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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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Introduction to Older SF History


Let’s be realistic – let’s demand the impossible.


The history of science fiction, as the genre is defined in the first part of this book, gives rise to a number of significant and fascinating problems, which can in the present state of our knowledge be rather identified than resolved. One problem is the appearance of what seem to be temporal groupings or clusters – periods with a noticeably higher frequency of SF texts, separated from each other by gaps with a statistically significant lower frequency of SF texts. I am, alas, incompetent to even enter into tribal and extra-European narrative traditions (such as the Chinese one) and their independent but rich histories.1 But the Euro-Mediterranean tradition alone, of which this second part wishes to give a partial and abbreviated overview, consists – so far as we can now tell – most probably of six clusters: the Hellenic one (from folk myths and legends reactualized in Aeschylus and Aristophanes to Plato, Theopompus, Euhemerus, Hecataeus, and Iambulus), the Hellenistic-cum-Roman one (from Virgil to Antonius Diogenes and Lucian), the Renaissance-Baroque or Columbus-to-Louis-XIV one (ca. 1500–1660), the cluster of the democratic revolution (mainly 1770–1820), the fin-de-siècle cluster (ca. 1870–1910), and the modern SF cluster in the last 50 years or so. In the meantime, in periods of absolutist practice and world view – be they Ptolemaic or Newtonian – the subversive tradition of SF was driven underground (for example, the oral literature, apocrypha, and heretical writings...

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