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Octavia Butler SF Lilith's Brood


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Octavia Butler, Lilith's Brood, and Theories of SF

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Octavia Butler SF Lilith's Brood

  1. 1. Science Fiction and Lilith’s Brood Above: Octavia Butler with a book display Right: Cover of a new 2008 anthology of Science Fiction stories
  2. 2. Science Fiction: Suvin’s Way 2. Darko Suvin (1979): science fiction = estranged fiction, as opposed to realistic fiction • “literature of cognitive estrangement” • introduces “a strange newness, a novum” • sounds possible (whether it is or not) – rational and coherent, presented as if it were scientific • “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment.” (empirical = what can be observed in the real world. Here, Sci Fi must be outside the empirical world of the author.) Source: Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (Yale UP, 1979), 4, 7-8.
  3. 3. Science Fiction: Thought Experiment3. Gwyneth Jones (1999) Science fiction = a thought experiment • Raises a question: “what if___?” – Explores possibilities of that question in a scientific way like a laboratory experiment in controlled conditions • “‘Science’ in Science Fiction has always has a tacit meaning other than that commonly accepted. It has nothing in particular to say about the subject matter, which may be just about anything so long as the formal conventions of future dress are observed. It means only, finally, that whatever phenomenon or speculation is treated in the fiction, there is a claim that it is going to be studied to some extent scientifically—that is objectively, rigorously, in a controlled environment. The business of the writer is to set up the equipment in a laboratory of the mind such that the ‘what if’ in question is at once isolated and provided with the exact nutrients it needs.” Source: Gwyneth Jones, Deconstructing Starships: Science, Fiction and Reality (Liverpool UP, 1999) 4.
  4. 4. Science Fiction: Technology Focus 4. Damien Broderick (1995) • Considers why science fiction became popular in 19th - 20th - centuries: – Responds to massive changes: cultural, scientific, technological – Changing epistemologies: ways of testing the limits of knowledge • Proposes that science fiction departs from conventional literature in – Emphasis on materials and symbolic objects of culture – working with a stock set of symbols/images associated with popular sci fi (i. e. Martians, nuclear holocaust, space travel, etc) – Less attention to individual character development. More interested in objects than subjects Source: Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction (Palgrave, 2005) 2.
  5. 5. Science Fiction: Readers’ Expectations Samuel Delany • Acclaimed sci fi writer of the 1960s and 70s • Wrote Sci fi confronting gender and race issues: transgendered aliens • Octavia Butler’s writing professor • Perspective on Science Fiction as set of reading expectations: • We read a sentence differently if we think it’s in a science fiction text: Example: “Her world exploded.” • Science fiction offers a novum, as Suvin claims. That novum is symbolic, because it corresponds to our world in some way, even while taking us beyond it • Strange newness (novum) = strange materials that work as symbols, whose meaning is revealed in the coded world of the text Examples: hotel room at end of universe, electric sheep, tentacles/hair Source: Adam Roberts, Science Fiction (Routledge, 2000) 16.
  6. 6. Hybrid of Realistic and Fantastic? Science Fiction: • Fantastic/ Fantasy: in sense that it must present something new and strange (novum) • Realistic in the sense of presenting something possible according to a rational, scientific or pseudoscientific epistemology
  7. 7. Science Fiction and Epistemology Epistemology: study of the nature, sources, and limits of knowledge. Asks the question, “how do we know?” – A science fiction text can be epistemological, if it explores the limits of knowledge in its world. – Can satisfy our expectations (projecting scientific authority) – Or it can shock us into awareness of our uncertainty! (We DON’T really know what we think we know…)
  8. 8. Octavia Butler (1947-2006) Unusual approach to sci fi: – strong emphasis on personal, subjectivity, characterization – black women as lead characters – Characters of color—race as a factor in identity – changes fan base for sci fi! – Nova: what’s new and strange: • Aliens!!! • perspectives on gender • communities: who and what can be included
  9. 9. Biologial Concepts Relevant to Lilith’s Brood symbiosis: biological interaction between two parties in which at least one benefits – “I can’t live without you!” – LOTS OF POSSIBILITIES for the kinds of relationships that might develop • symbiotic interaction: any intimate relationship formed between two kinds of organisms (whether destructive to one party or beneficial to both…) – Cooperative idea--usually the rule rather than the exception in nature.
  10. 10. What KIND of Symbiosis…? • parasitism: biological interaction in which one party uses the other, and either destroys or weakens it – Examples: Brood parasite: one species lays eggs in nests of other species—diversion of host energies in raising offspring of another species – Insects laying eggs in bodies of other organisms… eggs hatch, larvae destroy host • commensalism: biological interaction in which one party benefits, and the other neither benefits nor loses – Example: epiphytes or “air plants”: organisms growing on tree bark. No problem for tree, good for smaller species, dependent on larger one for survival – Barnacles on backs of whales: tiny organisms get scraps of food / nutrients from gigantic organism – Example: animal species relying on coral reef for food/protection/survival… May or may not benefit reef… • mutualism: biological interaction that benefits both parties – Examples: insects and flowers: relying on each other for pollination and food… Barnacles on backs of whales… – Fungi growing on roots of plants—help plants absorb nutrients from soil, while fungus feeds on nutrients produced in plant root tissue – Bacteria in our intestines
  11. 11. The Oankali and Darko Suvin’s Nova – Sexes: male, female, and ooloi – Way of life • Living ship • Division of community: Dinso, Toaht, Akjai (35) • Biological memory (36) – Genetic trading (meaning of name Oankali) (41) – View of human beings • What we think of as flaws, problems (cancer) – Great potential… (p. 41) • What they think of as fatal flaw in humans – Mismatched pair of genetic characteristics (pp. 38-39) • What they’ll DO with humans???
  12. 12. “…we aren’t like mitochondria or helpful bacteria, and they know it.” (427) • Diagram of a eukaryote cell (with a nucleus and organelles) • Serial Endosymbiosis – Theory that over time, cell organelles established symbiotic relationships with host cells – Led to eukaryote cells – (like mitochondria or