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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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4. SF and the Novum


0. It is often thought that the concept of a literary genre (here SF) can be found directly in the works investigated, that the scholar in such a genre has no need to turn to literary theory since he/she will find the concepts in the texts themselves. True, the concept of SF is in a way inherent in the literary objects – the scholar does not invent it out of whole cloth – but its specific nature and the limits of its use can be grasped only by employing theoretical methods. The concept of SF cannot be extracted intuitively or empirically from the work called thus. Positivistic critics often attempt to do so; unfortunately, the concept at which they arrive is then primitive, subjective, and unstable. In order to determine it more pertinently and delimit it more precisely, it is necessary to educe and formulate the differentia specifica of the SF narration. My axiomatic premise in this chapter is that SF is distinguished by the narrative dominance or hegemony of a fictional “novum” (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic.

1. The Novum and Cognition

1.1. What is the common denominator the presence of which is logically necessary and which has to be hegemonic in a narration in order that we may call it an SF narration? In other words, how can the proper domain of SF be determined, what is the theoretical axis of such a determining? The answering is clouded by the present wave of...

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