Academic journal article Extrapolation

Locating Science Fiction

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Locating Science Fiction

Article excerpt

In the Provinces of the Mode. Andrew Milner. Locating Science Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012. 244 pp. ISBN 9781846318429. £70 he.

Reviewed by Chris Pak

The project of defining science fiction has been central to popular and theoretical engagement with the mode in both fan communities and sf scholarship. In Locating Science Fiction Andrew Milner considers some of the most significant approaches to this issue, outlining their assumptions and methods to provide an alternative conception of what he describes as sf's cultural field. Milner asks four fundamental questions: "what, positively, was SF? what, negatively, wasn't it? when was it? and, finally, where was it?" (178). These questions address the central activity of his work: the attempt to situate the cultural productions grouped under the category of sf in terms of geography, time, and tradition. Heavily influenced by Ernst Bloch and Raymond Williams, Milner addresses the skepticism directed at theoretical argumentation embodied by that period of 1980s "high theory," carefully deploying and synthesizing a range of approaches in order to better understand and explain the empirical phenomenon that is sf.

This slim volume addresses four broad areas. Questions of genre and form are tackled in the bulk of its nine chapters. Chapters one through four address the notion that sf is a literature that pivots between Stephen Greenblatt's resonance and wonder. These are titled "Memories of Dan Dare," "Sf and Selective Tradition" (a concept derived from Raymond Williams' cultural materialism), "Sf and the Cultural Field," and "Radio Sf and the Theory of Genre." Chapters five and six, "Sf, Utopia and Fantasy" and "Sf and Dystopia," focus on what Milner concludes are forms cognate with sf but which are often confused as a species of sf. Chapters one through six, therefore, address definitions of sf. Chapters seven and eight, "When Was Sf?" and "Where Was Sf?," take up the task of situating sf temporally and geographically. In the last chapter, "The Uses of Sf," Milner underscores the importance of sf and the significance of two specific works of Australian sf. By extension, he makes a case for other under-represented Australian works, foregrounding one of the most pressing questions in contemporary society: the physical and social impact of climate change.

Locating Science Fiction begins and ends biographically, a strategy that Milner uses to position himself in relation to debates over the status of the sf mode. It expands outward from the biographical to the theoretical and contracts again in the closing chapter. It begins with memory and archive, with Milner's reflection on his own exposure to sf in the UK when he was young, and ends with the completion of the writing of his manuscript. This journey is significant in that Milner's location in Australia exposes him directly to the effects of climate change in the form of unprecedented meteorological events and flooding. Thus his early reception of sf (and his relationship to it as a consumer, fan, and scholar) functions as a springboard for his theoretical discussion of issues of genre and form.

In "Memories of Dan Dare," Milner surveys his early engagement with sf as a young reader, highlighting the multi-form nature of sf in television, film, comics, radio, novels, and short stories. Milner critiques Ken Gelder's separation of popular and literary writing and his identification of sf as a popular form, arguing that the literary/popular binary is "an artefact of literary modernism" (14). Milner follows Raymond Williams' division of cultural form into "modes," "the deepest level of form" that include such categories as "dramatic" and "narrative"; "genres," "relatively persistent instances of each mode" such as tragedy and comedy; and "types," such as modernism and romance (12). Milner builds on these initial distinctions throughout the text, but moves on in this chapter to discuss how Dan Dare operates through the dual application of resonance and wonder, terms derived from Greenblatt's Learning to Curse (1990). …

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