Science Fiction Studies

#13 = Volume 4, Part 3 = November 1977



Albert I. Berger

Science-Fiction Fans in Socio-Economic Perspective: Factors in the Social Consciousness of a Genre

Abstract.-- This statistical study is based on 282 responses to questionnaires distributed during the 31st World SF Convention in Toronto (September 1973). The data are arranged in 22 tables that survey such factors as the fans’ level of education, type of job, and age. My research suggests that the SF’s community’s perception of itself as better educated and more heavily involved in professional and technical employment is accurate, though not to the degree its partisans believe. While there is little evidence to support John W. Campbell’s claim that science-fiction readers are important executives, there is evidence in this sample that they are heavily concentrated at the upper end of the economic scale. Their education and income give science-fiction fans traditional social distinctions, while the independence and freedom they feel, whether illusory or not, are increasingly rare privileges in an age of salaries and hierarchical organizations.


Charles Elkins

An Approach to the Social Functions of American SF

Abstract.-- Traditionally, the SF writer has approached his task by offering his readers radical dislocations in time and space, to create stages for action and to allow for experimentation with roles. Characters perform on these stages as representatives of various principles of social order. The significant question raised by this essay: will the roles sanctified by past or legitimated by "present" conditions be appropriate for confronting the "novelty" of an emerging future? I consider the heroes of popular SF as personifications of bourgeois individualism and bourgeois liberalism. Even in the best of the newer novels satirizing the existing social order, there are few attempts to go beyond mere criticism and to create the necessary metaphors that might allow writers and readers to move to the active roles necessary for transforming the social order and producing genuine social change.


Linda Fleming

The American SF Subculture

Abstract.-- Literary studies of SF have minimized, even ignored, the particular social universe organized around the literature. A sociology of SF cannot do so. An observable network of human relationship has influenced authors and has mediated the experience of thousands of SF readers over the years. This essay argues that there is a socially important SF subculture that can be identified, that developed along with the literary form itself, and that remains a neglected area of SF scholarship. Today the fan subculture is becoming larger and less of a close-knit community; it is no longer as differentiated from the rest of society as it once was. But most of the influential authors and editors of SF still have some "ghetto" or subcultural associations. For some these associations began in adolescence and have been a significant part of their personal and professional lives. One cannot understand modern SF without understanding the subculture in which so much of it has evolved.


Dieter Hasselblatt

Reflections from West Germany on the Science-Fiction Market

Abstract.-- The criteria observed by commercial SF are not literary, nor does SF optimize its possibilities as a literary genre. The distribution channels for commodified SF in Germany are the hardcover book, the paperback series, the film, the radio play, and the "Heft" series (soft-cover, medium-sized pulp magazines with a short novel complete in each issue). I begin with discussion of the most market-conscious of the channels of distribution--such imported television series as Raumschiff Enterprise (Star Trek), turning then to such other matters as the SF book series, the commercialization of the hero, and the cut-and-paste recycling of old plots. SF at the present time is a singular and grandiose collection of fetishes of a technological-industrial world that knows no other way to come to grips with the evident dilemma of symbol and machine, of nightmares and patterns of happiness, than the range of goods provided by SF, in which the future is put up for sale as ideologically distorted adventure, rather than being put up for discussion as an exercise in thought.


Wolfgang Jeschke

SF: A Publisher's View

Abstract.-- In West Germany, a belletristic or mainstream text (disregarding a few best sellers) is read by perhaps 2,000 to 5,000 people knowledgeable about literature. The deeper in the "lower regions," the broader the audience. SF paperbacks reach between 20,000 and 50,000 readers, the majority of whom do not read anything else. This means that the vocabulary, thoughts, and values of these (often young) people are to no little extent determined by these texts. Another unique feature of the West German scene discussed in this essay: the standard length of an "entertainment" (i.e., not belletristic) novel cannot exceed 144 to 160 pages. Until about 1973, the German publishers typically shortened all originals as part of the translation process. In the case of the poorer titles, often artificially blown up to the size required by American publishers, this was often a healthy procedure, a beneficial shrinking to normal size. The editor is often asked why he puts such poorly written titles into his program at all. And the answer is simple: fantasy series like Gor and Scorpio sell best. In addition, the German publishing rights to the series are as a rule bought before all titles have appeared in the original language; as the series continues, the later titles become thinner, more mediocre, and less imaginative.

Gérard Klein

Le Guin's "Aberrant" Opus: Escaping the Trap of Discontent

Abstract.-- Le Guin’s work presents an important concept that speaks against the ideology of necessity so pervasive in SF--namely that, socially and sociologically speaking, the possibility of hope, the idea of change itself, resides in the experience, the subjectivity, of the other. The point, of course, is not in copying the other’s solution, but in reacting to it with one’s own individual and social subjectivity. History is neither a succession nor an accumulation of experiences, but a confrontation of experiences; it cannot be linear. Thus, it becomes absurd to propose an eternal model, even one conceived as evolving. In Le Guin’s fiction, all societies, be they the most utopian, the most perfect you can dream of whatever your dreams, carry in their depths their own denial, a fundamental injustice. Not because humanity is bad (metaphysically) but because every society tends to recreate and perpetuate difference, including that subjectively experienced as good and as bad. In her Hainish novels and stories, including the recent novel The Dispossessed, Le Guin introduces into SF a social relativism--which is by no means an eclecticism nor a skeptical cynicism after the manner of Vonnegut. American SF that has accepted social relativism has often been a fearful reaction to the bursting of the American Dream. Almost alone, Le Guin seems to see in this bursting of the bubble the precondition of a new differentiation. Le Guin has known how to propose a world without a central principle, without a unifying system, without domination, because she is a woman: the obsessional affirmation of the phallus little concerns her. Perhaps she has thus indirectly suggested what a female culture might be: a-centric, tolerant, released, at last, from the male cultural pattern of repetitive conquest.

[A response by Joanna Russ appears in SFS 17 (March 1978).]


Bernt Kling

On SF Comics: Some Notes for a Future Encyclopedia

Abstract.-- This essay surveys the development of popular comics heroes from Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon during the 1920s and 1930s to such contemporary superheroes as Superman and his legion of imitators. While Superman is superior and stronger in every respect, most of his colleagues are only specialists with extreme, specialized gifts. Flash is the fastest man in the world; Plastic Man can shape his body in any way. The Human Torch can transform himself into a living flame; The Green Lantern draws his energy from the energy of green light. A few heroes have in addition a mythological background--The Mighty Thor, for instance. With many heroes we see the totemistic use of an animal symbol: Spiderman, Batman, Hawkman. With a few exceptions--notably, Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern (particularly between Nos.76-84), super-hero comics mainly dramatize violence against stereotyped enemies.


A.E. Levin

English-Language SF as a Socio-Cultural Phenomenon

Abstract.-- I shall consider conjectural literature (though the term "science fiction" will be introduced at midpoint) as a specific method of creating and transmitting meaning: i. e., as a well-defined type of cultural language that has appeared under the influence of specific objective factors. I first concentrate on the sociocultural functions of conjectural literature in order to describe how these functions came to be embodied in the popular form of SF, which is neither utopia nor fairy tale. SF as a literary system can appear only when backed by very definite conditions of general culture. It is not, of course, obliged to tell about the future, but in its essence it is fertilized by the multitude of possibilities possible only in the future and meaningless without it. A short history of popular SF (beginning with Gernback) concludes with an analysis of why SF during the 1970s is again in crisis.


Rudolf Stefen

Violence in SF, and Censorship in West Germany

Abstract.-- This essay surveys West Germany’s "Law Regarding Dissemination of Youth-Endangering Writings" (1953; amended in 1961 and 1974). Especially during the later 1960s, SF came under the scrutiny of those enforcing this law. This brief review of works censored (placed on an index of forbidden writings) under the provisions of this law shows that significant SF has never been placed on the index, though corrupt imitations have been censored. Among the genres most often censored were pseudo-SF, tales impinging on other genres: adventure, horror, vampire, and soft-core pornographic fiction.

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