Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction

Tom Shippey

£80.00
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ISBN: 9781781382615

Publication: February 23, 2016

Series: Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies 53

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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.

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.

List of Figures
Note on References
A Personal Preface

What SF Is
1 Coming Out of the Science Fiction Closet
‘Learning to Read Science Fiction’
2 Rejecting Gesture Politics
‘Literary Gatekeepers and the Fabril Tradition’
3 Getting Away from the Facilior Lectio
‘Semiotic Ghosts and Ghostlinesses in the Work of Bruce Sterling’

SF and Change
4 Getting Serious with the Fans
‘Science Fiction and the Idea of History’
5 Getting to Grips with the Issue of Cultures
‘Cultural Engineering: A Theme in Science Fiction’
6 … And Not Fudging the Issue!
‘“People are Plastic”: Jack Vance and the Dilemma of Cultural Relativism’
7 SF Authors Really Mean what they Say
‘Alternate Historians: Newt, Kingers, Harry and Me’
8 A Revealing Failure by the Critics
‘Kingsley Amis’s Science Fiction and the Problems of Genre’
9 A Glimpse of Structuralist Possibility
‘The Golden Bough and the Incorporations of Magic in Science Fiction’
10 Serious Issues, Serious Traumas, Emotional Depth
‘The Magic Art and the Evolution of Words: Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” Trilogy’

SF and Politics
11 A First Encounter with Politics
‘The Cold War in Science Fiction, 1940–1960’
12 Language Corruption, and Rocking the Boat
‘Variations on Newspeak: The Open Question of Nineteen Eighty-Four’
13 Just Before the Disaster
‘The Fall of America in Science Fiction’
14 Why Politicians, and Producers, Should Read Science Fiction
‘The Critique of America in Contemporary Science Fiction’
15 Saying (When Necessary) the Lamentable Word
‘Starship Troopers, Galactic Heroes, Mercenary Princes: The Military and its Discontents in Science Fiction’

References
Index

Format: Hardback

Size: 239 x 163 mm

256 Pages

ISBN: 9781781382615

Publication: February 23, 2016

Series: Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies 53

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