Learning from the Little Engines That Couldn't: Transported by Gernsback, Wells, and Latour

From Clockworks2
Jump to navigationJump to search

Bould, Mark, and Sherryl Vint. "Learning from the Little Engines That Couldn't: Transported by Gernsback, Wells, and Latour." Science Fiction Studies #98 = 33.1 (March 2006): 129-48. Available among back issues, as of November 2022, on line here.[1]

Opens provocatively with

Everyone knows that, until one wins one, all awards are travesties. Even so, there is something unseemly about the fact that Bruno Latour’s Aramis or The Love of Technology was not nominated for a single sf award. Published in French in 1993 and in English in 1996, this novel occupies simultaneously the very center and the very edges of the genre. It offers ways for us to rethink what sf can do, and to reconsider our relationships to technology and the consequences of that for both subjects and objects. It is also a page-turner, a gripping whodunit, a cyborg and hybrid manifesto, and a profound meditation on the relationships linking science, science studies, and science fiction. It should have swept the board. (129 in print SFS).

The on-line version of the article's Abstract does not come through — or did not in November of 2022 on Erlich's system, but basically has it that the article starts out from Brono Latour's "coinage of 'scientifiction' to describe his book Aramis or the Love of Technology (1993) and then compares and contrasts Latour's usage of 'scientifiction' as opposed to the earlier one of Hugo Gernsback, "developed by John W. Campbell, Jr." (dated 1916 by Merriam-Webster on line.—RDE)[2] The article draws on "H. G. Wells's short story 'A Tale of the Twentieth Century' (1887) to identify a key weakness — the absence of any concept of social power — in Latour's work, it suggests that sf's imaginative potential might play a role in reformulating his [Latour's] political vision" (p. 148 in print).

Bould and Vint say that in this essay they engage

in the play between science fact, science fiction, and scientifiction, this essay engages with Aramis to explore what Latour might contribute to the study of sf and what sf might contribute to our understanding of Latour. We wonder whether sf’s commodity form suppresses the possibilities that lie between the literal and the literary. We worry about commodity fetishism and the tendency in Latour’s concept of actants (in which humans and nonhumans are elevated or reduced to the same stat­us—equivalized—in the new collective) to reduce humans in technology to labor power. Aramis itself speaks in Aramis, just as many nonhuman others speak in other sf, and so we weigh this speaking of the other in narrative, the speaking for the other that it inevitably entails and what it suggests about the politics of Latour’s new collective. Sf is one of the actants that “real life” technology might enroll, and Latour gives us new tools to think about this relationship between science and technology; understanding Latour may change our understanding of both science and sf. (p. 131 in print version)

See also for comments on Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C41 + as Gernsbackian scientifiction placed into dialog (our term) with that of Latour.

RDE, finishing, 7Nov22