From the earliest days of PROTO SCIENCE FICTION, satire was its prevailing mode, and this inheritance was evident even after sf proper began in the 19th century. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines satire as literary work "in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule". Proto sf is seldom interested in imagining the societies of other worlds or future times for their own sake; most proto sf of the 17th and 18th centuries (by, for example, CYRANO DE BERGERAC, Daniel DEFOE, Francis GODWIN, Eliza HAYWOOD, Robert PALTOCK, RESTIF DE LA BRETONNE andJonathan SWIFT) created imaginary settings, commonly on ISLANDS or on the MOON, as a kind of convenient blank slate upon which various societies satirizing the writer's own could be inscribed - commonly a travesty of some particular aspect of it (still a common strategy in sf by MAINSTREAM WRITERS and in GENRE SF as well). Therefore, by extension, satire isancestral to the DYSTOPIA, and even the UTOPIA often contains satirical elements. Many critics believe that Sir Thomas MORE intended the reader to take some aspects of Utopia (1516 in Latin; trans 1551) with a grain of salt. The satire may also take the form of debunking other kinds of literature, as in The True History (2nd century AD) by LUCIAN. The wonderful exaggerations of this story poke fun at travellers' tales generally, though its zestful telling suggests a certain sympathy with the inquisitive mind which dotes on such imaginings.It is almost impossible to write a work of fiction set in another world - be it some alien place or our own world in another time - which does not make some sort of statement about the writer's own real world. Thus most sf bears at least a family resemblance to satire. In his critical study New Maps of Hell (1960 US), Kingsley AMIS argued that dystopian satire rather than technologicalextrapolation is central to sf (perhaps because his own fiction is largely satirical). It is an easy argument to support, at least in terms of the number of texts that can be cited as evidence.Samuel BUTLER and Mark TWAIN were supreme among the prominent satirists of the 19th century who used sf imagery to make their points; even when we turn to the work of writers considered more central to the development of modern sf, such as Jules VERNE and H.G. WELLS, we find the satirical element prominent. Wells's THETIME MACHINE (1895), for example, focuses in large part on the relationship of the working classes and the leisured classes, and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898) can be read as an ironic tale in which the UK, thegreat, technologically advanced colonizing power of the day, is herself subjected to colonization by a technological superior. Satire need not be good-humoured (indeed, that brand of satire said to be descended from Juvenal (AD 60-c130) is commonly biting), and both these works by Wells are notably savage, especially THE WAR OF THE WORLDS in its portrait of a demoralized and cowardly population.Among the mainstream writers of this century who have written important sf satires are Anthony BURGESS, Karel CAPEK, Anatole FRANCE, Aldous HUXLEY, Andre MAUROIS, George ORWELL, GoreVIDAL and Evelyn WAUGH. It would be impossible to list the innumerable sf satires by less-known writers, but we can pick out Archibald MARSHALL's Upsidonia (1915), Owen M. JOHNSON's The Coming of the Amazons (1931),Frederick Philip GROVE's Consider her Ways (1947) and Stefan THEMERSON's Professor Minaa's Lecture (1953). The latter two contain many pungent comments on human society by insect intelligences, both being examples of one of the most popular satiric strategies in sf: the use of an alien perspective to allow us to see our own institutions in a fresh light. Indeed, there is a sense in which all satire depends upon just suchreversals of perspective, which sf is peculiarly well fitted to supply; satire forces us to look at familiar aspects of our lives with a fresh vision, so that all their absurdity or horror is, so to speak, framed, as in a picture. Jonathan SWIFT used intelligent horses in Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735), VOLTAIRE a visiting giant alien from Sirius inMicromegas (1750 Berlin; 1752 France), Grant ALLEN a man from the future in The British Barbarians (1895), Lester LURGAN a visiting Martian in A Message From Mars (1912) and Eden PHILLPOTTS a visiting alien lizard inSaurus (1938). (The same strategy is now common in sf tv comedy; e.g., MY FAVORITE MARTIAN (1963-6), MORK AND MINDY (1978-82) and ALF (1986-90) Aside from visiting aliens and future dystopias there are many other strategies for producing such shifts of perspective. One such is evident in The Stepford Wives (1972) by Ira LEVIN, filmed as The STEPFORD WIVES (1975): sexist masculine attitudes are satirized in a thriller centring onthe attractions of passive, substitute robot wives. Indeed, the satirical creation of imaginary societies in which the horrors of our own are writ large is especially common in feminist sf (FEMINISM), as in Margaret ATWOOD's THE HANDMAID'S TALE (1985). ROBOTS are often used in sf satirefor a different reason: for their innocence. Because robots are, in theory, not programmed with prejudices, and are given simple ethical systems, they may have a childlike purity that cuts through rationalizations and sophistications. In Philip K. DICK's Now Wait for Last Year (1966), for example, the hero's moral quandary is amusingly buttouchingly resolved by advice from a robot taxi-cab. CHILDREN IN SF are occasionally used in a similar manner. Both these are simply special cases of the "innocent-observer" strategy first popularized by Voltaire in Candide (1759), in which a naive man, with few expectations of life and alikable character, is consistently abused and exploited in his travels. Modern sf examples include THE SIRENS OF TITAN (1959) by Kurt VONNEGUT Jr,in which the hero is a millionaire brainwashed into innocence on Mars, and Robert SHECKLEY's Journey Beyond Tomorrow (1962; vt The Journey of Joenes1978 UK), where the traveller is a naive islander who has a terrible time in a future USA. Sheckley was for a time among the finest genre-sf satirists, and a great deal of his work depends on the introduction of a similar innocent viewpoint.Satire is not only a matter of imaginary societies and shifts in perspective; it has a great deal to do with narrative tone, which cannot generally afford to be too hectoring or sarcastic, or the reader simply feels bludgeoned. An air of mild surprise is often considered appropriate, though commonly the narrator's voice is ironic or sardonic, a good example of the latter being found in a collection which contains several satirical sf fables, Sardonic Tales (coll trans 1927), assembled from Contes Cruels (coll 1883) by VILLIERS DEL'ISLE ADAM, after whose collection this whole mode of writing is often known as "contes cruels" or "cruel tales". Further examples of this chilling subgenre can be found in the work of John COLLIER, Roald DAHL and sometimes Howard FAST. In genre sf it characterizes the excellent work of John T. SLADEK, who shifts skilfully between the mock-innocent and theironic in his stories, nearly all of which are satire.The standard of satire within genre sf was not very high before the 1950s, though numerous pulp writers from Stanton A. COBLENTZ to L. Sprague DE CAMP wrote occasionally in this vein. One of the earliest sf writers to excel here was, especially in his short stories, Henry KUTTNER (whose work, even when signed Kuttner, was often written collaboratively with C.L. MOORE). Short, satirical sf stories found a natural home in the early 1950s when the magazine GALAXY SCIENCE FICTION opened up a new market. The best of the Gal satirists were probably Damon KNIGHT, C.M. KORNBLUTH, Frederik POHL,Sheckley and William TENN. As satirical collaborators, Pohl and Kornbluth specialized in dystopian stories which extrapolated displeasing aspects of present-day life into the future: the world of advertising was pilloried in both THE SPACE MERCHANTS (1953) and Pohl's much later solo effort, The Merchants War (1984), and of organized sport in Gladiator-at-Law (1955).It was the turn of insurance companies in Preferred Risk (1955) by Pohl and Lester DEL REY writing together as Edson MCCANN. Another sharp anti-advertising book is The Big Ball of Wax (1954) by Shepherd MEAD; and much of the amusing but occasionally heavy-handed satire of Ron GOULART is directed against the ad-man's mentality, and the MEDIA LANDSCAPE generally.In the 1960s and 1970s the magazine NEW WORLDS published many writers whose satirical skills tended more towards a rather dry irony than to overt anger or even jovial sarcasm. Notable among these were Brian W. ALDISS, Thomas M. DISCH and the editor himself, Michael MOORCOCK, whosemost directly satirical sequence is Dancers at the End of Time, beginning with An Alien Heat (1972). US satire, too, became less broad than before. The amusing but obvious satire of Fritz LEIBER's The Silver Eggheads(1961) and A Specter is Haunting Texas (1969) gave ground to the work of writers like Barry N. MALZBERG and James TIPTREE Jr, who (in completely different ways) also preferred a lower-key irony (through which in both cases a ferocious bitterness is visible) and in whose works the satirical was only one of several elements. Pure satires were becoming comparatively rare in sf by the 1970s, although Peter DICKINSON's The Green Gene (1973) and Richard COWPER's Clone (1972) are examples; the latter is another story in the Candide pattern. Some important satirical work issued from the Communist bloc, notably that of Stanislaw LEM in, especially, Cyberiada (coll 1965; trans as The Cyberiad 1974 US) and "KongresFuturologiczny" (1971; trans as The Futurological Congress 1974 US), where the savagery of the wit is Swift-like.The sf CINEMA has flirted with satire quite often. The best-known examples are probably PLANET OF THE APES (1968), SLEEPER (1973) and DR STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I STOPPED WORRYINGAND LEARNED TO LOVE THE BOMB (1963); others are The PRESIDENT'S ANALYST (1967), WESTWORLD (1973), The STUFF (1985), TERRORVISION (1986), EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988) and MEET THE APPLEGATES (1990). DAWN OF THE DEAD (1977; vt Zombie) is unusual in marrying satire to HORROR, especially in its central image of zombies shambling around a shopping mall. STRANGE INVADERS (1983) manages to combine an exciting alien-invasion story withconsiderable satire on the USA of the 1950s (a cultural era into whose behaviour patterns the aliens have been frozen) and of the 1980s (when they attempt to act).Parody is a form of satire, and there has not been a great deal in sf. The best parodies of sf writers and their CLICHES are probably those by John Sladek in The Steam-Driven Boy (coll 1973); also fairly successful are those in David LANGFORD's The Dragonhiker's Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune's Edge: Odyssey Two (coll 1988). Langford'scowritten Earthdoom! (1987) parodies bestselling DISASTER novels. A parody with a more serious point is Norman SPINRAD's The Iron Dream (1972), which masquerades as a SWORD-AND-SORCERY novel written by Adolf Hitler. Harry HARRISON's Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965) and Star Smashers of the GalaxyRangers (1973) parody Robert A. HEINLEIN and E.E. "Doc" SMITH respectively. H.G. WELLS was a favourite subject for parodists from early on, as in The War of the Wenuses (1898) by E.V. LUCAS and C.L. Graves (1856-1944) and Max Beerbohm's "Perkins and Mankind" (1912). Mention myName in Atlantis (1972) by John JAKES is a parody of Robert E. HOWARD, not as sharp as Spinrad's, and its hero not as funny as Terry PRATCHETT's "Cohen the Barbarian", who pops up occasionally in the Discworld series.Bob SHAW's Who Goes There? (1977) parodies many themes of SPACE OPERA in general with considerable inventiveness, as does the most successful sf-parody film, DARK STAR (1974). Sf writers have produced a number of parodies of PSEUDO-SCIENCE (which see for listing). The best known sf parodist of the 1980s was Douglas ADAMS, with his Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. There is also, of course, much pastiche - Philip Jose FARMER has written a good deal - but pastiche and parody are not the samething, for the pastiche may be homage whereas parody normally implies deflation (although the two can co-exist, as in Dark Star).In general satire during the 1970s-80s was perhaps less visible in genre sf than in borderline-sf FABULATIONS (including some by John Calvin BATCHELOR, William BURROUGHS, Angela CARTER, Robert COOVER, Carol EMSHWILLER,Alasdair GRAY, Jerzy KOSINSKI, Thomas PYNCHON and Josephine SAXTON - the list could be considerably extended). While genre sf continues to take the form of pure satire comparatively rarely, satirical elements are common in seemingly nonsatirical genre novels, especially perhaps in the work of writers for whom irony is an important part of their vision, such as Iain BANKS, Terry BISSON, George Alec EFFINGER, M. John HARRISON, John KESSEL,James MORROW, Rudy RUCKER and Howard WALDROP. Not that irony and satire can be read as isomorphic: Gene WOLFE and John CROWLEY, for example, are ironists almost always, satirists almost never.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.


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