“Fiery the Angels rose, & as they rose deep thunder roll’d
Around their shores: indignant burning with the fires of Orc…”
–William Blake, America: A Prophecy
My epigram from William Blake gets at my purpose here. This, of course, is the passage that Roy Batty misquotes in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (Hampton Fancher and David Peoples wrote the screenplay), the 1982 film based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Batty says, “Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc.” The reversal of rising to falling is everywhere in Blake (and Edgar Allan Poe, for that matter) and is already happening again. It performs a change in perception rooted in the critical apprehension of world view. In America, the thirteen angels governing the American colonies recognize their moral hypocrisy and “rend” the symbols of their office, rejecting oppression and empire. The fall of John Milton’s angels into the fires of hell is appropriated by Blake to symbolize the angels embrace of their own desire and autonomy.
Batty’s quotation begins to get at the arc I’ll trace here: romanticism to science fiction. More generally, I want to ponder historical genres and modes that break with realism, but my focus is on the revival of medieval romance in the guises of the Gothic, scientific romance and science fiction (genre sf), and fantasy. Speculative Romance, as a term, tries to capture the odd tensions I encounter as I shuttle back and forth between romantic writing at the end of the eighteenth and through the nineteenth century and how this leads to the emergence of the modern genres and modes of science fiction and fantasy. Part of these tensions involve the blurring of genres–perhaps the commonalities between them–especially the re-convergence of sf and fantasy in the past few decades, the apparent shift in sf from science fiction to speculative fiction, and an emerging insistence (already witnessed in the post-colonial imperatives of Magical Realism) on the importance of fantasy.