The sheer luminosity of metaphor

“After the flash and filigree of the sixties, the next decade can seem rather docile, even disappointing. It is widely regarded as an interval of integration and bruised armistice. David Hartwell, scholar and important sf editor (he bought both Herbert’s Dune and, fifteen years on, Gene Wolfe’s incomparable Book of the New Sun and its successors), declared: “There was much less that was new and colorful in science fiction in the 1970s and early 1980s, given the enormous amount published, than in any previous decade … a time of consolidation and wide public acceptance” (Hartwell, 1984, 182). At the end of the seventies, in the first edition of his magisterial Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Peter Nicholls ran the two preceding decades together, noting an on-going and complex generic cross-fertilization. “The apparently limitless diversity opening up is an excellent sign of a genre reaching such health and maturity that paradoxically it is ceasing to be one” (Nicholls, 1979, 287).

“This bursting open of a previously secluded or mockingly marginalized narrative form happened on the largest possible scale in 1977. Two prodigiously successful movies were released: Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, vigorous and even numinous [if equally set at child’s-eye level], unabashedly revived and exploited the sense of wonder known until then mostly to the few hundred thousand devotees of print sf – and the many who watched bad monster movies and clumsy early episodes of Star Trek, which premiered in 1966. In part this success was enabled by technical advances that finally came close to matching the immense spectacle of space travel, physical transformation, and sheer luminosity of metaphor that had always worked at a dreamlike level in classic sf. That impulse has not yet faltered, carrying sf/fantasy [of a rather reduced, simplified kind] to the point where it accounted for most of the highest-grossing films of the last two and a half decades.”

Damien Broderick, “Where We Came From: The Third Wave”, Unleashing the Strange: 21st Century Science Fiction Literature. Rockville MD: Wildside Press/Borgo Press/, 2009. pp 44-45.


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