Extrapolation

Between Mania and Phobia

Feminism, Science Fiction, and Technoculture in the 1980s

Extrapolation (2020), 61, (3), 269–296.

Abstract

The 1980s in the United States are now understood as years of widespread cultural and ideological fracture. Neoliberalism became the nation’s economic mantra, détente was jettisoned in favor of military build-up, and conservative backlash movements surfaced to counter the feminist gains of previous decades. These and other developments materialized out of a multitude of conflicts, a crisis of ideas, words, and practices competing to maintain or rework the nation’s defining structures.

This paper argues that technology played a central role in the decade’s discordant years, both materially and ideologically, and that certain works of feminist science fiction—particularly by Lois McMaster Bujold, who is the focus here, but also Sheri S. Tepper, Octavia E. Butler, Joan Slonczewski, and others—imagined new structures and practices embedded within the confines of modern technoculture. By doing so, they avoided a prevailing dichotomy conceptualized by Carol Stabile: either technomania, a headlong, manic rush into all things technological, or technophobia, a retreat from such things into a romanticized and idyllic past. Situated between mania and phobia, these works imagined alternatives to the kind of binary thinking that dominates our political climate, as well as visions of what a radically reformed—but also deeply technological—society could look like.

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Works Cited

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Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 1987. Aunt Lute Books, 2007. Google Scholar

Bonner, Frances. “Separate Development: Cyberpunk in Film and TV.” Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, edited by George Slusser and Tom Shippey, U of Georgia P, 1992, pp. 191-207. Google Scholar

Brennan Croft, Janet, editor. Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy. McFarland, 2013. Google Scholar

Bujold, Lois McMaster. Ethan of Athos. 1986. Google Scholar

Bujold, Lois McMaster. Miles, Mystery & Mayhem. Baen Publishing Enterprises, 2003. Google Scholar

Bujold, Lois McMaster. Shards of Honor. 1986. Cordelia’s Honor. Baen Publishing Enterprises, 1999. Google Scholar

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, 1990. Google Scholar

Butler, Octavia E. Dawn. Warner Books, 1988. Google Scholar

Cadora, Karen. “Feminist Cyberpunk.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, 1995, pp. 357-372. Google Scholar

Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Istvan. “The SF of Theory: Baudrillard and Haraway.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 1991, pp. 387-404. Google Scholar

Donawerth, Jane. Frankenstein’s Daughters: Women Writing Science Fiction. Syracuse UP, 1997. Google Scholar

Dunaway, Finis. Seeing Green: The Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images. U of Chicago P, 2015. Google Scholar

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. 1991. Three Rivers Press, 2006. Google Scholar

Feenberg, Andrew. Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory Revised. Oxford UP, 2002. Google Scholar

Haraway, Donna J. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the 1980s.” Socialist Review, vol. 15, no. 2, 1985, pp. 65-107. Google Scholar

Hollinger, Veronica. “Women in Science Fiction and Other Hopeful Monsters.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, 1990, pp. 129-134. Google Scholar

Hull, Gloria T., Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, editors. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. 1982. Feminist Press, 2015. Google Scholar

Hunter, James Davison. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. Basic Books, 1991. Google Scholar

James, Edward. Lois McMaster Bujold. U of Illinois P, 2015. Google Scholar

Jones, Jeremy L. C. “A Conversation with Lois McMaster Bujold.” Clarkesworld Magazine, 2015. clarkesworldmagazine.com/bujold_interview/. Accessed 15 Dec. 2015. Google Scholar

Larbalestier, Justine. The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2002. Google Scholar

Larbalestier, Justine, editor. Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century. Wesleyan UP, 2006. Google Scholar

Lavigne, Carlen. Cyberpunk Women, Feminism and Science Fiction: A Critical Study. McFarland Publishing, 2013. Google Scholar

Leonard, Elisabeth Anne. “Race and Ethnicity in Science Fiction.” The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, Cambridge UP, 2003, pp. 253-263. Google Scholar

Luckhurst, Roger. Science Fiction. Polity Press, 2005. Google Scholar

Martin, Bradford. The Other Eighties: A Secret History of America in the Age of Reagan. Hill and Wang, 2011. Google Scholar

McIntyre, Vonda N. Superluminal. Simon & Schuster, 1983. Google Scholar

Moylan, Tom. “Global Economy, Local Texts: Utopian/Dystopian Tension in William Gibson’s Cyberpunk Trilogy.” The Minnesota Review, vol. 43-44, 1994-1995, pp. 182-197. Google Scholar

Nightingale, Marna. Foreword to Ethan of Athos.2003, 2009. The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold. Simon & Schuster, 2010, pp. 202-212. Google Scholar

Nixon, Nicola. “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1992, pp. 219-235. Google Scholar

Pearson, Wendy. “After the (Homo)Sexual: A Queer Analysis of Anti-Sexuality in Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 1996, pp. 199-226. Google Scholar

Pearson, Wendy. “Science Fiction and Queer Theory.” The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, Cambridge UP, 2003, pp. 149-160. Google Scholar

Rodgers, Daniel T. Age of Fracture. Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2011. Google Scholar

Russ, Joanna. “Recent Feminist Utopias.” 1981. To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction, edited by Joanna Russ, Indiana UP, 1995, pp. 133-148. Google Scholar

Slonczewski, Joan. A Door into Ocean. 1986. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2000. Google Scholar

Stabile, Carol A. Feminism and the Technological Fix. Manchester UP, 1994. Google Scholar

Sterling, Bruce. “Preface.” Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by Bruce Sterling, ACE, 1986, pp. ix-xvi. Google Scholar

Suvin, Darko. “Of Starship Troopers and Refuseniks: War and Militarism in US Science Fiction, Part 2.” Extrapolation, vol. 48, no. 3, 2007, pp. 9-34. Google Scholar

Tepper, Sheri S. The Gate to Women’s Country. 1988. Bantam Books, 1989. Google Scholar

Yaszek, Lisa. “Feminism.” The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, edited by Rob Latham, Oxford UP, 2014, pp. 537-548. Google Scholar

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Author details

Andrews, Chad

Andrews, Chad