Scientifically Valid and Artistically True: Chad Oliver, Anthropology, and Anthropological SF
Posted on 25. May, 2009 by James Miller
|Title||Scientifically Valid and Artistically True: Chad Oliver, Anthropology, and Anthropological SF|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2004|
|Journal||Science Fiction Studies|
Chad Oliver (1928-1993) is one of several writers credited with developing the subgenre of anthropological science fiction. Unlike other sf authors identified as members of this group, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Oliver was also a practicing anthropologist, serving as chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas for almost two decades, with research interests in Native Americans and pastoralism in Kenya. Although Oliver saw his twin vocations as interrelated, anthropology and sf made for uneasy bedfellows over the course of his career. This essay surveys Oliver's work, from his first published story in 1948 until his death, by examining historical shifts in the fields of anthropology and science fiction that are reflected in his writings. Just as Oliver moved from Golden Age themes of heroic technocrats to the critical ironies of sf's New Wave, so did his anthropological thinking change from abstract models of ecological functionalism and ethnocentric evolutionism in the 1950s to more engaged, self-reflexive work in political economy and interpretive ethnography during the 1960s and 1970s. In the final analysis, "anthropological science fiction" figures in Oliver's writings less as a stable method than as a series of shifting critical questions.