Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

Science Fiction: Going Around in Generic Circles

David Clayton

The fundamental levels of experience which motivate art are related to the objective world they draw back from. The unresolved antagonisms of reality return in works of art as the immanent problems of their form.

-- Theodore W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie


I

What is the relevance of genre for the study of science fiction?1 I often have the impression that when teachers of literature discuss science fiction the term genre must appear without fail, as if it were only possible to speak of some entity called "the science fiction genre." Is this simply a maneuver aimed at divesting science fiction of some of the disreputable associations that still cling to it in the academic mind owing to its long sojourn in the wasteland of pulp magazines and cheap pocketbooks? Does adding the word genre have the effect of bringing together the highly diverse works produced by science fiction writers? Should the reader or critic assume the concept of genre as a permanent context for the analysis of any science fiction work? Do generic conventions function as a code that the reader has to decipher, consciously or not, in order to make sense out of the text? In other words, in what way can genre help us to meaningfully define the science fiction enterprise? To answer this question, we should begin by setting aside the specific problems entailed in the writing of science fiction and restrict our attention to the concept of genre itself.

Even a brief glance in that direction shows how little hope we have of finding an answer to our problem. A survey of the critical writings that attempt to define the meaning and scope of genre itself

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