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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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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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