Happy Birthday, Lance Olsen!

Today, October 14, 2012, marks Lance Olsen‘s 56th birthday. In celebration of him and his work, and with a nod to a quote by Roland Barthes, I’ve turned most of the sentences found in the first chapter of Olsen’s The Architectures of Possibility into questions without answers. (You’ll also find that I’ve altered quotations, found in the selfsame chapter, from Brian Evenson, Fredric Jameson, and Curtis White, as well as the abovementioned Barthes).

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Genre and Its Discontents

Piggybacking on Sean Lovelace’s post about genre, I offer this provocative recent interview with Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., coeditor of the journal Science Fiction Studies and writer of The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction. According to Matthew Cheney, the interviewer, his new book “analyzes a variety of SF media through seven lenses: fictive neology, fictive novums, future history, imaginary science, the science-fictional sublime, the science-fictional grotesque, and the Technologiade (‘the epic of the struggle surrounding the transformation of the cosmos into a technological regime’).” Responding to what he hoped readers would get rom reading The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction, he states that he wanted to stimulate and provoke, and that he

wanted to place SF in a larger historical and cultural context, and specifically an artistic one. I’m trained in comparative literature, and I’m committed to literature as a tradition. There has been a lot of impressive scholarship on SF from cultural-studies perspectives. The main way that students and scholars look at the genre now is in terms of popular culture, gender/race/sexual identity/class critique, postcolonialism, vestiges of New Left Marxism, and the postmodernist notion that SF and contemporary social mythologies are converging. I can’t add much to that rich and diverse work, and fortunately I don’t have to. What I wanted to do was to treat the science-fictional imagination as if it were not just a symptom of some other, more basic social process, but something that audiences consider valuable on its own terms. To find out what those terms are I reversed the normal way of looking at SF, sort of like a Magic Eye picture, so that science-fictionality would be my context, and the historical-contextual forces would be constructed by it. That’s actually a rather Old School approach, which is why I wrote in my intro that the book could be read as steampunk criticism. My premise is that SF has been a powerful imaginative force influencing the social imagination of the past long century.

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