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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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11. Russian SF and Its Utopian Tradition


1. The tradition of SF is a time-honored one in Russia. Its strength is based on blending the rationalist Western European strain of utopianism and satire with the native folk longings for abundance and justice. These were embodied, first, in the ubiquitous dream of a land of Cockayne-like abundance, often the goal of extraordinary voyages (in the case of landlocked Russia, overland ones) toward India, Persia, or China: Marco Polo’s Cathay was not more fabulous than the luxurious Kitezhgorod of folk imagination. Justice to man regardless of the traps and trappings of his social station is the central interest of a second large segment of oral and folk literature. Perhaps it might be enough to mention here only the strong theme of the humble person who is finally exalted. From the wishful and magical folktales about Ivanushka the Fool, the youngest or third son who is poorer and apparently more stupid than his brothers but ends up more successful than the norms of class society would allow for, through a fusion with plebeian (especially heretical and sectarian) Christianity, such a theme flowed into the mainstream of modern Russian literature. From Pushkin’s and Mussorgsky’s mad folk prophet in Boris Godunov, through the memorable humble arrogants in Dostoevsky (say, Prince Myshkin in The Idiot), all the way to many Tolstoian and Chekhovian characters, these figures bear utopian values into a world not yet ready for them.

In the middle of the nineteenth century this tradition fused with earlier...

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