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Metamorphoses of Science Fiction

On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre

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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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3. Defining the Literary Genre of Utopia: Some Historical Semantics, Some Genology, a Proposal, and a Plea

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For if the matter be attentively considered, a sound argument may be drawn from Poesy, to show that there is agreeable to the spirit of man a more ample greatness, a more perfect order, and a more beautiful variety than it can anywhere (since the Fall) find in nature. […] it [Poesy] raises the mind and carries it aloft, accommodating the shows of things to be desires of the mind, not (like reason and history) buckling and bowing down the mind to the nature of things.

FRANCIS BACON

“Utopia,” the neologism of Thomas More’s, has had a singularly rich semantic career in our time. Having at its root the simultaneous indication of a space and a state (itself ambiguously hovering between, for example, French état and condition) that are nonexisting (ou) as well as good (eu), it has become a territory athwart the roads of all travelers pursuing the implications of the question formulated by Plato as “What is the best form of organization for a community and how can a person best arrange his life?”1 And have not the urgencies of the situation in which the human community finds itself made of us all such travelers? Utopia operates by example and demonstration, deictically. At the basis of all utopian debates, in its open or hidden dialogues, is a gesture of pointing, a wide-eyed glance from here to there, a “traveling shot” moving from the author’s everyday lookout to the wondrous panorama of a...

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