SF-TH IncSelf and Other in SF: Alien EncountersAuthor(s): Carl D. MalmgrenReviewed work(s):Source: Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 15-33Published by: SF-TH IncStable URL: .Accessed: 19/08/2012 21:04Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at..JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].SF-TH Incis collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Science Fiction Studies.
SELF AND OTHER IN SF: ALIEN ENCOUNTERS 15 Carl D. Malmgren Self and Other in SF: Alien Encounters 1. Alien Encounter SF When science fiction uses its limitless range of symbol and metaphor novelistical- ly, with the subject at the center, it can show us who we are, andwhere we are, and what choices face us, with unsurpassed clarity, and witha great and troubling beauty. -Ursula K. LeGuin,The Language of the Night Rendering the alien,making the reader experience it, is the crucial contribution of SF. -Gregory Benford, "Effing the Ineffable" Some critics have argued that SF, given its discursive grounding in the epistemology of science and its a priori assumption of an impersonal, value- neutral universe, is generically inimical to the depiction and exploration of "character." Scott Sanders, for example, suggests that "in the twentieth century science fiction is centrally about the disappearance of character, in the same sense in whichthe eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel is about the emergence of character" (132; italics in original). In this line of argu- ment, the very idea of character is predicated on a liberal humanism thatthe scientific worldview has obviated. This critical position ignores, overlooks, or is ignorant of alien-encounter SF, that which has as its narrative dominant the confrontation betweenterran representative and alien actant. This kind of encounter necessarily keeps "the subject at the center," exploring not only who we are (in the classic, liberal sense) but also what we might become in a future certain to be different from the present. Alien-encounter SF involves the introduction of sentient alien beings into the actantial system of the fictional universe; one or more of the actants are nonhuman or subhuman or superhuman. Like SF in general,this type of fiction may feature a numberof different novums, but in it the actantial systempredominates. LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, for example, deals with ambisexual aliens, two contrastive nation-states, and an ice-ageworld.