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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: April 2013

4 - Big Dumb Objects: Science Fiction as Self-Parody


At one point the characters in Michael Coney's Charisma (1975) compare their situation to earlier sf: ‘Straight out of H.G. Wells, eh? You ever read Wells, Alan?’ Alan has, and admits, ‘The man had quite an imagination, in his day. […] It was good stuff, once. Reads a bit slow, now’ (1975: 13). In this chapter, I will examine sf that engages with precursors to the Gernsback–Campbell continuum: Mary Shelley (Brian Aldiss and a number of films), H. G. Wells (Aldiss, again, film adaptations and sequels or rewritings by Manley Wade Wellman and Wade Wellman, George H. Smith, K. W. Jeter and Christopher Priest) and Jules Verne (Michael Moorcock). The nineteenth-century writers had been active during the period of European imperialism, with the scramble for Africa and an exploitation of South East Asia and Oceania. European privilege had assumed that the rest of the world offered them exploitable resources and the slave trade redistributed populations with implications to this day. European colonialism was in decline during the 1970s, while American neo-colonialism was in evidence. Some of these writers addressed the political assumptions of imperialism. One means of doing so was through the imagining of a colossal novum, a recurrent trope that has been labelled the Big Dumb Object (Kaveney 1981: 25) – especially in novels by Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Bob Shaw, Christopher Priest, Frederik Pohl, Philip José Farmer, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett – whose vast scale ensures that sf teeters on the edge of self-parody. This produces sf that is in part about sf.

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