Essays and Criticism
The Similarities and Differences Among Science Fiction and Fantasy Works
With the introduction of pulp genre magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories in the 1920s, modern Science Fiction and Fantasy stories were lumped together, with no attempt to define or separate each genre. Although many critics have since tried to define each genre, no consensus has been reached, and Science Fiction and Fantasy are often referred to as one field. This is true in the popular sphere as well. Orson Scott Card (who is a Science Fiction and Fantasy writer himself) notes in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, “in most bookstores, fantasy and science fiction are lumped together in the same group of shelves, alphabetized by author with no attempt to separate one from the other.” However, one can make a possible distinction by examining the specific ways that Science Fiction and Fantasy writers use general ideas and techniques shared by both genres. By exploring the general similarities between Wells’s The Time Machine and Tolkien’s The Hobbit— two works that helped to define the modern Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, respectively— these specific differences can be identified.
The first general similarity between the two genres is in their views of science and technology. Both genres tend to take a negative view toward science and technology. In fact, much of Fantasy literature is, by its very nature, anti-technology. Fantasy authors like Tolkien often stage their tales in a...
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One of the major theoretical projects of the second wave of feminism is the investigation of gender and sexuality as social constructs. . . . The stock conventions of science fiction—time travel, alternate worlds, entropy, relativism, the search for a unified field theory— can be used metaphorically and metonymically as powerful ways of exploring the construction of ‘woman’.
(Sarah Lefanu . . .)
Women’s science fiction, or feminist science fiction, is a more recent development than the genre as a whole, but today constitutes one of the most exciting and most vigorous aspects of the mode, in terms both of actual SF texts and of criticism. It is also, following on from the previous chapter, a development that dates primarily from the 1960s, one that has grown up in dialogue with the more maleoriented SF of the Pulps and the Golden Age. Examining some of the features of women’s SF writing, then, allows us to interrogate many aspects of New Wave (the experimental, avant-garde movement in SF that started in the 1960s) and more recent developments in the mode.
After exploring various aspects of the representation of gender concerns in SF, this chapter will close with a reading of Ursula Le Guin’s 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. But it is worth noting at the beginning how contentious Le Guin’s position is within the body of female SF, as a means of pointing up that...
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Science Fiction: Metaphor, Myth or Prophecy
A provisional and, I hope, uncontroversial definition of science fiction might run as follows: sf is a distinct kind of popular literature telling stories that arise from actual or, more usually, hypothetical new discoveries in science and technology. The science and technology must be convincing enough to invite a certain suspension of the reader’s disbelief: this is how sf, as a creation of the later nineteenth century, differs from earlier fiction in which themes such as space travel and encounters with extraterrestrials were presented in a merely fantastic or satirical light. The present essay will propose a broad evolutionary model for the development of science fiction, comprising a prehistorical and at least three historical stages. The points of transition are those at which the genre can be seen to shift from one kind of discourse to another. In all science-fiction stories, scientific and technological innovation has consequential effects, causing changes at the level of the social structure, of individual experience, and in the perceived nature of reality itself. As sf has developed not only has its stock of imagined alternatives continued to multiply, but their status has changed from what I shall call the prophetic to the mythic and to the metaphorical. At present there are signs that the ‘metaphorical’ phase of science-fictional discourse may be breaking down, just as its predecessors did.
It is true that a periodisation...
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