The Sociology of Science Fiction: Chapter IV

My look at Stableford’s work continues.

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

In Chapter IV, “The Expectations of the Science Fiction Reader”, Stableford tries to discover what sf readers get out of the genre. He looks at three questions: what sf readers say they get out of the genre, how the various definitions of sf serve as rules for composing sf works, and what writers and apologists of sf say about the genre’s function and value. 

Stableford argues that the whole question of science fiction as a genre is that reading a work of sf is different than reading another sort of novel. That’s what defines the genre. He quotes Darko Suvin as defining a genre as a system of expectations, based on prior reading experience, of a particular type of material. Even innovations in the genre are just an evolution of expectations based on past experience with sf.

What are those expectations? To get an idea, Stableford turns to the letters columns of sf magazines. There are a couple of methodological problems with this acknowledges Stableford. 

These are, first of all, a self-selected sample, and, of course, not all the letters received were printed though Stableford notes early sf pulps frequently had letters insulting certain stories.

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“William Wilson’s Prospectus for Science-Fiction, 1851”

The series looking at the essays in Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds: Essays on Fantastic Fiction continues.

Review: “William Wilson’s Prospectus for Science-Fiction, 1851“, Brian Stableford, 1975.Opening Minds

Stableford’s William Wilson is not Edgar Allan Poe’s hero of the same name, and most of this article is capsulated now under the “William Wilson“ entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

William Wilson was the first person to use the phrase “Science-Fiction” in his 1851 book about poetry, A Little Ernest Book Upon a Great Old Subject.

Wilson thought the findings of science could breathe something fresh and vital into literature:

. . . “Fiction in Poetry is not the reverse of truth, but her soft and enchanting resemblance.” Now this applies to Science-Fiction, in which the revealed truths of Science may be given, interwoven with a pleasing story which may itself be poetical and true — thus circulating a knowledge of the Poetry of Science, clothed in a garb of the Poetry of Life.

Yes, as Stableford writes, it does sound a lot like Hugo Gernsback’s declaration, in the first issue of Amazing Stories, that the fiction in his magazine would promote scientific understanding

 with a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision”, that its fiction would be a “garb in which to make ‘the revelations of a reasoning imagination’ more attractive. Continue reading