- Gothic Science Fiction, 1980–2010 by Sara Wasson and Emily Alder (eds)
Gothic Science Fiction, 1980–2010 stands as a foundational overview on the modern connection between fears of the past’s resurgence and wonder at an [End Page 143] unexpected future. The cultural question that Wasson and Alder’s collection raises is not what really differentiates gothic fiction from sf, but what were the historical conditions that led us to believe that there was a coherent difference in the first place? For if sf seeks to deliver the experience of secularised wonder at our becoming conscious of what we never expected our social system to deliver, can this turn be separated from its inverse, the fear of ungodly forces overwhelming us? Perhaps the contemporary function of the term weird is to rejoin cultural elements that ought never to have been considered separate at all. After all, if the truism of cultural studies is that all forms of representation are shaped by material social experiences, then what about that fusion of the haunted house with laboratory empiricism that is the doctor’s examination room? As we are locked in this drab container waiting for the physician bureaucratically to deliver the results of a test that may forever alienate our bodies from ourselves, with, let’s say, a cancer diagnosis and resulting babble of difficult-to-pronounce treatments, what’s not gothic about this clinical narrative?
The purpose of Gothic Science Fiction is not so much to discover a new niche created by a quirky mixture of seemingly incompatible styles, but to use readings of mainly contemporary works to question the implicit agendas of generic classification itself. The essays do so with a range of examples from recent fiction and lens media, and their uniformly astute readings and elegantly written commentaries are worth the price of the ticket itself. The greater achievement, though, is to ask us to turn the page on the ways in which we organised cultural productions into categories as a move that was perhaps, no matter how unwittingly, part of a hegemonic bourgeois perspective. For is there any utopic, extrapolatory sf tale that does not also inevitably force open the chest of horrors about all that remains pushed out of sight in the controlled blandness of the everyday?
In the first section, Roger Luckhurst and Fred Botting each deliver conclusive summaries of the genre debates while also providing good maps of current cultural production. Luckhurst reviews the long tail of Darko Suvin’s separation of sf from gothic and rightly sees the distinction as ‘early, strategic, and positional’ (21), a way to initially assert canonical importance for sf by using gothic genres about the Other as itself an Other best left locked away. He argues that it has only recently become possible for us to go beyond the Suvin paradigm as some of the most exciting work produced today resists these spatialised genre categories. Botting uses the zombie resurgence to suggest that these tales of reanimation are also ways of thinking about the new medical sciences, from nanotechnology to genetic xenography, that are not [End Page 144] only constantly pushing the event of death further away, but also continually embedding it within organic development, producing death, to invert the familiar Foucauldian assertion that modern societies worked to produce biopower, the organisation of ‘life’.
Luckhurst’s and Botting’s essays set up the questions that the ensuing essays further unfold. Aris Mousoutzanis reads gothic sf, including the Blade trilogy (1998–2004) and Star Trek (US 1966–) as manifestations of biopower, the production of subjects dedicated to imperialism. Sara Wasson looks at tales of institutionalised and marketised human organ tissue transfer, such as Michael Marshall Smith’s Spares (1996) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), to suggest that the new field of medical humanities has not fully explored its own debts to the shape of older generic narratives, which continue anxiously to haunt debates on the relationship between market practices and medical ethics. Laurence Davies writes on Guillermo del Toro’s first...