Good Science Fiction As A The Fiction Of ‘estrangement’ Critical Thinking Example
Darko Suvin sees science fiction as the fiction of estrangement in the sense that it alienates itself from the natural world and empirical experience, but at the same time does not fit perfectly within the tag of ‘fantasy’. Essentially, as Suvin uses it in his essay, Estrangement and Cognition,, the term ‘estrangement’ implies an intentional effort to be different- not necessarily a conscious effort to rebel, but to explore something new and by it- perhaps naturally- end up standing apart from others. One could say that this is nothing new. Besides, myths, fairytales and fantasy have done the same thing. Still, Suvin (1) argues, the science fiction adopts a new approach and aims for a newer social function, introducing newer values to the society. This double standard-ness of science fiction has to do with the fact that it is attached to both the real world and the world beyond.
I agree. Science fiction digs its roots deep into the concrete earth that is the world around us. In this regard, it is inspired by the here and now. However, like a tree, it also reaches its branches into the sky, the clouds, a place unknown to us yet. I believe that this is what distinguishes it from the other forms of fiction; ‘non-science fiction’ stories are also imaginary, but still ordinary; fantasy is just purely imaginary.
Octavia Butler’s science fiction novel, Kindred, displays this interplay between the real world and the fantastic; the keeping up with conventions, but also a test of new waters and finally breakthrough into a new world. In this story, there is both the aspect of the empirical, but also the fantastic. The lead character is a real person in flesh and bone and blood. The other characters, the white slave owner and the black freewoman also look real. They have eyes and noses, they can feel and smell, they do not have some horns as a result of some strange event in the environment. However, they are ghosts. They are not from the ‘now’, but from some past time, which is also, ironically, everyone’s future. In this regard, the book crosses the boundary between worlds, coming from this world that we can interact with physically into another realm, a world of the dead coming back to life and impacting the lives of the living just the same. Further, the book explores the questions of slavery and racism, which are abstract but also as concrete phenomena in America as anything could be. In the end, it has become hard to categorize the book. For some, the book displays elements of both slave narrative and science fiction. Others have argued that the book is a blend of many genres, including grim fantasy, initiation, neo-slave narrative and science fiction. This difficulty in classification makes the book a good example of how science fiction can be in both the empirical, but also in the fantastic.
Again, in Kindred, Butler plays right into this theory. The key theme in this book is that of slavery. The book, many agree, examines the dynamics and dilemmas that accompany antebellum slavery. Through the interracial couples, Butler builds an emotional core, which became a lens through which to consider the possibility of a purely egalitarian society in the future. A black woman herself, Butler’s possible dream for a perfect future cannot be ignored. That hope is in itself fantastic.
In conclusion, Suvin takes a much deeper and extensive examination of the science fiction genre and forwards a number of theories of what constitute science fiction. Octavia Butler’s Kindred does meet the two criteria discussed here: science fiction as based on both the empirical and the fantastic; and science fiction as the search for hope.
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. Print.
Suvin, Darko. Estrangement and Cognition. Strange Horizons, Nov. 24,
2014. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2014/20141124/1suvin-a.shtml, 30 March 2015.
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