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chapter two Fantasies of Appropriation Lost Races and Discovered Wealth The remarkable popularity of Jules Verne’s voyages extraordinaires in English translations from the late 1860s on is one of the publishing phenomena that began to rearrange the genre system of popular fiction so as eventually to create that niche within it that we now recognize as science fiction. Only recently has English language criticism begun to catch up with the French in seriously assessing Verne’s achievement, separating his English reception as a juvenile writer, often in highly unsatisfactory translations, from the scope and complexity of his entire project.1 Another such publishing phenomenon, one that has received far less critical attention than even Verne’s under-appreciated corpus, is the late-nineteenthcentury burgeoning of lost-race fiction. Everett Bleiler’s massive bibliography of science fiction up to 1930, Science-Fiction: The Early Years, includes more than three hundred examples of lost-race fiction in its three thousand entries, and the number rises to about three hundred fifty if one counts entries from the overlapping years in Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years.2 The transient efflorescence of this largely neglected body of narratives constitutes an important moment in the emergence of science fiction. Bleiler comments in the preface to The Early Years that, in comparison to Verne and his imitators, the lost-race novel “is inherently a more romantic form, with reflections of deeper cultural currents and a closer figurative relation to the conflicts of the nineteenth century” (xx). Although the comparison to Verne does not stand up well in the light of recent scholarship, Bleiler’s comment about “romantic form” is quite suggestive. The form of romance that characterizes lost-race fiction is not the Romanticism of Friederich Schiller or William Wordsworth, but rather that of the neomedieval “romance revival” of the late nineteenth century. In this context, the ancient forms of quest romance and the marvelous journey inevitably referred to contemporary colonial and imperial situations. Lostrace fiction shares this romantic reference to colonialism with a larger and far better studied class of narratives, best referred to simply as tales of adventure , a genre that Martin Green, in Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire , calls the “energizing myth of English imperialism” (3). Although some historians of science fiction have been eager to emphasize the relation of science fiction to classic and Enlightenment-era imaginary voyages like those of Lucian and Swift, while downplaying or sometimes outright denying the affinity of science fiction to the work of H. Rider Haggard and his legion of imitators, the lingering presence of the conventions of colonialimperial adventure fiction has a lot to do with the “xenophobia and colonialism ” that Bleiler finds an overwhelming presence in pulp science fiction during the Gernsback era (Gernsback Years xv), elements of which certainly persist in late-twentieth-century mass-market products such as the Star Wars saga. But lost-race fiction is not merely a source of chauvinistic fantasy. The blending of the imaginary voyage and the imperial tale of adventure in such narratives also brings into view some of the central formal and aesthetic problems of science fiction. Lost-race fiction has much to tell us about how the intersection of imaginary voyages, tales of adventure, and colonial discourses affected the shape of emergent science fiction. Satire and Quest Romance in the Imaginary Voyage The imaginary voyage in the eighteenth century was primarily a vehicle for satire. The fantastic destination, whether located on an island, underground , or on the moon, was in eighteenth-century satire a tellingly distorted reflection of the readers’ culture and a platform for philosophical debate. The main function of the imaginary land’s marvelous features was to provide critical, subversive analogies with the norm, the plot’s point of departure in both a geographical and axiological sense; and the central effect of the voyager’s journey and return was the transformation of his values. The paradigmatic and most influential example is Lemuel Gulliver ’s estrangement from his fellow Englishmen upon his return home in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. But a rival pattern also was established in the early eighteenth century. When Paul Baines, in an essay on eighteenth-century fantastic voyages, comments on the experience of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that “the colonial voyage into alien culture actually serves to revalue one’s own. . . . The ordinary becomes Fantasies of Appropriation ❍ 35 strange and rare, the familiar weapon a devastating Promethean device” (8–9), he is talking about the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819573803
Related ISBN
9780819568731
MARC Record
OCLC
847008017
Pages
200
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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