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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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Introduction: The Fetish of Origin (Jack Fennell)


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Jack Fennell

Introduction The Fetish of Origin

To the newcomer, science fiction (SF) and genre criticism can be confusing and even somewhat off-putting. The differences from mainstream fiction are numerous: the reader must figure out a narrative world that the characters take for granted; background detail sometimes seems more important than foreground action, and the language involved – often consisting of neologisms with no real-life referent – can seem like re-purposed verbiage at best, or meaningless gibberish at worst. One recurring criticism I hear from non-fan students when I teach SF is that the texts seem to demand that the reader do two different things at the same time: follow a narrative, and solve an interconnected series of logic problems. This is not to be misunderstood as a complaint about the workload, for it is rather a response to what they see as a category violation – to them, SF seems like a mish-mash of contradictory things that they could not respond to as ‘literature’. With this in mind, my intention is for this companion to serve as a ‘way in’ for interested non-initiates, as well as more experienced SF scholars; the aim is to combine informative writing with a somewhat informal tone, the better to provide a warm welcome. Some contributors have elected to give overviews of their topics, while others have focused their work through particular texts to give a ‘keyhole’ analysis.

Popular culture is becoming ever more science fictional. Beyond...

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