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A Companion


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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Iain M. Banks’s Culture Series (1987–2012) – Aliens (Sara Martín)


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Sara Martín

Iain M. Banks’s Culture Series (1987–2012)

If science fiction portrays, above all, our anxieties about contacting the Other, then the sub-genre that best represents it is space opera. Hartwell and Cramer report that Wilson Tucker coined this label in 1941, by analogy with horse opera and soap opera, in reference ‘to all bad SF hackwork’ (Hartwell and Cramer 2006: 10). By the 1950s, space opera already connoted a ‘fondness for outworn, clunky, old-fashioned SF guilty pleasures’ (12). The 1970s, with a pioneering anthology by Brian Aldiss (1974’s Space Opera) and the rise of the Star Wars franchise, and the 1980s, with Lester del Rey’s work as publisher, consolidated as acceptable SF what space opera had been offering from the 1920s onwards: straightforward adventure. Since then, the sub-genre has continued to grow, though always beset by negative criticism prompted by its narrative excess. Many readers who reject SF actually abhor space opera’s juvenile fantasies about interstellar travel and weird alien creatures; not even all SF readers find enjoyment in it.

In the 1990s, space opera veered towards the post-modern, a trend led by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks. After the literary ambition shown by the 1960s New Wave, the impact of 1970s feminist SF, and the explosion of 1980s cyberpunk, space opera seemingly offered just naïve entertainment incapable of addressing any serious issue. George Lucas expanded the sub-genre beyond recognition into the realm of the big-budget...

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