A Cultural History of a Hybrid Genre

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Landon, Brooks. "A Cultural History of a Hybrid Genre." Review of Roger Luckhurst, Science Fiction, CULTURAL HISTORY OF LITERATURE[1][2] (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2005), in Science Fiction Studies #98 = 33.1 (March 2006): 161-73. As of November 2022, on-line here.[3]

A substantial and important review by an important scholar of a well-received book of interest to users of this Wiki — including in the review an argument with the equally important Farah Mendlesohn concerning her charges of sexism in Science Fiction in her coverage of it in The New York Review of Science Fiction 18.1 (Sept. 2005): 16-19.

But to get to matters relevant for the Clockworks Wiki — Here is one key statement by Landon on Mechanism, going on to quote Luckhurst:

Science Fiction continues the move toward a cultural history of sf suggested by a large number of critical works published in the past fifteen or twenty years, each of which explored reciprocal relationships between the body of texts that comprises sf and the cultural concerns shaping and frequently shaped by those texts. Luckhurst centers his focus on the cultural debates attending technological modernity — as differently articulated in Great Britain and the US — using the antique but capacious umbrella term “Mechanism” to subsume the impact of technology on cultural life. Casting sf as “a literature of technologically saturated societies,” he offers his study as a cultural history rather than the cultural history of sf, specifying:

A cultural history of science fiction will situate texts, therefore, as part of a constantly shifting network that ties together science, technology, social history and cultural expression with different emphases at different times. SF will not conform to a particular literary typology or formalist definition: rather, it will be marked by a sensitivity to the ways in which Mechanism is connected into different historical contexts. ([Luckhurst] 6) (Landon, in print version p. 161)

A bit later, Landon notes that "[...] one of the many important arguments Luckhurst makes is that sf’s early and long-continuing relegation to low status has little to do with actual aesthetic quality and much to do with the genre’s positions in cultural debates over the implications of Mechanism." Landon sees Luckhurst carefully tracking "ways in which sf might be seen as contributing 'in a new and significant way to the history of the constitution of the modern subject' ([Luckhurst] 3) with specific reference to responses to and implications of Mechanism — the central aspect of modernity — as it is shunned by high culture and engaged in complicated and ambivalent ways by sf" (Landon p. 162 [our emphasis with boldface]).

Moving through Luckkhurst on Hugo Gernsback on technocracy and the American paradigm of engineering in SF vs. the British concern with evolution, gets to Part II of Science Fiction and "the elaboration of the initially artifactual concerns of Mechanism into the cybernetic control systems developed in conjunction with the nuclear age and its attendant technocratic networking"; and, covering 1939-1959, war, "the Military-Industrial Complex, and the "nuclear age" as concentrated (our term) in the atomic bomb (Landon p. 165).

On Luckhurst on Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, Sally Miller's The Wanderground, Suzy McKee Charnas's Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines, and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time: "Luckhurst’s readings of these texts remind us that, apart from their sharing gender concerns, these writers construct and critique technology differently, with very different visions of its social uses. Joanna Russ is then identified as an exemplar of Kristeva’s third wave, and also as a writer whose work explores all three feminisms, with The Female Man (1975) incorporating 'all of these strands of feminism into a collage of competing voices from parallel worlds' (193)" (Landon p. 168).

Starting with a personal aside this Wiki's Initial Compiler will second, Landon notes that Luckhurst understands that the Cyberpunks were far from all going on in the 1980s.

I began Luckhurst’s chapter on the 1980s with something approaching dread[...], since this decade has already lent its most celebrated movement, cyberpunk, to endless cultural studies of postmodernism. If there’s one thing sf criticism probably does not need, I thought, it’s yet another cultural history of the 1980s. After the inevitable but mercifully concise overview of postmodernism, however, Luckhurst goes delightfully offroad from the high-traffic critical highway to discuss 1980s sf and the New Right. Somewhat impishly, he suggests that — instead of the cyberpunks — the sf writers associated with the Right in general and with the Star Wars (SDI)-friendly Citizen’s Advisory Panel on National Space Policy in particular might have provided the most representative sf of the 1980s. Against the well-known roster of cyberpunks, Luckhurst wants us to remember the quite different agendas of Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Gregory Benford, Robert Heinlein, and Ben Bova. Reminding us that “SF was as ideologically riven as any other field of cultural production in the 1980s” (202), Luckhurst not only uses this chapter to relocate cyberpunk in “the shadow of the New Right,” but also complicates cyberpunk’s emblematic association with virtual disembodiment by reading it dialectically with “body horror” fiction, as represented by the splatterpunk of Clive Barker and by the more oblique body horror writing of Octavia Butler. (print version p. 169)

Also handles The X-Files.

RDE, finishing, 8Nov22