Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics

By Vint, Sherryl | Extrapolation, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics


Vint, Sherryl, Extrapolation


Science, Feminism, Fiction, Futures. Gwyneth Jones. Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2009. 254 pp. ISBN 9781933500324. $19 pbk.

Reviewed by Sherryl Vint

This book collects recent essays, reviews, introductions, Guest of Honor addresses and other occasional writing by Gwyneth Jones originally presented in a variety of venues. Organized neither by genre nor by date, the volume is difficult to summarize. As the subtitle indicates, the various pieces return to a number of core motifs that are also central to Jones's fiction: gender and power, feminist politics, genre and the material world, the influence of science and technology on daily life, and the ongoing struggle between the "haves" and the "have nots" at the root of it all. The title of the book is drawn from Jones's acceptance speech for the 2008 Pilgrim Award, which recognizes lifetime contributions to sf scholarship. In that address, Jones characterizes the genre as "a vast, contained yet unlimited ocean of information" conceived along the lines of information theory that translates the measurement of physical quantities into the zeros and ones of binary notation, "giving us a model of the state of all states that unites the material and the immaterial, mind and matter - neutrinos, zebras, dreams, artificial chromosomes - all made of the same stuff (224). This title aptly captures two of the important qualities of this book: first, reading it, one has no doubt that Gwyneth Jones is one of the finest critical thinkers in our field today, well deserving of the recognition bestowed by the Pilgrim Award; and second, the image of sf as variously furnished "imagination space" conveys its power to capture a contemporary experience where reality and its representation converge.

The volume contains twenty-one chapters, ranging in length from a twopage program note on Jane Yolen written for Worldcon 2005, to the twentyfive pages of "True Life Science Fiction: Sexual Politics and the Lab Procedural" first published in the collection Tactical BioPolitics: Art, Activism and Technoscience in 2008. Inevitably any review of such a wideranging collection will focus on certain aspects most relevant to the reviewer's own interests, and I freely confess that my own interests in feminism and science have shaped my choice of works to single out for significant comment. I will briefly note that, additionally, the collection contains some provocative comments about genre in contributions such as "A String of Pearls," first presented as a Guest of Honor speech at the World Fantasy Convention in 2004 (on the connections between sex and horror); "Wild Hearts in Uniform: The Romance of Militarism in Popular SF," first published in Studi sulla narrativita Anno HI 2004 (considering the recent return of military sf); and "A Short History of Vampires," first published in Paradoxa in 2006 (a review of the scholarly overview Le vampire dans la littérature du XXe siècle). Works such as these demonstrate the breadth of Jones's knowledge of the field and provide additional insight into her own work in both fantasy and horror, the latter predominantly through her YA work published (mostly) under the name Ann Halam. All the chapters, indeed, give remarkable access to the process of a writer's mind at work in the genre: her insightful critiques and reviews are both cogent assessments of the work at hand, and windows looking in upon how similar matters are treated in Jones's own fiction.

What is particularly valuable about this collection is the perspective that emerges when one considers all these pieces together. Although many have been published elsewhere, some were originally delivered only as oral addresses; further, a cumulative perspective emerges when reading them at once. One of the most significant of the impressions that emerge is the degree to which Jones continues the legacy of Joanna Russ's groundbreaking work on gender and sf. …

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