Science Fiction Studies

# 14 = Volume 5, Part 1 = March 1978


Notes and Correspondence

RESEARCH IN PROGRESS. Haven't had a chance to read all of SFS #13 yet and it's not easy to read physically; it literally requires a magnifying glass. Several comments. First, you should never trim your book-review section; even when I heartily disagree with you, it is far and away the best thing in the magazine, most typifies its title and maintains a good level of interest when the feature articles fall flat on their face, which in some issues they have. Second, Linda Fleming in "The American SF Sub-Culture" unquestionably has a valid point, but I got the impression that she had never read The Immortal Storm, which would have given her numerous documented cases to solidify her position. Third, I have discovered an earlier discoverer of William Wilson's A Little Earnest Book (see SFS 3[1976]:312), the late Vernon Lay, London bookdealer. In fact I suspect the very copy was purchased from him by Eggeling, who sold it to me, for it fits the description. I have written his widow and she tells me the listing (photocopy enclosed) is from a very old list of Lay's, possibly as much as five years back.                

I have 60, 000 words done on one book and 30, 000 on another, but am progressing very slowly, mostly because of the series of operations I had for throat cancer this year (appear to have gotten it all, but I lost one vocal cord and can only speak very softly) . Finished up a biography of Olaf Stapledon, 15,000 words based on spending two days with his widow and sleeping in the room next to his library, which she has kept intact. This is supposed to go into a memorial book on Stapledon to be published in England by Bran's. Like all my work it contains stuff that no one ever heard of before. SometimesI sit and wonder whyI delve while financial exploitation of the familiar is so profitable these days. One of my books will be 70,000 words on a school of science-fiction authors, several very famous in their day, but none that anyone today ever heard of, producing along the lines of Edward Page Mitchell. I have spent four years and $6,000 on it, will probably have trouble getting it published, experience small sales and begrudged acknowledgment. Well, research is self-rewarding and exhilarating in itself. --SAM MOSKOWITZ.

For the sakeof Mr Moskowitz's eyes and mine we have increased the size of our type. With all the boom in SF sales and SF courses, there seems to be very little real interest in the history of SF, most of our scholar-critics concentrating on the criticism of recent work, most of the "histories" of SF deriving from old research rather than new, and everyone attempting to cash in on the boom with hackwork. It is good to know that Mr Moskowitz is still seeking new light for what remains a dim past. --RDM.

 

ON MOYLAN ON THE CITY AND THE STARS. The late lamented Dr Goebbels is, I believe, generally credited with the invention of the Big Lie--a statement so outrageous that it reduces all those in a position to refute it to indignant incoherence. Though I am in no way comparing Mr Moylan to Dr Goebbels, I felt that I had been Goebbelled (Goebbelised?) when I read the astonishing sentence, "The dialectical tension between Diaspar and Lys, of course, is a product of cold-war ideology" (SFS 4[1977]:154). It's the Olympian "of course" that really blew my mind....                

Although Mr Moylan might argue (not altogether unreasonably) that the cold war began in November 1917, most people date it from Churchill's speech at Fulton, 5 March 1946. This happens to be almost ten years after I started thinking about the novel, and a month after I finished the first published version, Against the Fall of Night. (My notebook says that Opus 21 was "Begun c 1937. First draft finished at Colwyn Bay late 1940. Completely rewritten August 1945-January 1946. Typing completed 23 February 1946." (I can't resist adding some other long forgotten items: "To Campbell February 1946. Rejected May 1946. Ending rewritten July 1946. To Campbell 22.7.46. Rejected October 1946. Synopsis to Wollheim 20.5.47...."                

Mr Moylan can't be blamed for unfamiliarity with the Royal Air Force's attitude towards the USSR in the mid-40s, and I'm grateful to him for reviving other memories. In those innocent days we regarded Stalin as a kind of Slavic Father Christmas and I now vividly recall our entire station (several thousand men) gathered in a cavernous hangar to sing the Internationale to Ambassador Maisky, with more enthusiasm that accuracy. I also remember showing (on orders, of course) Russian colonels around our top secret G.C.A. radar; one of them told me that recent Soviet research had detected velocities greater than light--I wonder what started that interesting rumour?                

Anyway, I can assure Mr Moylan that in those happy days of the Hot War, the Cold War was quite inconceivable--at least at my level of political sophistication. (Another memory: with what glee did I rush into the C.O.'s office, in May '45, to break the good news that we had just thrown out Winston! I find it hard to believe that I was such a typical parlour pink in those days. Until now, I would have sworn that the only political action of my life was helping Dave Kyle carry some Eisenhower mailings to the post office....)                

But what makes Mr Moylan's "of course" so inexcusable is that the origins of Against the Fall of Night (and hence The City and the Stars) are clearly outlined in the 1968 Preface: "much of the emotional basis came from my transplantation from the country (Somerset) to the city (London) .... The conflict between a pastoral and an urban way of life has haunted me ever since...." Mr Moylan actually mentions this preface, so ignorance is no excuse. As someone once remarked about a critic of Hamlet, "Is he mad, or merely pretending to be mad?"                

Having said all this, I must admit that I had the uncanny feeling, as I ploughed through Mr Moylan's article, that here and there it contained useful insights. As I don't have time (my mail/reading load is now about twelve hours a day) to dig them out, I've sent Xeroxes to a couple of my most enthusiastic readers for their expert comment. One recently obtained her degree at Moscow University with a thesis on my writings (please excuse my modest cough as I report that most of my fiction has been widely published in the USSR--and Rama was the first novel of any kind to come under the new copyright agreement).                

The other fan was recently exposed by the ever alert Time magazine as a top Soviet agent in Washington--a good two years after he'd been posted back to Moscow. As soon as I receive Ms X's and Dr Y's comments on Mr Moylan's own ideological contradictions, I'll report again.               

Meanwhile, he--and other critics--might learn some humility from the second letter I'm enclosing. --ARTHUR C. CLARKE.

While awaiting the reports of Ms X and Dr Y, let me note that in the second issue of SFS I wrote that I agreed with a reviewer in College English (34[1973]:1142) that "in the last few years Marxists have produced a body of work that should 'dissolve the myths that add up to a portrayal of Marxist criticism as a repetitive monolith of simplistic, reductionist assertions.' But the role peculiar to Marxist critics is that of making liberals and sceptics aware of the extent to which they are intellectually the prisoners of their socioeconomic environment, and this task, like all intellectual endeavors, has its own special tendencies to the reductionist or the a priori. So while I squirm at the exposure of some of my own prejudices and predispositions, let me note that I remain unconvinced of the sufficiency of Marxist theory, and that tendencies to the reductionist and simplistic seem to me to appear here and there in the Marxist essays in this issue" (1[1973]:55). As the now unfashionable New Critics taught us long ago, speculations on the beliefs of a novelist are always dangerous, no matter how expert the critic may be in Marx or Freud. Mr Moylan should have been more cautious, and so should I as his editor, for it was I, not my Marxist co-editor, who accepted his essay. on the other hand, that essay surely merited publication, for it "contained useful insights" and investigated matters that need investigation, though perhaps with not as much success as one might wish. As a non-Marxist who nonetheless values Marxist criticism, I have been irritated most in recent years by the tendency of Marxist critics to write as if it were still 1916--i.e., by their tendency to compare the effects of capitalism with the imagined effects of an ideal socialism, just as if the last sixty years had not shown us that socialism in practice has some contradictions of its own. --RDM.

 

PROFESSOR IRWIN AND THE DEEKS AFFAIR. Some years ago I wrote an essay, "Herbert George Morley Wells, Esq.," as an appendix to "The Longest Science Fiction Story Ever Told. " The appendix is twice as long as the story; both appear in The Wind from Nowhere (Harcourt, 1972). In this squib I gleefully hinted that HGW was guilty of plagiarism and, hopefully, murder. To my astonishment, I have just discovered that the first charge was indeed once made against him, and I am indebted to Mr Christopher Bluth of Dublin for this information.                

As the source is, to say the least, obscure, I quote the reference in full. It appears in an attack on over-confident literary critics and for that reason, even apart from the Wells association, should be of some interest to your readers:                

"A literary lady in Canada, Miss Florence Deeks, wrote the story of the part women have played in history, under the title of 'The Web', and lodged her manuscript in the keeping of the Canadian branch of the well-known publishing house of Macmillan in Toronto.
                "A few months later appeared 'The Outline of History' by Mr H. G. Wells, published also by Macmillan but from their London office.
                "When Miss Deeks read 'The Outline of History', she was struck by the fact that Mr Wells had introduced ideas and incidents which also appeared in her book, and that many of the phrases were common to both. She came to the conclusion that Mr Wells must have had access to her manuscript and was guilty of gross plagiarism.
                "Seeing that there was no proof that Mr Wells had seen the manuscript of 'The Web', a means of convincing a court of law that plagiarism had really happened must be discovered. Why not try the methods employed by the Higher Critics? Why not get an expert of wide experience on these lines? So Miss Deeks took her case to the Rev. W.A. Irwin, M.A., B.D., Ph.D., at that time an associate professor of Ancient and Old Testament Languages and Literature at Toronto University, afterwards Professor of Old Testament Languages and Literature at Chicago University. The professor in accepting the task said:
                "'I consented in considerable measure because this is the sort of task with which my study of ancient literature repeatedly confronts me, and I was interested to test out in modern works the methods commonly applied to those of the ancient world'.
                "So he diligently pursued his task, and at length formulated his 'assured results' in much detail, proving, as he claimed, that Mr Wells had access to Miss Deeks' manuscript, that he had made free use of it, and had been guilty of considerable plagiarism.
                "Miss Deeks then brought action against Mr H.G. Wells and the Macmillan publishers in a Canadian court, claiming $500,000, or about £100,000 damages.
                "This court dismissed the case. Miss Deeks, not satisfied, carried her case to the Court of Appeal, but with the same result. Miss Deeks then carried the case to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, London, the highest tribunal in the British Empire. Again and finally the case was given in favour of Mr H.G. Wells and the Macmillan publishers.
                "At these trials it was sworn on oath that Miss Deeks' manuscript had never been in the hands of Mr H.G. Wells, that it had remained in secure custody in the safe of the Macmillan Company in Toronto, that no copy of the manuscript in part or in whole had been made, that in short no leakage of information had taken place, and that Mr. H.G. Wells did not even know of the existence of the manuscript. The verdict of the House of Lords was unanimous in dismissing the case.
                "What must have been the feelings of the Rev. W.A. Irwin, M.A., B.D., Ph.D., when he heard one of the Canadian judges, the Hon. Mr. Justice Riddell, a well-known legal luminary, famous throughout Canada and the United States, describing his 'assured results' with such epithets as the following, 'Fantastic hypotheses', 'Solemn nonsense', 'Comparisons without significance', 'Arguments and conclusions alike puerile'. Professor Irwin was in a splendid position to arrive at 'assured results' when he had before him both documents in question, and both of recent dates; whereas the critics deal with very ancient documents, generally written in dead languages. If Professor Irwin failed so lamentably in the case of what was comparatively easy, what chance have the 'assured results' relating to the Ancient Scriptures of being anything else than 'solemn nonsense' and 'fantastic hypotheses'?"

The quotation appears on pp 143-44 of God's Truth by Alan Hayward (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1973). Hayward is quoting in turn from Why I Believe the Bible by A.J. Pollock (London: Central Bible Truth Depot, 1941). --ARTHUR C. CLARKE.

And so the literary scholar was put in his place by the learned justice, which should be an object lesson for us all. But though it may be uppity of me, I can't agree that renowned legal luminaries are better judges in literary matters than professors of literature. Some additional comments. First, the Deeks affair is not so obscure as Mr Clarke imagines: for what is perhaps the fullest account, see Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie, H.G. Wells (US 1973 xvii+487), pp 363-66. Second, literary scholarship would have fared better in the Deeks affair if Wells had retained textual critics of his own, for we would then have had scholarly winners as well as scholarly losers. Third, the greatness and originality of the Outline derive not from its details (Wells never claimed to have done anything that professors of history would regard as research) but from the organization of those details and the significances attributed to them, and the Outline was actually written in much the way supposedly visualized by Professor Irwin: "Wells sitting at his desk with the Encyclopaedia Britannica at his right hand, Robinson's Mediaeval and Modern Times at his left, and Miss Deeks' manuscript in front of him" (Mackenzie, p 365). Fourth, although it seems most probable that the parallel passages of the two works derive from the two authors' having "drawn heavily, and often without explicit acknowledgment, upon the same sources" (Ibid.), we would do well to withhold judgment until some scholar has made a thorough study of the relationship of the Outline to its sources. Fifth, if Wells knew of the Pollock book, he must have been vastly amused at finding the Outline used in what is evidently a fundamentalist defense of the literal truth of the Bible against that Higher Criticism which over the last two centuries has shaped our understanding of what kind of book the Bible is--and what will Marxist, Freudian, or other students of ideological contradictions make of this document's having been sent forth by Arthur C. Clarke, whose disbelief in that literal truth is indicated in any number of places? Are we to assume that he agrees with the opinion expressed in the last sentence of his quotation, that the results of the Higher Criticism have no "chance ...of being anything else than 'solemn nonsense' and 'fantastic hypotheses'"? Finally, it may be that because of the very nature of our work we need to be reminded every now and then that literary scholars can on occasion be just as foolish as anyone else, and so Mr Clarke's main point is well taken even though passing judgment on Professor Irwin would be to yield to precisely the temptation we are being warned against. --RDM.

 

IN RESPONSE TO PROFESSOR BENFORD. I am already accustomed to being called an ignoramus in SF matters by some of my American colleagues, i.e. writers. But not being accustomed to being taken for a know-nothing by professional scientists, I will reply to the criticism of my article "Cosmology and SF" coming from Prof. G. Benford.

My credentials in the concerned domain follow. I was the single non-professional,  i.e. non-scientist, invited to the Soviet-American CETI symposium (September 1971). For reasons unknown to me, my contribution to this symposium was omitted from the American edition of the proceedings, but it is to be found in the Russian publication Problema CETI (Moscow: Mir Publishers, 1975),pp 329-36. Later, in 1976, I lectured two semesters at the philosophical faculty of the Jagellonian University, invited by the department head, Professor Kuderowicz, on the CETI problems. The shortened version of my lectures is to be found in my non-fictional book Summa Technologiae, translated into German, Russian, and Hungarian, now in its second printing in West Germany. I hope this demonstrates that I am not informed only at second hand about what goes on in CETI.

In a short space Mr Benford produced a lot of misinformation. E.g., it is not true that Shklovski formalized the tripartite scheme of civilizations; it was Kardashev. It is not true that "it is fairly certain that we don't live in a cyclic universe." It is true that we do not know whether it is cyclic or not, and Mr Benford, as a professional, should be able to name at least three prominent cosmologists holding the opinion that our universe is indeed "cyclic," and if he does not read Russian papers, I can help him with the names of two Russian professionals who are of this opinion. Even S. Weinberg, in his popular The First Three Minutes, seriously considers the possibility of a cyclic universe, though he does not plead for it. It is not true that I expected an "instant success" in the radio project (i.e. , monitoring ETI).  It is true, as I wrote, that the CETI people are now making more and more pessimistic assessments of the mean intercivilizatory distance. The preliminary assessments spoke of 50 to 100 light years; now one speaks of 1000 light years and this is taken as an optimistic evaluation. Shklovski himself thinks now that the distance is infinite; i.e., that we are practically alone in the whole universe. The real stateof things does not matter in these remarks, since no living man, scientist or layman, knows what the case is, and I am therefore speaking only about the prevailing opinions of interested professionals.

But all these above-named matters were marginal in my SFS paper. My point was the "holistic" falsification of two basal parameters of the real universe by SF; to wit, the irreversibility of the time arrow and the impossibility of faster-than-light travel. The "short-circuited" universe of SF with FTL and time travel remains with us even if one, two, five science-fictioneers write some short stories embedded in a universe without these "commodities. " What Mr Benford really did was to use a well-known eristic trick. One takes from the text to be discredited this or that secondary matter to magnify and distort it ad absurdum. This way the criticized is maneuvered into a bad position, since he is now surrounded by a halo of very serious doubt: if the man talks nonsense in simple little matters, what an ignoramus he must be at his central point! --STANISLAW LEM.


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