The Early Twentieth Century: High Modernist Science Fiction

Part of the Palgrave Histories of Literature book series (Palgrave Histories of Literature)


The twentieth century is the period when SF begins to approach cultural dominance, because it was in this century that the gradient of the graph marking technological and cultural change against time went nearly vertical. SF in this period becomes a — perhaps the — key way in which writers and readers tried to come to terms with what those changes meant. The next two chapters must work with a critical binary that runs the risk of crudeness and simplification. I state it here straightforwardly to be transparent: the first half of the twentieth century sees the opening of a cleavage between ‘high art’ and popular culture, something which, if not wholly unprecedented, had never before been as ideologically charged or divisive. On the one hand, with that literary movement today taught in academies as ‘Modernism’, we have a group of often brilliant writers dedicated to an aesthetic programme of ‘making it new’ (Ezra Pound’s phrase), experimentation, focusing more deliberately on form and style than plot and character, often working dense textures of quotation and allusion into their texts. On the other hand, in the aftermath of the spread of mass literacy in the late nineteenth century, the huge new audience for popular narratives was catered for by an equally large and often talented but nowadays less well-known group of writers.


Science Fiction Dense Texture British Writer High Modernist Russian Writer 
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© Adam Roberts 2006

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