Science Fiction Studies

#71 = Volume 24, Part 1 = March 1997


Notes and Correspondences

Mary Shelley’s Hair? 1997 is the bi-centenary of Mary Shelley’s birth. Few authors are as vital and relevant as she at age 200. Her masterpiece, Frankenstein, can lay claim to be, over the past twenty or so years, the most written about novel in the world. In 1997, thanks to the late 1996 publication of Charles E. Robinson’s painstaking, monumental two volume Garland edition of The Frankenstein Notebooks (containing most of the Last Draft and concluding portions of the Fair Copy) readers will have the opportunity to come to terms with the six "new" versions of Frankenstein (which preceded the four versions we are generally familiar with: the 1818, 1823, and 1831 editions, and the version which incorporates Mary Shelley’s annotations in the copy of the 1818 edition which she gave to her friend Mrs. Thomas). The "new" versions are: (1) the transcription of Mary Shelley’s waking dream as described in her 1831 Introduction and as represented by the beginning of Chapter 7 of Volume I of the two-volume Last Draft, (2) the short tale version in so far as it can be reconstructed from the Last Draft, (3) an ur-version of the novel in so far as it also can be reconstructed from the Last Draft, (4) the pre-Percy-Shelley-revisions version of the Last Draft, (5) the post-Percy-Shelley-revisions version of the Last Draft, and (6) the Fair Copy version. All of this new information, readily available for the first time in this, Mary Shelley’s bi-centennial year, will launch a new and much more sophisticated stage of Frankenstein scholarship.

It is further fascinating to note that what may well be two hairs (or eyelashes) from Mary Shelley’s head, and one from Percy Shelley’s, have survived as features of the Last Draft. One might contemplate an sf story about a hair-born Mary or Percy Shelley—a whole-from-a-single-part clone or double (as distinct from the multi-part monster) based on the genetic information contained in one of those hairs. What might be the fair, curly-headed Percy Shelley’s hair (or perhaps their child, William’s?) is described by Charles E. Robinson, in one of his fine detail footnotes to page 62 of Volume II of the Last Draft, as follows: "blond hair (barely visible in photofacsimile) is affixed to ink in quitting, hair encircling & in line 13 (my source here is a pre-publication photocopy of Charles E. Robinson’s transcription for which I thank him). The words "quitting" and "&" here derive from the central story in the monster’s narrative—specifically when, "quitting the lovely Arabian, he [Felix] hastened to Paris & delivered himself up..." (cf. James Rieger’s line-numbered edition of the 1818 Frankenstein [1974; Chicago: Chicago UP, 1982], 120.35-121.1).

As for the two possible Mary Shelley hairs, I will document the second first. In a footnote to page 11 of Volume II of the Last Draft, Robinson notes a "brown hair affixed to paper below old" in the phrase describing De Lacey, "an old man"—whose "hair was grey," according to a cancelled addition in the margin (cf. Rieger 103.19).

Robinson records the presence of the perhaps more interesting first possible Mary Shelley hair in a footnote to page 43 of Volume I of the Last Draft: "brown hair (rather than line) to right of record is affixed to paper apparently by ink in the final stroke of d"[.] The cancelled word "record" (a nice deconstructive touch) substitutes for "mention" in the opening sentence of a cancelled passage which precedes a description of the young Frankenstein witnessing an old oak tree destroyed by lightning (Rieger 35.3-15; for a fuller account, see my article in this issue of SFS). Before the passage was cancelled, that sentence read as follows: "In this account of my early youth I wish particularly to mention ^record^ those circumstances which led to and nourished my taste for that science which was the principal amusement of my boyish days and in the end decided my destiny." The word "record"—now with a cancel line through it—with the brown hair affixed to the "d," appears in the page’s left margin (a second nice deconstructive touch).

If never exactly cancelled, Mary Shelley’s work was once relegated to the sub-literary. Today, however, thanks to the changing fortunes of the paper, microfilm, and electronic record of Frankenstein, she is a canonical figure and that book a world classic. But it is the startling physical record—those two brown hairs and one blond hair—which speak to us with a particularly poignant force (even if they are actually only cat or animal hairs!). We cannot today regenerate the persons—or animals, or person(s) and animal(s)—from whom or which those hairs derived but the DNA they contain can tell us a story about the sex, likely age, and health of those sources. What the future cloning or other possibilities might be are matters for speculation.—David Ketterer, Concordia University

 

Remastering Moxon.... I like Mr. Canty’s ingenious interpretation of "Moxon’s Master" (SFS #70) very much, and might even accept it, if the story were a different story, perhaps by Herman Melville or Nathaniel Hawthorne—even Julian. But Bierce’s "Moxon’s Master"? No. Canty ignores too much of the text in pushing his interpretation.

The text I used was taken from Bierce’s Collected Works, which I believe was the last text published during his lifetime. I mention this because there are differences between my text and what Canty reports. For example, Canty refers twice to Haley as a blacksmith; my text refers to him, once, as "a skilled metal worker," which is something very different. Nor does my text support Canty’s statement that the narrator left in a rage. Nor is the automaton wearing a turban, as Canty states, in my text; instead, a fez.

Canty also misquotes or misinterprets what I said. I didn’t state or hint that Moxon’s purported girl friend was jealous of the narrator, although I would guess that she was impatient, waiting in the next room, listening to Moxon’s spiel and wishing the young man would leave. Nor did I explain the presence of Haley at the narrator’s bedside as "an attempt to ascertain the accidental or criminal nature of the fire." I explained Haley’s presence as due to worry about what the young man might say about the mysterious events, possibly incriminating Haley, possibly another. Haley already had an explanation for part of the events.

Strong evidence against Canty’s explanation—that it was all a practical joke—lies in Bierce’s description of the strangled Moxon: "his eyes protruding, his mouth wide open, and his tongue thrust out." One can open one’s mouth; one can stick out one’s tongue; but can one protrude one’s eyes at will? I can’t.

Or, is Moxon, in his desire to hoax the naive young man, allowing himself to be strangled, fatally, in anticipation of Apollinaire and snuff movies, for artistic perfection? I doubt it. In any case, what would be the point of it all, since the young man couldn’t see it; it was taking place in total darkness ("all was black dark") until momentarily and unexpectedly revealed by the "blinding white light" of (undoubtedly) a lightning bolt.

No, there is no reason to doubt that Moxon was strangled. The question is, By whom?

As I said in my ancient article, there are problems in MM, no matter what interpretation one makes. Bierce left ellipses and open ends, as he often did in his fiction, but the best model, it seems to me, is that of murder.

A while ago I read, I think in the Weekly World News, that Bierce had been sighted in Mexico, comparable to Elvis sightings. Possibly we could get funding, track him down, and ask him what he meant, though that would mean truckling to the unfashionable, premodern belief that authors often know what they are doing.—Everett F. Bleiler.

 

To Set the Record Straight. Like many other modest people, I am doomed to be famous for something I never wrote. Here is the canard again (SFS 23:459, #70, Nov 1996): "A famous science fiction writer/editor, Damon Knight, has defined science fiction as ‘that literature which I point to and call sf.’" What I really wrote, on page 1 of In Search of Wonder, was:

1. That the term "science fiction" is a misnomer, that trying to get two enthusiasts to agree on a definition of it leads only to bloody knuckles; that better labels have been devised (Heinlein’s suggestion, "speculative fiction," is the best, I think) but that we are stuck with this one; and that it will do us no particular harm if we remember that, like "The Saturday Evening Post," it means what we point to when we say it.

How many critics have neglected every opportunity to read this book? They will have another chance this winter, when Advent: Publishers will bring forth the revised and expanded third edition.—Damon Knight.

A Masterpiece? The novel which most effectively joins novelistic and sf traits that I have read in many years is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, which was published in late 1996 by Villard simply as "A Novel" and will be issued later in paper by Ivy-Fawcett. The author, an anthropologist, is evidently not a complete stranger in the sf community, for she lists Stanley Schmidt among those who gave her encourgement and advice. The book has had a favorable review in the NYTBR as a novel (i.e., rather than as an sf novel in Gerald Jonas’ sf ghetto), but has not yet been reviewed in any of the venues devoted to sf that I have seen. I would not be at all surprised if this novel came to rival The Left Hand of Darkness in popularity among sf academics —RDM.

SF Courses 405, 406. The following course descriptions were received too late for inclusion in the listing that appeared in SFS #70.

California. University of California at Berkeley.

Comparative Literature 40. Women’s Studies. Set for Stun: Science Fiction, Experimental Genders. When writers imagine other planets, time travel, alternate states and realities, they create possibilities for fictive futures, and simultaneously challenge the social identities available in the present and in the past. For the women authors we are going to read in this class, science fiction becomes the medium for an intense questioning of the present and of history, at the same time that it allows for experiments with conventional forms, such as narrative structure and referentiality. We will explore how these authors engage science fiction themes and concerns through a variety of genres, from novels to short fiction, film, plays, comic books and a manifesto. Beginning with the social terms of the feminist utopia of Herland, we will consider the transformative versions of sexual identities presented in The Female Man, and the way in which the particular vocabulary of the theater illuminates questions about gender and sexuality in Cloud Nine and Top Girls. How do these formal renovations relate to questions of history? Why is science fiction the medium for these experiments? What utopian and dystopian landscapes of gender possibility do these authors posit? TEXTS: Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale; Bigelow, Strange Days; Butler XENOGENESIS (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago), Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman; Churchill, Cloud Nine and Top Girls; Gilman, Herland; Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto"; Le Guin, Left Hand of Darkness; Lessing, The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five; Russ, The Female Man; Sargent ed., Women of Wonder; Tsukerman, Liquid Sky; Wittig, Les Guérillières.—Despina Kakoudaki, Department of Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley, 4406 Dwinelle Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720. "despina@uclink.berkeley.edu".

Florida. University of Miami

MLS 611. Utopian and Dystopian Literature. This seminar, which looks at ways in which writers have portrayed society in either idealized or nightmarish terms, focuses on utopian and dystopian (anti-utopian) fictions from the late 19th century to the present. We will concern ourselves with literary, social, political, and philosophical aspects of the novels, keeping in mind both the historical context in which a given work was written and the way it responds to, and reshapes, our concept of utopia as a literary genre. TEXTS: Butler, Erewhon; Bellamy, Looking Backward; Wells, The Time Machine, When the Sleeper Wakes and "A Story of the Days to Come"; Gilman, Herland; Zamyatin, We; Huxley, Brave New World; Burdekin, Swastika Night; Skinner, Walden Two; Orwell, 1984; Burgess, A Clockwork Orange; Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time.—Patrick A. McCarthy, English Dept., University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

A Web Page. Stephen W. Potts has set up a web page for his sf course: "http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/swpotts/sf179". A movie application like "Quicktime" is needed to get the full benefits of the page.

Science Fiction, Utopia, and the Fantastic in the MLA. Launching a campaign to establish within the Modern Language Association a Discussion Group (leading to a Division) on Science Fiction, Utopia, and the Fantastic, some 40 members of MLA met at the Washington convention (December 1996) as representatives of the organizations SFRA, IAFA, and SUS and the journals Extrapolation, Science-Fiction Studies, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and Utopian Studies. Kenneth W. Roemer <roemer@utarlg.ura.edu> is preparing the petition. Peter Fitting (see the following note) will organize the 1997 meeting.

Beijing Conference. An international sf conference will be held in Beijing July 26-29, 1997. Along with Chinese writers and fans, representatives of more than 20 publishing houses will be present for copyright negotiations with foreign writers. For more information, write Wu Yan, College of Education Administration, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, 100875, P.R.C.

 

Paper Calls.

The 1997 MLA Convention. As part of our effort to establish an official MLA discussion group on "Science Fiction, Utopia and the Fantastic," I have been asked to organize a special session for the MLA meeting in Toronto in December 1997 (12/27-31). The topic of our session will be "Science Fiction/ Utopia from a Canadian perspective." If you are interested in proposing a paper could you please send me an abstract before March 15.—Peter Fitting, 73 Delaware Ave., Toronto M6H 2S9; tel 416-531-8593; fax 416-531-4157; <fitting@chass.utoronto.ca>.

The 1997 SFRA/Eaton Conference. The Science Fiction Research Association and the Friends of the Eaton Collection will hold a joint conference June 23-26 aboard the Queen Mary in the port of Long Beach, California. The general topic of the joint conference is "World Enough and Time: Exploring the space-time continuum of science fiction and fantasy."

SFRA Conference Topic: "Space." To the dismay of many, "science fiction" is often equated with "space fiction." For that reason, fanciful tales like Lucian’s True History often figure in histories of science fiction; one popular symbol for science fiction is a rocketship; and fact-based films like Marooned and Apollo 13 are still described as science fiction. This persistent association does raise immediate questions: why does this connection exist? Should it exist? How might it be sundered? However, one could also embrace this relationship and see space travel as a central expression of the genre’s impulse to acquire knowledge and achieve progress—although the venue of space also enables many writers to critique that impulse, as the vacuum of space and alien planets become new backdrops for analysis of human hubris in the face of the unknown. The very ways that we describe space, as a new ocean or new frontier, demand analysis; even in the Earth-bound fantasies of the New Wave, space travel figures as a metaphor for personal exploration of "inner space," as well expressed in J.G. Ballard’s famous statement, "The only alien planet is Earth"; and the now-common description of computer networks as "cyberspace" again suggests that space travel has today become both an everyday activity and a powerful icon, in science fiction and in life. We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers on any aspects of this topic, or related topics. Please send papers or proposals by April 1, 1997 (early acceptance available), to Gary Westfahl, The Learning Center, University of California, Riverside, California 92521; westfahl@pop.ucr.edu.

Eaton Conference Topic: "Time." Humans have always been fascinated with time. Heraclitus taught that we could not step into the same river twice, but Brigadoon somehow touches our world once and again. The nineteenth century introduced the possibility of time travel, as Mark Twain took us into the legendary past, and H.G. Wells built a machine to explore the distant future. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Land That Time Forgot underscores the intimate connections between changes in the nature of time and the production of different worlds, as also suggested by stories of parallel universes. Modern fantasies offer powerful images of time slowing down, moving at different rates, or even submitting to the control of the individual will. Such explorations of time have occurred in fantasy and science fiction literature, fairy tales and myths, film and rock opera. The vicissitudes of time, a motif central to science fiction, create worlds without ends, as in Jorge Luis Borges’s "The Garden of Forking Paths," and worlds without beginning, as in Robert A. Heinlein’s "‘——All You Zombies——.’" And, as we approach the end of this millennium, we reflect on other moments when time itself seemed about to stop or fundamentally alter the universe; at the end of days, will we confront a Paradise Regained or Pamela Zoline’s "Heat Death of the Universe"? We welcome proposals for 30-minute papers on any aspects of this topic. Send papers or proposals by April 1, 1997 (early acceptance available), to George Slusser, Curator Eaton Collection, Tomás Rivera Library, University of California, Riverside, California 92521; slus@ucrac1.ucr.edu.

The Society for Utopian Studies. The twenty-second annual meeting of the Society will be held in Memphis, Tennessee, October 16-19, 1997. The Conference Coordinators are Professors Peter Fitting of the University of Toronto, Lyman Tower Sargent of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Jennifer Wagner of the University of Memphis. For information about registration, travel and accommodations, please contact Professor Wagner, Department of English, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152 (901- 678-4329; jawagner@cc.memphis.edu). If you wish to organize a panel or present a paper, please contact Professor Sargent, Department of Political Science, University of Missouri-St. Louis, St. Louis MO 63121-4499 (314- 516-5521; fax 314-516-5268; sltsarg@umslvma.umsl.edu). Visit the Society for Utopian Studies web site at www.utoronto.ca/utopia.


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