- Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond, and: Aliens and Others: Science Fiction, Feminism and Postmodernism
In her foreword to Lost in Space, Marge Piercy makes a pertinent distinction between cultural critics as “exilers” or “shepherds,” suggesting that Marleen Barr’s “heterogeneous yokings of disparate writers” under feminist fabulation makes her a shepherd on a mission of rescue. A sense of urgency pervades Barr’s call for feminist science fiction to resist becoming “lost in space”—marginalized as an alien, noncanonical branch of conventional science fiction—as well as her argument for its classification within a redefinition of postmodern fiction. “I view feminist fabulation,” Barr states, “as an umbrella term that includes science fiction, fantasy, utopian literature, and mainstream literature (written by women and men) that critiques patriarchal fictions.”
Barr’s own readings practice exactly such a style of critical feminist fabulation. By turns academic, autobiographical, humorous, and critical, she brings together a variety of popular and literary texts, criticism, film, and visual art. The pleasure of reading Barr may be attributed to the insights gained from such energetic and “heterogeneous yokings.” At times, she seems carried away by the dynamic of these linkages, but she redirects readers to her central concern, the ways in which affinities between diverse cultural practices contribute to social change.
The essays in the first section begin by treating feminist science fiction independently of Barr’s more inclusive term—feminist fabulation—but they progressively strain against the limitations of the science [End Page 214] fiction genre. For instance, she reads the film Thelma and Louise and its notion of “taking off” from patriarchy with reference to feminist science fiction and Jean Baudrillard’s ecstatic notion of the desert. Anne McCaffrey’s popular novel Dragonsong is brought together with Tillie Olsen as well as Hélène Cixous in terms of writing and difference. Barr proposes perceptive readings of utopian works by Suzy McKee Charnas, Zoë Fairbairns, James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Sally Gearhart, Kate Wilhelm, and Joanna Russ, as well as women warrior novels by Elizabeth A. Lynn and Jessica Amanda Salmonson. In one essay, she challenges Joanna Russ’s opposition to men’s sex-role-reversal fictions, which the latter calls “flasher novels.” Instead of being taken as a “declaration of postmodern generic gender war” (Russ), these novels ought to be welcomed by feminist readers as a means to explore real-world gender problems. Piercy is thus read alongside Thomas Berger, Alice Jardine, and Paul Smith. One of the most resonant chapters is devoted to dystopian novels by Charnas, Fairbanks, Wilhelm, and Margaret Atwood, whom Barr reads in tandem with nonfiction critics of new reproductive technologies. She argues persuasively that feminist science fiction becomes blurred as a fictional genre when its representations of reproductive technology come so uncannily close to reality. Its warnings, as she stresses, need to be heeded.
The second section, on feminist fabulation and feminist postmodernism, continues the trajectory beyond feminist science fiction initiated in the previous essays. Referring to Barbara Christian, Barr proposes that when Octavia Butler and Tiptree are no longer treated as literary aliens and “categorized with writers who focus on zap guns,” their focus on race, class, and gender can be seen as effective for social change. Their inclusion as postmodern feminist fabulators would prevent their texts and their critique of patriarchy and racism from being marginalized.
Another major chapter in Barr’s book questions definitions of manhood in Herman Melville, Fritz Lang’s 1929 film Women in the Moon, Spielberg’s Hook, the TV show “Lost in Space,” Sheri Tepper, and Isaac Asimov. Salman Rushdie is read as a male postmodernist who writes about the visibility of women’s stories, as does novelist Marianne Wiggins. They both decree that the gender war is over and done with—a sentiment echoed by Barr for whom new alliances between postmodern writers can work...