The University of Illinois Press took science fiction seriously before taking science fiction seriously held its current scholarly cool. Today we continue the tradition with our popular Modern Masters of Science Fiction series, with new books on legends Octavia E. Butler and Alfred Bester due this fall. Below we list a handful of far-seeing works that delve into a once-maligned genre that has taken over the world.
Sexual Generations: Star Trek: The Next Generation and Gender, by Robin Roberts
Boldly going where no sentient being has gone before, Robin Roberts forges intriguing links between feminist politics and theory and the second Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. This lively discussion shows how science fiction’s ability to make the familiar strange allows ST: TNG to expose and comment on entrenched attitudes toward gender roles and feminist issues. By having aliens or sexually neutral beings enact female dominance or passivity, experience pregnancy or maternity, or suffer rape or abortion, Star Trek provides viewers with a new perspective on these experiences and an antidote to explicit and implicit cultural biases. Roberts maintains that the relevance of Star Trek: The Next Generation to feminist issues accounts as no other factor can for the program’s huge following of female fans.
Vacation Stories: Five Science Fiction Tales, by Santiago Ramón y Cajal
A world-famous neurobiologist, Santiago Ramón y Cajal won the Nobel Prize for his scientific research in 1906. The previous year, he published these ingenious tales that take a microscopic look at the nature, allure, and danger of scientific curiosity. Featuring the cutting-edge science of the mid-1880s (microscopy, bacteriology, and hypnosis), the stories probe the seductive power that proceeds from scientific knowledge and explore how the pursuit of such knowledge alternately redeems and ensnares humanity.
Here revenge is disguised as research and common fraud as moral purification. Critical thought vies with moribund tradition and stifling religion for a hold on the human spirit; rigid divisions of class and wealth dissolve before the indiscriminate assault of microbes. One man’s faith in science gives him the tools to outwit superstition and win the true love and happiness for which he has sacrificed. Another’s bitterness and disillusion are cured by a supernatural intervention that melds the epiphany of A Christmas Carol with the macabre detail of a Poe story.
Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film, by J. P. Telotte
A haunting fascination fuels our interest in the robot, the android, the cyborg, the replicant. Born in science fiction literature, the artificial human has come into its own in films, lurching to life, holding a mirror to humanity’s soul.
Beginning with a pre-history of the filmic robot, J. P. Telotte traces its development through early sci-fi landmarks such as Metropolis (1926), the alien films of the 1950s like Forbidden Planet, and recent explorations of the artificial human in Blade Runner, Robocop, and the Terminator films.
Replications also considers the tension between the technological wonders that science fiction depicts and the human values it champions. Film-makers employ the latest developments in technology to fashion ever more realistic human doubles, and then use them to explore what it means to be human. Telotte shows us how the sci-fi genre has always addressed changing cultural attitudes toward technology, the body, gender roles, human intelligence, reality, and even film.
Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, edited by Larry McCaffery
Modern science fiction writers have long inhabited a dimension far removed from the comfortable realms of filmic space opera franchises and Dr. Who. Too often lurking along the margins of literature are some of the most intelligent, imaginative, and outrageous writing talents of our day. These interviews by legendary critic and SF proponent Larry McCaffery journeys into the minds and psyches of ten iconic writers whose works influenced the evolution of science fiction. Authors like Octavia Butler, William Gibson, Thomas Disch, Ursula Le Guin, and Bruce Sterling discuss New Wave, hard versus soft SF, and the viability of the genre as a means of suggesting political, radical, and sexual agendas. As these writers speak candidly about their works, backgrounds, and aesthetic impulses, it becomes clear that the issues on their minds and in their fiction are central to contemporary life and art.
John Brunner, by Jad Smith
Under his own name and numerous pseudonyms, John Brunner (1934–1995) was one of the most prolific and influential science fiction authors of the late twentieth century. During his exemplary career, the British author wrote with a stamina matched by only a few other great science fiction writers and with a literary quality of even fewer, importing modernist techniques into his novels and stories and probing every major theme of his generation: robotics, racism, drugs, space exploration, technological warfare, and ecology.
In this first intensive review of Brunner’s life and works, Jad Smith carefully demonstrates how Brunner’s much-neglected early fiction laid the foundation for his classic Stand on Zanzibar and other major works such as The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider. Making extensive use of Brunner’s letters, columns, speeches, and interviews published in fanzines, Smith approaches Brunner in the context of markets and trends that affected many writers of the time, including Brunner’s uneasy association with the “New Wave” of science fiction in the 1960s and ’70s. This landmark study shows how Brunner’s attempts to cross-fertilize the American pulp tradition with British scientific romance complicated the distinctions between genre and mainstream fiction and between hard and soft science fiction and helped carve out space for emerging modes such as cyberpunk, slipstream, and biopunk.
Tomorrow’s Eve, by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam
Take one inventive genius indebted to the friend who saved his life; add an English aristocrat hopelessly consumed with a selfish and spiritually bankrupt woman; stir together with a Faustian pact to create the perfect woman–and voilà! Tomorrow’s Eve is served.
Robert Martin Adams’s graceful translation is the first to bring to English readers this captivating fable of a Thomas Edison-like inventor and his creation, the radiant and tragic android Hadaly.
Adams’s introduction sketches the uncompromising idealism of the proud but penurious aristocrat Jean Marie Mathias Philippe Auguste, Count Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, a friend and admired colleague of Charles Baudelaire, Stèphane Mallarmé, and Richard Wagner.