Can a prophecy heal?

Reading the reception history of Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants and Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, I suggest that these novels, although commonly marked as representative of distinct moments in the American SF tradition, are in fact closely linked by their near-future explorations of the indefinite formation of “ambiguous utopias” in opposition to an aggressive corporatization of everyday life in the United States after 1950. Tracking the association of The Space Merchants with satire from the 50-80s alongside Butler’s critical designation as prophetic from the 90s to now, I argue that within the post-war mass cultural genre system, Butler could only write her way out of the walls of the present after she was first written out of the walls of SF. I conclude by thinking through Butler’s reception history since her death in 2006—as we approach the actual near-future years of The Parable— in order to sketch the ambiguous position of SF as the central literary genre within the cultural imagination that is able to imagine world-healing as much as world-building.

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