Type Book
Date 2006
Pages 159
Series The New Critical Idiom
Tags nonfiction, science fiction

Science Fiction, Second Edition

Chapter 1: Defining Science Fiction

SF is difficult to define. Roberts offers a few perspectives.

SF is a genre that rationalizes its differences in a physical (or, one might say, scientific way):

But it is part of the logic of SF, and not of other forms of fiction, that these changes be made plausible within the structure of the text. This means that the premise of an SF novel requires material, physical rationalisation, rather than a supernatural or arbitrary one.

Roberts introduces Darko Suvin's idea of the novum:

This is precisely what Suvin asserts: ‘SF is distinguished by the narrative dominance or hegemony of a fictional ‘novum’ ... validated by cognitive logic’ (Suvin 1979: 63). By this he means that the implications of the ‘novum’ dominate, or create a ‘hegemony’ (a term from Marxist theory to describe the maintenance of power by indirect and pervasive means rather than by direct force) throughout the text. ‘Cognitive Logic’ becomes for Suvin a crucial formal convention of SF.

Roberts also describes Robert Scholes's definition of SF from his book Structural Fabulation, though his description doesn't do much service to it.

Finally, Roberts offers a definition from Damien Broderick, summarizing:

Broderick’s insight that we recognise SF in part because it deploys certain ‘icons’ that are consensually taken as ‘SF’. Many of these devices, as Broderick mentions, derive from a corpus of accepted ‘nova’: starships, time-machines, robots and the like. Each of these connects with a particular ‘estranged’ version of our reality.

There is a common theme:

What these various definitions of SF have in common, then, is a sense of SF as in some central way about the encounter with difference. This encounter is articulated through a ‘novum’, a conceptual, or more usually material, embodiment of alterity, the point at which the SF text distils the difference between its imagined world and the world which we all inhabit. For Scott McCracken, ‘at the root of all science fiction lies the fantasy of alien encounter’. He adds that ‘the meeting of self with other is perhaps the most fearful, most exciting and most erotic encounter of all’ (McCracken 1998: 102). This serves as the basis of many critics’ affection for the genre, the fact that SF provides a means, in a popular and accessible fictional form, for exploring alterity. Specific SF nova are more than just gimmicks, and much more than clichés; they provide a symbolic grammar for articulating the perspectives of normally marginalised discourses of race, of gender, of non-conformism and alternative ideologies. We might think of this as the progressive or radical potential of science fiction.

Roberts concluces with a case study of Dune.

Chapter 2: The History of SF

A familiar history, touching on proto-sf from the classical period and a few scattered thoughout history, before settling on the usual starting point of Frankenstein, and proceeding through Verne and Wells.

Once into the modern period, Roberts discusses SF as embodied in the pulps, the Golden Age of SF, and the New Wave.

Roberts concludes with a case study of Star Wars with a focus on intertextuality.

Chapter 3: SF and Gender

Notes

Mentioned works:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Star of Danger
  • Stormqueen!
  • The Female Man
  • When It Changed
  • Maul
  • Banner of Souls
  • Xenogenesis series
  • Woman on the Edge of Time
  • The Women Men Don't See
  • The Girl Who Was Plugged In
  • I'll Be Waiting for You When the Swimming Pool Is Empty
  • The Girl Who Was Plugged In
  • ...lots of Tiptree
  • The Image of Women in Science Fiction
  • Grass
  • Neveryon / Delany
  • Titan; Wizard; Demon / Varley
  • The Ship Who Sang
  • Is Gender Necessary? (see also Is Gender Necessary? Redux)

Discusses the Alien films as associating the alien with women.

Name Role
Adam Roberts Author
Routledge Publisher

Relations

Relation Sources
Discusses
  • Dune (1965-12-01)
  • Star Wars (1977-05-25)