Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Do Androids Scream of Electric SheepThis final part of my essay on Blade Runner and Asperger’s syndrome moves into more speculative areas and draws on linguistics and literary theory to examine how Blade Runner and postmodern texts in general present as autistic.

In “Part 1: Autistic Noir” I described the traits associated with Asperger’s Syndrome (e.g. linguistic and social deficits, a marked lack of affect, and difficulties with cognitive empathy) and showed how each of these traits is presented by the characters in Blade Runner. In “Part 2: The Neurodivergent Worlds of Philip K Dick” I looked at Dick’s original novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) in the context of his other work of that period, his deepening interest in the dramatic and philosophical possibilities presented by different neurotypes, and how his work prefigured the more modern work of autism specialists like Simon Baron-Cohen and Uta Frith.

In this chapter I hope to take the affinity between Blade Runner and Asperger’s further still by exploring the deeper waters of postmodern theory and neuroscience.

The following argument is complex so I’d like to layout the stages in advance.

  • Firstly, I want to argue that Aspies have a preference for metonymy over metaphor, and that the reasons for this can be understood in terms of current research into neuroscience.
  • Secondly, I will argue in favour of Damien Broderick‘s contention in Reading by Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (1995) that science fiction is a genre – or mode – which privileges metonymy over metaphor.
  • Thirdly, I will look at the analysis of postmodernism proposed by literary theorist Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) to propose correspondences between postmodern texts and what I’ll call the Autistic Mode of expression.


Philip K DickThis is the second part of of my essay on Blade Runner (1982) and Asperger’s Syndrome.

In Part 1: Autistic Noir I looked at the parallels between Ridley Scott‘s film and the experience of people on the autistic spectrum, particularly those like myself who have Asperger’s. I gave a summary of some of the common AS traits and looked at how most of these traits, particularly social isolation and flattened affect, are exhibited by almost all of the characters; I also looked at how the common Aspie experience of prejudice is reflected in the experiences of the replicants (androids) and how their supposed lack of empathy is used to legitimate their status as less than human.

Although there are many difference between Blade Runner and the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) on which is based, the test is taken directly from the book. In this section I want to look at how Philip K. Dick’s novel addresses the themes of social isolation and flattened affect also present in the film, and look how Dick anticipates some of the current theorising of Asperger’s as an ”empathy disorder” (with particular reference to the work of Simon Baron-Cohen) – despite being written decades before the condition was recognised.

I also want to place the novel in the context of Dick’s other work of this period – particularly The Man in the High Castle (1962), Clans of the Aphane Moon (1964) and Martian Time-Slip (1964), which showed an increasingly sophisticated interest in different neurotypes. I will examine how Dick himself, as indicated in non-fiction essays like The Android and the Human (1972), shared many of Baron-Cohen’s assumptions about empathy as constitutive of human nature, and I will look at the concept of empathy in some depth; I will also argue that the ambiguities of Dick’s fiction undermines these essentialist assumptions and exposes empathy and it’s associated ”emotional ground tone” as a socially constructed and historically contingent.


Very sad to hear of the death of science fiction writer Harry Harrison at the age of 87.

Harrison is probably best known for his novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), a powerful dystopia about overpopulation filmed – rather successfully – as Soylent Green (1973).

His anti-hero, James Bolivar DiGriz, alias “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, first appeared in the short story ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding magazine in 1957;  The Stainless Steel Rat (1961) was the first in a series of hilarious novels featuring the adventures of the interplanetary crook and his expanding family.

Bill the Galactic Hero (1965) was an equally amusing novel but with a darker subtext, a satire on the militaristic science fiction of Robert A Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers (1960). Harrison drew on his own experiences as a machine gun instructor

His other work includes A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! (1973), an early example of what would later be termed ‘Steampunk‘, and the elaborate Alternative World Eden Trilogy (West of Eden1984, Winter in Eden1986, and Return to Eden1988), an exercise in World Building comparable in scope and ambition to Frank Herbert‘s Dune (1965) and Brian Aldiss‘s Helliconia Trilogy (1982-1985).

Harrison was a good friend and collaborator with Brian Aldiss, and they were co-presidents of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. They edited numerous anthologies together.

He was a proselytizer for the auxiliary language Esperanto, which is spoken in the future of his Deathworld series (1960-2001) and The Stainless Steel Rat; Harrison was honorary president of the Esperanto Association of Ireland, as well as a member of Esperanto-USA, and also the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association).

He was also a notable atheist, and often used his fiction to criticise religion. His most widely anthologised short story was ”The Streets of Ashkelon” (1962), first published in Brian Aldiss’s anthology New Worlds (1962), a taboo-busting story about an interplanetary missionary; and Make Room! Make Room! was an attack on the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception, not a gothic nightmare about cannibalism – Soylent Green is made from soy beans and lentils, not people!

  • Aldiss, Brian (ed, 1962) New Worlds
    • (1982) Helliconia Spring
    • (1983) Helliconia Summer
    • (1985) Helliconia Winter
  • Harrison, Harry (1957) ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding
    • (1960) Deathworld
    • (1961) The Stainless Steel Rat
    • (1962)  ”The Streets of Ashkelon” in Aldiss, Brian (1962)
    • (1965) Bill, the Galactic Hero
    • (1973) A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!
    • (1984) West of Eden
    • (1986) Winter in Eden
    • (1988) Return to Eden
  • Heinlein, Robert A (1960) Starship Troopers
  • Herbert, Frank (1965) Dune

Jupiter — the magnificent planet with a diameter of 86,500 miles, having 119 times the surface and 1,300 times the volume of the earth — lay beneath them.

They had often seen it in the terrestrial sky, emitting its strong, steady ray, and had thought of that far-away planet, about which till recently so little had been known, and a burning desire had possessed them to go to it and explore its mysteries.  Now, thanks to APERGY, the force whose existence the ancients suspected, but of which they knew so little, all things were possible.

Ayrault manipulated the silk-covered glass handles, and the Callisto moved on slowly in comparison with its recent speed, and all remained glued to their telescopes as they peered through the rushing clouds, now forming and now dissolving before their eyes.  What transports of delight, what ecstatic bliss, was theirs!  Men had discovered and mastered the secret of apergy, and now, “little lower than the angels,” they could soar through space, leaving even planets and comets behind.

– John Jacob Astor IV, A Journey in Other Worlds

A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future (1894) is a science fiction novel by American property tycoon and inventor John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912), who died 100 years ago today.

Astor was born into the wealthy Astor family; his great grandfather, John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), had made the family fortune trading fur, opium and real estate.

A Journey in Other Worlds is set in the year 2000, over a century after the book was written, and speculates on several vast engineering projects, including the damming of the Arctic Ocean and adjusting the Earth’s axial tilt (by the Terrestrial Axis Straightening Company, no less). More modest advances include the tapping of solar and geothermal energy. Astor himself was an inventor of a pneumatic walkway, a bicycle brake, a flying machine and an internal combustion engine.

The novel includes travel to the jungle planet Jupiter and the mystical Saturn using the anti-gravitational energy apergy, a form of unobtainium which first appeared in Percy Greg‘s interplanetary romance Across the Zodiac (1880), and later in a New York Journal article “Some Truths About Keely” (1888) by Clara Jessup Bloomfield Moore. Astor was one of many taken in by the ‘Keely Motor Hoax‘, John Worrell Keely‘s claim to have invented a Perpetual Motion Machine.

Apergy is a clear forerunner to H.G. Wells‘ equally miraculous ‘Cavorite‘ in The First Men in the Moon (1901).

Roger Lancelyn Green (1976) has cited Astor’s jungle planet Jupiter as a possible inspiration for the Mars of Edwin Lester Arnold‘s Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905).

According to Jeff Prucher’s Brave New Words (2009) Astor’s novel was the first to use the term ‘space-ship‘.

Astor died on April 12, 1912, when the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg.

Because of the circumstances of his death, Astor has frequently been portrayed on film and television: he was played by Karl Schönböck in the Nazi propaganda film Titanic (1943), William Johnstone in Titanic (1953), David Janssen in S.O.S. Titanic (1979), Scott Hylands in Titanic (mini-series, 1996), Eric Braeden in James Cameron‘s Titanic (1997), and most recently by Miles Richardson in Nigel Stafford-Clark and Julian FellowesTitanic (min-series, 2012).

Astor was one of four science fiction authors who died on the Titanic: the others were Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912), author of the Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen stories, collected in The Thinking Machine (coll, 1907) and The Thinking Machine on the Case (coll, 1908); Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912), author of Capillary Crime and Other Stories (coll, 1892); and William Thomas Stead (1849-1912), social reformer, editor of Borderland, and author of the utopian If Christ Came to Chicago! (1894), Blastus the King’s Chamberlain (1898), and The Despised Sex (1903).

  • Arnold, Edwin Lester (1905) Lieut Gullivar Jones: His Vacation
  • Astor, John Jacob (1894) A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future
  • Bloomfield-Moore, Clara Jessup (1888) ”Some Truths about Keely” in New York Home Journal, Volume II, January, 1896
  • Clute, John (1979) ”John Jacob Astor” at  in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (online edition)
  • Futrelle, Jacques (coll 1907) The Thinking Machine: Being a True and Complete Statement of Several Intricate Mysteries Which Came under the Observation of Professor Augustus Van Dusen, Ph D, Ll D, F RS, M D, etc
  • (1908) The Thinking Machine on the Case
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn (1976) ”Introduction” to Arnold, Edwin Lester (1905, New English Library SF Master Series edition)
  • Greg, Percy (1880) Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record
  • Herring, Daniel W. (1924) Foibles and Fallacies of Science, An account of Celebrated Scientific Vagaries
  • John Jacob Astor IV (undated) at
  • Prucher, Jeff (ed. 2009) Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction
  • Stead, W.T. (1894) If Christ Came to Chicago!: A Plea for the Union of All Who Love in the Service of All Who Suffer
  • (1898) Blastus the King’s Chamberlain: A Political Romance
  • (1903) The Despised Sex: The Letters of Callicrates to Dione, Queen of the Xanthians, Concerning England and the English, Anno Domini 1902
  • Stirling, S.M. (2003) ”Introduction” to Astor (1894)
  • Wells, H.G. (1901) The First Men in the Moon

Science Fiction: a genre (of literature, film, etc.) in which the setting differs from our own world (e.g. by the invention of new technology, through contact with aliens, by having a different history, etc.), and in which the difference is based on extrapolations made from one or more changes or suppositions; hence, such a genre in which the difference is explained (explicitly or implicitly) in scientific or rational, as opposed to supernatural, terms

—- Jeff Prucher, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction

The influence of science fiction on our language can’t be overestimated. Many terms and expressions in common usage originated in science fiction, or at least were popularised there. Jeff Prucher’s Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (2007) is the most detailed account of this influence to date. It defines words coined not only in science fiction literature, film, television and comics, but also within sf criticism and sf fandom. It was published by Oxford University Press and contains an introduction is by Gene Wolfe. It won the Hugo Award for Best Related Book in 2008.

The title alludes to Aldous Huxley‘s dystopian sf novel Brave New World (1932) – itself taken from Shakespeare‘s The Tempest (1610); the term ‘brave new world’ (n. a dystopian society resulting from the faulures of technological or social advancements; a situation resembling such a state of affairs) has entered popular discourse. It is perhaps science fictions greatest achievement that it has created the vocabulary through which we express our deepest fears about the direction in which society may evolve; George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) alone provides us with ‘Big Brother‘ (n, an all-powerful, all-seeing, authoritarian ruler or government), ‘doublethink‘ (n, simultaneously believing that two contradictory ideas are true) ‘Newspeak‘ (n, the modified form of English created by the government for use in propoganda; in general use, any euphemism or doublespeak, especially as used by a govenment or for propaganda), and ‘thoughtcrime‘ (n, any thought, especially that which is against the government or which is unorthodox, considered as a criminal offense).

The most obvious fields in which science fiction words have entered the mainstream are in space exploration and astronomy. The words ‘spaceship‘ (n, a vehicle designed to be used in outer space) and ‘spacecraft‘ (n, a SPACESHIP) first appeared in John Jacob Astor‘s A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) and Philip Francis Nowlan and Dick CalkinsBuck Rogers, 2430 A.D. (1930) respectively. ‘Spacesuit‘ first appeared in Sci. Wonder Stories in 1929; less glamorously, ‘space-sickness‘ first appears in Hugo Gernsback‘s novel Ralph 124C 41+ (1911). ‘Free fall‘ comes from John W. Campbell Jr‘s Islands of Space (1931).

The word ‘robot‘ (n, [<Czech robota, ”forced labour”]), notably comes from play RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920); the term ‘robotics‘ (n. the science of designing, building, or using robots; the study of robots.), however, first appeared in Isaac Asimov‘s short story ”Liar!”, part of his Robot Series, which was first published in Astounding Science Fiction (May, 1941) and reprinted in I, Robot (1950). Asimov was not even aware that he was creating a word. ‘Android‘ appears, as does the abbreviation ‘droid‘ from George Lucas‘ Star Wars (1977) but the female equivalent ‘gynoid‘ does not, nor does ‘fembot’.

Several computing terms first appeared in science fiction. ‘Virus‘ (n, a computer programme that is capable of replicating itself and installing these copies onto other computers without the users’ knowledge, and which also performs damaging or irritating actions on the computers. Compare WORM) comes from David Gerrold‘s When HARLIE Was One (1972) while ‘worm‘  (n, a piece of computer software capable of replicating intself and transfering copies between computers, which usually performs damaging actions on those computers. Compare VIRUS) comes from John Brunner‘s The Shockwave Rider (1975).  The term ‘spam‘, of course, comes from a Monty Python sketch rather than sf, and so is outside the scope of this book.

Cyberspace‘ (n, the entirety of the data stored in, and the communication that takes place within, a computer network, conceived of as having the properties of a physical realm; the environment of virtual reality) first appeared in William Gibson‘s cyberpunk short story ”Burning Chrome’‘ (1982) first published in Omni (July 1982) and reprinted in Burning Chrome (coll, 1986). ‘Matrix‘ (n, CYBERSPACE or virtual reality) is correctly attributed to Robert Holmes, writer of the 1976 Doctor Who story ”The Deadly Assassin” – 23 years before Andy and Lana Wachowski‘s The Matrix (1999).

The term ‘cyberpunk‘ (n,  1.a. [cybernetics + punk] subgenre of science fiction that focuses on the effects on society and individuals of advanced computer technology, artificial intelligence, and bionic implants in an increasingly global culture, especially as seen in the struggles of streetwise, disaffected characters) itself was coined by Bruce Bethke in the title of his short story ”Cyberpunk” in Amazing Stories (Nov 1983); it was first used as a term in sf criticism by Gardner Dozios in an editorial in the Washington Post Book World (December 30, 1984). ‘Steampunk‘ (n, [by analogy to CYBERPUNK] a genre of science fiction with a historic setting in the nineteenth century characterized by technologies extrapolated from that era, but which were not invented at that time. Hence steampunker, steampunkish) is dated to a letter written by K.W. Jeter describing his own work, and that of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, printed in Locus (April 1987).

Many useful terms from fandom are defined: ‘fan fiction‘, ‘fanzine‘, ‘filk‘, ‘Mary Sue‘ and ‘slash‘ – but not ‘cosplay

The book can’t hope to be comprehensive but there are notable omissions, the most glaring being ‘atomic bomb’, a term first coined by H.G. Wells in The World Set Free (1914). Also absent is ‘meritocracy‘, a term which first appeared in the sociologist and educationalist Michael Young‘s dystopian satire The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033: An Essay on Education and Equality (1958); this is particularly disappointing as the term has since become naturalized, and it’s satirical origin as a term for a bureaucratic oligarchy is overlooked by those actively promoting it.

Also absent is ‘Vril’, the life-giving force from Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s gothic utopia The Coming Race (1871).

  • Asimov, Isaac (1941) ”Liar!” in Astounding Science Fiction, May, 1941, reprinted in I, Robot (coll. 1950)
  • Astor, John Jacob (1894) A Journey in Other Worlds
  • Bethke, Bruce (1983) ”Cyberpunk” in Amazing Stories, November 1983
  • Brunner, John (1975) The Shockwave Rider
  • Bulwer-Lytton, Edward (1871) The Coming Race
  • Campbell, John W. Jr (1930) Islands in Space
  • Capek, Karel (1920) RUR: Rossum’s Universal Robots
  • Dozios, Gardner (1984) SF in Eighties in Washington Post Book World, December 30, 1984)
  • Gernsback, Hugo (1911) Ralph 124C 41+
  • Gerrold, David (1972) When HARLIE Was One
  • Gibson, William (1982) ”Burning Chrome” in Omni, July 1982, reprinted in Burning Chrome (coll, 1986) 
  • Holmes, Robert (1976) Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin
  • Huxley, Aldous (1932) Brave New World
  • (Author’s blog)
  • Jeter, K.W. (1987) Letter printed in Locus, April 1987
  • Nowlan, Philip Francis & Dick Calkins (1930) Buck Rogers, 2430 A.D
  • Orwell, George (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Prucher, Jeff (ed. 2009) Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction
  • Wachowski, Andy & Lana (2001) The Matrix: Shooting Script
  • Wells, H.G. (1914) The World Set Free
  • Young, Michael (1958) The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033: An Essay on Education and Equality