Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy

Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy

Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy

Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy


These thirteen original essays were written specifically for the Third J. Lloyd Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, held February 21- 22, 1981, at the University of California, Riverside.

Leslie Fiedler sets the tone of this volume by fixing a basic set of coordinates- that of "elitist" and "popular" standards.

Those replying to his charge are: Eric S. Rabkin, Professor of English at the Univer sity of Michigan and author of The Fantastic in Literature, "The Descent of Fantasy"; Gerald Prince, Professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania, "How New is New?"; Mark Rose, Professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, author of Alien Encounters, "Jules Verne: Journey to the Cen ter of Science Fiction"; Joseph Lenz, who teaches English Literature at the University of Michigan, "Manifest Destiny: Science Fic tion Epic and Classical Forms"; Michelle Massé, of the English Department at the George Mason University, " All you have to do is know what you want': Individual Ex pectations in Triton ";Gary K. Wolfe, who teaches English at Roosevelt University, au thor of The Known and the Unknown, "Autoplastic and Alloplastic Adaptations in Science Fiction: Waldo' and Desertion'" ; Robert Hunt, an editor with Glencoe Press, "Sci ence Fiction for the Age of Inflation: Reading Atlas Shrugged in the 1980s"; George R. Guffey, Professor of English at UCLA, " Fahr enheit 451 and the Cubby-Hole Editors' of Ballantine Books"; H. Bruce Franklin, Pro fessor of English and American Literature at Rutgers University at Newark, "America as Science Fiction: 1939 "; Sandra M. Gilbert, Professor of English at the University of Cal ifornia at Davis, and coauthor with Susan Gubar of Madwoman in the Attic, "Rider Hag gard's Heart of Darkness"; the aforemen tioned Susan Gubar, Professor of English at Indiana University, " She in Her/and: Femi nism as Fantasy"; and George R. Slusser, Cu rator of the Eaton Collection, "Death and the Mirror: Existential Fantasy."


As studies of science fiction and fantasy proliferate, the boundaries of this field of investigation have expanded, perhaps overexpanded to formlessness. This volume hopes to establish basic coordinates for these two genres. By placing a number of important individual works in well-defined analytical contexts, it takes up some of the critical slack. What is more, because the essays in this collection address both science fiction and fantasy, they suggest in their interactive resonances new points of intersection between these forms of writing. We hope the establishment of clear coordinates will permit the reader to assess the critical act itself, and to judge the adequacy of any given attempt to bracket and fix the basic problems of science fiction and fantasy.

The lead essay, Leslie Fiedler The Criticism of Science Fiction, sets the tone of the volume by offering a basic set of coordinates--that of "elitist" and "popular" standards. Using the examples of A. E. Van Vogt, Olaf Stapledon, and Boris Vian, he asserts that, when science fiction is measured by the norms of the traditional literary establishment, it does not fail the test but rather the norms themselves do. Fiedler's remarks apply equally well to fantasy when it too is considered a "lowbrow" form. In his eyes therefore, both science fiction and fantasy attract the reader not by their "architectonic skill or linguistic subtlety," nor even by their ethical or metaphysical insights, but by their "mythopoeic power"--their ability to provide easy access to the writer's unconscious "at the point where it meets the collective unconscious of us all." In a sense then, each subsequent essay in this volume is a reply to Fiedler's challenge that we revise or reject these traditional standards. Using a diversity of critical methods, all these studies strive not to refute the mythopoeic power of the two genres but, in cases where access to it may not be as easy as Fiedler suggests, to articulate it, to locate it on clearly defined coordinates and by doing so in turn challenge Fiedler's assertion that the . . .

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