Science Fiction Studies

#23 = Volume 8, Part 1 = March 1981



David J. Lake

The Whiteness of Griffin and H.G. Wells's Images of Death, 1897-1914

Abstract .--As a sequel his previous article "The White Sphinx'' (SFS 6:77-84), the author examines here the symbolism of color--especially whiteness--in the works of H.G. Wells, in particular The Invisible Man and those works published from 1900 to 1914. Whiteness, like the invisibility of the protagonist Griffin in The Invisible Man, expresses the negative traits of his character: intellectual abstraction, alienation, and spiritual death--all of which lead to his physical death. But in the period 1900-1914, the symbolic value of whiteness in Wells's works is often changed from negative to positive. Whiteness is associated with the peaks of snow-topped mountains, frequently signifying the sublime and the purity of life in a future utopia.

Stanislaw Lem

Metafantasia: The Possibilities of Science Fiction

Abstract .--SF is reminiscent of neopositivism's aggressive reductionism in that it acts as if the repertoire of the detective story and the adventure novel were sufficient for structuring any phenomenon in the universe, regardless of its time, place, and degree of complexity, and all the situations in which human civilization may find itself. Thus SF designates its problems (contact with "aliens," the spirit in the machine, the instrumentalization of values, etc.), but it does not embody them in narrative structures.

Among the criticisms leveled against existing SF, the most important is this matter of opportunities systematically squandered. We must deem it a serious flaw of the genre that it has no independent, rational, and normative criticism which is committed not only to SF, but also to the more encompassing relations between culture and literature on which the fate of both depends. For this reason, my intention has not been so much to write the definitive monograph on SF, but rather to prepare the outline of a rational, internal critique.

Manfred Nagl

National Peculiarities in German Science Fiction: Science Fiction as a National and Topical Literature

Abstract.--Nowadays SF passes for an international phenomenon. The global extent of its production and consumption seems to offer striking evidence for its international character. Further promoting this view are those wide-spread psychological and structuralist studies which emphasize the universally human--i.e., ahistorical--elements in SF. As far as the relationship between society and literature is concerned, critics mention only a more or less vague "modern Western society." Even Marxist studies often agree to this effect: that Western SF is in general an expression of US "cultural imperialism" and its universal late-capitalist ideology. This astonishingly inaccurate definition of the relations between society, history, and literature points to the increasing monopolization of mass media in the US and to the compulsion for selling their products in all possible countries according to a universal ideology and design.

At bottom there are at work here three methodological assumptions which in my opinion are not entirely valid. First of all, the level of economic development of any of the mass media, supposed to be equal to the situation in the best developed of them (movies and TV), is transferred to all the other media, especially to literature. Secondly, it is taken for granted that all national traditions of SF other than those of the US have meanwhile entirely vanished or have completely succumbed to the American pattern. And finally, both of these assumptions, though not the results of exact sociological investigation, serve as basic concepts and as a test for the outcome of analysis.

Taking a few examples from the historic and present situation of German SF, I would like to show why these general assumptions have never been justified and, hence, why precise definition of the relationship between literature, history, and society remains to be worked out. My argument is that SF, like all other kinds of literature, has been determined by national and topical factors.

Robert M. Philmus

The Satiric Ambivalence of The Island of Doctor Moreau

Abstract .--The Island of Doctor Moreau is the most sustained, and also the most Swiftian, of all Wells's SF satires. The same cannot be said for the draft he had in hand by February of 1895. The spirit that presides over it is not Swift's but Stevenson's. As Wells originally conceived it, he clearly meant The Island of Doctor Moreau to be a gothic mystery on the model of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The inspiration for how to go about revising Moreau may have occurred to Wells as a result of reading Frank Challice Constable's The Curse of Intellect (1895). But, whatever the similarities between Wells's eventual text and those of Constable, Stevenson, and especially Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the final version of The Island of Doctor Moreau is typically Wellsian in its satiric ambivalence. Up until the moment when Moreau is killed by his last victim, the satirical target of this second book of Wells's SF is what he has elsewhere described as "artificial man'' with his superficial polish of civilized customs. With the death of Moreau, however, these customs and ways of being are revealed for what they are--i.e., the thin protective coating protecting man from the potential bestiality within himself.

William J. Scheick

Towards the Ultra-Science-Fiction Novel: H.G. Wells's Star Begotten

Abstract .--Despite a respectable reception at the time of its publication, H.G. Wells's Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia (1937) has been no favorite among literary critics or SF aficionados. In fact, today it is hardly known at all, even by experts on Wells. But Wells wrote it during the period of his late career when he was celebrating the maturation of his thought and artistry; and he apparently viewed the work as an advance in the direction of the ultra-SF novel, an elusive ideal toward which his previous SF novels, by a kind of asymptotic evolution, had been pointing.

Wells's technique of "the splintering frame" employs certain fictional conventions in a way so as to frustrate reader expectations generally associated with these conventions, to draw attention to themselves as artificial devices, and finally to point away from the text as a self-contained finished artifact and towards the reader's experience as open-ended and infused with expanded dimensions for on-going development. Through this technique Wells sought to make the reader experience fictional "space" or form as at once timeless (the ideal) and timely (the individual), as relevant and relative.

Darko Suvin

Playful Cognizing, Technical Errors in Harmonyville: The SF of Johanna and Günter Braun.

Abstract.--J. and G. Braun are an East German couple who began publishing adolescent adventure stories in 1955 and subsequently have become some of the country's most successful SF authors. They have published four SF works since 1972: Der Irrtum des Grossen Zauberers (The Great Magician's Error, 1972), Unheimliche Erscheinungsformen auf Omega XI (Uncanny Phenomena on Omega 11, 1974), Conviva ludibundus (1978), and the stories collected as Der Fehlfaktor (The Mistake Factor, 1975). Often reminiscient of the SF works of Lem in their use of satire and irony, the Brauns are in the German literary tradition of Jean-Paul and Brecht.

Michael Tritt

Byron's "Darkness" and Asimov's "Nightfall"

Abstract.--Byron's poem "Darkness'' (1816) and Asimov's short story "Nightfall'' (1941) are very similar in terms of their thematic content. In both, the light of the sun is extinguished, creating a desolate and fearful world. Humanity, terrified of the darkness, is driven mad and ultimately to extinction. In Asimov's version, this cataclysm is cyclical and civilization reappears after the eclipse. In Byron's version, in contrast, there is no rebirth; death and chaos are permanent. The central theme of both texts is the fragility both of the human mind and of humanity's chances for survival.

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