There are so many interesting points being elicited in the responses to my previous post on why the deep norms of the SF genre matter that I think I may have passed a threshold. I think the material I have written on critical theory of science fiction is now substantial enough that I could actually expand it into a book. I am now contemplating whether this is a good idea – whether there’s a market in either the strict monetary or other senses.
I haven’t read a great deal of the critical literature on science fiction. Most of what I have seen I’m not very impressed with. Too much of it is dismissive and reductive. Even analyses that intend to take SF seriously often seem to want to talk about everything except what I think is important. Here, for example, is part of a synopsis I found when I googled for “anatomy of science fiction”:
This wide-ranging collection of essays re-opens the connection between science fiction and the increasingly science-fictional world. Kevin Alexander Boon reminds us of the degree to which the epistemology of science fiction infects modern political discourse. Károly Pintér explores the narrative structures of utopian estrangement, and Tamás Bényei and Brian Attebery take us deeper into the cultural exchanges between science fiction and the literary and political worlds. In the second half, Donald Morse, Nicholas Ruddick and Éva Federmayer look at the way in which science fiction has tackled major ethical issues, while Amy Novak and Kálmán Matolcsy consider memory and evolution as cultural batteries. The book ends with important discussions of East German and Hungarian science fiction by Usch Kiausch and Donald Morse respectively.
My response to this is best expressed by the words of the immortal P.J. O’Rourke: “What the fuck? I mean, what the fucking fuck?” I think you have to be carefully trained into a kind of elaborated insensibility to the actual subject before most of a book so described could possibly be interesting. I see nothing there about what I think are the really interesting questions. Like:
- What are the defining constraints or generative rules of the SF form?
- What are the canonical works that exemplify these rules?
- What goes on the minds of readers of SF that is different from what goes on in the readers of other genres?
- How do the answers to that question believed by SF writers affect their artistic choices?
- The genre conversation in SF exhibits features not paralleled in other genres. Are these historically accidental or essential given the genre’s defining constraints?
- Can we identify stages and transition points in the evolution of the rules?
- What does the past of SF predict about its future?
This is a program for an inside-to-out analysis of the genre, rather than an outside-to-in one. Really informed readers will recognize the influence of Northrop Frye here; it is similar to what Frye called “rhetorical analysis” of literature. Also, as I’ve previously noted, I owe a huge debt to Samuel Delany for teaching me that the rules of the SF genre are discoverable through its reading protocols.
I’ve been chipping away at this program since the early 1990s, both directly in several essays and indirectly through my reviews. Maybe it’s time to pull that together into a book.
I have, therefore, two requests for my commenters.
First: what previous works about SF criticism can you suggest that would either assist or challenge this program, and why?
Second: Discuss the objectives. In particular, what other questions about the field are interesting from within the field? Stuff like “epistemology of science fiction infecting modern political discourse” is not very interesting to me even though the epistemology of SF itself is.