Science Fiction: Ten Explorations

By C. N. Manlove | Go to book overview

1

Introduction

Science fiction, for long spurned as the sub-literary product of cranks and escapists, and read and ardently defended only by cultists of the genre, has over the past decade in America at least established for itself a wider acceptance in academic circles and certainly a much larger world-wide readership, to the point where some see it as taking over the role of the realistic novel. The reason for the expansion of the readership is doubtless the increased vogue for the fantastic generally, together with a heightened awarenes of the dynamic process of scientific discovery and the contingency of our frail and threatened world. But the reasons for science fiction's having become academically respectable are rather different. It has done so largely by being seen as a metaphor, myth or projection of our world.

It was always the case that the literary establishment was just willing to give a place to such works as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or Wells's Time Machine or Huxley's Brave New World, because these were seen to be visions of dangerous features of our own society and selves, whether in the dangers of unfettered science, the repression of the unconscious or the destruction of individuality. But now this stance is hardening into dogma. Science fiction we find is only really worth considering when it tells us something about ourselves. Even some science fiction writers, eager to break out of the laager of the genre, maintain that their fantastic worlds are really heightened pictures of our own. 1 The 'New Wave' science fiction in the 1960s was in large part an attempt to escape from adventure-yarn science fiction to a more complex and referential literature, which among other benefits would bring the genre in from the cold of the disreputable. In this it has certainly succeeded. But if one looks at the writers and works repeatedly put at the forefront of consideration, one finds that they are generally the most extrapolative and satiric, and certainly the most evidently intellectual and sophisticated — writers such as Olaf Stapledon, Stanislaw Lem, Samuel Delany, Thomas Disch,

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