Science Fiction Studies

# 11 = Volume 4, Part 1 = March 1977

Gérard Klein

Discontent in American Science Fiction1

Translated by D. Suvin and Leila Lecorps

The following essay, certainly too curt in relation to its subject-matter, represents a series of reflections upon a wide range of reading, rather than systematic research. Thus, it wishes to indicate directions of further inquiry rather than bring the "scientific" answer to a sociological problem.

1. A Pseudo-Maturity: Pessimism and Its Origins. Around the middle of the 1960s, there was a sudden veering in English-language SF: from optimistic, it became as a rule quite pessimistic and somber. It used to zoom through vast galactic prospects in very far futures, but now increasingly dealt with the near—even the very near—future, and confined itself to the Earth. The authors began to be preoccupied with delivering a serious and responsible message to the reader. For about ten years, with the notable exception of one corpus—the significant one of Ursula Le Guin —most writers sought to achieve credibility by describing the near future in very dark colours. According to a frequently expressed but somewhat naive view, SF had now passed from the stage of tumultuous teenage dreams to the adult stage, which manifested itself in focusing on the sufferings of humanity.                

Of course, many books expressing pessimistic views on the near future can be found in the earlier history of SF, e.g. Limbo by Bernard Wolfe and Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (both in 1952), satirical novels by Pohl and Kornbluth such as The Space Merchants, or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (both 1953). But these authors and works seem relatively isolated in their time. On the contrary, the vast space-epics, full of optimism for the future of the human race and of science, which are characteristic for the preceding quarter of a century, now seem quaint and dated. Even Robert Heinlein, the bard of self-reliant optimism, was not the last to change direction, as can already be seen in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). The great characteristic of recent SF is a distrust of science and technology, and of scientists, especially in the exact or "hard" sciences of physics, chemistry, biology and genetics.                

Now, such a tendency is not an exclusive one, even after the mid-60s. Yet in many works of the best authors, the predominant feeling is that there is no future—for science, for society, for the human race. This seems paradoxical in a literature which pretends to deal in anticipations. In the 40s and 50s, even at the worst time of the nuclear terror, practically all the writers tried to describe the actions of the survivors, and the reconstruction of a civilization. This state of affairs has radically changed. Such a change calls for an explanation.                

Why is contemporary SF so saturated with rupture, crisis, imminent catastrophe, end of the world and humanity, rejection of the values of science and even of reason, skepticism about social forms and structures? Why does it reject historical progress and posit a dissolution of consciousness and the hostility of nature towards mankind? The very real perils of the present and anxieties for the future are not enough to explain this about-face. Paradoxically, it was during the years of the Depression and the Second World War and even in the years of nuclear threat that SF displayed its greatest confidence in the progress of science, mankind and civilization, to the point of offering the stars as a reward. Even while the nuclear peril and the risk of technological regression was being denounced, the stress was on what was to come after, on the possible, probable, certain rebirth. It is not evident to me as a European that the United States is more insecure today than during the Prohibition years. Further, being an economist, I am surprised by the coincidence of doubt and pessimism in SF with a period of economic growth during the 60s which has no precedent in the whole history of the capitalist world, and which bogged down only in the last few years. To use a clinical analogy, the dominant impression is that a prolonged attack of depression, somewhat colored by paranoia, characterizes certain contemporary social groups, including the writers of SF. Neither this depression nor the paranoiac syndrome disproves the lucidity of the patient, or the reality of his difficulties. But they structure his experiences in a way that finally leaves no exit; if ever an exit is considered, it is related only feebly to reality, or becomes sheer escapism. Therefore, the origin of the disease should be looked for not in the reasons given by the patient (although some may well be correct) but elsewhere, in a perhaps temporary inadaptation of the patient's psychical structure to his reality—a changing reality that he has not been able to deal with, if necessary by contesting it.     

Let us not prolong this analogy which has only the value of a metaphor. Yet, the hypothesis that I am sketching here is that the real subject of a literary work ( of works) is the situation of the social group the author belongs to. The anguish conveyed in the work is provoked by the inadaptation of this social group to change in the world society, a change that may entail the dissolution of the social group. In using this hypothesis, largely based upon the methodology of Lucien Goldmann,2 I do not at all intend to minimize the individual, subjective determinations which are at work in all artistic creation and give it its particular intellectual, affective and aesthetic tonality. I only want to suggest that a collective phenomenon, such as the literature we are considering, cannot be regarded as a mechanical sum of particular subjectivities. In all human activity, extraordinarily complex social and psychological determinations intersect. Where exactly is one to even begin getting a hold on these determinations is a matter of epistemological grids, which are necessarily imperfect. But the most useful of such grids in this case seems to be one which delimits a social group as the privileged subject of a creative opus.

2. Attempt at Delimiting a Social Group. The idea that the authors, and no doubt the readers, of SF belong to a social group which is, at least from certain points of view, fairly homogeneous seems to be supported by two facts: first, the great cohesion of the particular cultural sub-set that forms the SF literature, a cohesion confirmed by a whole display of internal references which tend to define it as a real sub-culture; and second, the non-assimilation or rejection of this subculture by other social groups, and in particular by the dominant cultural group which pretends (quite successfully) to represent the "real culture."3 The price imposed by that dominant culture (itself, of course, very contradictory and complex) in exchange for recognizing the seriousness, responsibility and the quality of literary works, is the abandonment, the repudiation of belonging to another social group, to a different cultural tradition; in the final consequence, the price is the break-up of the subculture. Thus, any subculture is always, in the "Occidental" world at least, urged and pressured to disappear, allegedly for its own good and greatest glory. It is therefore understandable that at a moment when their social group is threatened in its very being, many SF writers give way to the permanent cultural solicitation of the dominant group and declare that SF will be at its best only when totally absorbed into the "mainstream." Some writers indeed go in for such a metamorphosis, very often a trip without return or real profit.               

Another indication of the homogeneity of the social group underlying SF lies in the lack of diversity in the sociopolitical opinions expressed. Without much risk of error, this group can be classed as liberal with all the economical and political connotations conveyed by this vague term: a formal legality in the political process, tolerance, and a quite strong decentralisation—all of which leaves large scope for, and is indeed the obverse of, the quite primordial competition of production units. Now I know that I am here going to antagonise many readers, those who feel themselves profoundly different from the old "reactionaries" such as Campbell, Heinlein, or Anderson, and also those who are alarmed by the penetration of radical "Reds" into the SF fortress. But the truth, as seen from the vantage point of an outside observer, forces me to say that the spectrum of sociopolitical attitudes in published SF is not nearly as wide as the one found in European societies—or, almost certainly, in American society. American SF has never been the battleground of profound political conflicts, that is to say, it has never undergone a true debate about the basic form of society.4 This is all the more surprising since—unlike the detective story for example—American SF deals with theories and often pretends to speak about the future of society. It seems impossible to find a single authentic representative of any of the numerous branches of the socialist-marxist family, without going clear back to before World War 2 or even to Jack London's The Iron Heel. For their book The Space Merchants, an essentially timid work acceptable to any European centre-left, Pohl and Kornbluth were treated as radical leftists by critics—critics, by the way, basically exterior to the SF subculture.5 Conversely, none of the really eccentric and often very dangerous ideas of the extreme right have taken permanent hold in SF either. There is less difference between the old republican Heinlein (especially in his younger days)6 and the young radicals of the Spinrad type than might seem. Without minimizing those differences, they seem rather a matter of characters, of circumstances of formation and, most of all, of generation, than of adhesion to clearly structured ideological groups.                

Several factors may explain the narrow spread of sociopolitical opinions in SF. First of all, there is no doubt that the system of book and magazine publishers and editors tends to delete strong statements of position and attitudes. However, this relative consensus probably corresponds to the real way of thinking and social situation of a segment of the American middle class, the profoundly depoliticised segment to which the social group in question belongs. Clearly, the spread of political opinions in the American middle class is much wider, especially on the right, than in SF, whose centre of gravity can be characterized as situated slightly to the left of the centre, with an intellectual or semi-intellectual bias reinforced by a significant presence of East Coast Jews.7 Thus, during the McCarthy era and the "witch-hunts," there were many writers in American SF—usually the best ones—who reacted with subtlety and dignity against this threat of collective hysteria. However, if capitalism cannot expect a great boost from American SF, neither has it got much to worry about on account of American SF. What American SF has always spoken against, however mildly, is any form of control over social life, whether by the state or by capitalist monopolies. We shall see that this is still its real concern today.               

Another proof for the existence of a social group as bearer of American SF are its evident limits. It is very surprising that, as far as I know, there is only one Black SF writer in the U.S.A., and he could be held for a White one.                

One should, then, try and define the precise characteristics of the social group whose consciousness delimits American SF. This is very difficult in the absence (though it might be as difficult in the presence) of empirical sociological investigation. But it seems certain that such a social group would be a part of the vast U.S.—and global—middle class, as distinguished from the ruling classes (middle and high bourgeoisie) and the working classes (industrial, farm, office workers and similar). The social group that is the bearer of SF would, however, be differentiated from other segments of the middle class by its functions and its scientific and technical culture. The point is not whether its members have a real scientific education—a majority apparently have not—but whether they entertain a specifically intimate relationship with science and technology, either in their professional activities or purely in their ideology. This they obviously do, and their social group can be called a scientifically and technologically oriented middle class.

3. The Trajectory of SF from Faith to Imprecation. If we, then, postulate such a summary concept of the social group underlying SF, we can now try to understand some aspects of SF history. I will distinguish, schematically, 3 phases in it: I) optimism and faith in scientific progress; II) confident skepticism; and III) pessimism and imprecation.     

I. Optimism: During the first period, between the middle 30s and the beginning of the Cold War, American society, more than any other in the "West" except perhaps, in a different way, German society, experienced a massive social, political and economical disruption. In spite of obvious difficulties due to the Depression and then the World War, the social group of SF saw its value—technological rather than scientific—in the ascendant; it had some evidence for the building—on the ruins of a waning bourgeois liberal society—of an "organization" society.8 During this time, the benevolent imperialism of the U.S.A. was directed against reactionary and militarily aggressive societies. Also, the needs of reorganizing production and waging war led the ruling class to adhere without reservations to technological values. The social group of SF could therefore believe in a universal rational society, where all conflicts would be solved in the scientific fashion to which this group pinned its hopes, and, above all, within which it thought it would play a decisive part. Such a universalization of rationality was then extrapolated in SF to the very limits of the universe: the benevolent imperialism of the scientist will spread to the stars. Of course, nostalgias still lingered, as in the case of Clifford Simak, still attached to an older system of values conveyed by the small-town middle class. But even the great anarchising individualists and mutants of a Van Vogt, heir to the individualist tradition of the 19th Century, were enrolled in the service of reason, i.e., of the organizational society. A little later, when the possibility of the disappearance of civilisation was expressed in Asimov's Foundation Trilogy (magazine publ. 1942-50), it remained quite clear that renewal was more relevant than decadence, and that it should be realized by a caste of technicians. What remained unnoticed were the limits decreed by historical evolution to the rise and power of the social group which expressed itself in SF.                

II. Confident Skepticism: Those limitations were exposed brutally, though at first from the outside only, at the end of the Second World War. First, in a more superficial way, the Cold War showed that a universalized system was not a self-evident fact, that the extrapolation would encounter many adversaries. Nuclear anxiety arose not from the explosion of the atom-bombs over Japan, but from the balance of terror foreseen by every lucid mind and all too soon realised in fact (thence comes, perhaps, the taste for super-arms which might restore the monopoly of power). But second, and more importantly, the social group of SF had been shown its place, and could no longer ignore that it would NOT be a determining group, even though it might remain an indispensable one. The organizational leadership it dreamed of for its values would not come about; the technologically oriented middle class had been allotted the role of an instrument rather than that of an animator. Immense economico-industrial units or monopolies had been constituted, whose admitted aims did not depend on rationality but on the quest for power; thus, the appearance of imperialism was no longer so benevolent. For SF there followed a period of skepticism, illustrated by the appearance of a new kind of magazine such as F and SF and Galaxy, and of writers like Robert Sheckley whose weapon is satire. In this period, the exterior confrontations of global power-blocs meshed with the interior confrontations both of political forces, such as McCarthyism, and of the monopolies themselves. Yet in such a period of severe conflict the social group in question could retain at least the appearance of being an umpire or referee. At this point, it could still believe that the science, the technological values, which it considered its own, could either be or not be put at the service of truth. On another level, but one that has often found a symbolic expression in SF, this is the almost mythological opposition between Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. The exaggerated pessimism of some writers, which passes today for lucidity and establishes them as forerunners—e.g., in Player Piano by Vonnegut and in Limbo by Bernard Wolfe, both published in 1952—in fact relegated them at the time to the margins of the "genre," and ensured their divorce from the social group of SF. Damon Knight, with his prophetic Hell's Pavement (1955), barely escaped the same temptation, and then stopped writing almost completely. And obversely, it is remarkable that a very widespread theme at the time was that of a saving cataclysm, often nuclear. The survivors, having hastily wiped away a tear over the fate of some billions of dead, eagerly start rebuilding a society that suits them and that, above all, is in their image. Characteristically, these survivors all have the (more or less idealized) features of the social group we are discussing. Arising out of the well-to-do middle class, their stability rests on their wide technical and scientific knowledge, which enables them to organize the universe. They belong in the tradition of the Swiss Family Robinson and Verne's MysteriousIsland: their castaway life is a liberation from the oppressive society which menaced their identity. These saving cataclysms, especially the short stories, always stupefy Europeans, who have had quite a different experience of war and exodus. Of course, I do not pretend that the post-atomic stories exhausted the SF of that time, nor that they all necessarily had a happy conclusion, but seldom—except in the writings of a relatively recent immigrant such as Algis Budrys—do they fail to close upon an optimistic note.                

III. Pessimism: During the 60s, and at the beginning of the 70s, the capitalist world, in particular the United States, enjoyed a historically unprecedented growth. Moreover a great number of prophecies retailed by SF became reality, more often than not for the best. Let us only call to mind the absence of nuclear conflict, the development of scientific agronomy, the diffusion of computers which enabled a great number of striking advances in the scientific field, and finally the conquest of space, which has so far reached its highest point with the exploitation of communicational (as well as meteorological) satellites and the exploration of the Moon. And yet, disenchantment entered American SF during these same years, increasing steadily until it reached the blackest pessimism, and uttering imprecations not only against society but against science itself, which had, in the end, failed. Even before 1970, we had arrived at the great triple malediction: pollution, overpopulation, dehumanization.               

For, due to the great expansion of the 60s, the economic and social structures of America and of the whole world have greatly changed, and changed, moreover, in a way that directly threatens the social group of SF in its identity, its real or supposed power, its values. This social group now finds it has (in the strict sense of the word) no more future—even though, individually, its members might be living better than ever before. The economic corporations have fused even further, and the main ones have become multinational. Although some of these corporations can be seen to be mortal, on the whole, as a system, they appear nearly indestructible and invincible. Their executives have learned how to control—efficiently and not without brutality—scientists, technicians, and other intellectuals, rather than coming to terms with them. The executives know how to influence public opinion and, through it or directly, force the states, not excepting the American state, to do their will. Under the guise of supposedly scientific research and information, they spread an ideology of environmental degradation (cf. the Club of Rome) which tends to entrust to them unrestricted power in the name of their very scantily democratic "rationality." At the same time, the imperialism of the Indochinese and Chilean adventures appears to a growing fraction of American and world opinion to be malignant—not so much because of a (very belated) moral reaction as because this fraction of public opinion feels its own economic and social reality threatened by such doings. As an economist, I have already tried to show elsewhere that this process—which perhaps tends toward the instauration of a neo-feudal post-bourgeois system—has no reason whatsoever to stop, profiting as it does from world-wide inflation for so many years, but that it will result in a grandiose and probably long-lasting planetary crisis, of which we are living the first episodes.9

4. A Social Group in Danger, and Aware of It. This is the context in which the social group of SF that we are discussing lives endlessly the hour of its death; it has been expressing it strongly for at least the past ten years, in its literature: SF. Thence comes its pessimism, this time inescapable, but sometimes overlaid by nostalgic memories such as those which have prevailed in the awarding of the Hugo Prize to Isaac Asimov and to Arthur C. Clarke in 1973 and in 1974.               

In particular, this social group knows now very well that its technological capacity, real or supposed, is and will be used as an instrument, regardless of the group's will and own strategy. For a social group of this type, death is the disappearance of the particular power which held it together. It is in a way returned to the anonymous mass of workers, and can no longer avail itself of any qualitative privilege, especially of any intellectual privilege. Somewhat like an individual who has a totally illogical tendency to make of his death a universal event, the moment when the stars go out, a threatened social group too has a tendency to confuse its dissolution with the disappearance of civilization, and even—in a genre as obviously haunted by megalomania as SF—with the end of history and all humanity.                

Of course, in this process it is not only the social group that is the bearer of SF which finds itself threatened by servitude, but all the social groups pertaining to the American—or even the global—middle class. This explains the convergence of the specific pessimism in recent SF, expressing a localized tragedy, and of the anxieties latent in a vast audience. It is on this encounter that the ambiguous and desperate prophesying of a number of works is based. Perhaps for the first time in its history, SF is aware that it speaks in the name of a very great number of people and that it is understood by them; thence the rather naive and widespread illusion of dealing with reality. When SF was the bearer of a scientific messianism, it was mocked; many of its writers and critics are still surprised to be at last taken seriously, and perhaps do not clearly see the real, irrational reason for this. That reason might horrify them. True, they have often drawn up a veritable indictment of science, guilty of not having proved a sufficient guarantee for the power, cohesion and ideology of their social group, but they are not ready to jettison the rational values which they have upheld so long, and to give in to the mounting tide of militant irrationalism which could well lend to our near future a particularly hideous aspect—from where I stand, and I believe from where they stand too.                

In some degree, it is possible to draw a parallel between the weakening of the middle-class rational values at this threshold of a new social system, and the weakening of the medieval values in Europe at the time of the subversion of feudality by the bourgeoisie. If this parallel is valid, the conditions are perhaps present for the writing of a new Don Quixote in the field of SF. All that remains is to find Cervantes.             

Surely it is clear that I am not saying that predictions of catastrophes are without any foundation, or that optimism is compulsory. I only say that optimism and pessimism in literature and in art also express something beside a purelydispassionate and hypothetical examination of the facts, and that this something is shaped partly by the individual subjectivity of an author (which I do not intend to deny), and partly by the situation of his social group in the societal universe.

5. Some Aesthetic, Ideological and Prophetic Solutions. There are numerous recent SF works that refer to the social process described above. I will mention only a few examples. Before I start with them, I wish to state my second thesis: literary works (all works of art) are attempts to resolve through the use of the imagination and in the aesthetic mode, a problem which is not soluble in reality. Of course, a given theoretical problem admits of many aesthetic solutions—otherwise the literature of a period would be drearily repetitive.10 The psychic configuration of an author, his particular experience, his situation in the microstructure of his social group, his belonging or relationships to other social groups, will lead him to his solution or, if one prefers, to his style in the broad sense of the word. In the case we are discussing, an author may "choose" to appropriate, in the realm of imagination, the values of the new ruling class. Or else, he may—by announcing in a cold and objective manner the breaking up of a whole society, the disappearance of humanity or even the dissolution of the universe—deny the specific unsolvable problem set before his social group, i.e., "solve" it by throwing it out. If death and loss of power are universal phenomena resulting from an impenetrable destiny, nobody need bother about them. And should the writer address himself, in order to prevent the catastrophe, to persons presumably in charge, he will choose them implicitly outside his social group and thus extricate himself and absolve the values of his social group from that responsibility. He then either speaks to all, becoming a charismatic prophet; or he speaks to the elite in power, taking on the role of its interlocutor or advisor. Prophets, as we know, talk to kings about commoners, and to commoners about kings.               

The first solution has been adopted by writers like Roger Zelazny, particularly in his Isle of the Dead (1969), or Norman Spinrad—though with much ambiguity—in his The Men in the Jungle (1967), Bug Jack Barron (1969) and even The Iron Dream (1972). They have recognized the advent of tyranny based on monopolies and established themselves, as it were by anticipation, as its court poets. There is certainly little likelihood that they would be confirmed in that position by the new dominant class. But they can thus escape, in imagination, from the destiny of their social group, identifying themselves with charismatic leaders endowed with fantastic powers—notably financial ones. There is an important difference between the billionaires of Zelazny and the industrial captains of a Poul Anderson for example. While Anderson has in a whole cycle simply tried to describe a bourgeois social and economical universe and to project into the future Vanderbilts who owe their power to fortune and financial skill, Zelazny has perfectly grasped the mutation of the power-system occurring today, with the new system having to create and to lean on ideological, extra-economical, in the final analysis religious values. The rationality of competitive capital yields to the monopolistic irrationality of desire for the unique, which manifests itself best in the aspirations to immortality and to other divine attributes. It is not by accident that immortality—which, with some exceptions such as Van Vogt, was an uncommon SF topic—has lately made a triumphant re-entry into SF.                

As for Spinrad, he willingly affects a critical position. But it is clear that he succumbs to the fascination of power-structures he pretends to fight, even in The Iron Dream and Bug Jack Barron. Ambiguity is present everywhere: even when Spinrad explicitly denounces the doings of his monsters in the name of the egalitarian, rationalist and democratic values of his social group, he justifies them implicitly since he presents them as the only heroes, the only persuasive characters. The violence of language in this notable writer indicates that for him only the language of violence exists. Outside of it is death. And death is what Jack Barron will escape, without making this his main conscious purpose in the plot, but having in fact sought immortality both by the form of his single combat and by the choice of the adversaries against whom he matches himself.               

In this mode, one opus seems to me to stand out over and above all others, its true meaning becoming only very gradually evident—that of Cordwainer Smith. It alone seems capable of gaining the adhesion of the new tyrants, depicted both with and without complacency—undoubtedly because Smith lived precisely on the borderline of the old social group underlying SF and the new dominant class, and because he had, it seems, some concrete experience of recent history. I cannot analyse his work here. It shares with the works of the writers just discussed the hypothesis of a historical (and galactic) future of a neo-feudal type; it differs from them in that it does not contain any glorification of an omnipotent and charismatic hero, as in Zelazny, nor an explicit though ambiguous condemnation of the mechanisms of coming to power, as in Spinrad. The true subject of Smith's aristocratic opus is the disturbed and at times compassionate glance at the people from the other side, from above. Its form is the fresco, without a specific centre. It seems to me wrong to affirm, as is often done, that Cordwainer Smith, had he had more time, would have organized and as it were re-centered his universe. For the Lords of Instrumentality, there can be no goal, no centre to reach: they are the centre, their problems are on the periphery. And the subject of Cordwainer Smith's opus is precisely how to keep the peripheral on the periphery, how to stay in power, how to remain an elite. His answer is the classic one: to persuade the slaves that their condition is a noble one.

Instead of the works mentioned so far, I would like to explain my position by focusing on three writers who seem to me less marginal, more typical—Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert and John Brunner. Using extremely different methods, much imitated since, they tell of the rise of monopolies, the disintegration of the individual, the dislocation of the social universe, the degradation and destruction of the physical world, the failure of humanity.                

The evolution of Dick's opus, in my opinion the most important work in American SF at least until the end of the 60s, is clear. From an almost purely sociological and rather classical analysis of social contradictions in Solar Lottery (1955), it leads to a reasoned negation of coherence in the physical universe while maintaining what is from an author's viewpoint essential, i.e., aesthetic cohesion. Dick explains clearly, in Ubik (1969) in particular, the subjection of technicians to the monopolies and the feeling of arbitrariness that results. But since the problem is socially unsolvable for this group, it appears as if the whole universe were arbitrary. This feeling of arbitrariness goes beyond ideology, it saturates the epistemological view. Since I have no control over my destiny—Dick says in substance—I cannot imagine anyone having control over his destiny. Nowhere is there an absolute referent, and the conceptual grids we apply to our perception of reality are themselves arbitrary results of various cultural demands rather than of reality structures, as the powers-that-be want everyone to believe.                

Is it surprising that Herbert's Dune (1965) brings out the same absence of absolute referent? Paul Muad'Dib, prophet and messiah of Dune, pierces the surfaces of things, of conflicts, of ambitions, only to discover an ocean of fluxes, without bottom, without permanence, which even the movements of the great swimmers of time hardly agitate. His prescience is of practically no help to him since, facing an eternity that cannot be grasped, it is in practice almost wholly cancelled by other presciences. One can see here a concept of the historical universe as a field of forces constituted and deformed by the structuring presence of innumerable centres of conscience, or rather of action-lines, which have no other reality than that of their interferences—a concept that we find again, though within a very different perspective, in the work of Ursula Le Guin. Here, the perception of a centreless, and therefore arbitrary and impersonal, universal can only lead to the personal destruction of Muad'Dib. He is the victim of the resonance imposed on other lines by his own wake. We are here at the antipodes of the rationalist, Cartesian conception of bourgeois physics, psychology and sociology. On the contrary, we are plunged into a universe of subjectivist relativity where each point (of view) defines another universe. Like Dick's heroes, Herbert's Muad'Dib is the opposite of the Van Vogtian heroes whose talent, giving them access to the "real" universe, endows them with a source of unlimited power; what seems important to me in Dune is that the attainment of power, both psychological and political, solves nothing. Humanity—like the social group that is the bearer of SF—is denied the possibility of controlling its destiny. At best, by precipitating its own destruction, it will leave a nostalgic trace of what could have been a serene universe. It is by disappearing that Paul Muad'Dib fulfills himself, since he will be regretted; his death—which differentiates him radically from the heroes of Spinrad and of Zelazny—plunges the universe back into chaos. Henceforth, the impersonal forces will govern the universe: a beautiful funeral oration for a social group which believed it could predict the future and make history.                

If the dislocation of the universe according to Dick and Herbert is largely a metaphysical one, it assumes in the opus of John Brunner (Stand on Zanzibar, 1968; The Sheep Look Up, 1972) an actual and physical character that tends to formulate the anxiety objectively. The metaphysical and ideological dimension which we have found in Dick and Herbert is almost completely neglected here. This may be due to John Brunner's subjectivity, but it is doubtless more relevant that he is a British writer writing, from outside, about and for the USA. First, the putting into question of the social group that is the bearer of SF, even though it is well advanced in Europe, has not yet produced all the effects which have been experienced by the residents of the United States. Further, the extremely subtle balance of social forces in western Europe tends to mask more than elsewhere the reality of power-relations and of the relations of production. Thus an intellectual can still (although not as strongly as a generation earlier) pretend to believe in his prophetic function and to extract himself from the ongoing process in order to denounce it while objectifying it—as do Brunner's "heroes," the sociologist Chad Mulligan and the anti-pollution propagandist Austin Train. John Brunner's very marked pessimism is signalled in Stand on Zanzibar by the completely artificial character of the final solution—we might as well say that there is no solution outside of miracle. It is perhaps intensified by the apparently insurmountable difficulties of British society as a whole (except for a dominant group faring quite well, if its investments over the whole world are taken into account). At any rate, if Brunner perceives perhaps more lucidly than anyone else who are the agents threatening his social group and the way of life of his country, he succumbs more completely than any other significant SF writer to the temptation of turning the crisis caused by this threat into a crisis of humanity as a whole, and of turning his "perspective" into an eschatological prophecy without resurrection. The dislocation of the universe is in Brunner expressed right down to his novels' composition and style. In the two novels mentioned, one first notices a converging structure—converging precisely toward the end of the world (The Sheep Look Up) or the undiscoverable solution (Stand on Zanzibar and The Shock Wave Rider, 1975)—and then the "exploded" construction, allegedly borrowed from Dos Passos but in fact not signifying, as in Dos Passos, the diversity of an American world in search of its unity. Rather, that construction signifies the dislocation of a social universe that consists only of contradictions and no longer possesses the central referent which the excluded sociologist Chad Mulligan, bearer of the threatened social group's values, could have offered it. Finally, Brunner has been accused, at least in France, of having "cold" and somewhat stereotyped characters: but this is so just because they are not in full possession of all their reality (as one says of someone that he is not in full possession of all of his faculties) but are becoming mechanical nonentities, simulacra à la Philip K. Dick. They are reintegrated, according to the process that I have indicated above, into the mass, a terribly numerous oppressive mass, which does not really have a right to individuality or conscience. It would even be possible—with some surprise—to find in the depths of Brunner's novels the worst cliches about the anonymous masses of the third world and of the proletariat, though, of course, inflected by a great deal of generosity—if we did not grasp their true meaning: a denial that the social group that is the bearer of SF has any special power left, and a vision of the group's return to the mass of ordinary humans, workers and unemployed workers (e.g., in the scene of the New York riot from Stand on Zanzibar).

6. End of the Social Group, Ecological Anxiety, End of Humanity. This return to the soil, this reintegration of a highly individualized social group into the undifferentiated mass destitute of consciousness, finds an extreme expression in many works that predict the end of history through the abolition of humanity's apparent privilege over other species, through humanity's reduction to the level of nature. Human history is then perceived as an interlude, an accidental break within a process of pure necessity. This can be seen in Frank Herbert's intelligent and ambiguous novel Hellstrom's Hive (1973) and even more clearly perhaps in T.J. Bass's Half Past Human (1971). Man the social animal is described there as forced, in order to survive, to adopt—very soon according to Herbert, not much later according to Bass —a way of life modelled on the social insects and characterized by extra-individual, genetic and biochemical (pheromones) determinations of behaviour which ensure his optimal adaptation to a new environment. History, i.e., the appearance of non-determination, is a luxury that a species can sometimes offer itself by escaping necessity, but never for very long. Very characteristically, the price for this return to nature is giving up all forms of culture (art, literature, music, law, etc.) and at the same time the "I" of the individual through which culture expresses itself, as if precisely culture (all culture) and the "I" were not natural, but had been added to human behaviour by an external, metaphysical entity (like the one in 2001 by Clarke and Kubrick). This evolution—going through the phases of extraction from nature, brief human interlude, return to nature—seems to me to constitute a very clear metaphor of the manner in which the social group of SF tragically perceives its destiny: it says in effect, "beyond this group of ours, it should be clear that there is place only for animals and robots, i.e., things." And Frank Herbert's evident sympathy for his human termites is not enough to neutralize such a break.                

In a way, this return to a reductive nature is the clearest expression of ecological anxiety. Man becomes an ant because, demographically, he has succeeded too well. But, to my mind, the often vigorous expression of this ecological anxiety does not stem only from a material reality and a more or less romantic tradition. It is also a result of the absence of any utopia, any social project—an absence which reactivates in the subconscious of some people an old frustration arising from a general feeling that the human desire for collective unity cannot be satisfied. Socialism has long been nourished by this desire which, however, for the social group of SF does not appear realistic any more, since the historical experience of socialism seems disappointing and objective conditions for the appearance of a more advanced socialist society do not at all seem to obtain in the western world. Therefore, the desire for collective unity or fusion, frustrated on the social level, is displaced and takes the form of a desire for fusion on the biological level, within Mother Earth, for a return to nature. However, this ecological transmutation of the desire for unity is in turn strongly impregnated by the tensions and contradictions in our society. The deeply ambiguous character of the expression of this desire should not, then, surprise either the psychologist or the sociologist.


                1. This article is an edited version of the first part of a two-part work, the second part of which deals with the SF of U.K. Le Guin. The editing, which became necessary because of the length and complexity of the rich original, was done by Marc Angenot and myself, and it retains about ¾ of the original text, with, hopefully, all its main points. SFS will, subject to space limitations and translation problems, try to bring a version of the second part of Mr. Klein's work in one of our later issues—DS.
                2. For Lucien Goldmann's theory of a sociology of literary creativity, see in English his The Hidden God (New York, 1964) and The Human Sciences and Philosophy (London, 1970) in which he analyzes artistic creativity as a correlate of social consciousness.
                3. All the participants in a dominant culture do not necessarily belong to a dominant group. It is enough that these participants have so interiorized and accepted the values which support the domination in question that they only have the choice between conveying and trying to destroy those values, without the means to create new ones. This is why only the social and cultural peripheries are potentially capable to produce different, original values, values of the future.
                4. The cleavages which took place on certain occasions, such as the Vietnam War, do not seem sufficient to change this impression. To begin with, it is striking, even taking into account the Puritan tradition, that the split was expressed in moral terms rather than political ones. Furthermore, historical experience shows that far-away wars are not, except on the extreme fringes, really perceived as political stakes, and in particular that the right-left dichotomy is of limited relevance to the positions such wars bring forth.
                5. According to the French critic Stephen Spriel (in Cahiers du Sud No. 317, 1953, p 23), this novel was hailed by the leftist weekly The Industrial Worker which concluded—scandalizing some SF fans—that "SF and the revolutionary movement of the working class have something in common" and called for a Workers' SF Club "with a proletarian orientation."
                6. The Heinlein of Beyond This Horizon seemed rather tempted by a version of planification and seduced by the New Deal—i.e., he was then the equivalent of the contesting young radicals of this last decade. And whatever ambiguities there certainly are in A Stranger in a Strange Land, it cannot be denied that Heinlein has in it transmitted some revendications current among American youth which went much beyond what the "silent majority" was ready to accept.
                7. This indication is, of course, to be taken as referring exclusively to a certain forme d'esprit, and not as referring to any racial or similar characteristics.
                8. This liquidation is the principal subject of Lovecraft's opus, as I tried to show in "Entre le Fantastique et la Science-Fiction, Lovecraft," Cahiers de l'Herne No. 12 (1969).
9. In "L'Avenir d'une crise," Analyse financière 4e trimestre (1974).
                10. This repetition is really what a fiction editor is up against when he—as has been my experience—reads and refuses manuscript after manuscript. In principle, he keeps only the original and aesthetically valid solutions. Let us confess that there are some exceptions.

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