My title is the front blurb from Terry Eagleton. It is indeed a wonderful and fascinating look into the linked forms of Utopias and S.F.. I might have thought I knew about the genres, yet the only Utopia I have read is Bacon's New Atlantis, and apart from some Clarke (who Jameson barely touches) little else in SF. Films, of course, yet not the Star's, Trek or Wars, and for me the first episode of An Unearthly Child (1963) is the only really interesting Doctor Who.
Not withstanding therefore my ignorance, the book is persistently fascinating, and deserves to be re-read preferrably along with the works discussed; yet at the end I felt little enthusiasm to do so. The one book I might read is Gibson's Pattern Recognition, the least S.F. of the books discussed, but perhaps because partially set in a place I know (Camden High Street) and perhaps closer to (the non S.F.)Pynchon.
So what of those other popular genres: the Noir, the Mystery, the Western; the Thriller and so on? Perhaps one day, Jameson can apply his powerful intellect to explaining their relevance. The last chapter is on the Mars Trilogy of Robinson beginning with Red Mars. I almost wrote Marx for Mars and Red Marx likewise, for the bearded German makes (far too) frequent appearances - truly some intellectual opiate.
There is little enough decent criticism of Science Fiction out there that, in principle, a collection of published essays and new material by a distinguished Marxist literary critic should be cause for celebration. Well, to some extent it is, but be warned about a couple of things. First, Jameson is writing about SF as a facet of utopia, and not only spends a great deal of time analyzing More's classic work, but also concentrates very heavily on authors (like Robinson) who have overtly worked in the utopian tradition. There are methodological problems with this approach anyway, but even when it succeeds it tends to exclude lots of interesting material, and to artificially constrain the debate. That said, the concentration on Philip K Dick in the essays section is welcome, given how little critical attention that great writer has received. Second, this is a Marxist work, less in the sense that it makes use of Marxist concepts (though it does to some extent) but much more in its employment of the peculiarly deadening style of Marxist cultural criticism, which often seems to have been machine translated from German ("world-historical" and so on) and is legally obliged to use the word "precisely" at least once a page. There are too many sentences along the lines of "As X might have said, rephrasing Y's comments on Z's unpublished notebooks", embedded in complete paragraphs which seem to serve no critical purpose at all. And finally, this is criticism as "reading", not interpretation. The critic is in charge, the author is merely the raw material. Pity, really. Jameson has the potential to write a really good book on SF; let's hope he does so one day.
It's not just a "new" book by Jameson; it also collects several essays which might be hard to retrieve, published as they were on different academic journals--some more than 30 years old. It's a sort of Jameson-on-SF omnibus, with his celebrated writings on Dick, plus other less famous but excellent essays on Heinlein and others. The first part is then much more than an introduction: it's Jameson general statement on science-fiction and utopia. Worth reading for all those who are scholarly interested in the genre.