Sci-fi crosses respect frontier

July 5, 2002

Science fiction has not been considered respectable because book covers are too brash for the average middle-class reader. But it is now achieving academic respectability, according to a researcher.

Farah Mendlesohn, a researcher in science fiction at Middlesex University and co-editor of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction , said the UK was leading the world in science-fiction writing and scholarship was burgeoning.

The Science Fiction Research Association has just held its annual conference in New Lanark, the first time it has been held outside North America. It attracted about 100 delegates from across the world.

Dr Mendlesohn, who coordinated the conference with Andrew M. Butler of Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, said those who attacked science fiction for its bad writing were those who did not read it. "There is some very fine writing in science fiction. (Authors) work hard at their writing. But if you give someone a book and they like it, they start explaining why it isn't science fiction," she said.

Andy Sawyer, curator of the Science Fiction Foundation Collection at Liverpool University, said science fiction was a major strand in discussing the development of politics and societies. British and Commonwealth writers are tackling themes such as refugees, revolution and poverty.

Conference guests included three acclaimed writers: British-born Paul McAuley and Ken MacLeod, and British-based Pat Cadigan, hailed as "the queen of cyberpunk". Cyberpunk, Mr Sawyer said, was "fiction about computers with lots of attitude".

He said science fiction's influence was growing with, for example, archaeologists and geographers using its ideas of social and physical construction as a way of illuminating their subject.

The Times HigherJjuly 5J2002news 5 Don't judge by the covers: science fiction is overcoming its garish image and gaining academic respectability

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