Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Joan Slonczewski: An Introduction

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Joan Slonczewski: An Introduction

Article excerpt

When I heard that the theme of this year's conference was to be the scientific imagination, I could think of few writers more qualified to speak on this topic than Joan Slonczewski. She is, of course, that perfect being of science fiction myth: the practicing scientist who also writes compelling and complex sf.

What I find most exciting about Joan's work--and this impression has only been heightened by the chance to meet with her at this conference and talk to her about her research--is that she fuses the scientific and literary imaginations, creating an intersection and exchange between what C. P. Snow called "the two cultures." Joan integrates what she learns in her work as a biological scientist with compelling fictional worlds in a way that goes beyond the cosmetic "read it today, live it tomorrow" model of science fiction conceptualized by Gernsback in the early days of the pulps, when he saw this new genre as paving the way toward a technotopian future. And it goes beyond the instrumentalism of a number of fusions of science and sf that I've seen emerging recently through initiatives such as MIT Press's Twelve Tomorrows series, which sketches out near-futures in order to showcase the cutting edge of current technocultural design.

As Joan remarked to me, biological science and genomics are changing so rapidly, and new research is so fundamentally requiring us to shift our perceptions and paradigms, that it is difficult for the science fiction writer to keep up. Yet Joan has long provided us with a compelling example of what is possible when the best of this creative and speculative thinking emerges from someone engaged in the same kind of scientific work: thoughtful questioning that asks what we don't know and what else might be possible along with rigorous working through of a premise to its logical conclusions, so that new knowledge, like the revelation of how much of our bodies and our genome are taken from micro-organisms such as viruses and bacteria, allows us to rethink what we mean by the human, by evolution, by disease, by species.

Joan brings this level of excitement about the power of research to teach us something new to both her scholarly and her creative work. She embodies the connections between the scientific imagination and the literary imagination that this Conference has convened to explore.

Joan's work came to prominence in the field with her 1986 Campbell Award-winning novel A Door into Ocean, a work that combines ecological and feminist themes with a vision of a community of genetic engineers who see themselves as part of a communal ecosystem rather than as Baconian--or Moreauvian--masters of a passive nature to be shaped to human ends. …

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