How science fiction has been a tool for understanding and living through rapid technological change. The world today see
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From its beginnings in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to the virtual worlds of William Gibson's Neuromance
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Postcolonialism as a critical approach and pedagogic practice has informed literary and cultural studies since the late
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Postcolonialism as a critical approach and pedagogic practice has informed literary and cultural studies since the late
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"Christians agree that they are saved through the death and resurrection of Christ. But how is the atonement achiev
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Timeline -- Introduction: before the 1900s -- 1900s -- 1910s -- 1920s -- Conclusion: late modernism.
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Table of contents :
1 Introduction: Whose Science Fiction?
2 The Utopian Tradition
3 Futurology and Speculative Design
4 The Colonial Imagination
5 Robots, AI, and Transhumanism
6 Genomics, the Microbiome, and Posthumanism
7 Environment, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene
8 Economics and Financialization
9 Conclusion: Living in a Science-FictionalWorld
The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series
A complete list of the titles in this series appears at the back of this book.
SCIENCE FICTION SHERRYL VINT
The MIT Press
© 2021 Massachusetts Institute of Technology All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher. This book was set in Chaparral Pro by New Best-set Typesetters Ltd. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Vint, Sherryl, 1969- author. Title: Science fiction / Sherryl Vint. Description: Cambridge, Massachusetts : The MIT Press,  | Series: The MIT Press essential knowledge series | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: “An overview of how science fiction has grappled with the ways that science and technology shape and change human lives, emphasizing the challenges of the 21st century”—Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2020008515 | ISBN 9780262539999 (paperback) Subjects: LCSH: Science fiction—History and criticism. | Science fiction—Social aspects. Classification: LCC PN3433.5 .V55 2021 | DDC 809.3/8762—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020008515 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Introduction: Whose Science Fiction? 1 The Utopian Tradition 19 Futurology and Speculative Design 37 The Colonial Imagination 57 Robots, AI, and Transhumanism 75 Genomics, the Microbiome, and Posthumanism Environment, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene 117 8 Economics and Financialization 137 9 Conclusion: Living in a Science-Fictional World
Acknowledgments 171 Glossary 173 Notes 177 Further Reading 193 Index 197
SERIES FOREWORD The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers accessible, concise, beautifully produced pocket-size books on topics of current interest. Written by leading thinkers, the books in this series deliver expert overviews of subjects that range from the cultural and the historical to the scientific and the technical. In today’s era of instant information gratification, we have ready access to opinions, rationalizations, and superficial descriptions. Much harder to come by is the foundational knowledge that informs a principled understanding of the world. Essential Knowledge books fill that need. Synthesizing specialized subject matter for nonspecialists and engaging critical topics through fundamentals, each of these compact volumes offers readers a point of access to complex ideas.
1 INTRODUCTION: WHOSE SCIENCE FICTION?
It has become axiomatic to say that the world is becoming like science fiction (sf). From mobile phones that speak to us (reminding Star Trek fans of tricorders), to genetically modified foods, to the Internet of Things and the promise of self-driving cars, people in industrialized nations live immersed in technology. Daily life can thus at times seem like visions from the pulp sf of the 1920s and 1930s— either a world perfected by technology, manifested in events such as the 1939 World’s Fair, with its theme “The World of Tomorrow”; or a dystopian nightmare, such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932). How might sf help us conceptualize and respond to a world that has begun to resemble sf, in ways both marvelous and malign? This book provides an overview of how sf grapples with the ways that science and technology shape and change human lives. As introduced here, the genre is a tool for
thinking about and intervening in the world. This book is about what science fiction can do, not a catalogue of important authors and titles. There are many competing claims regarding precisely how to define sf and how to determine when the genre began. Some argue for a long tradition of all speculative writing about science, dating back to Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1608) or even earlier. Others link it to utopian writing, beginning with Thomas More’s Utopia (1516); later utopias offered visions of future societies in examples such as Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, 2000–1887 (1888) and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890). Still others see H. G. Wells’s scientific romances and Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires as the “fathers” of a genre whose origins are inextricably linked to science becoming culturally dominant in Western cultures during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In his insider history of the genre, Billion Year Spree (1973), Brian Aldiss influentially dubs Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) the first sf novel, a work that fuses the latest innovations in science with a humanist tradition of thinking about society and ethics. A popular trend dates sf’s origin to the American pulps of the 1920s, chiefly Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, which tapped into an emergent, enthusiastic community of experimenters and technicians. Gernsback is responsible for popularizing the term science fiction, a less complicated version of his original “scientification.”
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The genre is a tool for thinking about and intervening in the world. This book is about what science fiction can do.
In the first issue of Amazing Stories (1926), he announced this was to be a “new sort” of fiction for a century that would chart a new path in literature and “in progress as well.”1 For original fan communities, the Gernsback era was foundational, and his technophilic pronouncements are the core of the genre, but his view represents only one facet of a complex tradition. Rather than elaborate this history or take a position on the origins of science fiction, this book focuses on what they share at their core: a vision of the world made otherwise and the possibilities that might flow from such change. My goal is to provide neither a detailed history of the genre nor a comprehensive listing of its most important works. Rather, following John Rieder, I am interested in focusing on what science fiction can do, how it has been described by a variety of constituencies in distinct ways for multiple ends.2 I plan to chart how sf is evoked and used by a range of authors and audiences and sketch an overview of how the genre has been—and continues to be—useful for grasping daily life in industrialized, technologized societies. Although there may be no precise demarcation of what the term science fiction denotes, certain images or narratives immediately come to mind: enhanced mobility via rocket ships or flying cars; immersion in digitized environments, from virtual entertainments to perhaps digitally transferring one’s consciousness to a new body; and
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the idea of the future, which may include radically different citizens such as self-conscious robots or genetically modified people, perhaps even aliens. A set of images thus conveys the core of science fiction, even if the boundaries at its edges are indistinct, a situation further complicated by the fact that different communities have diverse ideas in mind when they claim the label and try to define the genre it describes. Many fans and scholars of sf, for example, argue that its print form is inevitably more nuanced than media versions, a claim confusing to twenty-first-century audiences for whom “science fiction” is often synonymous with widely known media texts such as Star Trek, which has been on television or film screens in myriad iterations since 1966. Margaret Atwood’s widely circulated claim that she writes speculative rather than science fiction, because she extrapolates from known science rather than inventing futuristic versions of it, embodies the confusion: not only would most readers recognize her most widely known works—The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and the MaddAddam trilogy (2003–2013)—as science fiction, but most practitioners and fans of science fiction would also agree that much (not all!) sf similarly extrapolates from known science.3 Indeed, many people use the terms speculative fiction and science fiction interchangeably, recognizing that, despite the label, the relationship between science and science fiction is neither simple nor direct.4 Idiosyncratic definitions
and squabbles about the minutiae of genre borders will thus not get us very far. Science fiction is better conceptualized as a tendency, a phenomenon Gary Wolfe describes as a style that evaporates into and permeates much cultural production today.5 Istvan Csiscery-Ronay Jr. argues that we should understand sf as a mode rather than a genre, a way of experiencing the world that has become normalized in recent decades. He uses the term “science fictionality” to describe this way of perceiving and evaluating things as “if they were aspects of a work of science fiction.”6 My preference is to understand science fiction as a cultural form that offers an “everyday” language for thinking about and responding to daily life in twenty-first century. Its engagement with science and with the motifs of sociotechnical culture— interplanetary travel, digitized experience and communications, genomic modification, artificial intelligence (AI), and more— is metaphorical, whether the worlds it posits might actually happen or not. The genre asks questions about the impact of science and technology on human experience, values, and ways of living, and even when it explores these issues through scenarios that science tells us are impossible, the genre uses such symbols to comment upon otherwise unnoticed aspects of our ordinary world. For example, Atwood suggests that the impossible Martian invaders in Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1897) make his creative enterprise fundamentally different from Verne’s plausible visions of
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more powerful versions of existing transportation technologies. From a different angle, however, we can see that Wells engages contemporary sociotechnical culture just as much as Verne does, using the metaphor of a superior Martian civilization conquering London to raise questions about the role science and technology have played in colonial history.7 These struggles over terminology illuminate one of the central tensions that has shaped the sf community as long as we have used this label: Is science fiction predominantly a genre that has to do with plausible scientific extrapolation, perhaps even with educating the public in scientific literacy? Or is it predominantly a literature of social change, often using futuristic technologies to establish that its stories take place in different worlds, but remaining more interested in social than scientific change? Within a decade of the first issue of Amazing Stories, the science-inflected Science Fiction League fan group launched by Gernsback fragmented. A new organization emerged, originally called the Committee for the Political Advancement of Science Fiction, later the Futurisms, whose members included influential authors and editors such as Frederik Pohl, Judith Merril, Donald A. Wollheim, and a young Isaac Asimov, and called for sf to be less interested in new gadgets and more engaged in social critique. Claiming the opposite, conservative fan Sam Moskowitz founded New Fandom, dedicated to a vision of “hard” or
scientifically engaged sf that had little interest in social transformation. From its very beginnings, sf has included both science- focused extrapolations and politically engaged visions of the future—and arguments among its practitioners over which element was more definitive of the genre. Under the influential editorship of John W. Campbell, in charge of the central magazine Astounding Science- Fiction from 1937–1973, a technocratic version of hard sf dominated the field mid-twentieth century, shaping long-term perceptions of the genre when the early years of Campbell’s editorship subsequently became canonized as the Golden Age. Campbell’s strong interventions and rigid views were undeniably a key force in shaping the emergence of American sf, but whether his influence established a Golden Age or was the “worst disaster ever to hit” the field remains a matter of debate.8 In the 1960s and 1970s, a group of artists calling themselves the New Wave, thereby aligning themselves with the contemporary French Nouvelle Vague film movement and surrealism more generally, made efforts to push the genre toward similarly new aesthetics and themes, prompting another conservative reaction within the field—and so on. Science fiction is continually invented and reinvented, at times leaning more strongly on its connections to scientific extrapolation, at others emphasizing its literary qualities and formal capacity to challenge how we see the social world.
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From its very beginnings, sf has included both science-focused extrapolations and politically engaged visions of the future.
Grasping what science fiction is, then, requires understanding that this tension between scientific extrapolation and social change lies at its heart. It adopts a range of aesthetic styles and thematic preoccupations as it explores how the world might be otherwise. My use of the acronym sf is not merely shorthand but reflects my sense that texts circulating under either label—science fiction or speculative fiction—are closely related. Indeed, the meaning of the term “speculative” as involving contemplation or conjecture aptly captures the approach to science and technology adopted by science fiction. In academic study, definitions based in utopian studies have been influential, if also challenged. Most recognizable is Darko Suvin’s contention that science fiction is “the literature of cognitive estrangement,”9 developed in dialogue with works of cultural critique by Bertolt Brecht and Ernest Bloch. All are interested in the power of art to jar us out of commonplace associations or perceptions, to see the quotidian world not in all its self-evident naturalness but as one contingent possibility among many, the product of historical choice. Suvin argues that the best sf aligns with a transformative project of social critique and suggests that the cognitive dimension of sf’s estrangement, which he correlates with science, ensures that its imaginative visions remain tethered to a practical possibility in the material world. For him, sf is thus politically enabling and oriented toward real-world change, in contrast
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to works of fantasy, which he dismisses as mystifications. Although this rigid genre purification has been rejected in recent criticism—and indeed, never empirically described the bulk of sf in any case—the idea that the genre is about change persists. Suvin’s ideal that sf would necessarily embody the perspective of those socially excluded from dominant culture, however, has been thoroughly debunked.10 Another influential academic conceptualization of sf comes from Fredric Jameson, who is equally interested in the genre’s capacity to offer concrete images of different, ideally better worlds. For him sf’s critical contribution is that it reframes the temporal experience of our contemporary moment, recasting the “present” as the “past” from the point of view of a text about the world to come. The genre’s function is not to predict the future, as people sometimes imagine and as popular journalism often implies, but rather “to defamiliarize and restructure our experience of our own present.”11 For Jameson, what sf figurations of the future demonstrate is the atrophied state of our utopian imagination, the difficulty—perhaps impossibility—of envisioning the radically other, which, paradoxically, reignites this capacity by forcing us to confront our failures and thus “becom[e] unexpectedly transformed into a contemplation of our own absolute limits.”12 Like Suvin, Jameson understands the capacity of sf to push us toward utopian insights that seek to correct the problems of the present world.
Seeing what we take for granted—the “alien” perspective that puts things in a new light—is central to sf’s rhetorical capacity. Although an empirical survey of the genre belies the hope that it inevitably gives voice to the marginalized, sf of any political persuasion emerges from this idea of change. This penchant is easily apprehended if we consider the proliferation of sf imagery as the lines between sf and other kinds of fiction blur. For example, a film such as The Matrix (1999), hugely influential upon its release, is easily categorized as sf, with its dystopian world of machines harvesting humans for their chemical energy while we remain obliviously trapped in a simulated matrix. Fast forward to the release of the BBC’s Black Mirror (2011–) just over a decade later, which offers similar narratives about mediated worlds, AI, and surveillance technologies, and this blurring of digital and material identities now appears as a reflection of almost-everyday existence, just slightly askew from the real world. Taking this comparison one step further, we might consider the US Air Force’s early 2010s advertising campaign under the slogan “It’s Not Science Fiction; It’s What We Do Every Day,” an update of earlier slogans that emphasized action and adventure: “Do Something Amazing” and “We Do the Impossible.” This use of “science fiction” suggests that the Air Force is already living in the future due to its cutting- edge technology. The last example sees sf evoked less as futuristic fiction and more as aspirational blueprint.
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The contrast between Black Mirror’s dystopian warnings about digitally mediated futures and the Air Force’s celebration of a similar technology reminds us that sf is equally about frightening nightmares and wondrous dreams. If on the one hand its images inspire us to achieve more, to transcend material limits (a frequent motif), then on the other it warns us of potential consequences that come with social change—that new technologies disrupt as much as they improve. Jameson’s notion that sf positions us to think critically about the future we are making is relevant equally to scientific and cultural change. Aligning sf with discourses of economic profit and enhanced consumer products, advertisers embrace sf imagery to make their products seem to usher in the world promised by technophilic stories. This is beautifully captured, for example, by Megan Prelinger’s Another Science Fiction (2010), a photo anthology of futuristic advertising imagery from the mid-twentieth century.13 At the same time, activists critical of the status quo draw equally on sf techniques to articulate visions of a new world. Celebrated traditions such as feminist sf, now honored annually by the James Tiptree Jr. Award,14 and Afrofuturism, a term used to describe sf works that envision futures rooted in African aesthetics and experience, are grounded on the belief that sf helps us see the given with new eyes, thereby to challenge systems of patriarchy, racism, and other injustice.15
As of this writing, science fiction is widely and diversely embraced by many communities of practice, often to significantly divergent ends and with correspondingly different aesthetic and formal strategies. Following the success of feminist and African American engagement with the genre, other marginalized groups have turned to sf as a vital mode of critique, including Indigenous sf, Latinx sf, and Asian diasporic sf. The past decade has seen a significant increase in sf works by writers of color, among them N. K. Jemisin, Rebecca Roanhorse, Junot Díaz, and Ted Chiang, to name just a few. Activists are also overtly embracing sf as a tool, emblematized by works such as Octavia’s Brood (2015), edited by adrienne maree brown and Walida Imarisha, a book of activist strategies and new fiction inspired by sf author Octavia E. Butler; and by Shelley Streeby’s Imagining the Future of Climate Change, a book that highlights how environmental activists draw on sf imaginary.16 The Civic Imagination Project, founded by fan studies scholar Henry Jenkins, charts how people draw on sf texts in their work to articulate collective visions and practices for a better world.17 A recent collection of new fiction, Resist: Tales from a Future Worth Fighting Against (2018), was published as a fundraising effort, with all proceeds going to the ACLU. Science fiction is also increasing becoming—in many cases, becoming recognized as—a global genre. Attempting to comprehensively map what sf is or is not, Andrew
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Milner draws on world systems theory to argue that sf emerged from a cultural dialectic between Enlightenment and Romanticism, and thus appeared first in European countries as they industrialized.18 Setting aside Milner’s larger arguments about innovation and influence, I want to focus on this relationship between a cultural turn toward sf and the intensification of technological innovation. Into the twenty-first century, as more and more of the world becomes industrialized, urbanized, and especially linked into global networks of information and capital, we see speculative fiction emerge in new locations. The global embrace of sf, which includes the emergence of sf traditions in China, the Middle East, Latin America, Korea, India, and beyond, is among the most exciting ways the field is changing. Numerous websites are devoted to tracking and cultivating these developments, and the Apex Book Company (founded in 2004), a publisher focused on speculative texts, is now on the fifth volume of its World SF series, which translates stories from around the world into English.19 Joining Apex, Rosarium Publishing (founded in 2013) is dedicated to promoting a multicultural tradition in sf, while the online sf magazine The Future Fire, launched in 2005, focuses on social and political themes. As well as establishing a correlation between the widespread proliferation of technology and the appeal of sf, this burgeoning of world sf tells us something about traditional gatekeeping functions in the history of Anglo sf. Influential editors
such as Campbell imposed restrictions on the genre as it developed, encouraging some voices and perspectives, while attenuating those of others. Often these were voices of women and people of color.20 Previously the control of editors or other industry gatekeepers was a barrier to participation in the field, but in an era of digital publishing options and on-demand printing, diverse communities can establish their own venues for distribution. Had the genre always embraced such pluralistic voices, we might have a very different set of images that spring to mind when we hear the term science fiction. The increased prominence of these new voices suggests that sf into the twenty-first century will be a very different thing from sf of the past. The transformation of daily life by technology has intensified in the West as well, marked by the increased convergence of sf and other literatures and by the dominance of sf scenarios in other media, especially video games. Moreover, sf techniques are increasingly embraced as a tool in industry, with terms such as “sf prototyping” and “design fiction” being adopted by technology companies to describe the importance of imagination and play in the development of new products. Universities have begun to offer programs in “innovation studies,” which, while not strictly sf, clearly draw upon its strategies and aesthetics. I agree with Roger Luckhurst who argues that sf as an identifiable form appeared in the mid-to late nineteenth century, just as the pace of technological change visibly
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disrupted social norms within a lifetime.21 The pace of change has only accelerated since then, and the more we expect the future to differ from the present, the more sf becomes a dominant cultural form. For example, institutions such as Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination position themselves to speak equally to industry and to artistic communities, often commissioning new fiction to further conversations about technological change.22 In this book, I will map out the current critical discussion regarding science fiction, especially as the genre intersects with areas of current research in science and technology. My main goal is to demonstrate that sf is an extension of what science studies scholar Sheila Jasanoff calls the sociotechnical imaginary, which she defines as “collectively held, institutionally stabilized, and publicly performed visions of desirable futures, animated by shared understandings of forms of social life and social order attainable through, and supportive of, advances in science and technology.”23 She recognizes sf as one site of such visions, but I want to suggest that sf also does something more that is urgently needed—namely, it critically interrogates who is part of the collective creating these “shared understandings.” Social as well as technological change is at stake in sf, which helps us think through whether “advances in science and technology” are also always advances in civic and social life.
This book is neither a history nor a survey of sf, but a selective description of the genre as something like a toolkit for thinking through urgent issues in social life today. My examples will come predominantly from recent texts published in English: I want to highlight how and why sf is relevant to conversations at this moment, and I recognize that many other examples could be used. For those interested in a history of the genre and arguments about sf’s canon, excellent published histories are already in print as detailed in the further reading section. This short book can offer only illustrative examples of the concepts I outline here, not a full listing of every important text in the sf canon. Indeed, my hope is that readers build on this brief sketch, to fill in and augment my theorization of what sf can do by putting it in dialogue with a wider range of texts drawn from even more communities of practice. The chapters that follow look at sf’s dialogue with the utopian tradition, its relationship to colonialism, how sf has become the poster child for speculative design, how it has anticipated and responded to innovations in key contemporary industries of robotics and genomics, and how it illuminates two important social forces shaping our world, climate change and speculative finance. If we are living in a science fiction world, this book aims to help us articulate more precisely what that means and to prompt us to think about actively managing—rather than passively awaiting—this future.
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2 THE UTOPIAN TRADITION
At its core, science fiction is about imagining how the world might be otherwise, and this impulse toward change connects sf to utopian writing. Their similarity becomes clear when we consider how science and technology change daily life. Thomas More’s Utopia invented its fictional island’s culture as a foil to specific problems in contemporary England, including enclosures that dispossessed peasants of their land to make way for grazing sheep, a practice motivated by technological shifts in English manufacture that changed their main export from raw wool to woolen cloth. Thus, a shift in one area of life—the technological capacity to produce good cloth—had consequences that extend far beyond the cloth’s quality or the efficiency of its manufacture. Utopian writing works through such connections and consequences: it imagines an elsewhere that might result from different historical contingencies
and uses the contrast between its depictions and ordinary life to prompt readers to understand the material world as malleable. Utopian works articulate a need for change beyond differences caused by scientific development, of course, and key works in the canon are renowned for their political visions more than for their scientific extrapolations. Science fiction, similarly, encompasses works that imagine difference capaciously, not only new scientific paradigms or inventions, but also new ways of organizing daily life, of understanding social categories such as gender or race, and of organizing labor and the distribution of wealth. Thinking of this utopian mode, Suvin argues that sf texts, in contrast to realism, are “not only a reflecting of but also on reality.”1 More’s Utopia played on the double meaning of the Latinate word when pronounced in English: both u-topia, no place, but also eu-topia, good place. Critics debate whether specific titles, including More’s original, truly intend to represent ideal alternatives or if they function as satires of both the ordinary world and the authoritarian project of legislating a perfect society. There is much to admire about More’s Utopia: it is rationally organized, with no private property, little crime, great productivity, no capital punishment, and no irrational pursuit of wealth (gold is regarded with derision). Yet there are things about Utopia we may wish to question as well, such as its use of
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Utopian writing uses the contrast between its depictions and ordinary life to prompt readers to understand the material world as malleable.
slave labor or its marriage customs, which severely punish premarital sex and allow brides and grooms to review their proposed partner fully naked before committing to the contract. The first part of More’s work is written as a dialogue between a fictionalized More and Raphael Hythloday, a world traveler who regales the company with tales of diverse societies he has seen on his travels. Hythloday points out that all customs seem bizarre, even insane, to someone looking at them through the social norms of a different culture, a version of “seeing through alien eyes” that will become one of the central tools in sf’s repertoire. More’s work is joined by numerous other voyages to strange new worlds, including some that imagine travel to the moon or beyond such as Kepler’s Somnium, Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone (1638), and Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde trilogy that imagined life on the moon (1657), the sun (1662) and the stars (this last volume has been lost).2 Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666) is noteworthy for its demonstration of contemporary women’s interest in science. Describing another world (the sky has different stars) that can be accessed via the North Pole, this adventure narrative tells of a young woman who becomes a leader after traveling to this world and eventually organizes an expedition back to conquer her original world. Like many seventeenth- century works, The Blazing World engaged with the new philosophical ideas and new scales of perception then
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emerging in European culture, alongside innovative methods of research that gave rise to the Scientific Revolution.3 It was originally printed with Cavendish’s Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, a critique of the mechanist view of nature central to the work of her contemporaries Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, among others.4 As this tradition of narrating tales to different worlds took hold, the Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific institution, was granted a charter in 1660. We thus see the modern, scientific worldview emerging alongside a tradition of writing that would become sf. Francis Bacon’s utopian work, New Atlantis (1627), which portrays an idealized vision of human futures based on scientific discovery and technocratic governance, envisioned a research collective, Solomon’s House, that we might take as a model for the Royal Society itself. In these early utopian worlds, innovations in science and technology go hand- in-hand with better governance and economic prosperity. Following the Industrial Revolution, when the pace of technological change reached a new peak, we see another flourishing of utopian works. This later tradition was concerned with ameliorating the social ills that came with technological progress that was wedded to capitalism and thus unchecked by concern for the lives of workers crowded into urban slums, injured by a lack of safety standards, and suffering the health consequences of polluting industries. Socialist utopias, such as Edward Bellamy’s
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Looking Backward: 2000–1887 and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890), imagined futures premised on economic revolutions, rooted in collective ownership and a balance between material gains and human happiness. These socialist utopias introduced a more important innovation to the form. Their travelers explored ideal societies distanced from the reader’s home not by geography but by time. In each, the protagonist falls asleep to awaken in a world transformed. This form prompts its readers to envision even more insistently the path from their world to the new one, a transformation within reach were they to adopt the values admired by the fiction. The nineteenth century also continued the tradition of geographically displaced utopias, building on an eighteenth-century tradition of satire (Samuel Butler’s Erewhon ), taking up recent scientific ideas (Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race ), or questioning conventional gender roles (Mary E. Bradley Lane’s Mizora ). Into the twentieth century, writers combined social satire with visions of how the world could be transformed, often engaging with the philosophical implications of science. Such texts were later categorized as part of the distinct genre named by Gernsback in the 1920s. H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) combines evolutionary projection with a harsh critique of class division, newly imagining technology (rather than sleep) as a way for his protagonist to experience the future not merely one hundred
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years hence, but hundreds of thousands of years later. Perhaps the best-known feminist utopia, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915) is both a vision of a world where women are not constrained by patriarchy and an argument against contemporary medical science premised on the inherent weakness and fragility of women.5 The explosion of feminist science fiction in the 1970s, in dialogue with the second-wave feminist movement, would continue to imagine women-only societies or gender-segregated societies, sometimes as utopian spaces of women’s freedom, other times as dystopian intensifications of existing, irrational gender segregation that feminists critiqued. The term dystopia to describe worlds worse than the existing one began to be used in the mid-twentieth century for narratives that enacted social critique by intensifying to their logical ends the most damaging tendencies of the contemporary world. In H. G. Wells’s The Sleeper Awakes (1910), his sleeper awakens not to the utopias of previous texts, but to a future that has squandered the promise of the socialist dream and established an oppressive plutocracy instead.6 Some of the best-known and still influential works of sf come from this tradition, including Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921), a satire of totalitarianism, is less famous but equally powerful and was a direct influence on Orwell. These foundational dystopian works draw
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attention to the role that technology plays in totalitarian societies, from the omnipresent surveillance in Zamyatin’s and Orwell’s works, to the manipulation of embryos to produce distinct castes of workers in Huxley’s. The dystopian tradition outpaces the utopian one into the twenty-first century, a fact sometimes lamented. The disproportion is intensified because sf texts are much more widely embraced now than they were in the earlier periods, especially in film and videogame adaptations that gain a large following. With the recent resurgence of extreme right politics, midcentury works critiquing totalitarianism such as Nineteen Eighty-Four are newly popular, while film series such as The Hunger Games (2012–2015), based on young adult (YA) novels, are massive, international hits. One of the most interesting things about dystopian fiction today is its dominant position in the YA fiction market. Many of the most popular among such texts are speculative, and they generally depict dystopian worlds: to name only a few, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind dystology (2007–2015), his preferred term for this series; Mira Grant’s Newsflash series (2010–2016); Paolo Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker series (2010–2017) and The Doubt Factory (2014); Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (2008) and Homeland (2013); Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy (2011–2013); not to mention those more widely known due to film adaptations, such as Divergent (2014–2016), The Maze Runner (2014–2018), and The Darkest Minds (2018).7
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Such YA works respond to the increasing sense of precariousness in a twenty-first century of intensified economic disparity, polarizing and often racist rhetoric, looming climate change, and uncertain prospects for employment. The embrace of dystopian fiction gives voice to a generation who will enter adulthood during a time of widespread pessimism about the future, although these texts do not necessarily capitulate to this view. Many of them express concerns about the ethics of science given a history in which science has at times been complicit with oppressive political forces: eugenics that authorized sterilization without consent; racist science that attempted to rationalize slavery and experimented on captive African American populations; medical science’s compromised intersection with insurance and pharmaceutical industries; and a history of military and surveillance technologies. Such texts depict a future in which the old prey upon the young, seeking to extract or otherwise exploit young people’s vitality, or they are set in a future police state of heightened ethnic and economic segregation, enabled by more invasive surveillance tools. The waning of the utopian imagination through the mid-to late twentieth century is linked to a similar sense that social conditions have steadily become worse rather than better (the trajectory of most early sf). The disappointment as communist revolutions turned into totalitarian states, the reassessment of imperial achievements
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in light of colonial independence movements and other anti-racist activism, and the horror that the promises of scientific advance resulted in the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation and massive environmental damage led many to conclude that utopianism was hopelessly naïve at best, complicit at worst.8 The turn toward pessimistic visions is perhaps best embodied by nuclear war apocalypse stories that quickly followed in the wake of the atomic bomb. Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957), depicting the last days of the final humans in Australia, is the best known among them due to the popular film adaptation in 1959. It was joined by several other texts that unflinchingly concluded that humanity risked extinction, including Mordecai Roshwald’s Level 7 (1959), about the inevitable failure of an underground facility intended to help the elite wait out radiation; Helen Clarkson’s unjustly neglected The Last Day (1959), which gave disturbingly accurate descriptions of the stages of death by radiation; and Judith Merril’s Shadow on the Hearth (1950), a novel that views the war from a domestic rather than a military point of view.9 The relative absence of straightforwardly utopian works from midcentury on can be explained by this widely shared view that the twentieth century was an ongoing disaster. Many writers and thinkers turned against the ideal of utopia altogether, offering visions dubbed “anti- utopia”—that is, works that are intended to satirize either
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a specific vision of utopia or the entire project of utopianism altogether. Tom Moylan, a key theorist of the intersection of utopianism with sf, argues that in the wake of such critiques a new kind of “critical utopia” emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Critical utopias respond to this pessimism by creating more dialectical visions, worlds that demonstrate their “awareness of the limitations of the utopian tradition” but at the same time remain committed to the ideal of a better world, to utopia as a desire or dream.10 Moylan names as “critical utopias” works such as Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (1975), a countercultural vision of sustainable lifeways; Joanna Russ’s masterful The Female Man (1975), a complex exploration of the consequences of gender ideology on female subjectivity, which follows four iterations of the “same” woman as she develops on parallel worlds with distinct gender rules; Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974), subtitled “An Ambiguous Utopia,” which contrasts two worlds, one mainly capitalist, the other anarchist, to consider what each offers the individual in terms of freedom and stability; and Samuel R. Delany’s Trouble on Triton (1976), responding to Le Guin with the subtitle “An Ambiguous Heterotopia,” which focuses on an individual who is made unhappy by the putatively utopian freedom to occupy fluid gender identities given his subjective investment in essentialized gender identity. As this brief survey indicates, such works foreground the difficulties of achieving utopia and put pressure on
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the singularity of the ideal that characterized earlier iterations of the form. Moylan uses the term “critical” in the way that cultural theorists use it when referring to critical theory, that is, as engaged in critique, not simply the negation like the anti-utopia. He also differentiates between a notion of “utopia as blueprint,”11 the fully worked-out plan so tediously on display in many nineteenth-century utopias, and what Jameson would come to call utopia as desire or impulse in his foundational essays, collected in Archaeologies of the Future (2007).12 These works acknowledge that utopia is never finished, that any configuration of the world will always continue to include difference rather than conform to some idealized rule, and thus any true utopia will be dynamic, open to continual change. This mode of thinking about utopianism is also connected to Ernest Bloch’s The Principle of Hope (3 vols, 1954–1959), which was a formative influence on Suvin’s definition of sf. Much of the scholarship on sf explores this connection to utopianism, and new works such as Eric Smith’s Globalization, Utopia and Postcolonial Science Fiction (2012) and Philip Wegner’s Shockwaves of Possibility (2014) continue to argue that this relationship is constitutive, albeit using different criteria than did Suvin.13 Responding to Moylan’s idea of the critical utopian, Lyman Tower Sargent argued for the category of the “critical dystopia.” He observes that dystopian texts do not simply voice a lack of hope for the future, but instead
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work to warn us against these frightening futures. Dystopia, as a warning that things can get worse, contains the seeds of believing that with better choices we might avoid these nightmares.14 Both utopia and this kind of critical dystopia—as differentiated from anti-utopianism, which is anti-change—emerge from the belief that affective response to images of the future helps to bring specific futures into being. Many recent dystopias, especially those directed to a YA audience, demonstrate this quality, enabling us to understand the prevalence of this mode less as a sign of despair about the future and more as a spur for young people to shape their futures toward something other than an intensification of present trajectories. The frameworks of critical utopia or dystopia foreground works that ask questions instead of providing answers, often exploring multiple configurations of social worlds. They often avoid politics of perfection or purity, recognizing the complexity and difficulty of fostering heterogeneous communities. In foregrounding questions of complicity and compromise, negotiation and struggle, such works engage their readers in projects of critical thinking and choice rather than try to win these readers as recruits to any particular vision of the future. Dialectical works within the utopian tradition are often connected to social movements that have found sf a potent tool for change, such as feminism, queer activism, and anti-racist struggles. Joanna Russ’s To Write Like a Woman (1995)
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Dystopia, as a warning that things can get worse, contains the seeds of believing that with better choices we might avoid these nightmares.
offers a trenchant critique of the sexism of much of the sf tradition alongside the reasons why she and many of her contemporaries embrace sf to articulate visions of women’s freedom from patriarchy.15 A tradition of African American sf existed long before it was categorized as Afrofuturism, and one of the most celebrated African American sf authors, Octavia Butler, is justly famous for works that interrogate the difficulty of achieving an inclusive and just community.16 In the work by musicians and performance artists such as Sun Ra, George Clinton, DJ Spooky, and Afrika Bambaattaa that was crucial to developing Afrofuturist sensibility, we often see utopian futures rooted in African cultural forms and values, brilliantly captured in John Akomfrah’s short film, The Last Angel of History (1996), a mix of documentary interview and sf frame that explores a buried history of African technology. The impact of this film is among the reasons why a tradition of Black sf aesthetics continues in work by artists such as Janelle Monáe, Erykah Badu, and others. Beyond genre writing, those seeking to shape collective visions of the future often turn to sf imagery, another way to participate in utopianism. The rhetorical conflation of technological innovation with progress writ large emerged alongside genre sf. From this point of view, we can see things like the Crystal Palace, home to the 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, and the tradition of World’s Fairs as part of a larger sf
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cultural discourse. Combining displays of the wonders newly accomplished by science with public entertainment, such fairs emblematized the sense of wonder about technology also conveyed by especially pulp sf. The 1939 New York World’s Fair, The World of Tomorrow, was premised on this intimate relationship between sf speculation and a wondrous future and was chosen as the location for the first ever World Science Fiction Convention by a fledgling—and largely still American—sf fandom.17 The Space Race of the 1960s was similarly strongly influenced by optimistic sf visions of spaceflight and future human residence in the stars. These, too, are utopian dimensions of sf, although decidedly less interested in the reflexive interrogation of “the good” that was taking hold in print sf. Today, the recent enthusiasm for manned missions to Mars and its eventual colonization exemplify how this spirit of technocratic sf utopianism remains alive and well—yet also deeply in dialogue with its dystopian shadow. Elon Musk’s ambitious SpaceX program, including the promise of commercial spaceflights, and the pronouncement by respected scientist Stephen Hawking that the human race “has no future” unless it goes to space, promiscuously mix science fact with science fiction, utopian promise with the hint of dystopian threat.18 In his science journalism book, The Future of Humanity (2018), Michio Kaku rhapsodizes about how our technological prowess will enable humans, unlike other species, to escape the
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inevitability of extinction by transcending the limits of our biology, our ecosystems, and our planet.19 Kaku writes with the urgent passion of pulp sf but presents his visions as unquestionably plausible, indeed, as necessary futures. His vision of transcendence will strike many as dystopian rather than promising, reminding us of the ambiguities and complexities of utopian thinking, that every model of a perfect future (for some) will be a nightmare of erasure for others. Damien Chazelle’s film First Man (2018), dramatizing the history that led to Neil Armstrong’s first moon walk, makes these stakes starkly clear when it features blues singer Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken-word performance “Whitey on the Moon”—an acerbic critique of the choice to fund spaceflight while African American communities remain impoverished—in its soundtrack.20 Both utopian and dystopian visions are an important part of the rhetorical toolkit that informs the range of ways that sf is taken up across utopian cultures.
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3 FUTUROLOGY AND SPECULATIVE DESIGN
Chapter 2 looks at sf’s relationship to a long tradition of imagining other worlds for purposes of social critique and at academic frameworks for studying sf that have built on this foundation. In the popular imagination, however, sf is synonymous with the pulp magazine tradition pioneered by Hugo Gernsback. The Hugo Awards that honor the best sf achievements annually, voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Society, a global fan organization, are named for him. Yet before he gained fame as the chief promoter of this new literary genre, Gernsback was enthusiastically involved in a number of projects that aimed to usher in the technologized future as quickly as possible, publishing essays in venues such as Scientific American, Modern Electrics, and The Electrical Experimenter, the latter two of which he founded and edited, in 1908 and 1913, respectively. In The Perversity of Things (2016),
a compendium of Gernsback’s writings on emergent new technologies, tinkering and patent seeking, broadcast regulation, and the promises of wireless radio and television, Grant Wythoff argues that “the project of science fiction as Gernsback understood it” was an extension of his promotion of communication technologies, pioneering “a way of thinking about and interacting with emerging media.”1 Reframed in this way, we can chart a different history of sf through the twentieth century, one less interested in science fiction as a new aesthetic mode that might prompt us to see our social world differently and more focused on how the strange devices or scenarios sf describes may soon be part of material existence. To be clear, I am not suggesting that either framing is “better” or “truer” for describing the genre; rather I seek to foreground this tension between an emphasis on “science” and an emphasis on “fiction” as central to shaping the range of texts recognized as sf today. Beginning with Gernback’s interest in fiction as a tool to promote the understanding and embrace of the new possibilities afforded by a changing media landscape, this chapter traces another genealogy of sf that connects the genre to social practices such as futurology. As Wythoff suggests, Gernsback’s enthusiasm for then-emergent technologies of radio and television and his desire to think about their world-transforming effects in both fictional and practical ways is familiar to twenty- first-century readers who have lived through a similarly
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transformative period in the development of the Internet and other social media technologies. Magazines such as Omni, Wired and even Popular Mechanics mix articles on new scientific breakthroughs with editorial pieces considering their economic or political implications and with reviews of sf fiction and film. They also frequently publish new fiction as well. The sf titles most likely to make a “top 10” list in a magazine such as Popular Mechanics are often very different from those awarded Hugos and different again from those receiving accolades in more literary venues such as Locus or Strange Horizons, reflecting the multiple ideals of sf and the related communities of practice that constitute the genre. In addition to Gernsback’s interests in emerging media technology, the first generation of sf fans overlapped significantly with those involved in rocketry clubs, who experimented with rocket launches and used fiction to imagine a coming future of interplanetary travel.2 This mix of visionary narrative with practical tinkering exemplified Gernsback’s own contributions to radio and sf, and would be echoed later in the century with the first generation of personal computers and an equally enthusiastic generation of hands-on experimenters who embraced both this new technology and stories inspired by it. Acknowledging that imaginative speculations have their place in scientific histories and in discussions regarding policy making, the preeminent science journal Nature
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began to publish short original works of sf in 1999, initially as a project to reflect on the turn of the millennium, but adopted as a regular feature, Nature’s “Futures,” beginning in 2005; more recently, it started the Future Conditional blog to allow commentary on the stories and the science behind them. The online cultural commentary magazine Slate has recently partnered with ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination to offer Future Tense, which publishes original fiction focused on the transformative effects of emergent technologies; each new work of fiction is published alongside a response by someone involved in related research and industry. To list just one more example among many, MIT Press, the university press affiliated with America’s first academic institution specializing in science and technology, has since 2013 published the Twelve Tomorrows anthologies, curating original fiction focused on the potential impacts of near- future technologies. These various projects continue what Gernsback began in founding both popular science and sf magazines, and especially with his editorial work and letters forums that created a space of community and exchange among his readers. In the one hundred plus years since, the cultural status of technology and especially the degree to which most people rely on its infrastructure and devices in daily life has changed dramatically, propelled mainly by information technologies and globalized trade. Conversations
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about self-driving cars or cashless futures, about AI assistants or GMO foods, are not subjects that concern only a small group, presciently focused on engineering and industry, conditions that characterized the world Gernsback addressed. Rather, such topics are mainstream concerns, as is the future, whether anticipated with fervor by aspiring Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or regarded with dread by the truck driver anticipating the loss of work due to driverless vehicles. While Gernsback had to stage his conversations in the letters pages of ephemeral pulp magazines, the venues for such conversations today are well-funded and mainstream, enabled by the very technological transformations only fleetingly glimpsed by Gernsback and his contemporaries. From the beginning of the information age in the 1980s, and intensifying with social media technologies into the twenty-first century, interest in near- future technologies has become a mainstream obsession, and sf is at the center of this imaginative—and social— transformation. The genre’s role is emblematized by websites such as io9, subtitled “We Come from the Future,” which is one part sf media reviews, one part emergent technology watch, and one part reflections on intersections of science and politics. This and similar venues are where a new generation of sf is being invented. Today sf is unquestionably a multimedia affair, and all of film, television, comic books, and digital games are discussed with the same attention paid to print. Many
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contemporary conversations are cultivated by institutions, such as programs in innovation studies established over the last decade at several universities. Many of them explicitly frame their work in ways clearly linked to science fictionality, such as ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination or the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford. While many of these research initiatives would not wish to embrace the label “science fiction,” their focus on thinking imaginatively about technology, their emphasis on the future, especially the near future, and their interest in how daily life will be changed by new inventions or new scientific paradigms are all preoccupations shared by sf. True, those working in innovation studies hold themselves to a more rigorous standard regarding the plausibility of their extrapolations and the scope and provenance of the data they use, but like sf authors they seek to understand the entangled set of outcomes that will flow from a postulated technological change. There are differences, too, of course: innovation studies often prioritizes economic and infrastructure change, trying to anticipate how innovations will disrupt business- as-usual and to advise corporations—and sometimes governments—on how to prepare for these transformations and thus ensure profitability; sf, on the other hand, tends to be more interested in how an innovation will change individual humans and their communities, which may, of
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course, include changes to the availability of work. To give just one concrete example, connections between innovation studies and sf traditions are evident when looking at the table of contents of the International Journal of Innovation Studies. At the time of this writing, the most recently uploaded paper is about additive manufacture, that is, 3D printing in which the object is built layer by layer from “printed” material deposited. Like many sf stories, this article looks to a future when such techniques can be used to print living tissue, as it considers market opportunities related to such technologies.3 If we turn to sf, we might think first of Star Trek’s replicator or later the matter compiler in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age (1995), texts imagining how social organization might be different if needed items can be printed on demand. In both cases, ending the suffering caused by economics of scarcity is key, showing how sf’s orientation remains distinct from that of innovation studies. If we want to look at sf works published when 3D printing was a material possibility rather than an imagined fantasy, we might turn to William Gibson’s The Peripheral (2014) or Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora (2015): in the former, 3D printing is used to make drugs, pharmaceutical and illegal, with implications for health-care access and law enforcement; in the latter, it is one of the strategies that makes intergenerational space travel achievable, as one need not anticipate in advance every needed item. Here
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the existence of 3D printing is not the novelty that makes this world different from our own, as in the earlier examples, but nonetheless we see sf authors thinking more capaciously about the changes such technology could entail. Science fictional thinking fosters disruption and welcomes the openness of a different future; innovation studies is often interested in minimizing change, or at the very least it seeks to channel innovation to ensure power dynamics already at play persist. Two important observations emerge from this comparison. The first is the degree to which narrative and the imagination are recognized as important tools for negotiating a contemporary world characterized by rapid change and a pervasive reliance on technology. The second is that there is a relationship between science fiction and science, albeit not the simple fantasy that science fiction inspired specific inventions such as television or communication satellites or robotic labor or even the Internet, all of which have precursors in sf that predate their material emergence. Instead, as Colin Milburn argues in “Modifiable Futures,” we might think of how scientists engage sf as analogous to fan practices of making their own meanings, often their own texts and art, in dialogue with the sf they love.4 He argues scientists similarly draw from sf in three ways: blueprints, which seek to materialize something imagined in the fiction; supplements, that use alternative technologies to accomplish an end achieved by fictional
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There is a relationship between science fiction and science, albeit not the simple fantasy that science fiction inspired specific inventions.
science; and speculations, where the fiction inspires future research. The interest in fostering dialogue between sf creators and scientists in venues such as Nature’s “Futures” or “Future Tense” acknowledges that the imagination has played a larger role than has been previously acknowledged, both in fostering scientific innovation and in helping scientists think about their research beyond the laboratory. This is also where science and the larger public meet, when innovations become part of a complex world in which, to use Gibson’s evocative phrase from a story first published in Omni magazine, “the street finds its own uses for things.”5 Indeed, Sheila Jasanoff’s notion of sociotechnical imaginaries cited in the introduction comes from her conviction that science and technologies studies scholars have paid insufficient attention to the role of the imagination in shaping both the history of scientific practice and how the public has understood and responded to science. Recognizing that “imagination is a social practice,”6 she cites sf as a rich source of sociotechnical imaginaries that have coproduced, with scientists, the specific policies, technologies, and lifeways of modern life. Her aim is “to investigate how, through the imaginative work of varied social actors, science and technology become enmeshed in performing and producing diverse visions of the collective good, at expanding scales of governance from communities to nation-states to the planet.”7 A number
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of scholars working at the intersections of science and popular culture focus on such exchanges between sf and research cultures, often emphasizing how fictional texts become a shorthand, drawn upon by both journalists and scientists, as they seek to connect the feelings people have about a fictional text to a research agenda—the dream of glorious futures cultivated by the Space Race, or fear of monstrous creations associated with cloning and GMO foods. Examining the history of nanotech research, Milburn theorizes a specific way of conceptualizing what he dubs “nanovision” that relies on speculative language and futuristic rhetoric to constitute its field of study.8 From a slightly different point of view, David Kirby argues that science advisors to sf film often engage in what he calls “diegetic prototyping,” a chance to be more playful and speculative as they imagine the material form of a possible technology.9 In both Milburn’s and Kirby’s analyses, the exchanges between science and sf are dialectical. The sf extrapolates from known science and technology to imagine even more powerful versions in the future, while the narrative world of sf introduces the public to a vision of cutting-edge technology that has become normalized, just part of everyday life in such futures. Fiction can induce belief in and excitement about specific possibilities, often an important element for securing material support for the research in the first place or for ensuring consumer desire for new
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products when they appear.10 Perhaps the most famous example of this is the original advertisement for Apple’s Macintosh computer, aired during the Super Bowl on January 22, 1984. Directed by Ridley Scott, renowned in the sf world for his influential Blade Runner (1982), the commercial alludes to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in a single minute of narrative to establish a contrast in the popular imagination between IBM (linked to corporate overlords, inflexibility, and conventionality) versus Apple (associated with youthful energy, creativity, and freedom of choice)—characterizations that persist thirty-five years later.11 A less dramatic, but frequently discussed example is the gestural interface used to manage multiple screens of data in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002). Not only did it anticipate—perhaps inform—a coming world of smart phones and smart homes, but it also became a standard way to display data in high-tech worlds both in and beyond sf.12 From midcentury on, with sensationalizing books such as Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970) and with strategy planning initiatives, such as that of the RAND Corporation (founded in 1948), oriented toward an increasingly globalized world following the Second World War, governments, corporations, and individuals have conceptualized the world in terms of rapid change driven by technology and a need for futuristic thinking to be prepared for such change. About the same time the discipline of futurology
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or future studies began to have some institutional purchase, often drawing on the speculations and commentary of sf writers. Futurologists and think tanks took on questions of environmental or population change—such as the widely discussed Club of Rome report Limits to Growth (1972)— and contemporary sf asked similar questions. The practice of corporate foresight is based on methodologies that could as easily describe the practice of extrapolating to write a science fiction story: conducting research to anticipate change; using scenario analysis to map out and compare a range of possible futures and the factors that influence which materializes; and prototyping, more recently specifically “science-fiction prototyping” (a term proposed by Brian David Johnson), which uses narrative to think through the possibilities and risks of the new design.13 This builds on a history of sf authors being invited to participate in think tanks and government advisory panels, mostly notoriously President Reagan’s Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy, which gave us the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars) and a pro-nuclear proliferation argument dubbed Mutually Assured Survival (1984), in fixed counterpoint to the prevalent nuclear disarmament slogan “mutually assured destruction.”14 As in exchanges between science and science fiction, practitioners in fields such as future studies desire to designate their use of narrative extrapolation as more serious or rigorous than that done by sf. Certainly, they address
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their work to different audiences and with significantly divergent stakes attached to their interventions; nonetheless, serious commitment to extrapolating the future of technology and thereby building a better world has always been a part of sf writers and communities. The increased institutional legitimacy of these new rubrics is what is most novel. Some sf writers, most prominently David Brin and Bruce Sterling, have become known as much for their nonfiction commentary on the future as for their fiction, while many newer writers in the field, such as Annalee Newitz and Anne Charnock, turned to fiction after establishing themselves as science journalists and commentators. In such circles, narrative is just one of many discourses through which to grapple with the intersections of science, technology, human values, and our coming future. A similar blurring of lines among fictional extrapolation, sociotechnical forecasting, and the persuasive power of narrative is evident in a number of recent television programs that are hybrids between sf drama and documentary, produced by specialty channels associated with education content: Futurescape (Science Channel 2013), Mars (National Geographic 2016, 2018), and Breakthrough (National Geographic 2015, 2017). A similar set of conversations about imagination, technology, narrative, and the future constellates around the term “design fiction,” proposed by Julian Bleeker. Design is a creative practice, Bleeker argues, that can “[r]eveal new
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experiences, new social practices, or . . . reflect upon today to contemplate innovative, new, habitable futures.”15 He argues for the design practice exemplified by these television series: stories somewhere between fact and fiction, both plausible and speculative. Bleeker contends that science fact and science fiction are “two approaches to accomplishing the same goal—two ways of materializing ideas and the imagination” and calls for a practice of “speculative design” that, like Johnson’s sf prototyping, creates contexts for conversation and further contemplation.16 What is distinctive about Bleeker’s vision is his emphasis on making physical objects, on the tactility of design, which for him is as important as narrative for pushing ideas from abstract concept to real-world use. In Speculative Everything (2013), Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby take this idea even further, arguing that speculation is a way to reinvent the practice of design, pushing it from techniques used to improve the functionality and consumer appeal of products, toward “design as a catalyst for social dreaming.”17 In their preface, they offer an “A list” of qualities of design as conventionally practiced and a “B list” of what it might become, conceived speculatively. Among the difference they chart are designs “in the service of industry” (A list) vs. “in the service of society” (B list); design “for how the world is” (A) vs. “how the world could be” (B); design that addresses the individual “as consumer” to make us buy (A) vs. design that
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conceives of the “citizen” and makes us think (B). Dunne and Raby put science fiction on the A side, perhaps thinking of the ways that some sf has championed technocratic views or how futurology’s use of sf techniques seeks to reinforce the political and economic status quo. On their B side they list “social fiction,” a term they do not define. As I argue above, many works of science fiction are consistent with Raby and Dunne’s speculative design project, aimed at disrupting the power structures of the given world to make way for a better one. Indeed, as one reads further into their book, the language they use echoes the language of Blochian utopian studies: for example, they write, “By acting on peoples’ imaginations rather than the material world, critical design aims to challenge how people think about everyday life. In doing this, it strives to keep alive other possibilities by providing a counterpoint to the world around us and encouraging us to see that everyday life could be different.”18 This might also be a description of the utopian tradition in sf discussed in chapter 2. The key motif that persists across these various futuristic speculative discourses—science fiction, speculative design, foresight, advertising, utopianism, activism—is the relationship between present choices and future worlds. All are premised on the belief that the choices we make now shape the world to come. More importantly,
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however, they insist on the crucial importance of the imagination to the activity of choosing, in a doubled and dialectical way. Visions of possible futures, positive and negative, promote affective attachments, inform ways of seeing, and marshal attention and energy to projects, nurturing them into materiality or resisting their arrival. The struggle to shape the future is not only material: it is equally affective and imaginative, and sf modes of extrapolation and narrative immersion are powerful tools in this endeavor. Speculative projections through sf narrative prepare us for the future, enabling us to experience aspects of new technologies or new social arrangements vicariously in narrative so that we are ready to engage with them in practice. The particular content of these futures and the destinations they have in mind vary; some deploy science fictionality to reinforce the status quo and ensure that the same elites, corporations, and industries remain profitable despite change, while others use speculation to show us how seemingly immovable fixtures of the given world are open to redesign. This promiscuous mingling of science fact and science fiction has intensified into the twenty-first century, as both science practitioners and science studies scholars recognize the importance of imagination and narrative. Especially since the emergence of social media, daily life has started to resemble worlds anticipated by the sf of an
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The struggle to shape the future is not only material: it is equally affective and imaginative, and sf modes of extrapolation and narrative immersion are powerful tools.
earlier generation, reminding us that those who built the infrastructure of the networked world grew up in a culture with an established tradition of sf. Science fiction has moved from being a niche genre at the beginning of the twentieth century to a widely shared cultural vernacular for describing the twenty-first. In many ways, sf is no longer a specialized genre, but now the dominant way to analyze a world in which our technology changes faster than we do.
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4 THE COLONIAL IMAGINATION
The sf imagination takes its cue as much from social values and political structures as from changes in science and technology, a fact that is true in today’s world of design fiction and ubiquitous media technology as much as it was true for early sf that emerged from then-novel scientific ideas such as evolution and new technologies of mobility. When Gernsback sought recognition for sf as a separate genre in the 1920s, he did so by arguing that this style of writing and thinking already existed in the late-nineteenth-century work of H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne.1 Roger Luckhurst’s Science Fiction (2005) offers a compelling list of reasons why this period was ready for a new literary mode that would come to be called science fiction, which foregrounds the interplay of cultural context and literary form:
(1) the extension of literacy and primary education to the majority of the population of England and America, including the working classes; (2) the displacement of the older forms of mass literature, the ‘penny dreadful’ and the ‘dime novel’, with new cheap magazine formats that force formal innovation, and drive the invention of modern genre categories like detective or spy fiction as well as SF; (3) the arrival of scientific and technical institutions that provide a training for a lower-middle-class generation as scientific workers, teachers and engineers, and that comes to confront traditional loci of cultural authority; and, in a clearly related way, (4) the context of a culture being visibly transformed by technological and scientific innovations that, really for the first time, begin to saturate the everyday life experience of nearly all with Mechanism.2 Concomitant with these changes in daily life were new world views and ethical frameworks, hinted at in Luckhurst’s description of how new scientifically oriented populations challenged “traditional loci of cultural authority.” John Rieder draws attention to the pivotal role of imperialism, part of such cultural authority, in Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (2008).3 He adds a necessary fifth item to the conditions for sf’s emergence, namely European colonialism. For Rieder, the Copernican
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model of a heliocentric universe and the widespread cultural interest provoked by Galileo’s invention of the telescope marks a crucial shift for European cultures. Rieder acknowledges that early satires about journeys to other planets, such as those by Cyrano, do not exhibit the plausible scientific extrapolation that the Gernsback tradition would later define as central to sf. For Rieder, what is transformative “has far less to do with Copernicus’s taking the Earth out of the center of the solar system than with Cyrano’s taking his own culture out of the center of the human race.”4 He contends that this “disturbance of ethnocentrism, the achievement of a perspective from which one’s own culture is only one of a number of possible cultures” is an overlooked condition for sf’s emergence.5 He goes on to theorize that when sf coheres as a recognizable genre in the late nineteenth century, it remains deeply shaped by this cognitive shift, characterized by “the colonial gaze” that “distributes knowledge and power to the subject who looks, while denying or minimizing access to power for its object, the one looked at.”6 Rieder’s point is that colonialism, although only sometimes evident in the content or topic of sf—alien encounter, extraplanetary colonization—is always constitutive of its form, “a part of the genre’s texture, a persistent, important component of its displaced references to history, its engagement in ideological production, and its construction of the possible and the imaginable.”7
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This constitutive relationship between colonialism and sf creates both problems and opportunities. The disturbance of an ethnocentric attitude creates space for thinking about how daily life could be radically different, but it has often served as a warrant to institute hierarchies among cultures; for example, the disruption of Darwinian ideas was co-opted into social Darwinist alibis for slavery and other racialized exploitations. H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), the paradigmatic text of alien invasion, extrapolates from a contemporary tradition of future war stories to make this colonial foundation clear.8 Martians with superior technology invade, shocking the smug forces of British imperialism whose most advanced equipment is insignificant in the face of Martian weapons. The opening satirizes the complacent belief that British culture would always exceed any other it encounters: although humans “fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise” they are wholly unprepared to contemplate “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic” to human priorities.9 Detailing the violent consequences of the invasion for British people, Wells’s narrator calls upon readers to remember “what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought,” not only on animals now extinct but also on colonized populations: “The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war
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The constitutive relationship between colonialism and sf creates both problems and opportunities.
of extermination waged by European immigrants in the space of fifty years.”10 The phrase “human likeness,” of course, reinforces colonial hierarchies; even if we are inclined to read it in a more generous way, as a satire of the failure of colonial ideology to acknowledge what are self-evidently members of our own species, it emphasizes how close to the surface lies the allegory of aliens as colonized others. In the pulp tradition especially, many tales of space adventure take for granted the right of humans to explore and appropriate, as Star Trek so exhilaratingly put it, “the final frontier.”11 Take, for example, Stanley Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey” (1934), a celebrated story from the pulp era that was second only to “Nightfall” (1941) by Isaac Asimov in a poll of sf writers in 1970 nominating Hall of Fame stories.12 The story is beloved for its illustration of the power of scientific observation and extrapolation: an Earth space explorer on Mars, Jarvis, is separated from his companions. As he traverses the landscape he meets and develops a partnership with Tweel, a birdlike alien. Tweel and Jarvis encounter a variety of other creatures on Mars, who symbolize nonintelligent, animal-analogue beings; Tweel, in contrast, proves his “humanity” by being able to learn English, comprehend astronomical diagrams, and use tools. The story’s reliance on colonial hierarchies that recognize Indigenous peoples as fully human only if their cultures conform to criteria Western modernity deems civilized is
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clear. Moreover, in the conclusion Tweel and Jarvis fight with a different alien species, barrel-like creatures who can only repeat English phrases by rote and whose activity centers on a crystal object that has healing powers. The story’s denouement describes the exciting fight through which Jarvis and Tweel defeat their subhuman opponents, acknowledging only in the very last line—and in a joking tone—that the conflict was caused by Jarvis stealing this crystal. His unquestioned entitlement to it, as someone whose scientific knowledge will enable him to make better use of it, goes without saying. Much early sf reveals similar attitudes, the presumption that enhanced scientific achievement directly translates into worthier cultures and peoples. “First Contact” (1945) by Murray Leinster, another story nominated for this early Hall of Fame, creates the parameters for first contact sf: species meeting one another struggle to communicate across difference and the only reasonable hypothesis from which to proceed is that the other is an enemy and threat until proven otherwise. Leinster’s characters find a way to trust one another, but colonial history—in which contact between civilizations of starkly different technological capacity spells disaster for one of them—haunts the narrative. Gwyneth Jones satirizes this tendency in her brilliant Aleutian trilogy, which reinvents first contact as something more like the encounter between anthropologists and their subjects, a combination of
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misunderstanding due to the absence of a shared worldview and deliberate misdirection.13 Communication happens, but never straightforwardly or without consequence. Certainly, there are examples of sf that portray contact with other species as positive, but here too we see a colonialist logic of hierarchy: in influential stories such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953) or Douglas Wise’s classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), aliens are the benevolent imperial race, here to save humanity from our misguided impulses and help us achieve the level of their superior civilization. Even SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and especially the proactive version, Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), which sends signals into the cosmos rather than just listen for signs of alien life, has been touched by colonial thinking. In 2015, a group of researchers, including sf author David Brin and science innovator Elon Musk, signed a statement that sending such messages posed an unwarranted and poorly understood risk to Earth, and thus all such efforts should be halted until a global “scientific, political and humanitarian discussion” could determine the best course of action.14 Among their reasons for concern are the unknown intensions of alien cultures and the likelihood that their technology will be superior to ours, axiomatically a risk in the colonial gaze. Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem (Chinese 2008; English 2014), the first Chinese novel to win a Hugo Award,
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begins with a researcher who decides to answer an alien signal received from outer space, provoking the launch of an alien invading force; the next two books in this trilogy are devoted to the problem of how to resist this invasion, and how a displaced human culture survives when living on Earth is no longer viable.15 Thus, into the twenty-first century, the colonial “texture” of sf remains. Many writers within the field recognize and resist this tendency, of course, an orientation particularly apparent in New Wave sf of the 1960s and 1970s, which was strongly influenced by contemporary countercultural and independence movements. As well as pushing for more stylistically experimental sf that would refine the aesthetic qualities of the genre, New Wave writers also decried the irrelevance of works that simply reiterated technocratic fantasies associated with the Golden Age of sf. Writing about space travel and colonization, for example, was deemed passé in a world with an existing space program, simply reinforcing given ideology rather than opening up innovative thinking about the world and the future. In an influential editorial published in New Worlds, J. G. Ballard argues that “old-guard space opera” could no longer sustain a genre that aspired to be “the shop window of tomorrow.”16 He calls for the genre to move beyond conventions conceived in the 1930s, to find “fresh symbols and languages” through a focus on inner rather than outer space.17 Ballard and his contemporaries, especially Michael Moorcock, who took
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a lead role in transforming New Worlds magazine into a vanguard of the new sf that took its cues from contemporary experiments in the visual arts, turned away from “hard” sciences such as physics or engineering and toward psychology and anthropology. Not everyone embraced these changes, of course, and the emergence of the New Wave also inaugurated renewed debate about whether the value of sf was its rigorous engagement with contemporary science or its transgressive potential to reinvent the social world. Contemporary mainstream literature, especially the metafictional style of postmodernism, often addressed themes related to how science and its products—for example, new drugs and entertainment media—were transforming twentieth-century life. Writers such as William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, and Thomas Pynchon were claimed by readerships both within and beyond sf as the genre, too, became metafictional. Barry Malzberg’s Galaxies (1975) announces on its first page that “this will not be a novel so much as a series of notes toward one” and frequently rails against the narrowness of the imagination required for the technocratic style still championed by Campbell.18 The narrator aspires to “address the theme that the expansion of technology will only delimit consciousness, create greater feelings of alienation, impotence, hopelessness, and so on” but cannot do so in the
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language of pulp sf.19 The desire to ask questions about socially detrimental aspects of technology epitomizes New Wave themes, opening space to question the role of both technology and the sf imagination in colonial oppression. Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius series (1968–1977), for example, follows the adventures of an eponymous secret agent, who changes race and gender identity.20 A biting satire of both Golden Age adventure sf and of contemporary British politics during multiple independence struggles by former colonies—not to mention racial tension over increased immigration from these colonies—this series is set in places such as Vietnam and Burma, and uses the idea of entropy to depict the British Empire as a closed system losing energy and thus tending toward dissolution. Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration (1968) is about a poet imprisoned for his conscientious objection to the US occupation of Vietnam, who is experimented upon by a private corporation to whom the United States has given access to prisoners. He is given a drug, Pallidine, intended to enhance intelligence. The drug is derived from syphilis, eerily similar to the forty-year-long Tuskegee Study, which left African American men untreated to observe the long- term effects of syphilis, gaining their participation by offering free health care for other conditions. Disch’s story was originally serialized in New Worlds in 1967, while the Tuskegee Study was revealed by whistle-blowers only in
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1972, but the echoes between fiction and historical reality suggest an overlap of the ideological contexts of science and its historical complicity with structures of systemic discrimination, precisely the kinds of “unconscious” or “inner world” vectors the New Wave sought to illuminate. Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest (1976) updates space colonization narratives by depicting colonization as a colonial occupation, and she alludes to the My Lai massacre, when US forces killed unarmed Vietnamese civilians, including children. In the novel, a similar incident provokes an independence struggle by the enslaved alien population against human colonizers who refuse to recognize them as people. This is one of many books about interplanetary contact Le Guin wrote, all of which focus on the difficulties of negotiating diplomatic relations across cultural and physical differences, foregrounding technologies of communication rather than those of transportation or warfare. Along with Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr. (the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon) wrote works that interrogate the colonial logics underpinning earlier sf, drawing attention to entwined systems of sexist and racialized discrimination. When Sheldon’s identity as the female author behind the male name was revealed in 1977 after a decade of publications, it prompted a widespread discussion regarding how ideas about gender were encoded into sf stories and organizations, but less attention has been paid to the
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important critique of colonial attitudes that her work also pursues. Tiptree’s stories question the presumed superiority of human cultures, much less Western ones, perhaps best captured in her influential “The Women Men Don’t See” (1973), about two women who prefer to leave the planet with alien anthropologists rather than continue to be diminished by pervasive sexism. The feminist motif is clear, but Tiptree is as attentive to the racist and dismissive attitude the central male character expresses toward their Mayan pilot as she is to the women’s exasperation with his sexism. As David Higgins points out, as valuable as this critique of colonial fantasy in the sf imagination might be, it also had the effect of letting the still largely white audience project itself imaginatively into the role of victim of the same structures that sustain white privilege.21 The vastly popular appeal of George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), a quintessential example of this reversal fantasy, is an apt index of how sf responded to shifting values emerging from the counterculture, after which straightforward identification with agents of imperial conquest was no longer feasible. The intense embrace of James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) speaks to how powerful this fantasy remains. Thus, although attitudes toward colonialism have changed, such narratives remain foundational to sf. Higgins critiques the limitations of merely shifting our identification from the colonizers to the colonized, a problem that emblematizes
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the difficulty sf has traditionally had with representations of race. Just as early sf emerged from a presumed identification with Western culture, it also usually presumed a default whiteness for humanity, or at the very least assumed that whiteness marked a “neutral” human identity to which all peoples, including aliens and robots, aspired. Pulp and Golden Age sf often simply projected a future in which only white people existed—mirroring contemporary mainstream media and failing to ask why no people of color persist in the future—or else presented an idealized, colorblind world that had transcended racism. By the New Wave era, Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven (1971) casuistically rejects this fantasy that racism could easily be abolished by progress; in it, wishes can materially transform the world, and the desire for the end of racism produces a world in which everyone is dull gray. Other contemporary works projected racial strife into future race wars, such as Christopher Priest’s Fugue for a Darkening Island (1972) or Wilson Tucker’s The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970). Even when not explicitly addressing questions of racial difference, sf was too often instrumental in reinforcing a cultural logic that put white people at the center and dehumanized those of other races: African Americans are often presumed to be incapable of using technology; Indigenous peoples are imagined as forever living in a nineteenth-century context, and Asian people
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are imagined as technologically savvy yet also inhumanly fused with their technologies. Andre Carrington describes this history as “the whiteness of science fiction,” a term he uses to connote both “the overrepresentation of White people among the ranks of SF authors and the overrepresentation of White people’s experiences within SF texts.”22 This way of framing the difficulty, he argues, enables us to recognize not only the underrepresentation of minority voices in much of sf’s history but also its frequent failure to interrogate whiteness as a “socially significant racial identity,”23 a failure that limits the rigor with which some sf has been able to address issues of ethnic identity, systemic racism, and the ongoing consequences of colonial history. Recent scholarship has recovered many works by writers of color that were not previously recognized as part of the sf tradition, which embody another way of thinking about science, colonialism, and race. For example, activist Martin Delany’s Blake, or the Huts of America (1859; serialized 1861–1862), about a slave revolt and struggle to establish an independent state, uses detailed knowledge of astronomy to discuss navigation. Lisa Yaszek argues that African American surveyor, inventor, and almanac author Benjamin Banneker is the inspirational model for early African American fiction about scientific innovation, just as Thomas Edison inspired a similar tradition in the dime novels circulating in white communities.24
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In the twenty-first century, one of the most prominent and growing areas of sf might be called postcolonial sf, which comprises not only sf written by African American, indigenous, Latinx, and Asian authors but also work that explicitly refutes colonial ways of thinking about the genre and the stories it can tell. Adding these new voices and perspectives to sf necessarily changes the genre, given how rooted it has been historically in the viewpoint of colonizing cultures. In the first anthology of postcolonial sf, Nalo Hopkinson explains why so many writers of color are drawn to the genre, despite its lamentable record when it comes to dealing with questions of race and power. Science fiction speaks about the experiences of colonized peoples, if not often in their voices, and Hopkinson points out, “In my hands, massa’s tools don’t dismantle massa’s house— and in fact, I don’t want to destroy it so much as I want to undertake massive renovations—they build me a house of my own.”25 Just as postcolonial science studies compelled recognition of multiple ways of practicing science, challenging a colonial history that dismissed non-Western knowledge as myth or superstition,26 so too does twenty-first-century sf push us to think more capaciously about what “counts” as science fiction. All three books in N. K. Jemisin’s celebrated Broken Earth trilogy (2015–2017), about climate change and about how biological differences racialized
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to create exploitative hierarchies, won Hugo Awards for best novel, demonstrating without a doubt that a default preference for Campbellian, ethnocentric, “hard” sf can no longer be assumed. As in earlier conflicts over the genre’s future, such shifting preferences also provoked nostalgic backlash among a few.27 Momentum is clearly on the side of transforming the genre so that it contains greater diversity. The relationship to the colonial imagination remains a central force shaping sf, but oriented now toward telling new stories from the point of view of those colonized, to expanding what is recognized as science, and increasingly toward nonprint media, such as the AfroCyberPunk website that prioritizes hypermedia content creation.28 This diversification of points of distribution in the field, such as the new presses discussed in the introduction, is one of the most important forces remaking sf today. The most innovative sites of sf writing reject colonial histories and the conditions of neocolonial inequality created by global capitalism; these include sf from Africa, Latin America, India, Korea, Singapore, and elsewhere. Global science fiction is not identical to postcolonial science fiction, but as the genre becomes more global the colonial histories it responds to also become more varied, as do the range of ways that sf narrates ongoing encounters between technology and globalization.
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The relationship to the colonial imagination remains a central force shaping sf, but oriented now toward telling new stories from the point of view of those colonized.
5 ROBOTS, AI, AND TRANSHUMANISM
The robot is among the most familiar icons of science fiction, once instantly marking a work as belonging to the genre. Indeed, the very word comes from a science fiction play, R.U.R., or, Rossum’s Universal Robots, by Karel Čapek. First performed in 1921, it was translated into multiple languages and performed in several European cities within two years. The Czech word robota, used to describe someone forced to labor, became “robot” in the English translation in 1923, used to describe artificial beings within and beyond sf shortly thereafter. Čapek’s robots were manufactured out of biological materials, but the term soon fused in the popular imagination with the older image of mechanical automata. With the release of Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) and its spectacular images of the beautiful mechanical Maria, the public imaginary understood the robot to be a metallic creature, reinforced by
Elektro, Westinghouse’s mechanical man, who performed at the 1939 World’s Fair. By the time Isaac Asimov began to publish his robot stories in the 1940s, the robot was a thoroughly sf creature, a marvel of technology whose roots in dehumanized and exploited labor were muted. It would be difficult to overstate the degree to which the sf imaginary has shaped notions of the robot, and later of artificial intelligence. As Jennifer Rhee notes in The Robotic Imaginary, robotics researchers frequently begin their work “with descriptions of early formative encounters with fictional robots.”1 Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics—(1) that a robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm; (2) that a robot must obey humans except in cases that violate the first law; and (3) that a robot must protect itself so long as doing so does not contravene the first and second laws—have become a starting point for conversations about robotic design and the ethics of a world in which we increasingly interact with them.2 While robots were once the assured sign of sf, they now mark the ubiquity of technology in daily life. There are humanoid robots, such as Hanson Robotics’ Sophia, described on the company’s website as the “personification of our dreams for the future of AI,” and Honda’s ASIMO, but in the majority of our interactions with robots we may not even recognize them as such: the Roomba vacuum, self-checkout stations in grocery stores, ATMs, etc.
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It would be difficult to overstate the degree to which the sf imaginary has shaped notions of the robot, and later of artificial intelligence.
R.U.R. is about the robots’ rebellion against their impoverished existence, their desire for a life beyond being the labor-power the Rossum Corporation wishes to lease to its clients, and our sympathies are meant to be with the exploited robots. Other early robot stories retain this attitude, such as “Helen O’Loy” (1938), by Lester del Rey, about two men who build a household robot that develops emotions and eventually marries one; or “No Woman Born” (1944), by C. L. Moore, about a theater actress whose brain is transferred to a metal body after her own burns in a fire. Yet both stories betray a conflation of robot with servant that also characterizes patriarchal ideas about domesticity. Asimov’s stories often focus on problems with robotic design and sometimes feature humorous encounters in which inflexible robotic thinking intersects with the fluid contours of human social life, such as “Reason” (1941) or “Liar!” (1941). “Little Lost Robot” (1947) interrogates the three laws as an ethical rather than pragmatic requirement: it is about the search for a missing robot whose first law has been altered and ultimately reveals this robot’s resentment at being forced to serve less capable humans. One of the most influential writers of the 1950s, Philip K. Dick, produced a number of stories in which robots (or androids, his preferred term) come into conflict with humanity, including “Second Variety” (1953), about humanoid AI weapons that trick humans into befriending
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them; “The Imposter” (1953), about a weaponized robot unaware of his own ontology; and “Autofac” (1955), about an automated factory, designed to supply human survivors of an apocalypse, that refuses to cease manufacture despite multiple cues that recovered humanity wishes to return production to human hands.3 Dick is best known for his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), adapted into Ridley Scott’s influential film Blade Runner (1982), about a future in which robotic workers, replicants in the film, rebel against their enslavement and are “retired” (killed) by a bounty hunter. In this and several other of his works, Dick considers how to differentiate humans from robotic simulacra, using android characters to explore the loss of empathy in an industrialized, impersonal and often automated world. Similar themes about the dehumanizing effects of automation can be found in Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano (1952), whose sinister economy-coordinating computer EPICAC (also the name for a medicine that induces vomiting) satirizes IBM’s ENIAC. Jean-Luc Goddard’s avant-garde film Alphaville (1965), with its nightmarish, bleakly modern city run by the Alpha 60 supercomputer, expresses similar themes. As both Despina Kakoudaki and Jennifer Rhee argue, the popular imagination about robotics is haunted by this thematic conflation of artificial beings with dehumanized, often racialized labor, a motif that has also shaped
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research in the field. Kakoudaki coins the term “metalface” to describe how the featureless surfaces of robot faces create a blank screen onto which are projected anxieties about difference, generally linked to race and often specifically to anti-Blackness.4 Rhee’s book notes how the presumption that robots are best at repetitive, unimaginative, and non-intellectual tasks reinforces the marginalization of those imagined to be easily replaced by robots, such as the housewives of Stepford, a reference Ira Levin’s novel, The Stepford Wives (1972), about an elite community of men who replace their wives with more servile robots, made into a film by Brian Forbes in 1975. In “Techno- Orientalism” (1995), David Morley and Kevin Robins coin the term techno-orientalism to describe a contemporary popular culture through which fears about the Japanese economy’s predominance over American manufacture of new technologies was projected onto a stereotype of Japanese people as “cold, impersonal, and machine-like,” equivalent to their machines.5 Science fiction tales of robots often reinforce and perpetuate such stereotypes, and by recalling that the word originated in a play about exploited workers we can uncover a buried history of dehumanized, racialized labor. When systems such as mainframe computers and, later, networked devices became more common, thematic concern turned increasingly to artificial intelligence, whether embodied in humanoid form or not. Concerns
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about impersonal and autocratic systems such as EPICAC or Alpha 60 anticipate such texts, canonized in the sinister voice of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, dir.; 1968), the space-faring AI who turns on his crew and has to be destroyed. The film’s middle segment about humanity versus machines asks questions about whether HAL has a right to defend himself from human aggression and what might be a fundamental incompatibility between relentlessly logical machines and less unilateral human values. HAL claims to be prioritizing the mission over the crew, a motif that repeats in Alien (Ridley Scott, dir.; 1979), whose ship’s AI, Mother (or MU/TH/ UR 6000), puts the crew at risk to secure valuable property for the corporation. Rigid machines who follow their programming regardless of context offer commentary on a contemporary culture increasingly less interested in the values of the counterculture and turning toward those of neoliberalism: these include Proteus, an AI system seeking to embody itself in flesh in Demon Seed (Donald Cammell, dir.; 1977); the system that almost starts a global thermonuclear war in Wargames (John Badham, dir.; 1983); the malfunctioning gunslinger in Westworld (Michael Crichton, dir.; 1973); and a model for the relentless killing machine with a mission in The Terminator (James Cameron, dir.; 1984). The sexualized robot also reinforces gendered stereotypes, hinting at other histories of exploited labor and
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moving into images of disembodied AIs with the information economy. Consider the recent film Ex Machina (Alex Garland, dir.; 2014), about an artificial being, Ava, created by harvesting data from social media. Just as an earlier generation of sf responded to the problems of industrialization and commercialization with tales about mechanized automation and the waning of emotion, Ex Machina responds to a context in which humans have fused with our machines in ways that do not erase emotions but make them into data points, information that might be profitably leveraged, performances of sociality that blur the line between real and simulated affect. The film thus updates the story of robot creation to address how robotic systems are integrated into human culture, responding to technologies such as Siri or Alexa or Google Home that seek to anticipate our need to provide services, obscuring the fact that they are also generating data about us and our consumer choices for their parent corporations. A modified version of a Turing test performed on Ava by programmer Caleb asks not whether Caleb can identity her as an AI (the test’s original purpose) but whether she can read his emotions sufficiently well to manipulate him into helping her escape. Many critics have taken issue with Ex Machina for its representations of both race and gender, but we can also read the film as illuminating the history of how assumptions about race and gender have informed robotics and AI
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research. When AI was imagined mainly in terms of military applications and command systems that might seize control from humans, it was personified as masculine. In the more recent iteration of AI embedded in the Internet of Things, AI that fades into the background other than when serving our needs, it is personified as female, a point also made by the film Her (Spike Jonze, dir.; 2013). Ava’s gender, then, although consistent with a number of sexy robots we have seen before—from Maria in Metropolis to the slinky Cylons on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)—also speaks to the feminization of robotic labor as it performs affective and service-oriented jobs instead of physical labor. The film draws attention to the imaginary that shapes these design choices, demonstrating why it matters who is involved in decisions about technology design.6 Similarly, the contrast between the Caucasian Ava, who ultimately escapes her imprisonment, and the Asian Kyoko, a character who at first seems to be a maltreated domestic servant and is only later revealed to be an earlier, voiceless AI, might be read as simply perpetuating a long history in which women of color were doubly marginalized—but it could also be read as a critique of this history. Recent television series such as Humans (2015–) and Westworld (2016–), which orient our sympathies firmly with the artificial beings and cast characters of color in key roles as AIs, more clearly take this history to
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task and require us to recognize artificial entities as figurations of racially marginalized people. Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel The Windup Girl (2009) similarly offers a more complex meditation upon globalization, bioengineering, and how new beings created by technology are caught within established structures of global discrimination. This imaginative history is important because idealizations drawn from sf inform how technology is designed, in terms of both what technologies are imagined as capable of doing and how they fit within a social world that precedes them. In the case of robotics and AI, assumptions about race and gender can be built into the code of machines without their designers even realizing the problems, until they manifest in distressing ways such as facial recognition software that fails to see people of color, or an AI tool to assess résumés that automatically downgrades applications submitted by women.7 Design choices are the real-world equivalent of what the sf community calls worldbuilding, that is, the coproduction of the social and its technology from existing cultural assumptions that create a set of constraints that shape future possibilities: how work and family structures intersect, what kinds of people are considered valuable and why, what is made easy and what is difficult to achieve, and the like. In the examples above, the limitations of the AIs’ judgment had to do with limitations in the datasets they were given from which to learn, ensuring that any
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Design choices are the real-world equivalent of what the sf community calls worldbuilding.
systemic biases in the dataset would be reproduced by the AI. Focusing on social issues that are the context for new technologies, sf narratives are ideal tools for questioning and countering the long-term effects of such unexamined assumptions. This is among the reasons why the growth of writers of color and the expansion of nations producing sf are such crucial developments. The stories we tell and the spectacles we envision are influential, and diversifying voices is integral to asking new questions. Robotics and AI are sites where extensive exchanges between the sf imagination and material practice have resulted in a shared language and often shared expectations and beliefs. The term cyberspace, for example, originally came from William Gibson’s fiction, while Neal Stephenson’s concept of the metaverse—an online space where avatars interact in 3D digital space—inspired and shaped research in digital environments, most famously the launch of Second Life.8 Cyberpunk fiction, a widely popular subgenre that emerged in the 1980s and focused on computers and digital environments, in retrospect clearly marks the beginning of a more pervasive embrace of sf themes and imagery in cultures beyond fandom. Deeply influenced by the New Wave, but more interested in the privatized mediascapes of new digital technology than in surrealist encounters with consciousness-altering pharmaceuticals, cyberpunk shifted the sf imaginary to a new inner space,
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behind the console screen. In his trailblazing novel Neuromancer (1984), Gibson explains that this “matrix” of data “has its roots in primitive arcade games . . . early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.”9 We might now talk about this chain in reverse, a world in which the accelerated, digitized future of corporate dominance, bodily modification, and immersive entertainments invented by cyberpunk has become the imaginative foundation for the technologies of our information age: the lucrative videogames industry, especially massive multiplayer online games; social media apps that fuse online and physical lives; and military technologies, especially remotely piloted drones. During the 1980s, cyberpunk was putatively home to a new and rebellious attitude within sf of DIY improvisation and countercultural values associated with anti- authoritarian hacking, proselytized by Bruce Sterling in his forceful introduction to the fiction collection Mirrorshades (1986).10 This was literature’s first response to the information age and marked a moment at which sf became a central object of academic study, shaped by Larry McCaffery’s Storming the Reality Studio (1991), a collection of fiction and essays, premised on the parallels between cyberpunk sf and postmodernist literature. Fredric Jameson’s prominent critical work, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), set the tone of academic conversation at least to the end of the decade,
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and although he does not extensively discuss cyberpunk he does nominate it “the supreme literary expression if not of postmodernism, then of late capitalism itself.”11 Cyberpunk is a pessimistic literature, set in a future in which nations have become less significant than transnational corporations, where humans physically fuse with their machines and the transcendence of online existence is preferred to the vulnerability of the physical body. Although a number of critics were quick to point out that this denigration of the body reproduced racial and gender biases of Cartesian dualism,12 this addictive imaginary of unlimited mobility was deeply influential for ongoing ideas of robotics, AI, and virtual reality, as N. Katherine Hayles carefully charts in How We Became Posthuman (1999).13 The cyberpunk imaginary persists, although calls announcing that “the Movement” was dead emerged within a decade of its birth. Yet, even if many print authors sought to move beyond what they viewed as a derivative paradigm, cyberpunk became something of a subculture into the 1990s, eagerly embraced by a generation for whom personal computers were redefining the world. Cyberpunk film, videogames, music, role-playing games, and even fashion flourished during this period, both in Anglo sf and in Japanese anime and manga, much of which was circulating in the United States in translation. Images of a future dominated by Asian technologies and corporations were common. The huge success of the Wachowskis’ cyberpunk
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film The Matrix (1999) and its sequels and ancillary texts is one marker of how much cyberpunk became a cultural phenomenon well beyond sf. As technologies such as oculus rift and other VR headsets, alongside increasingly immersive video games, continue to grow in popularity, the cyberpunk imaginary has only grown in influence, and has become something of a default orientation toward online cultures. Gibson famously composed Neuromancer on a typewriter and imagined the glittering world of immersive data long before it was a material possibility, and yet his and similar visions continue to inspire. Cyberpunk fiction was mostly a boy’s club—Pat Cadigan’s important work is frequently cited as a counterpoint—and a masculine ethos also dominates gaming and other online cultures, as Colin Milburn explores in Respawn (2018).14 Milburn’s work traces the degree to which online cultures—from democratic activists such as Anonymous to the conservative pundits of the Gamergate fiasco—draw on the language of sf to articulate resistance and critique, futures to fight both for and against. Largely missing from cyberpunk’s vision of AIs and human- machine fusion is the distributed Internet of Things now prevalent, connected devices that respond to our voices, actions, or other cues, collecting data and using algorithms to anticipate the near future in examples such as navigation devices that process traffic information, or farming equipment that adjusts itself based on data about
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soil and moisture. The fantasy of convenience promoted by these devices—refrigerators that reorder staples when empty, Gmail’s attempts to anticipate and pre-answer your email, wearable devices that track your health—is anticipated by sf, especially sf of the Golden Age that projected a world responsive to human needs even if it did not specify precisely how technology might enable such luxury. To give only one example, Ray Bradbury’s frequently anthologized story “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950) imagines a house in the future that cooks, cleans, adjusts lighting, runs a bath, even reads to the children. The story’s impact comes not from the house’s capacity to do these things, however, but from the irony that it does so in the absence of any humans to serve: they have all died in a nuclear war and even a passing dog starves among this cornucopia because the house is not programmed to let it in. Stories have also anticipated the social isolation that technologies analogous to the Internet of Things might cause, such as E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (1909), set in a future where humans live underground, all their needs met by a predictive machine, their only contact with one another mediated by devices. A stark warning against technological dependence, Forster’s story depicts a humanity without purpose, in thrall to a machine they have forgotten they made, utterly helpless when it malfunctions and their civilization ends.
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More recent, near-future sf often shows us how we are similarly controlled by our social media machines, even if not quite in the same way. Writer Cory Doctorow is prominent in this area, publishing a number of essays about how the data-tracking and decision-guiding capacities of these tools impact social life. In “Demon-Haunted World” (2017), he extrapolates from the Volkswagen scandal in which software enabled the corporation’s automobiles to change a vehicles’ emissions under conditions of testing, thereby allowing the cars to be certified as compliant with standards that were not so under normal operating conditions.15 Doctorow describes this as a situation in which “the things you own start to cheat you” and argues that the widespread adoption of the Internet of Things, software talking to other software and making choices based on set parameters, can “tilt the balance away from humans and toward corporations.” Doctorow is clear that the problems emerge from a legislative context that permits corporations to exploit their customers by coding devices that report misleading data, and thus solutions will not be found in “better computers.” In such interventions, we see how fictions that project the futures of certain technologies can play a significant role in thinking through policy decisions associated with their release. Ken Liu’s “The Perfect Match” (2012) offers a consummate portrait of how we often welcome precisely the kind
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of manipulation Doctorow diagnoses, taking the helpfulness of smart devices at face value. Protagonist Sai is guided in all his choices by his home AI Tilly, who repeatedly offers “coupons” to entice Sai to purchase things from vendors of her choice rather than direct him to the businesses or products he initially requests. A chance meeting with Jenny prompts Sai to socialize with her rather than the online matches Tilly promotes, but he learns that Jenny is deeply suspicious of Tilly’s parent corporation, Centillian, which aggressively uses this perfect assistant to gather data about her users, all the better to control them through consumerism. Jenny even believes Centillian interferes with election results—a possibility that seems less remote in the wake of scandals about Russian bots posting incendiary material to influence the 2016 US election—and recruits Sai in a failed plan to turn off this machine. Unlike Forster’s story, Liu’s concludes with Sai reconciled to the world filtered through Tilly, accepting continuous surveillance as the price of continuing to enjoy on-demand convenience. A closely related fusion of the sf imaginary and daily life in the twenty-first century is embodied in singularity fiction, a subgenre closely related to cyberpunk. It takes its name from sf author and computer scientist Vernor Vinge’s essay “The Coming Technological Singularity” (1993), which anticipates the acceleration of computer technology such that self-aware computers and/or
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computer-human entities will achieve superintelligence.16 These new beings will be capable of now-inconceivable progress, launching us into the singularity that is “a point where our models must be discarded and a new reality rules.” Popularized more widely by Ray Kurzweil, the singularity hypothesis has migrated from science fiction to think tank.17 Although some visions of the singularity worry about the possibility that we will be replaced by intelligent machines who see us as irrelevant, most view this as the next stage of humanity, a planned technological transcendence of embodied limits—often, specifically, of mortality—and the augmentation of intelligence such that science and technology will be capable of overcoming any barrier to human flourishing, ushering in an era of unimaginable prosperity and comfort. Shortly after Vinge articulated his ideas, a group of enthusiasts going by the name Extropians championed an optimistic vision of the future and the active pursuit of the next mode of human embodiment, either fusing with intelligent machines or transforming the body. Reading lists of sf texts circulated on early Extropian websites, although the more mainstream this movement became the less evident were overt references to sf. Bruce Sterling’s Shaper/Mechanist works of the 1980s, especially Schismatrix (1985), emblematize the future humans imagined by Extropians. By the mid-2000s, the name Extropian (coined to convey the opposition of entropy) was dropped
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in favor of the term transhuman.18 Transhumanism continued to institutionalize itself, led largely by philosopher of technology Nick Bostrom, drawing equally from ongoing technological experiments in augmented and machine intelligence and from sf that both anticipates and responds to such technologies.19 The film Transcendence (Wally Pfister, dir.; 2014) offers a primer in current thinking on this topic, and its somewhat confused conclusion shows the tension between an earlier sf imagination that taught us to fear sentient machines and the promises of a better world that adherents believe transhumanism will manifest. From another point of view, disability activists have challenged the presumptions about enhanced or superior human form embedded in these discourses, critiquing several research initiatives as erasures of people like them.20 Stories of human-machine integration outside the cyberpunk framework demonstrate the ways that sf can help us think differently about ability, disability, and normative embodiment; Anne McCaffery’s novel The Ship Who Sang (1969), about a young woman born with significant physical impairment but an exceptional mind, who becomes a “shell person,” her stunted body encased in a capsule as her mind is integrated with a starship she controls, is one example. Transhumanism is now a well-funded philosophical and research movement that emphasizes its feasibility and eschews its sf roots, embodied in centers such as the
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Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and the nonprofit entity Humanity+. Adopted by people far removed from sf, such institutions nonetheless are emblems of how the genre has become something of a vernacular for the twenty-first century: the questions it has long explored and the images it conceived now shape research agendas and give form to the aspirations of thousands of people who may never have read a word of science fiction.
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6 GENOMICS, THE MICROBIOME, AND POSTHUMANISM
If robots and AI represent one trajectory of the future of humanity as imagined by sf, then biological change is the other, with an equally long tradition in the genre. This mode of sf has become particularly prominent since the 1990s, in the era of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and its promises of personalized medicine, but the idea of perfected embodiment was a central part of the sf imagination from the beginning, especially visible in the pulp tradition emerging from American magazines. The early, nineteenth-century iterations of such themes focus on evolutionary change, generally toward some superior form, although concerns about devolution were also apparent, especially in works by H. G. Wells. Such texts respond to the popularization of Darwinian ideas and resultant disruption to previous understandings of human history and futures. Wells’s The Time
Machine (1895), for example, goes into the future of year 802,701 to discover that Victorian segregation of classes became so intensive as to prompt the speciation of humanity. At first, the Time Traveller thinks the elegant, pale Eloi (the gentry) are the dominant species, but he is soon discomforted by their childlike intellect. In contrast, the Morlocks, a darker, stockier hominid (the working class), seem to be monstrous animals but ultimately show more curiosity and initiative. He concludes that danger prompts evolutionary advance, and without it the Eloi are static. The novel’s symbolism questions the longstanding axiom that the upper classes have somehow earned their privilege through inherent superiority. The Traveller then proceeds some thirty million years into the future, long after humanity has gone extinct, briefly observing the strange creatures that now roam the earth. He makes a series of further jumps forward, until he sees the sun growing dim, before returning to his present day, further unsettling notions of human centrality from the point of view of evolutionary, cosmic time. More common are works that envision the next stage of human evolution and the new capacities—increasingly associated with psychic powers such as telekinesis and telepathy. An important early work is Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930), a future history of the species that explores our evolution over a timescale comparable to that of Wells’s Traveller. Current humanity is the first of
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eighteen species that will evolve, and alongside imagining these new iterations Stapledon narrates the social and political histories that cause speciation: for example, Second Men are all but wiped out by a war with Mars; Fifth Men leave a destroyed Earth for Venus and thus face different environmental conditions; Tenth Men are a new path of evolution, evolving from the animal species into which Ninth Men devolved. Fourth Men to Ninth Men are deliberately engineered by their predecessors, an idea that Stapledon drew from J. B. S. Haldane’s contemporary biological treatise Daedalus; or, Science and the Future (1924); the final Eighteenth Men have many gender variants and a group mind. Haldane, a genetics researcher and Fellow of the Royal Society, also wrote the fictional The Hampdenshire Wonder (1911), about a child of superior intellectwho presages the next stage of evolution but is destroyed by human jealousy. In their youth, Haldane and his sister Naomi Mitchison, who also went on to be a writer, explored Mendelian genetics in mice, even publishing their results, the first demonstration of genetic linkage in mammals.1 Mitchison mainly wrote outside the genre, but her novel Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962), set far in the future, depicts a female researcher living in a society of gender equality and is notable for the inventive detail used to represent the distinct biology of species from many different planets, celebrating how variations in gender, intelligence, reproduction,
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and more might evolve differently. Mitchison’s work is an ideal demonstration of how social themes about gender and sexuality need not be divorced from rigorous engagement with science. Haldane’s Daedalus also imagines a future of ectogenesis (coining the term) and in vitro fertilization, ideas that influenced Huxley in Brave New World. Whereas Huxley imagined such technology would be used for manipulative social control—the fetuses incubated in their bottles are selectively nurtured or damaged to ensure that birthrates match needed skills to sustain the class system—Haldane was optimistic about how science could be used to improve human health and society. Shulamith Firestone’s feminist manifesto The Dialectic of Sex (1970) returns to the idea of ectogenesis to argue that the bodily burdens of reproduction unduly disadvantaged women and that an artificial womb could thus offer freedom, an example of how the same technology may be envisioned to produce both dystopian and utopian futures. The early twentieth-century scientific imaginary is deeply entangled with contemporary eugenics, and thus stories of the future of humanity often betray the same prejudices against people of color that shape this material history.2 Questions of intervening in pregnancy and childbirth through technology are a significant theme in sf, much of it predating the mapping of the human genome and almost all of it from before CRISPR-Cas9 editing techniques
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were developed. To be clear, my point here is not that sf somehow inspired or anticipated this technology, but rather that the capacity to edit the genome emerges in a world that has already been conditioned by sf that expresses a range of hopes and fears about the future of the human body, even the human species. Among the reasons that pulp sf in particular fosters visions of the next, transcendent iteration of humanity is that Gernsback encouraged early fans to see themselves as a vanguard of a coming scientific age. His “new sort of literature” was to be consumed by a new sort of reader, one motivated to learn about cutting-edge scientific developments, to tinker with and improve upon existing technologies, to prioritize scientific over other kinds of knowledge. (Crucially, as we have seen, this is not the only kind of sf or sf reader.) In 1940, Astounding Science-Fiction, under Campbell’s editorship, serialized A. E. Van Vogt’s Slan, which was later collected and published as a novel in 1946, about a race of super-beings who evolve superior intellects, telepathic communication, and enhanced physical capacities. It recounts their struggles as they are persecuted to near extinction by an inferior but numerically superior old-style humanity, until the slans are eventually saved when it is revealed that the earth’s dictator is secretly a slan, playing a long game. What is most significant about Slan in this context is how it was taken up within the sf community: the phrase
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“fans are slans” reinforced the idea that sf fans and their investment in science would eventually triumph over a waning nonscientific culture, and also gave solace to fans and writers stung by the dismissal of their interests as childish, equivalent to comic strip heroes such as Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. This tension is another dimension of the struggle between sf’s literary and scientific tendencies, and we see a similar prejudice against the genre today when people refuse to call serious novels about the future of technology “science fiction,” preferring to call them speculative fiction or literature about science. Van Vogt’s motif was followed by a number of similar tales, most notably Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953), about aliens guiding the evolution of humanity into a superior species. This idea of benevolent intergalactic civilizations, which we might one day aspire to join, is a recurrent motif in fantasies about the next stage of evolution. Such dreams of evolutionary transcendence inform the fantasies of technological immortality explored in chapter 5. These imaginative patterns have material significance: they shape the expectations people bring to advances in genomics and biotechnology, and thus the ethos that informs how technologies are designed. Especially since the 1990s, genetics research has reshaped medicine and become the basis for many biotechnological start-ups, launching an industry as influential and lucrative as the Silicon Valley start-ups a generation before. As with
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cyberpunk, sf quickly began to explore the implications of this new territory and how its tools were reshaping humanity, socially and physically. Imitating the marketing success of cyberpunk, there have been attempts to coin a term to describe this new fiction of biological modification, including Paul Di Filippo’s Ribofunk (1996), the title for a collection of short fiction, a portmanteau fusing “ribosome” with “funk”: whereas Sterling argues in Mirrorshades that cyberpunk hackers display something of the countercultural rebellion of punk music, Di Filippo proclaims both cybernetics and punk to be dead cultural forms, and argues the future is in biotechnology and its capacities for remixing, just as funk created new forms from soul, jazz, and R&B.3 The term biopunk, however, was more widely adopted, part of an endless series of new labels made by attaching the word “punk” to a transformative technology—steampunk, nanopunk, dieselpunk, solarpunk, etc. Di Filippo’s coinage points to a more interesting shift in the technological imaginary, namely remixing. Science fiction of this type takes its cue from the idea that biology has become a science of engineering. Here, too, the sf imagination predates the technological tools. Another of Wells’s texts, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), about a scientist trying to evolve sentient Beast Folk by experimenting on animals, is foundational. Such works often raise questions about the ethics of experimentation,
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These imaginative patterns have material significance: they shape the expectations people bring to advances in genomics and biotechnology, and thus the ethos that informs how technologies are designed.
especially whether any limits should restrict science from certain manipulations of nature. Frankenstein’s tale of reanimating flesh to overcome mortality belongs to this tradition, although the novel’s themes tend to be oversimplified in journalistic reference: the prefix “franken” connoting ethical concerns about genetic change. Olaf Stapledon’s Sirius (1944) fuses Moreau with Frankenstein to explore the life of an eponymous dog who is modified to human intelligence but isolated in a world in which he is shunned by people and has no other community. David Brin later puts a more positive spin on this idea in his Uplift Universe series (1980–1998), set in a future in which humans have “uplifted” chimpanzees and dolphins to human-equivalent intelligence and the three species share an interstellar civilization with aliens, who regard the humans themselves as animals only recently uplifted to space-faring capacity. Brin’s work is mainly space adventure, but the idea of uplift opens the door to ethical questions about biological species difference that are explored in more depth in other works, such as Karen Traviss’s Wess’har series (2004– 2008), about cultural conflict between humans and other sentient species in the universe: only humanity has an ethical tradition that privileges one dominant species (humans). Traviss’s work points to the historical entanglement of biological categories with social and political systems. Nancy Kress more squarely takes on
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questions of genetic modification in many of her works, including the early Beggars in Spain trilogy (1993–1996), which postulates a future in which a genetic modification allows some to go without sleep, resulting in even more economic bifurcation as power and wealth accrue with the highly productive sleepless, leaving the unmodified humans increasingly irrelevant to work and therefore the social world. Kress’s later Yesterday’s Kin (2014) adds a genetic engineering and environmental twist to the motif of aliens with superior technology coming to save humanity. An alien species abducts and modifies several children, returning them to Earth to start a new variant of the species, one able to survive the inevitable ecological crisis we have caused. A similar theme is explored in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy (1987–1989),4 although in this case the aliens, Oankali, insist that human genetics are flawed due to the contradictions that come from their combined propensity for intelligence and for hierarchy. When humans indulge their fear of difference, they use their intelligence in destructive ways, the Oankali conclude, and thus humans can no longer be allowed to breed freely. Humanity has already destroyed itself in a nuclear war, and the humans we meet in this work are a few survivors saved by the Oankali and nurtured off-world. If unmodified humans were simply to be returned to the surface once radiation has dissipated, the Oankali believe, humanity will
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inevitably create a “civilization that will destroy itself as certainly as the pull of gravity will keep their new world in orbit around its sun.”5 Yet human and human-Oankali hybrid characters contest this genetic determinism, pushing us toward a more complex understanding of human cultures that is rooted in biology and yet leaves room for contingency and choice. Butler’s work offers a nuanced vision of how biological propensity and social history entwine, reminding us of historical abuses of scientific data in movements such as Social Darwinism, experimentation on enslaved African Americans, and eugenic sterilization that targeted groups marginalized by race or class or ableness. In other works, such as her Patternist series,6 Butler explores the psionic powers beloved of an earlier generation with equal subtlety, interrogating rather than perpetuating the visions of a superior species of human, thus showing this fantasy’s ideological links to racism. Butler is an ideal example of how sf can supplement discourses of science, providing a way of thinking through not only what might be possible, given a new technique or evolutionary change, but also how such changes could transform social and political life. The genre functions as a space for working through these intellectual questions, and although it is often critiqued for getting details of scientific plausibility wrong, a better way to think of sf’s exchanges with science would be in terms of the cultural fears and desires that are mobilized around a particular
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technology and the transformations it portends. Stories of clones existed long before techniques of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) came into widespread use, after Dolly the Sheep electrified public imaginaries in 1996 and science turned to therapeutic cloning to create tissues for regenerative medicine. Just as Darwinian theory catalyzed an earlier generation to think differently about human biological futures, the possibility of cloning rather than sexual reproduction raises philosophical questions about individuality, autonomy, and uniqueness. This way of thinking about clones, of course, is rooted in misunderstandings regarding how a clone is born (not manufactured or decanted) and also relies on a limited understanding of DNA as an immutable code, failing to recognize how gene expression is conditioned by environmental factors, not to mention that subjectivity is more than simply the expression of one’s genome. Still, the point is not whether sf gets the science right but rather that it is a site where the ripples caused by significant scientific change become visible across other sites of knowledge and social organization. As cloning became possible, commonplace understandings about civic and social identity were disrupted, and early stories about clones reflect the challenges this posed. For example, Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) depicts a future in which cloning becomes necessary due to widespread infertility caused by environmental damage. Use of cloning is imagined as a
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temporary stage as scientists work to reverse infertility, but as the clones become dominant, they do not want to return to heterosexual reproduction. The clones are highly dependent on the collective, with strong emotional and mental bonds, and prolonged separation from other clones is damaging. A clone whose accidental isolation leads her to develop a sense of individuality eventually has a child, and this child, Mark, proves to have more creativity than cloned children do. The clones eventually degenerate and die out as they lose the capacity to maintain the equipment they need to reproduce, while Mark becomes the seed of a returned “natural” humanity that thrives. This sense that clones represent an inferior species, something that can be mass-produced, is reflected in the many works that imagine clones as a biobank of spare parts for their originals, a recurrent motif most famously depicted in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), widely known through the 2010 film adaptation directed by Mark Romanek. Clones are generally imagined as produced by ectogenesis rather than gestation, reinforcing the sense that they are somehow lesser than so-called natural humans. C. J. Cherryh’s Cyteen (1998) imagines a future in which highly capable individuals are cloned to ensure their abilities are preserved, but Cherryh also depicts a future in which these “womb tank” children are shaped by “tape,” a computer-controlled conditioning that programs their personalities to reproduce traits of the original. Her
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clones have distinct names, and their close resemblance to the original person is clearly a matter of cultural shaping, not biology. What all of these texts share is an interest in thinking through how biological uniqueness has become culturally bound up with notions of being a rights-bearing subject, since clones so often are imagined as lacking this status. More recent work directly raises question of bioethics and cloning, not only reflecting a more accurate understanding of the science but also engaging in debates about the commodification of biology that have been taken up in contemporary social science. In the introduction to Reframing Rights, Sheila Jasanoff argues that “periods of significant change in the life sciences and technologies should be seen as constitutional or, more precisely, bioconstitutional in their consequences” and thus rights discourse needs to be reframed to acknowledge the changing definition of the human and to redefine “the obligations of the state in relation to lives in its care.”7 Entities such as immortal cell lines used for research,8 genetically modified laboratory animals such as Oncomouse, or patents on specific human DNA sequences, such as the Myriad Genetics patent on the sequence used to diagnose a propensity toward breast cancer,9 all challenge political and ethical paradigms instantiated in a world without bioengineering. By engaging imaginatively with these technologies and projecting them into the future, sf helps us think
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about the implications of precedents that are set in a context when the visible stakes might seem quite small. It also helps clarify how existing values or cultural axioms may transform in light of new research developments, preparing us for what such innovations could look like when they are embedded in the world rather than isolated in a laboratory. Carola Dibbel’s The Only Ones (2015) represents cloning with well-researched attention to technical details. She projects a postapocalyptic future following a pandemic, in which fertility is compromised, biotechnology vilified (as the source of the plague), and economic disparities intensified. Her protagonist, Inez Fardo, survives by selling her biological capacities—for sex, as someone willing to clean spaces known to be contaminated by new strains of the plague, as a research test subject, and as a source of materials such as eggs. The fact that these things operate on a continuum speaks to how Dibbell interrogates the commodification of biology and its potential to abuse marginalized subjects, compelled by poverty to participate in clinical trials in parallel to how they are compelled to sell sex.10 Inez becomes part of a SCNT enterprise, initially to clone children lost to plague, which ultimately results in the birth of a child cloned from her own somatic tissue that she raises as her daughter. We follow Inez and her relationship with this child, Ani, and the novel raises a variety of questions about medicine, economics, and marginalized
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communities, as well as about the relationship between biology and environment in cloning and ectogenesis. It directly confronts an imaginative history that has depicted clones as less than human: when Ani learns she is a clone, she is horrified based on her viewing of a television series that offers the stereotypical vision of clones as psychically linked, mass-produced automata. Questions of biology, commodification, and rights are also foregrounded in Rose Montero’s Tears in Rain (Spanish 2011; English 2012), set in a world where synthetic biology is used to manufacture artificial laborers, bringing us back full circle to Čapek’s R.U.R. and concerns about the dehumanization of labor. Montero’s novel takes its title from Roy Baty’s moving speech at the end of Blade Runner about the injustice of replicants’ short lifespans: this film is part of the fictional world’s popular culture and is seen by the technohumans (called “reps” as a racial slur) as a tragic tale about their exploitation. By thinking of her exploited classes as entities of synthetic biology, rather than manufactured machines, Montero’s novel engages with the questions of bioconstitutionalism foregrounded by Jasanoff, a move reflected in several contemporary texts about fleshy, manufactured beings who are treated as disposable, including the British television series Humans (2015), adapted from the Swedish Äkta människor (Real Humans, 2012–2014), and the HBO revisioning of Westworld (2016–).
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One final example of the way sf intersects with the reframing of the human in contemporary biological sciences is the recent turn toward conceptualizing the human as a multispecies entity comprised of the human organism and the microbial communities living in and on our body. The NIH funded the Human Microbiome Project from 2007 to 2016, and this project has transformed research and popular understandings of health—the latter evident in the widespread probiotic products now available. Several novels by Joan Slonczewski, who is also a microbiologist, explore a future in which humans communicate and collaborate with microbial communities. For example, in Brain Plague (2002), collectively intelligent microbes form a partnership with the artist-protagonist, enabling her to create new aesthetic forms; The Highest Frontier (2011) interrogates the human history of antagonism toward microbes via a story in which Earth is invaded by a single- celled species large enough to be visible, while a colony of such beings animate a human-shaped body who attends college with human students and engages in debates about cross- species relationships. The frequency with which our microbiome changes—as compared to the fixity of genes—means that this paradigm opens up another set of questions about identity and agency. The microbiome is not yet as prominent a theme in sf as genetic engineering or cloning, but it is also a more recent scientific framework. A history of microbes and sf remains to be excavated,
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The microbiome is not yet as prominent a theme in sf as genetic engineering or cloning, but it is also a more recent scientific framework.
but there are prominent examples in early sf: the Martian invaders are defeated in Wells’s The War of the Worlds, for example, not by human technology but by their physiological incompatibility with Earth microbes. In chapter 5, I discussed the relationship between sf texts about human-machine integration and a discourse of transhumanism that has become mainstream in the twenty-first century. The texts discussed in this chapter, about the human/nonhuman boundary and about how biotechnology is changing what it means to be human and challenging the premises of humanism, are related to a discourse called posthumanism. Initially transhumanism and posthumanism were used somewhat interchangeably, but more recently a differentiation has taken hold: transhumanism describes discourses interested in transcending the limitations of human embodiment while posthumanism describes a range of approaches interested in decentering the human in our knowledge systems and questioning the historical privilege of the human.11 Work in posthumanism thinks differently about humanity and its relationship to other species and to materiality in general, drawing attention to the exclusion of many people from the category of “the human” in our history, and reconceptualizing many of the philosophical ideas central to humanism, such as agency, consciousness, choice, and intelligence. Posthumanism is not as tightly linked to sf as transhumanism, for which the genre functions as something
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like a how-to manual, but many theorists of posthumanism find themselves turning to sf for concrete examples of the new theoretical paradigms their work highlights. Similarly, posthumanist ideas are taken up by many scholars of sf in their readings of the genre. Donna Haraway, especially her hugely influential “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1984), is the most prominent among these examples: she extensively uses sf texts to explore her theoretical ideas and her work has been used frequently by sf scholars, so much so that as early as 1991 sf critic Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. dubbed her and Jean Baudrillard (who writes about the blurring of simulation with materiality) authors of “the SF of theory.”12
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7 ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND THE ANTHROPOCENE
If we think about science fiction in terms of the genre’s connections to pressing issues in twenty-first-century culture, no topic is more urgent than climate change and the ways it promises to transform all aspects of human life, from where we live to how we cultivate our food to what energy sources will fuel our industries. The issue is so pressing that some have started to use the term “cli fi” for climate fiction, but this faddish coinage obscures a longer history of sf’s engagement with the environment. Moreover, it leaves unexamined the question of why sf has proven such a valuable genre for thinking about environmental futures. Even before the idea of climate change took hold, sf embraced the geological and evolutionary timescales of nineteenth-century science and began to think of the planet as something that preceded our species and could conceivably continue without us. Such conceptualizations
Even before the idea of climate change, sf embraced geological and evolutionary timescales to think of the planet as something that preceded our species and could continue without us.
of the planet as a changeable environment turned the tradition of apocalyptic fiction toward mundane visions of environmental catastrophe instead of divine judgment. A key early way such ideas circulated was through the changing imaginary about Mars: in the late nineteenth century telescopic observations seemed to suggest the planet was covered in canals, which American astronomer Percival Lowell hypothesized were an irrigation technology, an idea taken up in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars (1912), among other fictions. When this idea was disproven by better telescopes, sf often depicted Mars as a once-inhabited planet whose civilizations had died out due to drought, presaging a fate that might also befall Earth. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (1993– 1996), about terraforming Mars to create an atmosphere and enable human colonization, technology is used to make these canals a material reality. The trilogy represents the viewpoints of several different factions over the decades- long process of changing the surface of Mars, including characters who argue in defense of leaving its environment unchanged. This is the best-known science fiction series about engineering planetary environments, most of which express themes about environmental protection and sustainability, but some of which celebrate a fantasy of total human control over the environment and planetary weather.1 Bong Joon-ho’s film Snowpiercer (2013) differs from the French comic book on which it is based—Le
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Transperceneige (1982) by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette—in that it satirizes this fantasy by imagining that its Ice Age setting was inadvertently caused by an attempt to engineer climate. Like many recent works of environmental sf, Snowpiercer combines themes about environmental damage with socioeconomic themes which stress that the poor will be the most vulnerable to disaster. Early sf offered spectacles of disastrous destruction of cities and their populations but—unlike more recent works—did not posit anthropogenic causes. Disease rather than climate was more frequently imagined as humanity’s end in these works, including Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) and M. P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud (1901). At times such tales of massive destruction serve as opportunities to remake society without much environmentalism, such as Sydney Fowler Wright’s Deluge (1928), in which existing cultures are wiped out by earthquake-induced floods, distilling remaining populations into a hardier strain. This motif begins to take on a more environmentalist orientation in later works such as John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (1956), about a mutation that kills all cereal crops, a device that draws attention to humanity’s dependence on other species, a theme also present in George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949), in which current humanity cannot survive, but the planet can.
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Such works are interested in how the remnants of humanity might restore civilization and what form it might take, and thus remain anthropocentric in their focus. They are notable, however, for their emphasis on connections between humans and the natural world, resisting a technophilic tone of much contemporary sf that envisioned extensively mechanized futures; moreover, they stand out from other contemporary postapocalyptic fiction in positing a premise other than nuclear war for the end of life as we know it. In many of the postnuclear apocalypse narratives, the environmental damage caused by radiation merges into a more generalized sense of ecological damage, such as the absence of all nonhuman animals in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). This tradition continues in images of destruction without an explicit link to environmentalist themes in recent films such as Armageddon (Michael Bay, dir.; 1998) and 2012 (Roland Emmerich, dir.; 2009), among others. These repeated visions of global destruction nonetheless surely speak to anxieties about the future of our species. With the more experimental sf of the New Wave period and its relationships to contemporary countercultures, an overtly environmentalist sf appears, although here too fictions of apocalyptic collapses are sometimes more metaphorical than literal. This is especially true of J. G. Ballard’s
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stylistically compelling disaster novels, The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966), each of which depicts the world destroyed by what we would now call climate change—high winds, flood, drought, and a mysterious force that crystallizes matter, respectively. Ballard uses his transformed setting to interrogate the sterility and violence of the world prior to these disasters rather than comment specifically on environmental themes; nonetheless, his vivid depictions of the monstrosities inherent in industrialization, capitalism, and colonialism evoke topics that would usually be addressed in work by activist authors. At roughly the same time, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring (1962), a trenchant critique of the use of pesticides in agriculture, which opens with “A Fable for Tomorrow” in which Carson depicts a future where a blight destroys all life in Anytown, USA, an outcome that Carson traces back to disruptions in the ecosystem caused by pesticides.2 Carson thus demonstrates the rhetorical power of fictional, futuristic depictions to shape public understandings. In attempts to discredit her scientific credentials and disparage her personal character, Carson’s opponents were as vociferous and vile as any Ballardian antagonist. Carson’s work, alongside the Club of Rome report “The Limits to Growth” (1972) published a decade later,3 fostered new ways of thinking about ecological futures,
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premised on sustainability. Her book energized a contemporary environmental movement, which had significant overlaps with contemporary antiwar and antinuclear activism. The first Earth Day was proposed in 1970, aimed at making air and water pollution a mainstream public concern, and eventually resulting in the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of legislation related to pollution and endangered species. Earth Day drew on the sf imaginary both in terms of Carson’s use of futuristic narrative and in the image of the planet as seen from space as a symbol on a flag designed by John McConnell. This image was intended to convey the interconnectedness of all life on the planet and did not seem to recognize the irony that the photo was enabled by the industrial and militarized forces that shaped the moon landing. The turn toward imagination as a powerful rhetorical technique in the environmental movement is also apparent in the launch of the Whole Earth Catalog, a countercultural magazine started in 1968 and published until 1998, which also featured an image of Earth from space on its first cover—indeed, this is the “whole Earth” of its title. An early example of DIY activism, the magazine fostered an imaginative community oriented toward an ideal of living more sustainably, addressed, in this way, to inhabitants of that future. As with feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, environmental activists turned explicitly to sf and its relationship
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to the utopian tradition to promote countercultural values. The most famous example is Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (1975), written as if it were the notebook of William Weston, a journalist who in 1999 is visiting and reporting on a society in the Pacific Northwest that seceded from America to establish a new polis defined by sustainability, recycling, minimal use of fossil fuels, localized food production, and gender equality. Like the authors of nineteenthcentury utopias, Callenbach demonstrates an imaginative possibility for how one might live otherwise. Moreover, the novel suggests that changed relationships to environmental ideals require transformation of other aspects of social life, such as patriarchy and capitalism, themes that persist in ecological sf today. Similar ideas about the need to address problems of poverty and discrimination alongside pollution and environmental destruction are found in fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson, unquestionably the most important living sf writer addressing environmental themes. The same idea animates Rob Nixon’s critical work Slow Violence (2011), which begins with a nod to Carson.4 He argues that we need to find a way to recognize as violence the accretive damage done by pollution, climate change, deforestation, catastrophic spills, and similar harms enacted on poor people by global industries. Nixon develops his thesis in reference to realist works of fiction that frequently respond to historical incidents such as chemical
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spills, but his work is a useful frame through which to consider dystopian works of environmental sf such as John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up (1972). Taking its title from a line in Milton’s “Lycidas” about hungry sheep failing to be fed by a corrupt church, the novel scathingly critiques the entrenched capitalist system that simultaneously destroys the environment and markets products designed to ameliorate the risks caused by contaminated air, water, and food. Written as a loosely connected series of vignettes, the novel illuminates the large temporal and geographical scales of slow violence that Nixon diagnoses. The plot concerns Nutripon, a manufactured food sent to developing countries as part of an American aid package. A shipment causes hallucinations that result in violent behavior, and some believe this is a deliberate attempt to eliminate people of color. Meanwhile, in the United States, money is less and less able to insulate the rich from contaminated food and water. Finally, we learn the Nutripon shipment was contaminated by toxic waste in the factory’s water supply, an accident. In a world of irresponsible polluters who value profit above all else, a conspiracy is not required to produce genocide. Brunner’s work stands out for its global scope and its recognition that the damage done by colonialism continues in and is exacerbated by pollution. The postulate of the Club of Rome report that growth had to be limited was often seen as a critique of
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overpopulation, and a number of films at this time address environmental themes through depictions of authoritarian futures responding to overpopulation, such as Z.P.G. (Michael Campus, dir.; 1972), a cloying lament about a future where it is illegal to have a child; Logan’s Run (Michael Anderson, dir.; 1976), about a hedonistic society that executes those over thirty; and most famously Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, dir.; 1973), with its scandalous solution to the food shortage: wafers made of dead people. Soylent Green is based on Harry Harrison’s sf novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966) but is significantly different. In Harrison’s work overpopulation is the main issue and the name soylent refers to artificial food manufactured from soy and lentils. Along with the more sensational ending, Fleischer’s film stresses pollution as the main cause of a collapsed food chain, captured in an opening montage that shows New York transform from a sustainable town into a green-tinted miasma of contagion and ubiquitous automobiles. Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) is often understood as a prescient novel about climate change, given its desert setting and its invention of several technologies for survival with a minimum of water. It is the first novel is what would become a sprawling franchise.5 The original novel recounts the political machinations by which young Paul Atreides is displaced from his inheritance as a feudal colonizer of Arrakis, lives among nomadic Indigenous peoples
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while mastering psionic powers, and eventually reclaims his dynasty while also fulfilling a messianic prophecy. Alongside Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), in which a libertarian, free love–promoting human comes to Earth from Mars, Dune was read widely outside sf circles when it was published. Heinlein’s strange protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, preached a hippie-like philosophy best expressed by the novel’s invented term “grok,” that is, comprehension so intense as to approximate union with the object of attention, a phrase soon widely used beyond sf. Both novels were embraced by a youthful college audience who saw in them a reflection of their own anti-establishment values. Upon the fiftieth anniversary of Dune’s publication, online commentators wrote widely about its importance as environmental warning.6 The history is more complex than these articles imply: for much of this period, Dune was embraced more as a political fantasy whose appeal was similar to that of the HBO blockbuster series Game of Thrones (2011–2019), and critical discussion of the book emphasized its quasi-religious themes and relation to Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), also popular in countercultural circles. Nonetheless, as Hari Kunzra outlines, Herbert based many of his ideas on research about shifting sand in the Oregon Dunes. As environmental crises and looming climate change have increasingly impressed themselves
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upon the public consciousness, Dune has been reread with such themes in mind, speaking to how new contexts reshape a text’s influence. Paul’s troubling relationship with the Indigenous Fremen peoples also reminds us that ecological issues are bound up with colonial histories, as Brunner more explicitly addresses. A similar repositioning of the imaginary is evident in George Miller’s ongoing Mad Max franchise (1979–2015), where the grim post–peak oil vision of the original trilogy is transformed into a world struggling without water in Fury Road (2015). The shift from pollution to climate change as the main engine of dystopian futures firmly takes hold in the twenty- first century. The explicit turn to sf as a tool for environmental activism characterizes this second generation of writers, who often write fiction about climate change and are involved in activism. Wanuri Kahiu’s important short film Pumzi (2009), depicting the regeneration of a future Africa after a period of intense environmental loss, shows the power of new voices taking up these themes. Another prominent example is Paolo Bacigalupi, who addresses the uneven global effects of climate change. His YA trilogy— Ship Breaker (2010), The Drowned Cities (2012), and Tool of War (2017)—is set in a world changed by sea-level rise and projects both growing economic precarity and the rise of authoritarian governments in such circumstances. Bacigalupi’s most forceful novel to date is The Water Knife (2015), based on a short story originally published in the
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environmental magazine High Country News, about near- future water wars as California, Arizona, and Nevada all battle to control the dwindling resources of the Colorado Basin. It is mainly an indictment of legal manipulations that keep water rights in the hands of an elite, portraying with sympathy the fraught ethical choices left to the disenfranchised, and it concludes with a glimmer of hope in green technologies distributed by a Chinese government that is mostly in the background of the narrative. Octavia Butler’s Parable series (1993–1998) is a truly prescient work about climate change.7 She is one of the few writers of color to achieve prominence in the field during the twentieth century, and her reputation has only grown in the years since her death in 2006. In this series, she imagines a future California beset by massive displacements fueled by climate change. Although published more than twenty years ago, these books read as plausible futures, perhaps now more than ever. Unlike Bacigalupi’s despair, Butler’s novel is rooted in hope, although she depicts an equally grim future. Like her Xenogenesis series, this work demands of its audience that we confront the difficult task of building communities in the face of loss, displacement, and tensions about diversity. The Parable series imagines a future religion, Earthseed, as the core of this new kind of community. As Shelley Streeby outlines in Imagining the Future of Climate Change (2018), Butler’s work has inspired activists, some of whom have
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formed the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network to cultivate the values Butler espoused, treating her sf as a manual for alternative lifeways—what Streeby calls a place “to practice the future.”8 Streeby connects this network to other instances of imaginative activism in twenty-first-century environmental politics, particularly by people of color and Indigenous communities, showing powerful ways that sf is becoming a rhetoric for activist practice. Butler’s vision insists that environmentalism must proceed in tandem with other social justice movements that counter racism and colonialism, a perspective that also informs N. K. Jemisin’s celebrated Broken Earth trilogy, the most important recent work to address climate change and social injustice as mutually constitutive problems. Kim Stanley Robinson has written about the environmental damage caused by capitalism throughout his career, generally offering the hope that technology can ameliorate our dire situation. Climate change is most centrally the focus in his near-future Science in the Capital trilogy (2004–2007), about the struggle to mobilize politics and science together to confront the inevitability of climate change. The first novel, Forty Signs of Rain (2004), focuses on structural barriers that bar research and legislation that could address climate change, and it ends with the spectacle of a flooded Washington, DC. The second novel, Fifty Degrees Below (2005), is set during a mini Ice Age caused by the halting of the Gulf Stream, and it explores possible
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technical options to ameliorate this changed climate: a lichen engineered to capture more carbon, re-salinating the ocean to restart the Gulf Stream, and various tools and clothing that enable a high-tech Paleolithic lifestyle with a smaller carbon footprint than the lifeways of urbanized modernity. The final novel, Sixty Days and Counting (2007), offers the utopian possibility of an elected US president who will prioritize climate change and who institutes a set of policies that push the US economy into sustainable energy, while acknowledge the global disparities that are the legacy of capitalism. A number of the technological amelioration projects succeed, and we are left on the cusp of a new chapter in history. Appearing about the time that Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, we can see in retrospect that the Science in the Capital trilogy addresses issues of extreme weather, just as we can see now that Katrina was only the first of what has since become the new normal for the climate: heat waves, cold waves, extreme storms such as Hurricane Sandy (2012), and more. The vast scope of his work speaks to Robinson’s careful attention to the complexity of climate change and the institutional barriers that prevent even acknowledging this reality in some circles. His wide cast of characters enables readers to see how politicians, lobbyists, funding agencies, displaced migrants, and families in America are all part of the network that informs how climate change is perceived. The
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utopianism of Robinson’s conclusion seems a bit forced, perhaps, but he is careful to show the number of people and institutions that must come together to enact meaningful social change as he refuses to simply capitulate to the cynical despair that fuels Bacigalupi’s work. Although perhaps not self-evidently a climate change novel, Robinson’s Shaman (2013), set during the last ice age and recounting how early humans adapted to a changing climate, further reinforces his ideas about the value of elements of Paleolithic ways of living with, rather than in opposition to, one’s environment. Robinson’s framing of these issues on the scale of human evolution is part of an influential new paradigm in humanities scholarship that theorizes that we are living in the geological era of the Anthropocene, an epoch in which human activity has changed the earth at a geological level.9 In his theoretical work Molecular Red, McKenzie Wark calls this a problem of “metabolic rift,” where the earth is depleted by human economic activity, redistributing molecules in ways that change climates.10 Wark argues that we need an alternative realism to represent adequately, thus understand and respond to, this state of affairs, and further that some speculative fiction—including that by Robinson—offers the theoretical language we need. From a different point of view, mainstream novelist Amitav Ghosh argues in The Great Derangement (2016) that literary fiction fails to address this urgent question
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Wark argues we need an alternative realism to represent adequately, thus understand and respond to, this state of affairs, and speculative fiction offers the theoretical language we need.
because the conventions of literary realism—which solidified during a period in which rationality and order based on mathematical probability were celebrated Enlightenment values—constitutively exclude from its aesthetics the odd coincides and expected events that are the reality of climate change.11 Merely to introduce such events into one’s prose, he laments, “is in fact to court eviction from the mansion in which serious fiction has long been in residence; it is to risk banishment to the humbler dwellings that surround the manor house,” which he labels “generic outhouses,” including science fiction.12 Ghosh does not consider sf a sufficient response to this situation, arguing that its future orientation is only one of the intellectual tools needed. Still, he acknowledges the value of sf. Similarly, Eric Otto argues that the genre offers “an ecorhetorical strategy for works of fiction and nonfiction whose interest lie in questioning deep-seated cultural paradigms,” but also acknowledges the risk that this strategy may inadvertently bolster climate change deniers who seek to characterize all such representations as mere fantasy.13 This reluctance emerges from a misunderstanding of sf as unconnected to reality: rather, it is a genre that always uses its projected other worlds to offer commentary on our material (and contemporary) one, especially to remind us that this world is open to change. There is myriad evidence that authors from outside the genre use sf techniques in precisely this rhetorical way.
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Consider Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s polemical The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014), written as if by a Chinese historian in 2393 who is reflecting back to theorize why Western civilizations failed to act, despite clear signs of their looming collapse. Similarly, popular books such as Alan Weisman’s The World without Us (2007) and the documentary television series Life after People (2009) encourage us to reflect on how humans have changed our environments as they offer speculative visions of ecosystems continuing without us, erasing the technological signs of human habitation. Or consider Werner Herzog’s strange environmental film, The Wild Blue Yonder (2005), which is part documentary, part sf narrative, fused with NASA footage of outer space, deep sea photography, and a scripted narrative about an alien species who destroyed their ecosystem and seek to relocate to Earth. Environmental rhetoric, like speculative design, is one of the main places we see sf become a discursive way to grasp the present. Lindsay Thomas, in a compelling article on preparedness discourse, argues that sf provides a counterdiscourse to the kinds of speculative projections found in disaster planning, including government projections about climate change.14 Whereas documents such as the Department of Defense 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, cited by Thomas, cultivate feelings of neutral detachment and automated response to already anticipated
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scenarios, sf about climate change enables readers to experience multiple affective dimensions and temporalities beyond the individual human life. Preparedness discourse responds to change, understood as disaster, through strategies of containment, while sf offers us the possibility to direct continuous change toward an open future that we (re)make.
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8 ECONOMICS AND FINANCIALIZATION
Unlike many of the topics discussed in earlier chapters, such as robotics and cloning, the connections between sf and economics may not seem apparent at first glance. Yet, these two topics are increasingly linked in recent scholarly and fictional collections. The front cover of Futures and Fictions (2017), for example, describes the book as “essays and conversations that explore alternate narratives and image-worlds that might be pitched against the impasses of our neoliberal present.”1 Economic Science Fictions (2018), an anthology of critical and fictional works, begins from the premise that the economy itself is shaped by a number of fictions, hence the revisionary power of sf is a useful tool for theorizing its structures anew.2 Strange Economics (2018) uses fiction to explore the strangeness of our economic systems and includes discussion questions for each story posed by Elisabeth Perlman, a historian of
economics.3 Economics also propels several of the stories in The People’s Future of the United States (2018), a collection whose title deliberately echoes Howard Zinn’s revisionist A People’s History of the United States (1980): the stories collected here share Zinn’s focus on the marginalized and oppressed.4 This economic turn is not specific to sf. Such concentrated attention on economic structures is apparent in other areas of cultural production and study today, following the 2008 economic crash and influenced by popular movements for economic justice, such as Occupy, that came in its wake. Acute attention to economic themes is evident in much contemporary culture, such as the HBO series Succession (2018–) or the popular film The Big Short (Adam McKay, dir.; 2015), and studies of financialization and culture have become an important new area of cultural critique. Nonetheless, there are reasons why sf has a central voice in such conversations, not the least of which is how the economy itself has turned to instruments such as derivatives, in which speculation names not merely the wager of the market but also a projection into the future. Moreover, these instruments are increasingly detached from any material production and are often traded by AIs running algorithms, yet another materialization of sf in daily life.5 In his foreword to Economic Science Fictions, Mark Fisher draws attention to the fictions that inform capital’s story about itself—such as the justice of
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The economy itself has turned to instruments such as derivatives, in which speculation names not merely the wager of the market but also a projection into the future.
the invisible hand—and argues that “capital’s economic science fictions cannot simply be opposed; they need to be countered by economic science fictions that can exert pressure on capital’s current monopolization of possible realities.”6 Many sf writers agree. In addition to the cultural turn toward economic analysis that has shaped the last decade, there is a strong tendency for cultural theories to see in sf a tool able to think through ongoing economic crises and chart out possible ways forward. For example, Peter Frase’s Four Futures: Life after Capitalism (2016) takes on the relationship between ecological crisis and technological change to project four possible futures arising from this moment, based on social orders of either equality or hierarchy, and conditions of either abundance or scarcity.7 It may seem challenging to imagine conditions of abundance in a context of climate change and one where people fear job loss due to automation, but this scenario, too, has a kind of sf theory behind it in the discourse of accelerationism. Adherents to this social theory argue that rather than seek to dismantle capitalism as a path toward social change, we should instead accelerate it, thereby also intensifying its inherent contradictions and prompting its collapse, opening the path to something better. Technological change is generally what is imagined to accelerate in this way, in some views leading to the technological singularity and thus quite different conditions for human existence (discussed in chapter 5),
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while others see this as a chance to reorient technology toward collectivist ends that would free people from labor that is dangerous or simply demeaning and boring, creating a postcapitalist world. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future (2016) is a manifesto of sorts for this leftist version of accelerationism. They argue that “the utopian potentials inherent in twenty-first-century technology cannot remain bound to a parochial capitalist imagination” and that “articulating and achieving this better world is the fundamental task of the left today.”8 Much of this work reads like sf, drawing especially from Afrofuturist and other activist discourses within the genre. Economic structures are vital to our understanding of human social orders, something that has long shaped sf. While Golden Age sf of the 1930s and 1940s imagined marvelous improvements through technological innovation, they were often funded by millionaire inventors or imagined to be the source of some clever inventor’s rise to wealth, an early sf vision of the Silicon Valley dotcom boom that would catapult many into the financial elite in the 1990s. Such works assume that a market economy would simply continue into the future, rewarding the innovators, even if this system was imagined to be based on some new currency, often issued by a global government. The future outlined in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation works (1942–1953) projects thousands of years of future history of a galactic empire organized by mathematical governance
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of a planned economy.9 Science fiction has often delighted in inventing novel kinds of money, from the “ob” currency of Eric Frank Russell’s “And Then There Were None” (1951), a system of mutual aid in which people strive not to become over-obligated by providing as much as they take from the community; to the whuffie currency of social metrics in Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), a post-scarcity world in which money as we know it is irrelevant; to time itself as a currency in Andrew Niccol’s film In Time (2011), a currency used to make visible how unjust economic orders extend the lives of the wealthy as they simultaneously shorten the lives of the indebted. Philip K. Dick’s midcentury works often depict a future economy using a credit system rather than physical currency, such as the PosCred in the anticonsumerist Ubik (1969). Its protagonist, Joe Chip, sometimes cannot make his domestic technologies function because he lacks sufficient credits, a very prescient vision of pay-as-you-go licensing that is now common in software. The idea of a credit system dates all the way back to Bellamy’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887, therein imagined as the foundation for a system in which all citizens are entitled to a share of collectively produced wealth. Felix Martin argues in Money: The Unauthorized Biography (2015) that instead of understanding money as either a commodity (like gold) or a medium of exchange (like a system of accounts), we should understand it as “a social
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technology: a set of ideas and practices which organise what we produce and consume, and the way we live together.”10 This definition connects economic systems with sf technological extrapolation. William Gibson’s recent The Peripheral (2014) is partially set in a future kleptocracy, a social order that emerges after a series of entwined environmental, economic, and social disasters kills most of the human population, and partially in a near future that seeks to prevent this catastrophe. Gibson uses parallels between these timelines to draw attention to financial structures in the near future (the reader’s world) that prefigure the coming dystopia based on the abuse of political structures to extend elite personal wealth. Claire North’s 84K (2018) imagines a very similar future, although hers does not require the disruption caused by apocalyptic die-off. Insurance companies and privatized governance rule the day, and ownership is in the hands of a tiny elite, such that tracing corporate structures reveals that ultimately all companies are owned by The Company, which contracts through its various subsidiaries to provide all goods and services to UK citizens. A complicated actuarial practice calculates the financial costs to society of all crimes—property damage, but also loss of labor- power from murdered individuals, for example— and bills them to the perpetrators. Those unable to pay said fines are confined to a debtors’ prison, funded by corporate sponsors for whom they serve as an indentured labor
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force; meanwhile, wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands and jobs that pay a living wage vanish. £84,000 is the price the assassin pays for a contracted death that launches the novel’s revolutionary plot. Such a vision of the future without work offers a dystopian counterpoint to the utopian vision of accelerationism’s postwork future. Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous (2017), about a future in which patented pharmaceuticals sharply differentiate the quality and longevity of life available to the wealthy from that which is accessible to the poor, is another novel that features indentured labor, with people selling their lives in a contract rather than being employed for a wage. Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City (2018), set in a floating Arctic city in a world devasted by climate change, features similar financial contracts, and the wealthy ensure their continued hegemony by fueling ethnic and religious dissent among the dispossessed. The contrast between these novels and accelerationism’s hopefulness points to the need to pair the automation of labor with a social system that frees human life from reliance on wages. Here sf, social activism, and speculative design all converge in the ideal of a guaranteed basic income system, which could enable increased automation of labor without casting more people into poverty. Various proposals for guaranteed basic income have been advocated by activists and contemplated by governments, but as yet there is no consensus on the costs or benefits of
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a system of public support that is neither tied to means testing nor distributed via specific criteria of entitlement (such as food stamp projects, aid to families with children, and the like). The Future Tense project at ASU (discussed chapter 3) held an event about universal basic income in September 2018, and the topic appears as a motif across a number of chapters in Adrian Hon’s A History of the Future in 100 Objects (2013), an intriguing blend of futurology and sf that provides glimpses into a possible future by describing one hundred new technologies as if from a further future for which they are artifacts of the past.11 Hon’s technique stresses the degree to which technological and social changes are entwined, and although basic minimum income is not one of his one hundred innovations, it recurs across more than a dozen of his chapters: as a demand citizens make in the wake of some innovations, as a solution to problems caused by unemployment due to innovation, or as the condition of possibility that enabled the time and creativity required for a major breakthrough. Similarly, Tim O’Reilly’s nonfictional WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us (2017) projects the great wealth that software innovation will bring but warns that, unless society finds a way to share this wealth equitably, disruptive rather than positive social change will be the result.12 Fiction is beginning to imagine worlds that feature universal basic income, such as the hugely popular The Expanse series (2011), written by James S. A. Corey,13
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adapted into a television series on SyFy (2015–). Most of the plot is focused on political conflicts, but we see in the background that basic income support is part of the social structure, although it is regarded with some of the same stigma often attached to existing social welfare programs. Hugh Howey’s “No Algorithm in the World” (2018), one of the stories in A People’s Future of the United States, offers something like the accelerationist view of a future freed from both labor and economic precarity. Told from the point of view of a son whose father is an entrepreneur, the story anticipates a radical shift in attitudes toward the economy by the generational gap between these characters. The father credits his economic success to his trust in the market: his willingness to always model his businesses on whatever big data algorithms tell him is needed for an area. He frequently derides those he sees as wastrel freeloaders, living off basic income rather than working as he does. The story is told while his son accompanies him on business errands, their only opportunity to spend time together. Eventually the son reveals that he and his wife both plan to quit their jobs and live on “basic [income]” so that they can devote time and energy to raising the child they expect, showing contempt for his father’s work ethic that he views as empty of human values such as love and community. Both generations experience economic benefits because of a more efficient economy managed by algorithms, but only the son embraces values
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not predicated on economic contributions being the core of life. Many of the stories in Strange Economics use the estrangement techniques of sf to draw attention to the problems of our contemporary economic system, using familiar genre icons to help readers conceptualize otherwise difficult to grasp abstractions of a financialized economy. Fraser Sherman’s “The Grass Is Always Greener” interrogates the generational effects of wealth and income inequality by imagining a world in which those with capital but poor fates can literally purchase the destiny of someone poor in capital but rich in other ways, such as family or friends or career happiness. Neil James Hudson’s “The Slow Bomb” allegorizes how we ignore the risks of climate change for the sake of profit. It imagines a world-destroying bomb falling over decades: its economist protagonist is asked to write a report for the government proving that it is worth increasing the bomb’s rate of fall by siphoning away some of its energy, that is, shortening the time left for the world, in order to enhance economic productivity in the present via this siphoned energy. Wayne Cusack’s “Guns or Butter” rewrites alien invasion so that the damage is caused not by physical occupation by alien forces but rather by these aliens flooding the market with technologies such that local industries die out and humans are enthralled to economic alien overlords. K. M. McKenzie’s “Consumption” presents an immersive virtual world experience that
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reads the emotions of its players to promote hyperactive shopping—all purchases made while in the simulation are billed to real accounts and materially delivered outside the game, although their material form is not quite as fantastic as they seemed in simulation. A number of motifs recur across sf stories that project the future in economic terms. Concern about for-profit health care is a prevalent theme, as is the idea that an excess workforce is an unproductive drain on the economy, usually expressed in stories that critique how such people are thus dehumanized. Popular films have taken up similar themes, such as Miguel Sapochnik’s Repo Men (2010), a satire that lampoons the death caused by a health-care industry that prioritizes profit, set in a world in which expensive artificial organ replacements, purchased on installment, are violently repossessed from living patients if payments are late.14 Duncan Jones’s poignant film Moon (2009) envisions a future of mining a new energy source on the moon. The protagonist, Sam, is lonely in this isolating work but counts the sacrifice worth the salary he will eventually make upon his return to Earth. The visual aesthetic of the film is not the familiar sleek space-age design of earlier films, but more evocative of the dirty and dangerous conditions of other kinds of energy mining. The inhumanity of this economy of extraction (of energy, of surplus value) is made starkly visible when Sam eventually learns he is just another disposable part of this system, a
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clone who will be incinerated when his labor-power (and life) are used up. He will be replaced by a store of identical Sams, all waiting to serve their three years, each sustained by the illusion that he is the original, human Sam. Perhaps the closest connection among sf, contemporary culture, and finance is in the social technologies of payment systems, especially the invention of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Bitcoin and other digital currencies raise the question of what makes a currency “real” and detach this “realness” from both physical entities (such as gold) and governments (as what legitimates a currency). The rise of Bitcoin and the alternative cultures that surround it reinforce the ways we might think of the economy as a kind of sf, and of money as a social technology shaping far more than methods of payment. New forms of payment, from coin and cash, to debit and credit cards, to electronic payments via mobile phones, have all shifted social relations of the market, and, throughout the twentieth century, have tended to put banking institutions at the center. A bank account is often required to receive funds from aid agencies and employers, the credit rating system increasingly has power over people’s daily lives and opportunities, and online commerce has resulted in a massive transformation of employment conditions as storefronts close and massive warehouses proliferate.15 Such changes inform a larger conversation about access to financial institutions as necessary for civic inclusion, inspiring
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The rise of Bitcoin and the alternative cultures that surround it reinforce the ways we might think of the economy as a kind of sf, and of money as a social technology.
experiments with digital currencies, further fusing sf and materiality. These discussions have common roots with sf cultures of the 1990s, especially the significant overlap between cyberpunk and the online liberation group cypherpunks, who see in cryptocurrency an important way to elude government surveillance of one’s financial transactions. Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (1999) explores this culture in its tale of an IT start-up that develops its own international cryptocurrency. Political opinion differs widely regarding how cryptocurrencies will unfold in the future: while Bitcoin emphasizes privacy and freedom from fees paid to financial institutions, others, such as FairCoin, seek to reinvent currency in ways that privilege equality and redistribution.16 Those experimenting with different cryptocurrencies thus embed their design within distinct and different visions of desirable futures, positioning currency as another technology that can create multiple outcomes. As sociologists of economics note, and as sf is beginning to explore, what is potentially most revolutionary about cryptocurrencies are their underlying blockchain architecture. Blockchain enables a wide range of new peer- to-peer applications such as Airbnb and Uber, sometimes referred to as platform capitalism (or the shared economy), and opens the door to thinking about other technologically mediated forms of distributed corporate and civic decision making. In their overview of such possibilities, Wall
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Street journalists Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey imagine a future of “entities owned by multiple shareholders for which routine financial decisions—when to release funds to pay for expenses, how big a dividend to pay—are automated by the firm’s guiding software and entrusted to a tamperproof system that’s verified by the blockchain.”17 This automated governance is reminiscent of Asimov’s Foundation but even more strongly resembles posthumanist futures projected in Iain M. Banks’s Culture series (1987–2012), set in a distant future where the economy is planned by AIs and all boring or dangerous work is done by nonsentient machines. Charles Stross’s Accelerando (2005) takes this vision a step further, imagining an AI that has emerged from the interactions of so many smart trading algorithms. As in the case of technologies such as robotics or genetic engineering, the imaginative exchanges work in both directions. Just as Stross extrapolates current AI trading beyond the singularity, venture capitalists such as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss draw on sf imagery when they describe their vision that “a Trade Singularity will occur, whereby trade between machines, computers and things, will exceed trade between humans. Uncreative tasks will become primarily automated causing goods and services to become much cheaper and living standards to rise.”18 Karl Schroeder’s novel Stealing Worlds (2019) imagines a version of blockchain governance, combined with AI, that might give voice to nonhuman entities such as
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riverways or particular animal species as part of a new vision of collective governance that prioritizes environmental sustainability over capitalist profit. In Neptune’s Brood (2013), Stross directly takes on questions of debt, specifically debt as made into the type of tradable financial instruments that prompted the 2008 crash. This novel was inspired by reading David Graeber’s masterful Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011), which demonstrates how debt has been used as a tool of political control.19 Stross’s protagonist is a scholar of accounting practices and, as she unravels a mystery related to a lost colony and appropriated assets, she educates readers about three kinds of money in this future: fast money is used for daily transactions, and is similar to currency as we recognize it; medium money is a fixed asset, something that can serve as a stable store of value over a long duration, necessary for civilizations that involve the time dilation of interstellar travel; and finally slow money is currency traded between interstellar civilizations, a universal currency that requires decades or more to complete a single transaction. The world Stross imagines needs all three kinds of money to accommodate trading across stellar distances. The larger thematic point has to do with how such financialized economies, always trading in terms of projected value, make debts into tradable assets, burdening a future that must pay debt generated by consumption in the present.
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Kim Stanley Robinson also makes indebtedness central to New York 2140 (2017), a novel that is equally about climate change. By 2140 the city has adjusted to the fact that much of Manhattan is underwater: transport by water has taken over, and people live on only the highest floors of skyscrapers. The plot is propelled by tension between the wealthy, who still live in privatized residences, and those who live collectively in cooperatives, pooling resources in a less consumerist economy. The denouement involves a collective debt strike—countering how debt has become an engine of wealth creation in the financialized economy—a refusal to pay that crashes this unjust economy. Robinson’s combination of ecological and economic themes testifies to how much the economy is a technology like any other, a tool to shape the future in diverse ways— and thus an apt topic for sf.
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9 CONCLUSION: LIVING IN A SCIENCE-F ICTIONAL WORLD
In December 2017, the science journal Nature published “Science Fiction When the Future Is Now,” in which they asked six contemporary sf writers—Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds, and Aliette de Bodard—to comment on the importance and trajectory of the genre.1 They received six very different answers, an outcome I hope readers will have come to expect by now, reinforcing an understanding that sf is not a single thing; rather, it is (and has long been) mobilized by a range of people to support myriad projects that involve making our future through story. Nature’s list of writers is well chosen, representing not only a range of approaches to the genre, but also a global sense of the genre today: Beukes is South African, Robinson is from the United States, Liu is Chinese American,
Rajaniemi is from Finland, Reynolds is from the UK, and de Bodard is French Vietnamese. Their responses reveal that the twin engines that propel the genre—engagement with how science and technology change the world, and imagining different worlds in response to social and political issues—remain equally powerful now as when the genre emerged. Beukes, Robinson, and de Bodard speak of ways that sf can address climate change, migration and refugees, and socioeconomic change; Liu, Rajaniemi, and Reynolds focus on the rapidity of technological change, always in dialogue with how such advances reshape human community. All agree that sf is not a genre of prediction, but that it does have a relationship to ideas about futurity even, or perhaps especially, when it gets the specific details wrong. For example, the cyberpunk imaginary of humans fused with their technology is not an accurate image of technologies that emerged, but effectively—and affectively— captures the blurring of digital and material spaces that is our current reality. All suggest reasons why storytelling about technology is necessary to cultures undergoing rapid change. Robinson calls sf “the realism of our time” and offers the metaphor of 3D glasses to explain sf’s particular way of framing our perceptions: through one lens we see a possible future and through the other metaphors for the present, creating a genre simultaneously about today and the future.2 Science fiction futures draw attention
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to our active production of the future as we decide how to use technologies, whom they will benefit, and which social worlds they will enable or displace. Liu suggests sf is about “remaining human in the face of ceaseless change,3 while Reynolds highlights the genre’s role in understanding “turbulence, transformation, and unpredictability” as inevitable elements of the future.4 I would add that this is why sf remains distinct from, but related to, corporate appropriations of its tools and motifs as sf prototyping and the like. Each of these writers understands sf as a cultural project to shape the future, a power that must be used responsibly. De Bodard stresses uneven access to technological improvements made available by science and industry, arguing that sf is about not only the futures they made possible but also about “the vast inequities between those who benefit from scientific advances and wealth, and those left behind.” She anticipates sf and mainstream fiction “becoming ever more entangled” into the twenty-first century, and I agree.5 In an online Forbes magazine article, Adam Rowe recently reported that sales of science fiction and fantasy have doubled since 2010, a fact that previously went unnoticed because industry statistics were based on print book sales, overlooking works published only in electronic form.6 While a growth in volume does not correlate to a growth in quality, this trend still points to the growing influence of sf visions.
This book has asked what the commonplace assertion that we now “live in a science-fictional world” might mean and how acknowledging exchanges between sf and everyday life changes our understanding of the genre—indeed, is a mark that the genre has changed. This sense of reality and sf merging is fueled not only by new technologies but also by a public sphere shaped by Twitter, elections hacked via Facebook, and other ways that reality increasingly seems to have a surreal surplus. In my approach, the term science fiction describes less a literary genre with more or less clearly demarcated boundaries and more a way of thinking and perceiving, a toolbox of methods for conceptualizing, intervening in, and living through rapid and widespread sociotechnical change. As sf has grown in cultural influence and in the range of people contributing to the genre, it has also mutated in myriad ways: not everyone creating sf shares the same understanding of what the genre is and why it matters. Thus I conclude by reminding readers that this book is neither a history of sf nor a survey of its most important works; rather, it is an analysis of the sites where sf is most central to our contemporary cultural imagination.7 Throughout, I have been less interested in exploring what sf has been and more focused on analyzing what it can do. This focus on sf of the present moment has resulted in a minimal focus on the kind of sf that was once most iconic, stories of space travel and interplanetary colonization, to
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Science fiction describes a way of thinking and perceiving, a toolbox of methods for conceptualizing, intervening in, and living through rapid and widespread sociotechnical change.
which I now briefly turn. Certainly, this kind of sf persists. Arguably one of the main reasons the Golden Age sf is remembered so fondly is that its visions coincided with the contemporary American project of creating a space program and landing on the moon. NASA has always had a close relationship to sf, and Constance Penley’s NASA/ Trek details how thoroughly these entities are entwined in the popular imagination.8 Between 1952 and 1970, the US Air Force conducted Project Blue Book, a systematic study of all data related to UFO sightings, aimed at determining whether they presented a threat to national security. Ultimately judging that no evidence of UFOs was credible, this project was closed without fanfare and largely forgotten, although the recent fictionalized History channel series Project Blue Book (2019–) will perhaps revive interest in this implausible, albeit true, initiative. In 1976, when NASA innovated space travel with a vehicle capable of reentry and reuse, the Space Shuttle, Star Trek fans proudly insisted that the first such vehicle be named Enterprise, after Captain Kirk’s famed vessel. The Star Trek series Enterprise (2001–2005), about the era when humans become a space-faring species, further conflates history and sf in its opening credits, which feature images of the invention of flight from the Wright brothers through the Space Shuttle program and beyond, into its fictionalized future. In 1986, the Space Shuttle program experienced its first major accident, when the Challenger
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exploded shortly after take-off, killing everyone aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher selected to participate in the Teacher in Space program, designed both to inspire interest in STEM education and public support for NASA.9 In the wake of this tragedy, NASA reached out directly to the public in an Open Letter to the American People, published in the New York Times, which asked readers to advocate for Congress to allocate funds for rebuilding the lost shuttle, suggesting this was the most appropriate way to honor the dead. This advertisement was signed by a number of supporters who contributed to the huge printing costs, including Golden Age sf writers Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.10 In the ongoing cycle of art imitating life imitating art, the Hulu series The First (2018) imagines the early years of a new space program to colonize Mars—notably, this time driven by private industry rather than government agency—similarly tested by the loss of their first crew and vehicle due to a faulty part. The National Geographic series Mars (2016–2018) takes this constitutive relationship between sf and ongoing space research a step further. A hybrid of documentary, educational program, and fictional narrative set between 2033 and 2045, it follows the crew of the first manned mission to Mars as they terraform and colonize the planet. Extrapolated from Stephen Petranek’s book How We’ll Live on Mars (2015), the series mixes fictional segments with interviews with scientists and engineers working on
real-world efforts to colonize Mars. Its release was accompanied by a companion book, Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet (2016), that provides more information about the underlying science.11 This series creates publicity for Elon Musk’s SpaceX program even more directly than earlier sf provided support for NASA, and National Geographic aired a related television movie Mars: Inside SpaceX (2018). Is this science fiction, corporate advertising, or edutainment? Given how sf functions in contemporary culture, the overlaps among these categories are too extensive to overlook, even as we also acknowledge that this particular example is only one among many things that sf does today. Hewing closer to sf as a genre of social imaginaries, Lisa Messeri’s ethnographic work among those at the Mars Desert Research Station preparing to embark on such missions shows another nexus of fiction and research. Fueling their imagination with sf about life on Mars, these scientists gain a new temporal orientation toward Earth via their imaginative way of looking at our planet, beginning to see in the landscape how environments thousands of years ago gave rise to contemporary formations. Through imaginative projection and protocols that simulate living on Mars, researchers position themselves in a future of Martian colonization, drawing on the language of sf to create “a material instantiation of a speculative future.”12 This is another thing that sf can do, enabling new experiences of
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habituated perception and practice as much as new technological possibilities. Space travel and the “rocket ship” thus remain part of the sf imaginary, but they no longer define the genre as they once did. Many worlds of twenty-first-century sf are close to futures we might see in our own lifetimes, a genre that is very different from the fledgling literary mode championed by Gernsback. They are very different as well from the surrealist experiments of the New Wave, which sought to alienate readers from—rather than reconcile them to—how new technologies were changing daily life. And they are different yet again from the intergalactic space adventures made popular by Star Wars (1977), now enjoying a renewed popularity. These are all science fiction while remaining distinct from one another. I am aware that in describing sf in this way I refuse to acknowledge boundaries that many deem important— between science fiction and fantasy, genre and literary fictions, speculative aesthetics of forecasting and those in art. To be clear, I am not suggesting that all of this book’s examples are identical in intent or achievement. I find it more useful, however, to think of such differences as ways of using a shared set of tools for imagining the world otherwise, that is, as different ways of doing sf— for different ends—that produce a myriad of texts and practices best understood in relation to one another. I contend that approaching sf as a network of features and
representations—near-future extrapolation, far-future space adventure, social thought experiments, new gadget stories—provides a more robust way of theorizing how this cultural mode works, namely by following influences and reactions across a range of texts and contexts. The defense of various boundaries unduly limits our ability to theorize how images and motifs circulate as they are mobilized and renewed by multiple communities of practice. To a degree, this variety has always been the case: H. G. Wells did not set out to produce a new literary genre, but rather to adapt literature to the changing circumstances of the late-nineteenth century, a world in which science was replacing religion as the dominant cultural narrative. Writing about the failure of literary fiction to conceptualize and respond to climate change, Ghosh suggests that the expulsion of sf and other genre fiction from the “manor house” of respectable literary fiction has to do in part with such changing relations between science and artistic culture.13 As C. P. Snow notes in his influential “The Two Cultures” (1959), by the mid-twentieth century the sciences and the humanities had become so separated as to constitute distinct and non-overlapping cultures.14 Anticipating Ghosh, Snow also argued that this segregation of knowledge was a hindrance to solving humanity’s most pressing problems. The strength of the best sf is that it keeps one foot in each of these worlds.
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Ghosh extols the value of fiction overall in language that seems very close to a description of sf. For him, fiction enables us “to approach the world in a subjunctive mode, to conceive of it as if it were other than it is: in short, the great, irreplaceable potentiality of fiction is that it makes possible the imagining of possibilities.”15 In another context, Peter Boxall argues in The Value of the Novel (2015) that this literary form is culturally important due to its “world-making power” and “resistance to value as presently understood or constituted, its right to be judged not by the terms that we have available, but by those futural forms which it alone is able to summon into existence.”16 These too are qualities central to sf—worldmaking, futurity, cultural change. In drawing attention to these parallels, I do not claim that all literature is sf or that sf somehow captures what is best about literature overall. My point is that the increasing presence of sf as a mode in twenty-first-century culture is driven not only by the centrality of science and technology to daily life, but also by sf’s strong relationship to the utopian tradition and its project of social transformation. Science fiction can be a vital cultural form, as high literary cultures are beginning to acknowledge. This book has traced a transformation from thinking about science fiction as a set of narrative conventions and plot motifs to conceiving of it as mode for perceiving, understanding, and responding to a changeable world. It
has included some context about the genre’s history as a way to understand how it emerged out of a more diverse set of cultural forms when it was named by early editors and fans, a trajectory that may be reversing itself as sf tendencies infuse other areas of cultural practice. Although there is still a recognizable sf community of writers and fans, this group is far larger, more distributed, and more heterogeneous than First Fandom was, a fact that some public understandings of the genre have yet to grasp. In sum, to paraphrase Claude Lévi-Strauss, science fiction is good to think with:17 it is a vibrant and increasingly prevalent form well-suited to the rapid pace of technological change and the global systems of governance that we live with today. This history is important, but the genre’s history is not the limit of what it might do as it continues to change, enlivened by new voices and increasingly finding itself at the center rather than the margins of contemporary culture. This is a crucial point, not only because certain readers may be disappointed at not finding a specific text or author mentioned in these pages but also because of my conviction that now is a moment when the genre is particularly open to becoming something new. In the past when sf writers and readers were a smaller community and the venues for sf publishing were more circumscribed, it was plausible to speak of a single community. Certainly, there were tensions and differences of ideological opinion
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within this community, and some of the most important innovations came from writers who sought to revise and reinvent given tropes. Yet, even when authors strained against the parochial limits imposed by influential editors or the myopic visions of some of their own number, there was a shared core knowledge that they either contributed to or reacted against. This has changed. Among the most exciting things about contemporary sf is that the genre is embraced by so many more people, coming from diverse backgrounds and geographical locations, readers and writers who often absorbed sf through daily life and from popular film and television, not through reading the Grand Masters who came before them.18 While for some this is cause for concern as tradition erodes, I see it as a positive development, a chance to throw off the weight of the past and free the genre from some of its least admirable moments, such as its perpetuation of settler colonial logics, its militaristic space opera, or its Eurocentric notions of technology. Writers who come to sf because they live in a world now filled with things once only anticipated in its texts are not influenced by how these technologies and their futures have been imagined before. Those inventing sf traditions in Africa, through Latinx culture, in dialogue with Indigenous science, or focused on the consequences of climate change for the poor—all create fresh perspectives on a genre we thought we knew.
Science fiction remains a Janus- faced discourse, equally available as a tool to critique injustices of the present and inspire better futures or deployed to reconcile us to the inevitability of the future as a continuation of our present consisting of technologized capitalism and social injustice. The social imagination and the stories we tell, the worlds we build with our stories, matter. Consider the film Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, dir.; 2016) based on the eponymous book by Margot Lee Shetterly, about the African American women whose mathematical skills ensured NASA’s celebrated achievements in the early years of the Space Race.19 Had these women of color, rather than white male astronauts, been the celebrated cultural icons of the Space Race, how different would that cultural moment have been? What kinds of futures would the Space Race have inspired us to imagine and build? As you contemplate the difference such a difference would make, as you glimpse this other possible world, you grasp the power of science fiction and why it is an essential discourse for contemporary life.
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The social imagination and the stories we tell, the worlds we build with our stories, matter.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The list of people to whom I owe thanks for conversations that have shaped the ideas represented in this book is immense, and so my first expression of gratitude is simply to the field of sf studies itself, which has challenged me to become a better thinker and, even when it frustrated me, served as an important space for collaboration and refinement of ideas. Gerry Canavan, Grace Dillon, Paweł Frelik, David Higgins, Nalo Hopkinson, Roger Luckhurst, Colin Milburn, Hugh O’Connell, John Rieder, Steve Shaviro Rebekah Sheldon, and Taryne Taylor have been important interlocutors, and also sustained me through friendship and community alongside their astute scholarship. I owe thanks to my fellow editors at Science Fiction Studies, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Art Evans, Joan Gordan, Veronica Hollinger, Carol McGuirk, and Lisa Swanstrom, and am grateful for their camaraderie and intellectual example. I owe special thanks to my editor, Susan Buckley, for inviting me to work on this project and for helpful guidance throughout the process.
Finally, I thank my graduate students, past and present, in the Speculative Fictions and Cultures of Science Program. They inspire me with cutting-edge research in the field, work that embodies the range of things that the genre may yet become. This book reflects the possibilities for science fiction’s futures that I see daily as I have the privilege of working with them.
Used as a noun in critical discourse about how people are motivated to behavior or make choices, affect describes the role of emotion or feeling in influencing what people do; it is used in contrast to logic or reason as motivational forces. Cognitive estrangement
A longstanding definition of science fiction by Darko Suvin, in which “cognitive” refers to ideas or knowledge (understood as “science” by Suvin) and “estrangement” refers to the sense of the unexpected or unfamiliar associated with the different world of the fiction. The term has its roots in estrangement as a kind of alienation effect, theorized by Bertolt Brecht as an important function of art—that is, to make the familiar strange to audiences—thereby to see what we take for granted in a new way. Cyberpunk
An important subgenre of science fiction that emerged in the 1980s, the cyber refers to computers and other IT, especially virtual reality, and the punk to the anti-establishment values associated with punk rock. The hacker heroes of cyberpunk used their skills with IT to reject and reorient its uses by corporate culture, just as punk music commented on consumerist culture by using its products in unintended ways. Derivatives
The root meaning of the term is something based on another source, and it is used to describe financial instruments that circulate as tradeable stocks. Instead of being linked to an underlying material asset, the value of derivatives is linked to an underlying and ever-changing financial asset such as a stock, the value of market indexes, interest rates, and the like. Fandom
A term used to describe a subculture of enthusiastic advocates (fans), the term has a particular meaning within science fiction, where fans have played a very significant role in the genre’s history. Early fans produced informal newsletters (fanzines) whose circulation created a sense of community and provided the
first language for analysis of the genre. The first fan conventions were grassroots events within which writers, editors, and fans were often interchangeable, and these meetings grew out of locally organized fan societies. Fandom was the origin of many institutions that are hugely influential today, such as WorldCon, which presents the Hugo Awards, and the WisCon feminist convention, founded in 1977, home of the Otherwise Award (recognizing gender diversity) and the Carl Brandon Award (recognizing works countering racism). Fan studies have become an influential area of scholarship in its own right, often focusing on Internet-era fandom and fan fictions (in print and other media), a practice of extending or rewriting texts to reflect values and perspectives that fans wish to see as part of the text’s fictional universe. Once a fairly integrated community, fandom is now a large institution with a variety of subcultures within in. Golden Age
The period of publishing from the late 1930s to the 1950s that has traditionally been seen as the period when science fiction developed its mature form. The genre made the transition from pulp magazines into paperback series during this period, with many early novels being compilations of several linked series. Writers who became celebrated originators of the genre published their most celebrated works during this period, chiefly Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Heinlein. This period is largely shaped by the editorial dominance of John W. Campbell and marks a move away from Hugo Gernsback. Hegemony
A term used in critical theory, chiefly associated with the work of Antonio Gramsci, it describes leadership or dominance of an idea or set of beliefs. Gramsci uses the term to explain how unequal power relationships are sustained in democratic societies (in contrast to the force used by dictatorships). Kleptocracy
Sharing the same root as “kleptomania” (“klepto” means theft in Greek), this is a term for a mode of government by an elite who use their political power to enhance their own wealth rather than to serve the nation or its citizens. Labor-power
Used by Karl Marx to refer to the work capacity that is sold on the market in conditions of wage labor, the term marks a distinction important to Marx
between the natural activity of humanity (labor) and the alienation that follows when this part of one’s self is impersonally sold as an interchangement commodity on the market (labor-power). New Wave
A term marketing a new set of aesthetic and thematic concerns, it has been applied to all of cinema, pop music, and science fiction. In this last context, it names a movement in the 1960s and 1970s that overtly linked the genre with contemporary countercultural movements. The New Wave was also concerned with literary style and formal experimentation and thus marks a shift within science fiction, understanding the genre more as a specific aesthetic cultural form rather than as an extension of interest in science generally, aligned with things like membership in rocketry clubs. Speculative
Most basically, the term means “conjectural,” or refers to presentations based on extrapolation rather than certain knowledge. It also has the meaning of “hypothetical” or “uncertain,” and thus has come to be associated with wagers and risks (as in speculative finance). Within science fiction communities, it is sometimes preferred over the adjective “science” to describe fiction that differs from realist depiction, but not always based on scientific extrapolation. The term dates back to a 1947 essay by Robert Heinlein, meant to convey that the genre was interested in larger social questions, not just stories about the latest new gadget. It came into wider use to describe the more surrealist aesthetics of the New Wave, and is widely used today, often as a term that refuses genre boundaries among science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The reluctance to use the term science fiction is especially important in the work of writers who critique histories in which science as a concept has been complicit in colonial dismissals of non-Western knowledge and perspectives. Surplus value
A term used by Karl Marx to explain the difference between what it costs to make a product and the price at which that product sells on a market—profit is the difference between these two prices. The idea is key to Marx’s theory, because he argues that this difference comes from exploiting the workers (extracting surplus value from them). The capitalist wants to pay as little as possible, but since human labor is the only source of value for Marx, the price of the product always represents its physical materials + the labor to make it:
thus, a difference in manufacturing price vs. market price can only be achieved by paying the workers less than their true contribution. Technocratic
A form of government based on rule and leadership by an elite of technical experts, generally understood to be experts in technology itself within science fiction contexts. Terraform
A term developed within science fiction to describe the engineering processes by which a planet’s environment and ecosystem is changed, usually used to describe making a planet more like Earth to enable human colonization. First used in a story published in 1942. Trope
A term in literary study used to refer to a figural use of language. It can collectively describe a range of techniques that each have specific and more narrow meanings (metaphor, simile, metonymy, etc.) and is also used to refer to a recurrent theme or idea, such as the “genius inventor” trope of pulp science fiction.
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1. Hugo Gernsback, “A New Sort of Magazine,” Amazing Stories 1, no. 1 (April 1926): 3. 2. John Rieder, “On Defining SF, or Not: Genre Theory, SF, and History,” Science Fiction Studies 27, no. 3 (July 2010): 191–209. See also his Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2017). 3. Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (New York: Anchor Books, 2012). She goes on to explain that she differentiates a tradition of “the impossible,” which she associates with H. G. Wells, from one that descends from Jules Verne, whom she understands to write about technological advances that very well could happen (6). Gernsback himself yoked Wells and Verne together, alongside Edgar Allan Poe, as practitioners avant la lettre of the mode he sought to cultivate. Verne, however, was closer to Atwood’s view and objected to being conflated with Wells precisely because they drew on contemporary science very differently. See Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint, The Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction (London: Routledge, 2011), 13. 4. See Sherryl Vint, “The Cultures of Science,” in The Oxford Handbook to Science Fiction, ed. Rob Latham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 305–316. 5. Gary K. Wolfe, Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011). 6. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011). 7. The novel’s conclusion, of course, in which the microbial environment of Earth proves fatal to Martian species who evolved in a different planetary context, extrapolates in a more straightforward way from known science. In our present moment, when colonizing Mars is hyped by technologists such as Elon Musk as the only viable future of humanity, these questions remain pressing: the field of astrobiology and offices of planetary protection in NASA and other space agencies consider the consequences of microbial transfer between planets. Michael Crichton’s popular The Andromeda Strain (1969), adapted for film and television, explored the idea of viral contamination from the opposite perspective, when a meteor creates an outbreak on Earth. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora (2015) aggressively counters the fantasy of human colonization
of other planets by drawing attention to the fact that we are dependent on the microbial environment within which we evolved for our biological functioning. 8. Writer R. A. Lafferty, quoted in Mike Ashley, Gateways to Forever: The Story of the Science Fiction Magazines from 1970 to 1980 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007), 15. 9. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre, ed. Gerry Canavan (Dublin: Ralahine Utopian Studies, 2017), 15; emphasis in original. 10. See Mark Bould and China Miéville, eds., Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009). 11. Fredric Jameson, “Progress versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?,” Science Fiction Studies 9, no. 2 (1982): 151. 12. Jameson, “Progress,” 153. 13. The opening chapter of Kara Keeling’s Queer Times, Black Futures (New York: New York University Press, 2019) offers a powerful example of how this tension between socially transformative and corporate futures is even more prevalent today. 14. It was renamed the Otherwise Award in 2019, following concerns about whether it was appropriate to honor Tiptree (Alice Sheldon). Sheldon is famed for publishing under the male pseudonym James Tiptree Jr. for several years, during which the audience believed the author to be a man—sparking a widespread discussion of gender and its relationship to sf. At the end of her life, however, Sheldon committed suicide after first killing her husband, who was disabled by illness. Long regarded as a suicide pact, this action was later viewed as an example of caregiver murder by disability activists, leading to the renaming of the award. 15. Sara Lefanu’s In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction (London: Women’s Press, 1988), which takes its title from Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See” (1973), offers an overview of how and why feminists have turned to sf. Tiptree, the pseudonym for writer Alice Sheldon, published celebrated stories under her masculine pseudonym, shocking the community when her “true” gender was revealed. Britt Rusert’s Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early American Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2017) compellingly argues that early sf by African Americans, such as Martin Delany’s Blake, or the Huts of America (1859), alongside stage performances of scientific knowledge such as lectures by William Box Brown, were kinds of science fiction that critiqued the misleading discourse shaping certain contemporary sciences, especially claims to biologically prove the inferiority of African bodies and hence peoples.
16. adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha, eds., Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements (Oakland: AK Press, 2015). Shelley Streeby, Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making through Science Fiction and Activism (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018). 17. Henry Jenkins, The Civic Imagination Project, https://www.civicimagination project.org/about (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 18. Andrew Milner, Locating Science Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2012). 19. See Speculative Fiction in Translation, https://www.sfintranslation.com (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 20. Samuel R. Delany, “Racism and Science Fiction,” New York Review of Science Fiction 120, August 1998, https://www.nyrsf.com/racism-and-science -fiction-.html (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Delany is the most prominent twentieth-century African American sf author and discusses his experiences under Campbell’s editorship. 21. Roger Luckhurst, Science Fiction (London: Polity, 2005). 22. Future Tense, https://csi.asu.edu/future-tense/ (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). The Center was founded in dialogue with an essay about innovation and the sf imagination written by sf writer Neal Stephenson, “Innovation Starvation,” World Policy Institute, Sept. 27, 2011, https://worldpolicy.org/2011/09/27/ innovation-starvation/ (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 23. Sheila Jasanoff, “Future Imperfect: Science, Technology and the Imaginations of Modernity,” in Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imagination and the Fabrication of Power, ed. Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 4. Chapter 2
1. Suvin, Metamorphoses, 22. 2. The dates indicate time of publication; both were published posthumously. In Different Engines: How Science Drives Fiction and Fiction Drives Science (New York: Palgrave, 2007), Neil Hook and Mark Brake argue that Godwin’s work had an important influence on contemporary scientific debate about the possibility of life—or, at least, of habitable conditions—on other worlds, informed by the recent invention of the telescope. They suggest it influenced John Wilkins, first secretary of the Royal Society, in his nonfictional work The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638). 3. See Steven Shapin’s The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) for a larger discussion of these shifts and their wider cultural and political implications. Shapin begins by arguing, “There was no such
thing as the Scientific Revolution” (1) before proceeding to explain how and why a perception of a transformation of the world into modernity is seen as a revolution—indeed, as a “single” event—only in retrospect. 4. See Deborah Doyle, The Well-Ordered Universe: The Philosophy of Margaret Cavendish (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017) for more on Cavendish’s natural philosophy. Benefiting from her aristocratic privilege, but also pursuing her own interest, Cavendish was the first woman to attend a Royal Society meeting. 5. Gilman is perhaps best known for her widely anthologized Gothic story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), about a woman who goes mad when her mind is denied any stimulation; that is, her treatment is the rest cure prescribed by a physician and modeled on the practice of Silas Weir Mitchell, who briefly treated Gilman. 6. This work was originally serialized as a story, “When the Sleeper Wakes” (1898–1903), but Wells updated it when it was published in novel form. Woody Allan’s satirical film The Sleeper (1973) uses a similar plot to critique the idea that the future will inevitably be better. 7. These are based on books by, respectively, Veronica Roth, James Dashner, and Alexandra Bracken. 8. Brake and Hook, Different Engines, cite Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) and his vehement rejection of a then-dominant ideology of mechanical progress, which he felt informed Wells’s utopias, which were then satirized by Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World, Kindle loc. 1761. 9. Not all post–nuclear war dystopias were as bleak. Pat Frank’s bestseller Alas, Babylon (1959) suggests it will be relatively easy for some Americans with a self-reliant, pioneering spirit to rebuild a better United States, while Walter M. Miller Jr.’s well-regarded A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) suggests that as long as scientific knowledge is preserved, civilization can be rebuilt, although it takes centuries. 10. Tom Moylan, Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination, ed. Raffaella Baccolini (Dublin: Ralahine Classics,  2014), 10. 11. Moylan, Demand, 10. 12. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2007). 13. Eric Smith, Globalization, Utopia and Postcolonial Science Fiction: New Maps of Hope (New York: Palgrave, 2012). Philip E. Wegner, Shockwaves of Possibility: Essays on Science Fiction, Globalization, and Utopia (Dublin: Ralahine Utopia Studies, 2014).
14. Lyman Tower Sargent, “The Three Faces of Utopianism Revisited,” Utopian Studies 5, no. 1 (1994): 26. 15. Joanna Russ, To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995). 16. See Sheree Thomas, Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (New York: Warner Books, 2000) for archival work recovering a longer tradition of Black speculative fiction. The academic journal Utopian Studies published a special issue (19, no. 3) on Butler in 2008, edited by Claire Curtis, and there is an extensive bibliography of academic works discussing Butler’s relationship to utopian thinking. 17. Ironically, this was also one of the moments when intense fighting about whether sf is mainly a political/social project versus seeing sf as a project of science popularizing led to a schism in fandom. 18. Stephen Hawking, “I Think the Human Race Has No Future If It Doesn’t Go to Space,” The Guardian, Sept. 25, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/ science/2016/sep/26/i-think-the-human-race-has-no-future-if-it-doesnt-go-to -space (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 19. Michio Kaku, The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny Beyond Earth (New York: Doubleday, 2018). 20. For the lyrics, see Gil Scott Heron, “Whitey on the Moon,” Genius, https:// genius.com/Gil-scott-heron-whitey-on-the-moon-annotated (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Chapter 3
1. Grant Wythoff, The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientification (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 2, 3. 2. See John Cheng, Astounding Wonder; Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) for a detailed history of how early pulp sf engaged with questions of science and the public, including a final chapter on rocketry clubs. Cheng also provides a detailed discussion of the tensions and schisms among fans, not only regarding definitions of sf but also regarding the place of professional vs. amateur voices in discussions of science and society. 3. See Marie Lavoie and James L. Addis, “Harnessing the Potential of Additive Manufacturing Technologies: Challenges and Opportunities for Entrepreneurial Strategies,” International Journal of Innovation Studies 2, no. 4 (2018): 123–136. 4. Colin Milburn, “Modifiable Futures: Science Fiction at the Bench,” Isis 101 (2010): 560–569.
5. William Gibson, “Burning Chrome,” Burning Chrome (New York: Ace, 1986), 186. 6. Jasanoff, “Future,” 5. 7. Jasanoff, “Future,” 11. 8. Colin Milburn, Nanovision: Engineering the Future (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008). 9. David Kirby, “The Future Is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-World Technological Development,” Social Studies of Science 40, no. 1 (February 2010): 41–70. 10. For a more detailed discussion of how this imaginative component intersects with venture capital funding in genomic research, see my “Promissory Futures: Reality and Imagination in Finance and Fiction,” in “Speculative Finance/Speculative Fiction,” ed. David M. Higgins and Hugh C. O’Connell, special issue, CR: The New Centennial Review 19, no. 1 (2019): 11–36. 11. The advertisement can be viewed on YouTube: Apple, Macintosh advertisement, 1984, https://youtu.be/axSnW-ygU5g (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 12. Julian Bleeker, “Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction.” Near Future Laboratories, 2009, http://drbfw5wfjlxon.cloudfront.net/ writing/DesignFiction_WebEdition.pdf (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Bleeker, discussed in more detail below, is among the first to discuss this scene in these terms. Similar visuals are now used in police procedural television that has no other sf element, such as the rebooted Hawaii Five-0 (2010–). 13. David Brian Johnson, “Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction,” Synthesis Lectures on Computer Science 3, no. 1 (April 2011): 1–190. 14. Jerry Pournelle and Dean Ing, Mutually Assured Survival (New York: Baen, 1984). 15. Bleeker, “Design,” 4. 16. Bleeker, “Design,” 6. 17. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), Kindle loc. 18. 18. Dunne and Raby, Speculative, Kindle loc. 371. Chapter 4
1. See Bould and Vint, Concise History, for an analysis of sf history as a Latourian project of “enrolling” ways of thinking about science and cultural change to fuse them into the new tradition Gernsback championed. 2. Luckhurst, Science Fiction, 16–17.
3. John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). 4. Rieder, Colonialism, 1. 5. Rieder, Colonialism, 2. 6. Rieder, Colonialism, 7. 7. Rieder, Colonialism, 15. 8. Space precludes further discussion of this tradition, but the late-nineteenth century saw many works of near-future fiction about potential invasions, generally one European nation invading another, focused on the difference made by technologies of warfare. George Thomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871), about the invasion of Britain by a thinly disguised Germany, is perhaps the best known. See I. F. Clarke, Voices Prophesying War: Future Wars 1763– 3749, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992; originally published in 1966), for a detailed analysis. 9. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (London: Penguin Classics, 2005). 10. Wells, War, 5. 11. The phrase is from the opening monologue to the original series. Star Trek, of course, championed a liberal view of scientific rather than military exploration of space and its multicultural view is epitomized by its prime directive of not interfering with the independent development of other cultures. As many have observed, in early episodes this directive is often conspicuous more for rationalizations of its violation than in its observance. At the same time, however, the perceived need to address cultural sovereignty shows how thoroughly the colonial gaze permeates sf, such that works that do not validate imperial views must nonetheless take a position. Weinbaum’s story is available on Project Gutenberg. 12. The top fifteen stories, along with others selected by editor Robert Silverberg, were published in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One: 1929–1964 (New York: Doubleday, 1970). The ranked order of stories from the vote is listed in Silverberg’s introduction. 13. White Queen (1991), North Wind (1994), and Phoenix Café (1997). 14. Statement Regarding METI/Active SETI, http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/ meti_statement_0.html (accessed Mar. 10, 2019); emphasis in original. 15. The Dark Forest (Chinese 2008; English 2016) and Death’s End (Chinese 2010; English 2016). 16. G. Ballard, “Which Way to Inner Space?,” New Worlds 118 (May 1962): 116. 17. Ballard, “Which,” 117. 18. Barry Malzberg, Galaxies (New York: Pyramid Books, 1975), 7.
19. Malzberg, Galaxies, 22. 20. The Final Programme (1968), A Cure for Cancer (1971), The English Assassin (1972), and The Condition of Muzak (1977). 21. David M. Higgins, “Survivance in Indigenous Science Fictions: Vizenor, Silko, Glancy and the Rejection of Imperial Victimry,” Extrapolation 57, no. 1/2 (2016): 51–72. 22. André M. Carrington, Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Kindle loc. 338. 23. Carrington, Speculative, Kindle loc. 342. 24. Lisa Yaszek, “The Bannekerade: Genius, Madness and Magic in Black Science Fiction,” Brown and Black Planets, ed. Isiah Lavender III (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014), 15–30. 25. Nalo Hopkinson, “Introduction,” So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, ed. Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004.), 8. 26. See Sandra Harding, Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015) and Banu Subramanian, Ghost Stories for Darwin: The Science of Variation and the Politics of Diversity (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2014). 27. See the Fanlore entry RaceFail ’09 and Puppygate for discussions of recent conflicts over race and representation within the sf community, https:// fanlore.org/wiki/Main_Page (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 28. AfroCyberPunk, https://www.afrocyberpunk.com (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Chapter 5
1. Jennifer Rhee, The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), Kindle loc. 186. 2. In Asimov’s later work, when he imagined robotics guiding humans rather than just following orders, he added a “zeroth” law that required robots to restrain from harming or failing to protect humanity as a whole. 3. All of these stories, as well as many other works by Dick, have been adapted to film and television: the film Screamers (Duguay 1995), the film Imposter (Fleder 2001), and the episode “Autofac” (2018) from the anthology series Electric Dreams (based entirely on Dick’s oeuvre), respectively. 4. Despina Kakoudaki, Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema and the Cultural Work of Artificial People (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2014), 117.
5. David Morley and Kevin Robins. “Techno-Orientalism: Japan Panic,” in Spaces of Identity: Global Media, Electronic Landscapes, and Cultural Boundaries (New York: Routledge, 1995), 169. 6. See Anne Balsamo, Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), for more on how design choices are shaped by gendered assumptions about technology. 7. For examples of facial recognition, see the MIT study by Joy Buolamwini, discussed by Larry Hardesty, “Study Finds Gender and Skin-Type Bias in Commercial Artificial-Intelligence Systems,” MIT News, Feb. 11, 2018, http:// news.mit.edu/2018/study-finds-gender-skin-type-bias-artificial-intelligence -systems-0212 (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). On résumé sorting, see Jeffrey Dastin, “Amazon Scraps Secret AI Recruiting Tool That Showed Bias against Women,” Reuters Press (Oct. 9, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-amazon-com -jobs-automation-insight/amazon-scraps-secret-ai-recruiting-tool-that-showed -bias-against-women-idUSKCN1MK08G (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 8. Such exchanges continue, of course, and these examples serve to illustrate the principle. For a quantitative analysis of such exchanges, see Christopher Benjamin Menadue and Karen Diane Cheer, “Human Culture and Science Fiction: A Review of the Literature, 1980–2016,” Sage Open Press, Aug. 3, 2017, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2158244017723690 (accessed Jan. 4, 2020). For a recent analysis of how this history continues, see sf editor Eileen Gunn, “How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future,” Smithsonian Magazine, May 2010, https://www.smithsonianmag .com/arts-culture/how-americas-leading-science-fiction-authors-are-shaping -your-future-180951169/ (accessed Jan. 4, 2020). 9. William Gibson, Neuromancer (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 56. 10. The preface is available as part of The Cyberpunk Project, last modified Oct. 2, 2017, http://project.cyberpunk.ru/idb/mirrorshades_preface.html (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 11. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992), 419; emphasis in original. 12. Andrew Ross, Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits (New York: Verso, 1991). Nicola Nixon, “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?” Science Fiction Studies 19, no. 2 (1992): 219–235. 13. N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). 14. Colin Milburn, Respawn: Gamers, Hackers, and Technogenic Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).
15. Cory Doctorow, “Demon-Haunted World,” Locus Online, Sept. 2, 2017, http://locusmag.com/2017/09/cory-doctorow-demon-haunted-world/ (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 16. Vernor Vinge, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human World,” 1993, https://edoras.sdsu.edu/~vinge/misc/singularity .html (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 17. Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (New York: Penguin Books, 2006). Although Vinge and, to a degree, Kurzweil base their ideas on ongoing research, the fervor with which this vision has been embraced, and the spiritual tone of several of Kurzweil’s works, suggests that the closest analog in sf history is Dianetics. L. Ron Hubbard, too, first articulated his ideas about futuristic brain improvement in stories published in sf venues. 18. The subtitle to Vinge’s essay used the term posthuman. Transhuman and posthuman were used, often interchangeably, during the 1990s and into the 2000s, but current usage tends to differentiate the two. 19. For a historical overview of this discourse and its relationship to sf, see Andrew Pilsch, Transhumanism: Evolutionary Futurism and the Human Technologies of Utopia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017). 20. For an overview, see Melinda C. Hall, The Bioethics of Enhancement: Transhumanism, Disability, and Biopolitics (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2017). Chapter 6
1. See J. B. S. Haldane, A. D. Sprunt, and N. M. Haldane, “Reduplication in Mice (preliminary communication),” Journal of Genetics 5, no. 2 (1915): 133–135. 2. Rusert, Fugitive Science. See also Kyla Schuller, The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017). 3. Paul Di Filippo, Ribofunk (New York: Fall Walls Eight Windows, 1996). 4. Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989). The trilogy also began to be called Lilith’s Brood when it was collectively published under this title in 2000. 5. Octavia Butler, Adulthood Rites (New York: Warner Books, 1988), 234. 6. Pattern Master (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977), Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980) and Clay’s Ark (1984). 7. Sheila Jasanoff, “Introduction: Rewriting Life, Reframing Rights,” in Reframing Rights: Bioconstitutionalism in the Genetic Age, ed. Sheila Jasanoff (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), 3.
8. This particular issue has been widely taken up in popular media in the wake of Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Random House, 2010), which uncovered the life of the person, Henrietta Lacks, whose biological material became the HeLa research cell line. In this case, in addition to questions about property rights in human biological material, the fact that Lacks was an African American woman whose cells were taken without informed consent while she was being treated in a segregated hospital in 1951 is also significant. 9. This patent was challenged in the Supreme Court case Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (2013). The court concluded that DNA sequences occurring in nature were not patentable but held that synthetically created sequences of DNA (that is, assembled differently than how they occur naturally) could be patented. This decision has significant implications for synthetic biology and its juridical and social futures. 10. Melinda Cooper and Catherine Waldby’s Clinical Labor: Tissue Donors and Research Subjects in the Global Bioeconomy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014) examines how similar practices of earning a living through biotech industries (participation in clinical trials or transnational surrogate pregnancy) have created exploitations similar to the ones extrapolated in this novel. 11. In addition there are a number of intellectual trajectories by which one might come to posthumanism, not all of which agree with one another. This is not the space to take up this question more broadly, but see my edited volume After the Human: Culture, Theory and Criticism in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020) for more information. 12. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., “The SF of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway,” Science Fiction Studies 18, no. 3 (1991): 287–404. Chapter 7
1. See Chris Pak, Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016) for a detailed analysis of this tradition, concluding with a reading of the Mars trilogy as an exemplar of how environmental politics can be entwined with terraforming. 2. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962). 3. The book manuscript of the report is freely available online at http:// www.donellameadows.org/wp-content/userfiles/Limits-to-Growth-digital-scan -version.pdf. It was written by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William W. Behrens and originally published by the nonprofit Potomac Associates.
4. Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). 5. This includes five additional novels by Herbert; more than a dozen novels and several short stories cowritten by Herbert’s son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson after Frank Herbert’s death; three comic book adaptations; a film adaptation by David Lynch, a failed adaptation by Alejandro Jodorowsky that was captured in Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, and a planned film adaptation by Denis Villeneuve; two SyFy Channel television miniseries (in 2000 and 2003); and board, role-playing, and digital games. 6. Michael Berry, “Dune, Climate Fiction Pioneer: The Ecological Lessons of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi Masterpiece Were Ahead of Its Time,” Salon, Aug. 14, 2015, https://www.salon.com/2015/08/13/dune_climate_fiction_pioneer _the_ecological_lessons_of_frank_herberts_sci_fi_masterpiece_were_ahead_of _its_time/ (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Steve Duffy, “Dune at 50: Why the Groundbreaking Eco-Conscious Novel is More Relevant than Ever,” Flavorwire, Aug. 31, 2015, http://flavorwire.com/535249/dune-at-50-why-the-ground breaking-eco-conscious-novel-is-more-relevant-than-ever (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Hari Kunzra, “Dune, 50 Years On: How a Science Fiction Novel Changed the World,” The Guardian, July 3, 2015, https://www.theguardian .com/books/2015/jul/03/dune-50-years-on-science-fiction-novel-world (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Kunzra is the most insightful analysis, noting as it does that the more immediate impact of the novel had to do with the increased popularity of adventure fantasy space opera, such as Star Wars (George Lucas, dir.; 1977). For an example of an early academic discussion of ecological themes in the novel, see Susan Stratton, “The Messiah and the Greens: The Shape of Environmental Action in Dune and Pacific Edge,” Extrapolation 42, no. 4 (2001): 300–316. 7. Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). A third book was planned, and manuscripts of several false starts are available in the Huntington archive of Butler’s work. See Canavan’s Modern Masters book on Butler. 8. Streeby, Imagining, 119. 9. The term is widely used to draw attention to anthropogenic causes in environmental humanities, although there are also alternatives proposed such as capitalocene, to emphasize that it is a particular social organization, not a species tendency; see Jason Moore, ed., Anthropocene or Capitalocene: Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland: Kairos Books, 2016). Critiques of the term often emphasize that not all human cultures equally contributed to the damage and point out especially that Western colonial dismissal of
Indigenous ecological practices and scientific knowledge is deeply at fault. Richard Grusin’s edited collection Anthropocene Feminism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017) offers an overview. The term has not been officially endorsed by geological scientists, and there are ongoing debates regarding when such an era began, if indeed we are in such an era. The recent popularity of the term emerges from its use by chemist Paul Crutzen, who built on earlier work by biologist Eugene Stoermer. See J. Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene,’” Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000): 17–18. 10. McKenzie Wark, Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (London: Verso, 2016). 11. Amitov Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). 12. Ghosh, Great, 24. 13. Eric C. Otto, Green Speculations: Science Fiction and Transformative Environmentalism (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2012), 17. 14. Lindsay Thomas, “Forms of Duration: Preparedness, the Mars trilogy, and the Management of Climate Change,” American Literature 88, no. 1 (March 2016): 159–184. Chapter 8
1. Henriette Gunkel, Ayesha Hameed, and Simon O’Sullivan, eds., Futures and Fictions (London: Repeater Books, 2017). 2. William Davies, ed., Economic Science Fictions (London: Goldsmiths Press, 2018). 3. David F. Schultz, ed., Strange Economics: Economic Speculative Fiction (Toronto: TdotSpec, 2018). 4. Victor Lavalle and John Joseph Adams, eds., A People’s Future of the United States (New York: One World, 2019). 5. See Richard M. Doyle, Wetwares: Experiments in Postvital Living (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2003) for an early discussion of derivatives as a kind of sf temporality of the economy. See “Speculative Finance and Speculative Fiction,” ed. David M. Higgins and Hugh C. O’Connell, special issue, CR: The New Centennial Review 19, no. 1 (2019), for recent critical work that explores this convergence. 6. Mark Fisher, “Foreword,” Economic Science Fictions, ed. William Davies (London: Goldsmiths, 2018), xiii. Fisher’s earlier Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (London: Zero Books, 2009) is a crucial work of political theory that analyzes the ideology by which capitalism has become widely accepted as the only possible structure for contemporary life.
7. Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life after Capitalism (London: Verso, 2016). 8. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World without Work, rev. and updated ed. (London: Verso, 2016), Kindle loc. 73–75. 9. Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for economics, credits the series with inspiring him to pursue his career path, although he acknowledges that the precise science of psychohistory is markedly distinct from the field of economics. See Paul Krugman, “Asimov’s Foundational Novels Grounded My Economics,” The Guardian, Dec. 4, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/ books/2012/dec/04/paul-krugman-asimov-economics (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Asimov’s trilogy is comprised of the novels Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953). The first emerged from stories originally published in Astounding, and Asimov later published more works in this universe during the 1980s. 10. Felix Martin, Money: The Unauthorized Biography: From Coinage to Cryptocurrencies (New York: Vintage Books, 2015), 33. 11. The Future Tense event was entitled “Will Your Universal Basic Income Check Soon Be in the Mail?” and held on Sept. 12, 2018, https://www .newamerica.org/future-tense/events/will-your-universal-basic-income-check -soon-be-mail/ (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). Adrian Hon, A History of the Future in 100 Objects (London: Skyscraper Publications, 2013). 12. Tim O’Reilly, WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us (New York: Harper, 2017). 13. This name is the pseudonym for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. 14. See my “Imagining Beyond Capital: Representation and Reality in Science Fiction Film,” in After Capitalism: Horizons of Finance, Culture, and Citizenship, ed. Kennan Ferguson and Patrice Petro (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016), 106–121. 15. See Ivan Ascher, Portfolio Society: On the Capitalist Mode of Prediction (New York: Zone Books, 2016) for a larger discussion of the influence of the credit ratings system and its structural discrimination. See Max Haiven, Cultures of Financialization: Fictitious Capital in Popular Culture and Everyday Life (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) for an extended discussion of how the abstract forms of capital that Marx called fictitious capital are more widely relevant today. 16. For more detailed discussions of payment system technologies as tools of social change, see Bret Scott, “How Can Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Technology Play a Role in Building Social and Solidarity Finance?,” United
Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Working Paper 2016-1, Feb. 10, 2016, http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BCCF9/search/196AEF663B 617144C1257F550057887C?OpenDocument (accessed Mar. 10, 2019), and Lana Swartz, “Blockchain Dreams: Imagining Techno-Economic Alternatives After Bitcoin,” Another Economy Is Possible: Culture and Economy in a Time of Crisis, ed. Manuel Castells (Cambridge: Polity, 2017), 82–105. 17. Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey, The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and the Blockchain Are Challenging the Global Economic Order (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), 230. 18. They are quoted in Swartz, “Blockchain,” 93. 19. David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years (New York: Melville House, 2011). Conclusion
1. Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds, and Aliette de Bodard, “Science Fiction When the Future Is Now,” Nature 552 (Dec. 21/28, 2017): 329–333. 2. Robinson, “Science Fiction When,” 330. 3. Liu, “Science Fiction When,” 331. 4. Reynolds, “Science Fiction When,” 333. 5. De Bodard, “Science Fiction When,” 333. 6. Adam Rowe, “Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Sales Have Doubled Since 2010,” Forbes.com, June 19, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamrowe1/ 2018/06/19/science-fiction-and-fantasy-book-sales-have-doubled-since-2010/ #30741cc22edf (accessed Mar. 10, 2019). 7. For readers seeking more detail on the genre’s history and the works of its most celebrated authors and texts, many such texts are available. For a selection, see the further reading for chapter 1. 8. Constance Penley, NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America (London: Verso, 1997). 9. Following her death, this program was canceled in 1990. It was replaced by the Educator Astronaut Program, which required those conducting similar educational initiatives in space to first be NASA astronauts (McAuliffe was a civilian). 10. Thomas Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), 175. 11. Stephen Petranek, How We’ll Live on Mars (New York: Simon and Shuster, 2015). Leonard David, Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet (New York: National Geographic, 2016).
12. Lisa Messeri, Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 67. 13. Ghosh, Great, 71. 14. C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  1998). 15. Ghosh, Great, 128. 16. Peter Boxall, The Value of the Novel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 11. 17. Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that animals were “good to think with” in Totemism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971). 18. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America bestows the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, named for an influential author and editor who founded the association. It recognizes lifetime achievement in sf writing; it is not necessarily given each year, although increasingly that has been the case. The award began in 1975 when it was awarded to Robert Heinlein. The most recent recipient was Lois McMaster Bujold in 2020. 19. Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures (New York: William Morrow, 2016).
FURTHER READING This list recommends relevant work by chapter that is in addition to scholarship and sf texts mentioned in the main text. Throughout, I give titles and original dates of publication for these primary texts and encourage the reader to seek them out. Chapter 1: Introduction Histories of Science Fiction
Bould, Mark, and Sherryl Vint. The Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction. London: Routledge, 2011. Canavan, Gerry, and Eric Carl Link, eds. The Cambridge History of Science Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Luckhurst, Roger. Science Fiction. London: Polity, 2005. Fandom and Its Importance to Science Fiction Cultures
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Hellekson, Karen, and Kristina Busse, eds. The Fan Studies Reader. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014. Anthologies of Diverse Science Fiction
Dillon, Grace, ed. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction. Phoenix: University of Arizona Press, 2012. Goodwin, Matthew David, ed. [email protected] Rising: An Anthology of [email protected] Science Fiction and Fantasy. San Antonio: Wings Press, 2017. Hopkinson, Nalo, and Uppinder Mehan, eds. So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004. Tidhar, Lavie, and Ernest Hogan, eds. We See a Different Frontier: A Postcolonial Speculative Fiction Anthology. Futurefire.net Publishing, 2013. Chapter 2: The Utopian Tradition
Moylan, Tom, and Raffaella Baccolini, eds. Utopian Method Vision: The Use Value of Social Dreaming. Dublin: Ralahine Utopian Studies, 2007.
On Octavia Butler
Canavan, Gerry. Octavia E. Butler. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Green, Michelle Erica. “‘There Goes the Neighborhood’: Octavia Butler’s Demand for Diversity in Utopias.” In Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference, edited by Jane L. Donawerth, Carol A. Kolmerten, and Susan Gubar, 166–189. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1994. Chapter 3: Futurology and Speculative Design
Montgomery, Elliott P., and Chris Woebken. Extrapolation Factory Operator’s Manual. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Publishing, 2016. Thomas, Lindsay. “Forms of Duration: Preparedness, the Mars Trilogy and the Management of Climate Change.” American Literature 88, no. 1 (March 2016): 159–184. Chapter 4: The Colonial Imagination
Castillo, Debra, and Liliana Colanzi, eds. “Latin American Speculative Fiction.” Special issue, Paradoxa 30 (2018). Hartmann, Ivor W., ed. AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers. Los Angeles: Storytime Publishing, 2012. Park, Sunyoung, ed. Readymade Bodhisattva: The Kaya Anthology of South Korean Science Fiction. Los Angeles: Kaya Press, 2019. Smith, Eric. Globalization, Utopia and Postcolonial Science Fiction: New Maps of Hope. New York: Palgrave, 2012. Chapter 5: Robots, AI, and Transhumanism
Atenansoski, Neda, and Kalindi Vora. Surrogate Humanity: Race, Robots and the Politics of Technological Futures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. Balsamo, Anne. Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong, “Introduction: Race and/as Technology; or, How To Do Things to Race.” Camera Obscura 24, no. 1 (2009): 7–35. Milburn, Colin. Respawn: Gamers, Hackers, and Technogenic Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.
194 Further Reading
Chapter 6: Genomics, the Microbiome, and Posthumanism
Hamner, Everett. Editing the Soul: Science and Fiction in the Genomic Age. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2017. Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Piercy, Marge. He, She and It: A Novel. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. Chapter 7: Environment, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene
Canavan, Gerry, and Kim Stanley Robinson. Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014. Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016. Martin, Mark. I’m with the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet. London: Verso, 2011. Chapter 8: Economics and Financialization
Mauer, Bill. How Would You Like to Pay? How Technology Is Changing the Future of Money. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. Higgins, David M., and Hugh C. O’Connell, eds. “Speculative Finance/Speculative Fiction.” Special issue, CR: The New Centennial Review 19, no. 1 (2019). Swartz, Lana. New Money: How Payment Became Social Media. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. Chapter 9: Conclusion
Díaz, Junot, ed. “Global Dystopias.” Special issue, Boston Review (October 27, 2017). Lavender, Isiah, III. Afrofuturism Rising: The Literary Prehistory of a Movement. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2019. Rambo, Cat, ed. If This Goes On: The Science Fiction Future of Today’s Politics. Bucks County, PA: Parvus Press, 2019.
Further Reading 195
INDEX 2001: A Space Odyssey, 81 2012, 121 3D Printing, 43–44 Activism, 31, 49, 52, 89, 122–123, 144 anti-racist, 28, 31, 71 disability, 94 environmental, 14, 123, 128–130 Adventure fiction, 22, 67, 163–164 Advertising, 12–13, 47–48, 52, 162 African American sf. See Afrofuturism Afrofuturism, 13–14, 33, 72–73, 141, 167 AI. See Artificial beings Akomfra, John, 33 Aldiss, Brian, 2 Algorithms, 89, 138, 146, 152 Alien, 81 Alienation, 66, 90, 163. See also Estrangement Alien invasion, 65, 113–114, 135 Martian, 6–7, 60, 114 Aliens, 5, 59, 70, 105–106, 160, 179n2 communication with, 64–65, 68 as equals, 61, 63 first contact with, 63–64 as Other, 61, 63 as saviors, 64, 102, 106–107 as victims, 68–69 war with, 6–7, 60, 99 Amazing Stories, 2–4, 7. See also Gernsback, Hugo
Anderson, Michael, 126 Anglo sf, 15–16, 88 Animals, 98, 153 aliens as, 63 as experimental subjects, 103, 105, 110 extinction of, 60, 121 intelligent, 103, 105 Anime, 88 Anthropology, 63–64, 66, 69, 162, 166 Anti-racism, 28, 31 Apocalypse, 99, 109, 121, 135 anthropogenic, 120, 132 environmental, 117–118, 120–121, 143 nuclear, 28, 81, 90, 106, 121, 180n9 pandemic, 111, 120 Apple, 48 Armageddon, 121 Armstrong, Neil, 35 Art, 10, 33 Artificial beings, 5, 12, 82, 90, 152. See also Domesticity; Labor dehumanization of, 75–76, 78–79, 112 as enemy, 79, 81, 83, 92–94 and gender, 82–83 racialization of, 70, 79–80, 83–84 rebellion of, 78–79 self-aware, 92–93 sexualized, 78, 81–82 Artificial intelligence. See Artificial beings
Asian sf, 14, 88 Asimov, Isaac, 7, 76, 78, 161 Foundation, 141–142, 152 “Nightfall,” 61 Astounding Science-Fiction, 8, 101 Atwood, Margaret, 5–7 Handmaid’s Tale, The, 5 Maddaddam trilogy, 5 Automation, 41, 43, 79, 82, 139, 144–145, 169 Avatar, 69 Bacigalupi, Paolo Doubt Factory, The, 26 Shipbreaker series, 26, 128 Water Knife, The, 128–129 Windup Girl, The, 84 Bacon, Francis, 22–23 Badu, Erykah, 33 Ballard, J. G., 65–66, 122 Bambaattaa, Afrika, 33 Banks, Iain M., 152 Basic income, 144–146 Battlestar Galactica (series), 83 Baudrillard, Jean, 116 Bay, Michael, 121 Bellamy, Edward, 2, 23–24, 142 Beukes, Lauren, 155–156 Big Short, The, 138 Biotechnology, 84, 102–103, 105–106, 108–111, 114, 152. See also Genetic modification Black Mirror, 12–13 Blade Runner, 48, 79 Bleeker, Julian, 51 Bloch, Ernest, 10, 30, 52 Blockchain, 150, 152 Body, 101 commodification of, 110–112, 148 modification of, 87, 93, 100–101
optimization of, 97 trandscendence of, 88 Bostrom, Nick, 94 Boxall, Peter, 165 Boyle, Robert, 23 Bradbury, Ray, 90 Breakthrough, 50 Brecht, Bertolt, 10 Brin, David, 50, 64, 105 Brown, adrienne maree, 14 Brunner, John, 125 Bulwer-Lytton, Edward, 24 Burroughs, William, 66 Butler, Octavia E., 14, 33, 130 Parable series, 129 Patternist series, 107 Xenogenesis trilogy, 106–107, 129 Butler, Samuel, 24 Cadigan, Pat, 89 Callenbach, Ernest, 29, 124 Cameron, James, 69, 81 Cammell, Donald, 81 Campbell, John W., 8, 16, 66, 101. See also Astounding Science- Fiction Campbell, Joseph, 127 Campus, Michael, 126 Čapek, Karel, 75, 78, 112 Capitalism, 13, 16, 29, 73, 81, 88–89, 106, 122, 124, 128, 139, 141–142, 149–151. See also Speculative finance and the environment, 124–125, 130–131, 139, 143, 153–154 and marginalization, 73, 107, 111, 139 and technology, 23, 150, 169 Carrington, Andre, 71
Cars, 126 flying, 4 self-driving, 1, 41 Carson, Rachel, 122, 124 Cartesian dualism, 88 Casey, Michael J., 152 Cavendish, Margaret, 22–23 Challenger, 160–161 Chazelle, Damien, 35 Cherryh, C. J., 109–110 Chiang, Ted, 14 Childbirth. See Reproduction, human Children, 90, 145–146 abducted, 106 and clones, 109, 111 Christopher, John, 120 Cixin, Liu, 64 Clarke, Arthur C., 64, 102 Clarkson, Helen, 28 Class, 24–26, 98, 100, 106–107, 111, 125, 138, 141 Climate change, 18, 27, 117–118, 124, 126–127, 129–132, 135, 144, 147, 154, 164 drought, 118, 126–129 ice ages, 120, 130–132 and race, 72–73 and social justice, 130, 167 Climate engineering, 118, 120 Clinton, George, 33 Clones, 108, 148–149 and creativity, 109 inferiority of, 109, 112 programmed, 109–110 as spare parts, 109 Cloning, 47, 108–111 Club of Rome, 49, 122, 125–126 Collective ownership, 143 Colonial independence, 28
Colonialism, 18, 60, 122, 128, 167, 183n11 and alien invasion, 7, 60 as constitutive of sf, 58–60, 63, 69, 73 critique of, 24, 67–70, 72–73 Colonization, 126 of Mars, 34, 118, 161–163, 177n7 of space, 34, 59, 65, 68, 158 Comic books, 41, 118 Commodification. See also Slavery of biology, 110–112 (see also Ethics) of body, 110–112, 148 of crime, 143 Community, 19, 31, 129, 146, 156 Consumerism, 47–48, 51, 92, 147–148 Conway, Erik M., 135 Copernicus, 58–59 Corey, James S. A., 145 Counterculture, 65, 69, 81, 87–88, 103, 121, 123, 127 Crichton, Michael, 81 Crime, 20, 143–144 CRISPR-Cas9. See Genetic modification; Genomics Cryptocurrencies, 149–150 Csiscery-Ronay Jr., Istvan, 6, 116 Currency. See Money Cusack, Wayne, 147 Cyberpunk, 85, 87–89, 92, 94, 103, 150, 156 Cyborgs. See Artificial beings Cyrano de Bergerac, 22, 59 Darkest Minds, The, 26 Darwinism, 60, 97, 107–108 Day the Earth Stood Still, The, 64 Death, 93, 105, 148
De Bodard, Aliette, 155–157 Debt, 142–143, 153–154 Delany, Martin, 71 Delany, Samuel R., 29 del Rey, Lester, 78 Demon Seed, 81 Design, 84. See also Speculative design Design fiction, 16, 50–51, 57 Devolution, 98, 132 Díaz, Junot, 14 Dibbel, Carola, 111 Dick, Philip K. “Autofac,” 79 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 79, 121 “Imposter, The,” 79 “Second Variety,” 78–79 Ubik, 142 Difference, 20, 30, 70, 72 fear of, 63, 80, 106 Di Filippo, Paul, 103 Digitized reality. See Virtual reality Disability criticism, 94 Disch, Thomas M., 67 Discovery. See Innovation Displacement, 65, 126, 129, 131 Divergent, 26 Diversity. See also Global sf; Postcolonial sf DNA, 108, 110, 187n9. See also Genomics Doctorow, Cory, 91–92 “Demon-Haunted World,” 91–92 Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, 142 Homeland, 26 Little Brother, 26 Domesticity, 28, 142 and labor, 78, 80
Drugs, 44 Dunne, Anthony, 51–52 Dystopias, 1, 13, 25–26, 30–31, 144 environmental, 125 machine-dominated, 12 Earth, 59, 123, 132 destruction of, 64–5, 99, 121–122 Economics, 137–138 Economy. See Capitalism collective, 124, 142, 154 failure of, 143 market, 125, 138, 141, 146–147, 149 planned, 142 Editors, 166. See also Campbell, John W.; Gernsback, Hugo as gatekeepers, 15–16, 167 as promoters, 2–4, 8, 37–40 Electrical Experimenter, 37 Embryos, manipulation of, 26 Emmerich, Roland, 121 Empathy loss of, 79, 82 Enclosures, 19 Energy, 12, 67, 117, 128, 131, 148 Enlightenment, 15 Enterprise, 160 Environment, 117–118, 128. See also Climate change and capitalism, 124–125, 130–131, 139, 143, 153–154 damage to, 106, 108, 120–121, 127–128, 139 Environmental sf, 117–118, 120–122, 124–126, 130. See also Robinson, Kim Stanley Estrangement, 10–12, 147. See also Alienation
Ethics, 2 and artificial beings, 76, 78 of science, 27, 103, 109–110 and technology, 58 Eugenics, 27, 100, 107 Evolution, 24–25, 57, 97–99, 102, 120, 132 Ex Machina, 82–83 Expanse, The, 146 Exploration, 24, 61 Extinction animal, 60, 121 human, 28, 34–35, 101, 134–135 Extrapolation, 49, 53–54, 162–166 scientific, 5, 7–8, 22–23, 44–51, 109–111, 162 social, 4, 7–8, 17, 38, 42–47, 98, 107–110, 138–139, 150, 156, 162–166 technological, 6, 37–44, 47–51, 99–102, 143, 150, 162, 166 Fandom, 4, 7, 14, 34, 37, 39, 85, 101–102, 166 Fantasy, 10–11, 157, 163 Feminist sf, 13–14, 22–25, 29, 31, 68–69, 99–100 Fertility. See Reproduction, human Film, 5, 26, 33, 39, 41, 47, 88, 126 Firestone, Shulamith, 100 First, The, 161 First contact. See Aliens First Man, 35 Fisher, Mark, 138–139 Fleischer, Richard, 126 Food, 1, 41, 124–126. See also Genetic modification contamination of, 125 genetically modified, 1, 41, 47 shortage, 117, 126
Forbes, 157 Forbes, Brian, 80 Forster, E. M., 90, 92 Fury Road, 128 Future Fire, The, 15 Future history, 98, 100, 141–142 Futurescape, 50 Future studies. See Futurology Future war, 60, 70 Futurity, 4–5, 7, 156, 165 Futurology, 39, 48–50, 52, 145 Galileo, 59 Game of Thrones, 127 Gaming, 16, 26, 41, 87–89 Garland, Alex, 82–83 Gender, 20, 67–69, 81–83, 99–100. See also Feminist sf interrogation of, 22–25, 29, 67 and race, 69, 84 and technology, 82–83, 88–89 Gender equality, 99, 124 Gender fluidity, 29, 67, 99 Generation gap, 27, 146–147 Genetic modification, 100–101. See also Ethics, of science of animals, 105 of food, 1, 41 of humans, 5, 106 Genomics, 18, 100–102, 108 Genre fiction, 8, 133, 164 Gernsback, Hugo, 2–4, 24, 37–41, 57, 59, 101, 163. See also Amazing Stories Ghosh, Amitav, 132–133, 164–165 Gibson, William, 85 “Burning Chrome,” 45 Neuromancer, 87, 89 Peripheral, The, 43, 143 Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 25
Globalization, 40, 48, 84, 125 Global sf, 15, 73, 155, 167. See also Postcolonial sf GMO. See Genetic modification Godwin, Francis, 22 Golden Age, 8, 65, 67, 70, 90, 141, 160–161 Grant, Mira, 26 Great Exhibition (1851), 33 Hackers, 103 Haldane, J. B. S., 99 Daedalus, 100 Hampdenshire Wonder, The, 99 Haraway, Donna, 116 Hard sf, 7–8, 73 Harrison, Harry, 126 Hawking, Stephen, 34 Hayles, N. Katherine, 88 Health care, 43, 67, 148 Heinlein, Robert, 127, 161 Her, 83 Herbert, Frank, 126–128 Herzog, Werner, 135 Hidden Figures, 169 Higgins, David, 69–70 High Country News, 129 Hon, Adrian, 145 Hooke, Robert, 23 Hopkinson, Nalo, 72 Howey, Hugh, 146 Hudson, Neil James, 147 Hugo Awards, 37, 65, 73 Human reproduction. See Reproduction, human Human rights, 110, 149 Human values, 6, 33, 50, 57, 81, 111, 146–147 Humans, 83, 112
Humans, 113–114. See also Evolution as collective, 17, 24, 45, 109, 133, 141–142, 153–154 as experimental subjects, 67–68, 111 extinction of, 28, 35, 101, 134–135 Hunger Games, The, 26 Huxley, Aldous, 1, 25–26, 100 IBM, 48, 79 Imarisha, Walida, 14 Immersion digital, 4, 87, 89, 147–148 (see Virtual reality) narrative, 53–54, 165 Immortal cell lines, 110, 187n8 Imperialism. See Colonialism Indigenous peoples, 61, 70, 126–128 Indigenous sf, 72, 167 Industrialization, 13, 23, 15, 79, 82, 122–124 Inequality, 27, 73, 128, 144–147, 154, 157. See also Basic income Innovation, 23 scientific, 2, 45, 58, 71, 101 technological, 15–19, 33, 101, 111, 157 Innovation studies, 16, 42–44 Intelligence, 99, 106, 114 alien, 60–61 animal, 103, 105 enhanced, 67, 93–94, 101 International Journal of Innovation Studies, 43 Internet of Things, 1, 83, 89–91 In Time, 142
In vitro fertilization. See Reproduction, human Ishiguro, Kazuo, 109 Jameson, Fredric, 11, 13 Archaeologies of the Future, 30 Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, 87–88 James Tiptree Jr. Award, 13 Jasanoff, Sheila, 17, 45, 110, 112 Jemisin, N. K., 14, 72–73, 130 Jenkins, Henry, 14 John Badham, 81 Johnson, Brian David, 49, 51 Jones, Duncan, 148–149 Jones, Gwyneth Aleutian trilogy, 63–64 Jonze, Spike, 83 Joon-ho, Bong, 118, 120 Kahiu, Wanuri, 128 Kakoudaki, Despina, 80 Kaku, Michio, 34–35 Kepler, Johannes, 2, 22 Kirby, David, 47 Kress, Nancy, 105 Beggers in Spain trilogy, 106 Yesterday’s Kin, 106 Kubrick, Stanley, 81 Kunzra, Hari, 127 Kurzweil, Ray, 93 Labor, 20, 78, 80–84, 113, 143–145, 152. See also Automation by artificial beings, 44, 75–76, 78–80, 112, 143–144, 148 dehumanization of, 78–80, 148 freedom from, 89, 141, 146 racialized, 78–80
sexual, 81–82 slave, 20–22 Lane, Mary E. Bradley, 24 Lang, Fritz, 75 Last Angel of History, The, 33 Latinx sf, 14, 72, 167 Legrand, Benjamin, 120 Le Guin, Ursula K. Dispossessed, The, 29 Lathe of Heaven, The, 70 Word for World Is Forest, The, 68 Leinster, Murray, 63 Levin, Ira, 80 Levi-Strauss, Claude, 166 Life after People, 135 Liu, Ken, 91–92, 155–157 Lob, Jacques, 118 Locus, 39 Logan’s Run, 126 Lowell, Percival, 118 Lucas, George, 69 Luckhurst, Roger, 16, 57–58 Lu, Marie, 26 Mad Max, 128 Malzberg, Barry, 66–67 Manga, 88 Mars, 60–62, 99, 118. See also Alien invasion Mars, 50, 161–162 Martin, Felix, 142 Matrix, The, 12, 89 Maze Runner, The, 26 McAuliffe, Christa, 161 McCaffrey, Anne, 94 McCaffrey, Larry, 87 McConnell, John, 123 McKay, Adam, 138 McKenzie, K. M., 147
Medical science, 25, 27, 97, 111 Merril, Judith, 7, 28 Messeri, Lisa, 162 Metropolis, 75, 83 Microbes, 113–114, 177n7–178n7 Milburn, Collin, 44, 47 Miller, George, 128 Miller, Sam J., 144 Milner, Andrew, 14–15 Mining, 148–149 Minority Report, 48 Mitchison, Naomi, 99 Modern Electrics, 37 Monáe, Janelle, 33 Money, 41, 142–143, 153. See also Cryptocurrencies Montero, Rose, 112 Moon, 22, 148–9 Moon, 148–9 Moorcock, Michael, 65–66 Moore, C. L., 78 More, Thomas, 2, 19–22 Morley, David, 80 Morris, William, 2, 24 Moskowitz, Sam. See Hard sf Moylan, Tom, 29–30 Multimedia sf, 41, 73 Music, 33, 88, 103 Musk, Elon, 34, 64, 162, 177n7 NASA, 135, 160–163, 169, 177n7 Nature, 39–40, 155 Never Let Me Go, 109 New Wave, 8, 65–67, 70, 85, 121, 163 New Worlds, 65–67 Nicol, Andrew, 142 Nixon, Rob, 124 Nonhumans, 152–153. See also Aliens; Artificial beings
North, Claire, 143 Nuclear disaster. See Apocalypse Nuclear war. See Apocalypse Omni, 39, 45 O’Reilly, Tim, 145 Oreskes, Naomi, 135 Orwell, George, 25–26, 48 Otherness. See Aliens; Difference Otto, Eric, 133 Overpopulation, 126 Patriarchy, 13, 25, 33, 78, 124 Penley, Constance, 160 Perlman, Elisabeth, 137 Petranek, Stephen, 161 Pharmaceutical industry. See Drugs Poe, Edgar Allan, 57 Pohl, Frederik, 7 Pollution, 123–126, 128 Popular Mechanics, 39 Postcolonial sf, 71. See also Global sf Posthumanism, 88, 97, 114, 116, 120, 124, 147, 167, 152 Postmodernism, 67. See also Cyberpunk Poverty, 111, 124, 128, 138, 144 Prelinger, Megan, 13 Priest, Christopher, 70 Privilege, 69, 98, 105, 114, Project Blue Book, 160 Prostitution. See Body, commodification of Psionics, 98, 101, 107, 112, 127 Publishing, 15–17, 39–40, 45, 57, 166 digital, 16, 40, 73, 157 print, 5, 157
Pulp sf, 1–2, 34, 37, 41, 67, 70, 97, 101, 163 Pumzi, 128 Pynchon, Thomas, 66
Royal Society, 23 Russ, Joanna Female Man, The, 29 To Write Like a Woman, 31–33
Queer activism, 31
Sapochnik, Miguel, 148 Sargent, Lyman Tower, 30–31 Satire, 20, 24–26, 25–26, 29, 60, 67, 148 Schroeder, Karl, 152 Science, 22–23, 71, 164 accuracy of, 107–108 influence of sf on, 23, 34, 107, 162 racialization of, 67–68, 107, 169, 178n15 Science education, 7, 58, 161 Science fiction. See also Editors defining, 5–12, 163–165, 177n2 and gender, 16, 68 (see also Feminist sf) influence on science, 23, 42, 44–48, 85, 162 origins of, 2–4, 57–60 racialization of, 16, 69–71, 100 reputation of, 5, 55, 102, 158 Scientific America, 37 Scientification, 2–4 Scott-Heron, Gil, 35 Scott, Ridley, 48, 79, 81 Second Life, 85 SETI, 64 Sf imagery, 12–13, 33, 41, 46–48, 85, 152 Sf prototyping, 16, 49, 51, 157 Sheldon, Alice. See Tiptree Jr., James Shelley, Mary Frankenstein, 2, 105 Last Man, The, 120
Ra, Sun, 33 Raby, Fiona, 51–52 Racism, 27, 69–71, 107, 130, 174 Rajaniemi, Hannu, 155–156 RAND Corporation, 48 Reagan, Ronald, 49 Realism, 20, 124, 132–133, 156 Religion, 127, 129 Repo Men, 148 Reproduction, human, 100, 108–109, 111–112 (see also Cloning) Resist: Tales from a Future Worth Fighting For, 14 Reynolds, Alastair, 155–156 Rhee, Jennifer, 76, 80 Rieder, John, 4, 58–59 Roanhorse, Rebecca, 14 Robins, Kevin, 80 Robinson, Kim Stanley, 124, 155–156 Aurora, 43 Mars trilogy, 118 New York 2140, 154 Science in the Capital, 130–132 Shaman, 132 Robotics, 18, 76, 79, 82–85, 88 Robots. See Artificial beings Rochette, Jean-Marc, 120 Romanek, Mark, 109 Romanticism, 15 Roshwald, Mordecai, 28 Rowe, Adam, 157
Sherman, Fraser, 147 Shiel, M. P., 120 Shusterman, Neal, 26 Shute, Nevil, 28 Singularity, 92–93, 139, 152 Slate, 40 Slavery, 20–22, 27, 68, 71. See also Aliens Slonczewski, Joan Brain Plague, 113 Highest Frontier, The, 113 Smith, Adam, 139 Smith, Eric, 30 Snow, C. P., 164 Snowpiercer, 118, 120 Social change. See Dystopias; Extrapolation, social; Social critique; Utopias Social critique, 7, 10–14, 24–25, 33–37, 89, 122, 125, 148, 169. See also Dystopias; Utopias Socialist utopias. See Utopias Social justice, 13–14, 33, 130, 169 Social media, 39, 41, 53, 57, 82, 87, 89, 91, 158 Soylent Green, 126 Space opera, 65, 167 Space program, 34, 65, 123, 160–161 Space Race, 34, 47, 169 Space Shuttle, 160–161 Space travel, 4, 34–35, 39, 44, 65, 158, 160, 163 SpaceX, 34, 162 Speculative design, 18, 47, 51–52, 135 Speculative finance, 18, 138 Spielberg, Steven, 48
Spooky, DJ, 33 Srnicek, Nick, 141 Stapledon, Olaf, 98 Star Trek, 1, 5, 43, 61, 160 Star Wars. See Strategic Defense Initiative Star Wars, 69, 163 Stepford Wives, The, 80 Stephenson, Neal, 43, 85, 150 Sterling, Bruce, 50 Mirrorshades, 87, 103 Schismatrix, 93–94 Stewart, George R., 120 Strange Horizons, 39 Strategic Defense Initiative, 49 Streeby, Shelley, 14, 129–130 Stross, Charles, 152–153 Succession, 138 Surrealism, 8, 83, 163 Surveillance, 12, 26, 92 Sustainability, 29, 118, 123–124, 131, 153. See also Environmental sf Suvin, Darko, 10–11, 20, 30 Technology, 17, 26, 41, 81–91. See also Artificial beings; Automation; Extrapolation; Innovation and capitalism, 23, 150, 169 control of, 78–79, 81, 90–91 (see also Artificial beings) emergent, 38, 40–41, 145 and gender, 82–84, 88–89 green, 129–131 military, 12–13, 27, 83, 87, 183n8, 183n11 racialization of, 33, 70–71, 83–85, 167
Technophilic sf, 34, 38–39, 52, 141. See Hard sf Telepathy. See Psionics Telescopes, 59, 118, 179n2 Television, 5, 38, 41, 44, 50–51, 83, 112, 135, 162, 167, 182n12, 183n11 Terminator, The, 81 Terraforming. See Environment Thomas, Lindsay, 135 Time travel, 24–25, 97–98 Tiptree Jr., James, 68–69, 178nn14, 15 Toffler, Alvin, 48 Totalitarianism, 27 Transcendence, 13, 35, 101–102 of body, 88, 93, 114 digital, 4–5, 88, 93 Transcendence, 94 Transhumanism, 94–95, 114 Transplant industry, 109, 148 Traviss, Karen, 105 Tucker, Wilson, 70 Turing test, 82 Twelve Tomorrows, 40 UFOs, 160. See also Aliens Utopian studies, 29–31, 52 Utopias, 11, 18–22, 34, 52, 124, 131. See also Technophilic sf critical, 29–31 naiveté of, 27–29 socialist, 23–24
Virtual reality, 4, 85, 88–89 Vonnegut, Kurt, 79 VR. See Virtual reality Wachowski brothers, 88 Wargames, 81 Wark, McKenzie, 132 Wegner, Philip, 30 Weinbaum, Stanley, 61 Weisman, 135 Wells, H. G., 2, 57, 164 Island of Doctor Moreau, The, 103 Sleeper Wakes, The, 25 Time Machine, The, 24, 97–98 War of the Worlds, The, 6–7, 60, 114 Westworld (film), 81 Westworld (series), 83, 112 Wild Blue Yonder, The, 135 Wilhelm, Kate, 108–109 Williams, Alex, 141 Winklevoss, Tyler, 152 Wired, 39 Wise, Douglas, 64 Wolfe, Gary, 6 Wollheim, Donald, 7 Women. See Feminist sf; Surrogacy Wonder, sense of, 13, 34. See also Technophilic sf World’s Fair (1939), 1, 33–34, 76 Wright, Sydney Fowler, 120 Wythoff, Grant, 38–39 Young adult sf, 26–27, 31, 128
Van Vogt, A. E., 101–102 Verne, Jules, 2, 6–7, 57 Videogames. See Gaming Vigna, Paul, 152 Vinge, Vernor, 92–93
Zamyatin, Yevgeny, 25–26 Zinn, Howard, 138 Z.P.G., 126
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SHERRYL VINT is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies and of English at the University of California, Riverside. An editor of the journal Science Fiction Studies and of the book series Science and Popular Culture, she has published widely on science fiction. Her most recent work, Biopolitical Futures in TwentyFirst-Century Speculative Fiction, focuses on connections between speculative fiction and biopolitics.