edited by Wong Kin-yuen, Gary Westfahl and Amy Kit-sze Chan
Hong Kong University Press, $175
Semioticians, sociologists and other social scientists often turn to popular culture to unravel emerging trends that reflect our society, our values and aspirations. The idea is that by breaking down communications embedded in popular culture from past to present into base communication codes, they can see the future.
The basic premise is that trends in areas such as communications don't develop haphazardly. Rather, they unfold logically in line with a common vision.
World Weavers: Globalization, Science Fiction, and the Cybernetic Revolution is a fascinating anthology of academic reviews, hypotheses and projections of the sci-fi genre. Editors Wong Kin-yuen, Gary Westfahl and Amy Chan have selected and sequenced this anthology from an international conference held in January 2001 at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which drew delegates and speakers from five continents and 12 countries.
The sci-fi genre builds on what we know about our present, be it certainty or uncertainty, and projects what may lie beyond as humanity ventures into the future.
One key theme closely associated with sci-fi is the emergence of a global village, with humanity coming together sans frontier.
Although the sci-fi genre can be interpreted as driving towards a global village or utopia, it also serves to reflect the admiration and anxiety we hold for such a trajectory of humanity.
The first section of the anthology is devoted to understanding perspectives on the advance of a global village as synonymous with humanity, and the diverse range of human responses as reminders of a sense of identity.
As humanity is projected into the future, the sci-fi genre inevitably converges on the idea of a mega-city or city state that comes to epitomise the manifestation of the ultimate goal of humanity. In Urbe et Orbe, Howard V. Hendrix examines three texts focusing on the significance of city: Arthur C. Clark's The City and the Stars, Clifford D. Simak's City, and Ursula K. Le Guin's City of Illusions. In all, humanity is traumatised and the mega-city as the last stand of humanity is depicted as a sham, hollow and having 'lost its purpose'. They seem to reflect a collective anxiety about whether a global village may mean the end of humanity.
Godzilla seems to think so. Time and again, the creature created by nuclear testing in the Pacific comes to save the world from evil forces, and the price is the destruction of the city. Although nations may come together as one to face a common challenge, it boils down to the individuals to champion the essence of humanity, which is its unique diversity and common belief in a future.
This anthology draws from culturally diverse materials - from militaristic Japanese sci-fi, to the impact of technology on Africa, and the Chinese philosophy of today's cyberfeminism. The aim is to examine our responses to the emergence of a global village, but also to show how history is intimately connected with the future.
The thought-provoking World Weavers makes a clear case that there is considerably more to the sci-fi genre than meets the eye.