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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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5. The Alternative Island


The really philosophical writers invent the true, by analogy….


1. The Sociopolitics of Happiness: More’s Utopia and its SF Context

1.1. In the first part of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) a long discussion of England’s social ills culminates in Hythloday’s famous passage on the destruction of the medieval peasantry:

“Your sheep,” I answered, “which are usually so tame and so cheaply fed, begin now, according to report, to be so greedy and wild that they devour human beings themselves and devastate and depopulate fields, houses, and towns. […] there are noblemen, gentlemen, and even some abbots, though otherwise holy men, who […] leave no ground to be tilled; they enclose every bit of land for pasture; they pull down houses and destroy towns, leaving only the church to pen the sheep in […] [trans. G.C. Richards, ed. Edward Surtz]

This description, embedded in so acute an analysis of what nascent capitalism means to the people that Marx quoted it in Capital, is a masterpiece of indignant humanist sarcasm. The noblemen who rage like earthquakes razing entire districts, the holy men who are brutally indifferent to their spiritual flock and leave churches standing only as profitable sheep-pens, the land which is no longer communal tilling ground for a stable yeomanry but a private enclosure for rich landlords who throw tenants out onto the roads to beg and rob, and finally the erstwhile meek sheep which have now turned into...

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