SF is what is marketed as SF.

-- Edward James, Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century

"It's all true!" Luciente shouted with amazement . . . "Sometimes I suspect our history is infected with propaganda. Many of my generation . . . suspect the Age of Greed and Waste to be . . . crudely overdrawn. But to burn your compost! To pour your shit into the waters others downstream must drink! That fish must live in! Into rivers whose estuaries and marshes are links in the whole offshore food chain! Wait till I tell Bee and Jackrabbit! Nobody's going to believe this."

-- Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time

Science fiction as a genre is often traced back to the pioneering work of Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, the story of a person made by a scientist from reanimated body parts, a person who discovers that in the eyes of the world he is a monster and decides to get revenge. The idea that science might become a diabolical and anti-social force is the foundation for one of science fiction's most basic assumptions: while many celebrate science as the end of superstition and ignorance, science fiction warns us that science, can also be used as a tool of oppression, violation, and narrow-minded destructiveness. Indeed, as many critics of industrialism explained, the products of scientific thought ultimately did more harm than good. Technology did not free workers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it merely mutilated and mutated them. HG Wells allegorized the social/physical mutations inspired by industrialism in his portrayal of the cannibalistic, technology-obsessed Morlocks in The Time Machine.

Twentieth century science fiction in the United States owes much to the gothic tradition of Frankenstein, which has returned to haunt the dystopian subgenre of cyberpunk with its electronically generated identities and bitter speculations about the consequences of human greed coupled with scientific "progress." Other currents in science fiction are more in keeping with Wells' vision, however, and speculative narratives about life on other planets, as well as human life in other futures, dominate the market in science fiction. A whole subgenre of "tech" fiction has emerged in the wake of Isaac Asimov's famous anthology I, Robot (1950), which offered a way of imagining artificially-generated intelligence and consciousness. Utopian science fiction, heavily influenced by feminism, ecology, and the television show Star Trek, caught on during the 1960s and generated a slew of novels (like those by Marge Piercy) about the birth of a better society made possible by the just use of new technologies, and a notion of science counterbalanced by humanism, spirituality, and democratic multiculturalism. What continues to unite narratives in the science fiction tradition is an urgent desire to reimagine human society, whether by revising its history, inventing potential new technologies, civilizations, and life forms, or creating speculative futures.




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