Bernard Blanc. Pourquoi j'ai tué Jules Verne. Paris: Stock,
Last year Gérard Klein published his study of "discontent" in American SF (Malaise
dans la SF, reviewed in SFS 17). Meanwhile, contemporary
French SF has obviously been undergoing a similar process of political pessimism and
depression. However, what seems specific to the state of affairs in France is the
self-proclaimed ideological unity of that "new school of SF," made up of a group
of younger writers who appear to share a common world view and, henceforth, a common stock
of themes and political assumptions.
Bernard Blanc's polemical essay Pourquoi j'ai tué Jules Verne (Why I killed Jules
Verne) can be seen as the manifesto of that new SF and, as could be expected, it
tends to present the break between the group of writers of which he makes himself the
spokesman and "older SF" as a radical rejection of worn out narrative recipes
and reactionary concepts. On the one hand, traditional SF: "dream factory,
reactionary fantasies, bawdiness of public entertainers"; on the other hand, a new
SF, radically political, politically radical and revolutionary, that "breaks myths
and burns down the rocketry," talks about military repression, economical
exploitation, and concentration camps. Enough with corny anticipation, long-term
conjecture, utopian longing. Let us focus on the Eighties with their nuclear fall-outs,
torture, prisons, ecological exhaustion, sexual despair. But paradoxically such a
dystopian view is not meant to be taken as satirical extrapolation or "ethical
warning." This dark future is already present in everyday life: SF is seen as direct
political action because there is no gap any longer between empirical life and conjecture;
hence, SF fantasy becomes, in the strictest meaning of the word, realistic. It is even the
only way to deal with contemporary everyday life: no need to extrapolate, for gulags, mass
murders, nuclear catastrophes, genetic manipulations, ubiquitous propaganda, universal
repression, eradication of what is left of human freedom -- all this is to be found in our
Even if Blanc presents imagination as a "political device," he limits at the
same time the role of fantasy nowadays to a "deepening of the present
situation": the darkest paranoid nightmare cannot be worse than the empirical state
of affairs. The reader will have recognized in these statements the type of political
obsessions representative of post-1968 European "gauchisme." And it is true that
if one compares the Parisian leftist newspaper Libération with Blanc's and his
friends' short-stories, the tone, the style, the presuppositions and even the very events
related are analogous: their fiction is just slightly more horrible than what they read in
their favorite paper. Even if, for the sake of his pamphlet, Blanc reinforces the common
ideological vectors of a group that is probably less interdependent and monolithic, it is
true that for the first time a generation of SF writers can plausibly be related to one
rather specific and explicit political ideology. Bernard Blanc, Yves Frémion, Pierre
Pelot, Dominique Douay as well as "older" SF writers such as Jean-Pierre
Andrevon, Daniel Walther and, above all, Michel Jeury are presented as the most
representative spokesmen of this leftist SF, sharing the concerns of divers radical
groups, antimilitarists, ecologists, antipsychiatrists, anarchists, variegated avatars of
Maoism, either partisans of terrorist action or of antiviolence. An equal hatred for
capitalist societies and for "socialist" states with their gulags and
psychiatric wards leads them to an irreversible catastrophic vision of the future.
Interestingly enough, the most pessimistic anthology published by Kesselring, the group's
publisher, bears the title Planète socialiste (1978).
Blanc's book is not a systematic essay: it is a deliberate patchwork made of fragments
of narrative, newspaper cuttings, political debates, tape recorded dialogues, polemical
attacks, literary slashing, jokes, etc. His friends' writings, novels, anthologies and Alerte!,
their journal (Yverdon: Kesselring, 1977) are astutely advertised and praised: as far
as ingroup narcissism is concerned, they have nothing here to envy the conventional
En passant, Gérard Klein's hypothesis about the petty-bourgeois character of
SF tradition is rejected as a form of deceitful and base "reductionism." There
would be however, I believe, a lot to say about Blanc's and his friends'
"radical" ideology and the type of political confusion and delusion it
illustrates.1 Nonetheless, with its brisk, fierce and
often ambiguous attacks, its fireworks of images, catch-phrases, insults and political
slogans, its aggressively slangy language, Blanc's pamphlet illustrates in a very
significant fashion the mixture of authentic political critique and doubtful political
gesticulation, of instinctive rejection of an unbreathable society and intoxication with a
counter mythology, that makes this important part of contemporary French SF fascinating
1. Such an ambiguity can be summarized in a theme that is truly
"obsessional" not only in Blanc's essay but in everything published by the
group: the abhorrence for nuclear energy under all its forms, and the apocalyptic
conjectures engendered by such a view. Although it would be stupid to reduce this reaction
to a kind of group psychosis, one cannot deal with such a configuration of highly
emotional images, without criticizing the indistinction, the ambiguity, the irrational
components that impair their soundness.
Arthur C. Clarke. The View From Serendip.
New York: Random House, 1977.
Arthur Clarke's pot-pourri of essays has a passage saying: "From Ceylon to
Paradise according to a native tradition is forty miles, and there may be heard the sounds
of the fountains of Paradise" (p. 118). It is in this Paradise that Arthur Clarke has
lived and worked for the past 20 years, following his own advice that one should not
commute but communicate. The reason that Mr. Clarke is able to live in paradise and
communicate rather than commute may be found in the commercial success of ca. 50 books,
innumerable shorter pieces, and a number of cooperative ventures, including 2001
with Stanley Kubrick.
It is not surprising, therefore, that his book begins in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and ends at
the M.I.T. celebration of the 100th birthday of the telephone (there is an afterword, but
the Bell piece is the obvious conclusion). In fact, futurology, SF, an
"Advanced" neo-colonialist attitude, and a love for technocracy are benchmarks
of Clarke's career. The only essay entitled "2001" refers to futurology rather
than to his collaboration with Kubrick; together with the essay on Bell and those on
technology, it confers to the book an uncritical stance towards technology as a means to
salvation. In fact, Clarke is so committed to this approach that when Bell Telephone Co.
invested as a sponsor in an expensive, historically oriented, high culture, made-for-TV
remake of Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask, Arthur Clarke was enlisted to be
narrator of a carefully worked out sequence of ads. Those ads moved from Clarke as a media
personality who was both an associate of Kubrick in 2001 and the narrator of the
real-life "Moon Odyssey," to Arthur Clarke as the SF reincarnation of Kenneth
Clarke demonstrating the artistic and cultural wonders of the ancient world in Sri Lanka.
Living 30 seconds from his office, Clarke follows just one of his predictions on what
the future is to hold for those who live in the world of 2001 and after. In A View
from Serendip, Clarke symbolically brings us through the filter of his neo-colonial
mentality (as revealed in the tone and attitude of essays such as "Servant Problem -
Oriental Style" or "The Sea of Sinbad") into his Sri Lanka livingroom, sits
us down on the sofa, and proceeds to open up his scrap-book of memories and bits of
previously written or presented pieces. Starting with autobiographical details of his
earlier years and eventual transmission to paradise on Ceylon, Clarke -- with little
twists of wit somewhat reminiscent of McLuhan -- details facts about that island's
infinite variety of climate and social groupings and then brings us back to his domicile
to meet Appuhamy and Jinadasa, who number among the more than 50 servants and paid
associates who are now or have been in the past attached to the Clarke household. An
amusing but devastatingly self-revealing essay is developed around a Servant's Pocket
Register -- a book indispensable for the economic survival of a large number of Ceylonese
servants on an island whose unemployment runs to 25% -- and the necessity for would-be
employers to interpret ambiguous references:
"Good, plain cook" (You'll need plenty of magnesia).
"Appears honest" (We could never prove anything, but you've been warned).
"Not overfond of work" (Time-lapse photography might reveal signs of
In true democratic spirit Clarke points out that it is not pretentious to have
servants, it is a necessity since an English-speaking person would soon find himself in
very bad straits trying to survive the local markets, let alone the primitive cooking
facilities and the intricacies of house management.
For anyone fascinated by the futurological predictions of the Future Shock kind,
Clarke provides a treasure chest of gems. In fact, he sounds more than a little like a
"scientistically" rather than humanistically oriented version of McLuhan as
media guru. His pithy and apocalyptic style even includes such transformations of clichés
as "the future isn't what it used to be" (p.60) which he employs in the
introduction of his own "The World of 2001" (originally published in Vogue
1966). In that essay, "the prototype of the future city is not Manhattan but
Disneyworld," (p.100) since people will travel only for pleasure when they can
communicate via living room console instead of commuting to the office downtown, at which
time oil will be made into food instead of fuel for the ubiquitous automobile. Social
reservations about the wired city or the ways it might be developed do not complicate his
technocratic vision. For students of SF as a para-literary activity, the details about the
Clarke-Asimov relationship will also be of interest. The book includes Clarke's four-page
"Introducing Isaac Asimov" together with Asimov's even more delightful one-page
response. Clarke's last short story, "When the Twerms Came," is a 400-word
description of the conquest of Earth, not by nuclear blast, but by the fact that:
"Before breakfast time, they [the Twerms] knew the owners of every numbered bank
account in Switzerland . . . by first post Monday morning, the conquest of Earth was
complete." (p. 181).
The overall impression of Clarke, though, remains that of a potentially interesting
mind hypnotized by technocracy, lured by the pleasure of the capitalist exploitations of
the colonial fact, and possibly incapable of reflecting on any social problems arising
from either of these. He is not only a technological determinist but a technocratic
optimist, whose fundamentally anti-intellectual attitude constantly reveals itself in the
way he deals with other modes of thought. His approach to humanism in the essay "The
World of 2001" downgrades the classic period of Greece and Rome, complaining that if
their insight had been as great as their ingenuity, the Industrial Revolution could have
happened 1000 years earlier. Such an opinion is historically very questionable. Joined to
a dismissal of Hegel -- "I have never taken Hegel seriously and have thus saved
myself a great deal of trouble" (p. 191) -- it suggests a basic misunderstanding, or
if not that, a distortion of western cultural history. Just because Hegel's astronomy was
not as informed as it might have been, it seems arrogant to dismiss his role in historical
theory, phenomenology, and the growth of dialectic.
In spite of these criticisms, the essays in this book are often interesting,
informative, and entertaining. But we should hardly let Clarke get by on his obvious skill
as a writer and effectiveness as a scientific journalist: in particular not in view of the
authority which he has obtained from the media. Clarke argues in his book that man is
primarily an information- processing animal and human communication is of key importance,
yet in his enchantment with technology he stands a great chance of overlooking the
important contributions to knowledge made by the human sciences.
--Donald F. Theall and Joan Benedict
Héros de la science-fiction (with a Preface
by Gabriel Thoveron). Brussels: De Boeck, 1976. 160p. Price unknown.
This study draws from the reading of 36 volumes of one of the oldest French SF series:
"Présence du futur" (Editions Denoèl). The 36 titles comprise about two-thirds
English and American writers (from Asimov to Wyndham) and the rest French (from Barjavel
to Wul). It attempts a thematic description of the main character of these stories --
classed in four categories: the superman, the man marked by a sign of destiny, the man on
the street and the journalist-witness. The work analyzes various constant features: the
birth and career of the heroes, their desires and goals, their relations to other people
(to women particularly). The SF hero, whether he be feeble or epic in dimension, always
appears as an object in a game whose stake rapidly outgrows him. Ms. Dispa compares him
with the heroes of medieval epic and of the romances of chivalry -- which may well be
suggestive, but posed in vacuo, without historical mediation, it is essentially
debatable. She also likens the stereotyped and conventional character of the SF hero to
the features of the central character in popular fiction, Western novels, and detective
stories. Fine; but this is a point of departure, and not the end of a critical analysis.
The work concludes with a comparison between the SF hero and the heroes of classical
novels, as interpreted by Georg Lukàcs and Lucien Goldmann. "SF heroes", Ms
Dispa avers, "have something in common with the heroes of novels," but
"rarely do they fail as completely" as the latter. All the weaknesses of the
work come together in this statement: impreciseness of critical categories, vague
boundaries, equivocal generalities, determined by a corpus at once too narrow and
incoherent, ignorance of SF research outside of what is available in French: the book is
sympathetic and conscientious but belongs to that species of "archaic" SF
criticism that should, in all truth, have gone the way of the dodo. In his preface, G.
Thoveron declares that it is time to take SF, and mass literature in general,
"seriously": however, "gae deeds take maire than gae sayings". The
author takes some steps in the right direction, but there remains a long way yet to go
along the critical path.
George S. Elrick. Science Fiction Handbook for Readers and Writers. Chicago:
Chicago Review Press, 1978. 315p. $8.95pb
A reader or potential author of SF might find the third section of this book,
"Dictionary/ Encyclopedia/Glossary," useful. It is 261 pages of definitions,
explanations and concepts found in the sources of SF, i.e. science, technology,
futurology, literature, etc., and in the fiction itself, from "ablating materials
(astronautics)" through "inerton (fiction)" and "ray repellor screen
(fiction)" to "zodiacal light (astronomy)." The explanations are often
accompanied by the author's own illustrations (in addition to those from "NASA and
early Buck Rogers comic strips"), some of which are helpful, some absolutely useless.
(The last illustration in this section is a black and white sketch entitled "The
lovely green lady from Perelandra." One is simply baffled by its purpose.) The first
two sections of the book, "An Orbital View of Science Fiction" and "Basic
Ingredients of Science Fiction," should be ignored altogether. These sections are a
feeble attempt to define the nature of the genre, its audience and its basic structural
elements. They are written in a maddening, cutesy style that is guaranteed to offend all
but the most naive and mindless. For example, Elrick defines utopia: "Count Leo
Tolstoy, as a grown man, would dream -- and day-dream -- of the mother he couldn't
consciously remember, since she died before he was three. This intellectual giant would
mentally cry out 'Mama!' and long to be cuddled in her arms. That's what the concept of
utopia is all about: the psyche's yearning for a security blanket; a 'Golden Age'; a time
when everything was supposedly warm and wonderful, orderly and cozy; or a place where
everything is supposedly warm and wonderful, orderly and cozy" (pp. 7-8). What
possible response is there to this simpleminded rot? The following section on "The
Basic Ingredients of Science Fiction" is equally childish. (For some reason, the
author adopts a basic five-part dramatic structure as his own discovery and calls it
"Elrick Basic Science Fiction Plot Pattern"!) Following the dictionary section
is a very strange short section entitled "A Line-up of Genuine Space Ship 'Originals'
" which consists of poor photographs of model space ships built by a Mr. James Stark.
Elrick claims that his models shaped the layman's conception of rockets in the 30's and
40's. For a budding author trying to find a title for his manuscript, there is a section
on "Science Fiction Titles" complete with a word frequency list based on the
study of 1020 titles. The handbook concludes with a list of science fiction publishers
(without addresses), a list of SF and fantasy organizations and a final section,
"Bibliography and Information Sources." From the bizarre categories and
selections, one concludes that this is not for the reader but simply the sources upon
which Elrick drew to write his book.
Bernard Goorden, ed.
S.F., fantastique et ateliers créatifs, with
a "Bibliography" by San Tewen. Brussels: (Direction générale de la jeunesse et
des loisirs) JEB, 1978. 221 p. Free circulation.
The present work begins with the description of an experiment, begun in 1974, on the
dissemination of SF through community services. It primarily attempts to relate the
development of those particularly successful aspects of the experiment, including a
circulating library, a creative writing workshop, various theatrical experiments and a
journal entitled Ides et Autres. Originally a fanzine, this journal turned to
publishing informative articles and anthologies of translations and critical works, and
did so with a scientific rigor which distinguished it from other sympathetic but amateur
works of its kind.
The book offers a critical survey of SF from different places and cultures (Latin
America, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg, Scandinavia, the Balkans and the
German-speaking countries). More specifically, these surveys usually encompass - as the
title indicates - "science fiction and the fantastic." It is a stubborn and
unfortunate trait of European works to lump together SF and fantasy into a single category
of literature, in which "the imagination roams free from the restraints of ordinary
reality." This jumbling of two distinct genres is carried out with no sense of
unease, as if the two were indeed identical.
Colin Lester, ed.
The International Science Fiction Yearbook. New
York/ London/Tokyo: Quick Fox [division of Music Sales Corp., 33 West 60th St., New York
10023], 1978. 394p. illus. $7.95 pb.
This. volume contains a wealth of information for the general reader, fan and scholar.
While its system of data classification is complex and, at times, simply incomprehensible,
the overall structure of the work is relatively simple. There are 29 major sections, each
beginning with a short introduction, sometimes followed by a "Guest
Introduction" or a "Guest Report," and concluding with "Notes."
It is in the "Notes" section that one can find facts relating to almost every
aspect of SF.
Section l/ Introduction
This is the weakest section. With his misquoting of Yeats and his lack of critical
distance, Ben Bova's remarks are sheer fluff. It's an unnecessary pep talk to an audience
Section 2/ The Year in Fantasy Fiction Ramsey Campbell reviews the year's
Section 3/ New Works, New Worlds: A Survey of SF in Latin America
This section includes a short history and survey of the most important productions from
Latin America; the survey is based on an article in Belgian fanzine publisher Bernard
Goorden's periodical, Ides et Autres.
Section 4/ The State of the Art in Determining and Delimiting SF
This section excerpts Darko Suvin's essay, "The State of the Art in Science
Fiction Theory: Determining and Delimiting the Genre," Science-Fiction Studies, 18(1979):
32-45. (The reference in ISFY is incorrect.) Thirty-eight items are entered and discussed.
Section 5/ Obituaries
Malcolm Edwards writes at least a short paragraph on recently deceased persons who are
somehow related to SF and who have made significant contributions to the field.
Section 6/ Book Publishing
An unsigned "Guest Introduction" discusses some of the more notable works to
appear (e.g. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Fred Pohl's Gateway, Michael
Moorcock's The Condition of Musak, etc.); this discussion is confined almost
entirely to the USA and UK. "Notes" include information on obtaining information
on publishing generally as well as the names, addresses, telephone numbers, specialities,
preferred approaches, length limitations, where to send mss., usual response time, type(s)
of contracts of the most known publishers of SF in the world.
Section 7/ Magazines
This section reviews new SF magazines and discusses the year's activity in the
established outlets. The "Notes" provide information on sources of information
on SF magazines as well as an international list of SF magazines complete with publisher,
address, staff members, size, number of pages, frequency of issue, etc.
Section 8/ Organization
Under this rubric come clubs, fan organizations and professional organizations.
Frederick Patten writes a short "Report" on the history and activities of the
Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. The "Notes" give an extensive list of
organizations from all over the world (including name, address, officials, pertinent
history, description, aims, dues, frequency of meetings, etc.), such as the
ARBEITSGEMEINSCHAFT SPEKULATIVE THEMATIK (West Germany), NAMELESS ORDER OF R'LYEH (USA),
SOCIEDAD DE FICCION CIENCIA DE GUADALAJARA (Mexico), etc.
Section 9/ Fanzines
Guiseppe Caimni, contributor to the Italian prozine, Robot, writes a
"Report" on fanzines, and the "Notes" give extensive information of
fanzines around the world (incl. title, editor/publisher's address and telephone, home
country price, circulation, frequency of publication, history, note for contributors,
advertising details, etc.).
Section 10/ Agents
The "Notes" include name of agency or agent, address and telephone number,
specialities, contract terms, interest in new writers, best methods of approach, list of
writers handled, etc.
Section 11/ Anthologies
The "Notes" provide titles, editors, country of first publication, other
publishers, type of anthology, nature of non-fictional contents if any, etc.
Section 12/ Criticism, Commentary, Bibliography
Malcolm Edwards writes the "Guest Introduction." The "Notes"
include sources of information on SF criticism, pre-1977 critical works, works published
since January 1977 or in preparation, and journals of "academic/scholastic critical
Section 13/ Translators
The "Notes" include a list of translators, their country, their translation
specialty, and some (but not many) addresses where they can be reached.
Section 14/ Libraries
Section "Notes" provide sources of information on library (public and private
collections) holdings, names of libraries and private collectors, name and description of
collection. American readers may be interested to know that there is one "fully
public specialist SF library in the world," the Spaced Out Library in
Section 15/ Book Clubs
Included in the "Notes" are the names, addresses, details of membership, and
the types of books offered from eleven SF book clubs in several countries.
Section 16/ Booksellers
The "Notes" list sources of information on booksellers, provides an
alphabetical, international list, with name of seller, store, address, scope of offerings,
extent of stock, date opened, services offered, etc.
Section 17/ Pseudonyms
These section "Notes" Barry McGhan's Science Fiction and Fantasy
Pseudonyms (1976; 2nd ed., 1978).
Section 18/ Conferences and Workshops
Kathryn Buckley writes a "Report" on the Milford (UK) Writers' Conference.
The "Notes" include names of conferences or workshops, sponsoring body, place
held, organizer, address, aim/design/scope of conference, frequency, history, details of
current and planned activities.
Section 19/ Conventions
Listed in the "Notes" are all conventions held in 1977-78 and those
planned for 1978-79; the details include: names, addresses, locations, times,
organizer(s)/ sponsor(s), historical details, awards given, announced changes.
Section 20/ Awards
The "Notes" name the award, give a history of the award, frequency of
presentation, person or organization making award, where presented, date of origin of
award, aims of award, physical nature, method of choosing recipient, categories of
award(s), 1977-78 recipients.
Section 21/ Artists
This section lists sources of information on SF illustration and artists and includes a
list of "leading artists" (original list was cut 90%).
Section 22/ Films
The "Notes" contain sources of information of SF films, film festivals, films
released in 1977 (with name of film, nation, notes of background and contents,
selected credits, production studio, producer, director, screen writers, director of
photography, music composer, special effects director, actors).
Section 23/ TV
The section "Notes" provide sources of information on SF on television, list
of series with organized fan following, lists of series shown, cancelled, continued,
filmed, planned (with name of series, nation, discussion and details of series, content
/background, production and filming companies, producer, director, special effects, etc.).
Section 24/ Radio and Drama
This section highlights ongoing and planned projects.
Section 25/ Music and Recording
Included in the "Notes" are sources of information of SF music, a list of
groups/ individuals using SF and F, with the name of group surname(s) of performer(s),
notes on music and background, albums, name of recording company, address, description of
services, list of prose recordings, record companies/musical services.
Section 26/ APAS (Amateur Publishing Associations)
This section gives the name of the APA, the qualifications for joining, a history/
description of the organization, frequency of mailing, date of origin, examples of fanzine
Section 27/ Miscellaneous Services
Included here are lists of editing services, services for creating fanzine, quizbooks
of SF, SF jigsaw puzzles, cards, buttons, SF and F iron-ons, jewelry, games, kits, etc.
Section 28/ Name-Interests
This section describes authors who have some organized following of readers: Marion
Zimmer Bradley (Friends of Darkhover), Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R.
Tolkien, Perry Rhodan, Robert E. Howard (Conan), and some of the
activities of these groups.
Section 29/ Fringe Interests
This category is devoted to describing activities which overlap SF. There are six
sub-sections: (1) pseudo-science, with a "Guest Introduction" by John Sladek,
and "Notes" on a few publications and organizations, (2) frontier science, with
special subsection on artificial intelligence (with "Notes"), futurology with
"Notes", space research, with a list of relevant books, (3) gaming, with
"Notes" on organizations and manufacturers, and (4) comics, with
"Notes" including sources of information and suppliers.
The Yearbook ends with an appeal for information, criticism and participation,
acknowledgements, and a "Stop the Press" section which adds materials received
too late for full integration. Depending upon one's interest, some sections of this book
will be more valuable than others; moreover, some sections are weaker than others.
Ultimately, one must applaud the herculean effort that went into assembling this volume
and appreciate its genuine usefulness.
Science Fiction: An Illustrated History. New
York: Grosset & Dunlap. First American Edition 1978 (actually 1979). 8 1/2 x 11, 208p.
Hardback price not given; paperback: US $7.95, Canada $8.95.
We have already had all the books of this kind we need, and this one adds very little,
even in its argument that the development of SF in many continental countries is coeval
with or even prior to that in the English-speaking world. So far as it is true, that case
has already been made in Franz Rottensteiner's The Science Book, albeit with more
modesty and less rancor. There is much that is wrong with this book as a serious study of
the history of SF, but then it is published primarily for a popular audience. Suffice it
to say that the time is past when such works have any value for the serious student.
Jacques Prévot. Cyrano de Bergerac
romancier. Paris: Belin,
1977. 158 p. FF 35.00 -
This work is a brief study of Cyrano's two interplanetary voyage novels, the
"Voyage to the Moon" (Les estats et empires de la lune) and the
"Voyage to the Sun" (Les estats et empires du soleil) - usually published
together as L'autre monde - a study which accompanies Prévot's edition (also
published in 1977 by Belin) of Cyrano's Oeuvres complètes.
The purpose of this study is, first of all, to correct what Prévot considers the
reductive and frequently mistaken readings of earlier critics who have over stressed or
overlooked one or another of the multiple determinations which must be taken into account
for a complete and accurate interpretation of L'autre monde and which include:
Cyrano's life and intentions, the intellectual and philosophical debates of the early 17th
Century, literary sources and influences, and the fictional structure and characteristics
of this work as a novel.
The author begins with the question of the genesis of this work and answers with the
fanciful and dubious hypothesis, based solely on Dyrcona's account of a dream of flying in
the "Voyage to the Sun," that Cyrano himself frequently dreamed of flying - an
act which was denied him in reality, but one which he could realize through writing (pp.
The first main part of the book is an examination of the philosophical themes of L'autre
monde. In this, "the first and perhaps the only example of an epistemological
novel," Cyrano confronts, according to Prévot, "the important questions asked
of Reason: Who am I? What am I? What is the universe?. . ." (p. 19). In a series of
very brief chapters, Prévot examines Cyrano's answers to some of the more specific
questions which the l7th Century Rationalists attempted to answer concerning the world and
man's place in it, particularly the question of knowledge and of the scientific method.
But, as Prévot points out at the beginning of his second part, L'autre monde is
not simply the optimistic affirmation of the scientific method some critics have claimed
it to be: "The scientific adventure becomes in the end a philosophical one; the
voyage becomes a quest, an allegory, a symbol" (p. 74). An understanding of his work,
then, must take into account its interruptions and contradictions as well as its humour
and irony, its fictional characteristics and "poetic force" (p. 141): "The
lesson of L'autre monde is one of skepticism," but not simply a skepticism
which challenges accepted "Christian truths" - as is so often claimed in writing
about this work - but "the totalizing optimism of science" as well (p. 148).
Prévot's work is an adequate and illuminating study, but not a very exciting one; and
despite the author's claim that he is also concerned with L'autre monde as a
novel, this study is a fairly traditional exposition of the work's philosophical themes
Robots: Fact, Fiction and Prediction. Harmondsworth,
England/New York: Penguin Books, 1978. 168 p.
The Star Wars robots, R2-D2 and C-3PO delighted the general public and perhaps
drew some attention to the sophistication of machine intelligence today. Jasia Reichardt's
Robots is one of several recent books aimed at capitalizing on the layman's
interest in robots. Her book outlines in nontechnical text and pictures the history of
robots in literature, film, and technology. Reichardt is presently a tutor at a London
school of architecture and she has written, among other works, The Computer in Art. Clearly
knowledgeable in the field of computers, she has assembled a substantial amount of
material on robots from around the world, focusing particularly on England, the United
States, and Japan. The twenty-six short chapters survey a wide range of topics: robots in
art, film, fiction, comics, industry, the home. About half the pages are photographs of
robots, largely in black and white, and these pictures are one of the most worthwhile
parts of the book. They begin with early Greek automata and continue through clockwork
devices of the Renaissance, l8th century music box figures, Charles Babbage's 19th century
Difference Engine, to 20th century robots of film, pulp magazine, and exhibition hall. The
history of automata given in the first and final chapters of the book is also excellent.
More a list than an expository text, it begins with citations from Greek legends and ends
with research currently underway at the Stanford U. and MIT Artificial Intelligence
Laboratories. The history is accurate in providing names and dates of the men and
inventions involved in developing machine intelligence over the centuries.
Robots is also comprehensive and accurate in describing the present state of
robot technology. Robots are an important part of industry today, with at least ten
manufacturers producing robots to be used in welding, painting, assembling, loading.
Prototype domestic robots are now being built. Excellent photographs and brief texts
outline these recent developments.
Reichardt's treatment of robots in fiction is, in contrast to her presentation of
robots in fact, disappointing. The short chapter, "Robots in Fiction," briefly
notes Samuel Butler's Erewhon, moves on to discuss Asimov's robots in some
details, then cites fiction by Zamyatin, Lem, Dick, and ends with Shelley's Frankenstein.
That order - or rather disorder - demonstrates the lack of chronology marring her
treatment of fiction about robots. While she seems well aware of the evolutionary process
moving actual robot technology from the simple to the complex, she fails to note the same
process at work in the writer's imagination. Asimov's Andrew in "Bicentennial
Man" (1976) has come a long way from his first robot, "Robbie" (1940). In
other chapters Reichardt cites Capek's R.U.R., Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, Ambrose
Bierce's "Moxon's Master," and a few additional works of fiction about robots.
The reader looking for a comprehensive treatment of machine intelligence in literature
will not find it in this book.
Robots assembles but does not synthesize a large amount of material about
robots. It lists accurately; it does not discuss thoughtfully. Its lack of clear
definitions to differentiate terms like automata, servomechanism, artificial intelligence,
and cybernetics is also irritating. For a substantial collection of essays on the subject,
Robots, Robots, Robots, ed. by Harry M. Geduld & Ronald Gottesman (Boston:
N.Y. Graphic Society, 1978) is superior. But Reichardt's book does accurately collect more
material than does a very similar work, Robert Malone's Robot (New York: Jove
Publications, 1978). Reichardt is also to be commended for a global awareness leading her
beyond England and the United States to include robot fact and fiction from France,
Germany, Sweden, India, and Japan.
Pierre Ferran. "La Science-fiction," B.T.2, 49: May 1973. pp.
1-36. Sold by subscription only - The journal BT2 is published by "L'Ecole
Moderne," i.e. the disciples of the well-known French scholar Célestin Freinet. This
special issue is a collection of articles intended for teachers of high school. Modest in
aim and clear in execution, it does not seek to reduce SF to mere futurology or
entertainment, as happens so often when SF is considered academically, and commendably
avoids the most worn-out clichés.
Magazine de la science-fiction.
. Paris, June 1978. Monthly. FF 12.00
per issue (ca. 96 p.) - I would like to bring to the reader's attention the appearance in
France, since June 1978, of a new monthly SF magazine, edited by Gérard Klein, Philippe
Curval, G. & I. Bogdanoff and J.-C. Mézières. This magazine offers numerous original
and translated stories, but also several regular columns of criticism, book reviews, and
surveys at a quality level.
Naples, August 1978 - Monthly. LI, 700 per issue - Here is another new monthly
containing SF pieces, book reports and other informative items, published in Italy this
time, by Aurelio Pellegrino and Gaetano Sorrestino. The first issue is, however, devoid of
interest. The editorial defines SF as a form of "precognition" which
"transports the essence of the universal life that is in us beyond the
tangible." Enough said. -MA
Two French Bibliographies
Claude-Marie Gagnon and Sylvie Provost. "Bibliographie sélective et indicative de la paralittérature,- Cahiers
de l'institut supérieur des sciences humaines Cahiers
de l'institut supérieur des sciences humaines (Université Laval,
Québec), 24: October 1978. 88+3p. - This work is offered as a select bibliography of
critical works on all non-canonic mass literature, which traditionally is identified as
"paraliterature"; spy novels, detective stories, popular novels, Gothic tales,
fantasy, SF, Western romance, comic strips: these are the categories presented. The book
includes 659 entries, each of which is followed by brief annotations dealing almost
exclusively with the content, and giving no clue as to method or thesis. An index is found
at the end of the work. While the bibliographical data themselves seem correct, books and
articles in French dominate - sometimes by a proportion of 90% - and even in the
"Western Romance" section, where 15 out of 22 listings are French. In the
section on SF, the bibliography, though covering texts available in French, is erratic and
arbitrary for other languages. The annotations in this section, on the other hand, are in
many cases so terse that they lose all interest. Despite these shortcomings, this is the
first extensive bibliographical effort to come to grips with the totality of research on
non-canonic literary forms.
Alain M. Villemur. 63 Auteurs:
Bibliographie de science-fiction. Paris: Temps futurs, 3 rue
Perronet, [1976?1. 195 [+5] p. Price not given - This mimeographed bibliography deals
exclusively with SF texts published in French, either in magazines or in book form, up to
December 1975. (The terminus a quo is not given - but presumably it is ca. 1950.) 63 SF
writers, both French and foreign, are selected from A, Aldiss to Z, Zelazny. Each entry
provides the original title, date of first publication, translations and republications.
At the end of each author's section, some secondary bibliographical information about
criticism in French is provided. The book seems to be reliable and exhaustive.
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