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Science fiction has become part of the imaginative landscape of the twentieth century. At its finest it offers a poetics of cosmic vertigo, a vision of ourselves on a small planet immersed in a vastness of space and time, alienated from nature and from ourselves.
Mark Rose’s beautifully lucid study is a distilled assessment of science fiction as a genre. The focus and compactness of the five chapters are reflected in their titles: “Genre”; “Paradigm”; “Space”; “Time”; “Machine”; “Monster.” The characteristic preoccupation of the genre, Rose suggests, is the human in relation to the nonhuman. The nonhuman may be projected into space, as an alien being or a form of inanimate nature, or into some future or alternate time; it may be a literal or metaphorical machine; or it may be found within the human.
Rose’s readings of individual works range from Verne and Wells to Lem’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001. He moves with ease from highbrow to popular literature and from literary to theoretical concerns, providing perspective through references to works of other genres and periods. His continuing themes include the consideration of science fiction as a form of romance, as a mediator between the conviction of free will and the conviction of determinism, as a displacement of essentially religious concerns, and as a mirror of various aspects of the alienated sensibility of the modern era.