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|Title:||‘Extravagant fiction today, cold fact tomorrow’ : the theme of infertility in science fiction|
|Other Titles:||Discourses and narrations in the biosciences|
Grech, Victor E.
|Keywords:||Science fiction -- History and criticism|
|Citation:||Thake Vassallo, C., & Grech, V. E. (2011). ‘Extravagant fiction today, cold fact tomorrow’ : the theme of infertility in science fiction. In B. Hurwitz & P. Spinozzi (Eds.), Discourses and narrations in the biosciences (pp. 159-181). Göttingen: V&R Unipress.|
|Abstract:||In 1851 William Wilson defined ‘Science-Fiction’ as a new kind of literature which could interweave the truths of science with those of fiction. Today the deliberate intermingling of the scientific and the literary remains a characteristic feature of the genre. The novel which best defines the advent of modern science fiction is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818), which pre-dates by some three decades the coinage of science fiction. What differentiates early and contemporary sci-fi is the treatment of themes. In attracting not only readers of realistic fiction and science, but also of pulp magazines, sci-fi created its own readership which came to the genre with a blend of scientific as well as literary encyclopaedic competence. Though ignored and derided for much of the twentieth century, sci-fi made a come-back with the advent of mass produced magazines and cheap, accessible paperbacks. It became a thriving genre which continues to attract an ever-increasing share of mainstream and cult attention. In exploring ‘all that we know about the universe, and what we imagine we might eventually know’, sci-fi attracts a readership with interests that go beyond the traditional domains of literature. Infertility is not a particularly popular sci-fi theme, whereas the opposite eschatological scenario, the Malthusian dystopia engendered by super human fecundity, is portrayed far more frequently. The overpopulation dystopia was memorably developed in Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel (1954), J. G. Ballard’s ‘Billenium’ (1961), John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), and Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside (1971). Population dynamics became a popular theme in sci-fi around the middle of the twentieth century, while in the last decade the emphasis is laid upon environmental causes, as in David Brin’s Earth (1990) and Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch (1996). The theme of infertility is extensively explored in Brian Aldiss’s Greybeard (1964), Richard Cowper’s The Twilight of Briareus (1974), and P. D. James’s The Children of Men (1992). Greybeard was one of the first novels to envisage the possibility of mass human infertility. Aldiss, responding to the cold-war tensions of the time, included atomic bomb testing amongst its major causes. Cowper’s Twilight of Briareus similarly took account of contemporary research which implied the possibility of global infertility through the radiation effects of a nearby supernova explosion. The novel was influenced by the drug culture of the time and the experience of LSD ‘trips’ was used as a fictional means through which aliens could ‘piggy-back’ additional effects of the nova’s radiation upon humans. The third novel, P. D. James’s Children of Men, is a deviation from her usual mystery genre; James refuses to define this futuristic novel as science fiction for fear it might be identified with a genre still regarded by some as shallow and puerile. She extrapolates current trends in declining fertility, but offers no explanation as to why this trend should increase to an absolute degree in the future. Aldiss and Cowper, both regular sci-fi authors, were clearly influenced by John W. Campbell, who insisted on plots with scientific credibility. These two novels attempt to offer plausible causes of mankind’s infertility. Conversely, James did not trammel herself with sci-fi rules and did not put forward any detailed explanation. Her attitude typifies the mainstream authors’ disregard for the conventions of the genre. Such approaches are rare and can be found in very few sci-fi novels dealing with infertility, such as Wright F. Moxley’s Red Snow (1930) wherein a red, snow-like precipitation sterilises all women with no clear reason offered that accounts for its source.|
|Appears in Collections:||Scholarly Works - FacM&SPae|
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