Close Encounters

Constance Penley, Elisabeth Lyon, Lynn Spiegel, and Janet Bergstrom, editors. Close Encounters: Film, Feminism, and Science Fiction. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1991.

Close Encounters, an expanded and updated version of the 1986 issue of Camera Obscura entitled "Science Fiction and Sexual Difference," contains ten essays focusing on how science fiction texts transform or explode conventional understandings of the sex/gender system. Don’t be misled by the title into thinking this is a text only for film scholars: although a few of the essays focus specifically on science fiction and technopunk movies such as Aliens and The Terminator, the volume includes a study of television fantasy soap operas such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, analyses of excerpts from Star Trek fiction written by fans, and the complete script of the 1987 film Friendship’s Death. The approaches are varied, ranging from psychoanalysis to deconstruction to historical analysis, making it necessary for readers to cope with abrupt shifts in critical vocabularies as terms from cultural studies, semiotics, and Frankfurt School philosophy pop up without explication. Non-film scholars may find the two essays on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis tedious. But these criticisms aside, Close Encounters offers an insightful examination of gender in contemporary speculative fiction. Like Donna Haraway’s groundbreaking "A Manifesto for Cyborgs," whose influence permeates this book, Close Encounters offers a range of strategies for addressing the biological and linguistic problems of achieving a definition for a human being or a gendered subject. Although film and science fiction provide the raison d’ętre for Close Encounters, its exploration of psychology, technology, and the politics of difference has implications not only for science fiction studies but for poststructuralist feminism in all its manifestations.

Michelle Erica Green
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL 60637

This review originally appeared in SF4: Science Fiction and Fantasy Feminist Forum 1 (June 1991), 9-10..

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