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12 Reflections on Historical Models History, most of us agree, is that which has produced the present. Looking at the state of writing in English today, we can say that contemporary American and British science fiction is a different sociological entity from contemporary American and British “literature,” or mundane fiction. SF conventions, SF fanzines, and science fiction’s demotic acceptance are the signature of a reader-writer relationship very different from the reader-writer relationship of literature—with its academically sponsored readings, visiting lectureships, and study programs on the one hand and, on the other, the absolute distance imposed by talk shows and the media on the occasional best-selling author. The relationships between writer and editor, writer and publisher are also notably different for science fiction and literature. The success/income curves of writers in the two fields are markedly different. If one were to map out a significant galaxy of contemporary SF writers and a significant galaxy of literary writers by social, ethnic, and class origins, although there would be considerable overlap, the center of one galaxy would clearly be separate from the center of the other. I have previously written about the distinct readerly operations that urge us to read strings of words (such as her world exploded) one way when encountered in a mundane-fiction text (metaphorically) and another way when encountered in an SF text (literally), as well as the readerly operations that render strings of words (such as the door dilated) coherent reflections of alternative technologies when encountered in an SF text and as catachresis when encountered in a text of mundane fiction. These distinctions in reading protocols, in their complex summation, are to my mind the measure of the distance between science fiction and literature. In light of the sociological distinctions, however, the distinction in reading protocols does not seem such a lonely fact. Although I am certainly not so naïve as to suggest that the sociological differences in any way caused the differences in reading protocols (working back through 214 starboard wine some time machine, perhaps), I would suggest that the galaxy of distinctions , sociological and semantic, between science fiction and literature is the result of historical forces at work on an anterior situation. Indeed, I am not saying much more than the tautology I began with: that contemporary science fiction and contemporary literature exhibit such distinctions today is the prime evidence that their histories have been different. Such differences between science fiction and literature make me greatly doubt that occurrences in one field necessarily present an appropriate historical model for the other. True, the careful comparison and contrast of one historical situation with another often yields useful insights. But the appropriation of unquestioned laws suggested by comparatively foreign situations is the way history is mystified and ultimately lost. This can happen to both the informal (fanzine) and the formal (academic) critic of science fiction. Here, however, I want to concentrate mainly on the formal or academic approaches to science fiction, beginning with consideration of a model originally appropriated from another field entirely. The conceptual model in question, and in modern English-language science fiction it is perhaps the most blatant example of an inappropriate model, is the one that accompanies the term New Wave. To speak the term New Wave is immediately to call up the counterterm Old Wave, automatically seen to conflict with it. The pair of terms New Wave/Old Wave calls up a whole series of oppositions, such as Younger Generation/Older Generation, that continues in one direction at least as far as Good/Bad and in another at least as far as Style/Content. These hierarchical oppositions constitute the historical-cum-conceptual model that simply accompanied the term New Wave when Judith Merril appropriated it in 1966 from the discourse of contemporary film criticism. In the view of most readers, this conceptual model organizes the “history ” of the texts and textual production of science fiction from the early ’60s to well into the ’70s. This oppositional model explains, however, almost nothing of the SF textual production of the preceding two decades. The only way to correct our vision of this period and reach some significant understanding is to go back and see what exactly the term was actually applied to—and to pose an alternative model that better organizes the data. When Judith Merril first used the term New Wave in 1966, she used it not to designate the privileged side of an opposition but to...


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