Decoding Gender in Science Fiction

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The Open Access Online Forum in Science Fiction Studies

The New Wave's ethical idealism thus often was tempered by pessimism, a grim assessment of the dystopian futures portended by out-of-control technology.

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A key New Wave theme involved the extrapolation of contemporary urban problems to hypertrophied extremes as humans find themselves immured in vast concrete prisons of their own making. Novels such as David R. Bunch's Moderan and Robert Silverberg's The World Inside present such grim portraits of claustrophobic environments that they verge on the Gothic: In these texts the universal triumph of technology predicted and celebrated in Golden Age SF has culminated in a brutal cityscape where beleaguered, stunted spirits struggle to preserve the tattered shreds of conscience and dignity.

In the work of the British author J. Ballard the modern city emerges as a psychic disaster area. His controversial novel Crash, for example, depicts a denatured humanity bleakly coupling with machines, with the enveloping landscape of metal and concrete having unleashed a perverse eroticism that seeks fulfillment in violent auto wrecks.

SF films of that period, such as THX , contained similarly harsh indictments of regimented megalopolises that have co-opted or paralyzed ethical judgment. Long-standing anxieties regarding high technology were amplified during that period by the new science of cybernetics, which claimed that no meaningful distinctions could be drawn between humans and complex machines. The emergence of so-called artificial intelligence posed a challenge to humanity's presumed supremacy, and SF took up that challenge largely by emphasizing the moral superiority of human beings over their intellectually advanced creations.

The work of the British author Arthur C. Clarke, such as his story "The Nine Billion Names of God" , had long engaged the possibility that humanity might have spawned its betters in the form of powerful information machines. In Clarke collaborated with the director Stanley Kubrick to produce the popular film A Space Odyssey, in which a sentient computer, the HAL , displays at once its cognitive power and its ethical limitations, conspiring to take over an interplanetary mission, only to be foiled by human pluck and ingenuity. If computers threatened to supplant human mental functions, sophisticated new forms of artificial persons seemed poised to replace humanity entirely.

Philip K. However, there is a crucial difference, and it is essentially an ethical one: Androids are incapable of genuine empathy for others.

Decoding gender in science fiction

The moral quandary in the novel is that humans are seldom empathetic; moreover, the protagonist's job requires that he be efficient and ruthless—"something merciless that carried a printed list and a gun, that moved machine-like through the flat, bureaucratic job of killing" Dick , p. Thus, even when a bright moral line seems to distinguish humans from machines, a technocratically regimented social system serves to obscure if not efface it. Androids was filmed by Ridley Scott as Blade Runner , a film that effectively captures the novel's morally ambiguous tone while pointing forward to subsequent "cyberpunk" treatments.

The movie's bleak urban milieu, populated by cynical humans and idealistic machines, offers essentially the same fraught moral landscape that would be featured in novels such as William Gibson 's Neuromancer , in which artificial intelligences and other cybernetic entities seem more deeply invested with values such as freedom and autonomy than do the human characters. Cyberpunk fictions of the s and s by Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others brought to a potent climax the trend toward ethical ambivalence that has marked SF's engagement with new technologies.

Extrapolating the social futures portended by the proliferation of computers and their spin-off appliances, cyberpunk displays a humanity so morally compromised by high-tech interfaces—including powerful "wetware," machinic implants that radically alter the body and mind—that the capacity for ethical judgment has perhaps been lost. Yet even amid this spiritual collapse cyberpunk's antiheroes manage to salvage scraps of the decaying moral order, as occurs when the protagonist of Neuromancer refuses the quasisatanic lure of cybernetic immortality, affirming the finitude of the mortal self as an enduring ethical center, preserved somehow against the sweetest blandishments and the sternest threats of technology.

Decoding Gender in Science Fiction by Brian Attebery

For nearly years science fiction has provided windows onto futures transformed by modern science and technology. In that process it has shown both the resiliency and the limitations of ethical consciousness in confronting these potentially overwhelming changes. Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot. New York : Gnome Press. Brians, Paul. Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, — Bunch, David R. New York : Avon. Clarke, Arthur C. Frederik Pohl. New York: Ballantine. Del Rey, Lester. Gunn, James, ed. New York: Mentor. Huntington, John.

The Glass Bees. Translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Mayer. New York: Noonday. Landon, Brooks. New York: Twayne. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published in by Lackington, Allan and Company, London. Williamson, Jack.

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Blade Runner. Directed by Ridley Scott. Distributed by Columbia Tristar Pictures. Colossus: The Forbin Project. Directed by Joseph Sargent.

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Distributed by Universal Pictures. The Day the Earth Stood Still. Directed by Robert Wise.

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Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. The Incredible Shrinking Man. Directed by Jack Arnold. Directed by Fritz Lang. Distributed by Universum Film, A. Directed by George Lucas. Distributed by Warner Brothers. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Like a rapacious and relentlessly predatory science fictional entity assimilating all it encounters the Star Trek Borg come to mind , science fiction in the early twenty-first century is an unstoppable expansive force that is certainly not limited to one particular genre.

Science fiction literature, once ghettoized and marginalized, is pervasive and ever more rapidly garnering respect. PMLA, America's most distinguished literary criticism journal, published its first science fiction issue in May Dick once dismissed as a pulp science fiction writer — because of his works' emphasis upon paranoia regarding government, technology, and personal relationships and its attention to what constitutes reality itself — has been lauded as creating the most emblematic fiction of the turn of the twenty-first century.

Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude was applauded as one of the most important novels published in , and Star Trek was recognized as the most enduring cultural mythology of the second half of the twentieth century. The attention lavished upon King and Dick especially exemplifies why science fiction is pervasive and ever more rapidly gaining respect. The National Book Foundation's decision to recognize King's achievements signaled an end to the discrimination popular genre writers automatically suffered.

Dick precisely envisioned the world of the early twenty-first century, a world that did not inherit flying cars, but which endures such Dickian devices and themes as implanted memories, commercialized personalities, dislocation, and disintegrating realities. Literary theory reflects the newfound status science fiction garners.

Carl Freedman, in Critical Theory and Science Fiction , proclaims that science fiction, one of the most theoretically informed areas of the literary profession, is a privileged genre for critical theory:. I maintain that science fiction, like critical theory, insists upon historical mutability, material reducibility, and utopian possibility.

Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction
Decoding Gender in Science Fiction Decoding Gender in Science Fiction

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