The Sociology of Science Fiction: Chapter III

My chapter-by-chapter review of this Stableford work continues.

Review: The Sociology of Science Fiction, Brian Stableford, 1987.

Chapter III, “The Evolution of Science Fiction as a Publishing Category”, starts out with some possible definitions of sf and, thus, its origins. 

If sf is just fantastic tales, the beginning is Lucian of Samosata’s True History. If it is mythology for a modern age, one can go back to Homer’s Odyssey. If sf is a “didactic medium” to popularize science and awaken dull minds to new vistas of imagination, you can go back to Lucretius’ De Rerum Naturae. If you see sf as intimately tied to scientific thought, you go with Johannes Kepler’s Somnium. If you are interested in sf as a means of social speculation, you cite Plato’s Republic as the origin point. An “etymologically-minded critic” might insist that the term science fiction loses all meaning before Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. An American reader of pulp magazines would trace it to 1926 and Astounding Magazine

However, Stableford argues that it wasn’t until the late 19th century and early 20th century that enough kinds of things we would call sf were produced for it to be recognized as a literary genre, and that label basically starts with H. G. Wells’ work. (I’m not sure if his work on French romans scientifique have changed this.) 

Sociologically, there were four trends Stableford sees as sparking the popular imagination and setting the ground for the public to be interested in sf as a genre:

the revolution in transportation; the theory of evolution; the socialist movement; and the anticipation of large-scale war.

The inclusion of the socialist movement is a significant addition to usual theories of sf developing as a genre.

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“Utopia — and Afterwards”

Review: “Utopia – And Afterwards: Socioeconomic Speculation in the SF of Mack Reynolds”, Brian Stableford, 1979, 1995.

This essay is a fascinating look at an author almost forgotten today (I’ve only read his “Mercenary”) and mostly out of print (at least until ebooks). Dean Ing finished some of Reynolds’ unpublished works.

Stableford, trained as a sociologist, takes a look at Reynolds whom he sees as almost unique in trying to seriously postulate, using Marxian ideas, future societies and economies. He sees Reynolds’ Looking Backward from the Year 2000 – an updating of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward — as the first utopian work in 40 years though it emphasizes the economics of abundance more than Bellamy’s model. (Now, of course, one could cite Ken McLeod, Charles Stross, and, especially for utopian works, Kim Stanley Robinson, as working in a similar vein.) 

Reynolds seems to have consistently view capitalism and Marxism as being two ideologies which must be overcome, propagated by the power elite of their respective societies, and both having abandoned the idea of progress. This conflict with Marxism and capitalism is often not well dramatized in Reynold’s action adventure plots involving turncoat agents who start out in the employ of orthodoxies but then shift allegiance to the true revolutionaries.

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Scientific Romance

Being a fan of Stableford’s work, I immediately requested a review copy when I saw it on Netgallery.

Review: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction, ed. Brian Stableford, 1917.Scientific Romance

Before America colonized science fiction with its conquistador John Carter in 1912 and made it into a genre concerned with space and adventure, it was something different. It was, argues Stableford, a stream of literature interested in “the adoption of the scientific outlook and the attempt to employ the scientific imagination as a springboard for speculative fiction”.

Just as the Vikings colonized the New World before Columbus’s voyage, Francis Bacon and Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac discovered new frontiers for literature when they wrote scientific romances. And, just as the Viking colonization inspired no immediate imitators, no writers imitated Bacon and de Bergerac for a while. Bacon’s New Atlantis was unfinished and published posthumously in 1627. De Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la lune [The Other World] wasn’t published until the 1920s.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that authors in France, America, and England began producing work that was noticeably something different and that stuck in the public mind. These were stories about the drama to be made out of new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and the peculiar psychologies of inventors and scientists. Continue reading

The Sleeper Awakes

Once upon a time, I set out to read all of H. G. Wells’ science fiction.

I came pretty close. I think there are a couple of titles I missed like the novel version of The Shape of Things to Come and Star-Begotten. (There is no way I would attempt to read all his non-fiction.)

However, while I’ve written few reviews of them, this is one.

A retro review from December 16, 2003.

Review: The Sleeper Awakes, H. G. Wells, 2000.Sleeper Awakes

Science fiction fans simply looking for an entertaining story will want to skip this book. Its speculations, with a couple of exceptions, are dated — Wells admitted such only ten years after it was written. The socialist values it expounds make one wonder whether Fabian Wells would have ever been satisfied with capitalism no matter what it did. The characters, again as Wells admitted, are Everyman and an implausible businessman villain.

And yet Wells kept playing with this story over 21 years. It also was probably quite influential on a young Robert Heinlein, a Wells admirer. (It has moving roadways amongst other things.)

The story? A man wakes up from a two hundred year coma to find out he’s the richest man in the world. The capitalists who run this world hope he’ll play along with them, continue to let them run the world using his money. But Sleeper Graham has other ideas and becomes a Socialist messiah to the oppressed. Continue reading