terça-feira, 1 de maio de 2012

Science Fiction Subgenres, an Outiline: "Coming to Terms" by Gary K.Wolfe

One of the most common complaints about the scholarship of fantasy and science fiction is that, as Everett Bleiler put it in his 1984 Pilgrim Award acceptance speech, "Our terms have been muddled, imprecise, and heretical in the derivational sense of the word." Critics often resort to neologisms or specialized usages to talk about this literature, sometimes inventing whole new systems of literary classification.

Fans and writers sometimes complain about the gnomic nomenclature of the academics, while the academics themselves complain of the looseness of the fans' favorite buzzwords. And since SF is a popular literature, the critical vocabulary has come to include terms originally confined to the publishing industry or the professional concerns of authors.

Few of these critical terms are defined in standard encyclopedic reference works about SF or fantasy, and fewer still are found in traditional handbooks of literature. But if the field is ever to establish a coherent critical vocabulary, scholars, fans, and writers each need to know what the others are talking about.
Academic: Used both as an adjective and a noun to describe the involvement of professional scholars and teachers in the criticism, history, theory, and teaching of science fiction. Such a meaning might seem obvious, but the term has gained a great many overtones, usually either disparaging or defensive, and has come rather imprecisely to be contrasted both with "fan" or amateur scholarship in the field, and with the various "internal" works of history and criticism generated by science fiction and fantasy writers themselves. In this usage, the "academic" is often regarded as an outsider trained in traditional humanistic methodologies which are sometimes felt to be inadequate for science fiction; interestingly, the term is seldom applied to university scientists or even social scientists, suggesting that it refers not necessarily to the academic world per se, but specifically to inhabitants of English or history departments in universities.

Alternate History: A narrative premise claimed equally by science fiction and fantasy—namely, that time contains infinite branches and that universes may exist in which, for example, the Allies lost the Second World War (Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle [1962]) or the Spanish Armada was victorious (Phyllis Eisenstein's Shadow of Earth [1979] or Keith Robert's Pavane [1962]). One of the earliest genre treatments of this theme, Murray Leinster's "Sidewise in Time" (1934), is clearly intended as science fiction. The theme has been present in the genre at least since 1926, although Darko Suvin has identified a number of "alternate histories" published as early as 1871. Suvin's definition, somewhat broader than the commonly accepted use of the term, relates the alternative history to Utopian or satirical fiction, identifying it as "that form of SF in which an alternative locus (in space, time, etc.) that shares the material and causal verisimilitude of the writer's world is used to articulate different possible solutions of societal problems, those problems being of sufficient importance to require an alteration in the overall history of the narrated world." Another bibliography of such works, by Barton C. Hacker and Gordon B. Chamberlain, appeared in Extrapolation, 2.4 (Winter 1981).

Blurb: Promotional copy written on the dust covers of hard-bound books and on the front and back covers and front page of paperbacks. Although blurbs are most often written by promotional staff or freelance public relations writers, they often include quotations from reviews or specially solicited praise from fellow authors—to the extent that some well-known authors have reputations for excessive generosity in lending their names to the efforts of less well-known authors. Given the overall importance of marketing and packaging to the audience's perceptions of popular literature, blurbs can also be revealing clues to the changing attitudes toward genres such as science fiction or fantasy. One of the earliest science fiction anthologies, for example (Donald A. Wollheim's The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, 1943), featured a blurb that characterized the contents as belonging to "that realm of superscience where nonscientists try to anticipate science.
" Wollheim's later anthology The Portable Novels of Science (1945) avoided the term "science fiction" on the jacket cover by calling the contents "novels of scientific speculation," while an early Judith Merril anthology disguised the science fiction contents as "a different kind of mystery thrill" and a popular anthology by Orson Wells used the term "interplanetary stories." Similarly a 1944 fantasy anthology from Penguin disguised its contents as humor ("yarns based on delightful fantasy") despite the inclusion of such relatively grim tales as Jack London's "The Scarlet Plague." By the early 1950s, however, the paperback market for science fiction at least (fantasy would emerge later) became sufficiently strong that such evasive blurb copy was replaced by enthusiastic and frequent use of the term "science fiction" (except in the case of novels, such as Philip Wylie's Tomorrow! [1954], directed at a wider market) and this quickly led to complete lines of science fiction titles from Doubleday, Ballantine, and other publishers.

(It is interesting to note, however, that after the success of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles [1950], which was labeled "Doubleday Science Fiction," his second book for Doubleday, The Illustrated Man [1951], was not identified as science fiction anywhere on the jacket.) As the market for science fiction grew and diversified, blurbs came more to reflect what was known of reader interest and consequently somewhat less hysterical; a common technique (still in use, although perhaps more in fantasy) was to compare the work with an acknowledged classic or a recent bestseller; reprints often became instant "classics" themselves. Although most serious readers claim not to be strongly influenced by blurbs, there is much to suggest that, along with cover design, they are crucial in capturing the casual reader and thus influencing sales figures, which in turn of course influence patterns of manuscript development and acquisition.

Cognitive Estrangement: Widely quoted term from Darko Suvin describing the defining characteristic of science fiction, which Suvin sees as estranged from the naturalistic world but cognitively connected to it. "Noncognitive estrangement," according to this scheme, would include myths, folktales, and fantasies that are neither naturalistic nor cognitively linked to the natural world. Suvin argues that the defining characteristics of science fiction are "estrangement" and "cognition," the latter referring to those elements of variability and detail drawn from the empirical environment which establish a link between the experienced world of die reader and the world of the work of fiction; a flying carpet would violate this principle of cognition.

Desire: A term sometimes used to describe the wish-fulfillment aspect of the appeal of fantasy and sometimes used (as by Rosemary Jackson) to characterize the nature of language in fantasy narratives, as opposed to the more representational language of conventional narratives. Leo Bersani's use of this term (in A Future for Astyanix: Character and Desire in Literature, 1976), suggests that it refers to a generalized yearning for something beyond the real, and thus might in part account for the structures of character and narrative found in fantasy. The term has been used of science fiction as well, notably in Eizykman's Science fiction et capitalisme (1974), again with the implication of subverting dominant social structures through idealization of the possible. Much contemporary use of the term derives from the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and in particular his discussions of desire in its relationships to fantasy and to the "other."

Extrapolation: Probably derived from "interpolation" and used by statisticians to refer to the process of predicting a value beyond a known series by detecting patterns within the series. Extended into the social and natural sciences, "extrapolation" has become one of the most common characteristics cited in discussions and definitions of science fiction, and even provided the title for the field's first academic journal, founded in 1959. Generally, it is used to mean the technique of basing imaginary worlds or situations on existing ones through cognitive or rational means; a "satire," therefore, may be based on an extrapolation but need not be, since the relationship of the world of the satire to our own might be purely metaphorical.

An example of an extrapolative science fiction satire is Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's The Space Merchants (1952), in which a future society dominated by advertising agencies is clearly an outgrowth of trends visible in the early 1950s. The term is closely allied with Speculative Fiction, and one of its earliest important usages occurred in the Robert A, Heinle in essay in which he proposed the latter term: in the "speculative science fiction story," he wrote, "accepted science and established facts are extrapolated to produce a new situation, new framework for human action." Perhaps in part because of its scholarly sound, the term quickly gained popularity, and by 1955 Basil Davenport could report that extrapolation was "a word that is almost as great a favorite in discussions of science fiction as 'space-warp* is in science fiction itself; it may be defined as 'plotting the curve.'"
While treating extrapolation as a defining characteristic of science fiction would seem to limit the genre to fiction of the future, critics have managed to adapt the word to include extrapolations about the past, about Alternate Worlds, and about other favorite themes. Other critics, however, have argued for distinctions between "extrapolative" and "non-extrapolative" kinds of science fiction narratives, while still others have expressed hope that the term might be banished altogether as restrictive and misleading.

Ghetto: A kind of literary backwater. Since at least the late 1940s, science fiction writers and editors have complained of the "ghettoization" of the genre by publishers, booksellers, and reviewers. "Ghetto" thus refers not only to the evolution of science fiction as a commercial book¬selling category, but to a complex of critical and social attitudes that have come to influence factors as disparate as authors' contracts, book design, the placement of popular reviews, the teaching of the genre, and literary fellowships and awards. While other genre writers have also complained about "ghettoes" of westerns, mysteries, romance novels, and the like, science fiction writers have been perhaps the most vocal and possibly the best organized group in opposing this tendency.
Anthony Boucher argued that such literary ghettoes arose from four factors: the tendency of popular writers to specialize in a particular genre, the tendency of readers to buy fiction by category, the tendency of academics to increasingly separate popular from "serious" fiction, and the realization on the part of publishers that more predictable sales could be gained by segmenting audiences according to special interests. In fact, the latter factor is arguably the most significant in the historical evolution of the "ghetto" of science fiction, which for much of its history has been dominated by magazines (which have been sold by popular category since the nineteenth century), and that did not enjoy significant paperback publication until long after Robert de Graaf of Pocket Books had discovered the principle of shelving genre books together in order to increase their sales. Similarly, hardbound science fiction did not become widespread until after hardcover publishers had been forced into similar marketing techniques by the success of the "paperback revolution."
In more recent years, the very success of science fiction has exacerbated the situation, as authors who have established track records of dependable sales within the genre often find it difficult to persuade publishers to market books in any other way; the most famous examples are Harlan Ellison's contretemps with a publisher who attempted to label as science fiction reprints of the author's early realistic and autobiographical writings, and Isaac Asimov's losing argument with a publisher who refused to label his 1972 novel The Gods Themselves as science fiction.

Hard Science Fiction (sometimes also "hardcore" science fiction): Science fiction in which the Ground Rules are known scientific principles, and in which speculation based on such principles constitutes a significant part of the work. Coined presumably on the model of "hard science" (the physical and biological, as opposed to social sciences), "hard science fiction" is ostensibly that "written around known scientific facts or at least not-unproven theories generated by 'real' scientists," according to Norman Spinrad.
Thomas N. Scontia somewhat more narrowly defines it as a "closely reasoned technological story." Neither definition quite en-compasses the breadth with which the term is actually used. However, in some cases it refers only to stories in which the setting is carefully worked out from known scientific principles (as in the work of Hal Clement or Larry Niven), in other cases to stories in which the plot hangs on such a principle, and in still other cases to almost any science fiction associated with such stories in time or place. In the latter sense, the term may become almost synonymous with science fiction of the Campbell Era. See also "Soft Science Fiction."

Heterotopia: Originally a medical and biological term referring to a dis-placement of an organ or an organism; thus, broadly, a "displacement." "Heterotopia" was suggested by Robert Plank in 1968 as a convenient term for works of fiction that invent "not only characters but also settings."
Plank included science fiction, much fantasy, and Utopian fiction under this term, which in this sense is obviously derivative of Utopia [151]. Although not widely adopted, the term was invoked in the subtitle of Samuel R. Delany's novel Triton (1976): "An Ambiguous Heterotopia."

Idiot Plot: Probably coined by James Blish but popularized through the reviews of Damon Knight, who defined it as a plot that "is kept in motion solely by virtue of the fact that everybody involved is an idiot." Specifically, he refers to stories in which characters act at the convenience of the author rather than through any perceivable motivation,
and uses the term to attack fantastic works that seem based on the assumption that fantastic elements obviate the need for fictional credibility. Similar terms have been employed by other critics of popular fiction and film.

New Wave: Françoise Giroud's term (nouvelle vague) to describe a group of younger French film directors who emerged in the late 1950s has since been enthusiastically appropriated by promoters of almost any unconventional movement within a popular art form previously characterized by conventions or formulae.
In science fiction, the term was introduced by Judith Merril in a 1966 essay for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction ("Books," 30, [January 1966]) to refer to the highly metaphorical and sometimes experimental fiction that began to appear in the English magazine New Worlds after Michael Moorcock assumed the editorship in 1964, and that was later popularized in the United States through Merril's own appallingly titled anthology England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction (Garden City: Doubleday, 1968).
Although Harlan Ellison's anthology of original stories the preceding year (Dangerous Visions, Garden City: Doubleday, 1967) has sometimes been retroactively credited with unleashing the American version of the new wave, and though Ellison spoke of the book as "a revolution" of "new horizons, new forms, new styles, new challenges," Ellison himself has expressed chagrin at having been once labeled the "chief prophet" of the new wave in America (by The New Yorker: "The Talk of the Town: Evolution and Ideation," 16 September 1967).

Similarly, many of the other writers associated with this movement, such as Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, Samuel R. Delaney, and Robert Silverberg, have on frequent occasions expressed disdain for or confusion over the term. Nevertheless, writers associated with the new wave have been credited with introducing new narrative strategies into science fiction images as metaphor and with weakening the boundaries that had long separated science fiction from mainstream fiction,

Posthistory: Gene Wolfe's term for far future settings (such as in his own Book of the New Sun [1980-83]) in which artifacts from the present or near future constitute a kind of fragmentary or semilegendary history for the characters in that setting. The term is obviously modeled on "prehistory" in that it refers to a culture in which what we view as continuous historical process and documentation has been fragmented or obliterated; the technique is fairly common in works which have been characterized as medieval futurism.

Psychomyth; Term used by Ursula K, Le Guin to describe those of her stories which lack identifiable historical or science fictional referents, "more or less surrealistic tales, which share with fantasy the quality of taking place outside any history, outside of time, in that region of the living mind which—without invoking any consideration of immortality— seems to be without spatial or temporal limits at all."

Pulp: Originally a kind of cheap, acidic wood pulp paper, but now more often used to refer to the magazines published on such paper, which attained a collective circulation of nearly ten million per issue during the 1930s, according to Russel Nye (The Unembarrassed Muse, 1970). More broadly, the term came to characterize the fiction and illustrations published in those magazines, and finally to any fiction or illustrations making use of the pulp forms. The invention of the pulp magazine is generally credited to Frank Munsey, who in 1896 decided to convert his children's magazine
Golden Argosy to a popular all-fiction magazine titled Argosy, and switched to cheap untrimmed wood-pulp paper in order to keep the price low. Pulp magazines are of particular importance to the history of American fantasy in that, beginning with Weird Tales in 1923, they provided a focal point, consolidated an audience, and began to establish conventions and formulas for several subgenres of fantasy, especially horror fiction and sword and sorcery. Science fiction pulps were equally successful, and many historians of the genre have dated its beginning as a self-conscious genre from the founding of Amazing Stories by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. Western, romance, detective, aviation, and war story pulps also flourished, but magazines devoted to other subgenres (such as Oriental Tales, begun in 1930) did not fare as well.
John W. Campbell's Unknown, begun in 1939, did much to develop a modern popular genre of logical and often humorous fantasy parallel to science fiction, and such pulps as Famous Fantastic Mysteries and The Avon Fantasy Reader were instrumental in creating a younger audience for older lost-race fantasies and horror fiction. By the mid-1950s, most pulp magazines had been replaced by digest-size magazines, although critics and historians have since sometimes used the term to refer to any sensational formulaic fiction.

Sd-Ft: Neologism coined by science fiction fan Forrest J. Ackerman and thnl: litis become anathema to many science fiction writers and readers. Pel hups because of its widespread use in the popular media in what often HCCIIM it den I uniting or stereotyping manner, "sci-fi" has, in effect, become science fiction's equivalent of "nigger." More recently, however, some writers and critics have begun to suggest that the term may in fact have a legitimate use in describing highly formulaic mass-audience entertainments and particular Hollywood movies.
Isaac Asimov, for example, defines sci-fi as "trashy material sometimes confused, by ignorant people, with si.," and cites the film Godzilla Meets Mothra as an example. Damon Knight has suggested the term be used for "the crude, basic kind of s.f. that satisfies the appetite for pseudoscientific marvels without appealing to any other portion of the intellect" (he also suggests the term be pronounced "skiffy"). Somewhat less condemnatory, Elizabeth Anne Hull has suggested that films such as Star Wars might appropriately be termed sci-fi to distinguish them from the more complex (but still not clearly defined) fictions labeled SF.
However, neither argument has gained much acceptance outside the science fiction community, and "sci-fi" remains in wide use as a popular media term for science fiction in general.

SF (S.F., S-F): Ambiguous abbreviation almost universally favored in the science-fiction community over the more journalistic sci-fi, but even less clearly defined. SF (or sf) is most often used as shorthand for science fiction, but has also been used for science fantasy, speculative fiction, or structural fabulation. Widely popularized even outside the science fiction community by Judith Merril in her series of "year's best" anthologies (1956-69),
all of which used the SF rubric, the usage has since become so prevalent that Isaac Asimov has suggested that speculative fiction may have been coined as an attempt to retain the initials SF while abandoning the more restrictive use of "science" as a modifier. Some writers now prefer to use the term without specifying its particular meaning; if "sci-fi" is the "nigger" of the field, SF is its "Ms."

Shaggy God Story: Michael Moorcock's label for tales that seek to achieve a sense of wonder by mechanically adapting biblical tales and providing science fictional "explanations" for them—as, for example, the "surprise ending" that reveals two characters to be Adam and Eve.

Soft Science Fiction: Probably a back formation from hard science fiction and used sometimes to refer to science fiction based on so-called "soft" sciences (anthropology, sociology, etc.), and sometimes refer to science fiction in which there is little science or awareness of science at all. Chad Oliver might be an example of an author who falls under the former definition; Ray Bradbury an example of the latter.

Space Opera: A term borrowed from Fandomj where it was coined by Wilson Tucker in 1941 to refer to the "outworn spaceship yarn" of the sort that had been prevalent in the pulps during much of the 1930s. Sometimes called adventure science fiction or science adventure, space operas are generally fast-paced intergalactic adventures on a grand scale, most closely associated with E. E. Smith, Edmond Hamilton, and the early Jack Williamson. Often characterized as westerns in space or "straight fantasy in science fiction drag" (Norman Spinrad), space opera may be either an historical or a generic term; contemporary films such as Star Wars have been labeled space operas, as have more complex works such as Cecilia Holland's 1976 novel Floating Worlds.

Wonder: Frequently invoked in definitions of fantasy but seldom defined, as in C. N. Manlove's phrase "a fiction evoking wonder." The term is equally common in discussions of science fiction with its "sense of wonder," but it is quite possible the meaning there is somewhat different, relating to philosophical notions of the undiscovered universe and romantic notions of the sublime in the face of vastness. In fantasy, the term need not imply awe and terror in the face of the natural world, but rather suggests the desire and longing arising out of the promise of other worlds or states of being. In this sense, the term is perhaps related to Sehnsucht. Casey Fredericks has characterized the "wonder effect" as "presenting both a radical and a recognizable change on the known world."
As for the science fictional "sense of wonder," Samuel R. Delany has suggested that the phrase gained currency through the criticism of Damon Knight, and may have been borrowed from W. H. Auden's 1939 poem "In Memory of Sigmund Freud" (which spoke of the "sense of wonder" offered by the night). It is equally possible, however, that the phrase had gained some currency before the Auden poem, perhaps through the use of "wonder" in the titles of pulp magazines as early as 1929.

In: Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction  Edited
by James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria
. Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, 2005, p. 13-22

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