science fiction


science fiction
   In the early 1960s the science fiction market was dominated by America. British exponents of the genre were often first published by American companies and thus tended to reflect American preoccupations. There was a void to be filled; an opportunity existed to develop a new national style and to re-affirm traditional British science fiction themes. In 1964, Michael Moorcock became editor of the science fiction magazine New Worlds. Inspired by the existing works of J.G.Ballard, The Four Dimensional Nightmare (1963) and The Terminal Beach (1964), he began to promote the cause of a science fiction ‘avant-garde’. Moorcock’s own experimental works—the Jerry Cornelius series of novels among others—encouraged science fiction authors to experiment with style and method, notably Brian Aldiss, who produced Report on Probability (1968) and Barefoot in the Head (1969). Stories which originally appeared in New Worlds and its sister magazine Science Fantasy also contributed to several important science fiction collections, including J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and Keith Robert’s Pavane (1968). This emergent literature largely ignored American postwar science fiction concerns—typically the conquest of the galaxy and the discovery of strange alien cultures— concentrating instead upon essentially British themes: the catastrophic vision of a dim but not necessarily distant future, the condition or transcendence of the human spirit trapped in a technological wasteland. These are themes which might reasonably be traced back as far as the pages of Gulliver’s Travels.
   In the mid-1970s the recession hit the British science fiction market hard. New writers found it increasingly difficult to get published. Major success, it seemed, could only be guaranteed through established notoriety. Stanley Kubrick’s film of Arthur C.Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) assured the author a worldwide reputation still enjoyed to this day. Douglas Adams’s radio series A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy spawned a television serial and a succession of best-selling novels, their appeal being broadened by a strong comedic element. Similarly, market conditions encouraged the production of the novel series, with leading examples being Brian Aldiss’s Helliconia Trilogy (1982–5), and Ian Watson’s trilogy The Book of the River, The Book of the Star and The Book of Being (1983–5).
   By the late 1980s British science fiction was once again a relatively unhealthy genre, the popularity of heroic fantasy largely displacing its function. However, writers such as Terry Pratchett (Discworld, 1983 to the present), Robert Rankin (Armageddon Trilogy, 1990–2) and Iain M.Banks (The Player of Games, 1988; Use of Weapons, 1990) continue to flourish in the 1990s using proven formulas, comedy and or serialization.
   Further reading
    Greenland, C. (1983) The Entropy Exhibition, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
   MICK TURNER

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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