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Metamorphoses of Science Fiction

On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre


Darko Suvin

Edited by Gerry Canavan

Returning to print for the first time since the 1980s, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction is the origin point for decades of literary and theoretical criticism of science fiction and related genres. Darko Suvin’s paradigm-setting definition of SF as «the literature of cognitive estrangement» established a robust theory of the genre that continues to spark fierce debate, as well as inspiring myriad intellectual descendants and disciples. Suvin’s centuries-spanning history of the genre links SF to a long tradition of utopian and satirical literatures crying out for a better world than this one, showing how SF and the imagination of utopia are now forever intertwined. In addition to the 1979 text of the book, this edition contains three additional essays from Suvin that update, expand and reconsider the terms of his original intervention, as well as a new introduction and preface that situate the book in the context of the decades of SF studies that have followed in its wake.
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2. SF and the Genological Jungle


Thanks to the Greeks, we can distinguish tragedy from comedy in drama. […] When we come to deal with such forms as the masque, opera, movie, ballet, puppet-play, mystery-play, morality, corn-media dell’arte, and Zauberspiel, we find ourselves in the position of Renaissance doctors who refused to treat syphilis because Galen said nothing about it.


1. A View from the Mountain: Taxonomy and a System

1.0. As Northrop Frye has rightly remarked, “just as there is nothing which the philosopher cannot consider philosophically, and nothing which the historian cannot consider historically, so the critic should be able to construct and dwell in a conceptual universe of his own.”1 For the purposes of constructing the universe of this discussion, I take it (1) that no field of studies and rational inquiry can be investigated unless and until it is at least roughly delimited; (2) that there exist literary genres, as socioaesthetic and not metaphysical entities; (3) that these entities have an inner life and logic of their own, which do not exclude but on the contrary presuppose a dialectical permeability to themes, attitudes, and paradigms from other literary genres, science, philosophy, and everyday socioeconomic life; (4) that the genres pertinent to this discussion are naturalistic fiction, fantasy, myth, folk tale, pastoral, and science fiction. I am assuming that these four axioms will be justified by their cognitive yield, by the light that they might throw upon the field of inquiry. Should this...

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