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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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Circumstances and Stances: A Retrospect



This essay resulted from an invitation of the PMLA editors to discuss the “particular cultural and political circumstances in which I write” for their special issue no. 3 (2004) on SF, with a contribution of limited size. I therefore chose to contribute a personal retrospective of how those circumstances determined what I wrote. Its first part is devoted to epistemology or, more simply, knowledge (cognition, understanding) – a truly Williamsian “keyword” in all my endeavors, as it ought to be for all intellectuals: since we are either bearers of humanized knowledge or killing drones for capitalist warfare. The presuppositions of knowledge, that is, a formal detour through epistemology, seemed to me indispensable and imperative. A conclusion was that epistemology intertwines with politics (theory and practice) as a double helix. From this flowed, with much help from Brecht, Marx, and utopian/dystopian fiction (from London though Zamyatin to Le Guin, Dick, Mitchison, Piercy, and K.S. Robinson),1 my investigations into the role of us intellectuals of the Nineties and early Oughts referred to in this article. As one of the favorite poets of my student days, Jules Laforgue, presciently wrote in his “Complaint of the Wise Man from Paris”:

Mais comme Brénnus avec son épée, et d’avance,

Suis-je pas dans un des plateaux de la balance ?

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