- The British Science Fiction Boom: Tracking the Currents of the Future between Postimperialism, Postnationalism, and GlobalizationEditorial Introduction
This special issue on the British SF Boom is dedicated to Iain M. Banks, whose works have inspired all of us to dare to be utopian as well as critical in the examination of our futures, our pasts, and our presents. An author who stridently believed that “altruism is, arguably, our most noble belief, our most decent and human and humane drive, our best instinct, … one born out of strength, not weakness; out of confidence, not fear; out of security, not insecurity,” even if that core of humanity was to be most readily found in his spectacular machines. [End Page 1]
It has now been a decade since the British Science Fiction (SF) Boom was first formally hailed in the special issue of Science Fiction Studies (SFS) 30.2. Given the critical urge to reexamine our founding narratives, which drives so much of the academic enterprise, one can almost hear the inevitable conference calls: Whence the Boom? Wither the Boom?1 But beyond the mere postmodern marketplace, amnesiatic nostalgia of so many cultural retrospectives, this compulsive urge to reevaluate, to determine the whence and the wither, stems from the idea, one almost universally accepted by all who concern themselves with the Boom, that the ascent of British SF was contingent upon a certain realigning of the stars of the SF constellation. That is, the Boom is predicated on the conjunction of a particular set of political and cultural forces that created both a cultural-economic void and a cultural product to fill it, rather than a purposefully aligned and properly manifestoed movement. In other words, the Boom arrived, it seems, almost accidently, caught unawares by itself to, on one hand, fill a hole in the SF marketplace occasioned by the creative slump in the previously dominant American tradition, while on the other, to challenge the staid literary and political culture of Britain in the 1990s, which entailed countering many of the hegemonic aspects of U.S. SF along the way.2 As Istvan Csicsery-Ronay wrote back in 2003, “Boom is not a writer’s or critic’s term. It is a metaphor from the capitalist market cycle, evoking the culture-vulture bourse of intellectual capital. [ … However, a] literary boom is an explosion of creativity, not profits” (353). Csicsery-Ronay goes on to affirm that the British Boom is an unintentional moment, and, drawing a line between the works of Mark Bould, Andrew Butler, and Roger Luckhurst, all of which appeared in that same important inaugural issue, he distills the borders of that particular conjunctural formation, positing “Thatcherism and anti-establishment resistance, the American umbrella and the EU, the conservativism of literary culture and the rich mix of immigrant cultures, technoscientific imperialism and counter-hegemonism, late-coming and closeness to the cutting edge, and between what Butler calls the ‘can’t so’ spirit and the ‘just do it’ of remix culture” as the constitutive circumstances necessary for the Boom’s appearance (Csicsery-Ronay 2003, 354).
Thus are the conditions of the Boom’s emergence, but what of its postadolescence? [End Page 2] Can it remain an unspecified, accidental convergence? What happens when the stars of the constellation realign, when events shift, and the same center no longer holds? Anticipating such eventual shifts in the historical conjuncture, Csicsery-Ronay notes that the Boom’s existence is precarious, threatened by American militancy, with Britain drawn “into an unpopular war and uncertain geopolitical confusion” (Csicsery-Ronay 2003, 354). The result of this renewed, so-called “special relationship” between America and Britain, predicated on a renewal of putative neoimperial global dominance, threatens to “unravel the context that has allowed recent British SF to flourish.” But even here, Csicsery-Ronay cautiously acknowledges the potential resilience of the Boom: “Then again, they may strengthen it, extending the Boom into an Age” (Csicsery-Ronay 2003, 354). For good or for ill, the essays collected herein affirm, or at least tacitly assume, the existence and, in some cases, the persistence of the Boom, but it is often this latter set of issues, read in conjunction...