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Science Fiction

SCIENCE FICTION.

Like a rapacious and relentlessly predatory science fictional entity assimilating all it encounters (the Star Trek Borg come to mind), science fiction in the early twenty-first century is an unstoppable expansive force that is certainly not limited to one particular genre. Science fiction literature, once ghettoized and marginalized, is pervasive and ever more rapidly garnering respect.

PMLA, America's most distinguished literary criticism journal, published its first science fiction issue in May 2004. Stephen King received the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Philip K. Dick once dismissed as a pulp science fiction writerbecause of his works' emphasis upon paranoia regarding government, technology, and personal relationships and its attention to what constitutes reality itselfhas been lauded as creating the most emblematic fiction of the turn of the twenty-first century. Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude was applauded as one of the most important novels published in 2003, and Star Trek was recognized as the most enduring cultural mythology of the second half of the twentieth century.

The attention lavished upon King and Dick especially exemplifies why science fiction is pervasive and ever more rapidly gaining respect. The National Book Foundation's decision to recognize King's achievements signaled an end to the discrimination popular genre writers automatically suffered. Dick precisely envisioned the world of the early twenty-first century, a world that did not inherit flying cars, but which endures such Dickian devices and themes as implanted memories, commercialized personalities, dislocation, and disintegrating realities.

Literary theory reflects the newfound status science fiction garners. Carl Freedman, in Critical Theory and Science Fiction (2000), proclaims that science fiction, one of the most theoretically informed areas of the literary profession, is a privileged genre for critical theory:

I maintain that science fiction, like critical theory, insists upon historical mutability, material reducibility, and utopian possibility. Of all genres, science fiction is thus the one most devoted to the historical concreteness and rigorous self-reflectiveness of critical theory. The science-fictional world is not only one different in time or place from our own, but one whose chief interest is precisely the difference that such difference makes. (p. xvi)

In a 1999 essay for the New York Times titled "Black to the Future," Walter Mosley positions science as one of the most exciting emerging directions in contemporary American fiction; he explains that the newly free black imagination joins with science fiction to create a new force to counter racism. N. Katherine Hayles' How We Became Post Human: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (1999), in response to science fiction's aforementioned pervasive presence within reality, declares that people are now more than simply human. Posthumans inhabit a brave new postmodern world in which science fiction infused reality ever more increasingly blurs the old comfortable distinctions between the real and the unreal. Via an overview of the development of science fiction literature and science fiction theory from the 1970s to the start of the twenty-first century, this entry will explore how we and our world became science fictionally post real.

Edward James's Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century (1994) offers one of the best descriptions of science fiction's historical progression; his ideas form the basis of the historical survey given here. The American New Wave influenced the most innovative science fiction writers of the 1970s (including John Crowley, Joe Haldeman, Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon, and John Varley). The New Wave can be defined as the 1960s generational shift away from the classic writers who began to write before World War IIsuch as Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon. The New Wave, an attempt to bring science fiction into the literary mainstream by emphasizing style rather than scientific accuracy, consisted of experimental works emphasizing psychology and soft sciences. New Wave writers shared the notion that the world is not improving, expressed a distrust of science and technology, and thought humans unworthy of valorization.

American New Wave writers (Robert Silverberg, Joanna Russ, Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, and Samuel Delany, for example) wanted to improve upon rather than reject classic pulp science fiction. The word pulp refers to the inexpensive paper used to produce pulp magazines as well as to the characteristics of the fiction the magazines published. Action, romance, heroism, exotic settings, adventures, and positive endings characterize pulp science fiction stories. Pulp science fiction began with The Argosy in the 1890s and proliferated until the 1930s in such magazines as Weird Tales, Amazing Stories (created by Hugo Gernsback, the father of pulp science fiction and namesake of the Hugo Award), and Astounding. Astounding editor John W. Campbell insisted upon hard science as a basis for story acceptance; hence, classic pulp science fiction can be understood as a juxtaposition of science fiction, monster stories, and hero pulp stories. Such clichéd science fiction tropes as Bug-Eyed-Monsters and little green men emerging from the spaceship that lands on the White House lawn epitomize classic pulp science fiction.

During the 1970s, new subgenres arose from the combination of New Wave ideas engaging with the older traditions classic pulp science fiction represents. Larry Niven, the exemplary writer of hard science fiction, emphasized technology, physics, and space exploration. Women writers (such as Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon), in contrast, focused upon such soft sciences as psychology and sociology and produced pure literary experimentation. Much of the soft science fiction written during the 1970s was fantasy, not science fiction. (Critics have generated multitudinous arguments regarding the distinctions between science and fantasy. The rule of thumb is that texts about what can be realized are science fiction and those about what cannot be realized are fantasy. Future generations, for example, might travel in a Star Trek starship, which in the early twenty-first century exists only in science fiction; unlike the protagonists of the fantasy Alice in Wonderland, they will never experience close encounters with a watch-wearing white rabbit.) The rise of both women's science fiction and fantasy rooted in the 1970s, two of the most important developments in the history of science fiction, continues into the twenty-first century. Feminist science fiction provides blueprints for social change, which enable us to rethink and reformulate patriarchal social domination.

Joanna Russ, the most important representative of the rise of 1970s feminist science fiction, is best known for The Female Man (1975), a startling, brilliant feminist novel which presents four female protagonists who inhabit four alternative worlds. Ursula Le Guin's equally important The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) is more inspired by anarchism than by feminism. Delany's Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia (1976) echoes Le Guin's political emphasis and builds upon Russ's feminist breakthroughs. Tiptree/Sheldon's feminist short stories (such as "The Women Men Don't See"1973) are important contributions to the feminist and soft science fiction surge characterizing the 1970s. In international science fiction, the first English translations of the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem began to appear in the 1970s (for example, Solaris [1961, translated 1970] and The Invincible [1964, translated 1973]).

The new New Wave called cyberpunk dominated the 1980s. Cyberpunk is derived from the words cybernetics and the 1970s rock term punk. Cyberpunk arose in response to a discrepancy characteristic of the 1980s: the glaring difference between the gleaming pristine future cities traditional science fiction portrays and depressing real-world urban landscapes. Cyberpunk fiction, which portrays people dwarfed by machines in a technological world and alienated from nature, contributes a rethinking of the military-industrial complex's hegemony. Pat Cadigan, best known for Synners (1991), has been called the "Queen of Cyberpunk." William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) epitomizes cyberpunk in its portrayal of seedy and dark urban environments in which protagonists literally enter cyberspace.

In 1990, the U.S. president George H. W. Bush announced an intention to place people on Mars by 2019, inspiring some science fiction writers to focus upon Mars; such works as Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars (1993), Green Mars (1994), Blue Mars (1996), and The Martians (1999) reflect this focus. Ben Bova's Mars (1992) and Paul J. McAuley's Red Dust (1993) are other noteworthy novels about Mars. In addition to Robinson, Nicola Griffith and Gwyneth Jones were important writers who debuted during the 1990s. Attention to politics, ecology, feminism, and extraterrestrial soft science fiction dominate the science fiction written during this decade.

The surge in black science fiction, reflected in Walter Mosley's "Black to the Future" and Sheree R. Thomas's anthology Dark Matter (2000), was the most important development in science fiction at the beginning of the new millennium. Mosley's Futureland and work by Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, and Stephen Barnes build upon the tradition of black science fiction literature Delany and Octavia Butler pioneered. Darko Suvin's Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (1979) is the most significant critical work about science fiction published since the 1970s. Suvin famously defines science fiction as

a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment. (pp. 78)

In concert with Suvin, Robert Scholes defines fabulation as "fiction that offers us a world clearly and radically discontinuous from the one we know, yet returns to confront that known world in some cognitive way." Marleen S. Barr, in Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction (1992) defines feminist fabulation as feminist fiction that offers a world clearly and radically discontinuous from the patriarchal world we know, yet returns to confront that known patriarchal world in some feminist cognitive way. There is an intergenerational science fiction critical lineage between Suvin's and Scholes's corollary definitions and Barr's "feminist fabulation" that brings their influential definitions to bear upon feminism and postmodernism.

In the manner of their marked influence upon imaginative science fiction, feminism and postmodern are integral to science fiction criticism. Brian McHale in Postmodernist Fiction (1987) states that science fiction "is to postmodernism what detective fiction was to modernism: it is the ontological genre par excellence (as the detective story is the epistemological genre par excellence ), and so serves as a source of materials and models for postmodernist writers." While McHale reads postmodernism in terms of science fiction, Larry McCaffery's Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction (1991) reads science fiction in terms of postmodernism. Scott Bukatman's Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (1993), a compendious study of contemporary science fiction, positions techno-culture as the focus of the discussion about the relationship between postmodernism and science fiction. Donna J. Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" (1985) links postmodernism and technoculture to the feminist analysis of science fiction.

Barr's Future Females: A Critical Anthology (1981) was the first essay collection devoted to feminism and science fiction. Sarah Lefanu's In The Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction (1988), which followed Barr's Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory (1987), asserts that

the plasticity of science fiction and its openness to other literary genres allow an apparent contradiction it makes possible, and encourages (despite its colonization by male writers), the inscription of women as subjects free from the constraints of mundane fiction; and it also offers the possibilities of interrogating that very inscription, questioning the basis of gendered subjectivity.

The 1990s saw the appearance of Jenny Wolmark's Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism (1994), which analyzes the "shared theoretical moments" between feminism and postmodernism; Russ's To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995), which collects her most important essays; and Jane Donawerth's Frankenstein's Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction (1997), which places Frankenstein as integral to science fiction written by women. In 2000, Barr, in Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism, collected the work of young feminist science fiction theorists who analyze science fiction's relevance to disenfranchising patriarchal master narratives and social institutions. Brian Attebery's Decoding Gender in Science Fiction (2002) carries the torch of feminist science fiction criticism into the new century. Race and queer theory are discussed in Elizabeth Anne Leonard's edited collection Into Darkness Peering: Race and Color in the Fantastic (1997), Daniel Leonard Bernardi's Star Trek and History: Race-ing toward a White Future (1998), and Samuel Delany's Shorter Views: Queer Thought and the Politics of the Paraliterary (2000).

Two aforementioned scholars, Freedman and Hayles, respectively explain that science fiction is crucial to the entire enterprise of producing critical theory and that at the start of the twenty-first century human beings hold being posthuman in common with science fiction protagonists. As both the scholarly works about science fiction and science fiction literature itself indicate, the boundaries between literature and life drawn in terms of fixed definitions of what constitutes the real and the science fictional are becoming increasingly blurred. We might, sooner than we expect, find ourselves on the cusp of telling Scotty to beam us up.

See also Dystopia ; Futurology ; Genre ; Technology ; Utopia .

bibliography

Attebery, Brian. Decoding Gender in Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Barr Marleen S. Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

. Feminist Fabulation: Space/Postmodern Fiction. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992.

. Future Females: A Critical Anthology. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1981.

. Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.

Bernardi, Daniel. Star Trek and History: Race-ing toward a White Future. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993.

Delany, Samuel. Shorter Views: Queer Thought and the Politics of the Paraliterary. Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

Donawerth, Jane. Frankenstein's Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

Haraway, Donna J. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." In her Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1985.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

James, Edward. Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Lefanu, Sarah. In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction. London: Quartet Books, 1988.

Leonard, Elizabeth. Into Darkness Peering: Race and Color in the Fantastic. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

McCaffery, Larry. Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.

McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987 Mosley, Walter. "Black to the Future." New York Times Magazine, November 30, 1998, p. 32.

Russ, Joanna. To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Scholes, Robert. "The Roots of Science Fiction." In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Science Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by M. Rose. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979.

Wolmark, Jenny. Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism, and Postmodernism. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1994.

Marleen S. Barr

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"Science Fiction." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Science Fiction

Science Fiction


Science fiction is the genre of stories and film in which a significant element of the plot depends on the laws of mathematics and the physical sciences, or on the use of technology as currently known or as developed in a credible way. Stories in which natural laws are suspended or violated fall into the realm of fantasy rather than science fiction. Most science fiction plots take place in the future, on a fictional planet, or posit the use of a new technology. They explore the best and worst case scenarios that could result from the application of technology or from a variation in the natural world, though remain based on scientific laws as we know them. Though it seems that science fiction is based on science and the material world, most modern works are character based; science fiction explores human life and action within the context of a fictional but possible world. This fictional world allows the author clearly to explore issues in a context that is contrived, thus without the myriad mitigating or confounding factors the real world might present.

The genre of science fiction can be traced back to nineteenth-century novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and Jules Verne's novels of the 1860s and 1870s (Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea ). However, the term science fiction was not widely used until the 1930s, when a group of pulp fiction magazines featuring stories based on the premises of modern science was established. Beginning with Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories (after whom the Hugo award in science fiction writing is named), the format was soon copied by several other American and British publications ( John Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction, Science Wonder Stories ). Among writers in Britain, a genre called scientific romance grew in the years following World War I with such writers as Olaf Stapledon, J. D. Beresford, H. G. Wells, and Aldous Huxley. In the United States, science fiction remained primarily magazine based until the rapid rise in the production of paperback books in the 1960s, which moved the genre from a predominance of short stories to novels. The science fiction novel emerged as a distinct literary genre in the second half of the century, exemplified in the works of writers such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Kurt Vonnegut.

As the public became sensitized to the effects of science through the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945, the development of the digital computer, and new advances in biotechnology, science fiction also became a staple for radio (Orson Welles's 1938 radio production of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds ), television (The Jetsons, The Twighlight Zone, Star Trek, The X-Files ), and film plots (Fritz Lang's Metropolis [1927], Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove [1964] and 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968], Ridley Scott's Blade Runner [1982] and Alien [1979], Steven Spielberg's E.T. [1982], and George Lucas's Star Wars [1977]). Although science fiction novels continue to be popular and widely published, a larger contemporary audience is reached through film and television, mediums that make it easy for audiences to suspend disbelief and that appeal to our highly visual culture. The plots of science fiction films tend to be more adventure- and special-effects-based and less introspective than the written literature, though there are notable exceptions, such as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Popular themes in today's science fiction, regardless of the medium, include intelligent computers or robots, alternative worlds, travel to other planets, encounters with other life forms, the future evolution of the human race, and the ravages of atomic destruction or biochemical warfare. Science fiction has also spawned several subgenres in the late twentieth century, including cyberpunk, stories that take place in a virtual world sustained by computers and dominated by multinational corporations (William Gibson's Neuromancer [1984] and Scott's film Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? [1968]); ecoscience fiction, stories set in either an ecological utopia or distopia (Vonnegut's Galapagos [1985], Spielberg's Jurassic Park [1993], John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up [1972]); and feminist science fiction (Ursula K. LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness [1969], James Tiptree's "The Women Men Don't See" [1973] and "The Screwfly Solution" [1977]).


Themes related to religion

The early science fiction pulp magazines were devoted primarily to adventure stories in which the exploration of religious themes or any explicit reference to religion was taboo. However, as science fiction moved into the mediums of novel and film, these strictures fell away. Modern science fiction deals extensively with religion, at times explicitly, at other times through the exploration of metaphysical systems, the nature of humanity or of social structures, the question of mystical powers, or the nature of moral decision making.

A number of science fiction novels have dealt directly with the nature of God. In A Romance of Two Worlds (1886), Marie Corelli explores the idea of God as an electrical force. H. G. Wells explores the nature of a finite or an unknowable God in God the Invisible King (1917) and The Undying Fire (1919). Mary Shelley in Frankenstein (1818), one of the earliest books in the science fiction genre, takes as her premise the question of human usurpation of the prerogatives of God. Stories that examine what it feels like to be God or to have godlike powers of omniscience, omnipotence, or the ability to create life forms range from short stories such as Edmond Hamilton's "Fessenden's Worlds" (1937) and Frank Russell's "Hobbyist" (1947), to novels such as Frank Herbert's The God Makers (1972) and Stanislav Lem's Solaris (1961). The idea of humans who create a god or computers that develop godlike powers is raised in Frederic Brown's "Answer" (1954), Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question" (1956), and Martin Caidin's The God Machine (1989). Many stories raise the possibility that a more advanced civilization would seem godlike to human beings. Philip K. Dick explores the question of beings with godlike powers in Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970) and the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964). Stories that posit an evil or incompetent god include Lester Del Ray's "Evensong" (1967), James Tiptree's Up the Walls of the World (1978), and Philip K. Dick's "Faith of Our Fathers" (1980). John Varley questions the basic requirements for being a god in his Titan series (1980).


The nature of humankind is so common a theme in science fiction that it has been used as a definition of the genre. Brian Aldiss writes in Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1986): "Science fiction is the search for definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science)" (p. 25). Almost all science fiction works deal implicitly, if not explicitly with the question of what it means to be human. Common plot vehicles include confrontation by an alien race or by intelligent computers, the challenges of disaster or of a dystopian world, and ethical decision making under limited conditions.

The question of not only what human beings are but what we might ultimately become is explicitly dealt with in Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937). Human transformation into a mystical or spiritual form is also examined in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1953) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Philip Farmer's To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1955). The evolutionary ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin are explicitly foundational to George Zebrowski's The Omega Point (1972) and appear implicitly in Clarke's Childhood's End. Clarke also examines what it means to be human from the perspective of Buddhism in The Fountains of Paradise (1979).

A few novels and short stories deal with explicitly Christian themes. The star followed by the magi forms the basis for Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star" (1955). Richard Matheson's "The Traveler" (1952) and Michael Moorcock's Behold the Man! (1966) use time travel to examine the crucifixion of Jesus. While these are among the few stories that mention Jesus specifically, a figure whose advent and saving of a culture are messianic in nature is common and can be found in J. D. Beresford's What Dreams May Come (1941), L. Ron Hubbard's Final Blackout (1940), and Frank Herbert's Dune series (1965). The Apocalypse and the second coming of Christ have also formed a backdrop for much science fiction. C. S. Lewis wrote a trilogy in the form of science fiction that moves from a retelling of the story of the garden of Eden to the days before the second coming of Christ in which Merlin plays the role of messiah (Out of the Silent Planet [1938], Perelandra [1943], and That Hideous Strength [1946]). Walter Miller's, A Canticle for Leibowitz [1959] and Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle [1963] continue the apocalyptic theme, examining human behavior and the role of the church in worlds that have been or are being largely destroyed.

A number of science fiction novels posit a future theocracy, generally in a negative light. This is a particularly strong theme in feminist science fiction, and societies based on a version of Christian or Islamic fundamentalism are found in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1986), Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Shattered Chain (1983), Sylvia Engdahl's This Star Shall Abide (1972) and Sheri Tepper's Grass (1990), The Fresco (2000), and The Visitor (2002). Feminist science fiction has also explored societies that follow a goddess based religion, a theme in Elizabeth Hand's Walking the Moon (1996), Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993), Marie Jakober's The Black Chalice (2000) and Suzette Elgin's The Judas Rose (1994). The effects of a theocracy are also explored outside of a feminist context, as in Lester Del Rey's The Eleventh Commandment (1962), John Brunner's The Stone that Never Came Down (1973), and Keith Robert's Kiteworld (1985).

With or without a theocracy, the priest or cleric is a fairly common protagonist. The strong religious grounding of such a character allows the author to examine human behavior in the light of challenges to one's religious or moral ground. Examples of clerical protagonists are found in James Blish's A Case of Conscience (1963), Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover Landfall (1972), Gordon Harris's Apostle From Space (1978), and Lester Del Ray's "For I am a Jealous God" (1973).

Science fiction is also an excellent vehicle for the consideration of moral questions. In Science Fiction: The Future (1971), Dick Allen describes the genre as "a form of literature that argues through its intuitive force that the individual can shape and change and influence and triumph; that [human beings] can eliminate both war and poverty; that miracles are possible; that love, if given a chance, can become the main driving force of human relationships" (p. 3). Ethical issues that are explored in science fiction include the appropriate use of technology, human relationships in the face of hardship, human responsibility in the face of new technologies, and the conflicts between disparate social groups or species. Many science fiction novels explore the conflicts that result when two societies with disparate ethical systems come in contact with one another. Examples include Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel (1954), Spider Robinson's Night of Power (1985), and Ken MacLeod's The Cassini Division (2000).


Bibliography

aldiss, brian w., with wingrove, david. trillion year spree: the history of science fiction. new york: atheneum, 1986. originally published as billion year spree. london: weidenfeld and nicolson, 1973.

allen, dick, ed. science fiction: the future. new york: harcourt, 1971.

cassutt, michael, and greeley, andrew m., eds. sacred visions. new york: st. martin's, 1991.

greenberg, martin h., and warrick, patricia s., eds. the new awareness: religion through science fiction. new york: delacorte, 1975.

reilly, robert, ed. the transcendent adventure: studies of religion in science fiction. westport, conn.: greenwood, 1985.

ryan, alan, ed. perpetual light. new york: warner, 1982.

noreen l. herzfeld

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Science Fiction

Science Fiction

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Science fiction consists of stories, often set in the future and off the planet Earth, that emphasize scientific, sociological, and especially technological innovation. While a writer might imagine what could happen to, say, an Irish Catholic politician who felt attracted to his brothers American Episcopalian wife in the 1960s, a science fiction writer might imagine what could happen to an implant formed from the mental software of a human male and the hardware body and brain of a human female. Similarly, while Henry James (18431916), in Daisy Miller (1878), imagines a nineteenth-century American heiress involved with a European suitor, the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin, in The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), speculates about a human male who comes to know a hermaphrodite humanoid, a Gethenian, who sometimes turns male or sometimes female, depending on its emotional circumstances (the Gethenian often remains neuter if no suitable partner is around). James concentrated his attention on Daisy Miller, her commanding father, her suitor, and so forth, while taking the social, cultural, and biological background for granted. Le Guin, in contrast, imagined a world without gender and in consequence (or she so thought) without war, examining it through the eyes of her human visitor.

Science fiction has been said to begin with Mary Shelleys Frankenstein (1818) or with Jules Vernes From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870) or even as far back as Platos Timaeus (c. 300 BCE), his imagined version of Atlantis. However, science fiction as a distinct literary genre, with specialty magazines such as Amazing Science Fiction and Astounding Science Fiction, dates from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Its golden age of the 1950s and 1960s was driven primarily by technological speculations about the future, whether set primarily on Earth or spreading throughout the galaxy (with science fiction heroes typically confronted by rapacious aliens). Early readers of science fiction were often budding engineers and natural scientists. Writers and characters were mostly male. Isaac Asimov (19201992), although he began publishing science fiction stories in his teens, became a professor of biochemistry at Boston University, eventually publishing over five hundred books. (He was fired from his tenured professorship, not for writing science fiction but for publishing factual science texts for the general readerpopularizations). Many of Asimovs stories concerned robothuman interactions. His Foundation series sketched the psychohistory of a vast galactic civilization, loosely paralleling the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of the modern era.

Robert Heinlein (19071988) and Fritz Leiber (19101992) created theories of time travel that have fascinated philosophers and physicists (e.g., if you kill a butterfly in the age of dinosaurs, will this event cascade into a future in which intelligent dolphins dominate the world, or will the future conserve reality by resisting change?). In Gather, Darkness! (1943), Leiber anticipated a postWorld War III dark age of theocracy in which a religious government maintains control using technology concealed as supposed miracles, only to be challenged by revolutionary forces that clothe their technology as witchcraft, thus making it real to the thoroughly medieval mind-set of the populace. Heinlein produced a version of Platos Republic, titled Space Cadet (1948), in which he imagined a future where an intelligent elite has engineered a world government that the populace believes to be a democracy. Later, during a period of opposition to the U.S. war against Vietnam (19571975), the patriotic Heinlein lost trust in intellectuals and wrote Starship Troopers (1959), in which warriors ruled politically. Paradoxically, Heinlein also then wrote Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), from which American hippie readers enthusiastically co-opted the term grok for intimate understanding (as in free lovemaking), although they misconstrued Heinleins underlying libertarian attitude. In retrospect, some see Heinlein as typifying male chauvinist science fiction. Paradoxically as well, his first novel in manuscript, For Us, The Living, written in 1939, describes a man who clashes with, and eventually accepts as wholly justified, a 2086 future in which women have social and career equality with men (this rejected manuscript was not published until 2004, after Heinleins death).

In the late 1960s, science fiction began to draw more female authors and readers. A readership consisting of budding engineers and scientists gave place to social science and humanities students, while technological innovation, space war, and abstract ideas gave way to psychological and stylistic experimentation. The quietly egalitarian 1950s work of such science fiction writers as Judith Merril (19231997) and Katherine Maclean gave way to Joanna Russs brilliantly feminist Female Man (1975), Ursula LeGuins novels, and Alice B. Sheldons (19151987) many short stories (published under the pen name James Tiptree Jr.). There were also crossover figures such as Kurt Vonnegut (19222007), who began his career in science fiction and then smoothly switched to a broader mainstream readership. Doris Lessing established her reputation as a mainstream writer but has also written much that is science fiction in content terms. In 1976 Octavia Butler (19472006) published Kindred, whose contemporary African American protagonist time travels to the antebellum South. Butlers Exogenesis series explores issues of sexual identity, sexuality, and power, blurring lines between science fiction and other literatures. Butlers work won her a coveted MacArthur Fellowship in 1995. In the 1980s and 1990s, Orson Scott Card dazzled the science fiction community with Enders Game (1985), Speaker for the Dead (1986), and Xenocide (1991), infusing traditional science fiction with computer gaming and winning a large youth audience. A practicing Mormon who has complained that science fiction did not take religion seriously, Card has also written explicitly scriptural stories.

The term mainstream was adapted by the middle of the twentieth century to distinguish literature from specialized, not-quite-literary genres such as science fiction, horror stories, romance fiction, spy stories, and crime fiction (bookstores often arrange their shelves in accord with this distinction). At the same time, however, this breakdown can seem increasingly dubious. For one thing, older books tend to migrate to the literature shelves. Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, H. G. Wellss The Time Machine (1895), and Vernes From the Earth to the Moon will be found there, along with Fyodor Dostoyevskys Crime and Punishment (1855) and Edgar Allan Poes (18091849) horror stories. Graham Greene (19041991), who made his mark as a crime and espionage writer, is now wholly included in the literature sections of libraries and bookstores. Classics sections may include not only Poe, Wells, Greene, and Dostoyevsky, but also Arthur Conan Doyles (18591930) Sherlock Holmes detective stories and Leguins and Lessings writings, alongside such long-celebrated literary giants as Ernest Hemingway (18991961) and William Faulkner (18971962). Moreover, the centrality and celebrity once granted literary figures now generally envelops only writers, stars, and producers of movies and television. Quite simply, story writers such as Mark Twain (18351910) and O. Henry (18621910) were the most famous, most widely enjoyed, and best-paid professional entertainers of their day. Even as late as 1952, the issue of Life magazine that carried Hemingways The Old Man and the Sea sold over five million copies in two days. Arguably, Hollywood and television comprise the only mainstream today.

SEE ALSO Fiction; Le Guin, Ursula K.; Literature

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Heinlein, Robert. 2004. For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs. New York: Scribner.

Le Guin, Ursula K. 1969. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Walker.

Leiber, Fritz. 1950. Gather, Darkness! New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy. Originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in May, June, and July 1943.

Russ, Joanna. 1975. The Female Man. New York: Bantam.

Justin Leiber

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Science Fiction

Science Fiction

Astronautics is unique among the sciences in that it has its roots in an art form. For nearly 400 years space travel existed only in the minds of those faithful writers who kept the torch burning until engineers and scientists developed the technological ability to realize their dreams.

Early Space Fiction

No fiction written about space travel was written until it was known that there were other worlds to go to. This did not happen until 1610, when Galileo Galilei turned a telescope toward the heavens and discovered that what hundreds of generations had assumed were five wandering stars were in fact worlds. This discovery was immediately followed by a spate of speculation about what those worlds might be like, what kind of life might exist there, and, most importantly, how human beings might be able to travel to them. Most of this speculation took the form of fiction, but until the end of the eighteenth century those flights were the stuff of outright fantasy: Neither science nor engineering knew of any method by which a human being could leave the surface of this world, let alone travel to another one.

The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The invention of the balloon in 1783 by the Montgolfier brothers changed all that. It was clear that a balloon could never carry anyone to the Moon, but that invention was a watershed in perception. People now knew that science and technology had the potential to make spaceflight possible; surely it was just a matter of time and imagination. Scores of science fiction novels were written about travel to other worlds. Unlike previous stories, however, those written in the nineteenth century were much more inclined to take into account the actual conditions of outer space and the planets.

Paramount among all of these works were the two space novels of Jules Verne:From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Round the Moon (1870). For the first time the problem of space travel was expressed in terms of a problem in engineering and mathematics: Verne scrupulously worked only with the science, technology, and materials available at the time when he wrote. As a result, he achieved a sense of realism that is still convincing. This realism was instrumental in inspiring an entire generation of young readers who decided to do everything they could to make Verne's dream come true. These readers included future scientists such as Hermann Oberth, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and Robert H. Goddard, without whose seminal work modern astronautics would have developed decades later than it did. Oberth, for example, said that he had never thought about space travel until he read From the Earth to the Moon. Verne's influence continued well into the twentieth century. The astronomer Robert Richardson said, "There can be no doubt that Jules Verne's Trip to the Moon with all its faults has exerted a powerful effect on human thought in preparing our minds for this greatest of all adventures."

Verne set a high standard for accuracy and believability that influenced the writers who followed him, and space fiction became much more realistic. Dozens of ideas that are thought of as products of modern space science were first proposed in the pages of early science fiction. The space station and the navigational satellite were invented by Edward Everett Hale in The Brick Moon (1869), the solar sail by G. Le Faure and Henri de Graffigny in 1889, the space suit in 1900 by George Griffith, the nuclear-powered spaceship by Garrett P. Serviss in 1910 and Arthur Train and Robert Wood in 1915, and the electromagnetic mass driver in 1930 by R. H. Romans. Even the countdown was invented by science fiction, first used in the 1929 film Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon), by Fritz Lang.

The Modern Era

After World War II the influence of science fiction on the public perception of space travel shifted from the printed page to the silver screen. Although serious fans, including many scientists, preferred the written word, which was light-years ahead of Hollywood's version of science fiction, the image most Americans had of the future of space travel in that period was shaped by what they saw in movie theaters and on television screens. This was unfortunate because, with only a few exceptions, films and television lagged decades behind the literature.

While science fiction writers were working in the present day, Hollywood science fiction was more like what had been published in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s. Films such as Flight to Mars (1951) and The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) made space travel seem silly and trivial. However, a few films made a sincere effort to combine realistic drama with real science, such as Destination Moon (1950),Conquest of Space (1955),Forbidden Planet (1956), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). More recently, there have been films such as Apollo 13 (1995) and Red Planet (2000). On television the sole exception was Star Trek (1966-1969). Although taking place in the far future, that series made a genuine attempt not only to keep within the bounds of science but to convey a sense of wonder about space travel.

The link between science fiction and the history of astronautics is complex. Science fiction has served as an inspiration. It also acts as a mirror of the technology of the time in which it is written. Jules Verne, for instance, chose a giant cannon over rockets for the launch of his spacecraft, primarily because of the primitive state of rocket technology in his time (he did use rockets to maneuver his spacecraft). Similarly, in 1910 Garrett Serviss recognized that the recently discovered phenomenon of radioactivity could be a potential energy source for space travel. Science fiction also acts as a gauge of public interest in astronautics, since most authors want to tell stories that incorporate subjects of interest to their readers.

see also Clarke, Arthur C. (volume 1); Goddard, Robert Hutchings (volume 1); Literature (volume 1); Oberth, Hermann (volume 1); S tar T rek (volume 4); S tar W ars (volume 4); Tsiolkovsky, Konstantin (volume 3); Verne, Jules (volume 1).

Ron Miller

Bibliography

Aldiss, Brian. Billion Year Spree. London: Corgi Books, 1975.

Di Fate, Vincent. Infinite Worlds. New York: Penguin Group, 1997.

Gunn, James. Alternate Worlds. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1975.

. The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: Viking Penguin, 1988.

Kyle, David A. A Pictorial History of Science Fiction. London: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1976.

. The Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Dreams. London: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1977.

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science fiction

science fiction, literary genre in which a background of science or pseudoscience is an integral part of the story. Although science fiction is a form of fantastic literature, many of the events recounted are within the realm of future possibility, e.g., robots, space travel, interplanetary war, invasions from outer space.

Science fiction is generally considered to have had its beginnings in the late 19th cent. with the romances of Jules Verne and the novels of H. G. Wells. In 1926, Hugo Gernsback founded the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, devoted exclusively to science fiction, particularly to serious explorations into the future. Good writing in the field was further encouraged when John W. Campbell, Jr., founded Astounding Science Fiction in 1937. In that magazine much attention was paid to literary and dramatic qualities, theme, and characterization; Campbell "discovered" and popularized many important science fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov, Frederic Brown, A. E. van Vogt, Lewis Padgett, Eric Frank Russell, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Murray Leinster, Robert Heinlein, Raymond F. Jones, and Robert Sheckley.

Science fiction has established itself as a legitimate branch of literature. C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet (1938) used science fiction as a vehicle for theological speculation, and works such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Cat's Cradle (1963) demonstrate the particular effectiveness of the genre as an instrument of social criticism. Science-fiction literature anticipates and comments on political and social concerns, and a variety of science-fiction subgenres have emerged: feminist science fiction; disaster novels and novels treating the world emerging from a disaster's wake; stories postulating alternative worlds; fantastic voyages to "inner space" ; and "cyberpunk" novels set in "cyberspace," a realm where computerized information possesses three dimensions in a "virtual reality."

The rich variety of notable science-fiction writing to emerge since the "classic" work of Asimov, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury includes Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) and its sequels, which conjured up a desert world where issues of ecology, ethics, and human destiny and evolution were played out; Philip K. Dick's satirical and philosophical vision of postnuclear war southern California in novels such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and Valis (1981); the apocalyptic disaster fiction of J. G. Ballard, including The Crystal World (1966) and Vermilion Sands (1971); the rigorously science-based works of Poul Anderson, such as Tau Zero (1970) and The Boat of a Million Years (1989); Michael Crichton's best-selling science-fiction suspense novels, particularly The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Jurassic Park (1990); William Gibson's evocations of urban "cyberpunk" desolation in novels such as Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988); Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos: Archives, a series of four novels (1979–83) that explores the possibilities of a feminist utopia; and the writing of Ursula Le Guin, who has imagined ecological utopias in works such as Always Coming Home (1985) and The Word for World is Forest (1986).

Over recent decades, science fiction has become popular in the nonliterary media, including film, television, and electronic games. Star Wars (1977) and its sequels and prequel, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) were among the most financially successful motion pictures ever produced.

Bibliography

See H. Harrison and B. W. Aldiss, ed., Astounding-Analog Reader (1973); B. W. Aldiss, Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1973); B. Stableford, Masters of Science Fiction (1981); N. Barron, ed., Anatomy of Wonder (1981); E. Rabkin, ed., Science Fiction (1983); J. Gunn, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1988); E. James and F. Mendelsohn, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003).

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Science Fiction

SCIENCE FICTION

Science fiction is a literary genre that extrapolates from existing knowledge about the real world to speculate about alternative worlds. It always includes an element of the fantastic, since it aims to go beyond what is, to give a literary model of "what if?" Unlike pure fantasy or utopian literature, however, science fiction posits a rational exploration of as-yet inexplicable phenomena and unknown corners of the human psyche. In Russia the most important works of science fiction have usually been viewed as subversive to the regime in power because of their ability to model alternative realities, to evade censorship by displacing political allegories to the juvenile realm of cosmic adventure, and to tap into the Russian readership's persistent longings for a more just society.

The first, mid-nineteenth century works of Russian science fiction blend the rational utopianism of European models with the age-old Russian folk vision of communal justice and abundance for all. The idea that Western-oriented scientific and technological progress might be combined in Russia with egalitarian values, avoiding the evils of both autocracy and capitalism, is one of the strongest and most consistent strains in Russian science fiction. Nikolai Chernyshevsky's 1862 novel What Is to Be Done? created a fictional model of this idea that inspired generations of Russian revolutionaries, including Lenin. Alexander Bogdanov's The Red Star (1908) depicts a socially and scientifically progressive society on Mars that is superior to existing earthly alternatives. In the decade following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, many stories extolled a cosmic revolution, anticipating the victorious spread of classless societies to other planets with the help of futuristic technology and radically evolved human consciousness. As late as the 1970s, the writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky countered official literary depictions of Soviet society with science fiction imaginings of alternative societies where rationality, science, and human freedom are not at odds.

A second, and opposing strain, is the dystopian vision of society dehumanized by the relentless rationalization of work, health, social, and spiritual life. Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We (1924, unpublished; 1989) is a brilliant philosophical satire depicting "mathematically happy" workers in the One State, where free will has been all but eliminated. Extrapolating tendencies from both bourgeois and socialist systems of conformity, We insists on the paramount value of individual free will. Zamyatin's novel, and later Western novels based on similar ideas (e.g., George Orwell's 1984 ) were banned in the Soviet Union. After 1957, the launch of Sputnik and the gradual relaxation of ideological restrictions inaugurated a new era of Soviet science fiction. In the immensely popular works of Ivan Yefremov and the brothers Strugatsky, Russian readers found a forum in which their authentic political and cultural aspirations were given a voicealong with an exciting plot. They offered richly imagined histories of the future to remind the reader of the outcome of ethical choices made in the present. Russian literature has often served as the conscience of the nation, and twenty-first century Russian science fiction continues the tradition of ideological engagement, by addressing such themes as contemporary social malaise and the search for a new, post-Soviet Russian cultural identity.

See also: chernyshevsky, nikolai gavrilovich

bibliography

Fetzer, Leland, ed. (1982). Pre-Revolutionary Russian Science Fiction: An Anthology. Ann Arbor: Ardis.

Gomel, Elana. (1999). "Science Fiction in Russia: From Utopia to New Age." Science Fiction Studies 26(3): 435441.

Howell, Yvonne. (1994). Apocalyptic Realism: The Science Fiction of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. New York: Peter Lang.

Suvin, Darko. (1979). "Russian SF and Its Utopian Tradition." In Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Yvonne Helen Howell

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science fiction

science fiction Literary genre in which reality is subject to certain transformations in order to explore man's potential and his relation to his environment; these transformations are usually technological and the stories set in the future or in imaginary worlds. The birth of the modern genre is generally dated to the US comic strip Amazing Stories (1926). Until the 1960s, most science fiction involved adventure stories set in space. Some writers, such as Isaac Asimov, explored the paradoxes contained in purely scientific ideas; others, including Ray Bradbury, stressed the moral implications of their stories.

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science fiction

sci·ence fic·tion (abbr.: SF or Sci Fi) • n. fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.

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sci-fi

sci-fi / ˈsī ˈfī/ • n. inf. short for science fiction.

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sci-fi

sci-fiDelphideify, reify •preachify, speechify •edify • ladyfy •acidify, humidify, rigidify, solidify •commodify, modify •codify • amplify • jellify • exemplify •vilify • simplify •mollify, qualify •nullify • uglify • ramify •humify, tumefy •mummify • magnify • damnify •dignify, signify •personify • unify • typify • stupefy •yuppify •clarify, scarify •terrify, verify •petrify • electrify • gentrify • rarefy •vitrify • horrify • transmogrify •glorify • putrefy • purify •classify, pacify •calcify • Nazify • specify • intensify •ossify • detoxify • falsify • crucify •dulcify, emulsify •diversify, versify •beatify, gratify, ratify, stratify •sanctify • satisfy •objectify, rectify •identify, misidentify •testify • prettify • mystify • quantify •fortify, mortify •notify • beautify • fructify • stultify •justify • certify • liquefy •hi-fi, sci-fi

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sci-fi

sci-fi (ˈsaɪˈfaɪ) Colloquial science fiction

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