The Sociology of Science Fiction: Chapter VI

My look at this work by Brian Stableford concludes.

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

In Chapter VI, “Conclusion: The Communicative Functions of Science Fiction”, Stableford puts forth some theories on sf’s communicative functions. 

Stableford notes that both Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell believed in the directive, i.e. didactic, function of sf.

Gernsback thought sf could educate people about science. Stableford says that goal was never really achieved. There is better evidence that sf did achieve Gernsback’s hope that it would inspire people to become scientists and inventors. It certainly did make more people interested in the future as Gernsback also hoped.

Campbell wanted people interested in realistic versions of the future. Stableford is not convinced this occurred. That’s not surprising. All other popular literary genres serve the maintenance and restorative functions. With the possible exception of rocketry, sf had no influence on the history of science and invention. (Post-William Gibson’s Neuromancer, it might be argued that computer applications and technology may have been influenced by that novel.) 

Stableford thinks a case might be made that sf did change attitudes (at least among some people) regarding technological innovation. He specifically notes that it may have primed the mind of people who joined Scientology or the Aetherius Society. After all, he notes, why did UFOS become almost universally (at least for decades) associated with alien spaceships? 

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The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5

I strongly recommend James Gunn’s six volume The Road to Science Fiction anthology series as a good look at the history of Anglophone science fiction. In the sixth volume, foreign language science fiction is covered.

However, I only reviewed this volume.

A retro review from September 2, 2003.

Review: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5: The British Way, ed. James Gunn, 1998.Road to Science Fiction

Several novels are excerpted here. And one prominent one isn’t: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which Gunn argues is a transition from the gothic but not yet fully in the camp of self-aware science fiction. Lt. Col. Sir George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking is the first of those future war novels written by politicians and military men determined to influence public policy. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, still in print, is a charming tale of life and culture in a two-dimensional world. That incomparable giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, is represented by a selection from Star Maker, narrated by a “cosmical mind” who views the life of the universe. (Though oddly, in this volume, Gunn barely mentions his importance to the genre. For that, you must consult volume two.) The title for the section on Richard Jeffries After London; Or, Wild England is “The Craving for Catastrophe”. It is a pastoral tale of a simpler life after an unexplained disaster has befallen the country.

That craving shows up in several more tales. Killer smog hits the city in Robert Barr’s 1892 story “The Doom of London.” “The Great Fog” of H. F. Heard wipes out worldwide civilization. Life gets extinguished on an alien planet in Arthur C. Clarke’s much anthologized “The Star”. The Nature of the Catastrophe” in Michael Moorcock’s story of that name is never really explained. An amalgam of newspaper excerpts and fiction, this story unfortunately shares the oblique prose and loose setting of his Jerry Cornelius novels. Not readable in its own right, it still gives you some idea of Moorcock’s influence on the New Wave. Tanith Lee’s “Written in Water” is a last woman on Earth tale. The world that may be destroyed by an artist in J. D. Beresford “A Negligible Experiment” is our own. The disaster of John Wyndham’s “The Emptiness of Space” is a personal one. Its hero has survived a spell in cryonic suspension and fears his soul has left his body.

As you would expect, the anthology is full of several famous names. Continue reading