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Generic Exhaustion and the "Heat Death" of Science Fiction

Elizabeth Hewitt
Science Fiction Studies
Vol. 21, No. 3 (Nov., 1994), pp. 289-301
Published by: SF-TH Inc
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240367
Page Count: 13
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Generic Exhaustion and the "Heat Death" of Science Fiction
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Abstract

Pamela Zoline's "The Heat Death of the Universe" (1967), in which a domestic narrative of a day in the life of California housewife Sarah Boyle is punctuated by ruminations on entropy, chaos, and the heat death of the universe, often has been argued to belong only marginally to the category of sf. Zoline, like many other New Wave writers who were publishing in New Worlds, is claimed to occupy only a liminal status in sf. By situating Zoline in the context of her New Worlds' publication as well as within the thermodynamic concerns of the 1960s New Wave writers, I argue that questions of generic identity and dissolution are precisely what is at issue in "Heat Death." The thematic structures that organize "Heat Death"-housework and the exhaustion of Sarah Boyle and the second law of thermodynamics and the exhaustion of the universe-offer an elegant allegory for reading Zoline's generic theory of sf, which is to sustain a generic identity that will not overdetermine the many texts seeking its shelter and, at the same time, will not give up a fruitful critical difference in the imagination of a utopian field of textual equality.

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