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A Cultural History of a Hybrid Genre Science Fiction. Cultural History of Literature by Roger Luckhurst Review by: Brooks Landon

Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1, Technoculture and Science Fiction (Mar., 2006), pp. 161-


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BrooksLandon A CulturalHistoryof a HybridGenre

Roger Luckhurst. Science Fiction.

Cambridge:Polity, 2005. vii + 305 pp. $24.95 pbk.

Hybridity is a concept that has steadily gained purchase in a wide range of criticaldiscoursesover the pasttwenty-fiveyears, addingculturalandaesthetic dimensionsto its initially largely biological meanings. In postcolonialstudies, sociology, political science, art, and numerousother areas of critical inquiry, hybridity has been accorded more and more positive connotations as a transgressiveor resistantphenomenon;the term itself has become one of those ubiquitousbuzzwords whose time has come. "Hybrids"now also refers to mixed-technologyautomobilesandthe termhas even become prominentin car advertising-both sure signs of its near-memestatus and its appropriationby some of the hegemonic sourcesto which it previouslysignaledresistance. So it should come as no surprisethat a new studyof sf shouldbe organizedarnund thisconcept, as is RogerLuckhurst'sScienceFiction. Indeed,Luckhurst'squiet but insistent argumentis not only that science fiction is an inherentlyhybrid enterprise,butalso thatthis has been the case since the meaningfulcodification of sf in the 1880s. And, while hybriditysightingshave become somethingof a criticalcommonplace,Luckhurst'sdiscussionof the importanceof the concept to ourunderstandingof sf as a culturalforce is as welcome as it seems overdue. Science Fiction offers sf readers and scholars a valuable culturallyoriented contextin which to test andrethinkour numerousnarrativesof the genre. This book is not-nor was it intendedto be-the definitive culturalhistory sf, butit is a fine cornerstoneon which muchfuturescholarshipshouldandwill be built. ScienceFictioncontinuesthe move towarda culturalhistoryof sf suggested by a largenumberof criticalworkspublishedin thepastfifteenor twentyyears, each of which exploredreciprocalrelationshipsbetween the body of texts that comprises sf and the culturalconcerns shapingand frequentlyshapedby those texts. Luckhurstcentershis focus on the culturaldebatesattendingtechnological

modernity-as differently articulatedin Great Britain and the US-using

antiquebut capacious umbrellaterm "Mechanism"to subsumethe impact of technology on cultural life. Casting sf as "a literature of technologically saturatedsocieties," he offers his study as a culturalhistory ratherthan the culturalhistory of sf, specifying:



A culturalhistory of science fiction will situate texts, therefore, as part of a

constantlyshiftingnetworkthatties togetherscience, technology, social history and culturalexpression with differentemphasesat different times. SF will not conform to a particularliterarytypology or formalistdefinition:rather,it will

be markedby a sensitivity to the ways in which Mechanismis connected into

differenthistoricalcontexts. (6)

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Accordingly, Luckhurstsets himself the task of charting sfs "own kind of

surrogatepublic history" (2)

unfoldingof this surrogatepublichistory, he attemptsto investigatethe factors thathave repeatedlyrelegatedsf to low cultureandmarginalstatus.He unpacks and refutes the notion of some aesthetic given that inexorablyjudged sf so harshly. Instead,he offers an analysisof the misturnsandmissed opportunities by sf's advocates, includingthe adoptionof legitimizingstrategies,fromWells throughSuvin and beyond, that actuallyworked to the genre's disadvantage. Luckhurstoffers no brief for overlooked or misjudged aesthetic quality in sf-and even remindsus thatthe New Wave, frequentlyclaimedas an aesthetic high point, contains some really bad writing. However, one of the many importantargumentsLuckhurstmakes is that sf's early and long-continuing relegationto low statushas little to do with actualaestheticqualityandmuchto do with the genre's positions in cultural debates over the implications of Mechanism. At eachperiodin his culturalhistoryof the genre, Luckhurstsituatessf texts that "speakto the concerns of their specific moment in history"in "a broad network of contexts and disciplinary knowledges" (2) ranging from evolutionary/devolutionarytheory and British literary debates through the American engineer paradigmand the technological sublime. He surveys the various exhaustionsof Britishimperialmelancholy, nuclearmalaise, the dead ends tied to genre forms rejected by the New Wave in England, and the patriarchalassumptionsrejectedby women andfeministsf writersin America. The largerconcernof this trackingis alwayson ways in which sf mightbe seen

as contributing"in a new and significantway to the history of the constitution of the modern subject" (3) with specific reference to responses to and implicationsof Mechanism-the centralaspect of modernity-as it is shunned by high cultureandengagedin complicatedandambivalentways by sf. If there

is a persistentsub-themeor thesis in Luckhurst'sefforts to chartthe impactof

sf's metaphorsandallegorieson largerculturalformations,it is thatsf is more

a voice of the melancholy and trauma of technological modernity than a celebrationof technologicalliberationortranscendence.Inthesignificantstrand of sf texts "in which the human subject is pierced or wounded by invasive technologies that subvert,enslave, or ultimatelydestroy," Luckhurstshows sf

persistentlyshading"intohorroror Gothicwriting"(5). This is one of the signs

of sf's hybridityand an importantsign of its ambivalencetowardMechanism.

Acknowledgingthe limitationsof his analysis (little attentionto media, no global perspective, no engagementwith the discoursesof fandom, andno real

attention to Gothic or fantasy), Luckhurst offers his study not as a new

normativeattemptto carve out a respectablecanonbutas a descriptiveeffort to

record some of

sf and culture:

from 1880 throughthe 1990s. As he tracks the

the complicationsand contractionsof the relationshipbetween

Historiansof SF need, in my view, to be less judgmentaland prescriptive.We needto bejust as interestedin how fantasiesaboutMechanismcan, for instance, prompteugenicandproto-fascistscenariosin the 1910sand 1920s (fantasiesthat

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periodicallyreturn),oridolizea fundamentallyanti-democraticTechnocraticelite as a solutionto the crisis of liberaldemocraciesin the 1930sand 1940s. Cultural history needs to understandthe appeal of breathlesslypaced interstellarpulp fictions as much as the self-consciously Modernistprose adoptedby counter- culturalSF in the 1960s. (9)

Of course Luckhurstmustsingle out some texts as he goes aboutthis ambitious task while ignoringmost others, but his general approachis not to "lift" an sf text or a writerout of received or ignoredhistoricalaccountsof the genre as it is to "resubmerge"a text or writer in richly textured cultural and literary discourses, characteristicallycomplicatingour understandingof the relations betweentext andculture.Inthis rhetoricalstrategy,frequently(butnot always) dialectical, Luckhurstwould seem to be following the originary guide he attributesto H.G. Wells in his writingbefore 1900in which, asJohnHuntington has observedandLuckhurstunderscores, "acarefullyconstructedarchitecture of ambivalenceensuresthatevery force has a counter-force,every assertiona negation, with Wells delighting in 'the irony of contradictionitself" (39). Luckhurstconsistentlycomplicatesreceived associationsandoppositionsalike, as when he pointsto affinitiesin the work of C.S. Lewis andArthurC. Clarke or suggests a counterto cyberpunkerasureof embodimentin the body horror fictions of Clive Barker and Octavia Butler. I found this one of the book's primarydelights and an importantsource of its value-although it is precisely whatmakesthe book difficultto describeandalmostimpossibleto summarize. While the book loosely presentsa chronologicaloverview of sf from 1880 through2000, this chronology is complicatedby Luckhurst'sneed to switch focus between English and American sf, and his double focus is further complicatedby his insistentrefusalof both rupturalhistories andnarrativesof genre "progress"or "maturation."His own apparentdelight in "the irony of contradictionitself" (or at least of complication)leads every chapterthrough twists, turns, and reversals that inexorably undercut the notion of strict chronology:the Luckhursttime machineis alwayson the move. At each turnin this cultural history that feels more like a hypertext, it seems to me that Luckhurstis interestedin constructinga culturalhistorythatcanmapfive broad concerns, althoughthis is my identificationand not his.

1. He wantsto comparethe codificationandcharacteristicconcernsof English

and American sf as variously shapedby evolutionary, engineering, and what mightbe called nuclear/cyberneticparadigms.

2. He wants to locate efforts to valorize or to attack the genre within larger

culturaldiscussionsanddebates,usuallyrecastingaestheticor literaryjudgments

as consequentto broaderphilosophicalor ideological concerns.


contradictory-totheever-expandinganddeepeningimplicationsof Mechanism.

4. He wantsto resituatethe genre's critical/theoreticalstandingas the natureof

cultural critique/theory changes, so that the cultural value of sf is never monolithicor intrinsic,but contingenton extra-literaryfactors.

He wants to chart the genre's responses-usually

ambivalent, if not

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5. He wantsto complicaterigid definitionsof genre andnormative/prescriptive


sf/fantasy, Left/Right, Modern/Postmodern,etc.

This makes Science Fiction a very busy, very ambitiousbook thatdeserves and rewards very careful reading. In the context of the above concerns, Luckhurst'sselection of authorsandworks for extendedanalysis is not meant to valorize, much less canonize, as muchas it is to identifyuseful touchstones for exploring the reciprocal relations between sf literature and cultural discussions. There is little effort on Luckhurst'spartto posit a literaryhistory or to make qualitativeassessments of sf writers and texts. Not surprisingly, however, many of the writers and texts he selects as touchstonesfor cultural connectionsturnout to be the same writersandtexts frequentlysingledout for literaryhistoriesof sf, yet his principleof selectiondoes not necessarilyimply thata writeror text representsthe genreor shouldbe used to establishor extend genre boundaries.His selections do favor formaland ideationalhybridity,and thecomplicationsLuckhurstinvariablyintroducesin his analysesof writersand texts argue for a new understandingof sf thatembracesratherthanattemptsto erase its essential hybridity;his culturalhistory may be the main point of his scholarship,but it also makespoints. PartI of Science Fiction consists of threechaptersdevotedto the originsof


judgments based on well-rehearsed binaries such as

focusingrespectivelyon thesocial andtechnologicalconditionsnecessaryfor

its emergence, the importanceof the evolutionaryparadigmto the nineteenth- centuryBritishcodificationof the scientificromance,andthe importanceof the engineerparadigmto the developmentof pulp fiction in America. The purpose of this section is to suggest the paradigmsthatboth guidedthe developmentof sf in Englandand in America and positioned that literaturein larger cultural debatesoccasionedby Mechanism,or technologicalmodernity.The conditions makingpossiblelatenineteenth-centuryscientificfictionare "massliteracy;new print vectors; a coherent ideology and emergentprofession of science" and, most importantfor this study, "everydayexperience transformedby machines andmechanicalprocesses" (29). For Luckhurst,Wells is the "embodiment"of these conditionsratherthanthe inventorof Britishsf. Somewhatparadoxically, he is at once a source of the emerging genre's messianic commitmentto its ideationalcontent (startingwith the evolutionaryparadigm), and a source of what will emerge again and again as the genre's self-loathing over its poor artistry.Luckhurstfocuses on Wells's disastrousmisreadingof and relationto an emerging literary establishment, on the separatist consequences of his commitmentto evolutionism,andon the ambiguity,contradictions,andformal hybridityof his writing.Luckhurstsuggestshow theseaspectsof Wells's writing led to his settingmanyof the agendasfor Britishsf andfor its criticalreception before 1945; he even played a role in structuringthe claims of a "fall from grace" that insist on a qualitativerupturebetween British and American sf. Ratherthan concentrateon Wells's "use of science" in his fiction, Luckhurst

detailsways in which Wells was as influentialin settingthe culturalcontextfor the devaluingof sf as he was for its growth-by initiatingits impureor hybrid

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nature. In his thirdchapter, Luckhursttraces the rise of the boy inventorand engineerparadigmsthatwere as crucial in the formationof Americansf as the evolutionaryparadigmwas in England. Once again, the success and influence of an embodying writer and editor-this time Hugo Gernsback-are shown to create the conditionsfor the aestheticdevaluationof sf as well as for its codification.Wells andGernsback, Luckhurstsuggests, are as much responsiblefor thecritical ghettoizationof sf as they are for the codificationof the genre. And, once again, thatcodification is representedin terms of hybridity rather than "purity,"as "Gernsbackian technocratic advocacy is in intimate dialectical relation with Lovecraftian 'cosmic horror,'" with both deriving from "the same engineer paradigmin Americain the 1910sand1920s"(64-65). Gernsback'sadvocacyof technocracy came at the expense of aesthetic validation, but Luckhurst shows how Campbelliansf stroveto "elidetechnocraticelitism with SF as an elite mode of writing," a more self-flatteringattemptto validatesf as a meansto technocratic ratherthanaestheticideals(72). Thus, Luckhurstargues,theAmericanengineer paradigmactuallycan be seen to mergewith the Britishevolutionaryparadigm, andthe engineer (or the sf readershipthatclosely identifiedwiththe engineer) is reconstructedin some Americansf-particularly by A.E. Van Vogt-as an evolutionaryadvance, the next stagein humandevelopment.This evolutionof the engineerparadigmtranscendsissues of literarymeritby aligningitself with theextra-literaryassumptionsandbeliefs in Korzybski'sGeneralSemanticsand Hubbard'sDianetics, establishingties between sf and culturethathad little or nothingto do with literaryvalue.' Part II follows the elaboration of the initially artifactual concerns of Mechanisminto the cyberneticcontrol systems developed in conjunctionwith the nuclearage andits attendanttechnocraticnetworking.This section, againin threechapters,follows the coterminousrise of technocultureanddecline of the British Empire as Americanand British sf took quite differentpostwarturns. Roughlycoveringthe years from 1939 through1959, this secondsection shows sf as it is reorganized aroundtechnologies related to atomic power, whether emblemizedby the Bombor by networksof associationsfamouslyidentifiedby President Eisenhower as the Military IndustrialComplex. One significant offshoot of this network of military, academic, bureaucratic,and economic associations-a significantstagein theextensionof Mechanismintoeveryaspect of modernlife-is cybernetics, and as Mechanismenterswhat mightbe called its nuclear/cybernetic stage, it becomes fertile ground for the writing of technologically inflected paranoid fiction and for philosophical critique. Luckhurstsees this period as one of "complexconjuncture"that "atteststo the radicalredefinitionof the relationbetweenthe humanandthe technologicalthat stretches from vast military-industrialprojects to the intricacies of German philosophy and culture critique" (90). Both the military-industrialand philosophicaldevelopmentsof theperiodaffordopportunitiesto sf for important cultural commentary and implicate it in new formations of mechanic mass culture-opening thegenreto new condemnationfromcritiquesof massculture.

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In respondingto this nuclear/cyberneticparadigm,Americansf breaksinto competingschools, some celebratingthe new technologyandnew technocrats it requires, some criticizing and satirizing the new technoculture and its economic implications.Against the technocraticboosterismof JohnCampbell and"his"writerssuchas HeinleinandAsimov standsthecriticismof Vonnegut, Dick, Merril, Pohl, andKombluth,andin theseculturaldivides-rather thanin subject matter-Luckhurst locates the beginning of the distinction between "hard"and "soft"sf. In England,responseto the nuclear/cyberneticparadigm was muchmoremelancholic,as Americanatomicascendancyseemedparalleled by Britishdecline, occasioninga kindof double-hiton the valuationof sf: "For Britishintellectualsacross the spectrumit was notjust thatSF embodiedmass culture and crude investmentin technological modernity, it was also that the genre was American" (123). At least partly as a result of this guilt by associationof sf with Americantechnologizedmodernity,Luckhurstsuggests, fantasy became the most notable form of writing in postwar England. But Luckhurstimmediatelycomplicatesthis binary, suggestingways in which the fantasyof Lewis and Tolkien and particularlyof Mervyn Peake shouldnot be understoodin rigid oppositionto the concernsandprotocolsof sf, arguingthat the writing of ArthurC. Clarke is in fact "not so distant"from that of C.S. Lewis. Once again, the key to understandingBritishwriting of this period is hybridity, as it "fused fantasy, Gothic and SF elements, offering refracted meditationson theirhistoricalmoment"(124), withbothfantasistssuchas Lewis and sf writers such as JohnWyndhamechoing Wells. He concludes of British andAmericansf: "Theperiodbetween 1945 and 1960 is the most complex and multi-strandedperiod in science fictionhistory, the epoch in which the Golden Age was bothconsolidatedandcontested, when SF claimedscientific, political and social-critical relevance yet was also condemned as an examplar of detestablemass culture"(136). And the contradictorythematicsof this period, Luckhurstclaims, are importantbecausethey will "recurandmodulate"during the next four decades. PartIII somewhatdropsthe alternatingfocus on BritishandAmericansf to organize culturalconcerns around"DecadeStudies,"with chaptersdevotedto the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. This schema predictably organizesthe 1960saroundthe New Waveandthe 1970s aroundtheplayingout of the British New Wave and the diverse paths taken by the developmentof feminist sf. Luckhurst's analysis of the 1980s, again predictably, looks at postmodernismand cyberpunk, much less predictablycalls attentionto the cultural impact of New Right sf during the decade, and closes with the unexpectedpairingof the body horrorof splatterpunkwith the body horrorof OctaviaButler. Luckhurstthencloses his studywith a constructionof the 1990s "as a consolidationand rejuvenationof the uniquefocus of SF: speculationon thediverseresultsof theconjunctureof technologywith subjectivity"(222). He locates this consolidationand rejuvenationin thereappearanceof space opera, in the rearticulationof apocalypticconcernsin abductionnarratives,andin the genre-morphinghybridityof the New Weird and "post-fantastic"writers such as M. JohnHarrison,ChinaMieville, andJonathanLethem.Possibly because

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the decade chapters are more clearly organized around delimited literary "movements"such as cyberpunkand feminist sf, these chaptersdo not feel as richly or as deeply texturedin theirculturalconnectionsas do those in the first two partsof thebook, althoughtheycontinueLuckhurst'svaluableinsistenceon complicatingreceived binaries, whetherof agreementor opposition. As would be expected, the chapteron the 1960s centerson the New Wave, althoughLuckhurststronglychallengesthe idea thatthe AmericanNew Wave shared the ambitions or the cohesion of the British. In fact, Luckhurst's approachto the 1960s focuses more on what the New Wavewas not thanon it was, as he detailsways how the New Worldsprojectwas not an attemptto raise the statusof sf to thatof "serious"literature,but "was one manifestationof a wider move to question the very categories and values of 'high' and 'low' culture" (146). Nor, according to Luckhurst,was either the British or the


While the New Wave did changethe course of genre history, it did not marka clearbreakwith genreconcerns. "Thisis an explicitjuvenilizationof SF by the blanket abjection of the genre before it reached 'maturity' about 1960. It sanctionsignoranceandproducesa skewed, largelyahistoricalconceptionof the New Wave, because it is only able to readfor discontinuity,not the substantial continuitieswithin the genre" (160). Luckhurstreadily acknowledges that "decade studies" can't be rigidly calendric, as is suggested by period studies that actually see the 1960s as stretchingfrom 1959to 1973, and, as he moves on to the 1970s, his initialfocus remainson the New Wave. Dependingon how we view it, he suggests, the New Wave by the early 1970s could be seen as havingoccasioned eithera powerful rebirth of sf or as having signaled its imminent disappearance. "It feels impossibleto make an assertionabout 1970s SF," he notes, "withoutthinking of an immediatecounter-example,"and he sees this contradictorysituationas "symptomaticof a wider set of confusionsover preciselywhattookplace in the decade"(169). Inculturalterms,theissue was notwhetheror notsf hadreached

some kind of an end, but thatit became imbricatedin a muchbroadersocietal experienceof limits. "Sciencefictiondidnot simplyreflect on this," Luckhurst explains, but "oftenprovidedthe very meansby whichthe consequencesof this momentcouldbe envisaged, in formsof utopianor dystopianprojectionintothe future"(171). TheBritishNew Wavereadtheendof Britishpowerwithdegrees of "post-imperialmelancholy,"andfeministsf readtheendof "acertain(social, economic, politicalandtechnological)formationof the 'patriarchal'West atthe

end of the 1960s" (181).

Luckhurstdoes not consistentlytrackracethroughhis culturalhistoryof sf, but he does discuss the importanceof race in his overview of AmericanPulp Fictionsin Chapter3, andhis analysisof the New Wave in the 1970s returnsto a considerationof thisissue as partof thepost-imperialrefiguringof Englishness in termsof race ratherthanof place. Luckhurstuses ChristopherPriestandM. John Harrison to situate the British New Wave of the 1970s in the larger melancholic "structureof feeling" attendingthe end of British power. The appropriationin the 1970s of sf tropes used to articulatefeminist concerns by

Wave the rupturalmomentclaimedin so many accountsof sf.

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British women writers more associated with the literary mainstream-Doris Lessing, EmmaTennant,Zoe Fairbairns,andAngelaCarter-affords Luckhurst a culturaltransitionfromthe New Wave's preoccupationwith nationallimits to feminist sf's preoccupationwith genre limits:

Questionsof sex andgenderdidnotsuddenlyappearwithinthegenrewiththe

New Wave or by feminist intervention.What the feminist interventionin the 1970s did effect, though, was a new reflexivity about the conventionsof SF, exposing how a genre that praised itself for its limitless imaginationand its

power to refuse norms had largely

question for much of its existence.

end of the form, but the rubble of


reproduced'patriarchalattitudes' without The New Wave had reachedthe exhausted that traditioncould be recombined in new

And the consequences of this "dying into new being" were not confined to feminist issues:

Mega-textualSF elementsthathadconsciouslyor not reproducedpatriarchalor heterosexistnormscouldberecomposedandredirectedfornewpoliticalends-even if thoseendswereexplicitlyanti-scientificoranti-technological,strikingattheheart ofhistoricdefinitionsof SF.Outoftheseeming'end'oftechnologicalmodernityand

the ruinsof genre, feminist writers recomposedgeneric narratives.(182)

Withinthis larger frameworkof agendas, Luckhurstis careful to delineate the diversity of 'types' of feminist sf in the 1970s, organizingthem along the waves suggestedbyJuliaKristevainher 1979essay "Women'sTime"-with the understandingthatthese "waves"canbe understoodas simultaneous,ratherthan only linear. These coterminousfeminismsaddressequality, difference, andthe deconstructionof the man/womanbinary. Accordingly, Luckhurstlocates Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) as a first-wave text focused on questionsof equality(laterrereadby Le Guin to emphasizegenderdifference, thusmoving it towardthe secondwave). Sally MillerGearhart'sWanderground (1979) offers anexampleof a second-wavetextplacingtechnologyat thecenter of male/femaledifference, as do Suzy McKee Charnas'sWalkto theEndof the World(1974) andMotherlines(1978), and as does Marge Piercy's Womanon the Edge of Time (1976). Luckhurst'sreadingsof these texts remindus that, apartfrom their sharinggender concerns, these writers constructand critique technologydifferently,withvery differentvisions of its socialuses. JoannaRuss is then identifiedas an exemplarof Kristeva'sthirdwave, andalso as a writer whose work explores all three feminisms, with The Female Man (1975) incorporating"all of these strandsof feminism into a collage of competing voices from parallelworlds" (193). Similarly Angela Carter'sThePassion of New Eve (1977) represents third-wave critique, particularlyin the ways it "lampoons myths of gender fixity" (194). In Carter's brilliantly unsettling

fiction Luckhurstfinds not only an instructivebridge between the New

and feminist sf but also anotherexemplarof the generic hybridityof sf in her "findingleverage for critiqueby disarticulatingandreorientingthematrixof the genre-whether SF, Gothic, fairy tale or fantasy"(184-85).


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I began Luckhurst's chapter on the 1980s with something approaching dread-or atleast anticipatoryfatigue, since thisdecadehas alreadylentits most celebratedmovement,cyberpunk,to endlessculturalstudiesof postmodernism. If there's one thing sf criticism probably does not need, I thought, it's yet anotherculturalhistoryof the 1980s. Afterthe inevitablebutmercifullyconcise overviewof postmodernism,however, Luckhurstgoes delightfullyoffroadfrom the high-traffic critical highway to discuss 1980s sf and the New Right. Somewhatimpishly,he suggeststhat-instead of thecyberpunks-the sf writers associated with the Right in general and with the Star Wars (SDI)-friendly Citizen's Advisory Panel on National Space Policy in particularmight have providedthe most representativesf of the 1980s. Againstthe well-knownroster of cyberpunks,Luckhurstwants us to rememberthe quitedifferentagendasof Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Gregory Benford, Robert Heinlein, and Ben Bova. Remindingus that "SF was as ideologically riven as any other field of culturalproductionin the 1980s" (202), Luckhurstnot only uses this chapterto relocate cyberpunkin "the shadow of the New Right," but also complicates cyberpunk'semblematicassociation with virtualdisembodimentby readingit dialecticallywith "bodyhorror"fiction, as representedby the splatterpunkof Clive Barkerand by the more oblique body horrorwriting of OctaviaButler. And, in a by-now-familiarand increasinglypersuasive refrain for this study, Luckhurstobservesthatthis "hybridof sf andhorrorwas not at all new, butpart of a long traditionthat stretches back to Verne and Wells of what has been called 'the science-fiction grotesque"'(214). For obvious reasons, the chapter on the 1990s seems to be the most provisionalof Luckhurst'sdecade studies. Homi Bhabhaand ManuelCastells providetheoreticaloverviewsof thisperiod,focusingrespectivelyonaccelerated globalizationand the technologicalproductionof "InformationalCapitalism." In Luckhurst'sview, what characterizessf in the 1990s is that "it respondsto the intensificationandglobalextensionof technologicalmodernitynotwithnew forms, but ratherwith ones lifted from the genre's venerablepast" (221). He then organizes his discussion of 1990s sf aroundthe New Space Opera, the revivalof apocalypticvisionsundertheprospectof theVingeanSingularity,and the New Weird, which Luckhurstsees as a kind of apotheosisof the hybridity that has always characterizedsf-"a final instance of uncannyreturn:to the conditionsof writingthatdominatedthe emergenceof SF in the late nineteenth century" (243). Dan Simmons's Hyperion (1989) and Ken MacLeod's FALL REVOLUTIONquartet(The Star Fraction [1995], The Stone Canal [1996], The Cassini Division [1998], and The Sky Road [1999]) limn the ironizing and subvertingreflectionsof globalizationthatmakethe New SpaceOperanew, but Luckhurstalso suggestsanexperientialagendafor the form, as its characteristic heft of pages "carvesout a large chunkof narrativetime thatacts as a bulwark against the depredationsof identity in the late modern world" (230). While frequently positing in its semblances erosions of the idea of progressive developmentalismand of monolithicempire, New Space Operaoccupies such a complexly structuredchunkof its reader'stimethatit actuallyserves as a kind

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of "narrativesalve," offering the readera standagainstthe erosion of literary subjectivity. A bit jarringly, Luckhurstthen switches from sf literatureto sf on tv, specifically 7heX-Files (1993-2002), to make his case for a 1990s revival of apocalypticism.Luckhurstdoes not smoothly negotiate the movement of the discussionof this new apocalypticismfrom the threatof runaway"singularity" breakthroughsin genetic research, nanotechnology,and robotics(as strikingly suggestedin Greg Bear's BloodMusic [1985], a book Luckhurstmentionsonly in passing)to the paranoidnarrativesof TheX-Files. While few woulddisagree withLuckhurst'sconstructionof thisseriesas anapocalypticnarrativeinformed by the alien abductionphenomenonor his observationthat it "leakedoutside mere televisual form into a strangelyblurredculturalspace between science fiction, political conspiracytheoryandapocalypticcounter-history,"the claim thatabductionaccounts"areperfectexamplesof science-fictionalnarrativesthat negotiatethe traumaticencounterof subjectivityandtechnology"(233) strikes me as less compelling. Luckhurst'sanalysisof this phenomenonhas previously appearedatgreaterlengthin one of theseveralnoteworthyandinfluentialessays he has published over the years in Science Fiction Studies. But, for all the incisiveness and culturalinsightof his analysis of the technologicaltraumaon whichabductionnarrativesfeed, TheX-Filesseemsto memorelike Apocalypse- lite thanlike the New Apocalypse. I don't questionthe culturalimportanceof this phenomenonor its importancefor our understandingof sf, but I'm not convincedit is the best representativeof 1990s apocalypticthinking.Luckhurst closes his book with a brief considerationof the New Weird, representedby China Mieville's "genre-morphing"Perdido Street Station (2000), and best understoodin termsof GaryWolfe's descriptionof "thepostgenrefantastic"or "recombinantgenrefiction." Theappearanceof a kindof literaturethatcanonly be described in terms of its "evaporation," "liquefaction," decomposing, fuzzying, recombining,blending, or morphingof genre forms andboundaries is exactly the pointat which Luckhurstshouldend a studythathas persuasively insistedat every turnthatsf "hasalways been a mixed, hybrid, bastardform, in a process of constantchange"(243). It mustbe abundantlyclear by now thatI do not shareFarahMendlesohn's dismissive opinion of Luckhurst'sScience Fiction, expressed in her peevish review in the September2005 issue of TheNew YorkReviewof ScienceFiction. And I mentionthis because the reviews in the NYRSFgenerally commandour attentionandrespect, servingsf scholars,writers, andreadersequallywell. But not this one. Indeed, I find myself wonderingwhether Mendlesohnand I read the same book. Certainly, Mendlesohn was not much interested in what Luckhurstarguesin ScienceFiction, as shenevereven mentionshis construction of sf in terms of its hybridity. Nor does she engage any of Luckhurst's significantpropositionsaboutthe culturalplace andvalue of sf. Dependingon which partof Mendlesohn'sscattershotcriticisms we read, this book is either not enoughof a culturalstudy, a culturalstudythatchooses the wrong cultural issues to study, too muchof a culturalstudythatvalues culturalcritics over sf writers, too muchof a literaryhistory, not enoughof a literaryhistory since it

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doesn't mentionenoughsf texts-particularly not enoughby writersof interest to Mendlesohn,andso on. Mendlesohnseemsmoreinterestedin labeling,as she chargesthatLuckhurst'sstudyis not a "real"culturalhistory(or at least notthe

one she wanted)andthatit is a "sexistbook" (16). I thinkshe's quitewrongon both counts, but hope that readerswill decide for themselves, on the basis of readingScienceFiction itself ratherthanacceptingeitherMendlesohn'slow or my high opinion of the book.

To Mendlesohn'scredit she acknowledgesthathers is an "angry"review,

and even goes so far as to admit that her readingmade her "too angry to be

fair," immediatelyoffering the justification: "butthen this isn't a fair book" (18). I'm not surewhere such a convenientscrupletakesus, butI'm prettysure it's not someplace sf scholarshipshould go. Nor should rigorous scholarship makethe kindsof factualmistakesthatpepperMendlesohn'sreview. Most are

small, but telling.

claim in her discussionof Chapter6 that "Tolkienis referredto as sword and sorcery, a traditionof which he is not a part and that he overwhelms" (18). What Luckhurstactually writes is that Suvinian sf scholarshiphas charged

Tolkien "not only with abandoningcritical cognition for conservative myth-

creation,but with doing so to such annoyinglyinfluentialeffect. The truepath of SF has been perverted since TheLord of the Rings became a mass-market success in the mid-1960s, resultingin a streamof imitativesword-and-sorcery sub-creationsdrained of critical effect" (128) (emphasis mine). If anyone is guilty of imprecisionhere, it is not Luckhurst.

For instance,one superficialexampleof hastyreadingis her

A much more significant misreading or misrepresentation underlies

Mendlesohn'sclaimed angerat Luckhurst'sfailureto live up to his own stated aims, "particularlyhis desire to 'thinkharderaboutthe way certainagents of history (for example the masses, women, colonized, marginal or subaltern peoples)hadbeen erasedor renderedanonymousin history-writing"'(16). The problemhere is thatthis quotationis not one of Luckhurst's"statedaims. " It is insteadMarkPoster'sdetailingof someof thecharacteristicsof culturalhistory,

and this is presentedby Luckhurstas partof a broadsummaryof suggestions, offered by several differentcritics, of the things culturalhistory can do:

Mark Poster agreedthatculturalhistorychallengedthe older social historyby questioningnarrativein History, butalso by forcingit to deal with "low"as well as "high"culturalsources and, in a relatedway, to thinkharderaboutthe way certainagentsof history (for examplethe masses, women, colonized, marginal or subalternpeoples)hadbeenerasedor renderedanonymousin history-writing.


While I agree with Mendlesohn'sapparentbelief thatthese are indeedworthy goals of culturalhistory, I mustnote thatthis was Poster's list of desiderataand not advancedby Luckhurstas his stated aims, and certainlynot as a kind of contractby which he intendedhis bookto bejudged. Nor is it reasonable,much less fair, to expect thatLuckhurst'sbook-or any otherculturalhistory-could do all of the admirablethings suggestedby these critics.

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it happens,however, I share a numberof Mendlesohn'slocal reactions

to this book, just not her global conclusions. Luckhurstcould have used more sociological evidence to strengthenhis culturalanalysisandhe couldhave used differentsf writersto supporthis culturalanalysis. The more culturallyfocused Cecilia Tichi strikes me as a better guide to constructions of American technologythandoes the moreliteraryorientedLeo Marx, andconsiderationof technoculturalphenomena such as Worlds Fairs and Coney Island-even advertising-would strengthenLuckhurst'sdiscussionof theAmericanEngineer paradigm. Like Mendlesohn, I found the absence of sustaineddiscussion of Gwyneth Jones curious, and I think Joanna Russ should figure much more prominentlyin a culturalhistory of sf, but, unlikeMendlesohn,I don't see the choice of discussingLe Guinover Russ as a sure sign of sexism. In fact, I think what Luckhurstdoes say about Russ argues much more persuasively against Mendlesohn'schargethatthe book is sexist thanher page-countingandauthor- countingcalculusarguesfor it. ConsiderwhatMendlesohntermspushingRuss's Female Man to one side or abandoningits discussion in the following passage from Science Fiction:


The Female Man has proved so

difficult to read because it incorporatesall of

these strands of feminism into a collage of competing voices from parallel worlds. Russ's four women protagonists, Janet, Jeanine,Joannaand Jael, are elements of the same personality, constitutedaccordingto the social reality in which they are imagined,whetherthis is two versions of America in 1969, the feministutopiaWhileawayor a futureof perpetualgenderwar. The inter-cutting is brutaland refuses the readerany comfort in identification,as Russ insists on

the simultaneity of these temporal and generational signifying spaces. The Female Man resembles the French feminist statements being written contemporaneously.Helene Cixous's "TheLaughof the Medusa,"for instance, embracesboth a thoroughgoingessentialism("Womanmustwrite woman. And man, man"), andyet advocatesan ecriture feminine. This can neverbe reduced to "women's writing," but aims to subvertthe mythical category of Woman. Cixous's tactic of contradictoryassertions is deliberate, the text enacting the subversive potentialof the "feminine," which becomes a deconstructivelever thatworms its way inside all systems of binarythought.In a similarway, when Russ writes "You cannotunitewoman andhumanany more thanyou can unite

matterand anti-matter;they

readsimultaneouslyas botha despairingcry of exclusionanda recognitionof the

chance, as Amanda Boulter puts it, to "transcendthe category of Woman altogether."Because TheFemale Man overdeterminesmeaningslike this andis

a compendiumof feminist strategyin the mid-1970s, it is still one of the central

texts of feminist SF. (193-94)

are designed not to be stable together," it can be

That's the way things go in this "sexist"book. Speakingas one who has hazardeda literaryhistoryof twentieth-centurysf, I see Luckhurst'sScienceFictionas anincrediblyvaluablecomplementary-and not competitive-effort. His culturalhistorymakes me realize how much I got wrongon my own or some of the errorsof othersI blithelypassedalong. It also makes me realize how much more effective any parts I may have gotten right mighthave been hadthey been writtenwith the benefitof the manyinsightsand

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specifications of this fme book. There will be other and undoubtedlymore thoroughculturalhistoriesof sf in generalandof its specific culturalmoments in particular,butmanyof those works may be inspiredby this pioneeringbook and all will be informedby it.


1. Were it not for S.I. Hayakawa'sLanguagein ThoughtandAction(1941), sf might

be seen as the most effective advertisingarmfor AlfredKorzybski'sGeneralSemantics,

a totalizingsystemof belief andtheoryof humanbehaviorthatbasedits assumptionsand programon interrogatingand understandingthe distinctionbetween map andterritory.

By understandingandrigorouslymaintainingmap/territorydistinctionsin languageand

in action, Korzybskibelieved thatmost humanproblemscould be avoided. Korzybski's

best-knownbook, Science and Sanity:An Introductionto Non-AristotelianSystemsand

GeneralSemantics(1933), was theobvious sourcefor A.E. vanVogt's conceptof "null-

A thinking,"andKorzybskiwas championedby HeinleinandCampbell.While L. Ron

Hubbardclaimed thathis Dianetics was inspiredby GeneralSemantics,proponentsof

Korzybski'sprogramarguedthatDianeticswaspseudoscientificmumbo-jumbo.Inrecent years, Korzybski's thinking has been invoked by proponentsof the whole systems approachchampionedby Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly and explicitly or implicitly drawn from by numeroussf writers. The Instituteof General Semantics, foundedby

Korzybski in


describesthe GeneralSemanticslanguage-basedepistemology "as the studyof how we

perceive, construct,evaluate, andcommunicateour life experiences."

WORKSCITED Kristeva,Julia. "Women'sTime." T7heKristevaReader. Trans.SeainHandandLeon S. Roudiez. Ed. Toril Moi. Oxford:Blackwell, 1986. 187-213. Mendlesohn,Farah."ScienceFictionby RogerLuckhurst. " New YorkReviewof Science Fiction 18.1 (Sept. 2005): 16-19.

Wolfe, GaryK. "Malebolge,or the Ordnanceof Genre." Conjunctions39 (2002): 405-

1938, remains active (<http://www.general-semantics.org/>)


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