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Shockwaves of Possibility

Essays on Science Fiction, Globalization, and Utopia


Phillip E. Wegner

Shockwaves of Possibility explores the deep utopianism of one of the most significant modern cultural practices: science fiction. The author contends that utopianism is not simply a motif in SF, but rather is fundamental to its narrative dynamics. Drawing upon a rich array of theory and criticism in SF and utopian studies, the book opens with a global periodizing history that shows the inseparability of SF from developments in other cultural fields. It goes on to examine literature, film, television, comics, and animation in order to demonstrate SF’s unique effectiveness for grappling with the upheavals brought about by globalization. Shockwaves of Possibility proves SF’s vitality in the brave new world of the twenty-first century, as it illuminates the contours of the present and educates our desire for a radically other future.
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I was sorely tempted to begin this book with what has become one of the most over-used figures in contemporary literary and cultural studies scholarship, a figure drawn from the extraordinary opening of Marx and Engels’ 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party and in which interest was renewed after the publication of Jacques Derrida’s Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale (1993): A specter is haunting contemporary science fiction studies—the specter of Utopia. It will be a central contention of this book that Utopianism is not simply one among a range of possible themes or motifs in modern science fiction—as, say, technology, time travel, telepathy, teleportation, alien encounters, alternate histories, post-apocalypse, the far future, utopia, or dystopia, all of which Mark Rose in his anatomy assembles under the more abstract and inclusive categories of space, time, machine, and monster (Alien Encounters 32), and which Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. describes as various incarnations of the “seven beauties of science fiction” (fictive neology, fictive novums, future history, imaginary science, science fictional sublime, science-fictional grotesque, the technologiade) (Seven Beauties 5–7). Rather, Utopianism is fundamental to very narrative dynamic of this vital modern practice.

Such an assertion may strike some as behind the times, for there seems to be something decidedly old-fashioned about the question of science fiction’s Utopianism, redolent as it is of the unruly counter-cultural days of the field’s youth, and out-of-place in a maturing discipline, or...

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