Science Fiction Studies

# 6 = Volume 2, Part 2 = July 1975


Notes, Reports, and Correspondence

Booksellers Specializing in SF. Although most if not all of the books reviewed in SFS may be obtained from any book store, the ordinary store is not likely to have them in stock and might well not have contact with some fan publishers, so that one might do better to order from one of the dealers specializing in SF. Such dealers advertise regularly in the major fan magazines, such as Locus and Algol; here I will merely list the five booksellers that take ten or more copies of each issue of SFS: Dragon Press, Elizabethtown, NY 12932; The Science Fiction Shop, 56 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10014; David G. Turner-Bookman, PO Box 2612, Menlo Park, CA 94025; Ferret Fantasy, 27 Beechcroft Road, Upper Tooting, London SW17; Temps Futurs, 3 Rue Perronet, 75007 Paris. —RDM.

On the Eisenstein-Suvin Exchange (see SFS 1:305-07): One. I read with utter incredulity Alex Eisenstein's statement (p306) that "Cavorite...is the kind of 'impossibility that cannot easily be demonstrated—whereas Verne's canon could have been demolished on paper at the time he wrote." The truth is almost the exact opposite.

The theoretical basis of Verne's gun is perfectly sound, though it could not have worked as he described because of air resistance. Willy Ley (Rockets, Missiles and Men in Space, ch. 10) discusses the modifications (mountain site, evacuated barrel) that Oberth and von Pirquet proposed to overcome this problem. I suspect that with modern technology, and a location on Everest, such a gun could be built. It is interesting to note that the 119 foot long HARP 16-inch gun operated in the late '60's on Barbados by McGill University launched two hundred pound research payloads from sea level at over a mile a second. (And, incidentally, used an evacuated barrel.) Although this is only a seventh of escape velocity, a space-gun would be several thousand feet long and would use multiple charges—exactly like the almost horizontal guns the Germans were building to shoot across the English Channel in 1944.

The only basic absurdity in Verne's novel is that human beings could survive some 10,000 g. Granted, this is a not-unimportant quibble, but is of an altogether different order of magnitude to the objections to Cavorite.

A gravity screen such as Wells describes can be demolished by common sense, without bringing the heavy artillery of the Laws of Thermodynamics. One could use it as a perpetual source of energy, merely by using it to lift a weight, and then removing it so that the weight fell again. (I remember a story in an early Astounding featuring just such a device!) If by enclosing a mass inside a screen of Cavorite it could be given the ability to escape from the Earth, then the energy needed to perform this feat must be provided from somewhere. To get a mental picture of the amount involved, it is the same as that required to lift the mass through 4000 miles against normal Earth gravity. Willy Ley puts it very neatly when he says that the inventor of Cavorite doesn't need it, because if he can enter his vehicle his muscles are powerful enough for him to jump to the Moon directly. Of course, there is nothing fundamentally absurd about a powered anti-gravity device, if the energy source is adequate. For an account of this situation—and a fuller demolition of "gravity screens"—I refer you to my Dr. Cavor, in "What Goes Up" (Tales from the White Hart).

The Eisenstein-Suvin discussion about the specific behavior of the Cavorite propulsion system is thus as pointless as an argument over the geometrical properties of square circles, so let's waste no more time on it.

There is considerable irony in the fact that, in the movie Things to Come (1936) Wells reverted to what was essentially the Verne spacegun. This caused much heartburning in the English Interplanetary Society, and we wrote him a plaintive letter which, if I recall correctly, received a rather noncommittal reply. (William F. Temple may still have it, and will certainly remember its contents.) —Arthur C. Clarke.

On the Eisenstein-Suvin Exchange: Two. If I might be permitted to provide an astronomer's comments on the question regarding Cavorite raised in SFS #4, I think I might be able to clear up what Wells presumably had in mind. Cavorite most likely can trace its ancestry to the explanation by Aristotle of how objects fall to Earth because it is part of their nature to seek unity with the largest available object comprising the element (earth) of which they are made. Contrasted to the qualities of earth, especially the quality of heaviness, we find the element of fire, whose quality of lightness causes it to rise away from the Earth. Had Wells lived and written his story half a millennium earlier, Cavorite would most likely have been explained as containing a large quantity of the element of fire.

Since Wells lived at a time when the elements were better understood, even if gravity was not, he came up with the idea of a substance impervious to gravity. (Today we might ask for a force field to do as much.) The reduction in the influence of Cavorite by being rolled up like window blinds makes sense. That portion of a sphere which is covered by Cavorite becomes a nullity so far as gravity is concerned. If less of the sphere is a nullity because the Cavorite is rolled up, then more of the sphere is attracted by gravity, and hence the sphere is less likely to go off into space.

The problem here is that the sphere will initially share Earth's motion through space. If Earth's gravity were suddenly to be nullified by the use of Cavorite the sphere would take off from the surface at a tangent to the instantaneous direction in which Earth was moving when the gravity was nullified. To determine what direction one would then be headed (it could easily have been straight down, or into the local church steeple) would have been a rather tedious computation job in Wells' day. Wells supposes that one can steer his sphere by appropriate raising and lowering of the Cavorite blinds to make sure one is headed towards the Moon and lands with reasonable gentleness. This trick would require a computer at least as good and probably somewhat better than the one used aboard the Apollo lunar landers, not mere human response times, together with the radar equipment the Apollos had.

Prof. Fremlin assumes that Cavorite (or any other antigravity method) violates the second law of thermodynamics, which would be true if it could be turned on and off without using more energy than can be obtained from it (how does one "turn off" a metal?). I cannot agree with the rest of Prof. Fremlin's conclusions, though, that the movement of the Cavorite sheets would generate large quantities of heat. The motion of a suppositious gravitational nullity no more requires the release of large amounts of energy than does the motion of a large gravitational mass such as the Earth in its orbit. Which does not make Cavorite any more likely. I fear that it must remain in the realm of Wellsian inventions which are improbable of attainment by mundane science. —Thomas Wm. Hamilton.

On the Eisenstein-Suvin Exchange: Three.One of the first SF stories I ever read was concerned with the question that inevitably arises in connection with the concept of a universal solvent: what would you keep it in? the answer was that the solvent is a mixture of Liquid A and Liquid B: you have as it were a pitcher in each hand, pouring from the two simultaneously so that the liquids mix in mid-air and fall together on the thing to be dissolved. With Cavorite the equivalent question is answered by resort to heat: the pre-Cavorite alloy does not take on its opacity to gravity until its temperature drops to 60 Fahr., so that there is time to roll up the sheets like cloth window blinds and attach them to the space ship. When rolled up and tied down, their effect (as Mr. Hamilton points out) is too slight to change the relationship of Earth (or Moon) and spaceship. I do not understand, in Mr. Hamilton's letter, how "a tangent to the instantaneous direction in which Earth was moving" could be "straight down," but I suppose that this involves not only the diurnal motion of Earth or Moon, which Wells counted on, but also the orbital motion, which he did not allow for. The comments by Willi Ley on entering the spaceship would seem not to be valid when the blinds are rolled up, though the human body might well suffer some stresses and strains, perhaps to a degree that it could not endure. Be that as it may, it seems to me that Mr. Clarke is right about Verne and Mr. Eisenstein about Wells. That is, both Verne and Wells were more knowledgeable in the science of their time, and more careful in using it, than they are often given credit for. And if gravity were merely a form of "radiant energy" (First Men in the Moon, §1), then Cavorite would indeed be "the kind of impossibility that cannot easily be demonstrated." —RDM.

 

The Hyperion Reprints: Some Premonitions. Dr. Mullen's run-down of the Hyperion reprints is useful. As is common with much science fiction, many of these novels are more fun in synopsis. Admittedly the Hyperion series was produced cheaply, but one is entitled to complain of the way in which so many volumes do not have an introduction but an old essay of Sam Moskowitz dropped in by way of introduction; some volumes still have the original "Explorers of the Infinite" cross-heads. Pretty shoddy.

The poor quality of some of these so-called classics is another matter. Moskowitz can hardly be held responsible for that—though one would feel happier if he were more aware of the fact. It is good to have a copy of Pope's Journey to Mars on one's shelves; a half-hour's flip through the volume takes the edge off curiosity. But isn't there some danger that, now that this reprint exists, some poor guys might have to teach or, worse, study Gustavus Pope as if he were for real? As a result of which, readers would either be put off all science fiction for ever or (would your subscribers agree that this is the more dreadful alternative?) might even come to enjoy literature of this desultory order? —Brian W. Aldiss.

In Response to Mr. Aldiss. Looking over what I have written recently, I find that I have frequently said that this book or that is "indispensable for students of SF." It should be understood that by "students of SF" I do not mean the members of an undergraduate class, or even a graduate class, in an SF course (to whom I would assign only books recent enough to be called modern, or books widely acknowledged as classics of our literature), but instead those for whom SF is either a profession or a serious avocation. I can't imagine that any instructor would ever require any student to read Gustavus Pope; on the other hand, I can imagine a graduate or undergraduate pursuing a topic that led him to Pope, and that he might even enjoy reading Pope for what he learns about his topic. I put no bounds to curiosity, and if one is curious about what people have imagined with respect to travel through space, one might well enjoy the chapter in Journey to Mars entitled "Twenty Million Miles a Minute." —RDM.

 

SF and Pulp-Paper Publishing Practices. James Tiptree, Jr.'s first book of stories, Ten Thousand Light Years from Home (1973) has received shabby treatment from the publisher, Ace Books. We have grown used to most SF being published on inferior paper, in bindings that fall apart after some use, and similar. But such fossil remnants from the pulp days are today increasingly self-defeating, even from the point of view of making a buck (as opposed to a fast buck) in what passes for publishing in this capitalist market. With SF becoming increasingly interesting to public and university libraries, moderately normal care for material publishing standards would surely pay off in the long, and even medium, run. This might contribute to emancipating SF from not only material but also narrative instant obsolescence, I believe. Be that as it may, Ace on the one hand calls Tiptree in its blurb "one of SF's newest, brightest talents—a collection of worlds of wit and wonder demanding only that you be ready for them." But on the other hand, Ace then proceeds to publish the book of their newest and brightest talent without either a contents page (the copyrights' page cannot fulfill that function for the reader) or even without beginning each story on a separate page! Obviously, Ace did not follow its own demand for modest readiness, and its disregard for such minimally tolerable publishing standards opens between it and the blurb a credibility gap of Nixonian proportions: it treats its readers as people who would not know and/or not care where one story ends and the other begins.

It is possible that the smaller SF publishers do not lie on beds of roses either. And SFS would like to receive from our readers—writers, publishers, or whomever—facts, figures, and interpretations of the economics of SF production and consumption. But whatever the reasons, there is no excuse for the procedure in the Tiptree case (and who knows how many similar cases?). How can SF aspire to being respected if it does not respect itself? —DS.

 

A Booklet on Cordwainer Smith. Some interesting material appears in Exploring Cordwainer Smith (Algol Press, P.O. Box 4175, New York 10017; 33p, $2.50) on the remarkable man named Paul M.A. Linebarger (1913-1966) and the remarkable stories he wrote as Cordwainer Smith. There is an article on the man by Arthur Burns (evidently a member of the faculty of the Australian National University), an article on the fiction by John Foyster (evidently an Australian fan), and a conversation between the two on both subjects. Not that Lineberger was himself an Australian; he was an American who simply happened to spend some time in Australia. There is also an article by Sandra Miesel on St. Joan and the D'Joan of "The Dead Lady of Clown Town," an article by Alice K. Turner on the internal chronology of the Cordwainer Smith stories, and a bibliography by J.J. Pierce. There were 29 stories published in SF magazines between 1950 and 1966, of which 27 were later collected into 4 paperback volumes. The other two, if not originally extracted from a novel, were later expanded into one, which was published first as two novels in a form given them by an editor, and then (early this year) as a single novel in the form the author had intended: Norstrilia (Ballantine Books). Although I am of two minds about their quality, the Cordwainer Smith stories are certainly unique in style and matter among the stories that have appeared in the SF magazines. —RDM.

 

The Earth Under the Martians. In his Introduction of the Fawcett Premier edition (1968) of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds Isaac Asimov remarks on the peculiarity of Wells' entitling the second part of The War of the Worlds "The Earth Under the Martians" when it is clear that only Britain has been subjugated. Asimov concludes "we may well allow Wells this curious form of upside down nationalism and assume he merely wishes to drive the lesson home to his fellow countrymen" (p. 20). Of course it was reasonable to assume in the 1890s that if Britain could not resist the Martians the rest of the world had little hope but I believe that Wells had something else in mind. He probably intended that the note of contradiction direct his readers' attention to the literal earth under the Martians' bodies. From the sequence earth, dirt, bacteria we are to intuit in a title which seemingly expresses Martian dominance, the cause of the Martian downfall. The ambiguous title is then an aspect of the perspective-changing structure of the entire book, indeed of that continuous interplay of microscopic and telescopic, human or subhuman and godlike universal perspectives which is basic to Wells' art. In addition, the title points to the perspective of the artilleryman who observes the equation between "men and ants" and speaks of the need to tunnel under the Martians, "Under their feet" (§2:7)—to "undermine" them just as the Morlocks "undermine" the Eloi world. The narrator's view from the scullery or bowels of a collapsed house is a kind of underground or ant eye perspective on the fundamental digestive reality of the Martians. As in The Time Machine and The First Men in the Moon, what is of greatest import in The War of the Worlds is initially unseen and only discovered, in some sense, under one's feet. —David Ketterer.

 

A Scholarly Edition of Peter Wilkins. In the last issue of SFS I was careless enough to write "It is good to have Peter Wilkins back in print" when all the time there was on the shelves of the ISU Library an edition published in 1973 in the Oxford English Novels series of the Oxford University Press, edited by Christopher Bentley, with the highly useful apparatus of that series—and with the illustrations of the first edition that I rated Hyperion for not reproducing—and at a quite reasonable price, $13.00; that is, only $2.05 more than the much less useful hardback Hyperion edition. Well, I never claimed to be perfect. —RDM.

 

Irving's Tale of the Conquest of the Earth by the Moon. Although Washington Irving's History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty (published in 1809 as by Diedrich Knickerbocker and usually known as Knickerbocker's History) was one of the more popular books of the 19th century, and though it is certainly known by name to all students of American literature, it is probably very little read today, and among students of SF the fact that it contains a science-fictional chapter is probably known to very few other than those who have happened to read Tom Boardman's anthology An ABC of Science Fiction (UK FSB 1966; US Avon 1968), which includes that chapter (§1:5) under the title "Conquest by the Moon." It deserves to be better known, for this chapter may well be the first story of an invasion of Earth from outer space as well as the germ of Wells's War of the Worlds. To be sure, Irving's little tale is told not for the sake of science-fictional adventures but only as a satire on moralistic justifications of the European conquest of the Americas. But it still does humorously and briefly one thing that Wells does in deadly earnest and at some length: make us conscious of our hypocrisy in matters of war and conquest. —L.W. Michaelson.

 

Papers for the MMLA. The SF section of the Midwest Modern Language Association is seeking three kinds of papers for the fall convention in Chicago: (1) papers giving the rationale for a particular SF course syllabus (contributors should bring 50 copies of the syllabus for distribution); (2) papers advocating for such a syllabus the inclusion or exclusion of a particular author or book; (3) papers defending the application to SF of mainstream esthetic standards, or the popular culture rationale, or standards unique to SF. Send inquiries to William Reynolds, Department of English, Hope College, Holland, Michigan 49423.

Angenot on Paraliterature. Marc Angenot's Le Roman populaire: Recherches en paralittérature (The Popular Novel: Studies in Paraliterature) (Montréal: Les Presses de l'Université de Québec, 1975, x+145p) consists of seven essays, most of which have previously been published in European or Canadian periodicals. They deal with various forms of the "popular novel" in France from the beginnings of the 19th century to roughly 1945, and use several methods, "from sociohistorical study to semiotic analysis," but they all have a common denominator in treating seriously the "ideological motifs and rhetorical practices" of a literary production "repressed in official culture" of the times (p. ix). The author points out that in this vast and, in French literary criticism, very neglected domain he has made only some initial soundings, but even the titles of his chapters (here Anglicized) indicate the interest of his diverse subjects and approaches: "The Popular Novel in the Industrial Age," "At the Sources: The Horror Fantasy (Roman Noir) in France," "Elements of a Typology for the Popular Novel," "Novel and Ideology: Sue's Les Mystères de Paris," "The Anti-German Popular Novel" (after 1871), and "Rhetoric and Narrative Structures in Fantômas."

However, for those most interested in SF, most pertinent is his first chapter—which provides a theoretical introduction and synthesis of the book—"What is Paraliterature?" This ensemble—which comprises the roman-feuilletaon or newspaper-column novel in continuation, detective novel, sentimental novel, SF, popular songs, etc—is defined on the basis of its historical and social status as the "taboo" part of the semantic couple (official, canonic, normative), literature vs. paraliterature. I find this approach very useful because it is the only one that can explain how certain literary genres can rise into "literature" or fall into "paraliterature," and thus permit a historical dialectics in the investigation of, say, the rise of the psychological novel from the 17th to the 19th century, or—nearer to home—the oscillations of and interactions within SF, caught in this bipolar field of critical taste, ideological norms, and therefore historical semantics.

Angenot rightly criticizes the popular U.S. divisions of middlebrow, highbrow, and lowbrow culture and literature as ahistorical, since it is mostly based on an a priori, mystifying conception of a homogeneous cultural field to be trisected. Similar to the pioneering work of Umberto Eco's Apocalittici ed integrati, Angenot refuses both the "reactionary" or apocalyptic attitude trying to preserve the hypothetical purity of literature against the menace of "trash," and the "terrorist" or integrated attitude of pseudo-innovators who want to erect some favorite form of paraliterature into the only worthwhile literature (and of both these attitudes we have had our share in the criticism of SF). He notes how in France, after a quasi-total silence lasting until the 1920s or indeed the 1940s (in spite of such illustrious pioneers as Karl Marx's critique of Sue's Mysteries of Paris), more work is being done in these last years on the detective novel and SF, but that most of it is vitiated by "preachy populism" and primitive or enlightened amateurism. In lieu of that, he rightly postulates that valid criticism would have to use both an internal, semiotic analysis of the paraliterary writings and an external analysis of their production and consumption. Very decidedly, he concludes that such an enterprise—of which he has tried to give an example in this book—"cannot but imply the non-pertinence of the traditional ways of literary criticism" (p9). The "external" analysis would deal with the market, the mediators and mediations permitting or slowing down consumption, in short with a historical sociology of reading tastes and habits. The "internal" analysis (though I find the two terms somewhat misleading; e.g., is the publishing limit of 40-50,000 words which held for many years in the SF novel internal or external?) would deal with literary motifs, character types, ideologies, and diverse rhetorical devices employed in the texts. Both converge in the question of literary genres and sub-genres, of which it would be necessary to establish a historical typology—and I can only add, Amen. — DS.


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