Highlighting the Highlights: Narratives Explored in Literature of the Future
In his essay, “A Phoenix Must First Burn: Analyzing Decline in Future Narratives”, Timothy Morrow examines the Creation/Apocalypse narrative prevalent in Literature of the Future and then intertwines said narrative throughout several works thus studied so far in this class, including Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, the short story “Stone Lives”, and H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. Morrow begins by identifying these narratives as a pattern; one which the authors must abide by. The first of these patterns he examines is that of the Apocalypse/Creation narrative, where a world is first created with a sort of Edenic state of being at its initial onset and then, gradually, worsens throughout the course of the story to a point of complete destruction and utter deprivation. Morrow uses Parable of the Sower to demonstrate this; for, as Morrow aptly identifies, the story by Butler follows much in line with the narrative of the Book of Genesis to Revelation. Like these two books of the Bible, Parable of the Sower begins with characters residing in an Eden-like environment, only for it to be taken from her as the “the apocalyptic world shatters her protection” as Morrow puts it. Furthermore, Morrow goes on to examine the correlation between the Evolution narrative and that of “Stone Lives”, as well as The Time Machine and The Parable of the Sower. He intertwines the ideas of man evolving, but not necessarily for benefit, in “Stone Lives”, a tale of a man without sight who manages to escape a futuristic world likened to the animal kingdom with its cruelty and savagery. This granted a technological advantage that essentially makes him the “top dog” and then discovers his world is even more corrupt than at first thought. Morrow applies this idea to The Time Machine as well, where he illustrates that the world the Time Traveler visits “is not one falling into destruction from decline, but through advancement”. Morrow labels this story, whose beginning is initiated by the Creation of a flawless state of being which then eventually reaches its terminus with the Apocalypse, the Narrative of Decline.
Overall, I found Morrow’s examination of the Creation/Apocalypse narrative well-constructed and insightful. He connects the narrative well to the stories he chose (The Parable of the Sower, The Time Machine, and “Stone Lives”), and he excellently explains how the narrative functions within these stories. The most surprising, and indeed, informative, aspect within Morrow’s essay is his examination of the Romance Narrative present within the stories selected. I very much agree with this analysis; each of the stories show some evidence of the tropes characteristic of Romance. “Stone Lives” is a surefire example, and Morrow’s description of the titular protagonist Stone escaping his “antagonistic” environment to become the “top dog” epitomizes the standard Romance plot. It is interesting to note that science fiction has chosen to choose this same narrative structure to tell its stories. To me, this proves that the objectives of Speculative Fiction are not considerably separated from that of Romantic Literature. Science Fiction focuses on escaping to an alternate timeline, a future fate, or even through biological (or technological) advancement through an evolutionary cycle in which man can somehow escape his own limitations and achieve some sort of ultimate ascendancy over a corrupt and constraining environment. And Literature of the Future places the solution to this escape in the hands of the Apocalypse and Evolution.
The concepts of the Creation/Apocalyptic and the Evolution narrative are also explored by Tom Britt in his essay, “A Gift to the Dead and a Warning to the Living”. Britt also connects the Creation/Apocalypse narrative to The Parable of the Sower, much like Morrow did. As Britt explains “that it is possible for texts to not focus solely on an apocalyptic / creation narrative, but also have the capability of weaving evolutionary themes in, as well.” Britt identifies that two narratives characteristic of Literature of the Future can be interwoven into a single story simultaneously. This conclusion means that stories whose plots and settings involve futures of decline and destruction often tend to have the Creation/Apocalyptic Narrative and the Evolution Narrative walk side by side. They both seem to say something, maybe not in the same words per se, concomitant regarding the future of mankind. Britt goes further regarding The Parable of the Sower, saying that Lauren’s (the protagonist of the story) creation of her “God is change” mantra reinforces the narrative of “cyclical creation and destruction.” Britt’s analysis is well informed as well as in compliance with the themes so far explored in class.
That being said, I must say I found Britt’s essay helpful, as well as in agreement, to my own perceptions regarding Literature of the Future. As Morrow examined, the tales and adventures in Literature of the Future are redolent with the Romantic aromas of escapism, sublimity, and ascendance. The protagonists (i.e. Stone and Lauren) are classic apexes of the Romantic hero trying to escape his/her surroundings in order to find a much more pleasing existence. Britt goes along with this idea of coexisting narratives within the same narrative body, for he states that both the Evolutionary and Creation/Apocalypse dwell within the same story: The Parable of the Sower. It is worthy of note that both Britt and Morrow are able to see more than one sort of narration at work within a story; thus affirming that stories rarely if ever follow a single type of story trope, but rather can contain elements of many. This is an idea concomitant to my own. I have seen elements of many narratives laced within the pages of one story. Thus, I agree with both Britt’s and Morrow’s analyses of the story’s they chose, and I now have reinforcement for my own perceptions as I begin to study my own selected pieces from the class itinerary provided so far.
In connection with Britt and Morrow, Zach Thomas also analyses the Creation/Apocalyptic and Evolutionary Narratives in his essay, “Where is Our Humanity?” He begins by analyzing the presence of the Creation/Apocalyptic Narrative in its great forerunner, the Book of Revelation. Thomas states that “God will use this fire [the judgement described in Revelation] to purify the present world we live in, in order to create a new heavens and a new Earth” From here, Thomas, interestingly and perhaps boldly, decides to label this story evolutionary, stating the present decaying state of the earth will disintegrate and then transform into the “picture of the future as the Earth is evolving into what God intended it to be.” Like Morrow and Britt, Thomas has identified an additional narrative underlying that of the Creation/Apocalypse Narrative with Revelation: a bold move. Thomas then expands and connects this narrative to the short story, “Bears Discover Fire”. In this analysis, Thomas identifies a different set of anxieties present within the narrative of “Bears Discover Fire” regarding reactions to the bears discovering fire. Thomas states that for the most part, people react negatively to this sudden and unforeseen occurrence of bears suddenly gaining the intelligence necessary to put sticks in a pile and then set them alight to create a flame. He contrasts this general reaction to that of the grandmother, who seems to be, as Thomas concludes, “The grandmother simply left her retirement home and found refuge with the bears.” Thomas provides an interesting perspective on this narrative, and his statement of the Bible containing an evolutionary undertone is most intriguing.
Overall, I would say that Thomas’s analysis of the Evolutionary narrative is well applied. As Morrow and Britt before him, Thomas manages to apply the Evolutionary Narrative to his selected pieces of Literature well. In addition to this, Thomas also touched upon a critical point that I myself will be examining in my essay: the point of the narratives present with Literature of the Future and how they relate the anxieties shared by most human beings regarding the possible outcomes of our actions in the present. Thomas approaches this subject through the grandmother in “Bears Discover Fire”; the grandmother’s reaction, in opposite to that of the world around her, is one of gentle acceptance of the fact the bears are simply reaching a natural point in their evolutionary lives. I plan to explore such reactions in my own essay, and it is reassuring to find another student with the same notions at least present in his own mind.
Another essay worthy of review is Morrow’s research essay, “All Lilies Wither: Analyzing Violence towards Women in Science Fiction”. While slightly discordant with the themes so far explored in this review piece, Morrow’s essay is nonetheless critical to understanding Literature of the Future and its limitations. Morrow’s essay examines the treatment of women in Literature of the Future, i.e. their subjected status as well as abuse. I agree with his statement that women have traditionally taken a hyper-sexual role within the stories often consigned to the Science Fiction genre. Indeed, comic books, whose majority of stories are nothing but Science Fiction, portray women with nothing but hyper-sexualized imagery: smooth and perfect skin, engorged breasts, flawless complexions, and trim waistlines. This being said, it seems that Literature of the Future, along with many other budding genres outside the literary canon, is at risk of falling into popular tropes in order to appease and satisfy audiences, rather than exploring relevant issues pivotal to our society. This seems detrimental and counterintuitive, considering the potential that this genre has for exploration of ideals beyond those that are meant only to sell the merchandise. Morrow does well at identifying this trope, for not only does this render women to a cliché and uninteresting status as characters, but also alienates the audience to a certain level. Finding gorgeous women in such circumstances (i.e. “Stone Lives”) is utterly remote and unrealistic. Morrow’s identification of such tropes within science fiction attests to the fact that it still has a long way to come to be considered as a body of literature worthy of study.