Science Fiction Studies

#53 = Volume 18, Part 1 = March 1991

David A. Layton

The Barriers of Inner and Outer Space: The Science Fiction of Barry N. Malzberg

Abstract.--The most frequent SF hero is what Gregory Benford calls the Competent Man, whose abilities lie dormant until unforeseen circumstances allow them to emerge. Barry N. Malzberg's SF has no such figure. Instead, his protagonists attain limited personal victories--when, indeed, they attain any at all. More often they are imitation heroes or anti-heroes. Malzberg also breaks away from the SF tradition of the problem story. The reason that his SF diverges from other SF in character and plot is that he writes not in the Romance tradition but in the Satire tradition of SF. As Satire, his novels show fractured consciousness, and simple problems seem insoluable. For Malzberg SF ought to explore intensely the emotional and metaphysical crises of life in the 20th century. To do this, he transforms typical SF tropes and devices into metaphors of self-exploration. Not only do his characters embark on self-exploration (their status as "heroes" being determined by their strength of endeavor), but through his SF Malzberg also explores himself. Thus, despite his criticism of SF's "escapism," he sees a potential for SF to provide pertinent tropes by which to begin to assess the difficulties of maintaining individuality against the vicissitudes of modem existence.

Robert M. Philmus

The Two Faces of Philip K. Dick

Abstract.--Within the last year or so, letters of Dick's have become known indicating that his "relationship" with the FBI was not solely passive on his part, nor chiefly that of victim. Over a span of six months (or more), he sent the FBI at least 21 denunciatory communications detailing a paranoid fantasy of Dick's: that he was a target of a worldwide Marxist conspiracy involving a multitude of agents and agencies, SFS among them. The facts in the case admit of any number of interpretative hypotheses, psychoanalytic and otherwise. Indeed, that the materials, especially in relation to the many interpretations they lend themselves to, make for a Dickian novel to rival Ubik, say, is one of only two things which can be said for certain about this FBI affair. The other is that, to all appearances at least, Dick's behavior (whatever his motives) was utterly reprehensible, and not merely because it was two-faced but also by mason of its (possible) consequences. 

[A response by Gregg Rickman appears in SFS 54 (July 1991).]

Cristina Sedgewick

The Fork in the Road: Can Science Fiction Survive in Postmodern, Megacorporate America?

Abstract.--SF has a problem: it has linked its fortunes with a publishing industry whose raison d'être is irrelevant (perhaps even inimical) to the interests and desires of the community of SF readers and writers. Like all postmodern multinational corporate sectors (which it has largely become), the publishing industry seeks to standardize its product and efficiently manage its producers and consumers in order to maximize its profits. Writers and editors have assisted the industry in accomplishing these objectives by subscribing to "professionalism," an ideology that encourages writers to take editors and bookstore chain executives rather than readers as their primary audience. Since "professionals" place pleasing their employers above their own creativity and vision, professional SF writers censor themselves both consciously and unconsciously in order to meet their employers' perception of the ideological bottom line. The pressures on SF writers to toe this ideological bottom line have become so massive that even consciously resisting writers find them difficult to withstand. The SF community is therefore urged to wrest SF's fate from the hands of the megacorporate publishers and bookstore chains so that diverse tastes can be served by diverse books, something the publishing industry has no interest in doing.

[Responses by Gordon Van Gelder and Ellen Datlow, and Cristina Segdwick's reply, appear in SFS 54 (July 1991).]

W. Warren Wagar

J.G. Ballard and the Transvaluation of Utopia

Abstract.-- The fictions of J.G. Ballard explore psychic landscapes, rather than the interactions of human beings. In this sense, they are topographical, and also Topographical, since the places they describe are, in the last analysis, paradises of self-transcendence. They are not immediately recognizable as utopian, for the obvious reason that the way thither is almost always dangerous and painful, and the end of the journey is usually death--or so it appears to be. But the clues furnished in the stories themselves, and in Ballard's many interviews, point to a death that is only a metaphor for the mystic's annihilation of self in a higher reality. Most of Ballard's fictions contain similar ingredients: a kairotic moment of transformation, a pilgrim band of loosely-related fellow-voyagers, and a challenge to customary morality so outrageous that it breaks through the "enamel" of convention and makes possible the escape of the pilgrims to their paradise. Most radical critics dismiss Ballard as the epitome of late bourgeois decadence. But perhaps he is also constructing metaphors of postmodern rebellion and resistance.

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