This chapter details the history of automation, technology released from any apparent human control. The term initially found favor in the 1950s with the first fully automated factories in America and the Soviet Union. Automation had a long prehistory, dating back to the origins of the Industrial Revolution, but intensifying with the arrival of “time and motion” studies of industrial workers by Frederick Winslow Taylor and the revolutionary new assembly lines that used Taylor’s insights in Henry Ford’s factories in the 1910s. Modern dystopias frequently react to the prospect of a future of automation, from Samuel Butler Erewhon (1872) via Zamyatin’s We (1921) to Philip K. Dick’s story “Autofac” (1955): automation becomes the token of twentieth-century projections of future society.
This article analyzes the challenges of contemporary English novel to ecocriticism. It explains that the novel has often been considered to be unsuitable or at least problematic for ecocritical analysis and argues that a broadening of ecocriticism is needed if it wants to develop as a critical practice and continue to raise awareness about environmental concerns. It examines several relevant novels including David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, and Ian McEwan’s Solar.
This chapter outlines the relationship between science and science fiction and explores how it has changed over the genre’s history. Although SF has been seen as a popularization of scientific culture, exchanges between the two are more complex and dialectical. The genre plays a role in shaping public understandings of science and serving as inspiration for new inventions, but it also offers a vision of the consequences of changes in science and technology on a full social world, a perspective often lacking in isolated laboratory research. Thus, SF functions like the work of science and technology studies in their vision of science shaped by culture. Such parallels are explored drawing on STS scholars such as Steven Shapin, Evelyn Fox Keller, Bruno Latour, and Vandana Shiva; analyzing fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson, Gwyneth Jones, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Neal Stephenson.
Most discussions of the nature of science fiction explore the relationship between “extrapolation” and “speculation,” terms with no fixed meanings, constructed differently by different writers at different times, but both always having something to do with notions of scientific or social plausibility. Most histories and theories of SF valorize one term over the other. This chapter tracks various understandings of these terms as they have evolved—and the relationship between them has changed—over time, as famously defined by Robert A. Heinlein, John W. Campbell Jr., Isaac Asimov, and Judith Merril, and developed by recent critics John Clute, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Roger Luckhurst, and Mark Bould and Sheryl Vint. While some have seen extrapolation and speculation as opposites, others have seen them as sequential stages in an imaginative process, and still others have used the terms interchangeably, the distinctions between them blurred by differing conceptions of plausibility and of science.
This chapter considers the social context of the rise and construction of the community understood as science fiction fandom. It explores the interactions between different types of fandom, the creativity and energy in the field, and the porous borders between fans and professional authors. The chapter further argues that SF fandom constitutes a “knowledge economy,” with its own institutional memory and mechanisms of transmission. It explores the world of science fiction conventions, organizations, awards, and publications (including fanzines and fan fiction). It also gives a sense of the international scope of fandom.
This article examines some tales of feral dogs in the context of ecocriticism and critical animal studies. It discusses the concept of ferality in ethology and evolutionary biology, and considers environmentalist conceptions of ferality as a kind of biological pollution alongside the celebration of ferality in animal studies as a subversive biological tendency.. Fictional texts discussed include Eva Hornung’s novel Dog Boy, Alistair Macleod’s collection As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories and Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.
This article explores the debate over evolutionary morality. While much evidence supports the scientific validity of evolution, it could not resolve was the origin of ethical behavior, thus hindering its popular acceptance as a theory of human and social development; this is one reason for the religious objection to evolution. The moral quandary galvanized many American novelists who were especially fascinated and disturbed by the implications of human evolution. Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, Edith Wharton, Frank Norris, and Jack London wrote pessimistic stories of the consequences of human and social development. James and Wharton appropriated evolutionary ideas in order to reveal the way group dynamics force certain individuals to conform or perish, while Dreiser, Norris, and London examined directly the ethical limitations of human evolution. These narratives inevitably criticized the evolutionary worldview as too deterministic, reductive, and aggressive.
Andrew M. Butler
Much science fiction attempts to imagine probable, possible, improbable, or impossible futures, but it is not the only field of human endeavor to predict the future. This chapter explores the related fields of “futurology,” “Futurism,” and “futures studies” that study both how the future might be predicted for economic, social, political, and strategic purposes and the factors that have led to current situations. It also examines aspects of the fields’ methodologies and the use that they make of science fiction. From 1842 the term “Futurist” had been used to describe Christian eschatology in which it was thought that a coming apocalypse would lead to a transformation of society. This cyclical notion of humanity is paralleled in some of SF’s future histories that also depict the fall and rise of society. The chapter concludes with a critique of futurology from the perspective of SF.
Joseph Elkanah Rosenberg
This article discusses the novels of Henry Green in relation to late modernism. It begins by discussing Green’s placement within current debates regarding the nature and scope of modernism. Paying particular attention to Party Going, it argues that what makes Green’s novels quintessentially late modernist is the way that they thematize their own untimeliness. Green’s novels are obsessed with all manner of belatedness: journeys are delayed and parental origins questioned, events and images repeat themselves endlessly, and lost treasures return only to be lost again. The article ends by considering how, through the displacement of images from his earlier novels—particularly that of dead birds—Green’s later novels reveal the repetition, bathos, and obsession with nothingness that are the hallmarks of his singular style.
Arthur B. Evans
Many histories of science fiction exist. The oldest ones, from the 1940s to the 1960s, are usually thematic/authorial in their critical focus; those from the 1970s are more semiotic; and those from the 1980s to today tend to be sociological, treating SF texts as artifacts of cultural history. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses and its own take on the “true origins” of SF. But a discernable shift seems to have occurred in how SF historians view and interpret the genre’s past. Earlier SF histories devoted a great deal of attention to key (European) literary precursors such as Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells. In contrast, contemporary SF historians seem to de-emphasize the genre’s pre-twentieth-century roots, preferring instead to highlight its emergence in the (American) pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s and in the editorial strategies of Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell Jr.
Daniel J. Philippon
This article examines the state of American nature writing and evaluates whether it has outlived its usefulness. It reviews several attempts to define nature writing as a genre and explores some recent critiques of nature, nature writing, and environmentalism. It argues that while the generic label “nature writing” may now be more trouble than it’s worth, the expansive sensibility expressed in much traditional nature writing still remains a useful tool with which to address the various humanistic challenges associated with sustainability.
This article considers Virginia Woolf’s late writing—The Years, Three Guineas, and Between the Acts—in the context of recent shifts within modernist studies. It examines a range of scholarly narratives about this period of Woolf’s writing, arguing for the importance of considering these three works alongside one another. Faced with the rise of fascism and the onset of World War II, Woolf became increasingly concerned not only with political change, but also with the forms and modes through which the sociopolitical is represented. Her own pacifist, feminist interrogation of the forces of tyranny at home and abroad led her to test out different genres and media as a response to political crisis. In particular, her late writing is characterized by a desire to defamiliarize conventional (whether militaristic or misogynist) ways of seeing and thinking.
Libertarian and anarchist science fiction have several shared characteristics. Both demonstrate the tendency of SF to question, queer, or torque the present, presenting views that interrogate the status quo and common sense. Both political dispositions have their roots in eighteenth-century political liberalism, though each has developed along different paths. Using select titles from the Prometheus Award for Libertarian SF (including works by L. Neil Smith, Robert A. Heinlein, Ayn Rand), this chapter charts similarities and differences among representative examples of SF that center on questions of individual rights and social justice. Libertarian and anarchist SF (the latter represented in works by Ursula K. Le Guin and Ken MacLeod) are all the more interesting for the radical challenge they present to complacent conceptions of the commonweal and common woe, and hence they provide a fine representation of what SF, at its best and worst, can accomplish.
Gary K. Wolfe
Science fiction in the United States began as a self-conscious movement in popular fiction, which had already split into various political and social factions by the end of the 1930s. With the advent of John W. Campbell Jr.’s editorship of Astounding, the literary direction of the field was largely controlled by individual editors for the next two decades, but in the early 1960s, with Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine, self-proclaimed literary movements began to emerge—first “New Wave,” with more political or experimental writers in the United States and the United Kingdom, and eventually cyberpunk and its descendants (most notably steampunk), slipstream, the New Weird, New Humanism, New Space Opera, and Mundane SF. Though not generally movement-driven as a whole, science fiction remains energized by such debates.
Drawing on literary, visual, and philosophical sources from the period, this article asks what is landscape, how was it represented and understood in the eighteenth century, and how might we understand its different forms and agenda now? It focuses on why terms such as landscape, nature, and beauty remain problematic; explores ideas of location, scale, and point of view; and discusses the influence of classical georgic and pastoral models on eighteenth-century ways of seeing. The article argues that landscapes were experienced quite differently because of class, gender, and education, and stresses the wide range of landscapes created by eighteenth-century writers of quite different kinds. Finally, it suggests the importance of emotion as a driving force in the construction of landscape and the need to understand landscape not as something “out there,” but rather as centrally concerned with the expression of self.
The history of science fiction was a long battle between editors and commentators, who sought to make science fiction a uniquely variegated form of popular fiction, and publishers, who fought to forge science fiction into a genre of formulaic space adventures. For decades, Hugo Gernsback, his successor John W. Campbell Jr., and later figures successfully maintained the genre’s provocative and stimulating freedom. By the 1980s, however, the success of Star Trek novels and their imitators brought sequels and series following predictable patterns to the forefront, and today, science fiction has become a standard type of popular fiction, governed by rigid conventions. Yet the marketplace only did what it should do—provide readers with precisely the sort of reading material that they desire—and critics and discerning readers can maintain the older approach to science fiction in marginal forums, though they should no longer call its works “science fiction.”
This article begins by discussing seventeenth- and eighteenth-century notions of media, mediation, and communication. How did early modern notions of the “medium” and of “mediation” overlap with and differ from common understandings of these terms today? The second section provides an overview of media and mediation in the eighteenth century, heeding recent calls for a new history of mediation that includes not only what we now identify as communications media (e.g., print, voice, and script) but also new genres, protocols, opportunities, and infrastructures for communication. The penultimate section addresses eighteenth-century histories of mediation. Enlightenment authors increasingly conceptualized their era as an age in history defined by a particular set of communication practices and tools. The concluding section addresses the challenges and opportunities of the “media turn” in literary and cultural studies and the future of the history of media and mediation.
The marketing model of the cinematic blockbuster, together with the increasing economic viability and technological sophistication of CGI, has helped to foreground military adventure, especially in the form of the combat film narrative, as a dominant mode of science fiction for a general audience. Lucrative franchises like Stars Wars and Star Trek dominate the genre at its most popular. Outpacing the actual militarization of American culture, the convergence of military and cinematic visualization and modeling technologies—from digital gaming to Reagan’s “Strategic Defense Initiative”—normalizes both SF as a militaristic genre and military culture in general. In the complex interplay between American military power and militarism in the popular imagination—a steady yet persistently shifting dynamic throughout the so-called American Century—military science fiction in the technological mainstream provides predominantly ideological affirmation, while it falls to literary science fiction to articulate a wider spectrum of themes and critical positions.
This chapter discusses the intersection of music and SF themes, considering both film scores and popular song. Since no general theory of “SF music” exists, it adapts the term “speculative” from literary studies to explain how SF themes manifest within the two basic musical domains acknowledged. Using that frame, a genealogy of SF music is established by looking first to the aesthetic and ideological conflict present in the relationship between Leon Theremin and Edgard Varèse, with the former looking to the nineteenth century for cues and the latter exploring new possibilities in sound opened up by the advent of electronic music. What follows is a survey of landmarks in SF music, from the score to The Forbidden Planet (1956) and Dicky Goodman’s “The Flying Saucer Parts 1 & 2” (1956), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to David Bowie, and from Blade Runner (1982) to electroclash.
Celebrity was not invented in the eighteenth century, but it was transformed by the new publics, and the new media that emerged to cultivate and maintain these publics, from the mid-seventeenth until the later eighteenth centuries. Celebrity is therefore best understood as a certain kind of fame rather than a phase in the history of fame. Contemporaneity, publicity, and personality are key aspects of the kind of fame one may identify as celebrity. This chapter argues that attention to genre in the process of celebrity formation makes it possible to distinguish between regimes of fame as constituted by the media available and the ways in which public personalities were variously constructed. Two genres were particularly influential in shaping the development of the new celebrity of the long eighteenth century: news writing and life writing. The contributions of news and biography to eighteenth-century conceptions of celebrity are explored in detail.