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The New Critical Idiom : Science Fiction Hardcover – 18 May 2000

3.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (18 May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415192048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415192040
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.2 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,725,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product description


'This book, with its strong emphasis on contextuality and intertexuality, provides an excellent companion for the teacher.' - Jenny Stevens, The Use of English

About the Author

Adam Roberts is Lecturer in English at Royal Holloway, University of London. His sequence of SF novels is to be published by Orion.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I bought this book because I enjoyed the authors SF novels, and because I am interested in SF as a whole. I found it geared to students (I'm not a student), but nonetheless it has some very interesting readings of Science fiction from the earliest periods to the present day.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this short introduction to contemporary science-fiction because Roberts is both a respected academic and sf writer, the perfect person to provide some critical insights on the genre. The book is an introductory text presumably written for undergrads in the humanities and analyses the definitions and boundaries of sf, provides a brief history of the genre, and discusses some of the core concerns that science-fiction has engaged with. Roberts makes some good critical points that help make sense of what science fiction is and what it is capable of, arguing that it should be understood as a symbolist form of fiction structured around 'nova' (novel concepts, entities or technologies) embedded within the rationalistic language of modern science. The presence of these nova (space ships, artificial intelligence, telepathy) allows us to intellectually engage with complex real world questions, drawing our attention to the way in which our own world is structured. For Roberts, an essential element of this is the encounter with 'difference', and this is the part where the book started to grate. Alterity and alienness are certainly a big part of sf, as Roberts shows, but he really beats the reader over the head with the issue. This is aided with some pretty ropey postmodern theory and, in cringeworthy moments, references to Freud, whose theories I honestly thought had been cosigned to the intellectual scrapheap where they belong. Science fiction's attraction has long been its openness to ideas, Roberts seems to want narrow it down to a concern with identity politics. To take one example: a core concern of Iain M.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
The author has chosen a strange way to introduce a wonderful subject. I read with interest his various definitions of science fiction (admittedly as difficult a task as charting a path through fog and quicksands), which took 40 pp, and then was keen to read the chapter on history. However, coming to pages 66/7: "...British S-F experienced a burst of creativity at around the time of Wells, Bram Stoker, Olaf Stapleton and Rider Haggard, because this period saw the high summer of the British Imperial adventure.", I was astonished at such a sweeping generality. Since Rider Haggard published 'King Solomon's Mines' in 1885, H G Wells 'The Time Machine' in 1895, Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' in 1897, and Olaf Stepledon (with a 'd', not a 't') published 'Last and First Men' in 1930, that's a 45-year span. It takes in the Great War and the beginning of the Depression, which certainly cannot be included in a period of 'high summer'. Enjoyable as their works are, Rider Haggard and Stoker cannot be considered S-F writers; Wells of course was a great one, as was Stapledon, whose first novel covers 2 billion years and 18 different species of evolving humanity, and ought to have been specifically mentioned as a ground-breaking work. I felt it was all downhill after this, including the predictable re-hashing of the usual star-fare. There are many other better guides to S-f out there, not all written by a professor!
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Format: Paperback
Roberts attempts to define science-fiction through the dual mediums of film and book and the other chapters cover various critical areas of the genre, including representations of race, gender and technology as a metaphor. The second chapter is an attempt at providing a history of the genre - I say 'a' history because the subject is subject to contention even now amongst fans.
The Roberts touches on various authors, including Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Philip K. Dick, H G Wells, Brian Aldiss, Issac Asimov etc. plus many critics on the field. Some aspects of philosophy are also considered in relation to SF texts, both film and novels. All in all the book is what it sets out to do: provide a critical overview of the genre. The reason it has no fifth star is that occasionally I find the arguments presented a little too obvious - though I concede this to be necessary in an introductory overview.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre at best 8 Dec. 2004
By Benjamin Seldon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Many of the arguments upon which Adam Roberts bases his ideas are specious and undeveloped. More often than not, they are also tenuous, tedious and even ridiculous.

Even as he is conceited enough to describe other author's work as 'clumsy' or 'bathos', with an 'over written excess of bad impressionistic poetry', his own work fails to reach the same heights of which he is so readily critical. Many of his his references are to late 20th century film and novels from the 1990s -a period of science fiction which, although popular, is hardly formulative nor representative of the genre. His criticism is trite and silly. The film 'Lost in Space' he argues, has a hidden 'racial' agenda. The difference of the alien world presented in this film has been reduced to a racial stereotype where the black man represents evil and the 'Aryan family unit' is a force for good. It is quite tiresome. He has also unaware, it seems, that this film is garbage and no one really cares what it says about anything.

Science fiction is predicated on a longing for past, he declares. According to Roberts it is less about 'prediction' than it is 'nostalgia'. There is something to be said for this angle. Roberts, however, doesn't say it. He refers rather to re-runs of 'Star Trek', which by their obviously crude effects, and 'unmistakably quaint 60s fashion...constantly remind us that we are looking backwards, not forwards'. This puerile arguement doesn't even stop to consider than at its time of production it was way 'out there' in an imagined future.

The text is filled with equally uniformed and uninformative 'insights'. Roberts tries to define the genre early in this book. It is indicative of the problems to come later that he fails to manage even this.

Roberts is uniformly pretentious. One particularly revealing moment is when he pauses, using brackets, to deride the literary quality of Frank Herbert's 'Dune'. Referring to Herbert's word choice, '"Cavort" is an especially ugly touch', he snottily remarks. His cliched criticism is present here too. 'Dune', he contends, is notable for its racial, sexual and physical prejudice and its 'crude' and 'lumpish' battle bewteen good and evil. The sand-worms are 'phallic symbols' indicative of the novel's concern with 'power and the institutions of masculinity'. Blah, blah, blah...Post-Modern buzz words that stupid people use to sound intelligent. They struck me, too, as remarkably dated.

It is always interesting to look at the history of the genre. Roberts' chapter on this is no exception. Unfortunately its power is in its absurdity. According to Roberts, the roots of Science Fiction can be found in Milton's 'Paradise Lost'. Satan, he states, 'is the original bug-eyed monster'. This is really just silly. His comments on Well's 'War of the Worlds' are equally uninspired. His ideas reek of undergraduate misappropriation.

References to TV and film seem to dominate and one is left with the impression, ultimately, that Roberts' knowledge and experience with the genre is limited to his exposure to pulp and the television screen.

The Amazon editorial suggests it is a good work for undergrads. Perhaps so...it seems written by one. just be prepared to suspend belief, because the ideas here are often no less 'imaginative', albeit less inspired, than the genre of Sci-Fi itself.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Questionable in some areas 15 Feb. 2006
By Ronald T. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Science Fiction. The title says it all. The author, Adam Roberts has written a book which contains his interpretaton of one of the most popular genres in literature. This highly intellectual study covers a wide range of the science fiction experience, encompassing definition, gender and race issues in sci fi, as well as the author's arcane exploration of the relationship between metaphor and science fiction. Where Adams is strongest in his study is when he offers a definition of science fiction. The wording he uses is simple and direct. He provides examples that enable the reader unfamliar with the genre to comprehend how the dividing line of science demarcates science fiction from other fantastical literature or tales. As he explains when he compares Kafka's Metamorphosis to a sci fi story called The Jonah Kit. Both stories are about extraoridinary circumstances. In the former, a man transforms into a bug, the latter, human conciousness is infused into a whale. Kafka's piece provides no explanation of the man's transformation, managing in a masterful way to focus on the consequences of his change on those around him.

For the Jonah Kit, science is at the heart of the story. A scientific explanation for why a whale has a human consciousness is the essence that makes this story science fiction. As Roberts points out, science fiction presents stories where the fantastic is given a scientific basis, where that which is a scientific/technological concept today is extrapolated and fleshed out in the pages of fiction. The author explores the history of science fiction, where, instead of settling on one timeframe for the genre's origins, he offers three periods out of which sprouted science fiction's ongoing preoccupation with science based tales. He goes as far back as Johann Kepler, 1571-1630, an astronomer who wrote one sci fi book, which seems to have reflected the known science of the day. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is another work the author rightly recognizes. In the sci fi and gender chapter, Adams studies the role of women in science fiction as characters and authors. From being marginal players in both arenas, Adams presents a picture of women emerging at the forefront to add their own perspective to a mix where the main ingredient has been, and remains white and male.

The author's weakness, however, is more than apparent when he fashions his presumptions into facts. When he discusses science fiction and race, for instance, Adams is convinced that the aliens in the 'Alien' and 'Predator' movies are metaphors for blackness. He goes so far as to describe the malignant creature in the first 'Alien' movie as "an expression of white middle class fear at the potential for distrust of an alienated black urban underclass." As a black male, I can easily invert this metaphor, proclaming the alien to represent the scourge of racism and the black man's heroic struggle to stave of the worst of its effects. Roberts' take on the movie Predator stretches metaphor further into an area that is unconvincing. Granted, the alien in Predator, with its seeming dreadlocks appears to suggest blackness-an appearance which may very well have been coincidental. I found it odd that Roberts dismisses Danny Glover's casting in the second movie with the assertion that his character's struggle against an extraterrestrial nemesis reflected the realty of black-on-black violence. Again, a simple inversion could cast Danny Glover's character as symbolic of the black man's daily struggle against the specter of white supremacy as represented by the towering Predator. The previous examples prove that ideology and bias can often lead one to interpret whatever one wishes to interpret from a text, a movie or television. In Roberts' case, his interprepations are so embued with a tone of certitude that he does not even pause to consider a varying view. He is complimentary of the way Geordi Laforge, a black character, is portrayed in Star Trek: The Next Generation. And rightly so, the Laforge character is very smart and certainly occupies the central, not marginal role that the black female character, Uhura occupied in the original Star Trek. On the other hand, those of a far more critical bent could disparage the Laforge character as being an unthreatening, desexualized black male. That is not my view, but it would have been instructive if Roberts had offered a varying view on that character. His failure to comment on Deep Space Nine and its black commander/captain is inexcusable.

A strain of contradiction appears in the author's work when he jabs E.E. Doc Smith's Lensmen series for its lack of analysis, because the villians of this expansive tale desire power. Yet he heaps praise on Star Wars, whose villains are no less amitious in their drive to rule the galaxy. While Adams exibits iron-clad certainty that most if not all aliens are coded representations of black people, he is not so amitious when referring to the villianess Borg in Star Trek as coded representations of AIDs. He cites someone else as making that claim. overall, Adam Roberts' Science Fiction is an interesting read. Not so interestng, however, as to escape the flaws of questionable anaylsis, over-philosophising and a few glaring contradictions.
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