Publication details

Crisis and Transformation: The Aftermath of First Contact in Three Mid-20th Century Science Fiction Novels

Authors

VELESKI Stefan

Year of publication 2020
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Aigne
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Citation
Web http://aigne.ucc.ie/index.php/aigne/article/view/1552
Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.13026431
Keywords Cultural Evolution; Biocultural Criticism; Science Fiction; Robert Heinlein; Arthur C. Clarke; Isaac Asimov; Syuzhet; Post humanism; Tropes
Attached files
Description Despite being a hallmark of science fiction since the inception of the genre, narratives that feature first contact scenarios between humans and alien civilizations became particularly popular in the middle of the twentieth century. Critical analyses have long neglected the uniqueness of first contact narratives in this period, especially their clear ‘mentorship-like’ rather than ‘invasionlike’ nature and the invariable transformation of humanity that follows the event. This article attempts to fill this gap in the research by comparing how the aftermath of first contact is treated in novels by the ‘Big Three’ of science fiction: Arthur C. Clarke (Childhood's End, 1953), Robert A. Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961), and Isaac Asimov (The Gods Themselves, 1972). The article argues that the structure of first contact in these narratives is deliberately crafted to appeal to both contemporary cultural (mainly Cold War related) anxieties, and to hard-wired biological biases. In each of the novels discussed, this transformation sees humanity, through various means, become more like the aliens. This change results in a type of hyper-sociality, which can be viewed in a positive or negative light depending on the narrative context, the conflicting attitudes towards communality and individualism, and the contemporary zeitgeist of the Cold War. In addition to a close reading of the three texts, the article also employs a sentiment analysis, with the help of Matthew Jockers’ ‘syuzhet’ package, in order to uncover the emotional valence of the transformation underlying the trope.
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