Science Fiction and Empire

By Patricia Kerslake | Go to book overview

Introduction

Science fiction (SF) has historically been perceived as a genre of the fabulous, a form of writing far outside the canon of 'literature', one that lacks boundaries, connections with reality or formal precedent. To some, that perception may be a vital attraction or a critical downfall. What is the purpose of a genre which deals with the extremes of our imagination? Indeed, is there a purpose? Does SF exist as a socially acceptable method of expressing those wild ideas for which there are few other public forums?

Admittedly, many SF narratives are romantic fantasy: that is, they present caricatures from the human imagination, and are derivative and quick to resort to a deus ex machina. Yet the SF genre cannot so easily be reduced to an assembly of remnants from other styles of writing mingled with exciting gadgets and exotic backgrounds, nor can its appeal and longevity be dismissed as the lure of scientific romance. Beneath a sometimes superficial appeal, SF is responsible for opening a variety of legitimate and strategic cultural discourses. It is in these cultural disquisitions that we discover the fundamental power and rationale of a genre that ultimately contributes to the knowledge and awareness humanity has of itself.

But an attempt to analyse all the disparate elements of such a massive genre is problematic. It is too broad and ambitious in its enthusiasms to examine as a whole. Therefore it is expedient to examine one of the most important and revealing foundations of SF, that of the function and manipulation of political power, of empire and its abuses within the genre, and to explore the great houses of fiction built upon such an informative substructure. This examination not only reveals the deeply considered purposes of the various texts but also exposes one of the master themes of SF: the human desire to experiment with its own future. It is a literature of the agent provocateur.

Despite its ambience of fantasy, SF is not the literature of ageing children. It is frequently brutal and condemning as it examines our today and our tomorrow through the microscope of the future and, equally as often, through the lens of the past. It permits us to see more clearly what we have been and what we may become. Through all the good that we are now or could produce, or the evil that we may consciously or unconsciously tolerate,

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