Science Fiction Studies

#29 = Volume 10, Part 1 = March 1983



With this, the first issue of its tenth volume, SFS begins the eleventh year of its existence. We are happy to celebrate that anniversary with some the the journal's longstanding friends: with Stanislaw Lem, who, courtesy of Raymond Federman, speaks in a personal voice that may be unfamiliar to those who have not read his autobiography; with Patrick McCarthy, who here turns his attention to Alfred Bester, and in an essay dealing specifically with Bester's reworking of Blake, opens the matter of SF's "creative revisionism" of the Romantic tradition generally; with Bruce Franklin, who focuses a sardonic eye on the films that Hollywood is purveying these days as SF, and sees their visions as reflective of an America which in its imperial decline seems bent on depriving the entire world of hope for a future: and with David Ketterer, who brings historical systematizing to an overview of Canadian SF, both English and French.                

We are also delighted to have no fewer than five newcomers to our pages: James Gunn, well known as a critic and writer of SF, cogently reviews for us the part that magazine editors have played in the development of SF from early in this century until just a short time ago, when book-publishers supplanted those "gatekeepers"; Kathleen Spencer melds ideas from Jonathan Cutler, Marc Angenot, Samuel R. Delany, and Darko Suvin into an ambitious synthesis that, among other things, illuminates the linguistic peculiarities of SF; Martin Bridgstock, taking a similarly syncretic approach to the problematics of readership, explains the genre's appeal in terms of a psycho-typology; Boris Eizykman, the most famous of Jean-François Lyotard's students, intricately picks his way through the intricacies of chance—in its assimilable form, but more as a force opposing technocratic reality—as this pertains to SF; and Bonnie McSorley acquaints us with the S-F "twilight zone of hope" of a contemporary Spanish playwright, Buero Vallejo.                

In their diversity of matter and manner, the articles contained herein collectively exemplify the pluralism that SFS has always striven to uphold. They will also stand to be judged. we think, by the standard of excellence that Dale Mullen and Darko Suvin set for this journal a decade ago. But while its ideals remain those of its founders, SFS has witnessed several changes in format; and this year we add to their number by introducing abstracts in English to go along with those in French.                

Like almost all other academic journals, ours is not a profit-making venture, and its future is precarious. The most immediate peril these days comes from the financial cutbacks which translate into the cancelling of university library subscriptions. The revenue from these not only constitutes a significant portion of our income; it also allows us to keep down our rates to individual subscribers. Those of you who have an academic affiliation would therefore be doing yourselves as well as us a favor by urging your local serials librarian to continue—or start—subscribing to SFS. With your help, and your words of encouragement, we may be able to survive another ten years.

Martin Bridgstock

A Psychological Approach to "Hard" Science Fiction

Abstract. - "A Psychological Approach... "outlines a theory relating the appeal of' "hard "SF to the psychological characteristics of its readers. It seems safe to suppose that reading serves (among other things) the function of "maintenance "--of confirming or reinforcing certain trait-preferences.

In the case of "hard" SF, the author argues that the reader in question fits Liam Hudson's description of a "converger." She or (more frequently) he takes a rational approach to life and seeks to screen out emotion and irrationality. The appeal of stories like "Neutron Star" or "Nightfall " to the "converger" lies in their portrayal of problem-solvers as admirable types and of rationalistic approaches to problems as the only kind feasible--themes that fulfill a "maintenance" objective by assuring the "converger" that rationality will ultimately triumph over chaos. On the other hand. the antithesis of the "converger" will not--if theory holds--share this liking for "hard" SF. The tastes of the "divergers" will instead run to fantasy and "New Wave" SF: what they find congenial are escapes from rational calculation and explorations of the psyche.

Boris Eizykman

Chance and Science Fiction: SF as Stochastic Fiction

Abstract.--Philip K. Dick in Solar Lottery and Gérard Klein in Le sceptre du hasard have both suggested that chance could be reintegrated, as a matter of choice, into the mechanisms of a "perfect" society. Chance finally subverts all laws; all rationalities, all determinisms: it reinstates chaos into order and sounds the knell for utopian visions of a perfectly regulated world. Though noting that chance also designates that indeterminacy which can be made consonant with technocratic rationality--and noting, too, that this sense of the word applies to a certain kind of utopian and science fiction--the author concentrates on chance as an oppositional force in the modern world. He seeks to demonstrate how, in relation to a variety of modern thinkers, the images of chance constitute themselves as the antithesis of those expressive of rational power and of the predictability of social change that goes with it. In this respect, SF becomes the literature of alternative realities subservient to chance, which represents the driving force behind the creation of fluid social metamorphoses. Indeed, the author cites a variety of stories--by Dick, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, and Michel Jeury--to prove that it is not far-fetched to think of SF as signifying "stochastic fiction."

H. Bruce Franklin

Don't Look Where We're Going: Visions of the Future in Science-Fiction Films, 1970-82

Abstract.--A systematic examination of the visions of the future projected in Anglo-American SF films from 1970 through mid-1982 reveals a significant shift from the monster and doomsday movies of the l950s and 1960s. These cinematic projections of the imagination of despair express the accelerating social and economic disintegration of a world empire and contain ominous implications about the actual future. By focusing on the transformations of the two key archetypes received from early SF movies--"The Wonder City of the Future" and "The Marvelous Flying Machine" --it is possible to chart critical areas of the cultural imagination of a society that perceives itself as terminally ill, cannot conceive of a better future and is compulsively consuming the present in order to produce the means for eliminating any human future.

James Gunn

The Gatekeepers

Abstract..--The development of SF as a genre has been directed and determined to a significant extent by editors. They established their preponderant influence at the beginning of this century with the appearance of the first magazines devoted exclusively to producing SF in a "closed milieu." Frank Munsey, first, and then other editors of "pulp magazines," changed the reading habits of an entire generation. Witness the power of the stance and editorial biases of Hugo Gernsback (the creator of Amazing Stories [1926-29], and later of Wonder Stories), and also of the subsequent policies of the SF magazines of the between-wars period.

The power of the editor culminates in the person of John W. Campbell, who actively sought certain types of stories and intervened directly to influence the work of the authors whom he recruited. Out of the needs and preferences that Campbell made Astounding a vehicle for between 1937 and 1950 came the "modern" understanding of what SF is.

New criteria and new models came on the scene in the 1950s; but here, too, the influence of the magazines and their editors-in-chief has been a determining factor. Indeed, that editorial influence can be gauged by the fact that authors frequently subordinated financial considerations (which in any event remained for most of them too modest to live on ) to those of the editorial policy and prestige of the magazine in which they would choose to "place" their fiction.

In the 1950', the paperback market began to expand, and with it the thematic field of SF. Even so, the 1960s' influence of the last of the Gatekeepers was considerable: Michael Moorcock, in his capacity as editor of New Worlds, encouraged the bold departures from previous practice which produced the generic revolution known as the "New Wave."

These days, however, books have taken over from magazines as the principal format in which SF is read. It is now the book-publishers. rather than the magazine editors, who determine what counts as SF--and these days almost anything might be marketed under the rubric. In short, the Gatekeepers have disappeared, and the kingdom that they guarded is in the process of falling apart.

David Ketterer

A Historical Survey of Canadian Science Fiction

Abstract..--This attempt to uncover a distinctive history of Canadian SF has led to the determination of three periods of development. A pioneer period, beginning with Napoléon Aubin's Mon voyage à la lune (1839), ends around 1932. Various works influenced by the American utopian tradition and the British future-war tradition appeared in this time, but the most important title is James De Mille's A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888). A second period extending from 1932 until 1959 is particularly characterized by the number of Canadian-born writers who settled in the US. The most notable of these is A.E. van Vogt. A Canadian fanzine tradition was inaugurated in 1936. With the acceleration of SF production during the modern period, certain categories can be discerned: occasional works by well-known, mainstream Canadian writers, visions of Canada's future, near future political thrillers, and works by American and British-born writers now living in Canada. But the most significant contemporary figure--a writer born in Canada who continues to reside in Canada and who publishes superior SF regularly--is Phyllis Gotlieb. Some conclusions are drawn about the difficulties that Canadian SF has had in establishing itself and about the nature of the material that has appeared. Sources for further reference are described in a concluding section.

Patrick A. McCarthy

Science Fiction as Creative Revisionism: The Example of Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination

Abstract.--In The Stars My Destination (1956). Alfred Bester advances his novels apocalyptic themes partly through numerous allusions to a variety of literary works. Of these, the most important seem to be the references to James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and to William Blake's poem "The Tyger." References to Blake are in fact so pervasive The Stars might be understood as a revisionary interpretation of "The Tyger." An examination of the tiger motif in The Stars leads to a Blakean interpretation of the novel's conclusion and demonstrates the extent to which Romantic assumptions about the human imagination determine the action of Bester's narrative.

Bonnie Shannon McSorley

Buero Vallejo's Mito and El Tragaluz: The Twilight Zone of Hope

Abstract.--In El Tragaluz and Mito SF elements are introduced to dramatize the realization of hope. In the first Buero uses a technique akin to time travel to show a distant future where problems of existential identity and alienation have been diminished, if not resolved. In the second, Buero turns towards the mysteries of outer space. The unknown is envisioned not as something finite that decreases with scientific advances, but infinite and rapidly expanding as the interface between knowledge and ignorance increases. To reach out, in spite of the impossibility of our quest, is a message which Buero's theater attempts to instill in us.

Kathleen L. Spencer

"The Red Sun is High, the Blue Low": Towards a Stylistic Description of Science Fiction

Abstract.--The aim of this paper is to answer some questions about the characteristic language of SF as a genre: (1) What are the norms or expectations--the conventions-- by which readers interpret the sentences of SF texts? How do they make sense of sentences (like the one in my title) which, is a "realistic" text, would be nonsensical?; (2) What techniques do SF writers use to create and fulfill those expectations?

The author begins with Darko Suvin's definition of SF as "a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author's empirical environment. " The two crucial terms, cognition and estrangement. interact to produce the SF readers most fundamental expectations of the genre: (1) that the story happens somewhere else--that place, or time, or circumstances are significantly different from the reader's own real world: and (2) that the "empirical environment" of the fiction is derived from the reader's own empirical environment in some logical, and therefore cognitively discoverable, way; and further, that this new environment is bound by natural laws as our own is. These two expectations together create SF's paradoxical relationship with reality--its "realistic irreality " as Suvin calls it--which in turn produces most, if not all of SF's defining literary characteristics.

The next stage of the paper uses structuralist poetics and reader-response theory to explain how fictional texts convey the impression of reality, and then looks to see how SF adapts these techniques to make convincing the portrayal of an imaginary culture. The most crucial and characteristic technique is an obliquity of approach: rather than describing an alien culture frankly to an "earth" audience from the outside, the SF author typically writes from the standpoint of an inhabitant of the culture addressing a fictive audience of his or her contemporaries, who take for granted precisely those characteristics of the culture that the actual audience will find most unlike their own real experience. Another technique relies on the power of a few unfamiliar (invented) terms, properly grouped and sequenced, to suggest the existence of a whole class of beings or experiences of which these terms are part. The common factor in all these techniques of SF is that they depend upon the readers actively constructing an image of the culture being conveyed to her or him by indirect means, and hence interpreting the significance of details which the author narrator supplies but does not overtly explain.

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