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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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Alistair McDowall’s X (2016) – Science Fiction Theatre (Ian Farnell)


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Ian Farnell

Alistair McDowall’s X (2016)

The point of first contact between SF and the theatre is difficult to determine – an oft-cited example is Karel Čapek’s R. U. R. (1920), primarily remembered for introducing the word ‘robot’ to the world. However, the SF plays of the twentieth century have been considered unremarkable, even something of a failure,1 aside from a few notable exceptions, such as the opening of the Cottesloe (now Dorfman) stage in London’s National Theatre with an eight-hour, five-part production of Illuminatus! (1977) by Ken Campbell’s Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool (Coveney 2008). By contrast, the twenty-first century has already delivered several critically acclaimed plays which examine contemporary issues via the lens of SF. The inception of this new wave may be found in Caryl Churchill’s A Number (2002), which explored fatherhood and masculinity via futuristic human cloning, and demonstrated a technology-conscious reflexivity that saw it dubbed ‘the first true play of the 21st century’ (de Jongh 2002). Numerous others have since followed – from the post-apocalyptic world of Mr Burns (2012) where The Simpsons is reimagined as classical drama, to the post-pandemic re-imagining of Brontë’s Villette by Linda Marshall Griffiths (2016); from the West End run of Jennifer Haley’s virtual reality drama The Nether (2014) to London’s annual Vault Festival of new plays, which in 2017 found itself with enough material to curate a mini-programme of SF dramas (Wilson 2017). If, as Kim Stanley Robinson argues, SF has...

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