“The menace of the golem and the fascination with automata were fused in the prescient novel The Sandman  by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Reflecting a romantic rebellion against the tyranny of rationalism and intergrating science with the magic of alechemy, The Sandman imagines a sinister automaton – amazing in its simulation but diabolically animated. A mentally unstable young student named Nathaniel, whose father has been killed in an explosion while dabbling in alchemy, exclaims fearfully: “Something terrible has entered my life!” He refers to Olympia, the beautiful daughter of his teacher Professor Spallanzani. His fear has been aroused by her overly precise manner. “She walks with a curiously measured gait; every movement seems as if controlled by clockwork. Olympia plays the a piano and sings with the “unpleasent soulless regularity of a machine.” Eventually Nathaniel discovers, to his horror, that Olympia is a machine. Seductive and threatening, Olympia influenced a prefigured the aggressive female robots of the future, such as the witch robot Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the nuclear bomb-enhanced cyborg in Eve of Destruction  , or the nanotechnological TX fembot in Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines .
Technophobia!: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology, by Daniel Dinello. Published by University of Texas Press, 2005. P. 40.
Bjork, robots… the uncanny.
“Modern concepts of the uncanny can be traced back to two major essays: Wilhelm Jentsch’s, ‘On the Psychology of the Uncanny’ (1906), and Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ (1919). 1919 also saw the release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rutherford’s discovery of the proton, the first episode of the constantly re-animated ‘Itchy and Scratchy’(according to the internal history of ‘The Simpsons’) and the Theremin invented by its namesake, making it a good year all round. The ‘uncanny’ derives from the German unheimlich, loosely seen as meaning ‘un homely’. There are many readings and interpretations of the term, but many centre upon the concept of the animation of apparently inanimate objects, and can be applied to technologies including the animated image, the dislocated and disembodied voice when using a mobile phone, and the ‘uncanny valley’ of cybernetic automata.
“However, a base characteristic of the uncanny as argued by both Freud and Jentsch is that it occurs when animate and inanimate objects become confused, when objects behave in a way which imitate life, and thus blur the cultural, psychological and material boundaries between life and death, leading to what Jentsch called ‘Intellectual Uncertainty’- that things appear not to be what they are, and as such our reasoning may need re-structuring to make sense of the phenomenon.
“The simplest and most universal example of this is the reanimation of the dead; ghosts, zombies, poltergeist activity and communication from the ‘other side’ all form part of the psychology of the relationship that the living have towards the dead, and towards their own death. A corpse creates feelings of the uncanny as it is life-like (for it was once alive), and reminds the viewer of his or her own approaching death, the animate imagining the inanimate, and the possibility that the inanimate could be animated again.”
Technology and The Uncanny
The debate concerning the proper definition of SF is extensive. The 1979 edition of the The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction gave over twenty definitions. By 1993 editorial staff had whittled it down to eleven. The Science Fiction Reference Book quotes sixty-eight definitions. The majority of such definitions of SF are unsatisfactory, some are flippant and most miss something crucial…
The debate concerning the proper definition of SF is extensive. The 1979 edition of the The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction gave over twenty definitions. By 1993 editorial staff had whittled it down to eleven. The Science Fiction Reference Book quotes sixty-eight definitions. The majority of such definitions of SF are unsatisfactory, some are flippant and most miss something crucial. One cannot say that SF is realism because it is not limited to the methods of realistic description: for the same reason SF cannot be classed as naturalism. To define SF as “narratives of the future” is also mistaken. As Philip K.Dick writes, “it is not the job, really, of Science Fiction to predict. Science Fiction only seems to predict. It’s like the aliens on Star Trek, all of whom speak English. A literary convention is involved. Nothing more.”Dick gives another very simple reason why SF cannot be defined as fiction of the Future; namely there can be science fiction set in the present; the alternate world story or novel.
If SF can neither be defined as narratives of the future, nor as technological fiction and if it is not realism, naturalism or myth, then what exactly is it?
Hugo Gernsback’s definition “of a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision” identifies only SF’s “lower stages of development”, in the view of Darko Suvin, as does any definition which focuses on advanced technology, rather than on the “social arrangements these advances give rise to.” “Getting the technical details right” is not, according to Parrinder, the defining feature of SF. This is because SF writers deal with non-technologies namely social and institutional extrapolations: living arrangements, norms of sexual behaviour, religious cults, even future art forms and board games. Williams makes the same point when he states that SF, in addition to exploring new technologies, can explore a new set of laws, such as new abstract property relations what he terms “new social machinery.”
The Science of Fiction, New Humanist