting that speaker can be separate from source, recipient distinct from target, and hearers different from addressees. Indeed, the ways in which readers negotiate differences between authors, implied authors, narrators, the host of speaking characters in the narrative, narratee, implied reader and themselves as real readers are through perceptual deictic markers distinguishing each of these entities.

All three of the earliest texts selected for this chapter Stapledon, Wells, Asimov have a complicated narrative structure which requires that the reader negotiates perceptual deictic elements. This structure presents the narrative frame as a set of embedded documents, which serve to assert plausibility by authorising the text through several witnessing narrators.

At the same time, the core narrative itself is distanced from the reader, and its circumstance of production can then reasonably be presented as being vague and mysterious. The brain that conceives and writes these sentences lives in the time of Einstein. The actual writer thinks he is merely contriving a work of fiction. Though he seeks to tell a plausible story, he neither believes it himself, nor expects others to believe it.

Yet the story is true. A being who you would call a future man has seized the docile but scarcely adequate brain of your contemporary, and is trying to direct its familiar processes for an alien purpose. Thus a future epoch makes contact with your age. Stapledon 15 The novel could have been written simply without the introduction, but the mediation of the narrative frame through another narrator adds an extra level of authorisation apparent authenticity. As detailed above 2. For a novel entitled I, Robot, this manipulation of perceptual deixis is hardly surprising. Within each primed story frame, the unnamed journalist speaker recounts the story told to him by Susan Calvin source.

The target of his narrative is the galactic readership of the Interplanetary Press. He is the addressee of each story, and the galactic readership are the addressees of the whole text of the novel. All of this is encoded in the shifts of perceptual deictic expressions across the novel. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand - at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war.

Now the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society [for Humanity], - having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy. Think, that for all time, all conflicts are finally evitable. Only the Machines, from now on, are inevitable! Calvin, rising. I will see no more. My life is over. You will see what comes next. She died last month at the age of eighty-two.

At the end, after a frame recall back to an inter-story frame marked by the ellipted line and italics , Byerley and the enacted younger Calvin are bound to the previous story frame which is now unprimed. The newly primed frame contains the primed enactor older Calvin, and the journalist; and the shift from the locally primed speaking Calvin to the subsequent locally primed narrating journalist is marked by the shift of deictic centre across the last two paragraphs. This gives detail to the framework for the purposes of science fiction, and also adds a cognitive dimension to the theory of deixis.

However, it is clear that in science fiction the aspects of spatial location and temporal location are more important than in many other contexts, so it is useful in my framework to treat temporal and spatial deixis separately. I do not believe there has been alien contact with our planet in recent history, so I am fairly certain that all science fiction has been written on the planet Earth.

However, much of that material sets the narrative extra-terrestrially. Space is symbolically important in science fiction, though of course almost all narrative genres involve the action being set in a particular place, and most of them include movement to different locations through the narrative. Emmott handles these with the notions of frame switching and recall, mentioned above 2. This last pattern was seen being used by Asimov , in 2.

Of course, it matters whether the narrating speaker is inside the frame participating in the action or is external to it. The latter is a more complicated deictic situation and will be discussed below. We stuck to the dark hours in those days. The Thing was on board and that was a major crime; possession of live drugs, a five-year stretch guaranteed.

Noon 6 This passage locates the narrative deictically in a number of ways. All of these will be discussed below 2. In other words, even non-participating speakers in narrative are treated by readers as personas having a spatial location in relation to the narrative. All narrators use deictic expressions. Here on the Equator, in the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight.

In this barren and desiccated land only the small or the swift or the fierce could flourish, or even hope to survive. Heywood Floyd told himself, the excitement never really palled. He had been to Mars once, to the Moon three times, and to the various space-stations more often than he could remember. No - that was not where they really were, he felt certain. He wished, now that it was far too late, that he had paid more attention to those theories of hyperspace, of transdimensional ducts. To Dave Bowman, they were theories no longer. Perhaps that monolith on Japetus was hollow.

In fact, even though I have brought these four excerpts together from different parts of the novel, the deictic expressions make it easy for a reader to locate each setting in relation to an assumed speaker. In the first excerpt, the narrating voice is omniscient and disembodied. However, there is still a strong sense of a narrating persona here, and this is largely a product of the deixis in the passage.

When the narrative is focused through one of the characters, as in the second excerpt, it is even easier to see the workings of deixis to create a character in a setting. Also apparent from these extracts is how closely tied spatial deixis is to temporal deixis, as two aspects of the locating function of narrative deixis generally. Science fictional space is measured in light years; and temporal deixis is discussed next. Locating the narrative temporally is obviously, then, an important feature for the genre. In English, only the past and present are fully grammaticalised; English has developed a means of expressing prospective time modally.

Speculating, one may argue that, in the history of mankind, it has not been for long that the future has been schedulable and scheduled, that the need or even the mere desire arose to differentiate temporal sections of the undifferentiated uncertain future. However, how this is done deserves attention. Rauh b: This links in with my argument so far that the existing deictic system is adapted for literary reading. In her earlier work , she lists the possible ways in which narratives can refer to the future.

Of course, any text using these forms inevitably foregrounds the fact that the future is not an area of knowledge but one of belief, and the observation that these forms occur most commonly in personal face-to-face interaction further serves to underline their subjectivity.

Such forms are potentially a threat to plausibility, and for these reasons science fiction is not written in the modalised future. Instead, it is usually written in the various past forms. Fleischman 5, 56 notes that, in everyday conversation, the present tense forms are those that are unmarked; but in narrative it is the past that is unmarked and normative. In other words, they are narrated.

All narratives, even those that refer to the future, speak of the unreal as if it were past, as if the events had actually occurred. Fleischman This normative status of the past in narrative means that past forms in science fiction are unmarked, and variations mainly then take on an expressive function, marking the fictional narrative as possessing verisimilitude. It is in these expressive functions of tense and aspect style that there is the widest divergence between the earlier and later texts selected for this chapter. The early science fiction novels Wells, Stapledon, Asimov present an authoritative and chronologically ordered history of the future.

The shifts from the core narrative in each case to the editorial interludes are marked by tense and aspect shifts, but within the core narrative the style of temporal deixis is consistently in the prototypical forms of past narration: simple past and progressive past. For example: There was no further change in essential political structure between and , but there was a great change in the spirit and method of that supreme government, the World Council.

A new type of administrator grew up, harder, more devoted and more resolute than the extremely various men of the two Basra Conferences. These younger men constituted what our historian calls here the Second Council, though it was continuous with the first. Such a style is generally typical of the earlier texts, and is a consequence of the monologic authoritative narrator. He emerged with a gasp from coma-like sleep. It took a long time for an all-important fact to penetrate his muzzy mind. The hum of the air compressor had stopped.

Rolling over, he checked the self-powered illuminated clock at the head of his bed. It showed A. But the windows of his trailer were solidly dark, although by now the sun must be high in the sky, the forecast had been for more fine weather, and when it was stretched taut the plastic membrane of his roof was quite translucent. Therefore the power had been cut off and the dome had collapsed. All twenty-two and a half tons of it. Brunner There is a far greater variety of verb forms even in this short passage than in whole chapters of the earlier texts. In earlier science fiction, however, this form often marks out whole paragraphs in which the reader is brought up to date with the pre-narrative events.

This rather clumsy feature of early science fiction writing is especially apparent in short stories and pulp science fiction see chapter 4. You might try to write a few paragraphs of one. Would the story still read as a piece of science fiction, or even count as a narrative at all? Uncumber will have a younger brother called Sulpice, and they will live with their parents in a house in the middle of the woods. There will be no windows in the house, because there will be nothing to see outside except the forest. Frayn 1 This book does not usually count as science fiction, and the fantastic elements inside the house would seem to confirm this.

Are the effects of your narrative like those in this text? Can you imagine a whole science fiction story written like this? This is most easily apparent in the forms of naming and address used by narrators for other characters, with more familiar terms and nicknames used in the more recent vernacular narratives. As we noticed in the discussion of modal auxiliaries 2.

There tends to be a correspondingly greater range of viewpoints presented as well. And where early science fiction predominantly features declarative assertions, the later narratives feature comparatives, conditionals and forms with varied speaker-commitment to the truth of the utterance. He went to the window, in the morning, almost expecting to see Tokyo Bay.

There was another hotel across the street. It made him remember the magnetic locks on the door of her cubicle in the puppet place. That was Wintermute, manipulating the lock the way it had manipulated the drone micro and the robot gardener. The simple mechanical lock here would pose a real problem for the AI, requiring either a drone of some kind or a human agent.

This describes the expressions that are used when narrators refer directly and explicitly to their own narration. In Last and First Men and The Shape of Things to Come, for example, the texts are presented as organised documentaries, and the editorial textual deixis is a reminder of this: I have remarked already how impersonal is this school history of the year in comparison with the histories of our own time.

But let me give it as it came to me. In Vurt, too, there is textual deixis, as you might expect from a narrator called Scribble. As in the Wells passage above, the frame recall is accompanied by personal deictic expressions and a temporal switch into the present tense the narrating time rather than the event time of the narrative. However, here the reflexive reference to the narrative text is marked by a more uncertain and hesitant modality. Here I am, surrounded by wine bottles. Sometimes we get the words wrong. Sometimes we get the words wrong! Believe me on this one. And trust me, if you can.

It just gets real hard sometimes This is how we lost Desdemona. No, not yet. Noon Lastly, this impression of the relative unreliability or intersubjectivity of the narrators of the later texts is generally encoded in the compositional choices these narrating personas seem to make.


  1. Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction.
  2. Science Fiction Studies;
  3. Science Fiction - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature;
  4. The KGB and Soviet Disinformation: An Insiders View.
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  6. Advances in Web Intelligence and Data Mining.

There are similar deictic commitments by the other narrators in the global forms of documentary, history, memoir, autobiography, stream-of-consciousness, and journalistic reportage, all of which are complexly stylistically encoded. These are scientific frameworks which a science fiction story could use as the basis for alteration. Can you imagine characters or events in a science fictional context that could subvert any of the frameworks introduced in this chapter, or at least stretch them to their limits?

For example, how would the notion of enactors and primed frames be used to describe shape-changing aliens or simulacra of real people Campbell , or serial multiple reincarnation Farmer ? What if a personality could be downloaded into a computer memory and replayed Bear , or uploaded again into a newly created body to live again Banks ? You might think of other science fiction scenarios to test the model further.

I have focused on the deictic elements of the texts, as these are the ways in which the narratives are anchored to an apparent reality. But it is important to see this aspect of the textual organisation of science fiction as being subject to the cognitive processes and interpretative position of the reader.

Similar arrangements of deictic patterns, with only quite subtle variation across texts, can produce quite different global effects. For example, in each of the sections on different deictic categories 2. However, the set of speakers in the early texts serve to create a documentary embedding of witnessed accounts see 3. Both sets of texts thus share a fragmentation, but the early texts achieve authority by it and the later texts a confused and breathless chaos. This difference is mainly an effect of small differences within the spatial deixis of each. This means that they come across as being more colloquial and vernacular in style, and this makes them apparently more subjective and idiosyncratic.

In addition, they lack the metalinguistic and reflexive patterns of textual and compositional deixis apparent in the later texts. Such differences in readerly affect are only discernible at the theoretical level if it is recognised that readers impute speaker-generation to all texts. Narrative texts allow a narrating persona to be constructed by the reader, working backwards up the anchor chain, as it were.

Since the unreal science fictional universe is constructed in parallel with this, deictic anchoring points function as links between textual expressions and their indicated referents. It is important to notice that, even with this cognitive revision of deixis, the basic categories used in this chapter have nevertheless allowed me to talk about science fiction.

The universes of science fiction may be radically different, but they use generally conventional narrative patterns as one strategy of maintaining plausibility. Science fiction, though, allows one further, unique twist to narrative theory: the deictically-indexed fictional universes of science fiction texts are real. But this is an Industrial Revolution in which Babbage managed to perfect his Analytic Engine, and information technology, cinema and pneumatic trains arrive a century early, where Byron is prime minister, Disraeli a disreputable hack journalist, and there is a Marxist commune in Manhattan.

In short, this is a parallel science fiction narrative, but of the past rather than the future. Stylistically it is identical to the narrative patterns of futuristic science fiction. Each science fiction narrative creates a plausible universe that is, one that is coherent and internally consistent , which could have come into being at some decisive point in the past at which that universe diverged from our own. There cannot be an infinite and endless set of possible outcomes, though.

Since the universe is made up of a finite set of particles, the number of possible parallel universes might be very large but it is also finite. Let us conclude with a bit of mischievousness. Some of the plausible universes are indexed by science fiction narratives. Of the totality of possible universes in existence, the ones most similar to our own those we would be able to understand are very likely to be the plausible universes of science fiction.

It follows that any science fiction universe that is plausible is somewhere real. This would mean that it is physically, mathematically and existentially real. The future is not yet determined, but the past is. There are just a lot of different versions of the past, inaccessible to us at the moment other than vicariously through reading narratives.

Our sense of history is simply our reasonably unified view of the trail of past actions and events. The future has not yet happened, but any possible future will really happen. Science fiction, then, in both the idiomatic and the literal senses, will always have a future. Consider these in relation to non-science fictional serial futures: futurology, astrology, weather forecasting, TV listings, almanacks, tide tables, train times, and horse-racing odds.

Are there examples of fictional projection and enactors here? How does each of these sorts of text anchor their projected realities deictically? Take an example of each text-type and identify the enactors involved. How is the commitment to a future reality stylistically expressed? For example, Asimov , developed his earlier Foundation universe Asimov , , , and later both Benford and Bear have taken the same universe into new narratives.

Select an existing science fiction universe and sketch out a possible sequel. Would your narrative take place in a different part of the universe, later or earlier, or woven into the existing fabric? What would you introduce or change? Would you revise any parts of the original universe? Would you develop the same characters, introduce new ones, kill any off? In making these decisions, what are your objectives for the narrative? Would you write it in the same style as the original? If not, how would your style be different, and would it in itself reflect a different universe?

Most well-adjusted people can tell the difference between fiction and reality by identifying certain contextual markers: buying the book, holding the magazine, being in a cinema, sitting in an amusement arcade, knowing that the product is marketed as fiction, for example. However, in relation to the film industry and computer games, reality is increasingly too low-budget to seem real.

The development of virtuality technology, such as in theme-park rides, is gradually removing the markers we use to differentiate fiction from base-reality; indeed, this is the design-objective of such projects. Consider what the logical status of fiction would be if the technology ever became good enough such that these markers were entirely removed.

Would the fiction become the reality, in a very real sense? Would this be an undesirable development, given that, in any case, people structure their view of the world in accordance with their own ideology? Is this sort of absolute plausibility by immersion the goal of art, or is artifice and the awareness of artifice part of the pleasure of the fictional experience?

What if Middle English had borrowed the future tense from French after the Norman Conquest, along with the thousands of words which were actually borrowed? In that case, would futuristic fiction written in the future tense retain the concrete sense of accomplished realism that the past tense gives current science fiction? Or would science fiction be more philosophically analytical and lyrically descriptive than it is? Might science fiction not exist at all in this speculative universe? If not, does this mean that the past tense is not only central to narrative but is especially important for science fiction?

The standard histories of the genre are Aldiss and Wingrove and James , while Aldiss and Harrison and Jakubowski and James are biographical histories. Bibliographical material appears in Barron The main work on deixis is in Levinson , and the collected essays edited by Jarvella and Klein , Rauh a , and Green a. Cognitive views of deixis appear in Duchan, Bruder and Hewitt , and the psychology of narrative reading in Gerrig Point of view in fiction is discussed by Fowler and Simpson Hacker and Chamberlain contains a bibliography of alternate history science fiction.

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However, the relationship between language and science fiction has also been addressed directly, both by researchers and by science fiction writers in their stories. In some science fiction, there is a consciousness not just of language and style but of linguistic theory as well. This has led, in turn, to conscious effects being built in to the stylistic surface and narrative organisation. The development of linguistic input into science fiction seems to be different from the use of other sciences in the genre.

It is perhaps not surprising, given the background of many science fiction writers, that speculations on atomic and cosmic physics, biology and genetics, chemistry, and materials engineering have tended to be plausible and knowledgeable projections. There are many cases in which the science in the fiction is only a few steps ahead of reality, and there has been some fruitful interaction between real science and fictional science.

An early example of science and art imitating each other is the case of H. In the subsequent novel, The World Set Free, Wells speculated on the discovery of radium and its consequences, and was accurate even to the year of its isolation by Marie and Pierre Curie in Later, Szilard even had a foray into science fiction writing.

This places Molina in an awkward position, as both narrator and spectator. As a spectator, Molina is the perfect receptacle for the classical Hollywood film. As a narrator, however, Molina does not retell a proper classical Hollywood narrative. Instead, he inserts his own views and opinions into his retelling, creating a verbal history of his personal, specific version of each film. Here Molina tells his story to an audience, yet is also an audience member. Molina saw this movie and now he is retelling it. Linda Hutcheon, in Poetics of Postmodernism , points to this relationship between speaker and listener as one of the main problematics in the text, though she does not couch it in cinematic terms.

He is participating in the film as a spectator, yet is also rewriting it as a narrator, forcing his audience to see what he saw, making Valentin and the reader see the film through his eyes. Classical Hollywood cinema is meant to indoctrinate spectators into viewing life in a certain way, into conforming to certain cultural norms or goals. These norms, however, may not agree with norms promoted by society at large. Film thus allows the outsider to find consolation, to encounter an acceptance he or she may not be able to find in reality.

Film, in this way, could allow the potential for solace, even if this solace can only last as long as the film remains on screen and the audience in their seats. Molina can be a woman during the film because he is part of the audience and a recipient of the sentimentality inherent in the film.

As part of an audience, Molina can hide his abnormalities and focus on what he has in common with other audience members. This shared language, created by the culture industry and adopted through spectatorship, allows freedom through conformity. The reality Molina and Valentin live, in contrast to the cinematic models they reproduce, are not so well delineated, thus making a language and lifestyle that has such defined boundaries enviable. Through film, Molina can be accepted, his thoughts and actions normalized.

As a narrator, Molina asserts his personal authority over his audience, emphasizing the power of his own opinions and therefore his individuality. Molina makes the first film into a tragic love story and a film noir by the way he interprets the scenes, by the way he retells the action, and by the way he describes Irena. And, as an aural narrator, Molina can be interrupted. Viewership puts Molina and Valentin at odds, for while Molina is the perfect classical Hollywood spectator, during the first film Valentin is a dissenter, someone who cannot immerse himself totally in the illusion.

Valentin, in contrast, tries to be a critic. Puig writes,. Puig, El beso Why break the illusion for me, and for yourself too? What kind of trick is that to pull? Puig, Kiss This repartee between Molina and Valentin reveals the dichotomy between the two spectators. The tension between these two different views of spectatorship also brings us closer to understanding how madness works in El beso.

Valentin, as a critic, has the power to frustrate Molina. Until Molina and Valentin share certain assumptions, they cannot share the same cinematic experience, an experience critical for the inception of madness.

Reading By Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (Popular Fictions)

But once the two participate fully in the same illusion, an illusion so many others maintain, both can partake in madness, a madness based on communal fantasies. Popular culture, therefore, specifically classical Hollywood cinema, provides a common ground within the text, for narrator and audience, on all levels of the work. It also allows madness, as a contagion, to spread… and mutate. By the end of the novel, both men participate in the film narratives, each reacting to the sound of drums heard by the protagonists in the second to last film. As Molina narrates the plot of the film, the reader is given insight into what the two men think.

Both react to the implications of the film by imagining the death most horrifying to them personally — Molina imagines the death of his mother, while Valentin imagines the death of his compatriots. Their real lives, their personalities, and the illusions created within the film start to intertwine. Though the two men still do not share the same fantasies, by utilizing the potential for illusion inherent in the act of spectatorship, they finally share the act of viewing.

They hear the same sound and react to it in the same way, triggering not only memories, but also possible futures; each lost in thought, but wishing the story to continue. In this sequence, both men are mad because they allow boundaries to disintegrate, while at the same time adhere to the rules laid down by the codes of classical Hollywood cinema. They are both spectators, yet also narrators, creating their own possible futures, futures that exist simultaneously with the action in the film, which is itself narrated by one of the co-conspirators.

And the paradoxes inherent in film itself allow this to happen. Without the communal illusions provided by classical Hollywood cinema, the two Argentines would not have been able to communicate, nor would they be able to create or re-create their own personal versions of the stories, which in turn complicate and often negate or at least confront the communal illusions they wish to join. Here one sees a combination of the communal and the individual, the popular and the personal. One can see, then, how important specific products of the culture industry are in understanding madness in the postmodern age.

Popular culture art forms that adhere to very precise codes and strictures seem to provide stability — they appear to allow the reader or spectator to consume the product without having to think, or at the very least without the fear of confronting new or different ideas. Yet, because these products are based on providing entertainment, on creating illusions, they invite complication. Science fiction, because it promotes a strict adherence to genre but can come in many forms, both pulp and elite, causes confusion.

Someone who does not know how to read such fiction, who does not know all the codes involved and cannot recognize the difference between the two forms, is prone to misreading the text and therefore infecting his or her mind with false information. Illusion suddenly becomes all too real and, when combined with an unbridled need for differentiation outside the laws of the community, leads to madness. These types of films adhere to a strict code, yet the code itself invites multiple forms of spectatorship, re-interpretation, and participation.

Someone who knows its rules and regulations intimately or who is infected by them and who immerses him or herself completely into the action, thus blurring the line between fantasy and reality, illusion and self, can become caught in between, where madness lies. The madness found within these texts, then, is not the schizophrenia defined by either Jameson or Deleuze and Guattari. They seek not isolation, but anonymity through inclusion. Dwayne, by reading, is part of an audience; Molina, by viewing, is one of many spectators.

Each joins a community , not of other outcasts, but of the popular as a whole. This does not mean, however, that we can define the postmodern madness within these texts Deleuzian simply because they do not adhere strictly to what Jameson proposes. This illusion is not his to alter and therefore comes into being as a mutated, stillborn version of reality, a simulation that leaves Dwayne straddling two worlds — the communal and the personal.

This new life cannot last in the real world, no matter how much it has affect Molina himself. Popular culture is popular , a product of consensus as much as a product of the culture industry, and the effects of that consensus need to be considered, especially in an inter-American context. Instead, we must look for a different definition, one that takes into account a struggle between individuality and conformity. Such a clash creates an entity that is both singular and plural, pulp and elite, audience and director.

These madmen abound throughout the Americas, fed on a diet of film, television, and pulp that erase boundaries and unite new communities that exist beyond national borders. Adorno, Theodor W. John Cumming. New York: Continuum, Manuel Puig y la tela que atrapa al lector. Bordwell, David. New York: Columbia U P, Broderick, Damien. Reading by Starlight: Post-modern Science Fiction.

New York: Routledge, Broer, Lawrence R. Durham: Duke U P, Davis, Todd F. Kevin Alexander Boon. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, Fiedler, Leslie. Postmodernism Literature 5. Semiotics and literature. Narration Rhetoric 7. Literary form.

I use the term episteme here as shorthand for a complex of discursive templates active within a given space and epoch. Our social being is founded in rapid, virtually uncontrollable cognitive change, driven principally by science and technology. The map of myth is lost to us.

Lofty though they are, such generalities can hardly be dodged when one tries to uncover the codes and strategies of science fiction. Whether it is viewed as a genre or a mode even a fresh paraliterature entirely , its very name, for all its acquired taint of comical vulgarity, evokes that central paradox of mutual incomprehension. A theorised interest in sf endures precisely because of the unease with which science fiction poises its narrative modality or perhaps several such modalities sharing a family resemblance between artistic attention to the subject and scientific attention to the object.

Can such extravagant ambition pay off? In some measure, certainly; and by intriguing means. Extraordinarily enough, given recent academic enthusiasm for popular culture, careful study of speculative fiction is still deemed a fairly dubious enterprise. True, both literary and scientific meta-theorists have come increasingly to view their objects of study as principally textual, as narratives which operate within social formations via processes of canonisation and negotiation. Somehow, though, sf largely remains excluded from the regard of specialists in both science and literature.

Why should this be so? Do its characteristic strategies guarantee that sf s products must be bad art? Must its early sources in wish-fulfilment oblige it to be false science? All too often, the answers to both questions have to be yes. Sf is a paraliterary form of narrative nearer in many respects to the mimetically estranged experience of dreaming than to the methodologically speculative or cognitive. In his Metamorphoses of Science Fiction,2 Suvin proposed that sf is an ensemble of fiction tales marked by cognition and estrangement Suvin, , p.

Suvin—followed in this by Samuel R. The noncanonic, repressed twin of Literature which, for want of another name, one calls Paraliterature is for better or worse the literature that is really read—as opposed to most literature taught in schools. Within it, SF is one of the largest genres, and to my mind the most interesting and cognitively most significant one.

If English-language sf of the last 60 or 70 years began pretty much as formulaic adventure fiction, it has developed at its best into a set of writing and reading protocols articulated about and foregrounding aspects of the objective world as science tries to do , through the engaging invention of stories about imagined subjects—that is, aware, feeling, thinking persons typical of literary fictions.

Why should that twofold process be important? The most ambitious answer is this: because its paraliterary texts, produced and read via their distinctive narrative strategies and tactics, constitute a singular window on our vexed episteme. In particular, Delany is a striking example of an sf writer advancing both fictive and theoretical narratives side by side, in his case from an explicitly poststructuralist position. The real plausibility of such an exploration in semiotics arose with the major revival of literary theory specifically that variety of meta-theory which meant to think about thinking about literature during the last two decades.

This shift offers an opening for the investigation of science fiction, which on most other grounds has been ruled out of court in advance. Why is sf relished by practised readers or viewers, while others loathe it? One crucial factor is that sf is written in a kind of code on top of—and sometimes displacing—all the other codes of writing which must be learned by apprenticeship. The enormously ramified intertextuality of sf makes it a specialised mode. For a story to be sf, it is insufficient for a writer to invoke, say, futuristic or extra-terrestrial locales. Some technological and scientific awareness, at least of a popularised kind, seems essential.

Hence the regular pieces by scientists and mathematicians in Analog on research topics such as Many-Worlds cosmologies, Kaluza-Klein 10—dimensional spacetime, superstrings, and so forth. Hence, indeed, its playful re-evaluations by physicists of the possibility of actualising certain sf tropes, such as time travel, usually considered theoretically absurd. What are its generic components? How are they put together? How concretised by readers? How, in turn, do they construct their potential readers? In theoretical terms, the rise of popular culture studies, discourse theory and deconstruction de-privilege in various ways the literary canon which excluded sf from serious critical attention.

These fresh, transgressive modes seem to valorise the sportive qualities which sf embodies in a marked degree. Or vice versa? I should confess immediately to two possible hazards in my approach here. First: if, as I argue, rich responses to sf texts require a sort of apprenticeship by the reader, it is scarcely feasible to approach sf theory and criticism without a certain familiarity with many sf texts. Just as a brilliantly articulate English user with rudimentary cafe Italian cannot simply pick up Dante or Eco and begin a nuanced enjoyment of The Divine Comedy or The Name of the Rose, the sf neophyte must xiv work her way into the specialised narrative structures and vocabulary of sf.

Is this stipulation cruel and unusual? Not at all. Science fiction is a suitable site for complex theorised reading, but only for those who share some preliminary familiarity with at least a sampling of its best-regarded texts. New studies of Shakespeare or Dickens, after all, rarely go in for detailed plot summaries.

Nor should a theorised study of a popular form such as sf proceed out of an assumption of terra nullius, the legal fiction that traditional inhabitants of some newly discovered piece of real estate can be ignored even exterminated by doughty and well-armed colonists. That is my first confession. The second is perhaps less pardonable. It is this: I believe that at a time of paradox and crisis in both literary and scientific theory and criticism—when meta-theory continually challenges and erodes canonised methods and their traditional objects of scrutiny—traditional formal methods of exposition and argument ought not to remain protected by a hermetic that is, a high-priestly seal.

Indeed, once the central critiques of poststructuralism have been taken into account—no matter that one might quibble about the details or the political implications of any given practice associated with this epistemic innovation8—it becomes self-defeating, even absurd, to cling to the very methods which have been so strenuously debunked. X claims a, Y claims b. They make arguments to support their claims, with any number of points.

But when their listeners remember the discussion, what matters is simply that X believes a and Y believes b. People then form their judgement on what they think of X and Y. In fact, since I like you, I concede the point. The new critical philosophy diverges in several important ways from previously canonised approaches. But these strategies are not abstractions. There are serious difficulties in abandoning boring old forms of logic. Even so, there is an architecture to the book, a course of argument. Examples of effective sf are displayed against bad or routine material.

Chapter 3 develops the view that sf is better seen as a mode of writing, and scrutinises some of its academic theorists Eric Rabkin, Tzvetan Todorov, Darko Suvin. We see that sf is marked by its use of new words put together in new ways. The analysis in Part I concludes in Chapters 6 and 7 with close readings of the cyberpunk texts of William Gibson and the Helliconia trilogy of Brian W. Part II traces both trajectories, positioning them in Chapter 8 against exemplary theorists of the postmodern especially Fredric Jameson and his followers.

The first is The Einstein Intersection, a complex modernist novel marking the high-point of his early work in The second is Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, from , an extravagantly rich and impeccably theorised postmodern sf text, which we consider in detail in Chapter The final chapter of Part II closes with an elaborate, annotated definition of science fiction that attempts to summarise the most important elements we have surveyed.

This transformation gives rise to a new world, to new texts, to another kind of thought. Michel Serres 1 Abstract thoughts in a blue room: Nominative, genitive, elative, accusative one, accusative two, ablative, partitive, illative, instructive, abessive, adessive, inessive, essive, allative, translative, comitative. Sixteen cases of the Finnish noun. Odd, some languages get by with only singular and plural.

The American Indian languages even failed to distinguish number. Except Sioux, in which there was a plural only for animate objects. The blue room was round and warm and smooth. No way to say warm in French. There was only hot and tepid. Samuel R. Delany 2 Sf? Already we are in trouble, because these initials are the accepted abbreviation of a whole sheaf of classificatory terms applied to texts produced and received in ways marked only as we shall see by certain generic, modal or strategic family resemblances.

Those exhausted tropes are all too familiar: mad scientists, galumphing robots, thundering spaceships, ray-gun battles, cosy holocausts. Taken together, these comprise the corpus of commercial, usually American, post-World War II sf writing readily available in English. Sf, which is often crucially concerned with the strictly unforeseeable social consequences of scientific and technological innovation, is principally a diachronic medium—that is, a medium of historical, cumulative change, in which each step is unlike the last.

Subsequently he remarked that perhaps the quest for the First SF Novel, like the first flower of spring, is chimerical. But the period where we should expect to look for such a blossoming is during the Industrial Revolution, and perhaps just after the Napoleonic Wars, when changes accelerated by industry and war have begun to bite, with the resultant sense of isolation of the individual from and in society.

If that is so, then science fiction becomes quite a modern phenomenon and cannot claim the respectability of age. It is characteristic of technology, however, that it is cumulative. The further it advances the faster it advances. True science fiction…could not have been written prior to the nineteenth century then, because it was only with the coming of the Industrial Revolution in the last few decades of the eighteenth century that the rate of technological change became great enough to notice in a single lifetime.

Asimov et al. Campbell, Jr, usually regarded as the prime shaper of Modern science fiction. Introducing his landmark volume The Astounding Science Fiction Anthology,13 drawn from the magazine he edited, Campbell announced a stunningly hubristic agenda: Science fiction is the literature of the Technological Era.

It, unlike other literatures, assumes that change is the natural order of things, that there are goals ahead larger than those we know. Campbell, , pp. Still, as writer, editor and bullying folktheoretician, Campbell was so saliently placed during the rise of Modern sf that his manifesto is worth citing at some length. One, the old, will at this period be bitter, confused, disillusioned, and angry. The new literature will tend to be filled with a touch of unreality, but will tell of goals and directions and solid hopes. Naturally it has a touch of unreality; the old goals are gone, the new ones not yet here.

Therein is the implicit unreality of any hopeful, optimistic literature of such a period; it asserts that the goal is real, but not yet achieved. Most people want goals that someone has already achieved and reported on fully. It whimpered from fear and pain, a thing, slobbering sound horrible to hear. Still, its prospects were firm. The first edition of the authoritative Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls et al. The nineteenth century was thick with rudimentary sf of one kind or another.

Wells, the first preceding the second by some 30 years. Sf had not yet become stigmatised as a genre for undersexed male adolescent swots and underachieving white-collar wage-slaves—partly because it had not yet largely been restructured to that purpose, as it was shortly to be, by commercial interests. Generic sf was given its definition in the first issue April of the bedsheetsized pulp Amazing Stories magazine. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story—a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision…. Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading—they are always instructive.

They supply knowledge… in a very palatable form…. New inventions pictured for us in the scientifiction of today are not at all impossible of realisation tomorrow. Science fiction tries to do much the same24—and write up, in story form, what the results look like when applied not only to machines but to human society as well. Whether or not sf is best identified as myth, it clearly has this much in common with myths and dreams as we have come to understand them in an era shaped by structuralism and psychoanalysis: science fiction stories make little sense in isolation from others of their kind.

Without its unorthodox vocabulary and grammar, its generic intertextuality, science fiction is next to meaningless. Once acquired, it becomes a tongue muscular in the expression of cognitive excitement, wonder, awe, astonishment: states and emotions repressed in a workaday world. The couple is not direct. Dreams of omnipotence through abstract knowledge, hunger for gods out of the machine. These are dangerous desires. They lead too easily to goose-stepping, to napalm nightmares: all the monsters bred, as Goya foresaw, of the dreams of reason.

They are, in short, a regression to the pleasures of infancy, the endlessly accepted temptation to which commercial sf all too often delivers itself. Indeed, more than two decades ago, the fine sf writer and poet Thomas M. No, said Disch. It follows that we may learn more about any genre by examining its readership than by studying its writers. But for the sophisticate who retains from adolescence a taste for sf, it constitutes an embarrassment. Beneath the stifling and definitive weight of empirical being, even alternative social worlds, such as they are, must find representational expression, and the result is the Utopian or science-fiction novel.

Jameson, , p. The intellectually gifted Robert Silverberg discovered sf pulp magazines at the age of 11 or 12, in the late s, and his account of the result is typical, even in its overwrought character: Their impact on me was overwhelming. I can still taste and feel the extraordinary sensations they awakened in me: it was a physiological thing, a distinct excitement, a certain metabolic quickening at the mere thought of handling them, let alone reading them.

Grown old enough to understand how thoroughly their chosen path to transcendence is disparaged in the wider world, they can come to feel profound shame in its enjoyment. So even as popular-culture semiotics is invoked to justify vampires in terms of the oral tradition, a peevish note of censorious reproof often drones in the background. Fans of the action novel do likewise, so that hard-boiled thrillers are approved above all for the light they shed on the underbelly of society, for the stink of evil they sniff out in politics and high society—rather than for the fun of getting lost in them.

To save face and self-respect, the sophisticated advocate of non-canonical forms is regularly prodded into contortions of indictment and self-justification. But please observe the rules. Always display a cheerful disposition.


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  • Do not refer To our infirmities. Help us to conquer the galaxy. Non-realist codes of storytelling have been, since at least the nineteenth century, broadly restricted to childhood storytelling. Lewitt—The Cyberstealth pilots are the best of the breed. But Cargo, the best of the best, needs more than expert flying to seek and destroy a traitor. Blazing sequel to dwarves, indeed! These three titles are from Ace; other publishers share similar tastes.

    Now the Earthmen have uncorked the bottle…36 One of the comforts of this list, for habituated readers, is that the catlike mrem live in a world which is precisely not unique. Reading page after page of these advertisements, it is easy to see why the Earthmen uncorked the bottle. Of course, while scorn comes easily, it is not always entirely appropriate. They identified the latter as a Patrolman and, in their hiding place, interrogated him at great length under kyradex.

    When Castelar broke free and escaped on a timecycle, bearing Tamberly with him, the Exaltationists had gained considerable detailed information about our man and his background. Your team struck at them immediately afterward, and killed or captured most. Everard snarled in his head. Perhaps, though, it is the sort of thing even Homer nods that can happen to anyone working long and hard for 40 or more years in a species of writing shaped by the consumer demands of an audience with no great critical skills or discernment.

    Yet to the unapprenticed reader, even the finest sf seems unnecessarily cluttered with stray or forced items of information. The following paragraphs from recent novels confirm it. Quite the reverse: they sing, and beautifully. None was dressed in white; some wore fillets or wreaths of flowers and green leaves in their loose hair; all their eyes were strangely gay. They kept pressing in by one and two, always room for more, they linked arms or clasped their hands behind them, they looked out smiling at the two mortals who looked in at them.

    All their names began with A. They rose up like the white pages of a written speech thrown to the winds. The pages blew like leaves, were scattered to their individual and eternal Nows. The Nows were no longer linked by time or by a self. They went beyond time, to where the whole truth can be told. It takes forever to tell the truth, and it is bound into one volume by love. That is the third book, beyond words or low imagining. Quite literally, it proposes and embodies The Divine Comedy as a twenty-first-century Wagner might conceive it in a Bayreuth as large and inescapable as the polluted sky.

    Her story is a Bildungsroman, taking Milena from cramped repression to insight, redemption, indeed sainthood. It is funny while genuinely moving, teemingly fecund, baroque yet cleanly and beautifully written. Ideas tumble about the page like performing animals, like humans infected by diseases of information. What is more, nearly everyone dies by 35, a side-effect of the contagious cure for cancer.

    Retarded children, preternaturally learned via their viruses, drolly debate Derrida. Usually we miss the complexity of this process. Like poetry and postmodern fiction, all sf tests the textual transparency we take for granted, contorting habits of grammar and lexicon with unexpected words strung together in strange ways. Words, memories and imagination might be the common bricks and blueprint of all fiction, but how can they construct the future?

    By offering us new words to name objects and practices that do not yet exist. Near-future dystopias, the closest most literary readers and writers ever get to sf, sharply rein in their lexical inventiveness, reflecting the impoverished worlds they guardedly deploy. More buoyant futures put out luxuriantly flowered tendrils, and so prove alarming. Ballard to tell of it. Virtually nothing is explained explicitly. In this Australia, for a start, there is an artificial inland sea, presumably thousands of years old.

    Only because an adjacent university town is called Inlansay do we have a lexical hint of the elapsed time involved. As now, a blend of European and Pacific Rim peoples, the Nationals, live in many cities and towns along the periphery of the continent. In its mysterious interior, a wholly new culture has emerged, blending genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and space technologies with ancient tribal Dreaming mythologies—indeed, the accumulated myths of all humankind.

    Nuclear energy and powered domestic flight, though not space travel, seem forgotten or forbidden. Across these bleak, ancient deserts move the few permitted dirigibles and wind-and solar-powered charvolants, or sandships. Capturing these imagined landscapes and populations calls for a richly inventive tongue. Dowling has it though it falters painfully in several crucial places. By these strange namings, he builds up with cumulative intensity an Australis Incognita. Despite a sense of brooding development, the books resemble a Thousand and One Nights of the future, a medieval display of epiphanies locked into a certain timelessness.

    Blue Tyson, p. Still, we are reading about it now. But can such fancies have any salience to our own time? No less, perhaps, than those resonant icons which art reprieves from expired faiths. Surely this is the truncated pyramid familiar from US dollar bills with its hermetic Eye gazing in judgment and power. It was built to make music out of the seven winds that found it on its desert rise. Vents in the walls, cunning terraces, cleverly angled embrasures in the canted terrazzo facings drew them in; three spiral core-shafts tuned them into vortices and descants, threw them across galleries, flung them around precise cornices and carefully filigreed escarpments so that more than anything the house resembled the ancient breathing caves of the Nullarbor.

    Splendid as these exceptions are, however, the awful blurbs by and large reflect the reality of what is for sale. Perhaps no writer could be further from the concerns and techniques of sf. Psi and the rocket-ship were the glamour icons of lonely teenagers in the s and s whereas in the s the computer, and especially the computer in a network, has a similar iconic function. Indeed, of the major icons of male teenagers of the s only the rock guitarist is missing.

    Foyster, , p. It was said emphatically to be not consolation but preparation. In Brian M. For all but a very small proportion of science fiction texts, that is what it has remained. Still, the very strategies called upon in the practice of writing or reading sf offer benefits which might not be visible in scrutinising individual texts, rather as the stagecraft of drama can extend our sensibilities and challenge our limitations even when it is instantiated in faulty scripts, inadequate sets or clumsy acting.

    For the notable New York sf editor David Hartwell, besotted wonderment and a subsequent nostalgia for its impossible re-evocation is at the heart of science fiction, a heart that starts beating in early adolescence. Bathing in it, drowning in it; for the adolescent who leans this way it can be better than sex. This richly detailed if rather gushily New Age volume bears the revealing subtitle Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence. Hartwell argues that out of it comes everything central to the genre. Fandom—the company of other initiates— is its social embodiment.

    What fandom has done on a social and cultural level for or to the writers in the SF field is to provide them with a paradigm of the life of the writer quite different from the two major paradigms available to all other writers outside SF: the life of the artist working in isolation from the marketplace to achieve art; supported by the academy, by grants, by awards, perhaps by the admiration of peers and the life of the commercial writer after an apprenticeship, writing books and stories or articles primarily for money by big publishers according to the dictates of the marketplace…. The life of the SF writer is a life of continual socializing and communication with a rather large audience of loyal and vocal readers together with the majority of other writers working in the field.

    Fandom, then, is at the center of a discussion of SF, without which all else falls apart. Hartwell, , pp. Still, there are limits to its generality and salience: Hartwell writes as an American, when fandom is strongest and major conventions occur every weekend. In geographically or culturally isolated markets such as Australia,50 local fandom has a considerably more restricted capacity to conscript and shape the consciousness of the few writers able to compete on the world stage.

    No doubt this accounts in part for the maverick character of non-American sf, and for its general failure to achieve the large success which brought the US-fan-endorsed writers fame, wealth and devoted readership during the last decade or so. On the other hand, ambitious young writers well schooled in literary devices and standards are turning to sf simply because it is the best available fiction market. Rather, they are often taking something from it by creating a major distraction, a confusion of goals. In the next chapter, we examine the historical development of sf as a genre, a kind of paraliterary writing with the peculiar ability to encode the deep experience of the epoch of information, computation, mass education and, above all, an unappeasable thirst for anticipation: for the imaginative creation, out of the already-known, of its own fecund futures and alternatives.

    Generic works are devices for casting back, not neologisms to greet the world afresh. Anglo-Canadian critic John Clute, the most exhilarating and vexing of sf commentators, here links generic readings to the articulation of systems of tropes and intertextual givens. These former were the outcome of a process of mass literacy and urban experience then fairly recent. Richard Ohmann remarks: A vigorous penny press developed in New York after There was a paperback revolution of sorts in book publishing in the s. But despite these and other events…a national mass culture was not firmly established in [the USA] until the s and s Only in the eighties and nineties did book publishing become a business with regular methods of hype, with many dependable outlets across the nation….

    The establishment of a bestseller list in can serve as an indication that the book industry took something like its modern form at about the same time as newspaper publishing and the business of sports. Despised as they might well be by critics of canonised art, the pulps as a general entertainment medium manifested extraordinary demographics. As Frank Cioffi observes, An approximate figure for pulp magazine circulation of the mid-thirties is ten million—and since most magazines were read by at least three people, it can be fairly guessed that the pulps were read by thirty to forty percent of the literate American public….

    While most other pulps disappeared by the s, the science fiction magazines survived. Indeed, the genre seemed to continue its late thirties momentum…. The science fiction pulps offered something that could not be found in other formats: the metaphor for experience they provided was so unprecedented and immediate that the genre could survive even in an outmoded format. Cioffi, , p. Its readers were rarely highly educated members of the executive or leisure classes.

    Whereas serious literature emerges without easily recognizable antecedents, popular literature seems to feed upon itself. We might say that its readers and writers constituted a semiotic community, sharing class-based sociocodes as well as generic protocols.

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    Certainly his insistence on incorporating the historical dimension within which these formulae emerged is persuasive, when set against other attempts to understand sf in terms of more generalised and timeless themata such as, at its best, Gary K. Wolfe himself notes: I am not, of course, suggesting that we abandon the study of the artistry that goes into science-fiction narrative in favor of some broad-based social anthropology of the genre….

    And within the domain of fiction…the fabrications of science are not so far removed from the fantasies of the literary—or, beyond the self-consciously literary, the traditional and popular —imagination…. Since [Stith Thompson, in his Motif-Index of FolkLiterature] has ordered his vast range of materials by a thematic scheme of classification, it is revealing to observe the principal themes: cosmogony, the creation of life, arcane knowledge, magical transactions, otherworldly journeys, ogres and ordeals, raising the dead, foreseeing and controlling the future.

    What are these folkloristic categories but the standard situations of science-fiction? Our technorevolutions seem to foster, not so much a rule of reason, as an efflorescence of credulity. Perhaps the last word should be left to P. Rather than search for invariants continuous with all literature, or at least with all paraliterature, he identifies five terms of a formula, and three principal patterns in which these are deployed. His three basic patterns are the status quo, the subversive, and the other world varieties of sf tale. These are idealised abstractions, of course, though certain of the Ur-stories he invents to encapsulate them ring rather uncomfortably familiar to the sf aficionado.

    In the first pattern, while everyday reality is affronted by a major anomaly, convention is at last recuperated. In the second pattern, the anomaly is not expelled; like the barbarians at the gates of Rome, it either puts the empire to the torch or changes it utterly from within. In the third and most sophisticated variety, from which the bulk of latter-day sf derives, the baseline social order is already drastically different from our own empirical reality. Anomaly enters as a second-order estrangement effect. They are operative, indeed, on an implicit level because, were they not so cast, they would be rejected as precisely the kinds of values that seemed no longer to be of any importance, whose applicability to modern life had been as much as usurped by the large-scale social and economic collapse of the thirties.

    Instead of a Toffleresque embrace of the anomaly which emblematises the future shock of daily life, our attention is directed to the soothing benefits of a reasserted background order, a kind of proleptic nostalgia. It is quite absent, though, from the bleak, detached versions of this recurrent trope patented in the s by J. Ballard, and from the exuberant embrace of urban entropy typical of cyberpunk texts. Within this frame, a further anomaly intrudes. Now reality cannot contain the threat, and telling the tale fails to affirm traditional stereotyped values.

    Doubtless this formula marks the transition to most of the characteristics highly prized in subsequent sf. Certainly it is the basis for that strong current of satirical and taboo-challenging sf embraced but overemphasised by Kingsley Amis. In the s, it provided many Galaxy stories which were patent allegories of McCarthy-era depredations against American democratic folk-wisdom.

    In later decades it has in turn subverted much of that wisdom, most notably in the development of techno-military and feminist idioms and narratives. In the second, when the trumpet sounds we are all made new. Recent examples of these tendencies can be found in novels by Greg Bear. The Forge of God12 shows human life exterminated by aliens, while Blood Music13 sees it transcended into nanobiological form, literally incorporated into the seething intelligent artificial viruses which swallow up flesh while retaining spirit.

    The final formula, perhaps best seen as a development of the transplanted status quo version, is the other world. Now no element of our own reality can be counted upon automatically to remain as a given, although ideological analysis may readily locate, precisely here, representations of those features rendered invisible by power and usage even as they dictate our lives. In its grandest form, the other world is an entire cosmos, a universe with a history almost discontinuous with our own.

    The crass sagas of E. Smith embodied this trope for early sf. SF offers this apparent entry into a given field, and demystifies its concepts and ambiguities. That these demystifications are often scientifically naive or wrong is finally of little moment: for the value of the story, in the methodology I have proposed, inheres in the way it speculates about social adaptations to anomalous circumstances, not in its scientific accuracy. It might be objected that under the auspices of John W.

    Some of that rigidity is doubtless due to the sociolects or distinctive class dialects within which the fiction, of whatever era, is being written and read. Even in what appear to be subversive or discontinuous inventions, the routine or algorithmic aspects of the texts predominate that is, the components that seem to be generated by a pre-set programme.