The Protocols of Science Fiction

A conversation on a 1996 Internet newsgroup questioned the existence of science-fiction reading protocols. Up to that point I hadn’t thought they needed explanation, since they seemed self-evident when Samuel R. Delany introduced them at a Modern Language Association meeting two decades ago. His remarks, along with others amplifying his insights, have since been reprinted in various journals, including his 1984 collection Starboard Wine. They seemed so illuminating to the processes that I had found myself going through and through which I had guided my students that I adopted them myself, perhaps in ways that Delany might not approve, including an exercise in my SF class in which I lead the students through a line-by-line reading of Philip Jose Farmer’s “Sail On! Sail On!”

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