Science Fiction Studies

# 16 = Volume 5, Part 3 = November 1978


Notes and Correspondence

In Retrospect. In 1972, after talking science fiction and science-fiction scholarship with any number of people at the Des Moines SFRA conference, I decided to launch Science-Fiction Studies. Having cleared the phrase "Published in the Department of English, Indiana State University" with the chairman of the department, the dean of the college, the vice-president for academic affairs, and the board of trustees, I informed Professor Suvin of my plans and asked him to be associate editor. From the beginning my idea was that the magazine would eventually pay for itself: I would do the editorial and publishing work in my spare time, with some help from the secretarial staff of the department and such of my colleagues as showed any interest in the project, and would meet any financial deficits of its early years from my own pocket by making "donations" to the university that could be counted against my income tax. During the first four years my donations amounted to $5000.00; during the past two years the income from subscriptions, advertising, and royalties has been sufficient, so that at the end of 1978 and my stewardship, account 2151 in the ISU business office will show a small surplus that can, I trust, be transferred to the new publisher.

Dr Suvin not only agreed to be associate editor but almost immediately supplied such a large number of manuscripts that I felt that in good conscience I could recognize his contribution to the possible success of the journal only by removing the word "associate" from his title and making our relationship an editorial partnership. Besides, I was curious to see whether a village atheist from the Middle West, even if trained at a Great University, could find happiness with a Marxist polyglot from Mitteleuropa. It has worked out very well indeed, and I am very happy that he finds it possible to keep the journal alive now that advancing age and declining energy are making it too difficult for me to find the "spare time" necessary for the work involved.

In our division of editorial responsibilities, Dr Suvin has supplied somewhat more than half of the articles we have published. I have been editorially responsible for the reviews, notes, correspondence, and about fifty of the articles. Having in my time seen the publication of much too much bad scholarship, I was determined that each article for which I was responsible would be read not simply by editorial consultants but in each case by someone thoroughly familiar with the primary works being discussed. In most cases that someone turned out to be myself, and I have done a vast amount of reading and/or rereading in our field since 1972 (e.g., all of Poe's fiction for David Ketterer's chronological survey; Hans Christian Anderson's collected stories for a good article that was finally rejected as being only peripheral to our concerns; and this past summer a good deal of fantasy for review in this issue). Looking back over these six years, it seems to me that, without claiming brilliance or definitiveness for the various interpretations, I can take satisfaction in the soundness of the scholarship in all but one of those fifty articles.

Of course, I would at this point rather say nothing at all about that one article, but the circumstances are such that I do not feel I can escape in that easy way. The article dealt with a book with which I was familiar enough to be overconfident; that is, I accepted the article, on the advice of editorial consultants, simply because it seemed in itself to make good sense, and without sitting down to think over whether or not it presented a reasonable interpretation of the book being discussed. Which brings us to the letter that follows. —RDM.

 

Dear Professor Mullen: Mr Clarke's amusingly vicious ("I am in no way comparing Mr Moylan to Dr Goebbels" and "'Is he mad, or merely pretending to be mad?"') letter in SFS #14 is understandable (it is his integrity and that of his work that is being put to the question in Moylan's essay) but your apparent agreement with its dubious logic is a bit perplexing. Moylan is not, of course, involved in "speculations about the beliefs of a novelist," but is after the social meaning of a particular text in the context in which it was produced and marketed. In this connection the opinion of a writer on the meaning of his or her work is of particular interest, but not particularly decisive.

The bone in question is Moylan's sentence "The dialectical tension between Diaspar and Lys, of course, is a product of cold-war ideology" (SFS 4[1977]:154). Clarke jumps on the "of course" as Joe McCarthy used to jump on plausible communists, but the one fact he adduces is that the first version of the story "was 'Begun c 1937"' (SFS 5[1978]:89). I do not doubt Clarke's sincerity or the integrity of his facts, but the logic of his refutation rests on (at least) four assumptions, only one of which is even nearly explicit, and all of which are dubious if not clearly false. These assumptions are (1) that a text or textual image can or must have a single "meaning"; (2) that all "meaning" is known to and in the control of the writer; (3) that "cold-war ideology" (and this is the most nearly avowed) did not exist before March 5, 1946; and (4) that the "meaning" of a text lies in what (someone thinks) it says rather than in the (ideological) use to which it is put.

Against the one-dimensionality of the first two assumptions one need merely (for all those who will hear) adduce the reasonableness of the following: that the overdetermination of Diaspar and Lys as both city and country and capitalist and communist utopian ideals is (part of) the mechanism by which, according to Moylan, it is inevitable that "The resolution of this contradiction ... is a renewed bourgeois empire with the communist utopia abandoned to a meaningless backwater of history" (SFS 4:154). Curiously, Clarke's letter supports Moylan's reading of Clarke's ideological bias; to the extent that Clarke thought of "Stalin as a kind of Slavic Father Christmas" he must have thought him (and the political ideals for which he apparently stood) archaic. From here it is easy to proceed to the silliness of the assumption that the Cold War and the ideology which supported it sprang full-blown from Churchill's brow on a certain day in 1946; but even if it were possible to believe such a thing, one might still be struck by the fact that "Against the Fall of Night" (the earlier version of The City and the Stars) was not publishable until 1948. For Moylan (and for myself) the most important registration of the "meaning" of a text lies in the use to which it is (capable of being) put: in this case, according to Moylan, "The novel, in short, offers compensation and false promises to young readers of the 1950s" (SFS 4:153), as I, for one, can well remember.

But the most disturbing (because the most insidious) aspect of Clarke's letter, and of your note, is an apparent confusion of Marxist socialism with, on the one hand, the communism which is its goal and, on the other, the Stalinism that was its embarrassment at the same time as McCarthyism was ours. No Marxist would care to deny that "socialism in practice has some contradictions of its [sic] own" (SFS 5:90). However tolerantly meant, this kind of vulgar representation of a Marxist position by a non-Marxist is itself an echo of a cold war which is, perhaps, returning.

Please understand that this is written in a comradely spirit. It is just that one does not like to see one's friends called names, at least when they don't deserve it. —Richard Astle.

In Response to Mr Astle. It may be true that "no Marxist would care to deny that 'socialism in practice has contradictions of its [sic] own,"' and it is certainly true that there are varieties of socialism other than the Russian (a fact of which my presumed ignorance is marked by Mr Astle's "sic"), but it is also true that Marxists, like the rest of us, have their careless moments — moments in which some of them display the tendency to do exactly what I said in the March issue: "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" (5:90). For example:

The mythical and magical explanations of earlier generations have in this process [the development of the physical and social sciences] been increasingly refuted and pushed into the background.

The capitalistic system, however, involves contradiction, first, between the available information and the failure to apply it on the one hand; second, between its application and its remystification through mechanisms of alienation in the organization of the spread of knowledge and of societal labor, as well as through psychic misery because of performance pressure, impoverishment of contacts, existential anxiety, isolation, and intemalisation of societal deficiencies. The result is that mythical and magical ideas continue to exist. [A.J. Alpers, SFS 5:19]

Is there any socialist country in the present-day world (or imaginable for the near future) in which mythical and magical ideas do not (or will not) continue to exist? Is there any reason to believe that the contradictions here attributed to capitalism do not also apply to all present-day varieties of socialism in practice — or to believe that they will not continue to apply, in greater or lesser degree, to any socialism short of the ideal? Does Mr Astle (or Mr Alpers) believe that there is some variety of theoretical socialism in which the elimination of such contradictions has been fully worked out? To be sure, one can posit their elimination, as Morris does in News from Nowhere, or, for that matter, Bellamy in Looking Backward.

I assume that Lenin, Stalin, and their successors all began as idealistic socialists. I do not believe that the horrors of the Stalinist or post-Stalinist Soviet Union can be attributed simply to the wrong-headedness or wickedness of Stalin (Marxists have, I believe, a term for that kind of fallacy). And if one argues that "Stalinism was its [Socialism's] embarrassment at the same time as McCarthyism was ours," one is surely granting that bourgeois democracy works much better than socialism, for to compare the two effects is necessarily to credit the enormous difference in those effects to the system under which the people suffered least.

Let it be understood that I continue to be a socialist, in the sense that I continue to believe that it is possible for our common affairs to be administered in a way that is once scientific, humanistic, and just — albeit a socialist who acknowledges the at least temporary failure of almost all the hopes with which this century began. If I refuse the name of Marxist, it is because Marxism seems to me too much like the Christianity of my fathers and forefathers.

In his letter on Mr Moylan's essay, Mr Clarke seems to have been most interested simply on denying that he was a cold-warrior. He may well be — as I am — irritated by the interpretation Mr Astle placed on his thinking of "Stalin as a kind of Slavic Father Christmas." The cold-war ideology may have existed in the minds of our rulers before 1946, but in the war years Mr Clarke and I were not making propaganda but being subjected to it. To the general public and especially the members of the armed forces, that propaganda portrayed Stalin as a great and noble warrior who would in the great days after victory cooperate with the West in creating a world of peace, plenty, and justice. Stalin was "Uncle Joe," and indeed was Father Christmas if only because his troops were bringing the war to an end and thus hastening the day when Clarke, and I, and all the soldiers and sailors could go home. Finally, the conversion of Uncle Joe into Stalin the Monster did not, for the general public, take place overnight; indeed it took some years, it took the Korean war, to make the general American public give up its dream of Soviet-American cooperation in the building of a new world.

Let us now turn to Mr Moylan's essay and Mr Astle's defense of it. Mr Astle to the contrary, there is no "overdetermination," or even determination, "of Diaspar and Lys as ... capitalist and communist utopian ideals." If there is any "dialectical tension between Diaspar and Lys," it has nothing to do with the cold war or with capitalism vs. communism. It is simply not true that "As Diaspar is a flawed utopia, Lys is a perfectly realized one" (4:154), for the differences between the two cultures are really quite trivial — each being a society in which all technological, economic, and social problems have been solved except the problem of how to escape boredom, and each having worked out utterly unmotivated ways for groups and individuals to amuse themselves. Of course, you will disagree with this if you believe that growing vegetables in your backyard is more "natural" and "human" than opening packages from a supply store, or that having women continue to bear children is godly whereas making use of perfected technological means of reproduction is devilish, or that two hundred years of infancy-childhood-youth-maturity-age is socialistic and good whereas one thousand years of maturity is capitalistic and bad. Clarke's depiction of Lys may remind Mr Moylan of Marx (4:154), but it reminds me of Chesterton and Belloc — or of the Agrarian New Critics of I'll Take My Stand (1932).

Mr Moylan writes, "The citizens of Diaspar 'did not wish to bring back the old days' of commerce and exploration for new planets and new markets" (4:153), but there is no basis whatsoever in the story for the words which he added (and which I have italicized). He speaks again and again of the "Empire," without ever examining Clarke's text to see just what kind of community the Galactic Empire was, evidently simply assuming that any community calling itself an empire must be one in which some nations exploit other nations, and some classes other classes. He even speaks of Alvin's restoring "Earth to its galactic hegemony" (4:153), blithely ignoring the book's statement that when Earth was discovered by the Empire it was an abysmally backward planet that only after "millions of years" had developed itself sufficiently to participate in Galactic endeavors — those endeavors being not the capitalistic exploitation of backward planets but instead (to use terms now highly unfashionable) the extension of the empire of mankind and other psychozoa over nature — that is, the study of nature in the expectation that it will before the end of time at last be fully comprehended (§24).

Mr Moylan speaks of "a ruling elite holding all power to itself" (4:152), for which again there is no basis in the story, Lys having a "senate" just as Diaspar has a "council" and both societies being completely equalitarian, with no place in either for anything remotely resembling capitalistic enterprise. Must I belabor the point that in The City and the Stars the societies depicted — Diaspar, Lys, and the Galactic Empire of the past — are all completely communistic, with all need of capitalistic or imperialistic endeavors having faded away millions of years ago?

The theme of The City and the Stars is challenge and response. There may be some Toynbee in it, but it is essentially a Stapledonian work, Last and First Men having provided many models of societies overreaching themselves and then sinking into long periods of social and intellectual torpor such as that depicted by Clarke for both Diaspar and Lys. It is simply nonsensical to read as some kind of capitalistic mystification Clarke's account of the disastrous results of the Galaxy's attempt to create a being that would be pure mind.

When Wells concluded The Discovery of the Future (1902) with these words — "All this world is heavy with the promise of greater things, and a day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings, beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amid the stars" — he was not thinking of the establishment of colonies on backward planets for the purpose of making ourselves richer by exploiting the natives.

For Mr Moylan, Mr Astle, and all good Marxists, the ideal of a "perfectly realized" utopia may be embodied in a Chesterbellockian arcadia (or, to use a nicer word, a Morrisian arcadia) such as Lys, or in such an earth as was depicted in "Forgetfulness" (1937) by that famous Marxist John W. Campbell. For me it is not.

As for the four "assumptions" that Mr Astle attributes to Mr Clark and inferentially to myself, let it be said that the first two were exploded by the New Criticism (in which Marxists had some part) long before the Marxist criticism of these latter days became fashionable in American academic journals, and that, besides, a writer of Mr Clarke's experience has surely learned long ago that "all 'meaning'" in his own texts is not known to himself or under his control. The third assumption, as I have already indicated, is largely if not entirely true with respect to me, Mr Clarke, and the general public. Mr Astle's statement of the fourth assumption cuts both ways: it is a rare text that cannot through misinterpretation be put to all kinds of ideological uses.

Finally, I must say that while I am irritated by the sentences I have quoted from Mr Alpers' essay, I do not think that their presence does any particular damage to an otherwise excellent discussion of "heroic fantasy," and that my criticism of Mr Moylan's essay does not imply any doubt on my part of his intelligence or general ability as a critic. It is simply that in this case he succumbed to tendentiousness — something any of us is likely to do, and something for the prevention of which good editors are needed — editors, it seems, better than I — or at least than I was when I accepted and published the essay. —RDM.

 

Dear Professor Mullen: I have just received No. 14 of SF Studies and wonder by what editorial aberration I am credited with a book by Jim Ballard, of all people! (page 90). Talk about ideological contradictions....

Robert Plank's article "From SF to Life and Death," and the article on "Heroic Fantasy" that immediately follows certainly demonstrate that there are some very sick people on the fringes of science fiction. I am surprised that Dr Plank didn't mention a parallel case — that of Mishima. I wonder if his life-style and violent death influenced Dostal and Dvorak.

Dr Plank's remark (footnote page 79) that the manufacturers of robots may be motivated by the wish to circumvent the sexual act of creation promotes another line of thought. The father (sic) of automata theory was Alan Turing and his famous paper Can a Machine Think? (see Newman's World of Mathematics) remains a basic document in this field. Now many years ago J.B.S. Haldane told me that Turing was a homosexual, and no-one knows if his extraordinary death was accidental or deliberate (he was found with a poisoned apple in his hand — shades of Snow White!).

The time is overdue for a biography of this remarkable man, possibly the greatest mathematical genius of this century. Now that British Security has released some information on the work he did on the construction of the first electronic computer and the breaking of ENIGMA, it appears that Turing was one of that very small group of men without whom the Second World War could not have been won. —Arthur C. Clarke.

The title in question should of course have been not The Wind from Nowhere but The Wind from the Sun; as a two-finger typist who copies phrase by phrase rather than letter by letter, I sometimes make such errors. (Since SFS is a scholarly journal, perhaps I should note that the suspension points and "sic" in Mr Clarke's letter are his own.) —RDM.

 

The Second World Science Fiction Writers Conference was held in Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin, in Ireland, 23, 24, and 25th June, 1978. As before, the prime mover was Harry Harrison, whose energy makes all men wonder. Attendees numbered some two hundred, and assembled from all round the globe, including Brazil, Jugoslavia, the USSR, and Scandinavia. The occasion was a highly enjoyable one.

Among lectures of particular interest were those by Frank Kelly Freas and Karel Thole on artwork, and those on aspects of science fiction by Dr. Thomas Shippey ("Catastrophes"), Eric Korn ("Strangeness and Charm"), and Stan Gooch ("Atlernative Persons").

The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool presented, under Ken Campbell's direction, two excellent short plays, The Immortalist, by Healthcote Williams, and Psychosis: Unclassified, adapted from Theodore Sturgeon's Some of Your Blood.

At the closing banquet, the John W. Campbell Memorial Awards were announced by James Gunn, Awards Chairman. First Prize went to Frederik Pohl's Gateway, second prize to the translation of the Strugatski Brothers' Roadside Picnic, and third prize to Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly. Encomiums on the three prize-winning novels were delivered respectively by Tom Shippey, Sam Lundwall, and Brian Aldiss.

More remarkably, WORLD SF was founded, and a constitution approved by all delegates present. Regular readers of SFS will recall that this movement for a global science fiction organisation was first mooted by the Hungarian critic and poet, Peter Kucska, at Eurocon III in Poznan, 1976, and developed still further at the first Dublin conference that year. The officials for the current year are as follows: President: Harry Harrison (USA); Secretary and Treasurer: Sam J. Lundwall (Sweden); Trustees: Peter Kuczka (Hungary); Patrice Duvic (France); Charlotte Franke (West Germany); Eremy Parnov (USSR); Frederik Pohl (USA); Brian Aldiss (Great Britain); Gerald Izaguirre (Brazil). Anyone with professional interests can join the World SF society by sending US $2 to the Headquarters at 10 Fitzwilliams Square, Dublin 2, Ireland. —Brian Aldiss.

 

On the Publication of the Haggard Survey. Burroughs is a cheapening of Haggard, and Howard a drastic cheapening of Burroughs — a stripping away of all that makes fantasy and SF interesting to get down to the fighting and fucking. The fact that in The Hills of Faraway (see pp 29-98 above), Diana Waggoner treats Burroughs and Howard with respect (listing all the Martian, Tarzan, and Conan books) but Haggard with utter disrespect (listing only four books and using of them such adjectives as naive, racist, mindless) has irritated me so much that I have printed in this issue an essay that I decided not to print in our first issue on the ground that Haggard's fiction is only peripheral to SF even though enormously influential on the SF of the first half of this century. —RDM.


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