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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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8. Anticipating the Sunburst: Dream, Vision – or Nightmare?


The great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than the furnace blast, is all in very deed for this, – that we manufacture there everything except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.


Is the Earth so?Let her change then.Let the Earth quicken.Search until you know.


Was it a vision, or a waking dream?Fled is that music: – do I wake or sleep?


1. The gloom and recantation of SF – including utopian or social-science-fiction – writers from Mary Shelley and Herman Melville to Jules Verne and Villiers de l’Isle Adam was part of the increasing closure of liberal bourgeois horizons. Yet at the same time the thirst for anticipations – fictional pictures of an excitingly different future – rose sharply (one assessment puts their frequency from 1871 to 1916 at 35 times the pre-1870 rate of publication).1 SF is as a genre potentially and even intrinsically oriented toward humanity’s furthest horizons, and therefore in quite aesthetic terms (that are, of course, inseparable from ethical and cognitive ones) not fully developed in the timeless, cyclical, or merely catastrophic realizations discussed in the last two chapters. Consequently, the radical alternative of a socialist dawn ← 193 | 194 →found an even more congenial soil and erupted...

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