Authored by: Roger Luckhurst

The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction

Print publication date:  January  2009
Online publication date:  March  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415453783
eBook ISBN: 9780203871317
Adobe ISBN: 9781135228361


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One of the enduring ways of defining sf and legitimating its intellectual weight is to argue that it is part of the scientific enlightenment. Sf is a literature of modernity in that it deploys the scientific method. It is secular, rationalist, and skeptical; its futures are rigorously extrapolated from known empirical data; it wages war on superstition, magical thinking, and any argument made from tradition or unexamined authority. The ideologues of Scientific Naturalism, like Thomas Huxley and John Tyndall, secured this model for the new profession of “scientist” in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, advocates of the genre of sf tried to make similar claims. In early editions of Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback emphasized the functional role of “scientifiction” in furthering the scientific and technical education of America. John Campbell’s team of writers at Astounding Science Fiction (ASF) included Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, trained scientists who aggressively distanced sf from the literary world they considered decadent and immoral in its ignorance of science. Heinlein also used scientific rigor to begin to mark out territory within the genre. Science fiction was contaminated with fantasy the moment there was a “violation of scientific fact, such as spaceship stories which ignore ballistics”: “A man writing about rocket ships,” Heinlein insisted, “is morally obligated to be up on rocket engineering” (Heinlein 1959: 19, 35).

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