fjm (fjm) wrote in nonficawards,

Routledge Companion to Science Fiction: Butler, Bould, Roberts and Vint. Part 2.

The second section of this book is "Theory". This is a bit misleading, as some of the chapters would, I think, have fitted better under "issues and Challenges" in particular the pieces on Nuclear Criticism, Post-Humanism and Cyborg Theory, and Virtuality. Neither of these topics are theories, they are applications of theory drawn from (mostly) postmodernism.

A better way of conceptualising this chapter I think might have been "Approaches" which would have solved the problem that Robin Reid's article, for example, is essentially a history of the theories which have shaped Fan Studies and does not (thank goodness) propose that there is such a thing as Fan Theory.

I don't have a lot to say about all the articles so I'm going to look at them in descending order of my satisfaction, but starting with a niggle, which--I would bet money on were I actually a betting woman--is going to turn up in review after review.

In Part One, I complained that the fiction was not referenced. In Part Two it is. Grrrr. Not only am I irritated by the lack of consistency (which meant I wasn't looking for fiction references because I did not expect to find them), but without any explanation this is just poor form. It is going to get worse. The first article in part IV has no bibliography/works cited at all. I will leave it to greater pedants than I (and we all know who they are) to elaborate further.

Part Two: the chapters.

The Excellent:
Isiah Lavender III's chapter on Critical Race Theory is excellent. I recommend it to those of you interested in the discussions around RaceFail09 conducted with a little less heat. Mark Bould on Language and Linguistics is clear, readable, obviously informed by discussions with Istvan and if I can be blunt here, both more lucid, elegant and wide ranging than Istvan's chapter. Andrew M. Butler on psychoanalysis reminds me that "theory" can be intelligble and not make me feel stupid. Wendy Gay Pearson on Queer Theory is as excellent as expected.

The Good:
Lisa Yaszek on Cultural History had the merit of feeling like it had a grasp on the second word in that phrase, which is a rare thing indeed. Very pleased to see that Westfahl was brought into the fold as a cultural historian. Teensy bit sad not to get a name check there; the article on Zenna Henderson I wrote, many moons ago, was the first to point out that most feminist criticism was markedly unmoored from the time stream (it gets very boring to read endless article after endless article failing a text because it doesn't represent modern feminism, whatever that may be.)

Robin Anne Reid's article on Fan Studies gave a very good tour around the field but [ahem] misses out the two most important early studies, Beverly Friend's PhD thesis (1976) and Alfred Berger's SFS article based on a survey he conducted at conventions. Both of these consider the issue of class.

The Ones that Didn't Interest Me: these are not necessarily weak, but I was not captured by them.

Paul Williams on Nuclear Criticism which I'd have found more interesting if it had been on Nuclear and Ecological Criticism. As it was, it was too narrow and didn't really engage with why this kind of interest. Michelle Reid on Post-Colonialism was fine, but the writing is crunchy, it never takes flight. Veronica Hollinger lost me in her essay on Posthumanism and Cyborg Theory when she quoted with a straight face, "Recent scientific and technological breakthroughs demonstrate that the gap is being bridged between science fiction and science fact, between literary imagination and mind-boggling technoscientific realities" (Beer and Kellner 2001: 103). Gosh, you don't say? But it should be said that I'm out of sympathy with anyone who can talk about technoculture without recognising the inherent redundancy of the prefix. (Also: on p. 272, there is a quotation attributed to Merrick but the citation is to an article by Blackford. Is this wrong? Is Merrick "cited in", would it have been impossible to find the original? [Edit: It has been pointed out to me that this was a symposium and actually a conversation that was being cited. Apology for that, but that should have been said in the text. The reference to the Blackford should also read either vol. 29, issue 78, or just 78.] Alcena Madelaine Davis Rogan's article on Utopia is adequate, but like most generalist writings on Utopia, very out of date. The fiction is not listed in the bibliography [sigh] but as far as I can tell the last text cited is 1998. No MacLeod, Robinson, Banks, Slonczewski etc, etc. Finally Thomas Foster's article on Virtuality simply floated above my head. Nothing remains after my reading of it.

Jane Donawerth's chapter is superficial, takes categorisations of periods (into First Wave, Second Wave and Postwave/Third Wave) for granted when they are solely American periodicities and seems unconnected to the criticism in the field for all it is cited. She makes huge leaps in periods which demonstrate her ignorance not the state of the field. The periods are:
Women's Right to Education: 1650-1750
Essentially Female: 1850-1920
Healing the Middle Class Housewife: 1950-1975
Recovering Women's History: 1970-1995 (in which no sf text later than 1985 is listed)
Postmodern, postcolonial, transgender: 1980-2005 (latest sf text is 2000).

So; there goes Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. So much for all the work Batywa Weinbaum, Helen Merrick, Justine Larbaliastier, Brian Attebery and I have done to point out how much feminist sf there is between 1920 and 1950. Only Lillith Lorraine is mentioned as if to emphasise their absence. The really interesting bit (given that this section is supposed to be theory ) is the first paragraph of the conclusion when she points out that many of the feminist writers are theorists. Which makes e wonder if I would have been more receptive to this chapter had it appeared in part IV, Sub-genres. A long list of different books to read does not make a good chapter for this section.

Dire: Marxism by William J Burling hits all my buttons. Apparently women aren't Marxist enough for him:

"virtually no Left-sf was published in North America during the 1960s* (Zenna Henderson's important but overlooked Pilgrimage (1961) must be passed over in this context since her alien utopian commune, despite its many progressive features, arises out of mystical spirituality rather than dialectical materialism." (242)

Of LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven
"These works foregrounded vaguely sociaistic concerns in the areas of human freedom and dignity and offered variations of post-capitalist social vision, though to be sure LeGuin and her contemporaries Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy are better known for their mid-1970s, utopian fiction." (243)

"From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, some modestly Left-sf by women appeared in the US." (hands the nod to Octavia Butler, Sherri Tepper and Atwood (who he forgets is not from the US).

Only at the very end do Tricia Sullivan and Gwyneth Jones (for Maul and Bold as Love) get the nod:

I am so tired of this argument. I've had it in person, on email, on the phone: Boys, if when you write about Marxism you find that women "don't fit" maybe you need to re-examine your damn theory? Don't tell me I don't understand. Don't tell me that "the theory doesn't work that way and it's not personal", don't tell me "oh, I could have used any examples! It's just a coincidence!" Instead, try to remember that the feminist movement of the 1960s didn't come out of annoyance with Male Chauvinist Pigs in the Boardroom. Generally, women were used to that. It came out of a frustration with the marginalisation of women by the theories of the left. Until you start questioning your own work, instead of getting terribly defensive, you can't expect to be let off the hook.

*At least one problem here is that he is using "Left-sf" to mean Marxist-materialist anyway. There is plenty of left-wing sf around in the 1960s. There is quite a lot in the early magazines as well--rather more Marxist instead--a period he dimisses as being nothing but pulp. He would clearly be very surprised by the work of Harl Vincent.

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