I’m rebooting the Haul of Books feature to show you all what I’ve been buying or getting in the mail (for review or otherwise). My hope is that you’ll at least find some interesting new reads to add to your own collection.
Since I’m rebooting this, I am also changing the format. I’d appreciate comments on the format, if you can spare the minute or two to scribble something down at the bottom of this post. If you don’t like it or have suggestions, let me know!
So, without further ado, here is the first of my Haul of Books posts for 2010:
These books should seem familiar, because I talked about them very briefly here. I bought all of these (and a couple others to come later) at the Popular Culture and American Culture Association Conference in St. Louis earlier this month. Back cover information about the books, in order from left to right, top to bottom, follows (taken from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk):
1. Cyberculture, Cyborgs and Science Fiction: Consciousness and the Posthuman by William S. Haney II
Addressing a key issue related to human nature, this book argues that the first-person experience of pure consciousness may soon be under threat from posthuman biotechnology. In exploiting the mind’s capacity for instrumental behavior, posthumanists seek to extend human experience by physically projecting the mind outward through the continuity of thought and the material world, as through telepresence and other forms of prosthetic enhancements. Posthumanism envisions a biology/machine symbiosis that will promote this extension, arguably at the expense of the natural tendency of the mind to move toward pure consciousness. As each chapter of this book contends, by forcibly overextending and thus jeopardizing the neurophysiology of consciousness, the posthuman condition could in the long term undermine human nature, defined as the effortless capacity for transcending the mind’s conceptual content. Presented here for the first time, the essential argument of this book is more than a warning; it gives a direction: far better to practice patience and develop pure consciousness and evolve into a higher human being than to fall prey to the Faustian temptations of biotechnological power. As argued throughout the book, each person must choose for him or herself between the technological extension of physical experience through mind, body and world on the one hand, and the natural powers of human consciousness on the other as a means to realize their ultimate vision.
2. Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction edited by Mark Bould and China Mieville
Science fiction and socialism have always had a close relationship. Many of novelists and filmmakers are leftists. Others examine explicit or implicit Marxist concerns. As a genre, if is ideally suited to critiquing the present through its explorations of the social and political possibilities of the future. This is the first collection to combine analysis of science fiction literature and films within a broader overview of Marxist theorizations and critical perspectives on the genre. This is an accessible and lively introduction for anyone studying the politics of science fiction, covering a rich variety of examples from Weimar cinema to mainstream Hollywood films, and novelists from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken MacLeod and Charles Stross.
3. History, the Human, and the World Between by R. Radhakrishnan
History, the Human, and the World Between is a philosophical investigation of the human subject and its simultaneous implication in multiple and often contradictory ways of knowing. The eminent postcolonial theorist R. Radhakrishnan argues that human subjectivity is always constituted “between”: between subjective and objective, temporality and historicity, being and knowing, the ethical and the political, nature and culture, the one and the many, identity and difference, experience and system. In this major study, he suggests that a reconstituted phenomenology has a crucial role to play in mediating between generic modes of knowledge production and an experiential return to life. Keenly appreciative of poststructuralist critiques of phenomenology, Radhakrishnan argues that there is still something profoundly vulnerable at stake in the practice of phenomenology.
Radhakrishnan develops his rationale of the “between” through three linked essays where he locates the terms “world,” “history,” “human,” and “subject” between phenomenology and poststructuralism, and in the process sets forth a nuanced reading of the politics of a gendered postcolonial humanism. Critically juxtaposing the works of thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Adrienne Rich, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, David Harvey, and Ranajit Guha, Radhakrishnan examines the relationship between systems of thought and their worldly situations. History, the Human, and the World Between is a powerful argument for a theoretical perspective that combines the existential urgency of phenomenology with the discursive rigor of poststructuralist practices.
4. Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica edited by Tiffany Potter and C. W. Marshall
“Cylons in America” is the first collection of critical studies of Battlestar Galactica (its 2003 miniseries, and the ongoing 2004 television series), examining its place within popular culture and its engagement with contemporary American society. With its fourth season due to air in January 2008, the award-winning Battlestar Galactica continues to be exceptionally popular for non-network television, combining the familiar features of science fiction with direct commentary on life in mainstream America. “Cylons in America” is the first collection of critical studies of Battlestar Galactica (its 2003 miniseries, and the ongoing 2004 television series), examining its place within popular culture and its engagement with contemporary American society.Battlestar Galactica depicts the remnants of the human race fleeing across space from a robotic enemy called the Cylons. The fleet is protected by a single warship, the Battlestar, and is searching for a “lost colony” that settled on the legendary planet “Earth.” Originally a television series in the 1970s, the current series maintains the mythic sense established with the earlier quest narrative, but adds elements of hard science and aggressive engagement with post-9/11 American politics. “Cylons In America” casts a critical eye on the revived series and is sure to appeal to fans of the show, as well as to scholars and researchers of contemporary television.
5. Conversations with Samuel R. Delany edited by Carl Freedman
A key figure in modern science fiction and fantasy, Samuel R. Delany (b. 1942) is also one of the most acclaimed figures in contemporary literary theory and gay/lesbian literature. As a gay African American writer, Delany’s cerebral, experimental prose crosses lines of genre, gender, sexuality, and class. Several of his works–Dhalgren, The Einstein Intersection, Babel-17, Stars in My Pocket like Grains of Sand, and the Nevèrÿon quartet are considered landmarks of “new wave” science fiction. His essays and critical works approach a wide variety of subjects from a perspective that is both resolutely philosophical and deeply provocative.
Conversations with Samuel R. Delany collects interviews with the writer from 1980 to 2007. Delany considers the interview an especially fruitful form for the generation of ideas, and he has made it an integral part of his own work. In fact, two of his critical works are collections of interviews and correspondence. He insists that all interviews with him be written correspondence so that he is allowed the time and space to deliberate on each response. As a result, the conversations presented here are as rigorously constructed, elusive, and intellectually stimulating as his essays.
6. Conversations with Octavia Butler edited by Consuela Francis
Octavia Butler (1947-2006) spent the majority of her prolific career as the only major black female author of science fiction. Winner of both the Nebula and Hugo Awards as well as a MacArthur “genius” grant, the first for a science fiction writer, Butler created worlds that challenged notions of race, sex, gender, and humanity. Whether in the postapocalyptic future of the Parable stories, in the human inability to assimilate change and difference in the Xenogenesis books, or in the destructive sense of superiority in the Patternist series, Butler held up a mirror, reflecting what is beautiful, corrupt, worthwhile, and damning about the world we inhabit.
In interviews ranging from 1980 until just before her sudden death in 2006, Conversations with Octavia Butler reveals a writer very much aware of herself as the “rare bird” of science fiction even as she shows frustration with the constant question,”How does it feel to be the only one?” Whether discussing humanity’s biological imperatives or the difference between science fiction and fantasy or the plight of the working poor in America, Butler emerges in these interviews as funny, intelligent, complicated, and intensely original.
7. Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Carl Freedman
Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin assembles interviews with the renowned science-fiction and fantasy author of The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, and the Earthsea sequence of novels and stories. For nearly five decades, Le Guin (b. 1929) has enjoyed immense success–both critical and popular–in science fiction and fantasy. But she has also published well-received works in such genres as realistic fiction, poetry, children’s literature, criticism, and translation. In the pieces collected here, Le Guin takes every interview not as an opportunity to recapitulate long-held views but as an occasion for in-depth intellectual discourse.
In interviews spanning over twenty-five years of her literary career, including a previously unpublished piece conducted by the volume’s editor, Le Guin talks about such diverse subjects as U.S. foreign policy, the history of architecture, the place of women and feminist consciousness in American literature, and the differences between science fiction and fantasy.
And there you go. Anything seem interesting to you?