This cluster takes as its theme the entwinement of modernisms and science fiction, alternative and counterstories, against a planetary backdrop. One is a mode of cultural production that in its early years frequently positioned itself as a consciously elitist pursuit, which only those with the most advanced knowledge and understanding would appreciate, and the other is modernism. Virginia Woolf's response to SF author Olaf Stapledon's book suggests that they share significant concerns and ideas.
In envisioning alternative futures—utopian, dystopian, cataclysmic—we historicize the present.
Lyotard’s question is mostly rhetorical and yet shines a light on an issue that haunts the fraught space between theory and fiction. The issue is particularly salient when it comes to science fiction, a genre that is characterized by figuration, fabulation, and the production of concepts. The copula “science fiction” itself is oxymoronic: if theory offers us cognitive tools to process philosophical conundrums about the state, personhood, etc., then surely the fictional, at best, plays a minimal role in this process, perhaps as a kind of space of simulation, narrativity, and poesis.
The ghost of philosophical nihilism lingered over the modernist landscape like a dank fog that refused to lift. Literary figures of the time observed this nihilistic atmosphere, with Elliot Paul declaring in his essay “The New Nihilism” (1927) that after the Great War, “old values had become meaningless” and in his introduction to “A War Diary” (1915–1918), Herbert Read recalling that “nihilism—nothingness, despair” was literary modernism’s “universal state of mind.”
In this article, I explore the intersection of science fiction and modernist anthropology in a period of crucial development for both fields—the 1920s through the 1940s—by examining the ways in which Ray Bradbury’s “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” a central chapter in The Martian Chronicles (1950), engages in debates over culture and form that circulated among modernist anthropologists, artists, and critics.
Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain’s short story Sultana’s Dream is a brief text, but its complexities and nuances make it a critical part of the utopian canon. The narrative follows the titular Sultana as she explores an advanced feminist society called Ladyland, with the ambiguous ending leaving questions to whether it was an alternate reality or a dream (as the title suggests). Both possibilities lead to the same hopeful call for active change in her own world.
Living and writing in Reaganite America, Kathy Acker’s fiction is a sustained interrogation of the feasibility of classical revolutions in neoliberal late capitalism.
In 2009, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson argued, drawing on the correspondence between Virginia Woolf and Olaf Stapledon, that Between the Acts (1941) “ends with Stapledonian imagery, describing our species steeped in the eons.
In January I was teaching speculative and science fiction from the modernist period to show my students how fascism emerges, and how to recognise the ways that literary strategies can instil alienation, fear of the Other, and anti-Semitism and racism. My students were German, and our seminars were held in the north-west German university town of Paderborn, a little east of the Ruhr, where a British Army base