Science Fiction Studies

# 9 = Volume 3, Part 2 = July 1976


Notes, Reports, and Correspondence

Hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!As for that book you just mentioned, I don’t give a damn that it was published in New York rather than Indianapolis or New Haven, or that the publisher is Harcourt rather than Bobbs-Merrill or the Yale University Press, or that it is Number 76 in the Brace Series of Older Poets. What I do want, in addition to author, title, and date of first publication, is information that will enable me to find the context of any passage you quote or interpret.

You are writing an article on John Brunner’s The Jagged Orbit and find it convenient to quote a sentence pregnant with meaning, "Miserably she looked up at him through the window in the hood of her yash." Having quoted it, you turn to the title page and find city and publisher—but not the date. What to do? Since you know you have the first edition (the first US edition anyway), having bought it the day it first appeared in the bookstores, you are tempted simply to give the date of copyright, but think better of it and so construct a more elaborate form: "(New York: Ace Books, n.d. [©1969]), p. 251." And I, reading your article, locate my copy of the book and check the title and verso, where I find, sure enough, the information you have given. So I turn to page 251 and look in vain for the quoted sentence. Irritated I look again at your specification of the book and again at the title and verso of my copy—and they are still the same. Then it dawns on me that although my copy is a hardback, Ace publishes only in paperback, and that therefore my copy is most probably a book-club edition with pagination different from the original. And so I look a few pages forward and a few pages back, and then a few more forward and back, and then, determined not to give up, sit down and read the book through until I come to page 216—and there it is! How much time, how many pages of reading, you would have saved me if only you had given the chapter number! And how much easier it would have been for you to write simply "U.S., 1969, ch. 74." (It would also be easier if you would omit all those useless periods and commas and write simply"US 1969 ch 74," but I mustn’t expect too much all at once.)

Very well, you have learned your lesson—or at least yielded to my editorial eccentricities. So you begin to write an article on Frank Herbert’s Dune, a long book not divided into numbered chapters, or even named chapters. How then can you meet the SFS requirement that "when the literary work in question has been published in several formats and hence in several paginations, references must be made not to the pages of the edition you happen to have but to chapters or such other divisions as the author has provided"? For Dune, alas!, already has had at least four US editions with differing pagination: xxvi+412, xxx+507, 544p, vi+537. Well, why not give the pagination of your copy? That would meet the purpose of the requirement in that it would alert me to a possible difference in pagination, and, when I had determined what the difference was, allow me to calculate about how many pages forward or back I would have to look to find the passage you have cited. So if you quote "The Baron noted the trace of semuta dullness in Nefud’s eyes" from the first edition of Dune, write "(US 1965 xxvi+412), p 185," which will enable me to find it on page 226 of the book-club edition, page 239 of the Ace edition, or page 230 of the Berkley edition. Indeed, I can imagine no more elegant or serviceable support for a page-reference than "US 1965 xxvi+412."

But suppose I don’t have a copy of the book and therefore need to locate one. Won’t I then need the information demanded by MLA style? City of publication? No, for books are nowhere catalogued by city, only by country. The publisher? Only in special circumstances, such as the book’s being too new to be listed in a national catalogue. All I need is author, title, and country of publication, together with (when pertinent) information on editors, revised editions, etc.

Since our purpose is to give the reader the kind of information he needs, the following rules will apply in SFS beginning with #10. First, that in reviews of new books, or books believed to be still in print, the name of the publisher will be given, with complete mailing address for the fan press or more or less obscure publishers, together with the pagination and price. Second, that in footnotes and bibliography items, publishers will not be named

and cities of publication will be replaced with countries of publication: US, UK, WG, USSR, France, Holland, etc. Third, that the date of first book publication will always be given. Fourth (though I don’t expect to be able to enforce this on every occasion), that if page references are necessary or convenient, they will be accompanied by the pagination of the edition being used. Fifth, that if the edition being used is not the first or some edition that can be treated as af it were the first (a reprinting from the same plates, or a photographic reprint), its date will be given as well as the date of first publication, e.g. "1950; US 1975" (but this would not ordinarily be necessary for a novel referred to by chapter). Sixth, if the edition being used is an edited or revised edition, that fact will be indicated in some such way as "1950; 3d edn rev 1975" or "1950; ed. John Smith, US 1975." Finally, that these rules apply when circumstances permit: I am quite aware that problems will arise (including problems with photographic reprints) and so ask simply that the scholar give some thought to what the reader needs rather than slavishly follow the MLA Style Sheet. —RDM.

 

On Wolk, Eisenstein, and Christianson in SFS #8. I wish to register my dissent from positions taken in three contributions to SFS #8, and it may even be my duty as editor of the Le Guin issue (SFS #7) to respond to Professor Wolk and Mr Eisenstein. My friend Tony Wolk seems to me to have—after his praises for the issue, which I certainly won’t object to—bogged down in a bad though widespread logical fallacy, namely that there exists criticism (or indeed any coherent writing or talking, including fiction) without premises and presuppositions. (One of the most repetitious defenders of this fallacy is Jack Williamson, who equates criticism with haphazard impressionist ramblings, and any explicit critical positions with "sociological criticism"—see his latest interview in Luna Monthly #62.) From that premise or presupposition of his own, Mr Wolk proceeds to lament the philosophical and political premises of some contributions in the Le Guin issue, primarily my own. However, even if zero-premise criticism were desirable in an angelically perfect (and I would imagine also an angelically passionless and dull) contemplation of our sublunary affairs, it is—alas—not possible: at least not to us sinful people immersed in the class, ethnic, gender, etc., alienations of our globe and our times. For example, Tony Wolk’s own premise is that a critic can not only make a tabula rasa of all his past experiences and suspend all his beliefs when encountering a new text, but also that a text exists in a vacuum. Now on the very basic semantic level of word-meanings this is not so. E.g. the expression "the dispossessed" (as several contributors, including myself, tried briefly to show) could be the subject of a long essay in historical changes of meaning: possession meant something specific in Medieval times (both demonic possession and filthy lucre being roughly equivalent), something else in the early capitalist accumulation of More’s and Shakespeare’s time, something else again after Dostoevsky, Freud and Hitler, etc. These are not outside criteria: THEY ARE INTRINSIC TO THE TEXT ITSELF. No critic can even UNDERSTAND WHAT HE IS READING if he does not have an ear for such historical semantics, which are simply a linguistic sediment of historical relationships between a great number (between classes) of people. Thus, if you simply take the Oxford English Dictionary and go to work on any dozen lines of a text, you will (as Empson has amply demonstrated in Seven Types of Ambiguity) easily be able to come up with several dozen pages explaining the possible permutations of meaning that arise from the historical possibilities inherent in the, say, one hundred words in those dozen lines (not to mention the pauses and intonations marked by interpunction, which allow totally different keys for the readings of ostensibly the same meanings—ironic vs. serious, etc.). For a novel of 60,000 words—but even for a sonnet!—this either reduces the critic to gibbering incoherence (not invisible in a few critics I could name), or forces him/her to STRICTLY SELECT among all the theoretically possible combinations of meanings educible from the OED. The same process is then repeated several times on different levels of narrative organization—sentence, paragraph, part of chapter, chapter, etc. Now there is NO selection without criteria for selection—those can merely be explicitly clear or implicitly semi-clear to the critic, and of course more or less valid or pertinent. The criteria depend on the critic’s previous cognitive experiences, crystallized in his approach and attitude. Thus, there is no critic without an approach (or approaches) and an attitude (or attitudes). Q.E.D.

For example, again, Tony Wolk’s approach dates roughly from John Locke in Philosophy and (O odious word) politics, from the Romantic idea of "genius" in culture and literature, etc. In the 18th and early 19th Century this was a helpful liberal and positivist defense against outworn orthodoxies of a Boileau or Dr Johnson plugging ahistorical "eternal" rules of how to write art. But Aristotle or Thomas of Aquinas would not have understood what Mr Wolk means by "the critic imposing limits, boundaries upon the artist," nor would too many major critics after positivism—except those committed to making an imaginary lone and "free" individual and final atom, building brick and touchstone of the physical and social universe. Thus, Wolk is pleading for an approach which can fairly—and without swearwords or sloganeering—be called romantic, positivist, liberal or individualistic. That is, of course, his right. It is however to my mind not helpful to couch such a plea in the usual liberal rhetorics of "freedom for the artist" as against the "restrictions by the critics." Aristotle, Thomas of Aquinas or, say, Bertolt Brecht—fairly strong personalities each—would answer that the freedom of the artist lies in the unrepeatable personal creation of an artistic work that reveals the necessities or the inner logic of Nature, God’s Creation, or Collective Human History-Making and History-Suffering (you take your pick—as a Marxist, I pick the third). The critic can, therefore, only correctly or more or less incorrectly identify how and what a work of art, in its own inimitable way, tells the readers that is of common import to each and all of them—i.e. what it tells us all about the actualities and possibilities of human relationships, in whatever playful way the artist has fashioned for our delight while and in order that we envisage those new relationships. In other words, the critic’s responsibility is not only to the author but also to the present and future reader.

Specifically, through a long detour which I have tried to explain in a number of lengthy essays and will no doubt be explaining further in the future, this means: a) not that "SF is more viable than fantasy," but that the HIGHEST REACHES of SF can accommodate richer views of human relationships than the HIGHEST REACHES of the fantasy genre (and we are dealing with both in Le Guin’s case)—and I think that this is clear in the juxtapositions of the Earthsea Trilogy, and, say, The Dispossessed, and in the contamination of the two genres in The Lathe of Heaven; b) not that "those works are best which most closely approach political anarchy [anarchism?, DS]"—I am myself not an anarchist, nor is as far as I know any other contributor to SFS #7, nor do I remember anybody arguing exactly that way—but that the inner logic of Le Guin’s creation (or at least of one of the two major tendencies of it, the other being—to affix a hasty term to it—the introvert fantasy tendency, which collaborators to a journal called SCIENCE-FICTION Studies have logically somewhat slighted) has from her very first efforts been leading to The Dispossessed. It seems to me quite inevitable, as T.S. Eliot argued in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," that each new work in a sequence—such as the opus of an author —retroactively modifies that whole sequence. Of course, Tony Wolk is right in saying that primitive teleology (an early work is important ONLY INSOFAR as it leads to a better and later one) does not always work, and insofar as any of us in the compression of an article with limited time and space hastily said so, his is a welcome corrective: for clearly, in a certain sense all the works written also exist simultaneously while he simultaneously thinks of them. And it is equally true that arguments to the effect that Le Guin’s whole creative evolution has no logic to it would—unless they were particularly brilliant—tend to get slighted in a special issue devoted to her. But all this does not necessarily amount to a political straitjacket—at any rate not more so than the evolution which Le Guin herself "imposed" on her work.

Now to Mr Eisentstein’s note. Le Guin’s footnote indicating that her article was a talk held at a conference on Women in SF indeed got lost somewhere between the final MS and the printed issue, a mistake for which I apologized to her before seeing Mr Eisenstein’s letter (another such mistake was the loss of item G17, her review in SFS #3, from Levin’s bibliography), and I herewith apologize again publicly. Though I don’t really want to get involved in debate about Mr Niven’s story, Le Guin’s answer is both more gracious and more economical than mine would be. I think she quite rightly felt the deep-seated blithe racism of the story, though that may be only a by-product of its fundamental "I’m all right, Jack, screw you" Playboy-type individualism run mad.

Finally, just two demurrals against the conclusion of Professor Christianson’s informative article on Kepler. My basic disagreement with it is its treating SF as fiction about the consequences of, or validated by, astronomy and physics. Only from such a point of view can it be explained that he misinterpreted Marjorie Nicolson’s statement about the Somnium being the source and origin of cosmic voyages to its being such a fons et origo of SF as a whole. And, what is more important, only from such a point of view—which surely went out with John Campbell even in SF criticism?—can the great Giordano Bruno be dismissed as a "religious mystic who soared into the metaphysical realm unencumbered by the ballast of scientific thinking"! On the contrary, Bruno was a great liberating and to my mind quite non-metaphysical philosopher, much more important for ushering in a new cosmology than either Galileo or Copernicus—or, of course, than Kepler. True, his cognitions were not arrived at by mathematical calculations but by philosophical reasoning with a good deal of poetical intuition. But it is, I believe, an unacceptable view in modern important epistemology and philosophy of science to define science only as that which can be quantified, and to deny the role of intuition in hypothesis-framing reasoning. Among other consequences, we would then have to kick out of SF three quarters of the works so far written about in SFS: Le Guin, Dick, Aldiss, and what have you. Now I am surely against obscurantist mingling of SF and fantasy, and I argued so at the beginning of this article; hut I am equally as much against a narrow defining of science, and therefore of SF. If the earthy and impassioned Bruno, burned by the Catholic Church on Piazza del popolo, still one of the most beautiful squares in Rome, is a mystic, then let us have more mystics—in science, SF, and SF criticism. —DS.

In Response to Professor Suvin.Darko Suvin’s main objection to my article on Kepler’s Somnium has to do with Note 26 in which I refer to Giordano Bruno as a "religious mystic who soared into the metaphysical realm unencumbered by the ballast of scientific thinking." Instead, Professor Suvin sees Bruno as a "quite non-metaphysical philosopher, much more important for ushering in the a new cosmology than either Galileo or Copernicus." I wonder, then, why the Church didn’t burn Bruno for his heterodox cosmological views, which were not even mentioned at his trial. Galileo, on the other hand, paid dearly for his support of Copernican cosmology. Why? Because they went far beyond the bounds of mystical speculation! And does Professor Suvin truly believe that more people read and were influenced by Bruno’s Of the Infinite Universe and World than by Galileo’s Starry Messenger? If so, I would like some proof. Galileo was the most famous scientist of his day and may have been the most famous man in Europe during the early 17th century.

No, I do not believe science to be "only that which can he quantified," nor do I "deny the value of intuition in hypothesis-framing reasoning." But of what ultimate value is an hypothesis unless it can be tested? Indeed, the only reason Professor Suvin can advance his argument at all is because Bruno, who was a Copernican, had his views mathematically validated by other Copernicans who contributed far more to the popularization of the new cosmology than he. Without the mathematization of intuitive hypotheses there would be no "Le Guin, Dick, Aldiss, and what have you." There would be no science fiction as we now know it. —Gale E. Christianson.

 

On the Age of the Term "Science Fiction." May I ask the learned readership if they still imagine that Hugo Gernsback coined the term "science fiction"? There reposes in the Bodleian a copy of William Watson’s A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject, published by Darton & Co. in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition; the copy remained unopened and unread until I had Chapter 10 xeroxed. Watson wrote: "Campbell says that ‘Fiction in Poetry is not the reverse of truth, but her soft and enchanting resemblance.’ Now this applied especially to Science-Fiction, in which the revealed truths of Science may be given, interwoven with a pleasing story which may itself be poetical and true...." A sensible prescription for science fiction! Notice that this coinage comes less than a decade after the date the OED gives for the first use (a deliberate coinage by Dr Whewell) of the word "scientist." (Campbell? Well, yes, Thomas Campbell, presumably.) —Brian W. Aldiss.

 

Documents in the History of Science Fiction. Under this rubric SFS will in its next issue begin publishing a series of prefaces, forewords, reviews. etc. of the 19th century or earlier, and of the first half of the 20th century, that seem important for understanding the growth and development of science fiction. Most important for our purposes would be items that show an awareness of a type of fiction to which some such term as "scientific fiction" might be applied, whether or not it is actually applied in the item itself. The chapter quoted so opportunely by Mr Aldiss in the preceding note would seem to be exactly what we are looking for. But we are also interested in contemporary reviews of earlier SF works that are of interest for their own sake. Any reader of SFS who is aware of such a "document," or who comes across one, is urged to send a photocopy to SFS, together with (if he or she so wishes) a brief preface and such annotations as seem required. The prefacing and annotating could of course be done after the document has been accepted for publication in SFS and/or the book which we expect to ensue. —RDM.

 

A Prophet Honored in His Own Country. Lem’s Solaris was voted by readers the most-read book in Poland in 1975 (NB: the most-read book, not just the most popular SF novel). His volume of essays Rozprawy i szkice won the annual award for criticism of the literary paper Zycie literackie (15,000 Zloty). This volume in Lem’s "Selected Works" (now nearly "complete works") includes two of his essays in SFS—the afterword to Ubik and the essay on Todorov—and two other essays pertinent to SF—an afterword to The War of the Worlds and an introduction to Slonimski’s Torpeda Czasu (i.e. Torpedoes of Time). —Franz Rottensteiner.


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