Artificial Life After Frankenstein, by Eileen Hunt Botting

Review copy provided by the publisher.

What a weird lot of conceptual holes this work of science fiction criticism has in it. There are whole large sections on which Botting is extremely sound–the rights of the child, for example, and its evolution in science fiction from Shelley onward. Good stuff. Unfortunately, that appears to be her previous book, and in this one she has extended her arguments about political science fiction in some very weird ways.

Whenever I am presented with a taxonomy, I want to look for its underlying assumptions to find the places where it may be missing things. In this case they leapt out at me without much looking. Botting divides political SF since Shelley into Apocalyptic, Hacker, and Loveless, based on its primary anxieties. Problem: not all political SF is primarily anxious. Problem: in order to make political SF fit those categories, you have to warp interpretations of vast swaths of it.

Since Botting seems to have swallowed whole cloth the history of SF that was in vogue 20+ years ago when I was in college, many of the earlier works that would have complicated this taxonomy are absent. I don’t know why the recent ones are except that they don’t support her argument. She doesn’t appear to have ever encountered Lois McMaster Bujold’s speech/essay on science fiction as the fantasy of political agency, which is odd because Bujold is not exactly a minor figure in the field she purports to be examining nor is her work even remotely irrelevant to the continuity of Shelley’s influence in political SF. Missed opportunities.

The text was also filled with small errors and ideas that, if they were not in error, certainly were not supported. Particularly egregious was the label of Shelley as genderfluid in the same passage as Botting directly quoted Shelley as identifying, if anything, more completely with womanhood than Shelley’s estimation of the women around her. Genderfluid does not mean the same thing as bisexual/pansexual, and I would expect either a critic in 2020 or at the very least their editor to understand that.

I wanted this book to be so much more thoughtful and thorough than it was.

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