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Genre Expectation, Subversion and Anti-Consolation

Genre Expectation, Subversion and Anti-Consolation

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Published by Leigh Blackmore

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Published by: Leigh Blackmore on Nov 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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WRIT329: CONTEMPORARY THEORY AND THE PRACTISINGWRITERAssessment TaskNo 4: mini-thesisWordcount: 4000 wordsStudent Name: Leigh BlackmoreStudent Number (3061577)
“Undoing the mechanisms”:
Genre Expectation, Subversionand Anti-Consolation in the
Kefahuchi Tract 
Novels of M. John Harrison.
“The idea is not to get a cosy ride. Why would you wantthat?”
(M. John Harrison, “Disillusioned by the Actual, 5.)
Dr Joshua Lobb Page 1 of 34
“I was starting to explore how far you could push fictionalstructures, in particular those of fantasy, before they fell over andbecame something else. I was interested in undoing themechanisms by which popular fiction manages space and time”.– M. John Harrison (interview by Cheryl Morgan)
M. John Harrison’s
Kefahuchi Tract 
duology consists of 
(2002;co-winner 2002 James Tiptree Memorial Award for Best SF Novel)and
Nova Swing
(winner 2007 Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2008Philip K. Dick Award for Best SF Novel). In this mini-thesis I arguethat Harrison’s novel sequence formally subverts notions of thesf/fantasy and crime genres as “escapist”, in order to revitalisethem as valid literary forms. First I will briefly discuss somedefinitions of science fiction (hereinafter abbreviated as ‘sf’) andfantasy, and discuss the concepts of “consolatory fantasy” and“escapism”, and define the subgenre of “space opera.” I will thendiscuss the way Harrison views genre to delineate his subversiveapproach in
Nova Swing
, since I assert M. John Harrisonremakes/redefines genre sf as these texts constantly undercutgenre expectations. My argument will then focus on three principletechniques used by Harrison – his vigorous resistance of cliché; hisinsistence on a hyper-real style; and his literary use of uncertainty/quantum theory. I will use thematic and rhizomatic
Dr Joshua Lobb Page 2 of 34
methodologies to interrogate how these techniques play out in thenovels. I will also examine the notion of aporia and absence in bothnovels, and touch on their problematic treatment of women’s roles.(I feel it’s important to at least point to the need for a feministanalysis, although a thorough one requires a separate paper). I willdemonstrate that Harrison, more concerned with writing aboutpeople than hi-tech hardware, can both work within and redefine the‘constraints’ of genre sf.
Definition of sf/fantasy ;“Escapism” and “Consolatory fantasy”;Genre Expectation; “Space opera”.
Defining sf is no easy task – Wolfe (
Critical Terms,
provides four pages worth of definitions, and monographs havebeen written on the subject (see, e.g., Freedman). Edward Jameswrites: “sf constitutes a bundle whose contents are constantlychanging, from decade to decade, from critic to critic, and fromcountry to country.” (James, 1) and “sf is a label that can be appliedto everything from heavy philosophy to invading meatloaf.” (James,2).
Parrinder calls fantasy “ a branch of the historical romance inwhich nostalgia for a lost age of individualism is accentuated by theevocation of a quasi-feudal world of sorcerers and kings.” (Parrinder,xv). “Consolatory fantasy” is a term describing certain types of genre fiction (“commercial,” “generic” or “normative” fantasy/sf )
Dr Joshua Lobb Page 3 of 34

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