So far, this is the section I’ve liked best, and it’s the section qua section that truly justifies the book. By this I mean that this is the section that is in no way a competitor to anything but really sets some interesting agendas that others can follow.
The chapter begins with Joan Gordon on Animal Studies. I had a chat with my colleague Erica Fudge (a leading light in the field, actually cited here) about this chapter, so I’ll stand by my comment that there is a little too much of “this is a new field” for my liking, and not enough recognition that sf has been engaged with the issue for a very long time. But that said, it’s a very clear account of the field and why it is engaging sf people.
Piers D. Britton’s ‘Design for Screen Sf’ is the article I’ve been looking for, for ages, closely followed by ‘Digital Games’ by Tanya Kryzwinska and Esther MacCallum-Stewart. Both offer critical vocabularies and and introductions to the complex relationships between these contexts/media and sf. I can’t say the same for KenMcLeod’s chapter on Music which is a bit of a list of Great SF Film Scores We Have Known; a useful reference but not much more (note the Mc, not Mac).
Patrick D. Murphy on Environmentalism is sound (although the absence of Dune is a bit weird, and anyone who finds it in the text, please don’t tell me off, this chapter has the most abominable bibliography—quite unlike others in this section—so it wasn’t exactly easy to check. Some fiction is listed, some isn’t.).
Neil Easterbrook’s ‘Ethics and Alterity’ was the outstanding chapter of the section, too complex to really summarise but essentially arguing that sf tends to hie to the construction of moral rules, even while it argues for ethical paradigms. This was closely followed in excellence, by Roger Luckhurst on Pseudoscience (although he begins with picking a fight with certain critics that just doesn’t exist, they’ve’ simply made his argument, that sf and pseudosicience have skipped into the meadows hand in hand, in a slightly different way). And then by Sherryl Vint’s also excellent piece on Science Studies which I think is my favourite chapter so far. It ends with a paragraph that I’m going to be quoting a lot in the next few years as my own work starts to get past the drawing board:
If at its worst sf can be the literature of all the worst aspects of science—technocratism, singularity of vision, domination of nature, inserting a new gadget into the same world—then at its best it might be considered the literature of science studies—concerned with the social consequences of developments in science and technology, insisting on dialectic exchange between the novum and the larger social world, sensitive to the contingency of knowledge, and open to new ways of seeing and being, (421)
Ok, so I’m rather fond of technocracy, but overall, Vint nails it.
James Kneale on ‘Space’ is fascinating. I dabbled in Geography briefly while an undergrad and he’s dead right when he says we neglect it (there is a piece by Barr in Feminist Fabulation, but that makes the mistake of ignoring the work of geographers). I wish I’d had this piece when I was working on Rhetorics as he nails much of what I was struggling to express about the knowledge relation between people and space. His analysis of M. John Harrison’s work was fascinating and the article would be worth it if it did nothing else, but Kneale really does open up (space metaphor there that I would usually use unconsciously) new ways to think about worldbuilding and refreshes a really tired argument. I’m going to be handing this one to my students.
Mat Hills on ‘Time, possible worlds, and counterfactuals’ is a good summary of the area but I didn’t take anything new from it, while Joe Sutliffe Sanders’ on ‘Young Adult Sf’ was not about the field itself but about a critical divide in the field which is useful to have a handle on. It was a bit weird to read in that I’ve been immersed in these arguments for five years now, and it was strange to read something that got most of the source of tension between sf and YA lit critics but first, failed to acknowledge that there are a handful of people who genuinely work in both, and also kept firmly to the YA/Child Lit tendency to assume all children/teens are the same. To give just one example, Sutliffe Sanders is talking about Peter Dickinson’s Eva in the context of how the YA field understands ‘usuitability’ not in terms of lying, stealing, sex etc, but in terms of ‘relevance’ to the teen: ‘Eva does not deal enough with the protagonist’s sexuality, but treats it clinically and with nothing like the nervous excitement typical of actual teen reactions to sexual maturity.’ (447) Note the ‘typical’. As far as I can tell, the major unifying experience of sf oriented teenagers was to feel not typical, and no where more so than over the matters of sex, where the giggle and excitement all seemed a bit silly after you’d read up on the details in a book from the library. I know that I was not alone (thanks to more than one discussion) in dealing with the matter of my virginity in a way that could quite easily have been called clinical, I know I was rather cruel to the poor woman I chose as the person to experiment with because I knew I wasn’t in love with her (that was someone quite different and I was too sensible and ‘clinical’ to go there.) I’m making a big deal of this point, and making it so specific, because it is precisely that tendency of children’s and YA studies to generalise which has pushed out many sf texts, and which leads it to constantly harp on about relevance, a notion I regard as both untested and dubious, and all the more so when waved about with such blithe confidence. That apart, the other oddity of the article is that there is no reference to the Lion and the Unicorn Special Issue which apart from being a bit of a test case for some of his arguments, also brings together many of the critics who genuinely work in both fields.
Finally there is Istvan Csiseray Ronay Jr.s piece. It’s great. A really good exploration of air power and technology and culture. It is quite interesting about the ways these thinges supported and were the mechanics of empire. What it isn’t is what you’d expect of a chapter called ‘Empire’ which might, perhaps, consider the way empire and theories of empire have shaped sf.