fjm (fjm) wrote,

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

Below the cut is a 5,000 word review that was submitted to the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts in March 2009. It was withdrawn this week after editorial disagreement.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press, 2008, 328pp. ISBN: 978-0-8195-6889-2 ($35)

To date, almost every introduction to science fiction has had a distinctly historical and historicised bent. Furthermore, of the critical introductions to science fiction, there has remained a divide between those written by independent scholars in the fan community (or those academics working from outside the literary critical discourse), and those written by literary theorists. Seven Beauties of Science Fiction is the first introduction to the field whose critical paradigm successfully connects the fan understanding of the genre with the academic, and which brings historicity and critical theory into a creative engagement.

The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction is a distinctively useful book that is aesthetically pleasing because its theme is the aesthetics of utility and of the utility of critical terms and critical modes. Seven Beauties (as I will abbreviate it) is one of those books which for the most part outlines and elucidates with great grace what we all vaguely know but which we very much needed someone to pull together. The historical route has pulled in our understanding of what sf is on the way, with an essentially Whiggish sensibility of historical process. Csicsery-Ronay turns this around. Taking for granted the emergence and development of the structures and modes of sf, he sets out to explain how they work, how they are valued and the ideological weight they carry in the genre. Inevitably, I have a number of issues to raise, but I regard Seven Beauties as the best introductory text for quite some time, as well as one of the most interesting critical works for graduates and scholars.

Although much of the language of Seven Beauties, and most of the critics cited, are from the academy (and some of the sentences are unnecessarily laden with opaque vocabulary), the beauties which Csicsery-Ronay identifies, and the sub-categories into which he divides them, are instantly recognizable to the Independent critic and scholar of science fiction. There is very little in here to excite the 'fan v. critic' debate, and rather more to demonstrate the degree to which so many of today's academic sf critics are part and parcel of fandom.

In his preface, Csicsery-Ronay outlines both his motivation and his intentions. Faced with the absence of science fiction from and the minds of his preferred critics (Lucács, Auerbach, Bakhtin, Northrop Frye, and Edward Said), he has set out to use their tools as a filter to understand the narrative and technical threads with which science fiction is woven. In this, he claims to be 'Old School' by which I presume he means that this is essentially a Leavisite text: theory is present, but it remains in the background, allowing close reading of texts (both fiction and sf theory) to take centre stage. What is very pleasing is that Csicsery-Ronay uses theory with great care. Too often 'theory' papers attempt to squeeze the genre text into the theory. Csicsery-Ronay is extraordinarily careful to demonstrate the limits of theorists who were not themselves interested in genre. The most attractive element of Seven Beauties for me, was the degree to which Csicsery-Ronay encouraged the reader to pay close attention to the way in which criticism is constructed, even if at times this was at the expense of the fictional text. Csicsery-Ronay's goals are to comprehend science fictionality 'as a way of thinking about the world' (ix), and to understand science fiction as a critical tapestry: to his mind the seven key colours of this tapestry are fictive neology, fictive novums, future history, imaginary science, the science fictional sublime, the science fictional grotesque, and the technologiade, each of which he asks us to understand as cognitive attractions, mental schemes or tools for thought. Seven Beauties elucidates why we have reached consensus around these often 'riven, indecisive, chaotic, sometimes corrupt, always ludic' (8) ideas, and explains the power of that consensus. Csicsery-Ronay challenges us to consider whether we find the set full, partial, or arbitrary and as he describes sf so too should one approach this book as an invitation to call 'into question all verities, except curiosity and play.' (x)

Launching into the introduction, Csicsery-Ronay quickly aligns himself to an understanding of science fiction as essentially a popular genre, but defines this as a genre of entertainment, neatly avoiding the small problem that sf is not, and never has been, very popular in terms of market share. Moving on quickly, he then asserts that this does not prevent the genre from developing sophisticated techniques and addresses, and aligns this with the development of 'technoscience' and the increasing awareness among the population of the transformations which technoscience is effecting. I am not sure how much Csicsery-Ronay and I part company here: I am not convinced that sf and scientific awareness of any kind necessarily share the same trajectory given that the current scientific literacy of the population as compared to scientists is in weaker ratio than it was, say in the 1930s, and sf movies at least have never been more popular; but Csicsery-Ronay clearly addresses this point in the fourth beauty, 'Imaginary Science', so it is merely a moment's doubt. Later he clarifies that in the modern world the presence of genre elements in many media productions, and the constant clash between every day life and the challenges of new science and new technologies, create genre awareness, a mode of science fictionality. 'It is from sf's thesaurus of images that we draw many of our metaphors and models for understanding our technologized world' (2). I would agree with this, but would add that it is from the thriller that much of the world draws its mode of engagement with those metaphors, which is why so many of the politico-scientific issues he mentions here are approached by the general population with fear and loathing, rather than the awe and wonder of the sf reader: it is an issue I would like to have seen discussed in the chapter on the grotesque. I do not disagree with Csicsery-Ronay but feel that here (and in a number of other places) he conflates/collapses the audience for this book with the market audience (in a variety of configurations).

From here Csicsery-Ronay moves on to the key nexus that informs this text: 'In the past forty years, not only have sf artists produced more artistically ambitious works than in the previous hundred, but works of criticism have established the foundations for definition and self-examination of mature artistic movements.' (2). Csicsery-Ronay regards genre criticism as integral to The Project. What he wants us to focus on is what he feels are 'gaps', the creative space in which the beauties of science fiction thrive, first the 'gap' between the fancy which conjures idea of transformation, and the technological developments which make it possible to envisage them. Csicsery-Ronay sees this as a mythmaking process, in which the explanation of scientific process and possibility is embedded in what Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart in The Science of Discworld have called lies told to children, in which the audience for science fiction is cast as the wondering child. Csicsery-Ronay conceives it thus: 'Imaginary worlds of sf are pretended resolutions of dilemmas insoluble and often barely perceived in the present.' (3) They generate two related discursive paths: ethics and possibility. Sf, Csicsery-Ronay argues, is inherently future oriented because it is inherently discursive, but it is also linked to the past because it generates its questions from the past. 'anticipating the complete revision of origins.' (4) Science fiction is therefore intrinsically linked to debates over human values and it is this, Csicsery-Ronay argues (sadly only briefly) that allows the genre we call science fiction to have so very many forms and modes, and to appropriate so very many story forms (8) because it's real origins are not in science per se, but in this discursive nexus.

Csicsery-Ronay concludes the introduction with a discussion of his methods and texts. Of his method, Csicsery-Ronay is laudably eclectic. Although this is a book with a strong argument it is essentially a work of synthesis and Csicsery-Ronay has drawn on most of the names one would expect from both the academy and the work of the major reviewer-critics. Where I am not wholly convinced is in his selection of texts and his justification of those choices. On the matter of books, I accept his argument that he had to make selections, and also that in the end, the use of familiar texts enabled the reader to test his arguments. If I have one significant regret, it is that Csicsery-Ronay’s stated purpose, to bring together and elucidate current thinking about science fiction, has left little room for his own voice and his own arguments. Only in the chapter on the grotesque, where very little work directly on science fiction has been written, do we really get the opportunity to experience Csicsery-Ronay as an original thinker as well as a superb synthesizer. I am less comfortable with Csicsery-Ronay ’s decision to stretch beyond literary texts. Csicsery-Ronay writes, 'a study of science-fictionality should not restrict itself to one medium only', a sentiment with which I am in accord. However he continues:

'it is clear that the same critical approaches cannot be used unreflectively to study other media, such as film. The technical ways with which film conveys its meanings, and the cognitive and aesthetic engagements that inexorably attend cinematic perception, require that sf theory accommodate sf film's overwhelming emphasis on perception at the expense of reflection. Such accommodation is vital, considering the increasing weight of sf film and television in establishing the dominant cultural conception of what sf is.'' (11)

Yet, as we shall see, Csicsery-Ronay succeeds in incorporating movies successfully only in his chapters on the science-fiction sublime and the grotesque, and, within that, in his discussion on the visual forms. While I accept his arguments (and those of other critics) that sf cinema and games, among other forms, are becoming the dominant cultural conception of what sf is, their values are so different, or so skewed in a specific direction that it seems to me 'accommodation' is neither enough nor appropriate, that the tools applied to literary forms of science fiction can only leave the impression that the non-literary forms are inadequate, and that it is past time that the academic community withdrew from a theory of everything in this field, and acknowledge instead that there are separate and immensely valuable critical approaches which place cinema and gaming and graphic novels at the centre, and leave the literary beyond the Pale when viewed through their filters. The same, and more so, is true of Csicsery-Ronay's most orphaned medium, music, for which he demands attention but is also forced to marginalise: the 'vocabulary of sounds' he identifies as part of sf or fantastical music is also here barely encompassed in the discussion of the sublime.

Seven Beauties can, I think, be read in any order, the chapters are inter-connected, but not inter-dependent. Of the chapters, I am most comfortable with chapters two through six, and least with chapters one and seven, both of which I feel are problematic in a number of ways, but for the sake of ease, I will take them in the order they are presented.

The first of Csicsery-Ronay's beauties is the fictive neology, perhaps one of the most discussed aspects of science fiction. Csicsery-Ronay takes us through his understanding of their function and their development arguing that the desire for the fictive neology is a clue to the ideological structures of science fiction of which its neophilia is only one element but one which may or may not be crucial to our expectations of where and in which cultures sf may emerge. The argument is somewhat circular: the flexibility of the language and the willingness to accept neologisms is tied to the structures of scientific modernity in cultures which 'employ many different kinds of lexicogenisis concurrently.… it is not an accident that theirs have also been the main languages of sf' (19). It is also somewhat stacked: it does not explain how France is a culture of sf, yet has to adopt words from the Anglo-Saxon because its academy has demanded a rigidity of vocabulary, and it projects a rather orientalist view of Arabic and Persian as 'constrained by a conservative loyalty to their classical stratum' which ignores both local variation and the degree to which who gets there first often has far more influence over the language of a discipline or genre than does any innate quality (and is why Latin holds sway in biology and German in chemistry—see the examples of molecule names which almost all merge words as in German, even when the name is English). But this apart, Csicsery-Ronay does an excellent job of tracing the way in which technical neologisms emerge and are absorbed, often generating acceptance by following older rules of coinage (such as Greek and Roman names for planets) or as the twentieth century developed new modes of language dissemination, using popular memes. Csicsery-Ronay labels these neologisms democratic, in that these coinages borrow from popular rather than elite culture but they are different to semantic shifts in that they demand that there is a concept missing from the world, and in doing so—as he demonstrates with examples from Heinlein and Cadigan—they demand that the reader pay attention and be aware of the new world they are touring. Yet Csicsery-Ronay argues that there must be only enough neologisms to create the shift, and not so many that they paint the world entire: the reader must be able to infer much of the future, and in this context neologisms are the charcoal marks, not the painting entire.

The construction of neologisms can be of word variants, or radically new constructions; they can be bound morpheme constructions, free morphemic constructions or reduced morpheme constructions, that is totally made up, an old word given a new association, or a useful abbreviation (of which ftl may be the best known). Early sf favoured the bound morpheme, and Csicsery-Ronay easily traces a periodization in morpheme construction recognisable to any committed reader in the field. A great deal of modern sf uses the common codes embedded in reduced morphemes of the community and as Csicsery-Ronay much of this has penetrated into the technoscientific vocabulary that permeates the modern world.

The most important point that Csicsery-Ronay makes in the chapter is that neologisms reveal ideologies, and that this is particularly pertinent when understanding the neology in science fiction. Science fiction neologies, he argues, are 'double coded', both prospectively anachronistic and also chronoclastic (here I would also point to advertising neologisms and those in particular that spawn suffixes and prefixes, such as automat, which led to '-mat' being the ending for many establishments, such as Laundromat, in ways that we no longer recognise as modern and futuristic). Crucially, sf neologies must tell us something new about the world, and perhaps even more crucially the neologism creates this newness, this new sensibility.

The remaining sections of the chapter take a number of themes, and this over-riding issue of ideology encoded in the neologism, and seek to explore them through a variety of texts including Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ridley Walker, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and A Clockwork Orange among others. Csicsery-Ronay's starting point is the role of linguistics in science fiction as an underpinning for the role of the neology, or rather its lack of a role. Csicsery-Ronay argues that 'plausibility in linguistics has held no great attraction for sf writers', a point I do not contest, and dismisses also Delany's Babel -17 (1966) and Jack Vance's The Languages of Pao (1958) before exploring what sf writers have done in the way of, for example, the powerful cultural appropriation of Dune or the gender games of The Left Hand of Darkness. There are a couple of odd elisions, Csicsery-Ronay seems to be unaware that the primacy of nouns and their role in child development is itself western/European (in Korean, verbs take precedence) and he ignores the compulsory heterosexuality encoded into Le Guin's construction of kemmer and the language of kemmer while paying due attention to the ways in which Herbert hews close to western norms. The chapter ends with a consideration of Klingon, in a nod perhaps to non-literary media, but Ronay does not interrogate Klingon in the same fashion and although he argues that there are questions to be considered, he does not actually consider them. Instead, he shifts to a (still interesting) set of suggestions about the appeal of Klingon (over both real, and other invented languages) which brings the chapter back to where it began, without closing the circle.

I am very loathe to criticise someone's choice of texts in a book of this kind. I understand that the texts selected in a book of this nature are selected for their utility, but when the issue at stake is the role of linguistics, and of the role of neologisms in constructing the ideology of the text, and one of the critical sections is on the absence of neologistic verbs in science fiction, then the absence of any discussion of Suzette Haden Elgin's Native Tongue (acknowledged elsewhere in a discussion of feminist sf and later in a section on the feminine sublime) is very strange indeed. Native Tongue and its sequel The Judas Rose are precisely about linguists, linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf theory that language shapes and constrains what it is possible to think about, is written by a Professor of Linguistics, and contains many examples of neologistic verbs (as well as promoting an artificial language that actually exists). Its omission is a serious flaw in the chapter, and its marginalisation to a brief and disconnected discussion of feminism’s challenge to history in the next chapter, is problematic given what Csicsery-Ronay is arguing about language and ideology.

The second beauty of science fiction is the fictive novum. This is the densest chapter and the one which most draws on the body of criticism as part of the process of science fiction. Csicsery-Ronay moves us through Bloch and Suvin's ideas of the novum and rests his arguments on Suvin's understanding that the novum was not simply the new thing, but the new thing as 'an indicator and a mediator of horizons of possibility' (49) and one which calls attention to the present situation. From here Csicsery-Ronay invites the reader to consider the deliberately value-laden exploration of the novum, in which the novum is linked (by Suvin) to social change, but which the audience prizes because of its ludic qualities. Although newness is a theme picked up in the science fictional sublime, it is a crucial element here in the understanding of the value of the novum, and understanding it as a marker of historicity, possible only because we are aware of past, present and change.

Csicsery-Ronay guides us through novums material and ethical, in which material change may set the state for ethical discussion or vice versa, real world novums in which new perspectives bring new estrangements and both can be figured as novums, and crucially novums as themselves fictions, which are constructed by response. He explores Suvin's argument for one novum and explains the degree to which this has been subverted in part b the difficulty of identifying the novum in a complex text, and demonstrates the challenges of this through a consideration of what he contends is the single novum text of Solaris and the multiple novum texts of cyberpunk whose propagandists, keen to erase the memory of the arguments for complexity of the social sf writers of the 1960s, would be taken a little too seriously here if Ronay had not chosen as his example of multiple novums the work of Philip K. Dick. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this chapter is the final one in which Csicsery-Ronay discusses the degree to which a novum may be irrational, as long as it is spun out in a rational manner, a hint at the sf is attitude argument that we will see in the discussion of the sublime and the grotesque.

Csicsery-Ronay 's third beauty is the future history, which he argues is one of the defining elements of science fiction: parallel histories and allohistories are the proof, in that in re-imagining history they demonstrate the degree to which history and historical theory underpin science fiction. Seven Beauties draws our attention to those critics such as Ballard and Stockwell, who understand the role of history in science fiction as diegetic and poetic. Historiography shapes the kinds of arguments about nature that the sf story encodes, and creates a language for that debate which, by being firmly in the present and in the past, anchors science fiction in the continuum of lived experience, even as it is a virtualisation of that experience. The focus of this chapter is to trace the different theories of history which have shaped science fiction, tracing the degree to which evolutionary historical theory (and the works of historians as far apart as Marx and Spengler) shaped not just the understanding of human progress but helped create a techno-evolution in which the inevitable rise of machines as assistants, supports, as the God we need to advance, is our destiny. In turn, Csicsery-Ronay then describes the counter-narratives, from the alternative world histories, through the post-modernist challenges of feminism and of writers with non-traditional (for sf) identities to produce what he calls, neatly, dispersive futures which are a response to the sense of crisis felt by many of those who understood the future within the notion of Destiny. This links Csicsery-Ronay to the fractured futures of time travel novels, which both undermine while simultaneously support the ur-narrative of inevitablity. Csicsery-Ronay 's final selection in this chapter is steam punk, an irreverent revisioning of Victorian history which argues for the primacy of techno-evolution even as it emphasises the artificiality of the future history project by understanding it through the playful gaze of genre.

With the exception of the last section, the chapter on the fourth beauty, Imaginary Science, is perhaps the least contentious as Csicsery-Ronay traces the ways in which sf moves very quickly from believing in genuine extrapolation from known science into the future, to a clear awareness from the 1950s onward that sf writers and readers are playing a game. Csicsery-Ronay situates this shift in a changing understanding of science itself which from the 1930s seems much less immutable than it once had. Physics and biology in particular was advancing by overturning previous conceptions ratter than elaborating on them,. This knowledge that scientific understanding might at any point be overturned rendered it legitimate to conceive of what such revolutions might look like (Csicsery-Ronay says not, because one cannot include ideas of killer tomatoes from outer space, but just because an idea is ludicrous, it does not mean that its legitimacy cannot stem from the same ideological position: this has been a problem for free speech advocates and relativists everywhere). An element in this carnival is that neither writers nor readers of sf are necessarily scientists: rather they are generalists with a scientific bent, educated enough to follow the logic but not the detail, and therefore potentially more susceptible to the blandishments of logical argument as a form, than might those with better or poorer educations. It is precisely the mid-way point that Csicsery-Ronay seems to argue (in a rare turn to audience studies) is the audience here. This he couples with what Tatiana Chernyshova, understood as a mode of myth making and Csicsery-Ronay calls 'the imaginary supplement', in which current knowledge is imposed on the unknown in order to construct a satisfactory but untrue explanation. This links in turn to the thought experiment, which may be crucial to science fiction, but here is presented as its vulnerable spot because while the thought experiment might be a form of argument, it is one in which the answer is known in advance and there is little opportunity for falsification (although it might be constructed in the dissatisfaction of the reader: see Joanna Russ on battle-of-the-sexes thought experiments). This is why he links the thought experiment to the literary hoax, seeing the accretion of detail around the hoax and the thought experiment as essentially the same modes of convincement, and making possible counter-factual science stories in which the science as presented is known to be untrue, either because it is conceived that way (as in science fantasy, and much space opera) or because it has dated). Only for that form of science fiction whose scientific content works with and inspires contemporary science (such as nano-science) does Csicsery-Ronay reserve the term science-fictional science. It is a narrow definition but is to an extent no more than a re-stating of the case for hard-sf, with the additional notion that these fictions help to create a romantic narrative for the technologies they propose and propagandise.

In the last section, on the cognition effect of science in science fiction, Csicsery-Ronay argues that sf thrives on maximum credible rationalization and expands this to assert that there is a level of ectstasy involved, a ludic transcendance as well as the ludic pleasure of playing with belief. My one caveat here is Csicsery-Ronay 's use of the Sokal hoax as a paradigm for sf: he argues that while Sokal seduced the cultural theorists, this has to be placed in the context of the business of science which has also attempted top use scientific language for political uses. In this he misses the point of what Sokal was trying to demonstrate. Science is self-correcting. Eventually other scientists in the same field point out the methodological flaws because until they do, progress is usually hampered by the incorrect theory—a cul-de-sac can lead only to a cul-de-sac. Sokal's point was that the contributors to Social Texts had no such mechanism, that ludicrous theory could spawn more ludicrous theory ad infinitum, because there was no means of disproof. Ironically, while I disagree with Csicsery-Ronay 's understanding of the incident, my own leads me to the same conclusion, that to the degree sf has very strong diegetic tools (mostly in the form of a very argumentative community) it is vulnerable to overestimating the degree to which it can embrace scientific method.

In his discussion on the fifth beauty, Csicsery-Ronay takes us through Kant and Burke's notions of the sublime, the role of monstrosity in the construction of the science fictional sublime in the ur-text, Frankenstein, and on to a summary of David Nye's ideas about the American technological sublime in order to catch what he sees as a distinctive sf-nal understanding of the sublime. This is playful, and rests on imaginary objects as the focal point of the sublime, and those objects are mediated by science and tempered to a greater or lesser degree by the juxtaposition of the grotesque. Csicsery-Ronay sees this as a realistic discourse which reflects the technologically saturated environment with which sf competes. Given this outline and context, it is therefore not surprising that most of the examples in this chapter are from film, which has specialised in what we might call the visual sublime. Although the discussion of The Matrix means that this cannot be synonymous with the Big Dumb object, one cannot escape the emphasis on the visual here, which I think to be a great shame. There is no discussion of the composition of the sublime in opera and in sf film sound tracks and although Csicsery-Ronay quotes extensively from Tiptree's Up the Walls of the World, he focuses on the thing being described and the inability of language to capture it, rather than on the techniques sf has developed to depict the sublime. The language used is sublime on the ear, not merely in the image it produces. It has strong connections to epic poetry. It is not just descriptive, it is evocative, this lack is an opportunity lost by perhaps the person in the field best equipped to take advantage.

The sixth beauty Csicsery-Ronay terms 'the grotesque' but he acknowledges might equally have been couched as carnival, 'a matter of pleasure in corporeal existence, the rich and funky gaiety that sees life processes intimately flowing into one another, rejecting the abstract divisions and intellectual puritanism of the elites, and consequently threatening a nd shocking only to them.'' (183) This is perhaps the most original chapter, the one in which Csicsery-Ronay stretches beyond the historiography of the genre. In asking us to see science fiction through a filter of revulsion and recoil, through response to anomalies, to the awareness of instability in the story of the world, Csicsery-Ronay refigures science fiction by focusing on the role of robots and monsters and out of control science, aspects of science fiction often pushed to the side by respectable critics. In this chapter Csicsery-Ronay Jr goes digging in the dark corners of sf, in the futuristic thriller, in the sci-fi schlock movie, and in the new borderland of sf and fantasy, the New Weird, where the grotesque runs rampant. The grotesque is intensely physical, the monster in Alien, the suppurating sores of a plague movie, the rotting flesh of the animated corpse. It is a version of the sublime and one whose history Csicsery-Ronay traces back through the chimera of Greek myth, through the idea of the cyborg, and into the alien, using as his primary examples Stanislaw Lem's Solaris and the Alien movies, demonstrating the ways in which the grotesque can be used to stretch and emphasise metaphor and psychological readings. The chapter concludes by positioning the grotesque as an entropic reaction against the scientific sublime's desire for order, and one which places value on technologies and ideologies of transformation and hybridity and encourages edge readings, or as he suggests, queers the body of the text, encouraging fractured and fractal narratives and eliding the space between the post-modern literary text and the science fictional text.

In his final chapter, on ‘the Technologiade’, Csicsery-Ronay argues that while sf takes its plots from many different story oriented genres, what is distinctive is that it uses these plots to tell one of two stories, the expansive space opera, and the techno-Robinsonade, both of which relate 'the epic struggle surrounding the transformation of the cosmos into a technological regime.' (217). The conceptualization is a good one, and the discussion of space opera particularly effective. Space opera, Csicsery-Ronay contends, provides the stage on which all of the beauties hitherto displayed can be discussed. The section on the Robinsonade, however, I found less satisfying. The basic outline and the positioning of the Robinsonade as adventure story was clear, but then, for the first time, Csicsery-Ronay began to use archetypes and psychoanalytic criticism to reduce the cast of characters to components: the handy man, the fertile corpse (the scene of his performance, usually a land of some kind); the willing slave, the shadow mage (the antagonist to the project); the tool text (the set of devices and documents used by the handy man to achieve dominance); and the wife at home. Uncharacteristically, Csicsery-Ronay slides into the dogma: x represents y. This might be less jarring in another kind of book, but while the archetypes are recognizable, the interpretations offered are stretched and insistent, so that the Wife at Home, 'represents rooted tradition', 'may well be literally fertile', 'She represents one half of the feminine in the modern adventure model, the other being the Fertile Corpse.' (234). Csicsery-Ronay gives no examples in this section (again unusual in a book which otherwise is very careful to reference to specific texts) and the result is oddly old-fashioned. Not until much later in the chapter, after he has explored the historical development of the Robinsonade, and its successor, the Edisonade, does he return to the same topics, this time with examples, in which he does demonstrate the ubiquity of these archetypes but indicates also the degree to which the psychoanalytic interpretations offered are rather heavy-handed.

A major issue I have with this chapter is one which I found worrying throughout the book, and that is the relative absence of female writers referenced. Mostly, it has not mattered to the argument so I have bitten my tongue, although I have already pointed to the startling omission of Native Tongue in chapter 1 but am forced to add here that any discussion on the Robinsonade which does not consider Joanna Russ's Who Are About To... is rather missing something. Furthermore, the relative absence of feminist writers in the longer discussions (I do not count Le Guin because the texts cited were written prior to her self-identification with feminism) enables Csicsery-Ronay to state baldly in this chapter of the trope of 'The SF wife at home': 'The function of the Wife at Home becomes strikingly muted in sf, for clear cut reasons. There is not much home in sf.' (255). This is simply not true, from “No Woman Born” by C. L. Moore (1944), through the feminist revisionings of the home in the early twentieth century (see the work of Batya Weinbaum), the housewife heroine sf of the 1950s (see Lisa Yaszek) and on to the feminists of the 1980s there is plenty of home in science fiction, and at least one popular culture futuristic trope, perhaps the one most non-sf readers were familiar with, was precisely 'the home of the future', the central locus for the 1950s technologiade which precisely stripped all participants of their 'handy men' function, and irony of technological advance which is not explored here. Ironically, I think that had this chapter been reconsidered more generally, and were the seventh beauty to be more generally described as ‘Interrogating the human’ or some such, many of the arguments in this chapter would have been more easily and deftly handled, and many of my own concerns addressed.

Csicsery-Ronay concludes The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction with a consideration of the Singularity as both a trope of sf, and a limit on the prediction for the place of sf. SF, he contends, survives because it continues to process the material of culture, and to contribute to the construction of our socio-political landscape, but if it cannot contain and express new needs, and new dreams, it may yet fall by the way side. This possibility and the prediction of this possibility, is inherent in the project itself.

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