Science Fiction Studies

#28 = Volume 9, Part 3 = November 1982


Unreal Rhetoric

Christine Brooke-Rose. A Rhetoric of the Unreal: Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981. 446p. $57.50

The author of this enormously expensive volume is a critic and novelist whose earlier work on Ezra Pound offered a number of valuable insights into that sometimes intransigent poet. For the past several years, she has been publishing in various theoretical journals the essays that make up the bulk of the present volume, which focuses on the various codes and mechanisms of realistic and fantastic narratives and how they interact. The book contains a useful discussion of the methodology of genre studies, some extended and insightful discussions of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, less enlightening discussions of Tolkien and two SF works (by Joseph McElroy and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr), and a provocative concluding section on Robbe-Grillet, Sukenick, and other modern "metafictionists." It also contains hundreds of sentences like the following, which alludes to Rip Van Winkle:

But in the case of the ambiguity that must remain unresolved in the pure fantastic, this dialogical metatext is clearly generated by the underlying balance of the over-determined and under-determined unresolved enigmas, whereas the marvellous (supernatural accepted, as in Rip), in which this particular ambiguity does not exist, will contain only a minor (and over-determined) hermeneutic code, which can generate only a monological and minor metatext, although the underdetermined other codes, often symbolic, can generate other metatexts. (p. 123)

This is not an especially bad example, chosen for effect; it is rather a taste of what the reader is up against for more than 400 pages, and at the cost of a fine pair of trousers. Brooke-Rose seems to be an adherent of the Boolean algebra school of criticism, which seeks to reduce literary discourse to a series of manipulable propositions, but her verbal instincts invariably get the best of her, with resulting prose that sometimes reads like whole computer programs stuffed into single complex sentences. At worst, this results in sentences like the one above or in incomprehensible notations, such as a diagrammatic discussion of the above-mentioned Rip Van Winkle which soon careens into a manic counting of "s.t.s.p." 's versus "s.t.c."'s ("suggestion of time supernaturally passed" vs. "specific time codes"). Order in this maze is nominally imposed by the kind of decimal numbering so appealing to quasi-scientific critics, but even this soon yields sections with numbers like "," which gave me, at least, a chilling feeling that I might never find my way out again.

What is most puzzling is that in the midst of all this occur occasional flashes of real wit and disarming commonsense which suggest that Brooke-Rose can be a skilled writer. It is equally frustrating to find many good ideas embedded in such poured-concrete prose. Brooke-Rose brings to bear upon fantastic literature a number of critical methods that deserve wider attention--not only those of Barthes and Todorov, but also the system of procedures in realistic fiction described by Philippe Hamon and the dialogue of metaphoric and metonymic modes suggested by David Lodge. As a guide to such methodologies, the book is of value to anyone seeking new ways of discussing the fantastic, although Brooke-Rose's specific applications are sometimes questionable, especially as applied to a genre of fiction with which she seems to have limited familiarity. When she classifies Le Guin along with Tolkien as the "pure marvellous," for example, one can only conclude that she has read little beyond the Earthsea books. Samuel R. Delany is repeatedly called "Delaney," and his novel invariably called Dahlgren.

Brooke-Rose's strongest chapters are those that deal with Henry James and with post-modernist fiction. Her discussion of Tolkien, which sets out to demonstrate how techniques of realism may be used to support the purely marvelous, makes an extensive case for why The Lord of the Rings shouldn't work without once addressing the fact that, for many readers, it does. Her discussion of SF rather idiosyncratically treats Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan and Joseph McElroy's Plus as representative of "the new science fiction," with little reference to the pulpish satire of the former or the fact that the latter really bears closer relations with post-modernist fiction than with the genre at large. The work of Philip K. Dick might more adequately support her points about the confusion of referential codes in SF, but she seems familiar only with The Man in the High Castle, which gets a passing mention.

It is clear that Brooke-Rose has a great deal to say, and her bibliography is wide-ranging and eclectic enough to be of considerable value in its own right. Her discussions of Todorov, Hamon, and others are stimulating and insightful, but the very wealth of theoretical machinery she brings to bear often overwhelms the fictional texts she chooses to discuss. Henry James can survive this sort of processing rather well, Tolkien less so, and most popular genres of fiction not at all. As with Todorov, it often seems the theoretical construct at hand permits an artificially narrow range of texts; the texts in fact become tools of the tools ostensibly developed to elucidate them. The territory Brooke-Rose has begun to explore is worth exploring, and some of the maps she has given us are useful, but not all critics will want to spend much time there.

--Gary K. Wolfe

Elements of the Gothic

David Punter. The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day. London & NY: Longman, 1980. 449p. S14.95

More appropriately, the subtitle of The Literature of Terror should be "A Marxist Reading of the Gothic." Although David Punter states in the Preface that this is the approach he is taking, he does not again overtly allude to it until the final chapter, when he interprets elements of the Gothic he discussed in the previous "history" chapters. By analyzing formal and social aspects of "Gothic Fictions," he thus works up to the thesis of the Gothic as a genre addressing important issues, not just one interested in creating spine-tingling terror: therein lies his contribution to studies of the Gothic.

This history includes discussions, albeit short, of poems and films in addition to those of novels and short stories, the main vehicles for the Gothic. The poetry section includes only the Graveyard Poets of the 1700s (Edward Young, Robert Blair, James Hervey, and Thomas Gray, for example) and the Romantics. If Punter believes that elements of the Gothic disappear after Keats, he should have so noted, instead of leaving us wondering about the fate of the Gothic in poetry in the rest of the 19th and in the 20th centuries. Although this history, like previous ones, is limited to Gothic works in English (and implicitly only those in England and America), it does include an interesting discussion of the influence of German writers during the Romantic period and that of the early Russian and German film makers. The Literature of Terror, on the other hand, is more expansive than its predecessors (e.g., Summers's The Gothic Quest and Birkhead's The Tale of Terror) in including works written after the Romantic period, the traditional cut-off date for histories of the genre. "An introduction to Gothic fictions for the student and for the interested general reader," Punter's book is scholarly in its approach in terms of documentation and tone. It includes a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Although it is generally quite readable, one tires at times of the numerous lengthy quotations from primary sources, offered in an attempt, I suspect, to give the reader a feel for the Gothic. Whereas one can justify plot summaries of the mostly unknown works which form the bulk of Punter's discussion, one cannot as easily defend such excessive use of quotations.

Framed by chapters on review of research and a theory of the Gothic, The Literature of Terror devotes 12 chapters to literature and one to film. Although Punter is generous in his treatment of lesser-known writers of the Gothic, he also includes the Gothic works of major writers such as Dickens, James, Hawthorne, and Poe, though he is by no means exhaustive, especially in his discussion of the latter two. Punter also re-evaluates the works of underrated writers of the Gothic like Arthur Machen--a proper and necessary task of literary historians. In the chapter on Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis, the author explores how their novels question the reliability of the characters' perceptions and the reader's role vis-à-vis the characters and the narrator, recurrent themes of the Gothic novels. Punter makes sense of the great variety of works that may be considered Gothic by organizing the survey chronologically and within that chronology, thematically and structurally: like the skillful historian, he makes the order he has imposed on that body of information coherent and intelligible.

From a theoretical standpoint, the most interesting chapter is the last one, "Towards a Theory of the Gothic." Punter defines the Gothic as (1) in some way reflecting paranoia, (2) having "intimately to do with the notion of the barbaric" (pp. 404-05), and (3) approaching "areas of socio-psychological life" which we often consider taboo (p. 405). We should note the absence here of the usual elements associated with the Gothic (cf. the definition of the Gothic novel in A Handbook to Literature by Thrall, Hibbard, and Holman: "A form of NOVEL in which magic, mystery, and chivalry are the chief characteristics"). Although Punter does not ignore those traditional elements associated with the Gothic, he is obviously more interested in analyzing how those elements work within social and psychological contexts. Not concerned with sensationalism for its own sake, the Gothic writer, according to Punter, finds himself writing "between two structural poles"; rejecting realism's account of the world, he resorts to establishing the validity of his writing "within the text itself" (p. 408). This reflexivity intensifies the main characters' alienation from society in general and from fellow human beings. If one is to assign any value to the Gothic, it lies in this tension. Thus the Gothic novel is not to be considered an inferior version of the realistic novel because the aim of each is different: the "Gothic defines itself on the borderline" or "'middle ground' of bourgeois culture" (p. 417). The alienated man of 19th and 20th-century society can make sense of his existence only in the world depicted in these novels. Punter, then, does for the Gothic what other Marxist critics have done for the literature of the past 200 years; his argument is very persuasive and forces us to re-examine the Gothic in a more serious, thoughtful manner than hitherto. I am not sure, however, that a Marxist reading of Gothic fictions gives us the whole picture, whatever that may be.

Like SF, the Gothic has always been outside the mainstream of traditional literature; both reject "realism" as a valid way to examine "la condition humaine." The Literature of Terror should be of interest to SFS readers also because Punter discusses the Gothic elements of some works of SF, such as Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, along with some horror movies of the 1950s and 1960s. Overall, his study is a thorough, engaging history of a minor genre.

--Gisela Casines

Precarious Bridges

George E. Slusser, George R. Guffey, and Mark Rose, eds. Bridges to Science Fiction. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1980. viii+168p. $9.95.

Stanislaw Lem once pointed out how readers and writers of SF mimicked the "real world" of social acceptance and scientific inquiry by holding conventions and publishing fanzines, preaching in effect to the already converted. While I have some reservations as to how "real" the world of any kind of conventions may be taken to be, I can't help thinking that academics involved in SF study are subject to the same charge. We gather together in mock solemnity at special sessions of the Modern Language Association and the Popular Culture Association, have our own Science Fiction Research Association, and otherwise engage in at least two annual academic get-togethers, in Boca Raton, Florida, and Riverside, California, both of them in the dead of winter. We also produce "academic fanzines" like the one you are reading, and such special issues as Bridges to Science Fiction, to give permanent body to the thoughts we have expressed, some of which might better have remained fugitive.

The University of California began its annual Eaton Conferences in 1979, the organizers hoping it would demonstrate that academic respectability for the study of SF had already been achieved. Alternating SF with fantasy, literature with film, this relatively small conference (attendance: 50-100) includes at least one prominent critic and one well-known fantasy/SF writer annually. Publication of the proceedings, or at least selected papers, is regularly anticipated, with the result that academic prose and academic analysis are preferred in the papers, sometimes over whether they actually have anything to say about SF or fantasy.

The present volume includes most of the essays from the First Eaton Conference, the aim of which was in part, as the introduction declares, to "provide intellectual bridges linking science fiction to the main body of Western thought." Whether this aim was accomplished is open to question, as is the blurb's further claim that the papers contained "dispel forever the concept of science fiction as an alien aloof island isolated in a world of culture." What we do have before us are some attempts to show the relevance of SF to philosophy, science, religious experience, and such literary forms as fairy tale, epic, Gothic, and historical fiction. Half the time, however, the authors are more involved in emphasizing what SF is not, and some of them seem to have rather rudimentary ideas about what it is.

The most misguided effort is the contribution by critical guest of honor and keynoter, Harry Levin. A distinguished scholar and critic with admittedly little knowledge of SF, he rambles on about ways in which science and literature have been related over the centuries in Western literature. In a seemingly endless catalogue of names and dates, he misidentifies "light-years" as a measurement of time and suggests indiscriminately that every work of fiction is an "extraordinary voyage," while providing at best a vague context for what is to follow.

As if given leave by Levin, Kent Kraft then discusses Classical and Medieval fables set off-planet, relating them to SF through the 20th-century fantasies of David Lindsay and C.S. Lewis. Citing Darko Suvin's "cognitive estrangement," he shows the term's uselessness for making discriminations if it can apply effectively to Plato, Cicero, Martianus Capella, Chalcidius, and Bernardus Silvestris.

Science in SF occupies Stephen Potts and Gregory Benford. Potts's discussion of Lem's Solaris argues that it presents an insoluble challenge to the positive assumptions of science. Nominally concerned with "the alien" in SF, Benford dismisses out of hand whole categories of SF aliens as all too knowable. In response to the successful evocation of the "unknowable" in Lem and Clarke, however, he points to modern physics and his own SF writing. Both he claims are more intuitionist than positivist, making room for the new (unknown but not unknowable) by expanding our categories of thought.

Four pieces consider aspects of fantasy in SF, suggesting formal affinities as well. Robert Hunt discusses works by Ian Watson, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Silverberg as illustrations of the appropriate use of SF to depict visionary states and religious experience. Eric S. Rabkin laboriously parallels elements in fairy tales and SF stories, seeking to establish a "clear line of descent." Patrick Parrinder finds similarities to epic poetry in those stories of man's confident expansion into the galaxy which characterized much SF of the first half of this century, but he sees the epic as incomplete or "truncated," and more akin to prophecy than to historiography, with which it is often aligned (as "future history"). Thomas Keeling contrasts SF with the Gothic romance: though they share displacement, they differ significantly in terms of their use of demonic possession, pandeterminism, moral perspective, environment, and modern science.

Using the works of Dick as a wedge, Carl Malmgren discourses on the nature of SF worlds, in a topological exercise that substitutes "actants" for characters, "topoi" for settings, showing both of them and natural laws as key variables for setting up such worlds. In another exercise in semantics, Thomas Hanzo circles in Jungian style around the theme of the future as past, an inevitable reversion to historical and psychological antecedents. SF differs from historical fiction, however, in that futurity is connected to us dynamically, posterity simply valued for its otherness.

If fox-hunting is "the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible," much of SF criticism may be characterized as little more than "the unintelligible in pursuit of the indefensible." It is hardly surprising if SF, or any other kind of contemporary fiction, exhibits elements of fairy tale, epic, Gothic, historical fiction, or visionary states, or that it differs from each of those in various ways. Far from reaching "the main body of Western thought," these bridges provide connections between islands which may themselves be as imaginary as the worlds connected by Wagner's "rainbow bridge" in Der Ring des Nibelungen. At best, they provide some intellectual stimulation, which I believe the Eaton Conference does better than most other assemblages of SF scholars. But the book speaks mainly to scholars, as a stirring of materials already familiar or of dubious relevance.

--David N. Samuelson

Asimov Summarily Considered

Jean Fiedler and Jim Mele. Isaac Asimov. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1982. 122p. $5.95 paper 

The first sentence of the preface to this book expresses the authors' "desire to give a coherent account of Asimov's development as a writer of Science Fiction." In the short space of 122 large-print pages, Fiedler and Mele pack biographical information, details about publication and public response, plot summary, and critical interpretation, all supposedly designed to bring out some sort of "sense of development." But while there is a sense of chronology here (the book begins with early Asimov and ends with late), there is little sense of development. The reader comes away with no clear understanding of how Asimov's fiction has changed over the years.

Given their limitations of space and the sheer bulk of Asimov's work, the authors should have more narrowly focused their study. They might have examined, for example, the development of plot or style or characterization or theme, or perhaps they might have traced Asimov's changing attitudes toward his work or the way the public and his editors helped shape his changing fiction. Instead, they try to touch upon all of these, and more, and the result is a lack of detailed analysis and a progression which is frequently tedious. Take the story "Nightfall," for example, one of Asimov's most widely read and acclaimed tales. There is a two-and-a-half page discussion of the story, yet out of 11 paragraphs, eight and a half are devoted to plot summary and to describing the story's reception, and only two and a half paragraphs to any sort of interpretation or discussion of how the tale fits in with his overall development. Critical interpretation is limited to a suggestion that Asimov "exploit[s] the least obvious implications" of his quotation from Emerson and to the comment that the story's "strength and power... lie in Asimov's imaginative conception of how human beings would react to the revelation of the Universe's vast proportion and their own world's insignificance...." (p. 10). In a developmental context, Fiedler and Mele suggest that in "Nightfall," Asimov, for the first time, "began to think in terms of the rise and fall of civilizations (p. 11). The phrases just quoted represent the authors' complete commentary on Asimov's "best short story" (p. 9). Their treatment of "Nightfall" hardly bears comparison with Joseph Patrouch's excellent examination of it in The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov (a similar sort of all-encompassing, albeit longer analysis of Asimov's SF). Patrouch devotes 10 pages to "Nightfall"; yet barely half of one page could be termed summary. The advantage of his sense of priorities is that Patrouch is able to give us detailed insight concerning the background of the story (its publication history, etc.), the problems of the tale (including specific weaknesses in its use of language), and its characterization and its plot; and he offers finally a convincing discussion of what gives the tale its compelling power. Reading Patrouch, we learn a great deal about the strengths and weaknesses of "Nightfall," and can thereupon compare these with those strengths and weaknesses Patrouch ascribes to Asimov's later work. On the other hand, through Fiedler and Mele, we learn nothing of the limitations of the tale and little about what makes it powerful. We know that it has been considered his best story and that it contributed significantly to his reputation, but we have difficulty situating the tale within the context of Asimov's developing fiction. The limitations of Fiedler and Mele on "Nightfall" exemplify much of the rest of their- discussion of Asimov's work. There is too much summary; the discussion is too frequently cluttered with biographical and other details; and criticism is generalized to the point of superficiality.

The apparent weaknesses of such criticism are typified by the following passage, in which the authors discuss Asimov's style in the Foundation series:

Asimov's style in the Foundation, as in most of his work has a positive quality that is frequently overlooked. Commendably direct, his writing never gets in the way of the story, yet rarely seems unequal to its task. He always opens with a moment of crisis, and even if his characters indulge in long explanations, there is always the illusion of action. Despite the overall length of the series, the reader easily moves from story to story. (pp. 66-67)

Once again I have just quoted the entire discussion of style included in the chapter on the Foundation series. The authors suggest that there is a "positive" quality in Asimov's style that is "frequently overlooked." They imply that this quality is "direct[ness].'' Yet is this enough? What exactly do they mean by "direct," or by the suggestion that the writing "never gets in the way of the story"? We need more explanation here--perhaps examples to make the assertions meaningful. And if Asimov's style in the Foundation series is the same as in "most of his work," what does this suggest about his development as a writer? Has his style remained consistent throughout his career or only from the point of the Foundation series onward? The authors were undoubtedly constrained by limitations of space here, but they might better have left comments as generalized as these out of the discussion altogether, making room for more detailed analysis in some other area.

There is a strange form of repetition which adds to the monotony of reading this text. A story is discussed, then later it is mentioned a second time, but as if it had never been brought up before. Take "Hostess," for instance. On pages 16-17, Fiedler and Mele summarize and discuss it. They then move on to other material, but return to "Hostess" on page 25: "In one of his most interesting early stories, 'Hostess,' Asimov takes a startling view...." The mention of this story eight pages after the first discussion comes in as if it were the introduction to an as-yet-undiscussed tale. The same sort of thing happens with "Nightfall." The second time they take it up, the authors laboriously re-cite the epigraph from Emerson and also reiterate their interpretation of Asimov's theme. To make matters worse, they at times interrupt their discussion of a series of works to glance back at some text(s) that have already been elaborated upon, and more often than not do so for no discernible reason. Chapter five, for example, is concerned with "The Future Histories," yet three pages of the chapter focus on "Nightfall" and Foundation. This disjointedness results in confusion.

There are also other kinds of incongruity. In their discussion of the "vivid, tight, and evocative" (p. 44) descriptions of The Caves of Steel, the authors cite a lengthy passage from it which they claim is a "well-crafted combination of simile and carefully chosen sensory detail." There are sensory details in the passage; but I can find no similes in it, only one metaphor. The misnomer is somewhat bewildering. So too, is a point early in the book, when the authors, writing of the way machines escape the control of their makers, refer to "a situation just as chilling as Frankenstein destroying its creator" (p. 35). Presumably they mean to allude to Frankenstein's monster; but mistakes like that are annoying and generally detract from Isaac Asimov's authority.

Fiedler and Mele could have written a much better book. They do provide some interesting insights into Asimov's SF. Thus, writing of Foundation, they observe: "Asimov's dramatic future history makes the cogent point that the true tools of empire-building are economic and socio-political development" (p. 57). This is an important perception: surely one of the fascinating aspects of Foundation is its illumination of the behind-the-scenes machinations by which economic and socio-political forces are manipulated (or are seemingly manipulated). Fiedler and Mele's discussion of the robot stories, too, manages to give some sense of how, through the course of them, Asimov came to a "basic themes[,] emotional argument for technology as a useful, practical tool that cannot succeed without human direction" (p. 41). The authors' analysts of the charisma of the Mule is well taken also, as is their examination of "The Bicentennial Man." Yet the problem throughout remains their loose focus and their reliance on a plot-summary type approach without sufficient analysis to sustain it.

Inevitably, I have trouble envisioning an audience for this book. Although it is short and rather "easy" reading (typographically speaking, that is), it is frequently tedious. It is not nearly as insightful as Patrouch's study; and the essays on Asimov in the Olander-Greenberg "Authors of the 21st Century" volume are more valuable than the individual chapters in this book. To be sure, Fiedler and Mele's Isaac Asimov will probably have a certain bookstand appeal. With its picture of Asimov framed by his name in block letters on a star-filled background of blue, and with its promise of big returns (All You Ever Wanted to Know About the SF of Isaac Asimov) for a minimum of reading effort, the book may sell. Its buyers, however, will almost certainly be disappointed with their purchase.

--Michael Tritt

(No) Comparison

Lahna Diskin. Theodore Sturgeon (Starmont Reader's Guide No. 7). Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1981. 72p. $3.95 paper. Lucy Menger. Theodore Sturgeon. NY: Federick Ungar, 1981. viii+136p. $5.95 paper

The form of the Reader's Guide book and, in this case, the subject of Theodore Sturgeon have both become so central to the needs and to the future of SF that it would be difficult to step back and assess what clear distinctions exist between the Diskin and the Menger studies if it were not for the quality of the writing and the quality of the scholarship. Both books take up most of Sturgeon's canon in a systematic and integrated commentary. Both books contain some biographical narrative on the variety and sensitivity of Sturgeon's life. Both books conclude with primary and secondary bibliographies, the Diskin annotated, the Menger a more complete listing of Sturgeon's works. Menger's secondary bibliography, however, is loaded with irrelevant entries and at the same time omits important pieces. Perhaps there, then, in the scholarship, is an indication of how widely these two studies actually differ.

Diskin works hard at an intelligent and coherent explanation of the fictions; and even though her book needs a more distinct conclusion, she offers her readers unified and meaningful interpretations of Sturgeon's peculiar blend of philosophy, stylistic texture, and narrative. We are comfortable with her readings; and although Diskin does not produce a perfect book, she does provide a useful and appropriate impression of Sturgeon's work as literature. On the other hand, Menger does not explain or interpret. In her section on The Dreaming Jewels, for example, she hardly acknowledges that the work is an intelligent extrapolation at all but rather rushes on to talk about details in the narrative as though she were describing a soap opera--commonplace and ordinary. Menger also fails to offer an interpretation of Sturgeon's fiction (in part or whole) beyond, perhaps, the most superficial accusations of anti-intellectualism. Menger's book left me with the strange impression of Sturgeon as not-quite-a-writer; hence, I suspect that there is something wrong with the glass through which the subject is being viewed. This experience, in fact, confirms my belief that literary criticism must be well-written commentary designed to give a meaningful impression of a writer. Diskin seems to have that ideal in mind. Menger makes a parody of it.

--Donald M. Hassler

An Indispensable Resource

Jack Williamson, ed. Teaching Science Fiction: Education for Tomorrow. Philadelphia: Owlswick Press, 1980. 261p. S15.00

Jack Williamson, one of the venerable old names in the field, has always demonstrated a considerable skill and versatility in dealing with SF. He is one of the few individuals who can boast a high level of expertise in both academic matters and the commercial side of the genre. Having successfully worked in both arenas for a number of decades, he has earned the respect of practitioners and consumers alike.

His recent contribution to the pedagogical side of the business is an admirable addition to the more than five decades of production that preceded it. The work is characterized by its scope and a keen editorial grasp of the subject. Not content to rely on his own qualifications-- Williamson could easily have written this book by himself if he had wanted to--he has assembled a well-rounded team of "experts" to contribute to the project.

This task is not as easy as it might seem. True, there is no shortage of people qualified to write commercial SF, and there is a gracious sufficiency of academics who are willing to publish papers on the subject. But it is difficult to find people who are highly competent in both areas. The professional level of each enterprise is sufficiently demanding and specialized to require considerably more than merely a casual involvement. Most academics, though well versed in their fields qua academic subjects, have had little or no experience as professional writers. Those in the top ranks of the pro writers, conversely, know the intricacies of their field, but few of them have any appreciable expertise in the academic forum. (This is, of course, to distinguish the professional educator from the writer who teaches occasional high school or college courses but lacks the specialized training and set of experiences that constitute professionalism in education.)

It follows from all of this that there exists only a small core of individuals who can display a high level of competence simultaneously in the classroom and in the market place. For a number of reasons--on both the supply and demand sides of the equation--this places a strict limit on the number of meaningful books that can and will appear on the subject.

The present offering is one of those few books, and it deserves the approbation of both camps. The pro-SF community, especially those writers with a deep commitment to the genre, can be sure that their field has been fairly represented. And educators can be sure that their needs (which, like politics, are discussed by many but understood by few) have been recognized and properly treated.

This is no small accomplishment, since the recognition of SF by academe is a phenomenon only two decades old. Considering this relatively short interval, Williamson is to be all the more admired for effecting such a smooth melding of specialized talents. In this particular effort, he has drawn from his own strength. As a writer of commercially successful SF, he is extremely knowledgeable in that field. As an educator of long standing, he is intimately familiar with the limitations and exigencies of the classroom. Thus he has been able to cover all bases in producing a work whose deceptively simple format conceals a wealth of information, expertly arranged and attractively presented.

Undoubtedly, a large part of Teaching Science Fiction's audience will be those who are about to embark on their first SF course. For these prospective teachers, Williamson has offered a very useful collection of resources. Some of the chapters are narrowly targeted and have a "cookbook" flavor. Others are more abstract and philosophical. Although at first glance this mix might seem ill-conceived, it is well-suited to meet the needs of novice SF teachers.

Wide-eyed educators, newly emerged from Schools of Education and English departments, have too often been given indiscriminate doses of theory and practice, with little or no explanation of how the two interface. As the old salts can testify, however, theory without a realistic grounding is practically useless, while cookbook material without some philosophical foundation is at best an inefficient tool.

Alert to these pitfalls, Williamson has been careful to tell prospective teachers both what to do and why. He has assembled papers by the best minds in the field and encompassed all the important topics. In the process, he has produced a volume that is useful to the old salts as well. It is a practical guidebook against which even the most experienced educators can judge their theory and practice.

To insure currency, Williamson has selected previously published material that dates back no farther than 1971, and he has included several pieces new to this work. And to provide proper editorial balance, he has fashioned the papers of his various contributors into a carefully assembled whole.

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with "the Topic," the second with "the Teachers," and the third with "the Tools" of the trade. The first section, which includes articles by Le Guin, Asimov, the Panshins, and Susan Wood, covers the historical and social foundations of SF. Its function is to provide a frame of reference within which SF can be seen as a product both of its history and of the social setting in which it exists today. Among these useful essays is a list of short biographies of notable SF writers, arranged chronologically and cross-referenced to a later bibliographical chapter. As experienced instructors will be quick to note, a resource of this sort can be very useful in designing a syllabus for a projected course.

The second and longest part of the book includes pieces by Vonda McIntyre, Barry Longyear, Stanley Schmidt, Robert Myers, and Kate Wilhelm. It deals with the full range of SF courses, from primary through high school and college, from the English to the science department. The various articles in this section contain a wealth of practical ideas, many of which can be translated directly into the classroom with little or no outside preparation. Building on the foundation established by the first section, the articles explore the mechanics of SF stories, the genre's role in and implications for the overall curriculum, specific methods, and just enough "cheerleading" to keep it all interesting.

These 14 remarkably varied chapters approach SF from all angles; from the perspectives of history, sociology, psychology, and political science; applying the genre to all departments into which it might productively fit, considering utopian and dystopic views, and ranging from general discourses to lists of potential discussion questions and modules. In short, this part of the book grounds the theory of teaching SF in a set of concrete ideas about how to present the genre in the classroom. It gives direction to those teachers who are designing new courses and provides enrichment for those who are already teaching established courses.

The third section of Teaching Science Fiction deals with the tools of the trade--the resources needed to make an SF course work. Four articles by James Gunn, Robert Barthell, the Panshins (again), and Neil Barron detail the utility and relevance of movies, local conventions, books, and library resources. This section does not merely indicate where resources can be located, though. It provides an understanding of them--of what SF-related resources really are, how they interface with a course, and how to apply them in a classroom situation. Included here are lists of books, films (both instructional and commercial), university libraries, and other assorted aids.

Clearly, these three sections taken together provide a valuable tool for those involved in teaching SF at any level. Williamson's editorial skill and grasp of the genre have enabled him to produce a major work that is at once well-conceived and well-executed. Given the current interdependence of the academic and commercial sectors of the field, this volume is a significant addition to the literature. Not only does it bring together a number of important papers, but it also promotes the kind of cross-fertilization that will necessarily have positive results in both arenas.

--C. Bruce Hunter  

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