Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars

Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars

Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars

Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars

Synopsis

Brooks Landon analyses science fiction not as a set of rules for writers, but as a set of expectations for readers. He presents science fiction as a social phenomenon that moves beyond literary experience through a sense of mission based on the belief that SF can be a 'tool to help you think'. He offers a broad overview of the genre and the stages through which it has developed in the twentieth century from the dime store novel through the New Wave of the '60s, the cyberpunk '80s, and soft agenda SF of the '90s. The writers he examines range from E. M. Forster and John W. Campbell to Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin. He also examines the large body of criticism now devoted to the genre and includes a bibliographic essay and a list of recommended titles.

Excerpt

Science fiction is the literature of change. More precisely, science fiction is the kind of literature that most explicitly and self-consciously takes change as its subject and its teleology. This essential presupposition holds as true for the earliest works to explore the new vantage point afforded fiction by scientific and technological developments, works such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, as for the genre’s most recent runs through cyberspace in novels by William Gibson, Pat Cadigan, and Rudy Rucker. This centrality of change was most firmly voiced by twentieth-century science fiction’s most influential author, Robert Heinlein. “I think,” claimed Heinlein in a 1941 Denver, Colorado, speech to the Fourth Annual Science fiction Convention, “that science fiction, even the corniest of it, even the most outlandish of it, no matter how badly it’s written, has a distinct therapeutic value because all of it has as its primary postulate that the world does change.” Some 45 years later, the science fiction greats Jack Williamson, Frederik Pohl, and Brian Aldiss still invoked the concept of change to explain their common project. “I take seriously this notion that technology is changing the world and the future is going to be different,” explained Williamson to the Publishers Weekly writer Rosemary Herbert. Even more emphatically, Frederik Pohl specified: “The biggest reality in the world today is change, and that’s what (science fiction) is about and other kinds of literature are not.” And, suggesting the almost obsessive quality of this phenomenon . . .

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