Science Fiction Studies

#48 = Volume 16, Part 2 = July 1989

Albert I. Berger

Towards a Science of the Nuclear Mind: Science-Fiction Origins of Dianetics

Abstract.--L. Ron Hubbard's widely advertised book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950), describes a popular form of unorthodox psychological "therapy" that purports to offer solutions to personal problems and to point the way to a secure and socially successful life. The Church of Scientology that he founded became one of the more prominent "cults" characterizing American popular culture during the 1970s, and he himself became a famous, if notorious and mysterious, figure as its leader. Yet Hubbard started out as a pulp SF writer in John Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction, and Dianetics has substantial roots in SF's traditional interest in the use of psychological science as the basis for a powerful technology mimicking the genre's ideas on the role of the physical sciences. The extent of these roots was seen in the 1950s when many SF writers--Campbell among them--were initially attracted to Hubbard's ideas.

A "science of the mind" had been a staple in SF at least since the 1920s, when E.E. ("Doc") Smith had written of thought-powered spaceships and weapons, and Campbell himself had included his ideas on the subject in some of his fictions and many of his editorials even before the achievement of nuclear power. From Campbell's perspective, "mental sciences" might mean anything from psychosomatic medicine to telepathy, partially as an antidote for the problems created by the use of physical technology, but more significantly as advanced systems of knowledge not yet fully understood, except as various forms of magic. Equally significantly, Campbell wrote of his respect for ancient priests and soothsayers as practitioners of "the Science of Magic," and he would later describe modern science as "The Magic that Works."

During the early 1940s, writers publishing in Campbell's magazine (e.g., Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and A.E. van Vogt) made a variety of psychological technologies integral parts of the theories of history incorporated in their stories. In general, all of them imagined that these technologies would eventually displace economics, politics, and other forces as the principal determinants of social relationships in human civilizations. Such concepts seemed more important to them after the achievement of nuclear power. The fiction Hubbard wrote before he created Dianetics can be read as a severely alienated critique of modern industrial society and the failure of the political life associated with it, as well as a brief for the abandonment of both by an elite.

Such concepts appeared outside the orbit of SF in American culture at the same time--viz., during the years in which psychosurgery and the use of drugs were becoming increasingly characteristic of orthodox psychotherapy and in which bureaucratic, technical, and managerial objectives were increasingly being substituted for social and political ideals. Dianetics' emphasis on individual, personal empowerment through therapy and on the elimination of irrationality and evil thus fit very nicely into that historical context. Moreover, Hubbard explicitly stated that Dianetics would permit the extension of the frontier of American mythology into outer space, at least for those who completed the course of therapy and were "cleared" of all their neuroses.

Meanwhile, however, SF writers such as Cyril Kornbluth and Robert Bloch were able to see the limitations that such a world-view placed both upon political and social criticism in SF and upon political and social thought and action in civic life. They were able to recognize how ideas such as Hubbard's could in fact become justifications for an apathetic resignation to the continuation of tyranny.

Francis Cromphout

From Estrangement to Commitment: Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics and T Zero

Abstract.--Italo Calvino did not think of himself as an SF writer. This fact, however, has to do with the situation of SF in Italy at the time Cosmicomics and T Zero were published more than with certain prejudices about how SF is to be defined--such as the notion that the genre should be wholly identified with the novel of scientific anticipation. Given a generic typology like that which Darko Suvin establishes, the two works of Calvino's just mentioned can properly be claimed as belonging among the best SF by reason of their mode of proceeding, which is at once cognitive, pluritemporal, and estranged.

This proceeding leads Calvino to construct cognitive utopian fictions, the product of the demands for order, identity, and applicability to the extra-fictional world, all of which are thematized in his "cosmicomical" stories. The result is an oeuvre which implies, especially on the stylistic level (in both the narrow and the broadest sense), an engagement on the part of the writer. Calvino, in other words, calls into question established norms of thinking in a way that also imparts the idea of the world's transformability.

John Fekete

Science Fiction in Hungary

Abstract.--In the past 15 years, there has developed in Hungary the basic skeleton of a serious infrastructure for SF production in terms of an organized subculture of writers, readers, publishers, journals, other accessible media of communication, and international relations. This subculture can draw strength from a strong indigenous minority literary tradition of fantastic writing whose contributors include some of the most important Hungarian prose writers of the 20th century--among them, Mihály Babits, Frigyes Karinthy, and Tibor Déri. Writing at an international level of literary merit continues to be produced within the genre by the likes of Gyula Hernádi, Péter Lengyel, Péter Zsoldos, and Dezsö Tandori, and potentially also by a generation of young writers working near and around them. At the same time--and problematically--this creativity in SF remains generally unacknowledged, and certainly unlegitimated, by the main institutions of literary history, literary criticism, education, and official cultural transmission. This also applies, even within the SF subculture, to the more sophisticated formal experiments in Hungarian SF.

Veronica Hollinger

The Vampire and the Alien: Variations on the Outsider

Abstract.--While SF often evokes in its readers a proverbial "sense of wonder," it also works to "domesticate" narrative elements which, in different generic contexts, would be considered fantastic. In this essay, I examine the domestication of the figure of the vampire through its introduction into SF narratives. I analyze two texts in particular: Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires (1976) and Jody Scott's I, Vampire (1984). Each, in its own way, is a rewriting, and thus, to some extent, a parody, of Bram Stoker's Dracula. However, it is interesting to note the degree to which the compliance of The Space Vampires with the genre conventions of SF serves to consolidate a conservative textual ideology, while the more playful rejection of the boundaries between SF and fantasy in I, Vampire both derives from and results in a more radical ideological coloration. It seems to me that Wilson's treatment of the vampire as alien-Other closely parallels Stoker's original treatment in Dracula, while Scott's feminist revision not only undertakes a generic subversion, but also undermines the conventional human/alien opposition. The recent resurgence of vampire fiction, much of it by women writers, has produced some intriguing re-presentations of the vampire as Outsider which function as critiques of the marginalizations effected by patriarchal representations.

Thomas J. Morrissey

Pamela Sargent's Science Fiction for Young Adults: Celebrations of Change

Abstract.--Pamela Sargent's five SF novels for young adults display the same insight and concerns that characterize her novels for adult readers. The latter extrapolate from a broad range of contemporary technologies, including cybernetics, biological engineering, space travel, and atomic science. Regardless of the setting, however, her principal focus is always the carefully drawn characters who must live with the consequences of the technological revolution--or, in some cases, Revolution. Her five SF novels for younger readers--Watchstar (1980), The Eye of the Comet (1984), Homesmind (1984), Earthseed (1983), and Alien Child (1988) are simpler stylistically than her other books; but unlike many novels of the genre, they assume an audience with a speculative intelligence and an eagerness to be confronted with unconventional ideas and situations. In them, technological change and human evolution are inextricably entwined; humanity must come to terms with, rather than escape, the consequences of modern science. Sargent celebrates youth and the positive potential for change made possible by technology. Her novels for young adults are, therefore, as freewheeling and imaginative as the best SF for adults is.

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