Please explain and summarize the following text: The importance of science fiction (SF) in our time is on the increase. First, there are strong indications that its popularity in the leading industrial nations (United States, USSR, United Kingdom, Japan) has risen sharply over the last 100 years, despite all the local and short-range fluctuations. SF has particularly affected such key strata or groups of modern society as college graduates, young writers, and the avant-garde of general readers appreciative of new sets of values. This is a significant cultural effect which goes beyond any merely quantitative census. Second, if one takes as the minimal generic difference of SF the presence of a narrative novum (the dramatis personae and/or their context) significantly different from what is the norm in "naturalistic" or empiricist fiction, it will be found that SF has an interesting and close kinship with other literary subgenres that flourished at different times and places of literary history: the classical and medieval "fortunate island" story, the "fabulous voyage" story from antiquity on, the Renaissance and Baroque "utopia" and "planetary novel," the Enlightenment "state [political] novel," the modern "anticipation" and "anti-utopia." Moreover, although SF shares with myth, fantasy, fairy tale, and pastoral an opposition to naturalistic or empiricist literary genres, it differs very significantly in approach and social function from such adjoining non-naturalistic or metaempirical genres. Both these complementary aspects, the sociological and the methodological, are being vigorously debated by writers and critics in several countries, evidence of lively interest in a genre that should undergo scholarly discussion too.   In this chapter, I will argue for an understanding of SF as the literature of cognitive estrangement. This definition seems to possess the unique advantage of rendering justice to a literary tradition which is coherent through the ages and within itself, yet distinct from nonfictional utopianism, from naturalistic literature, and from other non-naturalistic fiction. It thus makes it possible to lay the basis for a coherent poetics of SF.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The writer begins by noting a rise in the importance and popularity of science fiction. Over the last century, the genre has become more popular with people in developed nations in general, and it is often written with certain types of educated readers in particular, including college graduates and young writers.

The second point assumes that science fiction require the presence of a "narrative novum," which is to say, an innovation which is described in scientifically plausible terms. The writer then notes the similarity between modern science fiction and various types of fabulous literature which have been popular in other historical eras, such as the "utopia" story. Science fiction is located alongside "myth, fantasy, fairy tale, and pastoral" in opposition to naturalism and empiricism (i.e. genres that aim at literal verisimilitude). The writer claims that this difference in forms reflects a difference in the ideas and social function of the text. Since these aspects of literary texts are the subject of debate in other genres, science fiction ought to be the subject of similar scholarly argument, since it will illuminate the same themes.

The writer then defines science fiction as "the literature of cognitive estrangement." This will make it possible to define science fiction as a distinct genre and separate it from other types of writing which may be regarded as fairly close to it, laying the ground for a distinctive literary appreciation and analysis of science fiction. The definition of "cognitive estrangement" involves the placement of unfamiliar devices in a fictional universe which the reader imagines to be internally consistent and logical.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 6, 2020
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial