Here are my seven favorite metafictional science fiction novels. By metafiction I’m referring to devices such as breaking the fourth wall (characters addressing the audience), the author addressing the reader, a story about a writer writing a story, a story containing another work of fiction within it, a work where the narrator reveals himself or herself as the author of the story, narrative footnotes, etc….
I’d love to hear your favorites (they don’t have to be novels)!
Obviously, these types of experimental works only appeal to some readers (especially fans of the sci-fi New Wave movement of the late 60s and early 70s) but I personally love seeing experimentation in an often — dare I say — stylistically stale genre. Often, the metafictional aspects do not prevent authors from deploying traditional narratives.
My top seven (and an honorable mention):
1. Beyond Apollo, Brian N. Malzberg (1972) (REVIEW) — what you read is most likely the novel written by the main character. However, he’s most likely insane so attempting to get AT the true nature of his voyage to Venus is purposefully layered… Complicating the matter is how unreliable of a narrator he is and the fact that he’s tells many versions of the same story. Malzberg pokes fun at pulp science fiction throughout — which he clearly enjoyed as a child.
2. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968) — the metafictional aspects are rather hidden in this New Wave masterpiece (my single favorite sci-fi novel). Brunner’s vast (in scope and depth) mosaic of invented book fragments, advertising jingles, and narrative portions are interspersed with news articles taken from his own day — including the school shooting at the University of Texas in 1966. Of course, as readers we’re geared to imagining that everything Brunner is presenting to us is in the future — in this case an overpopulated world wrecked with social problems — the articles from the authors era make his message all the more terrifying.
3. The Iron Dream, Norman Spinrad (1972) (REVIEW) — in an alternate past Hitler leaves Germany for the United States after WWI and becomes a hack sci-fi writer (WWII never happens). What you read is Hitler’s posthumous Hugo-winning novel, Lord of the Swastika (which is really a sort of sci-fi post-apocalyptical future version of what Hitler wants to do — and really DID in our timeline — albeit in a different way) — also, attached to the end is a brief afterword by an editor of Lord of the Swastika — which, is clearly some version of Spinrad for he critiques his own writing. However, the editor does not know our timeline so he has trouble figuring out the meaning behind the story. An absolutely brilliant critique of pulp SF/F. Spinrad DESERVES a revival.
4. What Entropy Means to Me, George Alec Effinger (1972) (REVIEW) — Effinger revels, and I mean gloriously revels, in metafictional experimentation. The result is a multi-layered/complex homage to the the act of literary creation. The novel will especially appeal to readers who love to read about the act of writing, readers who have previously tried their hand at writing, and those aware of the history of literature (Medieval Romance, etc).
5. The Man in a High Castle, Philip K. Dick (1962) — most sci-fi fans know this famous alternate history of WWII…. Not only was I Ching supposedly used as an external narrative dictating principle by Dick himself but a novel appears within the book describing what really happened in WWII…. A delightful work and an easy way to introduce people to metafiction. Kingsely Amis, in his alternate history novel The Alteration (1976) in which the Reformation never happened, pays homage to PKD’s novel by including a book named The Man in a High Castle describing the world in which the Reformation occurred.
6. The Einstein Intersection, Samuel R. Delany (1967) — a bizarre tale, as are most of Delany’s works, where Delany’s own diaristic travel experiences feature heavily before each chapter… The interplay between the actual narrative and his interjections can be intriguing (although, when I first read the book years ago I found it more frustrating than not — but, it is often downright poetic).
7. Revelations, Brian N. Malzberg (1972) (REVIEW) — The entire novel is comprised of the contents of the main character’s drawer — fragments of diary entries, interviews, show transcripts, letters. Malzberg manages to weave together all these fragments into something cohesive and fascinating.
An honorable mention goes to Malzberg’s Guernica Night (1975) (REVIEW) — The author himself enters the narrative and recounts a dream he had about the person to whom the novel is dedicated: “And so it is night, and I dream that I am talking to Gil Orlovitz (1919-1973) once again, perhaps in a state of dreaming, perhaps waking, one is not sure; night is unjointed as one ages. ‘Use artifice,’ Orlovitz counsels, ‘use artifice, use art, use masks, the manipulation of masks behind which the truth may be given, because only the masks are universe, and only the deceits count'” (124). Of course, these are key concepts to “understand” the story he has told.
What are your favorites? Your top 5? Your favorite metafictional short stories?
For more LISTS and ARTICLES consult the INDEX.