- Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre by Darko Suvin, and: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Post-apocalypse: Classics—New Tendencies—Model Interpretations ed. by Eckart Voigts, Alessandra Boller
Bern: Ralahine Utopian Classics, Peter Lang AG, 2016. xlxi + 465 pp. Paper, £35.00, isbn 978-3-0343-1948-5.
Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2015. 430 pp. Paper, €37.50, isbn 978-3-86821-565-6.
Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, first published by Yale University Press in 1979, has been the single most influential work in the history of academic science-fiction studies. As Veronica Hollinger observed: “Metamorphoses is the significant forerunner of all the major examinations of the genre” (1999, 233). Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint make more or less the same point: “Disagreeing with him [Suvin] is a considerable part of SF scholarship—he . . . set . . . the terms by which SF has subsequently been studied” (2011, 17). Perhaps not quite so significant for utopian studies, Metamorphoses was nonetheless a crucially important text here too. For the fundamental novelty of its argument lies in the insistence on a very close connection between SF and utopia: “Utopia is not a genre,” Suvin argues, “but the sociopolitical subgenre of science fiction” (76). This view has subsequently been taken up by critics as diverse as Carl Freedman, Fredric Jameson, Tom Moylan, and Rafaella Baccolini. So it is indeed, as Gerry Canavan records, “shocking” and “shameful” that Metamorphoses has “been out of print for several decades” (xvi). Canavan, Suvin, the Ralahine editorial collective, and Peter Lang are all to be congratulated, then, on producing what is almost certainly the most important Ralahine volume to date. [End Page 421]
The volume contains an introduction by Canavan entitled “The Suvin Event” (xi–xxxvi), a preface by Suvin entitled “Contradiction and Resistance” (xxxvii–xlx), the full 1979 text unamended, and three subsequent supplementary essays: “Science Fiction, Metaphor, Parable and Chronotope (with the Bad Conscience of Reaganism)” (343–80), from Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction (1988); “Considering the Sense of ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Fantastic Fiction’: An Effusion” (381–443), first published in Extrapolation in 2000; and “Circumstances and Stances: A Retrospect” (445–52), written for PMLA in 2004 and published in Darko Suvin: A Life in Letters (2011). The decision not to amend the 1979 text was almost certainly wise, but Canavan and Suvin could surely have considered changing Suvin’s 1979 translation of Ernst Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung as The Hope Principle into The Principle of Hope, as in Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight’s 1986 authoritative translation. Suvin is literally correct, but Plaice, Plaice, and Knight reads much better, if only because, as a hybrid between aristocratic Norman French and peasant Anglo-Saxon, the English language normally dignifies titles, whether of books or of people, with Romance rather than Germanic genitives. It is a minor technical point, I know, but perhaps worth making.
Canavan’s introduction takes its title from Bould, writing in 2009, who refers to Suvin’s near-contemporaneous publication of the essay “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre,” in 1972, and co-foundation of the journal Science Fiction Studies, in 1973, as “the Suvin event,” marking the beginning of what we know as SF studies (2009, 18). Canavan reformulates this distinctly science-fictional coinage in Foucauldian terms as a “founder of discursivity,” which establishes the conditions of possibility for other texts (xi). I prefer Bould’s formulation, precisely because it is more science-fictional, but he and Canavan are nonetheless both right: Suvin did indeed define the field for the rest of us. Suvin’s key terms—“cognitive estrangement” (from Bertolt Brecht), “the novum” (from Bloch)—and his key arguments—the affinity between SF and utopia, the opposition between SF and fantasy, the long history reaching back to antiquity and traversing the entire Euro-Mediterranean region—all these have, as Canavan writes, “come to structure not only SF criticism but the criticism of...