THE END OF SCIENCE FICTION? (4): there will always be new worlds

Elhefnawy moves from considering the external dynamics of science fiction, of the forces that condition science fiction from the outside (science, technology, social, economic, and political change) to a discussion of its internal dynamics.He briefly considers two models for describing those dynamics (the organic and the dialectical).

The organic model sees the evolution of a genre as like that of a living organism, going from birth to maturity and then decline, till its eventual end. The dialectical model sees the evolution of a genre as driven by its contradictions, antagonistic at the beginning and reconciled in pacified synthesis at the end. Both models describe a passage from quality to quantity, from innovative beginnings to codified deployment, from neotype to stereotype.

I think that this vision of the autonomous development of the SF genre is in contradiction with two principles enounced by Elhefnawy:

1) Science fiction is not a category. Science fiction has no essence that can be captured in a definition, but it is not a chaotic association of unrelated elements. SF is a heterogeneous assemblage of works related by lines of resemblance and reaction, of safe deployment of old tropes and daring transformations. There will always be new worlds, new influences from the outside, from unfamiliar lifestyles to unexploited sciences. The deceleration of science fiction may be in part an optical illusion, hiding its openness to outside developments and pluralisation.

2) Science fiction is about the present. Science fiction discards 19th Century canons of literary realism and proceeds by means of a speculative or subjunctive leap (what Darko Suvin famously named “cognitive estrangement”). It would be a mistake to think that first there is “reality” and then escapism. Realism does not come first, it is a literary trope like any other. Science fiction as a genre is based on the sentiment that wonder comes first, or that estrangement comes first, even if we sometimes only become aware of it after.

So yes, no sooner is there an invention than it is repeated, codified and normalised, and its field of application becomes saturated. However, there are constantly new influences, the outside is far bigger than any provisionaly instituted and stabilised inside. Science fiction is porous and constantly open to the outside, its enclosure and its autonomy are merely relative. Temporary stabilities subsist for a time and then an earthquake overthrows them and something else is set up. Alongside the organic and the dialectical models of the genre we can add the geological model: science fiction is seismic.

Against literary realism’s simplification and banalisation of reality, its sad validation of a single World, science fiction tells us that there are many worlds and that we are living in and with them now.


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