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Sci-Fi

A Companion

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Edited By Jack Fennell

What is Sci-Fi?

Science fiction is a non-realist genre that foregrounds a sense of material plausibility, insisting that despite seeming outlandish, it is consonant with history and the laws of nature. By turns subtle and bombastic, sci-fi revels in discovery and revelation, whether through human ingenuity or world-altering paradigm shifts. The same impulse informs both the idealism of Star Trek and the existential terror of Frankenstein.

Each chapter of this book examines a specific trope or theme through a different critical lens – including eco-criticism, feminism and historicism – while also providing a historical overview of the genre, from its disputed origins to the pulp era, the New Wave, and the exponential growth of Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurisms. Revered masters such as Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler and Iain M. Banks are considered alongside newer talents, including Rebecca Roanhorse and N. K. Jemisin. Other chapters provide overviews of different media, from television (Doctor Who, Westworld) to comics/manga (2000AD, Métal Hurlant), video games (Deus Ex: Human Revolution) and theatre (Alistair McDowall’s X).

Sci-Fi: A Companion not only provides an accessible introduction to sci-fi for general readers and researchers alike, but also illuminates new approaches to a familiar genre.

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Starships and Space Opera (1928–present) (Val Nolan)

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Val Nolan

Starships and Space Opera (1928–present)

A spacecraft capable of interstellar travel, the starship is a materialist iteration of the ‘fantastic voyage’ trope underpinning the stories of the Argonauts, Odysseus, Sinbad, St Brendan, and the frame narratives of their overtly political inheritors (think Thomas More’s Utopia, 1516, or Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, 1726). Overtaking the subsequent lunar capsules of Jules Verne, the starship as interstellar conveyance blasts forth from this backdrop with David Lindsay’s modernist journey to another star aboard a ‘torpedo of crystal’ in A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). Though Lindsay ‘conflates science with magic’ for a novel which ‘in its episodes is science fiction and in its overall structure metafictional fantasy’ (Rabkin 1977: 149), the former aspects build upon the scientific romances of Verne, H. G. Wells, and others to clear the air of medieval sky-ships and prepare for the launch of recognizable modern starships in the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s.

While the etymological credit for the terms ‘star-ship’ and ‘starship’ must go to a pair of nineteenth-century spiritualist texts (Oahspe: A New Bible by John Ballou Newbrough in 1882 and The Pageant of Life by George Barlow in 1888), the word’s first appearance in a science fictional context is usually dated to Raymond Quiex’s ‘The War in Space’ (Boy’s Magazine, October 1926) where a diabolical scientist ‘travelled, aboard his starship, to Ikon, where he obtained supreme power’. Standard enough fare for an...

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