- The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction
Science Fiction Studies is an academic journal, vibrantly engaged with critical and cultural theories, published three times a year at DePauw University (Indiana). Its issues deal with what is considered the most popular genre of contemporary literature. Since the middle of the 20th century, in fact, science fiction (SF) continues to exert an enormous influence on popular culture, dominating the art of cinema where star wars, intergalactic journeys or unstoppable epidemics are frequent expedients to pose really big questions, e.g. about what it means to be human, the limits of knowledge, the role of science and the chance of alternative societal development, opening up speculations and discussions that other forms of literature would have trouble dealing with.
The editors of Science Fiction Studies conceived and developed this robust anthology (52 novels) with the ambition to exemplify a number of themes and styles characteristic of the genre and to represent, if possible, the best and most teachable stories in the field. The aim, indeed, is explicitly pedagogic: The anthology is thought to "serve as a bridge not only to an appreciation of some of the best works of SF ever written but also to the world of SF scholarship" (p. xvii). Ancillary material consists of a critical bibliography listing many of the most important studies in the field and a teacher's guide available online <www.wesleyan.edu/wespress/sfanthologyguide>.
The most important features of SF are extensively analyzed in the introduction to properly direct the reader, or the teacher, toward a fruitful exploitation of the collected texts. Remarks are, for example, on how varied the genre is, the chronic difficulties for SF in establishing itself in a public space, the historical location of its origin—back to the Renaissance tales of great voyages, among enlightenment and romanticism with Mary Shelley's modern Prometheus (Frankenstein, 1818) having a particular importance, emerging from the techno-cataclysm of the Industrial Revolution?
A peculiar point worthy to be discussed is the so-called SF Megatext, i.e. the number of narrative items and landscapes commonly shared by writers and readers of SF cumulatively gathered, one story after another, encompassing typical characters (renegade scientists, robot rebels, alien or artificial intelligence), environments (spaceships, space-time distortions, inhuman landscapes), events (nuclear and other apocalypses, galactic conflicts) and ethical concerns (science's responsibilities, encounters with otherness, shifting definitions of the human condition). All of these regularly re-imagined elements form a unique inter-textual background that lies behind so many SF narratives, purchasing the reader with confidential expectations about the plot accompanied by a rather jargonized language: "The more familiar readers are with the SF Megatext, the more readily they will find their way into and through new stories," explain the curators.
No anthology can incorporate the richness of a genre; nevertheless the stories of the Wesleyan anthology offer a comprehensive outlook on SF, ranging from its roots in the 19th century ("Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1844, p. 1) to the more recently published novels (Exhalation by Ted Chang, 2008, p. 742) that demonstrate the form's continuing vitality. Two approaches, historical and thematic, are offered, thus a chronological perspective illustrates SF's evolution along with intersection with its most frequently recurring topics: "alien encounter, apocalypse, dystopia, gender and sexuality, time travel, and virtual reality" (p. xv). The collection includes classics by authors such as Julius Verne and Herbert G. Wells; early precursors such as Edward Morgan Forster and Edmond Hamilton; strengtheners of the genre such as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Sheckley and Robert A. Heinlein; visionaries and postmodernists such as Philip K. Dick and James G. Ballard; disenchanted writers such as Stanislaw Lem and Bruce Sterling. Twelve authors are women; among them, only Leslie F. Stone and Judith Merril are included in the works from before 1960.
Appreciable in this...