Quotes from the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, Part Three

So I was reading the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction again these past few days. Despite trying for a long time now, I have yet to actually finish this dense, gigantic tome.

I have posted random quotes from it before here and here.

I felt inspired to read the feminist theory chapter. ;) It was written by Veronica Hollinger.

Although sf has often been called ‘the literature of change’, for the most part it has been slow to recognize the historical contingency and cultural conventionality of many of our ideas about sexual identity and desire, about gendered behaviour and about the ‘natural’ roles of women and men.

See, if it really was the literature of changes (or ideas, which I have also heard SF called), you would think odd and new ideas about gendered behavior would be right up SF’s alley. Don’t you think? It shouldn’t have been slow to recognize things like that.

Feminist theory contests the hegemonic representations of a patriarchal culture that does not recognize its ‘others’. Like other critical discourses, it works to create a critical distance between observer and observed, to defamiliarize certain taken-for-granted aspects of ordinary human reality, ‘denaturalizing’ situations of historical inequity and/or oppression that otherwise may appear inevitable to us, if indeed we notice them at all. The concept of defamiliarization – of making strange – has also, of course, long been associated with sf.

This, yes. As a writer, I don’t believe lofty goals like this should be the first aim of fiction (any fiction!). IMHO, the first aim of fiction is entertainment. But this makes a dandy secondary goal to shoot for. How to do it is another question . . .

It is also significant that many challenges to the conventions of male/female relations have focused on a radical critique of these relations as based in the inequities of what Adrienne Rich first identified as ‘compulsory heterosexuality’.

I am not entirely what this means, but it sounds interesting.

Random Quotes from Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, Part 2

I am still not done with this book. I don’t know how long I’ve had it, but months and months and months. It’s taking forever to finish. Almost near the end, though. Figured I would share a few more quotes that made go: Ohhh, really?!!!

In its simplest terms, sf and utopian fiction have been concerned with imagining progressive alternatives to the status quo, often implying critiques of contemporary conditions or possible future outcomes of current social trends.

- from Marxism, science fiction and Utopia by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

Personally, what I like best is how it says “sf and utopian fiction” as though Utopian fiction is not SF. I think it is, but someone disagrees with me.

Science fiction emerging as a genre at the same that literary modernism was passing its high-water mark, perhaps in the same way that the gothic emerged with the growth of the realist novel in the eighteenth century.

-from Postmodernism and science fiction by Andrew M. Butler

This is just plain interesting. Not sure it means anything, but it’s pretty interesting.

Critics of sf have generally agreed that science fiction is a ‘literature of ideas’. Indeed, for many people, it is the ideational content of sf that is its primary characteristic. Sexuality is also an idea.

- from Science fiction and queer theory  by Wendy Pearson

I think people still have trouble with sexuality in books -  it is the biggest reason for banning/challenging books.

Science fiction’s task, often, is to make visible to us the unthinking assumptions that limit human potentiality; epistemologies of sexuality are just as blinding and just important to the construction of any future society as are epistemologies of science.

- from Science fiction and queer theory  by Wendy Pearson

Don’t think this is limited to science fiction. I think all types of books can do that. And I am not sure science fiction does it more often than other types of books. But I would hope science fiction explores the science of sexuality better than any other type of fiction.

The feature that unites every kind of sf in the construction – in some sense – of a world other than our own.

- from Icons of science fiction by Gwyneth Jones

See, world building is what makes SF different from every other type of story and also what unites all the different sub-genres of SF. Nothing else! Plot, character and world-building make a perfect triumvirate.

Random Quotes from Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

I am reading Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn. I am nowhere near done with it yet. The book is dense and very, very interesting. But figured I would share some quotes that made go: Ohhh, really?!!!

What may be significant, but has been largely overlooked, is that virtually all of the pulp magazines have disappeared except the science-fiction magazines. My conclusion from this (influenced, no doubt, by my early recognition that the science-fiction magazines were different from the other pulps) is that science fiction only seemed to be a part of the pulp-magazine tradition.

- from the Foreward by James Gunn

I think this is an interesting rebuttal of the pulp origins of science fiction. Though he is right; only the science fiction pulp magazines are still around.

If sf were a genre, we would know the rough outline of every book that we picked up. If it were a mystery, we would know that there was ‘something to be found out’; if a romance, that two people would meet, make conflict and fall in love; if horror, that there would be an intrusion of the unnatural into the world that would eventually be tamed or destroyed.

- from the Introduction: Reading Science Fiction by Farah Mendlesohn

I don’t think the plot is what makes a story SF.

Fontenelle’s adaptation of the classical dialogue into a casual and flippant ‘conversation’ was calculated to defuse criticism, but it helped pave the way for the development of more naturalistic speculative fictions. Throughout the eighteenth century, however, such fictions were handicapped by the lack of any plausible narrative devices capable of opening up the imaginative frontiers of space and time.

- from Science fiction Before the Genre by Brian Stableford

I hadn’t heard of Fontenelle before I read this, but I this is lack is very, very odd. But on a second reading, it seems more reasonable.

He hoped that such stories would ‘supply knowledge that we might not otherwise obtain – and . . . supply it in a very palatable form’. In other words, sf, as he envisioned it, was primarily a teaching tool, but one that did not make its teaching obvious.

- from The magazine Era: 1926–1960 by Brian Attebery

He is Hugo Gernsback (founder of Amazing Stories) and I really really don’t think you can learn science from science fiction. Gain an interest in it, maybe, and want to figure how to make all that stuff real. But not actually learn science. At least, I never have.

Nor is the distinction between NewWave and Old as simple as pessimism versus triumphalism. Several sets of coordinates overlap, to some extent by accident. It is true that much of the ‘experimental’ sf of the 1960s took a gloomy cast, while the continuing mainstream of commercial sf was distinctly upbeat, constructing a universe in which technological salvation arrives through virtuous human efforts.Was that distinction necessarily echoed in the contrast between a disruptive textuality seeking to enact its ideas in richly modernist symbol and vocabulary, versus traditional sf’s adherence to a ‘clear windowpane’ theory of writing? It is more likely that stylistic differences derived from the filiations (and education) of its writers.

- from New Wave and Backwash: 1960–1980 by Damien Broderick

I don’t quite know what to make of this.

The genre which differed from the world in order to advocate a better one – or the genre which spanielled at heel the sensationalist virtual reality world we will now arguably inhabit till the planet dies – had become by 2000, in triumph or defeat or both, an institution for the telling of story.

- from Science Fiction from 1980 to the Present by John Clute.

I think it is triumph, myself.

Teaser Tuesday: Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction(again!)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I am teasing this book again because I am not reading any fiction at the moment. I am only reading this and a book on the craft of writing (The book confused me so much in the first chapter I felt compelled to blog about it.)

If I am in your circles on G+, you know I posted the quote there two days ago. It made me laugh. ;)

Plus, does anyone think the quote has some truth to it? The deep structure thing, not the other.

My teaser:

Arguably, in fact, Star Trek borrowed it’s deep structure from the classic triangle of the romance novel, with Kirk the impetuous heroine torn between McCoy, the stolid boy next door, and Spock, the dark mysterious stranger.

- The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction.

Teaser Tuesday: Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser:

It was not enough for Huxley to predict cloning, artificial wombs, recreational drugs and the social changes following on those innovations. Nor did his inventive style and daring characterization count for much. He was supposed to say something uplifting about science and to provide the emotional payoffs that come with adventure, mystery and romance. Otherwise, his novel might be literature, but it was not really sf.

- The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction.

A reviewer apparently said something to this effect in an issue of Amazing Stories about Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Brave New World was published in 1932.

I was – am still! – quite amazed.