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Foundation: The International Review Of Science Fiction # 86

01/05/2003. Contributed by Joules Taylor

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Pub: Science Fiction Foundation. 144 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 6.95 (UK). ISSN: 0306-4964258.

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The Foundation journals are published by the Science Fiction Foundation (created in 1970: the journal was launched in 1972) whose stated aims are to promote an understanding of and disseminating information about Science Fiction, investigating its usefulness in education and providing research facilities for anyone wishing to study the genre.

It's therefore to be expected that the journal will be erudite, knowledgeable and filled with essays by eminent names on equally eminent creators of Science Fiction.

This particular edition covers subjects such as AIDS, sexual suppression and oppression, paedophilia and homophobia, explores and attempts to define the differences between camp and queer and charts the progress - or rather, lack of it - of the representation of sexuality in SF.

The essays vary from mainstream SF in the form of ‘Star Trek’ (in its several incarnations) through Heinlein's ‘Puppet Masters’ and Julian May's ‘Galactic Milieu’ to the rather more esoteric considerations of the paper titled ‘Science Fiction As Pharmacy: Plato, Derrida, Ryman’.

The concept of homosocial relationships (deep friendships between men - specifically men - that stop short of sex although the possibility is always there, lurking in the background) is investigated with reference to DR Frankenstein and DR Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the treatment, real and potential, of women by men as explored by James Tiptree Jr and Suzy Mckee Charnas is considered: and there's a somewhat disturbing evaluation of queer theory as applied to the image of the child.

One of the most notable elements in the book (for me, and simply because it's one I'm familiar with and find very annoying) is the way the originally-pioneering multi-part series ‘Star Trek’ deals with same-sex relationships. The answer is very simple - it doesn't.

Despite all the opportunities for a tolerant and positive representation of the many forms of human and alien interrelationships, this seminal and much-respected SF institution sticks rigidly to male-female partnerships. The one instance where there was a glimmer of hope - in the Bashir-Garak friendship in ‘Deep Space 9’ - the creators backed out, pairing Garak with Tora Ziyal and Bashir (eventually) with Ezri Dax.

What a cop-out! Is it any wonder there's so much slash around? Even Andrew Robinson (the actor who played Garak) has been quoted as saying, ‘I loved that sexual ambiguity.I wanted to get away from our sexual prejudices. I thought, this is an alien! Who knows what alien sexuality is, if indeed there is strict heterosexuality or homosexuality, those delineations?’ (from an interview with Michelle Erica Green, talking about his book ‘A Stitch In Time’: click here for the full piece).

I felt that the overall mood of the book is one of disappointment. If you believe - as I do - that Science Fiction (perhaps Ellison's preferred term 'speculative fiction' is more appropriate) can and should explore the limits of human experience, pushing back those ubiquitous frontiers, then the representation of the different forms of human sexuality in SF is disgracefully narrow.

Reading this journal, it would appear that where sexuality is considered, opposite-sex relationships are presented the norm (even the preferred norm): same-sex relationships are the province of the villains (Dune's Baron Harkonen is one example quoted) or viewed with alarm or outright hostility by the other characters in the work (and by extension the reader).

And yet there are positive images to be found - Ursula K LeGuin's classic ‘Left Hand Of Darkness’, the rich variety of books published by The Women's Press and no doubt many more that I simply have not read, along with issues of sexuality as dealt with in ‘Alien Nation’ and ‘Babylon 5’ (the journal, to its credit, mentions both of these).

I've always had a sneaking suspicion that below the often-religious justification for the persecution of the 'other' - and particularly the differently sexually-orientated other - is an uneasy attraction, a wondering what it would be like, that is ruthlessly denied (a kind of 'the lady doth protest too much, methinks').

Which does rather raise the question: is human sexuality such a delicately balanced thing that gender roles need to be reinforced by external means, oppression, threat or violence? Going by the work presented in this journal the answer would seem to be yes.

So - a book in which the footnotes are almost as informative as the text. An intriguing, thought-provoking read but not exactly an easy one.

For serious students of the genre only, I would say.

Joules Taylor

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