Visions of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fifteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

By Allienne R. Becker | Go to book overview

17
Simmons and Powers: Postmodernism to Postromanticism

Janeen Webb

The current Romantic revival in science fiction, exemplified in recursive novels such as Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard and Dan Simmons' Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, heralds a trend in narrative modalities that moves beyond the static postmodern treatment of art as artifact and towards a sophisticated emergent postromanticism that looks backward into the future.

With all its attendant romantic tropes, Mary Shelley Frankenstein is never far from the consciousness of modern science fiction. Indeed, in his recent essay on "Semiotic Ghosts and Ghostliness," Tom Shippey used the word "Frankensteining" as a descriptor for Bruce Sterling's fiercely postmodern bricolage technique in creating his cyberpunk artifacts out of "spare parts from dead constructions." Such a descriptor appears congruent with familiar expositions of post-modern technique, such as Flann O'Brien's maxim that: "The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required. . . . The modern novel should be largely a work of reference;" ( O'Brien25) or William Gibson's much quoted comment in Interzone that: "I see myself as a kind of literary collage-artist, and sf as a marketing framework that allows me to gleefully ransack the whole fat supermarket of twentieth-century cultural symbols . . ." ( Gibson 17). The description of this process as "Frankensteining" carries with it an additional degree of disquiet, implying a certain horror at the postmodern artifact thus created. It also suggests a view that all previous literary works might be regarded as dead, or at least as nonresisting for the purposes of recombinant literature. The cultural supermarket has become a charnel house.

Yet "Frankensteining" might well be seen as an apt descriptor for the works of science fiction that deal with the romantic and the placing at the center of their texts the reconstructed personae of major late Romantic figures, usually Shelley, Keats and Byron. Many such texts also deal directly with the mythos of Frankenstein; one thinks immediately of Brian Aldiss' Frankenstein Unbound ( 1973), and later, DraculaUnbound

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