Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction

BookHard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction

Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction

Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies, 53


February 23rd, 2016


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An Open Access edition of this book is available on the Liverpool University Press website and the OAPEN library.
The fifteen essays collected in Hard Reading argue, first, that science fiction has its own internal rhetoric, relying on devices such as neologism, dialogism, semantic shifts, the use of unreliable narrators. It is a “high-information” genre which does not follow the Flaubertian ideal of le mot juste, “the right word”, preferring le mot imprévisible, “the unpredictable word”. Both ideals shun the facilior lectio, the “easy reading”, but for different reasons and with different effects.
The essays argue further that science fiction derives much of its energy from engagement with vital intellectual issues in the “soft sciences”, especially history, anthropology, the study of different cultures, with a strong bearing on politics. Both the rhetoric and the issues deserve to be taken much more seriously than they have been in academia, and in the wider world. Each essay is further prefaced by an autobiographical introduction. These explain how the essays came to be written and in what ways they (often) proved controversial. They, and the autobiographical introduction to the whole book, create between them a memoir of what it was like to be a committed fan, from teenage years, and also an academic struggling to find a place, at a time when a declared interest in science fiction and fantasy was the kiss of death for a career in the humanities.

'Those unfamiliar with Shippey’s work in this area are in for a treat.'
Edward James, Foundation

'In Hard Reading, Shippey discusses a wide-ranging variety of authors whose work has a clearly unacknowledged Wellsian streak. As a collection of essays written over a period of the past fifty years or so, Shippey's book demonstrates an increasing density and intricacy of academic style and approaches practised in SF studies.'
Oksana Blashkiv, The Wellsian: The Journal of the H.G. Wells Society

'This is an engaging and thought-provoking (or debate-provoking) selection of work.'
Jack Fennell, Fantastika


Author Information

Tom Shippey is Professor Emeritus at Saint Louis University and has published widely, especially on J. R. R. Tolkien. He was special academic advisor to director Peter Jackson for the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Note on References10
A Personal Preface 11
What SF Is17
1 Introduction Coming Out of the Science Fiction Closet19
Learning to Read Science Fiction22
2 Introduction Rejecting Gesture Politics40
Literary Gatekeepers and the Fabril Tradition42
3 Introduction Getting Away from the Facilior Lectio63
Semiotic Ghosts and Ghostlinesses in the Work of Bruce Sterling66
SF and Change81
4 Introduction Getting Serious with the Fans83
Science Fiction and the Idea of History86
5 Introduction Getting to Grips with the Issue of Cultures101
Cultural Engineering: A Theme in Science Fiction105
6 Introduction And Not Fudging the Issue!119
“People are Plastic”: Jack Vance and the Dilemma of Cultural Relativism122
7 Introduction SF Authors Really Mean what they Say137
Alternate Historians: Newt, Kingers, Harry and Me140
8 Introduction A Revealing Failure by the Critics157
Kingsley Amis’s Science Fiction and the Problems of Genre160
9 Introduction A Glimpse of Structuralist Possibility176
The Golden Bough and the Incorporations of Magic in Science Fiction178
10 Introduction Serious Issues, Serious Traumas, Emotional Depth198
The Magic Art and the Evolution of Words: Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” Trilogy201
SF and Politics221
11 Introduction A First Encounter with Politics223
The Cold War in Science Fiction, 1940-1960225
12 Introduction Language Corruption, and Rocking the Boat245
Variations on Newspeak: The Open Question of Nineteen Eighty-Four249
13 Introduction Just Before the Disaster271
The Fall of America in Science Fiction274
14 Introduction Why Politicians, and Producers, Should Read Science Fiction290
The Critique of America in Contemporary Science Fiction293
15 Introduction Saying (When Necessary) the Lamentable Word309
Starship Troopers, Galactic Heroes, Mercenary Princes: The Military and its Discontents in Science312