Science Fiction Studies

# 18 = Volume 6, Part 2 = July 1979


Notes and Correspondence

Rumors have reached me. to the effect that my retirement as publisher and co-editor of Science-Fiction Studies was occasioned by disagreements with Dr. Suvin or dissatisfaction with our collaboration. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have for Dr. Suvin both great affection and profound respect. We differ in many things, but the differences have not strained our friendship, which, I trust, will be life-long. He being considerably the younger, I fully expect him to deliver the eulogy at my funeral.—R.D. Mullen

 

John M. Christensen, at the end of his article "New Atlantis Revisited: The Victorian Tale of the Future," SFS, 16: 248-49, cites from James Thomson's City of Dreadful Night may be a source of Wells's Sphinx in The Time Machine. a pair of compasses, the symbols of science and guidance." I am sure Christensen must know (but he doesn't say) that this emblematic woman in Thomson's poem is explicitly (XXI, line 42) Dürer's "Melancolia" — Thomson describes Dürer's picture in great detail. The woman in Thomson may incidentally symbolize the despairing quality of Victorian science, but she is not only that.

Another thing: it seems to me barely possible that sections XX and XXI of City of Dreadful Night may be a source of Wells's sphinx in The Time Machine. Section XX portrays a sphinx which destroys an armed angel (Christian faith?), and XXI gives us the useless-winged MELANCOLIA; the two together might have fused in Wells's mind to produce a white sphinx (there's also moonlight in Thomson's XX, last stanza). That is, if Wells had read Thomson! —David J. Lake

 

Ms. Pamela J. Annas's article, "New Worlds, New Words: Androgyny in Feminist Science Fiction," in the July 1978 issue was both timely and welcome, but her reading in SF written by women seems not to have been very extensive. Ms. Annas states strongly that the concept of the androgyne was developed primarily by men. This may well be true, but since Ms. Annas followed the feminist custom of invoking the sacred name of Virgina Woolf at the end of her article, she might have at least mentioned Woolf's Orlando and the effect that novel has had on the development of the concept. It also seems that instead of stretching her conception of androgyny to cover the complete works of Ursula Le Guin and Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, Ms. Annas might have considered some other works that are explicitly androgynous — for example, Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Worldwreckers or Tanith Lee's pair of novels, Don't Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine. The question of roles and role reversal would seem to demand at least a reference to Catherine Moore's Jirel of Joiry series, some of the Witch World stories of Andre Norton (notably "Dragon Scale Silver" in Spell of the Witch World), and some of the later examinations of the concept of the female hero — although that is another article. In short, although Le Guin certainly has had a tremendous impact on feminist SF, there is a small but extremely rich mine of ideas available in the works of earlier writers, and some later ones not labelled "feminist" whom feminists therefore seem to ignore. I hope the current trend toward examining more secondary than primary sources is not going to continue. —Karen Mitchell

 

On SF and Futurology

I would like to add a brief comment to Professor Elkins's article on SF and futurology in SFS No. 17, since a number of statements in these last years have claimed that SF has a direct relation to predicting the "real future," that, indeed, it is the literature of real predictions. Such statements usually recommend the use of SF and its works in serious analyses of the future on all levels — from popular to political decision-making.

Such discussion is, I believe, empty from the beginning. Even if the close relation between SF and the predictive role of SF, could be demonstrated beyond any doubt, what would it mean for our understanding of SF, its methods, poetics, impact on readers, evolution, and finally for the analysis of its real content? In brief — nothing. I just cannot avoid the temptation to compare the syllogism: "there are some predictions in some SF which sometimes could become true; therefore SF must be taken seriously (no less than futurology)," to such "revelations" as: "The situations in imaginative fiction sometimes bear a very close resemblance to situations in real life — therefore it is very useful to read fiction." But this basic thesis cannot be demonstrated. It rests on several assumptions (that there exists a "real future"; that it can be probed by the scientific and intuitive methods; that futurology is an example of the first, and SF of the second), every one of which is suspect — and the closer to the end of the list, the graver the suspicion.

I will not discuss here the real value of modern futurology. I wish only to point out that attempts to probe the future are not so modern as some adepts of futurology are trying to show. What is really new is the use of science. And our modern "myth of science" (of its unlimited might) is the real reason for our second deadly myth — that modern futurology is qualitatively different from the ancient magic or the usual economic planning. Futurology-as-cybernetics succeeded only when and where its inevitable simplifications were irrelevant to its answers. And as the first flush of successful cybernetics has aroused (and re-exhumed) many myths of the mass subconscious, so too the belief in the possibility to predict "scientifically" the "real" future has re-exhumed many ancient temptations of mankind, of which the foremost is the possibility (and desirability) of the instrumental and purely rational social organization of society. Yet all the (relative) successes of futurology belong to the field of the simplest quantitative problems. They were achieved by methods of linear extrapolation. Its many parametric scenarios are first of all answers to some ideological, political, and social orders, and not "scientific prediction." Its "objectivity" and "scientific character" are mainly myths. Its popularity is due to this conjuncture. Its pretence is technocratic and dangerous. In modem capitalist and socialist societies using science to effectively manipulate individuals and masses, futurology is merely one of the tools for such manipulation and for preventing the freedom of choice. It substitutes for real knowledge — wishful prediction; for choice — a limited number of "scientific" predictions; for freedom — a scientific fatalism.

But my major objections against the thesis of SF as prediction pertain to its totally ignoring the fundamental fact of SF being literature (fiction). Instead, it is looked at as a rational scheme, the social value of which depends only on the accuracy of its predictions. Such an approach cannot take cognizance of any esthetic difference between one author and another, one text and another: its analysis is as a rule reduced to discussing some more or less trivial points which SF has taken from popular science. However even this approach cannot point out the original "predictions" of such SF. This is understandable. SF which claims that it is "prediction" is as a rule both predictively unoriginal and esthetically empty. What is really significant in SF has nothing in common with the "real future" and real prediction. SF deals with the novum and not with the future; with changes and not with prediction.

One would have to throw out all the real (esthetic and cognitive) content of such books as Sirius or The War with the Newts, The Martian Chronicles or The Left Hand of Darkness in order to treat them as "predictions of the real future" and discuss their "futurological values." Such an "engineering" understanding of literary process and of the real content of literary work is rather childish. Even purely socio-political SF — utopias and dystopias — never has any original "predictive" elements nor any relation to the "real future" (except for its impact on the evolution of ideology) since it expresses mankind's instrumental illusions and some definite ideologies.

Neither SF nor futurology have so far been able to take into account a great number of parameters, their mutual influence, etc. That's why SF predictions are trivial. If we were seriously to analyze, for example, Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll," we would see that the story's "scientific prediction" is limited to picturing of self-rolling roads in a future USA and noting that a normal functioning of this set of roads will be very important for the normal function of the society (an example of a linear extrapolation from the present situation). The story's "social prediction" asserts that the evolution of this set of roads will bring about two almost fundamentally different types of people — engineers and technicians (somewhere in between capitalists-cum-workers and Elois-cum-Morlocks), who will be hostile to one another. And finally, something from future psychology: we learn from the story that aristocratic blood will always be better than "proletarian." Nowhere except in futurology or in this type of SF, of course, could we obtain such a deep insight into future millennia. Can we seriously recommend such writers with such "revelations" to function as experts and advisers in political and social decisions? If that had been done with Heinlein's story, it is obvious that it would have brought us not knowledge but a definite ideological choice.

However, I would like to disagree with Elkins's final assumption that it is only the "bourgeois illusions" that try to inculcate an enmity toward change into readers. The actual ideology of the "socialist countries" is at least as strongly — if not more strongly — interested in such a myth, and it strives to uphold it at the price of tremendous efforts, a price which could, of course, be expressed in direct financial terms. —Rafail Nudelman

 

Correspondence: Wells's Bibliography

In his review of my Wells bibliography Joe Weixlmann gives your readers the impression that my book consists in essence of a replication of the bibliographical section of the standard work published fifty years ago by Geoffrey H. Wells (Geoffrey West). In fact, my bibliography differs from Wells's in several fundamental respects. Whilst it is true that I have adopted his general format and layout for each entry, I did take the trouble to check each of his entries against the original first editions (either at the Wells Collection at the Bromley Central Library or at the British Library), and in the course of doing so found that in a number of instances (e.g. Love and Mr. Lewisham) Wells's book contains inaccurate or incomplete information.

Moreover, your reviewer does not mention that Wells's bibliography ceases at the year 1926. Since H.G. Wells continued writing prolifically for a further twenty years this meant that a very considerable amount of original research had to be undertaken by me in order to complete my own work. My bibliography may not be perfect, but it does claim to be the most comprehensive primary bibliography of Wells currently available. If Mr. Weixlmann feels he can write a better one, then he is welcome to try!

J.R. Hammond

I cannot imagine that anyone reading my review of Mr. Hammond's book would fail to understand that he has included a "considerable amount of original research" in it, and I would have been more positively responsive to his emendations of Geoffrey Wells's entries had he corrected all of Wells's errors. Moreover, Hammond is misguided in his willingness to ignore decades of scholarship aimed at developing principles of bibliographical description. Until such time as we are ready to laud a contemporary physicist whose work ignores the finds of Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg, we'd better hold in reserve our praise for a modern bibliographer who blithely disregards the work of McKerrow, Bowers, and Gaskell. Of Hammond's last sentence, the less said the better: it is pathetic.

My review, I believe, was even-handed, stating the strengths of Hammond's H.G. Wells bibliography and pointing out its weaknesses. I'll stand by it.—Joe Weixlmann

Astronomy vs. Semiotics

Re: SFS No. 17, page 10: please inform Prof. Angenot that the use of words like "semiotic" does not excuse the ignorance of science in discussing SF -Fomalhaut is the brightest star of the constellation Piscis Austrinus, and while not visible from Canada due to southern declination, is not a Le Guin invention. Page 87 — Lalande 21185 is not a galaxy, but the 4th nearest star to the Sun (counting Alpha Centauri as 1), a red dwarf 8.2 ly away. "Protion" is probably the Polish name for Procyon, which is, like Regulus, also a star, not a galaxy. This is the sort of reason why SF writers resent academicians — feel if they can't understand science, they aren't capable of validly discussing SF (but I had the same response to Pournelle's note in SFWA Bulletin when I first saw it — cf. p. 118, SFS No. 17). —T.W. Hamilton

 

If one looks at SFS No. 17, p. 10, it reads: "the planets Gethen, Fomalhaut, Hain, Urras, and Anarres ... do not exist." My "ignorance" of astronomy does not lead me to ignore that Fomalhaut is the name of a star; I was just trying to point out the fact that SF writers often have fictional planets — here the planet named Fomalhaut 11, in Rocannon's World — revolve around actual, "empirical," stars. This mixing of imaginary data and supposedly verifiable ones was particularly relevant to my point. Page 87: The error seems to be due to the translator's over interpretation of a pronoun; the editors unfortunately overlooked the mistranslation.—MA

 

Dagmar Barnouw teaches German and Comparative Literature at Brown University. Interested in social-psychological problems in literature and ideologies in literary criticism. Most recent publications include articles on feminism, on skepticism as a literary mode, on the theory of aesthetic response, on the problem of the literary intellectual as political revolutionary, and a book length study of the social philosopher Elias Canetti. Currently at work on a book on the German philosophical novel of the twenties and thirties with the working title "All that Squandered Reverence".

Albert L. Berger has written several articles on science fiction and popular ideology for Science-Fiction Studies and the Journal of Popular Culture. A native of New York City and a long-term resident of Los Angeles, Dr. Berger spent the 1978-79 academic year teaching American Economic and Intellectual History, as well as science fiction, at the University of Montana. His work in progress includes a brief biography of John W. Campbell and a major study of science fiction and the ideology of technological innovation.

John Fekete is a professor of English Literature and Cultural Studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. He published in 1978 The Critical Twilight: Explorations in the Ideology of Anglo-American Literary Theory from Eliot to McLuhan (London, Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul), and is currently working at the points of convergence of cultural theory, literary theory, and SF theory. He is an Editor of Telos: A Quarterly Journal of Radical Thought and an Advisory Editor of Cine-Tracts: A Journal of Film, Communications, Culture and Politics.

Jörg Hienger is professor of German literature at the University of Kassel (W. Germany). He has recently published several articles on popular literature and is currently co-writing a book on TV as a subject for literary studies in schools.

David Ketterer has two books forthcoming in August: The Rationale of Deception in Poe (Louisiana State University Press), and Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, The Monster, and Human Reality (University of Victoria English Literary Studies series). This will complete a kind of trilogy begun by New Worlds for Old (that broad study of literary category introduces first an extended study of one writer and second an extended study of one book within that same category).

John Ower is an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina. He has published several essays on 19th and 20th Century poetry and fiction. He is currently working on a book on the poetry of Edith Sitwell.

Franz Rottensteiner's latest publications are: The Fantasy Book (New York: Macmillan 1978, London: Thames and Hudson 1979), an illustrated survey of fantastic literature in all its forms (except SF); "European SF" in Patrick Parrinder's Science Fiction: A Critical Guide (London: Longmans 1979). He has also written a number of reviews of German SF for the Guide to SF Literature for Salem Press. A forthcoming book (in German) is a collection of essays from Quarber Merkur (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, December 1979).

Jeanne Murray Walker, who teaches at the University of Delaware at Newark, is currently working on a book on SF.

In our recent issues, Arthur C. Clarke has been described as a "Cambridge graduate." He kindly attracted our attention to the fact that he is a Fellow of King's College, London.


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