On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre
Edited by Gerry Canavan
10. The Time Machine versus Utopia as Structural Models for SF
In this chapter I shall try to show that Wells’s The Time Machine is (to put it prudently in the absence of further evidence) at least one, and that More’s Utopia was another, among the basic historical models for the structuring of subsequent SF. One does not need to be a structuralist in the sectarian sense of opposing synchronic analysis to cultural genetics or taking myth as synonymous with literature to use some of the methods which structuralism shares with a whole exegetic tradition extending from, say, medieval discussions to some of Lukács’s analyses or Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A student of Wells is emboldened in such an approach by the fact that comparative morphology was in Wells’s student days one of the first great modern breakthroughs of the structural method. As he himself noted, biology was in T. H. Huxley’s days establishing the phylogenetic tree, or “family tree of life”: “Our chief discipline was a rigorous analysis of vertebrate structure, vertebrate embryology, and the succession of vertebrate forms in time. We felt our particular task was the determination of the relationships of groups by the acutest possible criticism of structure.”1 Wells left no doubt of the indelible vistas the “sweepingly magnificent series” of zoological exercises imprinted on his eager imagination, leaving him with an urgency for “coherence and consistency”: “It was a grammar of form and a criticism of fact. That year I spent in Huxley’s class was, beyond all question, the most educational...
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