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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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Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2017–present) – Women’s Dystopian Science Fiction (Raffaella Baccolini)


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Raffaella Baccolini

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2017–present)

Utopian and dystopian science fiction written by women constitutes ‘a continuous literary tradition in the West from the seventeenth century until the present day’ (Donawerth and Kolmerten 1994: 1). Yet, in spite of that, SF has long been conceived as territory of the male. For example, ‘between 1953 (the year of its inception) and 1967 there were no women winners of the Hugo award’ (Lefanu 1988: 7). The 1970s, however, marked the beginning of an extraordinary relationship between feminism and utopian and dystopian SF, one that continues today.1 And since 1968, there have been at least sixty winners in the four main categories of the Hugo (novel, novella, novelette, and short story). In fact, SF informed by feminist and radical politics has provided women writers with the ideal place to explore the construction of gender roles and subjectivities – a freedom that the constraints of realism do not always afford them. As Joanna Russ puts it, ‘What If literature [is] the perfect literary mode in which to explore (and explode) our assumptions about “innate” values and “natural” social arrangements, in short, our ideas about Human Nature, Which Never Changes’ (1972: 80). If the radical optimism of the 1960s and 1970s saw a flourishing of feminist SF utopias (cf. Moylan), the return to conservativism of the past thirty-some years has seen a plethora of dystopian and, most recently, post-apocalyptic fiction by women (cf. Baccolini and...

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