Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s

Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s

Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s

Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s

Synopsis

Science fiction produced in the 1970s has long been undervalued, dismissed by Bruce Sterling as "confused, self-involved, and stale". The New Wave was all but over and Cyberpunk had yet to arrive. The decade polarised sf - on the one hand it aspired to be a serious form, addressing issues suchas race, Vietnam, feminism, ecology and sexuality, on the other hand it broke box office records with Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien and Superman: The Movie. Beginning with chapters on the First sf and New Wave authors who published during the 1970s, Solar Flares examines the ways in which the genre confronted a new epoch and its own history, including the rise of fantasy, the sf blockbuster, children's sf, pseudoscience and postmodernism. It exploressignificant figures such as Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler. From Larry Niven's Ringworld to Thomas M. Disch's On Wings of Song, from The Andromeda Strain to Flash Gordon and from Doctor Who to Buck Rogers, this book reclaims seventies sf writing, film and television - alongsidemusic and architecture - as a crucial period in the history of science fiction.

Excerpt

There was a moment in October 1977 when I watched Doctor Who at my grandparents’ flat. the particular episode was part of ‘The Invisible Enemy’ (1–22 October 1977), in which the alien-infected Doctor was cloned and then miniaturised in order to be injected into himself. I bring this up in part to demonstrate the pitfalls of historical accounts, but also because the notion of the invisible enemy is an almost perfect description of one recurring trope within this book. the same episode dates the events of Paul Magrs’s extraordinary Young Adult novel, Strange Boy (2002); an appendix to that novel explains what Doctor Who (23 November 1963–) is, along with Spangles, Battlestar Galactica (17 September 1978–29 April 1979) and other aspects of late 1970s popular culture. Anyone who lived through the period may find it hard to avoid feeling nostalgic, but also to resist a sense of camp. After a period of being shunned, the 1970s has returned with added postmodern irony, as popular culture draws upon the period with varying degrees of love and ridicule. in tracing this era, I do not want to indulge in nostalgia, to find my own foundation myth in my own autobiography or to be overly guided by where sf ended up in subsequent years.

I have adopted the metaphor of the Invisible Enemy to describe the ideological battlegrounds of the 1970s. the 1960s had seen the emergence in the West of parallel movements for civil rights and women’s and gay liberation, and some of the sf of the 1970s reflected these movements with varying degrees of subtlety, solidarity and anxiety. As Fredric Jameson notes, ‘in the 60s, for a time, everything was possible […] this period, in other words, was a moment of a universal liberation, a global unbinding of energies’ (1984a: 207). Any advances occurred in spite of the opposition of specific individuals, as well as institutional racism, sexism and homophobia in forms such as white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, multinational capitalism and so on. Members of the dominant class of the period felt under attack, with the campaigns against the Vietnam War and the unfolding scandal of the Watergate break-in offering further evidence of the shifting balances of public opinion. On 17 June 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Complex, and an fbi investigation linked . . .

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