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Frontiers: Science Fiction and the British Marketplace

March-Russell, Paul (2016) Frontiers: Science Fiction and the British Marketplace. In: Head, Dominic, ed. The Cambridge History of the English Short Story. Cambridge History . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 429-446. ISBN 978-1-107-16742-1. E-ISBN 978-1-316-71171-2. (doi:10.1017/9781316711712.026) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:71529)

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In his pioneering survey, New Maps of Hell (1960), Kingsley Amis observed that science fiction (sf) is preoccupied with ‘the idea as hero’ rather than subtle uses of language, narrative or characterization. Martin Scofield subsequently adapted Amis's definition of sf to his analysis of the American short story ‘in which the overall idea, rather than character, plot or “themes” in the usual sense, dominates the conception of the work and gives it its unity or deliberate disunity’. Unlike Amis, who tended to prefer his sf to be either escapist adventures or satirical exercises, Scofield's adaptation allows him to define the short story in self-reflexive terms: ‘a work that is dominated by a single guiding idea or mood and achieves a perceptible overall artistic coherence’ (p. 5). Symptomatic of the taxonomic problems that underwrite both sf- and short story criticism, ‘the idea as hero’ can paradoxically refer to a story that is thematic and plot-driven, atmospheric and impressionistic. Not only does the short story lie at the intersection between high and low culture, between the little magazine and the mass-market periodical, as Tim Armstrong has observed, but so too does science fiction. As Farah Mendlesohn has argued, ‘whatever else it is, sf literature is not popular’; it exists ‘at variance from the standards and demands of both the literary establishment and the mass market’. Sf and the short story complement each other not only formally but also culturally: their liminal position questions the assumptions by which critics have often discriminated between what is or is not literary. Yet, as Nicola Humble has noted, ‘there is something wrong with the way in which we have mapped the literary field of the first half of the twentieth century’. This ‘something wrong’ is accentuated when we attempt to re-map not only the short story but also sf as part of literary production since the 1890s.

Item Type: Book section
DOI/Identification number: 10.1017/9781316711712.026
Subjects: P Language and Literature
P Language and Literature > PE English philology and language
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN441 Literary History
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Paul March-Russell
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2019 23:47 UTC
Last Modified: 17 Aug 2022 12:22 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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March-Russell, Paul.

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