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Science Fiction  

Gerry Canavan

Science fiction (SF) emerges as a distinct literary and cultural genre out of a familiar set of world-famous texts ranging from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (1966–) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–) that have, in aggregate, generated a colossal, communal archive of alternate worlds and possible future histories. SF’s dialectical interplay between utopian optimism and apocalyptic pessimism can be felt across the genre’s now centuries-long history, only intensifying in the 20th century as the clash between humankind’s growing technological capabilities and its ability to use those powers safely or wisely has reached existential-threat propositions, not simply for human beings but for all life on the planet. In the early 21st century, as in earlier cultural moments, the writers and critics of SF use the genre’s articulation of different societies and different possible futures as the occasion to reflect on our own present, in ways that range from full-throated defense of the status quo to the ruthless denunciation of all institutions that currently exist in the name of some other, better world. SF’s global popularity has grown to the point where it now looms quite large over cultural production generally, becoming arguably the most popular narrative genre in existence, particularly in the sorts of SF action spectacles that have dominated the global box office of the first two decades of the 21st century. It has also become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the things we used to think of as SF and the advanced communication, transportation, and entertainment technologies that have become so ubiquitous and familiar that we now take them for granted, as well as the growing prevalence of political, economic, and ecological crises now erupting out of the pages of our science fictions, like our very worst dreams come to life.

Article

The Reception of American Science Fiction in Japan  

Tadashi Nagasawa

American science fiction has been a significant source of ideas and imagination for Japanese creators: they have been producing extensive works of not only written texts but also numerous films, television shows, Japanese comics and cartoons (Manga and Animé), music, and other forms of art and entertainment under its influence. Tracing the history of the import of American science fiction works shows how Japan accepted, consumed, and altered them to create their own mode of science fiction, which now constitutes the core of so-called “Cool-Japan” content. Popular American science fiction emerged from pulp magazines and paperbacks in the early 20th century. In the 1940s, John W. Campbell Jr. and his magazine Astounding Science Fiction had great impact on the genre, propelling its “Golden Age.” In the 1960s, however, American science fiction seemed dated, but the “New Wave” arose in the United Kingdom, which soon affected American writers. With the cyberpunk movement in the 1980s, science fiction became part of postmodernist culture. Japanese science fiction has developed under the influence of American science fiction, especially after WWII. Paperbacks and magazines discarded by American soldiers were handed down to Japanese readers. Many would later become science fiction writers, translators, or editors. Japanese science fiction has mainly followed the line of Golden Age science fiction, which speculates on how science and technology affect the social and human conditions, whereas the New Wave and cyberpunk movements contributed to Japanese postmodernism. Japanese Manga, Animé, and special effects (SFX) television shows and films (Tokusatsu) are also closely related to science fiction and have developed under its influence. Even as works of the Japanese popular culture owe much to American science fiction, they have become popular worldwide.

Article

Apocalyptic Fiction, 1950–2015  

Heather J. Hicks

From 1950 to the 2010s, the genre known as apocalyptic fiction has grown in prominence, moving from the mass-market domain of science fiction to a more central position in the contemporary literary scene. The term “apocalyptic fiction” can be understood to encompass both depictions of cataclysms that destroy the Earth and texts that portray the aftermath of a disaster that annihilates a nation, civilization, or all but a few survivors of the human population. The term itself finds its roots in the book of Revelation, and while contemporary apocalyptic fiction tends to be largely secular in its worldview, important traces of the Christian tradition linger in these texts. Indeed, while apocalyptic fiction has evolved over the past sixty-five years in response to historical transformations in Western societies, much of it remains wedded to Revelation’s representation of women as the cause of apocalyptic destruction. The material of the 1950s reflects Cold War anxieties about nuclear war while presenting sexually liberated women as implicated in the same modernity that has created the atomic bomb. People of color are also depicted as threats that must be contained. The apocalyptic fiction of the 1960s registers a fascination with genetic, social, and literary mutation, ambivalently treating a variety of “others” as both toxic and potentially useful ambassadors to some new, postmodern condition. The 1970s see the emergence of feminist apocalypses, works that react against the sexist tendency to conflate female power and sexuality with apocalyptic menace. The 1980s introduce the “American apocalypse,” a subgenre that imagines a disaster befalling America in specifically economic terms. The 1990s, meanwhile, find combinations of the feminist and American apocalypse, while also beginning to bring environmental peril into focus. From 2000 forward, there is a renewed interest in broader, more global disasters, in part informed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Formally, this is the era of the “metapocalypse”—apocalyptic fictions that are self-reflexive about the conventions of the genre, including those involving gender and race. Nonetheless, several of the novels in this period still unapologetically introduce figures that recall Jezebel and Babylon from Revelation. Finally, the period since 2010 has seen a revived emphasis on economic collapse precipitated by neoliberal capitalism as well as the anthropocene.

Article

Australian Climate Fiction  

Andrew Milner

Climate is an important part of fictional scene setting, whether it be geographical—is the scene in the desert or in the tropics?—or seasonal—is it winter or is it summer? And this is perhaps especially true of Australian literature, where the majority of writers are still descendants of Anglo-Celtic settlers, living in more or less uneasy relationship with a distinctly non-Anglo-Celtic natural environment. Climate has thus been a characteristically Australian literary preoccupation: the titles of Vance Palmer’s Cyclone (1947), for example, or Patrick White’s Eye of the Storm (1973) speak for themselves. But “cli-fi” in the sense of the term coined by Dan Bloom in 2007 refers, not to climate per se, nor even to climate change per se, but much more specifically to fictions concerned with the effects of anthropogenic climate change, that is, to the literature of global warming. This is a much more recent preoccupation, which dates only from the late 1970s when the US National Research Council and the World Meteorological Organization first published predictions that then current levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would result in significant increases in average global temperatures. The short history of Australian “cli-fi” can be traced from the first publication of George Turner’s The Sea and Summer in 1987.

Article

Networks  

Patrick Jagoda

Networks influence practically every subfield of literary studies. Unlike hierarchies and centralized structures, networks connote decentralization and distribution. The abstraction of this form makes it applicable to a wide variety of phenomena. For example, the metaphor and form of the network informs the way we think about communication systems in early American writing, social networks in Victorian novels, transnational circulation in postcolonial literature, and computer networks in late 20th-century cyberpunk fiction. Beyond traditional literary genres, network form is also accessible through comparative media analysis. Films, television serials, video games, and transmedia narratives may represent or evoke network structures through medium-specific techniques. The juxtaposition of different literary and artistic forms, across media, helps to defamiliarize network forms and make these complex structures available to thought. Across subfields of literary studies, critics may be drawn to networks because of their resonance with histories of the present and contemporary technoscience. Scholars may also recognize the sense of complexity and interconnection inherent in networks, which resonates with experiences of intertextuality and close reading itself. In addition to studying representations of networks, literary critics employ a variety of network-related methods. These approaches include historicist scholarship that uses network structures to think about social organization and communication in different eras, quantitative digital humanities tools that map networks of literary circulation, qualitative sociology of literature and reader-response theory that analyze networks of readers and publishers, and formalist work that compares network and aesthetic forms.

Article

Latinofuturism  

Cathryn Merla-Watson

Latinofuturism describes a broad range of Latina/o speculative aesthetics and an emerging field of study. In addition to referencing a broad spectrum of speculative texts produced by Chicana/os, Puerto Ricans, Dominican Americans, Cuban Americans, and other Latin American immigrant populations, Latinofuturism also includes innovative cultural productions stemming from hybrid and fluid borderlands spaces such as the US–Mexico border. The umbrella genre of speculative fiction (SF), moreover, indexes the companion genres of science fiction (sci-fi), horror, and fantasy. Instead of approaching these genres separately, SF recognizes the ways in which these genres overlap, blend, and mutually inform one another. As Shelley Streeby notes, the umbrella genre of the speculative is especially useful in analyzing Latinofuturist texts that self-consciously appropriate and blend genres in a manner evocative of the mestizaje animating Latina/o culture. The broader category of SF further enables us to unearth, remap, and focalize how Latina/os have contributed to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, as well as related subgenres. Through employing the speculative, Latinofuturist texts articulate a grammar of the subjunctive, daring to ask and imagine, “what if?” Latinofuturism builds upon Catherine Ramírez’s foundational prism of Chicanafuturism, which denotes cultural production that redeploys the technological in relation to cultural identity, and, in doing so, interrogates and effaces boundaries between primitive and modern, the past, present, and future, as well as the human and non-human. Propelling Latinofuturism is the disordering aesthetic of rasquachismo, a working-class Chicana/o sensibility of creative recycling or making do. Latinofuturist writers and artists do not passively consume received forms of the speculative, but instead creatively repurpose them toward emancipatory ends. In addition, Latinofuturism draws inspiration from Afrofuturism, as articulated by scholars such as Mark Dery, Alondra Nelson, and Ytasha Womack. Whereas Afrofuturism foregrounds the African diaspora and the legacy of slavery in regard to new media and the technological, Latinofuturism focuses on migrations within and across the Americas and beyond. Prevalent themes in Latinofuturism include indigenismo, mestizaje, and coloniality, which operate to question narratives of progress and technological advancement as well as to render more radical visions of the future. However, as Isabel Millán argues, Afrofuturism and Latinofuturism become tightly knit when considering Afro-Latina/o speculative productions. More broadly, Latinofuturism must be also situated within US ethnic and global subaltern futurisms as the experiences of people of color in the United States and throughout the world are interwoven through histories of bodily and epistemological violences systematically omitted from narratives of progress and technological advancement. Importantly, Latinofuturism, along with other ethnic futurisms, share a radical reimagining of a collective future that blurs colonial binaries, making collective space to imagine and enact otherwise.

Article

Speculative Fiction  

Marek Oziewicz

The term “speculative fiction” has three historically located meanings: a subgenre of science fiction that deals with human rather than technological problems, a genre distinct from and opposite to science fiction in its exclusive focus on possible futures, and a super category for all genres that deliberately depart from imitating “consensus reality” of everyday experience. In this latter sense, speculative fiction includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but also their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured fairy tales, and more. Rather than seeking a rigorous definition, a better approach is to theorize “speculative fiction” as a term whose semantic register has continued to expand. While “speculative fiction” was initially proposed as a name of a subgenre of science fiction, the term has recently been used in reference to a meta-generic fuzzy set supercategory—one defined not by clear boundaries but by resemblance to prototypical examples—and a field of cultural production. Like other cultural fields, speculative fiction is a domain of activity that exists not merely through texts but through their production and reception in multiple contexts. The field of speculative fiction groups together extremely diverse forms of non-mimetic fiction operating across different media for the purpose of reflecting on their cultural role, especially as opposed to the work performed by mimetic, or realist narratives. The fuzzy set field understanding of speculative fiction arose in response to the need for a blanket term for a broad range of narrative forms that subvert the post-Enlightenment mindset: one that had long excluded from “Literature” stories that departed from consensus reality or embraced a different version of reality than the empirical-materialist one. Situated against the claims of this paradigm, speculative fiction emerges as a tool to dismantle the traditional Western cultural bias in favor of literature imitating reality, and as a quest for the recovery of the sense of awe and wonder. Some of the forces that contributed to the rise of speculative fiction include accelerating genre hybridization that balkanized the field previously mapped with a few large generic categories; the expansion of the global literary landscape brought about by mainstream culture’s increasing acceptance of non-mimetic genres; the proliferation of indigenous, minority, and postcolonial narrative forms that subvert dominant Western notions of the real; and the need for new conceptual categories to accommodate diverse and hybridic types of storytelling that oppose a stifling vision of reality imposed by exploitative global capitalism. An inherently plural category, speculative fiction is a mode of thought-experimenting that includes narratives addressed to young people and adults and operates in a variety of formats. The term accommodates the non-mimetic genres of Western but also non-Western and indigenous literatures—especially stories narrated from the minority or alternative perspective. In all these ways, speculative fiction represents a global reaction of human creative imagination struggling to envision a possible future at the time of a major transition from local to global humanity.

Article

Contemporary Israeli Fiction  

Oded Nir

Central to the transformation of Israeli literature in the early 21st century is the emergence of new genres and forms of writing. In this essay, I try to relate these new literary developments to socio-econoic transformations.. I address the emergence of three genres: Israeli speculative fiction (in works by Ofir Touché-Gafla, Vered Tochterman, Gail Hareven, and others), detective fiction (in novels by Dror Mishani and Noa Yedlin), and diasporic novels—novels whose interpretive frame of reference tries to bypass the Zionist-Israeli world of meaning (in novels by Maya Arad and Ruby Namdar). I suggest that these genres emerge as a response to the crisis of older forms of literary representation, registered in Israeli postmodernism in the 1980s and 1990s. I argue that these older forms become unable to provide concrete figures for the social and a sense of historicity, the emerging genres begin fulfilling precisely these functions, taking the place of the older genres. In particular, I demonstrate how the three new genres unconsciously map the unevenly developed socioeconomic structure of Israel, developing spatial allegorical languages through which to consider the antagonism between older welfare-state social form and the newer neoliberal structures in Israel (contrasting both to utopian states of existence). I suggest that Israeli detective fiction is useful in capturing the commodification of older national political projects and the rise of new neoliberal social forms; that diasporic novels help develop new allegorical understanding of individual existence that bypass national allegories; and that Israeli SF both captures the antagonism between welfare state and neoliberalism, as well as unconsciously imagine non-capitalist futurity.