I read bad SF so you don’t have to

Following up on revelations about paranormal romance (which is a fast-growing subgenre), I decided that as a scientiphilologist it was my bounden duty to make sure I wasn’t neglecting it as a source of citations. As a consequence, I have before me a novella titled “In the End” by one S. L. Carpenter. It’s a romance (or, more precisely, as it turns out, an erotic story*) set on Uranus. (Get it? “In the End“, “Uranus“? The whole story is like that.) I was half-hoping to find a cite for “Uranian,” one of the least-commonly used names for aliens from Earth’s solar system. About its only redeeming quality is that every once-in-a-while, one of the Uranus puns is actually funny. That, and the fact that it supplied me with only the second non–Star Trek use of the word “transporter” (to mean matter transmitter) I’ve ever seen. Now, before you Trek-haters get your knickers in a twist about the woeful effect that ST has had on the language of SF (you know who you are), let me just point out that the other instance was in a Poul Anderson story, so it’s not just people who only know SF from TV and the World Weekly News who are using it.

*Apropos of pretty much nothing, I’ve always found it fascinating that for some genres, there’s a name for a work in that genre (fantasy, romance, mystery, alternate history), but for others there isn’t. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has a theory about this, but I haven’t any idea myself.

One final note: I can’t resist pointing out that, although it sounds very strange to a lot of people, “science fiction” has actually been used as a name for a work of science fiction; it’s fairly rare, but not as rare as Uranians.

2 Responses to “I read bad SF so you don’t have to”

  1. Fred Galvin says:

    Are you sure “Uranian” is all that rare? The “Uranian” page at the Science Fiction Citations site seems to indicate that only antedatings are needed. As they already have one from 1870, it’s no wonder citations haven’t been pouring in. If they had asked for “cites of any date” they’d probably have a dozen or two by now. For instance, there are cites in these sources, found in a few minutes of searching;
    Kenneth Heuer, “Men of Other Planets”, 1951.
    Nelson Bond, “The Day We Celebrate”, ASF, 1941.
    Evelyn E. Smith, “Tea Tray in the Sky”, Galaxy, 1952.

  2. jeff says:

    The OED2 has only one citation (the 1870 one) in its entry, but the fact that they have an entry at all is probably why we didn’t ask for additional citations. Based on the speed with which you turned up those cites, I’d say you’re probably right about its comparative rareness. Which is to say, never as popular as Martian or Venusian/Venerian, but comparable to the other outer planets. Or, put another way, not that uncommon in the first half of the 20th century, but pretty rare after the 1960s or so. (My history of astronomy is not up to recalling when we discovered the composition of the outer planets, which would suggest a point at which it became less plausible that the gas giants were inhabited. Since “gas giant” seems to have been coined in 1952, this seems like a fair guess.) A recent usage would still be somewhat unexpected, however.

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