SFRA 2010: Science Fiction and the Frontier

I will be attending the annual Science Fiction Research Association Conference in Carefree, AZ, taking place between June 24th-26th.  I will be delivering a paper from the abstract below on the 26th at 4:00.  A link to the program.  Hope to see you there.

“Tales of Archival Crisis: Stephenson’s Reimagining of the Post-Apocalyptic Frontier”

With the recent publication of his novel Anathem (2008), Neal Stephenson has coherently solidified the presence and importance of what may have been until this point an unnoticed tradition within Science Fiction: what I would like to call the tale of archival crisis.  In labeling the novel as such, it finds clear forerunners in Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960), Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (1973), and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye (1974).  In each of these works, an archive plays a central role in the narrative space.  This space functions in two important ways.  The tale of archival crisis is thoroughly eschatological.  The archive is a site of both preserving something after the apocalypse, as well as a mode of bringing another catastrophe about.  More importantly, perhaps, this space is also thoroughly liminal.  Each of these narratives depends upon the archive’s location at some limit, situated on the frontier of the represented world.  Not only does the tale of archival crisis complicate common representations of post-apocalyptic landscapes as a sort of neo-American West, it does so by drawing complex relationships between knowledge, space, destruction, and civilization, relationships whose importance Anathem brings to bear in exploding the very notions of liminality any eschatological narrative depends upon.  This paper will explore the significance of Stephenson’s reimagining of temporality and spatiality both in terms of the tale of archival crisis and, more broadly, in the radical contribution he has made to post-apocalyptic Science Fiction.

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