A New Species

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Robin Roberts states that science fiction acknowledges the power of the feminine by casting it as alien. Her analysis begins with an extended study of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN and her lesser-known THE LAST MAN. Both novels focus on the power of reproduction. Roberts notes that Victor Frankenstein expresses fear of the characteristics that a female creation would display and eventually hacks apart his female “monster” even before bringing it to life.

Misogyny in science fiction goes back to Walter Besant’s THE REVOLT OF MAN, in which men refuse to use force and women take over the areas of art and education. Scientific advances halt because women have no capacity for science. Roberts uses this novel to illustrate that science fiction typically shows women as unscientific. In feminist terms, however, women use science differently; their capacities are seen as magic. Because their powers are mysterious, women are seen as threatening. Pulp magazines and other early science fiction presented strong female aliens who were overcome by males; the strength of these female characters opened the way for feminist works.

Feminist utopias developed as a distinct subgenre. The utopias distance themselves from patriarchies and focus on familial values. One chapter focuses on such works, noting how women have gained knowledge of nature through observation, so that their skills are not magic but a form of science. Later utopias abandoned isolationism and stressed equality and the benefits to both sexes when women exercise their power.

Roberts devotes a chapter to Doris Lessing and her Canopus in Argos series as an early feminist work. Many of the feminist writers who followed approached writing from a postmodern perspective. A chapter on postmodernism discusses how authors use language and how texts display the ways that use of language can shape identity. Ursula Le Guin’s ALWAYS COMING HOME is discussed in depth as a nonlinear, nongenre work. Roberts concludes that feminist science fiction is as much about how stories are told as about the plots of those stories.