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|Genre/Form:||Criticism, interpretation, etc|
|All Authors / Contributors:||
|ISBN:||9781846318429 1846318424 1846317800 9781846317804|
|Description:||x, 244 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.|
|Contents:||Memories of Dan Dare --
Science fiction and selective tradition --
Science fiction and the cultural field --
Radio science fiction and the theory of genre --
Science fiction, utopia and fantasy --
Science fiction and dystopia --
When was science fiction? --
Where was science fiction? --
The uses of science fiction.
|Series Title:||Liverpool science fiction texts and studies, 44.|
...a book of ... calm sly good sense and hard thought about SF... the finest assessment of SF theory yet published. ... a consistently thoughtful account of its subject ... The result never flags in offering consistently interesting insights into SF which do justice to its rich diversity. ... worth the attention of all sf scholars for the range and acuity of its conception of the genre as well as its theoretical rigor. Andrew Milner's Locating Science Fiction maps the what, when, and where of science fiction. The fifteen-page-long list of primary works cited-most of which are simply referred to rather than discussed in any detail-includes print, stage, film, television, and radio as well as British, French, German, Czech, Polish, Russian, North American, Australian, and Japanese texts. Milner's book conducts an argument concerning the proper theoretical and methodological orientations for mapping sf, offering a good deal of lucid exposition and deft application of a range of theoretical approaches, especially the work of Raymond Williams. The project is organized around four questions: What is sf? What is it not? When was it? Where was it? This simple plan leads to a lively, engaging discussion of each question. Milner answers the first question, what is sf, in several stages. First, he undertakes an autobiographical account, from his childhood to his professional life in the academy, of his exposure to sf in comics, radio, television, print, and film, one point of which is that sf operates across all these media as well as across the border between high and low culture. The more important theoretical point is that sf, in contrast to modernist art, is defined by its content rather than its form: "The SF 'type' was established in nineteenth-century Europe through a radical redistribution of interests towards science and technology within the novel and short story genres of the narrative mode" (12). He then turns to the question of definition, working his way through the variously (though neither simply nor straightforwardly) formalist attempts to define sf in the work of Darko Suvin, Fredric Jameson, Carl Freedman, and Phillip Wegner, finally turning against an approach to genre that seeks to classify textual objects based on their properties. Milner suggests instead the notion, derived from Raymond Williams, that sf should be considered an evershifting "selective tradition, continuously reinvented in the present, through which the boundaries of the genre are continually policed, challenged and disrupted, and the cultural identity of the SF community continuously established, preserved and transformed. It is thus essentially and necessarily a site of contestation" (39-40). Since approaching sf as a site of contestation involves asking what are the stakes in the contest, Milner next maps the "selective tradition" of sf onto the field of cultural production as analyzed by Pierre Bourdieu, for whom it is precisely a field of contestation over the capture of economic and cultural capital. Some of the most interesting material in Locating Science Fiction emerges from Milner's use of Bourdieu to map relationships between economic investment, cultural prestige, and different sites of sf production. For instance, Milner emphasizes the importance of stage adaptations of Verne in the 1890s in establishing the commercial success of the genre, and he also argues that the stage adaptations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) from the 1820s on are critically important. In doing so, he suggests an interesting continuity between the nineteenth-century beginnings of the genre in an overlap of print and theatrical media and its twentieth-century fortunes on stage and in film. He stresses elsewhere in the chapter the importance of fan culture, devoting a section of his discussion to the early fan group, the Futurians. Most interesting and useful, perhaps, is his long discussion of radio drama in the fourth chapter: Milner's attention to this fascinating but largely neglected site of sf production could have well turned into a book in itself. The next section takes up the question of what sf is not. The discussion here is devoted to sf's relation to fantasy and utopia. The unsurprising, commonsense position Milner takes is that the three genres are distinct from one another but overlap significantly. The real question might be what purpose was ever served by policing the boundaries among these genres as zealously as, Milner reminds us, Suvin did; but the question surely might extend to commercial and professional contexts as well as academic ones. The best material that comes out of these two perhaps unnecessary chapters is Milner's persuasive defense of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) from Jameson's reading of it as an anti-utopian recipe for political despair. The next question-when was sf?-yields the argument that it is a modern genre, not an ancient one as some (e.g., Suvin and Adam Roberts) have argued. Much more to the point, Milner suggests that its emergence "was overwhelmingly conditioned by the dialectic between Enlightenment and Romanticism" (154) and, more particularly, tied to a "structure of feeling" based on the lived experience of technological change in the specifically modern sense in which "the Industrial Revolution decisively and definitively redefined science into an intensely practical activity inexorably productive of new technologies" (139). This leads straight to the fourth and final question: where was sf? Clearly, given Milner's sense of the structure of feeling that conditioned its emergence, sf should be found predominantly in the industrial core countries, and its global diffusion should have some relationship to the worldwide but uneven distribution of industrial technology and the culture of technological innovation. Milner proposes that the best methodological approach available for understanding the emergence and diffusion of the genre is provided by Franco Moretti's modeling of world literature on the structure of the world market elaborated by Immanuel Wallerstein and other worldsystems theorists. The global diffusion of the genre can thus be mapped to include a core (first Anglo-French, later American), a periphery (almost everywhere else), and a crucial semi-periphery. Formal innovation disseminates outward from the core and is passively received on the periphery, but at semi-peripheral sites, a structural compromise takes place between the dominant form and local cultural resources (Milner proposes as candidates Fritz Lang's Weimar Republic, Karel Eapek's Czechoslovakia, Hugo Gernsback's 1920s US, Stanis^3aw Lem's Poland, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's Russia, and the Japan of anime and manga). There is a lot of food for thought here, and Milner is to be commended for providing it, whether one is ultimately persuaded by Moretti's methodology or not. Milner concludes his book with a chapter on the uses of science fiction, particularly the political uses of sf criticism. The "category mistake" that he attacks-of predefining the content of sf according to the political orientation of the works in question-is made in reference to the theories of Suvin, Jameson, and Freedman but is not particularly relevant to the great bulk of work being done in the field of sf studies. Nonetheless, Milner makes a strong case for combining a "value-free" practice of study with a "value-relevant" choice of topics, and then performs an excellent reading of two Australian catastrophe fictions, Nevil Shute's On the Beach (1957) and George Turner's The Sea and Summer (1987), informed by an eloquently expressed commitment to environmental issues. It is a good ending for a good book, one that is worth the attention of all sf scholars for the range and acuity of its conception of the genre as well as its theoretical rigor. Locating Science Fiction does have some shortcomings, however. Despite-or rather in contrast to-the impressive range of his references to primary works and his grasp of issues in cultural-studies theory, Milner focuses on a quite narrow range of discussion within the field of sf studies, circling back again and again to the work of Suvin, Jameson, and Freedman. Sometimes, too, positions that have become commonplaces are presented as if they were controversial breakthroughs, for instance: "Genre is thus not the dirty secret of popular culture, but rather an important part of the truth of all art... It is not a matter of retrospective academic classification, conducted with prescriptive intent, as Suvin, Jameson, and Freedman believe, but rather a prospectively productive set of techniques and devices for the creative use of readers and writers" (107). As a statement about genre this is no news, while it reduces Suvin, Jameson, and Freedman, for the moment at least, to straw men. A related problem is the sometimes unnecessarily polemical cast to the argument. For example, at the end of the chapter proposing the usefulness of Moretti's methods, Milner writes, "although postcolonial theory can produce some limited insight into particular aspects of the genre's history, especially its early years in Britain and France, world-systems theory provides a more generally persuasive theoretical account of the cultural geography of SF" (176). Why should world-systems theory be posed in opposition to postcolonial theory rather than as a complement to it? It is not as if the many critics currently pursuing colonial/postcolonial topics in sf studies are all trying to construct a "cultural geography of SF," or as if they could not make productive use of such a cultural geography to continue pursuing their postcolonial agendas. And why should either approach have to bear the entire burden of providing a "persuasive theoretical account" of sf's global production, distribution, and reception? Finally, despite Milner's rejection of Suvinian formalism, he continues to insist that there is one defining set of characteristics that correctly, properly identifies the genre: "None of these [colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism] can define what is distinctive about the genre, however, that is, how it differs from the realist novel, the romance or the detective novel. Such differences can be addressed adequately, it seems to me, only through the questions raised in the previous chapter, that of the relation between science and technology and its place in the dialectic of Enlightenment" (160-61). Telling science fiction apart from detective fiction, realism, and romance is something many people have no trouble doing. Why there should be one distinctive and definitive way of doing so is not so clear, though, and contemporary genre theory would do better to attend to the multiplicity of practices than trying to be king of the hill of genre construction. Compared to the opposition between postcolonial and world-systems theories, this imagined contest among critics to define what is distinctive about the genre seems not so much unnecessary as fundamentally misguided. The decisive break from Suvinian formalism comes not by finally announcing the real, true version of sf, but only by admitting that one's construction of the genre is just one among many such practices, located at only one among many sites of "selective tradition." Milner's cogent and authoritative examination ... constitutes a major new contribution to the - field of SF studies ... as well as providing ecocritics with an invaluable resource for their own more targeted studies of SF texts. Locating Science Fiction is eminently readable and does not require the presence of a dictionary to move from one sentence to the next ... use of relatable examples and personal metaphors connects readers to the argument that sf has emerged as a widely inclusive, multimedia genre, and not merely a literary movement. Anyone who is looking for a simple answer, looking for a single spot on the literary map that says 'here there be science fiction' is going to be disappointed. Milner points us in the direction of the messy and the complex, reminding us that sf is a much wider field for consideration than many critics would have us believe. Milner provides a vast list of primary works ... suggestive of the encyclopedic reach of this study ... Locating Science Fiction also encompasses several nuanced readings of particular works, including reassessments of canonical texts ... as well as discussions of less well-known ... Impressively, moreover, all quotations from non-English language texts are provided both in the original and in translation. ... in the crucial final chapter ... Milner comes clean on his ecosocialist proclivities and Green party membership ... as well as locating the writing of this book in the horizon of anthropogenic climate change. This is an ambitious book which sets out to answer a series of questions. Its author, cultural theorist Andrew Milner, summarizes these as follows: first, what positively was SF? that is, what are its relative dimensions?; second, what negatively wasn't it? that is, what are its relations to utopia, dystopia, fantasy and other genres?; third, when was it? that is, what was its time?; and fourth, where was it? that is, what was its geographical space? (p. 3) Locating Science Fiction proposes to explore the 'time and relative dimension in space' of science fiction itself (p. 3), using a range of theoretical resources centred on Raymond Williams, Pierre Bourdieu and Immanuel Wallerstein. The result is often exhilarating but sometimes frustrating. Milner's debts to Raymond Williams are especially extensive, crystallizing out most obviously in Chapter 2. Having dispensed with the notion that SF can be divided into 'popular fiction' and 'literature', Milner suggests that it needs to be approached as a 'selective tradition', in Williams' terms: 'SF is a selective tradition, reinvented in the present, through which the boundaries of the genre are continuously policed, challenged and disrupted' (p. 40). Another key strength of this book is that it refuses to restrict SF to 'literature', viewing it as a type which can be reworked across different media. Milner thus uses Doctor Who to playfully frame his study, reminisces about Dan Dare comic strips, and sharply analyses science fiction on radio, in what for me is the most original, spirited section of the book (Chapter 4). Thinking about SF across media allows Milner to challenge disciplinary divisions (film studies, television studies, and media studies) which have left radio SF under-explored (p. 69). Milner tackles this sprawling subject in just a single chapter - it really deserves a book-length study - skilfully intervening in SF's 'selective tradition'. Chapter 3, 'Science Fiction and the Cultural Field', continues this self-reflexivity by mapping SF criticism within the 'global SF field in the early twenty-first century' (p. 45). A shift to the field theory of Bourdieu is tantalizing. However, I'm not sure that Milner quite realizes the full potential of his move. Mapping a 'global field' for a cross-media genre is another book-length project, and here it is tackled in a schematic manner. Milner is aware of the problems this generates: The result is by no means entirely faithful to his method, since, where Bourdieu maps the contours of a literary field located in a particular time and place, my procedures are more science-fictional, crossing both time and space so as to render a composite account of the ... structure of the SF field. (pp. 44-5) Surely a cultural materialist stance would want to be more sociohistorically specific? Milner groups together Fritz Lang's Metropolis and George Lucas's Star Wars as 'commercial cinema' (p. 45), but it seems unlikely that Metropolis would occupy the same contemporary position within autonomous/heteronomous poles as Star Wars; Metropolis was recently restored and championed as an arthouse icon, for instance. Milner also includes a category for the 'graphic novel', failing to differentiate in his diagrammatic map between comic books and graphic novels, and pondering whether this may 'sometimes be a very fine distinction to make' (p. 58). Excluding comic books from the summary diagram misses out a range of struggles over the form's cultural value. The fact that this debate isn't really covered makes me wonder how interested in comic books (and Bourdieusian theory) Milner may actually be. Ultimately, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a series of field diagrams would have been more useful in highlighting trajectories within SF's 'field', whereas the composite that's presented begs a series of questions. Milner doesn't adequately question the binary of commercial/public media, instead largely presuming that commercial media will be heteronomous whilst public TV and radio will possess higher degrees of institutionalized consecration. This doesn't fully consider the extent to which certain sectors of 'commercial' (cable) television have taken on the cultural value of niche, consecrated 'art' TV (p. 53). Nor does his blunt use of commercial/public consider their dialectics: for example, Doctor Who 'radio' dramas broadcast on BBC Radio 7 (p. 86) were first commercially available to fans as CDs: public radio SF isn't always separable from commercial forces. Moving beyond the 'selective tradition' and SF's 'field', Milner explores topics such as SF's relationships to utopia and dystopia (Chapters 5 and 6), as well as genre history and spatiality (Chapters 7 and 8) and the matter of Australian SF (Chapter 9). Chapter 7, in particular, disappointed me by mounting a lengthy analysis only to 'restate an older position in SF studies' (p. 153) where SF is said to begin properly in the early 19th century as a result of shifts in understandings of science. Chapter 8, using Wallerstein's world-systems theory, conducts a provocative study of where SF's innovations have emerged (i.e. different nation-states over time), but it is ultimately hamstrung by the fact that no non-tautological verification can be offered for categorizing nations as 'semi-peripheral' within the 'world-system'. Milner tackles this problem by wishing it away: 'I intend to sidestep this ... by simply assuming that the distinction between periphery and semiperiphery can be established by other criteria, even though I am not in a position to do so here' (p. 166). This is an odd admission, amounting to 'this doesn't really work, but I'm writing this chapter anyway'. Milner is an accomplished theorist: many of my criticisms here are ones that he anticipates. It remains a shame that the promises of this book - mapping a global SF field, analysing a 'structure of feeling', and discerning geographical patterns in SF's productivity - are not fulfilled as convincingly as they could be. I suspect that Milner's use of Williams and Bourdieu will inspire further developments in SF Studies. Taken as cultural sociology, however, some of this book's claims would benefit from greater specificity and nuance.