#50 = Volume 17, Part 1 = March 1990
Czech SF in the Last Forty Years
Abstract.--A survey of Czech SF over the last 40 years reveals, first
of all, that while the genre has had its ups and downs (reaching its nadir in the early
1950s and suffering again in the early '70s), it has pretty much maintained a continuous
tradition and is now apparently in thriving condition (to judge by sales figures for SF
titles). From an overview, it is also evident that those years have supplied successors to
the likes of Capek, Troska, and Faukner in the persons of Nesvadba, Soucek, Veis, and Neff
(to name only the most popular among a legion of Czech SF writers who have emerged since
the founding of the Socialist Republic). On the other hand, the strength of Czech SF
writers lies with the short story; when they attempt to negotiate longer narrative forms,
they have been decidedly less successful (at least in artistic terms). This, however, may
not continue to be a truth about Czech SF in the future.
Intercultural Interplay: Science Fiction in France and the
United States (As Viewed from the French Shore)
Abstract.--The time is long past when the history of a nation's SF was viewed
merely as an extension of its local folklore. And the contemporary study of SF as a world
literature would seem to call for a more detailed analysis of how the American
model--which carried the genre to its current level of maturity-- affected both the
historical evolution of SF as a whole and that of certain national literatures.
Such an investigation requires a look at the prehistory of the genre (inasmuch as SF,
from the 17th century onward, developed as an autonomous fictional form) and the manner by
which it assumed its generic identity around the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Although a number of SF-type narratives were indeed published in America during this
period, the European SF model tended to dominate the genre, at least until Bellamy's Looking
Between the world wars--a period when the publishing industry in France was far from
dynamic and French SF itself seemed increasingly to turn toward motifs of anti-science and
the fantastic--American SF began to distinguish itself not only as a new category of
publishing but also as a cogent and highly original mythos--a "new'' SF whose
identity was perhaps reinforced and strengthened by its literary "ghettoization''
during the Gernsback years.
The end of World War II brought a flood of American SF into France and--despite the
initial shock--ultimately served to reawaken and reinvigorate its nearly moribund French
cousin. From this imported American SF production, French authors discovered new thematic
models and references (R. Bradbury, P.K. Dick, et al.) which, during the subsequent
decades, they have consciously imitated, adapted, modified, and--in some
measure--attempted to distance themselves from. The resulting new French SF has produced a
number of interesting texts like those of Michel Jeury and Serge Brussolo, but it still
has not achieved the success to which it aspires, particularly in the American SF
The reason for this is that French SF, while it needed American SF to revive and
redefine itself, has not really influenced the latter since the era of Jules Verne.
American SF has developed according to its own internal dictates and in the context of
other English-speaking SF authors (like the British who published New Worlds).
This does not mean, of course, that SF will forever remain essentially a US-derived
literary form: French SF could, for example, stand as an excellent generic model for the
hybridizing of SF culture and avant-garde literature.
Transcendence Through Detournement in William Gibson's Neuromancer
Abstract.--In Neuromancer, William Gibson uses computers as a
metaphor for human memory and personality. He is concerned with how easily people can
change themselves, and by what methods. Memory is represented as solid traces left behind
by experience, a kind of programming. For most of Gibson's characters, the inability to
overcome this programming, to transcend the self, leads to a desire for self-destruction
or dissolution. They seek to escape their bodies, their pasts, or their eventual deaths,
and technology is the method of choice. Most often, this involves technological
detournement: appropriating tools and putting them to uses for which they were not
originally intended. The technological transcendence of human limits, seen in the context
of the cyberpunk movement, is a liberating, evolutionary force, although its results often
seem monstrous. In Gibson's work, the human need for self-transcendence is itself
detourned, co-opted by governments and corporations, in order to maintain the status quo.
Gibson's creative method can be seen as a kind of literary detournement, a prose-collage
of semiotic elements from every branch of the cultural stream. This technique liberates
him from his own creative difficulties and the strictures of the SF genre.
Patrick D. Murphy
Reducing the Dystopian Distance: Pseudo-Documentary Framing in
Abstract.--The ascendancy of dystopian over utopian visions in the course of
the last 100 years or so has created a problem for the writers of such fictions. As
dystopias have become commonplace, their subliminative dimension has increasingly
triumphed over their cognitive function--which is to say that they tend to produce a
cathartic elimination of anxiety rather than offering the kind of understanding that makes
their readers want to act to change the world.
Recently, certain authors of near-future dystopian fictions have addressed this problem
of reducing the distance between fictive and empirical world by resorting to
pseudo-documentary framing. Streiber and Kunetka's Warday exemplifies the
contemporaneous, journalistic variant of such a device. In consequence, theirs seems more
"real'' and more truthful (as opposed to ideological) than many another dystopia. It
exposes the perception that most readers have of the present as unchanging to be the
illusion of a fixed observer. Meanwhile, both the framing and the structure of Warday
emphasize that its vision of nuclear catastrophe is probable rather than merely possible.
The Handmaid's Tale represents a different variant of the same kind of
framing. To bring home to readers the real possibility of a resurgence in the oppression
of women, Atwood resorts to a first-person diary accompanied by academic discourse
thereon. In this case, the pseudo-documentary framing serves for satirizing two distinct
but ideologically compatible spheres of male domination as it establishes a continuity
between Gilead and Nunavit.
In both instances, then, the pseudo-documentary framing is designed to thwart the
modern tendency to put consciousness on autopilot. It is intended, in other words, to
reduce the distance between tenor and vehicle and thereby further the fundamental purpose
of this SF subgenre: to prompt readers to change the world by elaborating on its evils in
terms of other worlds.
[A response by David Ketterer appears in SFS
51 (July 1990).]
Wells's Cancelled Endings for "The Country of the
Abstract.--The ending of Wells's short story "The Country of the Blind'' has been
much admired. In it, Nunez, the mountaineer who has entered the valley of the blind
people, apparently chooses to die in the high mountains rather than submitting to an
operation to remove his sight. Study of Wells's manuscripts shows that the author only
arrived at this ending after considerable hesitation and indecision. In three surviving
earlier versions, Nunez is apparently unable to break his emotional ties with the people
of the valley. Through successive revisions, Wells was able to achieve a much richer and
more complex ending for his story.
Robert M. Philmus
Textual Authority: The Strange Case of The Island of Doctor
Abstract.--Insouciance about the reliability of editions of SF titles can
sometimes be a source of embarrassment. On the other hand, deciding on an authoritative
text is not always a simple matter, especially if the work in question is by H.G. Wells.
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a case in point. Wells altered it on no fewer than
five occasions subsequent to its original publication; and this continual revisionary
process (which no single authorized edition can do justice to) is as much a meaningful
aspect of the text as it is a palpable fact of Moreau's textual history.
Borges and Science Fiction
Abstract.--Though he was a voracious reader of Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, and
C.S. Lewis (among others), Borges expressed disenchantment with SF. To be sure, certain
fictions of his--"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius'' and "Utopia of a Tired Man,''
for example--can be thought of as belonging to the genre. But tellingly, precious few of
his writings have anything at all to do with the temporal region that SF is predominantly
concerned with--i.e., he looks to the past rather than to the future; and in at least two
of the three exceptions to that rule, he ventures into the future only in terms of fictive
The First Canadian Science-Fantasy Magazine
Abstract.--My title refers to Uncanny Tales. Largely made possible by
war measures introduced towards the end of 1939, this Canadian publication began appearing
in December of the following year and subsequently ran to 21 issues, the last of which
came out in the Fall of 1943. The first three issues were chiefly--indeed, perhaps
exclusively--the work of one Thomas B. Kelley. Thereafter, Uncanny Tales was
managed by Melvin R. Colby, who had no scruples about taking stories from various US SF
magazines and (re)printing them under a host of fictitious names.
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