Science Fiction's Twentieth Century
Sf has had a privileged role in the twentieth century's culture of technocentrism, as the dominant metaliterary expression of technologically developed national cultures' progress into would-be hegemons. Sf should not be narrowly defined as the commercial genre of "sci-fi", but as a mode of perceiving and modeling the social world. That mode appears as a crystallized object in sf fiction and film, but it has pervaded all aspects of technoscientific culture. Four main conceptual tropes of sf characterize the transformation of modern consciousness into technocentric postmodernism: futurity (the use of a realistically conceived imaginary future as a way to model the present as a prehistory of what has yet to evolve), alterity (the use of imaginary "alternate histories" to model actual history), the primacy of modeled worlds (using models to transform contemporary empirical conditions into quasi-models), and a fundamental game-like relationship between fiction and science (the dialectical inter-transformation of design and knowledge). The actions and aspirations of imperialist societies in the late 19th and the 20th century were deeply science-fictional. They invested their political power in great projects to transform the world and human social behavior in line with ideas ostensibly drawn from or inspired by scientific ideas or technology. Through collective fantasies of technological transformation, imperialist ideology became inextricable from, and embedded in, instruments with undeniable material presence – until these instruments become the perceptual-data and the signs that circumscribe the possibilities of the imagination. These global concepts have all the characteristics of science fiction: neologistic energy; the privileged role of innovation; models of history hinging on progressive evolution; justification through myths of social and ethical progress through scientific understanding; the use of the sublime and the grotesque as the proper mode of presenting reality; and the use of narrative formulas expressing "technogonic" myths.
Keywords: Science Fiction, Technocentrism, Imperialism, Nationalism
Dr. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay
Professor, Dept. of English, DePauw University