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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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12. Karel Čapek, or the Aliens Amongst Us


1. There is both irony and poetic justice in the fact that Karel Čapek is today, at least outside the Slavic countries, remembered mainly as the creator of the word robot. A first irony is that this neologism – from the archaic Czech robota, meaning “drudgery” with strong feudal connotations of the serf’s compulsory work on the master’s property – was coined by Karel’s brother Josef, a prominent painter and writer with whom he collaborated on a number of early works, including the plays From the Life of the Insects and Adam the Creator, and who himself wrote a symbolistic SF play (Land of Many Names, 1923). A second irony is that Karel Čapek’s eight plays are, despite the world popularity of some among them (including Rossum’s Universal Robots, or R.U.R.), the weakest part of his opus, which comprises about fifty books of stories, essays, travelogues, novels, and articles. The poetic justice, however, stems from the fact that a quite central preoccupation of his was with the potentials and actualizations of inhumanity in twentieth-century people, and that this preoccupation was throughout his whole opus translated into the image of the Natural Man versus the Unnatural Pseudo-Man. This manlike, reasonable but unfeeling being is in Čapek’s work represented by a number of approximations, one of the first among which were the robots of R.U.R.

Josef Čapek’s happy coinage, with its blend of psychophysiological and political meanings, hits thus the bull’s-eye of what his brother was trying to get at....

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