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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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6. The Shift to Anticipation: Radical Rhapsody and Romantic Recoil


In futurityI prophetic see…


0.1. If SF is historically part of a submerged or plebeian “lower literature” expressing the yearnings of previously repressed or at any rate nonhegemonic social groups, it is understandable that its major breakthroughs to the cultural surface should come about in the periods of sudden social convulsion. Such was the age of the bourgeois-democratic and the industrial revolutions, incubating in western Europe from the time of More and Bacon, breaking out at the end of the eighteenth and in the nineteenth century. The high price of industrial revolution as a result of the repeated failures of the political ones caused in SF too a shift from the radical blueprints and rhapsodies of the revolutionary utopians in the epoch of the French Revolution to the Romantic internalization of suffering. The inflection is visible in Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley, while Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the US Romantics are already on the other side of this ideological shift. The irresistible march of palaeotechnic steam and iron machinery at the middle of the nineteenth century, along with the concomitant growth of the proletariat, prompted SF to examine more directly the machine’s potentialities for human good and evil. At last, at the Victorian peak of bourgeois exploitation of man and nature, SF turned, more or less sanguinely, toward the horizons of a new revolutionary dawn.

0.2. However, this age was not simply a major social convulsion comparable, say, to the...

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