2.13.2004

The First Science Fiction Textbook?

The publication of some very recent compilations of academic writing on the subject of what science fiction was, is, or should be, has led me to reconsider an earlier thought process, namely that there is this urgent need to theorize science fiction in order to rebuild its intellectual edifices and colonize the bastions of the mainstream elite.

It turns out we're much closer, embryonic though the discourse may be, than I believed some mere weeks ago, thanks to the recent (as in 2-3 months recent) efforts of some considerable talents.

The important thing is of course and firstly that there is an organized effort underway, and moreover, an effort currently led by the right thinkers in my estimation. It is to this group that I challenge anyone reading this critical blog to now turn and electrify the dialectic.

I'm referring to the recently published (2003) Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, with whom anyone who's heard of Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction or Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century will probably be familiar.

My three minimum qualifications for a literary field textbook:

- Should approach the subject with an eye to and the language of the collective/accumulated literary theory leading up to the twenty-first century.
- Should contain both historical and critical approaches.
- Should be a collection of multiple authors and perspectives from acknowledged experts in the field.

With the publication of this companion, I propose all three conditions have been met, and that we have our very first candidate for a true "core" textbook. Bear in mind that I am in no way intending to exclude other previous works whose applications as texts in somewhat more advanced or focused tracks of study is unchallenged; I'm simply saying that I don't believe we have yet seen the release of a text that meets my three minimum qualifications, which are also the standard qualifications of any academic text intended to be both a primer in the histories of *and* critical approaches to an acknowledged subject of inquiry.

The burning question: is it a good one? I'll have to get back to you on that one, as I just picked it up and have merely scanned the perimeter, but already the list of contributors (Jim Gunn, Brian Stableford, Gary Westfahl, Gary Wolfe, Brian Attebery, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Andy Duncan, and several notable others) the tenor of the foreword by Gunn and the introduction by Mendlesohn, and the historical and theoretical range (pre-genre to now + Marxist, feminist, postmodern, queer, et al theory), is tantalizing.

More to come...

Here's the Cambridge spin-up on it.

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction
Edited by Edward James, Farah Mendlesohn

Published November 2003

326 pages

(Click here to view the softcover edition at Amazon, $24)

Science fiction is at the intersection of numerous fields. It is a literature which draws on popular culture, and which engages in speculation about science, history, and all types of social relations. This volume brings together essays by scholars and practitioners of science fiction, which look at the genre from these different angles. After an introduction to the nature of science fiction, historical chapters trace science fiction from Thomas More to the present day, including a chapter on film and television. The second section introduces four important critical approaches to science fiction drawing their theoretical inspiration from Marxism, postmodernism, feminism and queer theory. The final and largest section of the book looks at various themes and sub-genres of science fiction. A number of well-known science fiction writers contribute to this volume, including Gwyneth Jones, Ken MacLeod, Brian Stableford Andy Duncan, James Gunn, Joan Slonczewski, and Damien Broderick.

Contents
Acknowledgments
List of contributors
Chronology
Foreword (James Gunn)
Introduction: reading science fiction (Farah Mendlesohn)

Part I. The History:

1. Science fiction before the genre (Brian Stableford)
2. The magazine era: 1926–1960 (Brian Attebery)
3. New wave and backwash: 1960–1980 (Damien Broderick)
4. Science fiction from 1980 to the present (John Clute)
5. Film and television (Mark Bould)
6. Science fiction and its editors (Gary K. Wolfe)

Part II. Critical Approaches:

7. Marxist theory and science fiction (Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr)
8. Feminist theory and science fiction (Veronica Hollinger)
9. Postmodernism and science fiction (Andrew M. Butler)
10. Science fiction and queer theory (Wendy Pearson)

Part III. Sub-genres and Themes:

11. The icons of science fiction (Gwyneth Jones)
12. Science fiction and the life sciences (Joan Slonczewski and Michael Levy)
13. Hard science fiction (Kathryn Cramer)
14. Space opera (Gary Westfahl)
15. Alternate history (Andy Duncan)
16. Utopias and anti-utopias (Edward James)
17. Politics and science fiction (Ken MacLeod)
18. Gender in science fiction (Helen Merrick)
19. Race and ethnicity in science fiction (Elisabeth Anne Leonard)
20. Religion and science fiction (Farah Mendlesohn)

Further reading.

Contributors

James Gunn, Farah Mendlesohn, Brian Stableford, Brian Attebery, Damien Broderick, John Clute, Mark Bould, Gary K. Wolfe, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr, Veronica Hollinger, Andrew M. Butler, Wendy Pearson, Gwyneth Jones, Joan Slonczewski, Michael Levy, Kathryn Cramer, Gary Westfahl, Andy Duncan, Edward James, Ken MacLeod, Helen Merrick, Elisabeth Anne Leonard.

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