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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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Alternate Histories (Jack Fennell)

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Jack Fennell

Alternate Histories

An ‘alternate history’ is a story that takes place in a reality where history unfolded differently. Certain alternative time-streams immediately spring to mind. What would have happened if the Third Reich had won the Second World War? What would the world look like if the dinosaurs had not died out? What if John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated? What if a single one of the many mistaken missile alerts on either side of the Iron Curtain had caused the Cold War to escalate into a full-scale nuclear conflict?

This kind of speculation can be found in historiography, the life sciences, philosophy and political rhetoric; there are also a great many enthusiasts who carefully construct alternate worlds as a hobby, creating vast historical accounts based upon a sometimes-innocuous premise. Though all history is essentially narrative, thus making all these hypothetical timelines ‘fiction’ in a technical sense, SF’s emphasis on disruption and estrangement differentiates ‘alternate histories’ from the more sober-minded and notionally scientific ‘counterfactual histories’. In so doing, science fictional alternate histories are uniquely well-positioned to conduct philosophical inquiries that transcend the mundane ‘flow’ of time as we perceive it.

The Rules, and How to Break Them

The historian Richard J. Evans divides historical causality into Necessary causes and Sufficient causes (2000: 157). Necessary causes may be defined as ‘if A did not happen, B could not have happened’. Sufficient causes in turn...

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