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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 Newer SF History


I was thinking this globe enough till there sprang out so noiseless around me myriads of other globes.


This survey stops at the threshold of contemporary SF, which can be said to arise between the World Wars, after the October Revolution and before the atomic bomb, with the modern “mass culture” of movies, radio, and specialized magazines and paperback book-lines for commercial literary “genres” – one of the most prominent of which SF has become. The period marked by E.R. Burroughs and Hugo Gernsback in the United States (and some parallel developments in Germany, cut short by Nazism) and by the influence this country has exerted, beginning in the 1930s, on the rest of the world, was to be one not only of a huge quantitative explosion of SF publication, distribution, and popularity – which alone would be sufficient reason for a separate book to describe it – but also, even more significantly, of qualitative complications in the status of “paraliterature” which have so far not been adequately dealt with in literary history and theory. What makes contemporary paraliterature, and especially SF, so complicated is the sea-change it suffered in the last couple of generations. In almost all the earlier epochs, as I have tried to point out in my introduction to the first part of this historical overview, there was a profound difference between the unofficial, popular or plebeian (largely oral), culture and the official, dominant or upper-class (usually written), culture. The cultures of...

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