Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Butler, Andrew M.: Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Butler, Andrew M.: Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s

Article excerpt

Butler, Andrew M. Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2012. Hardcover. 302pp. ISBN: 978-1-84631 734-4. $89.96.

Andrew M. Butler's Solar Flares: Science Fiction in the 1970s is a catalogue of sf written in that decade. Each chapter synopsizes works that are grouped by theme, mostly novels, but many films and other works. The book contains little critical commentary, focusing instead on summary and description. The prologue, which contains some commentary, describes the 1970s as a transitional decade between the sixties' "global unbinding of energies" (Jameson qtd. in Butler 1), when all forms of rebellion were ostensibly possible, and the conservative 1980s, in which that rebellion was repressed/commodified. The 1970s, then, were "neither cheering nor cathartic"(2). Butler summarizes several attempts to define the sf of the decade by Brian Aldiss, Malcolm Edwards, and others. Based on this literature review, he "adopt[s] a 'long 1970s' approach"(6) that starts around 1968/69 (Kennedy's space program [6], Kubrick/Clarke's 2001) to 1980 (Reagan/Thatcher's conservatism, Lucas's Empire Strikes Back).

The first five chapters are backward looking, connecting the sixties to the seventies: writers who had already established themselves, a style of sf that had already flowered, a reaction to the Moon landing, the reflexive gesture of parody, and the reverberations of earlier fantasy literature. Chapter 1, "Pioneers as Veterans," synopsizes the work of authors of the early twentieth century who were still publishing (e.g., Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury). Butler observes these writers largely wrote novels that tied their respective "universes" together. Chapter 2, "After the New Wave," synopsizes writers who first appeared in the 1950s/1960s and were associated with Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions (e.g., Michael Moorcock, J. G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, John Sladek, and Charles Platt). Butler asserts that the New Wavers were pessimistic about technology and exploration, mainstays of heroic sf. Chapter 3, "Space Fictions after the Moon Landing," synposizes space exploration narratives. Butler focuses on Barry Malzberg's Solaris (film), Moonbase 3 and Space: 1999 (TV), Alien (film), and UFO (TV), as well as Star Trek: The Motion Picture (film), Blake's 7 (TV), Doctor Who (TV), and Buck Rogers (TV). This chapter argues that space opera re-emerged because it was inspired by, and reacted to, America's space program.

Chapter 4, "Science Fiction as Self-Parody," synopsizes sf that looks back on nineteenth-century writers: Brian Aldiss on Mary Shelley, Christopher Priest on H. G. Wells, Michael Moorcock on Jules Verne, and film adaptations of Wells. There is also a discussion of sf writers who employ "Big Dumb Objects"--things that defy logic and physical laws: Christopher Priest's Space Machine, Michael Moorcock's Oswald Bastable trilogy, Larry Niven's Ringworld, and Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Chapter 5, "The Rise of Fantasy," synopsizes several fantasy texts: cinematic adaptations of Burroughs and Tolkien, specifically Bakshi's animated film; writers who used Burroughs and Tolkien as models for their own work, including Lin Carter, C. J. Cherryh, Samuel R. Delany, Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and Robert Silverberg; and finally, Dungeons and Dragons as a Tolkien text. Butler notes the emergence of a market for fantasy that straddled many media.

The next six chapters examine political sf. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 cover major political issues that result from negative effects of Western, largely American, domination of the world: war, imperialism, and environmentalism. Chapters 6, 10, and 11 all cover identity politics: race, gender, sexuality. They juxtapose work by White/male/straight authors who write about Black/ female/queer themes with those authors write about them and actually belong to those groups. …

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