Science Fiction Studies

#29 = Volume 10, Part 1 = March 1983


The Eternal Present

Casey Fredericks. The Future of Eternity: Mythologies of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982. 229p. $22.50 cloth, $9.95 paper

Casey Fredericks' The Future of Eternity is not merely an important contribution to SF scholarship, but also a joy to read. In this study of the mythological content and context of SF and fantasy, the author does not seek to reduce the SF genre to an avatar of mythology, nor does he make grandiose claims for SF based on vague and unsubstantiated generalizations. Rather he employs his considerable knowledge of the nature and function of traditional mythology to elucidate a great many SF works, to define an aesthetic of SF, and to suggest clearly and convincingly the mythological functions of SF in contemporary culture.

Fredericks, a professor in the Department of Classical Studies, Indiana University, is completely at home in the theory and classics of mythology and in the scholarship and fiction of SF, and he imparts both considerable plot information about lesser-known SF works and a good deal of theoretical information with the skill of a consummate teacher. The result is both enjoyable reading and informative analysis that explains how SF transcends the often perceived breach between fantasy and cognition, between myth and reason, and between intuitive imagination and rational intellect. Fredericks traces this synthesis in three mythic patterns complementary to both myth and science: the man and superman encounter, the man and machine encounter, and the human and alien encounter. In each case, he sees the function of modern mythmaking to be to test contemporary social values and perceptions of human nature against the imagined potentialities of past and present civilizations, establishing "the interdependence between an educated sense of the past and an intelligent and articulate sense of the future" (p. 150).

The Future of Eternity shows how some SF works that speculate about the origins and ends of mankind are concerned with the same cosmological questions as traditional creation myths. Others, especially heroic fantasy, are primarily either parodic or tragic-existential responses to a literary age that is nihilistic and antiheroic as they fulfill needs and test hypotheses about the human condition ignored by other literature. Still other works of SF and fantasy enrich the traditional approach to mythmaking through a conscious application of psychological, anthropological, and sociological theory. In each case, Fredericks reveals that SF's use of myth is not simply reductive adaption of tried and true archetypes, but provides approaches to our own world that may be fantastic and unrealistic but are also emotionally and intellectually stimulating, eye-opening, and life-enhancing. He is able to show repeatedly that, far from being an escapist or regressive literary mode, mythologically oriented SF is generally concerned with understanding the present and shaping the future: "In modern SF mythology, humanity is a self-creator. The future remains in our hands, to fail or succeed in the great adventure of the future, the Frankensteinian, dystopian vision urges us to make the necessary changes in ourselves and in the world to prevent the terrifying visions from coming true" (p. 176). The Future of Eternity is certainly not the first work to make this claim, but Fredericks' broad knowledge in myth theory, the history and philosophy of science, psychology, literary theory, and SF itself makes his proof of that claim among the most convincing and interesting.

--Mark Siegel

Waiting for E.T.: The Apocalyptic Literature of "Imminent Expectation"

Frederick A. Kreuziger. Apocalypse and Science Fiction: A Dialectic of Religious and Secular Soteriologies. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982. 247p. $13.95

Frederick Kreuziger points out, quite accurately, that my New Worlds for Old implies but fails to elaborate a theory of reading SF. Exactly how does some kind of "philosophical apocalypse'' take place in a reader's head? Kreuziger has significantly advanced our understanding of SF by elaborating that theory of reading. Instead of talking, as so many critics and theorists do, about "extraploation," a concept sometimes relevant to the practice of the SF writer, Kreuziger talks about "expectation" as the concept most relevant to the experience of SF readers. Although he develops many cogent arguments by way of demonstrating that "science fiction is secular apocalyptic literature'' (pp. 10, 39), the one that is most fully worked out treats both SF and sacred apocalyptic as forms of popular literature which share a particular mode of reader expectation.

Essentially what Kreuziger does is build on and adapt my three categories of SF stories--simple extrapolation, modified extrapolation, and reality-transforming rationale stories--to the perspective of the reader. In a penultimate chapter entitled "Apocalyptic: The Languages of Future Expectation," they emerge as the language of simple, modified, and disjunctive expectation. The case made for this typology, while intense and stimulating, is complex and cannot be adequately summarized in this space. Kreuziger himself is aware of the difficulty and has provided three diagrams to help clarify his distinctions. What distinguishes the apocalyptic language of disjunctive expectation, or "imminent expectation" as it comes to be called, is the way in which it allows for the "realization that the future exists as a depth-dimension of the present" (p. 171).

Earlier in the book, Kreuziger isolates "two distinct forms of the science fiction narrative: the 'future history' model (which extrapolates possibilities based on present knowledge) and the 'we are not alone' model (as symbolic of an openness to the radically new)'' (pp. 204-05, a summation of pp. 87-88, 96-97). In a central bridging chapter, "Utopia and Fantasy: The Limits of the Understanding of Science Fiction" (which follows two chapters of SF and precedes two on apocalyptic), the "future history" model is correlated with utopia (the secular concepts of "possibility" and "emancipation" and a secularized prophetic eschatology) while the "we are not alone'' model is correlated with fantasy (the transcendent concepts of "desirability" and "redemption" and a secularized apocalyptic eschatology). The contemporary utopia turns out to be as isolated in time as the classical one is isolated in space. It follows from all this that, although the "we are not alone" model operates more effectively in the area of imminent expectation, what seems really to be required is a conjunction of the two models: "Apocalyptic is an understanding which can mediate the dialectic between promise and fulfillment [two more terms that figure significantly in Kreuziger's analysis] that utopia and fantasy, pushed to their limits cannot" (p. 129).

I am pleased to report that Kreuziger parallels much of my own recent thinking about the apocalyptic nature of SF and the role of fantasy in SF (another subject inadequately developed in New Worlds for Old). In working on James Blish, I have been struck by the relationship between SF futures, historical models, and the inevitability of fantasy as an explanation for both the SF genre and as a unifying rationale for Blish's mixed genre trilogy, After Such Knowledge. The particular phraseology that Kreuziger employs with regard to SF's "inability to confront the fact of death" (p. 106) and the "denial of history" (p. 107) finds its echo in my own recent speculation on the "textual shadow" of the SF author.

It should be emphasized that Kreuziger's study is grounded in a thorough knowledge of both SF and SF criticism and theory. His concern with the pulp origins of SF as a popular genre, or more accurately, a popular movement, leads him in his opening chapter, "The Self- Understanding of Science Fiction," to highlight the missionary role of Gernsback. Revealing snippets from John W. Campbell's editorials substantiate a warts-and-all view of the man to set against some of the more idolatrous portraits that we have become familiar with. The consensus view of SF within the field. fostered by writers, editors, and fans, holds that it is indeed a literature of ideas and therefore concerned with "the creation of an ideal [Platonic] world more real than the one presently experienced" (p. 31). Van Vogt is offered "as paradigm of the role belief plays in the willingness to accept pseudo-sciences" (p. 43).

Chapter two, "The Critical Understanding of Science Fiction," provides a historical overview beginning with J.O. Bailey's Pilgrims Through Space and Time, covering the work of Kingsley Amis, Mark Hillegas, Robert Philmus, and Robert Scholes, and concluding with New Worlds for Old. Although on a few minor points I might quarrel with the way that Kreuziger has formulated my own arguments, I was generally impressed both by the accuracy of all his summaries and the overall perceptiveness and cogency of his analyses of shortcomings. In the context of a concluding section on "The Critical Reading of Apocalyptic'" which makes use of Kermode`s The Sense of an Ending, Kreuziger makes a further distinction which figures importantly in the discussion to come, that between "knowledge" and "meaning." While the knowledge that SF stories contain is often "dated by the time the ink dries," the meaning is always new and always reassuring: the efforts to know, to do, to build, to forge, to fashion, to live--all are worthwhile, for that is the destiny of humankind, to which there is no limit" (p. 85).

In the two balancing chapters entitled "Apocalyptic: The Languages of Future Expectation" and "Apocalyptic: The Horizon of Theology," not only does the focus shift from SF to theology but the discussion leans heavily on theological scholarship and theory. This is particularly true in the section of chapter four on "The Critical Understanding of Apocalyptic"--the self-understanding of apocalyptic (corresponding to the self-understanding of SF) is not treated in depth since Kreuziger claims it can "be limited to the statement that apocalyptic saw itself as a successor to prophecy" (p. 137). The closest that Kreuziger comes to a one sentence definition occurs in this section: "The function, purpose, and meaning of apocalyptic, thus, is the re-solution of the tension existing between promise and fulfillment, precisely as it bears on the present experience and as it is seen in light of future expectation" (p. 158).

This is a difficult but insightful, carefully organized, and convincing study; it is certainly the best and most sophisticated theologically oriented treatment of SF to date. In spite of the many typos (Kreuziger has not been well served by Scholars Press in this regard), this book offers a provocative and liberating analysis which places discussion of SF on a new and invigorating plane. By reconciling sociological, literary, philosophical, and theological approaches, Kreuziger has provided, quite simply, the best theoretical analysis of SF as a "movement" currently available.

--David Ketterer

A Stopgap Bester

Carolyn Wendell. Alfred Bester. Starmont Reader's Guide No. 6. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1982. 72p. S4.95 paper

The central virtue of the Starmont Reader's Guide series of critical monographs on modern SF and fantasy writers is that it provides us with reliable introductions to writers who might otherwise receive little critical attention; its central defect is that the brevity of these guides makes it difficult for their authors to develop very sophisticated analyses of the works. Carolyn Wendell's monograph on Alfred Bester, the first extended consideration of Bester's fiction, might have been expected to suffer less than most studies from restrictions of space. since Bester's output in the field has been limited to four novels and about three dozen short stories. Unfortunately this study, good as it is at times, seems truncated; what it lacks is sometimes more obvious than what it contains.

Among the omissions is any discussion of Golem 100, Bester's fourth SF novel, which was published in 1980, two years before this monograph. Obviously Wendell's manuscript was completed before the publication of Bester's novel (whose forthcoming publication she mentions, citing a letter from Bester dated November 1979), but it would have been easy enough to write a brief chapter on the novel at a later date and have it inserted before galleys were set up. Wendell also passes quickly over Bester's experiences in writing comic books, radio serials, and television scripts without considering the impact of this writing on his SF. In general she ignores Bester's style (surely one of the most arresting features of his fiction), and aside from a good analysis of the Oedipal pattern in The Demolished Man she has little to say about the abnormal psychology of Bester's odd heroes. Even more striking, however, is the omission of any serious discussion of Bester's relationship to other SF writers and to the field as a whole. Was Bester's writing influenced by the fast-paced, complex plots of A.E. van Vogt? In what ways has Bester's own style influenced the novels of Samuel R. Delany? These are among the questions whose answers might have helped to assess Bester's achievement more accurately.

Nonetheless, what is here is generally good. The introduction provides information about Bester's life, summarizes Bester's widely expressed views on SF, and points to a few recurrent qualities in his fiction. There follow short chapters on The Demolished Man (useful for its exploration of the Oedipus myth as it operates in the novel), The Stars My Destination (somewhat unfocused but containing several insights) and The Computer Connection (very brief but quite accurate in calling attention to this novel's many shortcomings). Wendell's best chapter deals with Bester's short stories. This is the longest chapter of the monograph (15 pages), and its combination of chronological and thematic organization makes it possible for Wendell both to demonstrate Bester's increasing sophistication as a writer and to develop illuminating comparisons among the stories. The book concludes with four annotated bibliographies, one each devoted to Besters SF, his comments on SF, his non-SF, and secondary sources.

Aside from a handful of uncorrected typesetting errors (usually the substitution of italic for roman type, or vice versa), the monograph contains few mistakes: the most significant that I spotted consists of misspelling the name of Steven (not Stephen) Krane in discussing Bester's 1941 story, "Adam and No Eve." Although its sins of omission are too great for it to fill the need for a through study of Bester's work, Wendell's monograph will be a useful stopgap until a longer study comes along.

--Patrick A. McCarthy

Style and Substance

Michael A. Banks. Understanding Science Fiction. Morristown, NJ: Silver Burdett, 1982. 160p. $7.50

Most disciplines are fortunate enough to boast a gracious sufficiency of sophisticated secondary literature, and graduate students who have developed an acquired taste for scholarship have no shortage of material to suit them. Undergraduates, though, especially in their elective courses, are often frustrated when they encounter texts that read as if they were written exclusively by and for professionals in the field.

The casual student's limited attention span and minimal commitment to the subject at hand pose special problems for textbook writers. A text for the general audience requires a carefully controlled balance of substance and style. It must contain a respectable amount of subject matter, but it must also avoid the "ivory tower" tone of a scholarly treatise.

Michael Banks has succeeded in producing a book that serves well as a supplement in English courses concentrating on SF. His Understanding Science Fiction gets the pedagogical message across without taxing the student who wanders into an SF course supported by nothing more than a casual interest. Thus, troth highly motivated students and "bandits" can benefit from this text.

Banks gains his skill from a combination of professional writing and teaching. Drawing upon the lessons of this dual background, he covers the topic admirably in its various facets, discussing not only the technical aspects of SF writing but also the sociological, historical, and political context within which the genre functions.

He gives enough "practical" material (reading lists, glossary, addresses) to make even uninformed observers of the genre feel comfortable. Pieces of short fiction. some written especially for this volume, illustrate the points covered in the various chapters, and material written in "plain talk" explains the various aspects of the genre in terms that all can understand and appreciate.

This is not to say, however that Understanding Science Fiction operates at a low level of academic competence. It is, in fact, very good at presenting both the mechanics and the cultural setting of SF to serious students as well as to a general audience. The book's straightforward style belies the author's sophisticated understanding of the genre, while his teaching experience surfaces in the lively approach with which the material is presented.

--C. Bruce Hunter


Orbites, a Quarterly edited by Daniel Riche and Gérard Klein. Paris: Nouvelles Editions Oswald, 1982. 200 p. each issue. FF39.00.--This is a new journal published in France by two major SF writers and editors. After a number of failed attempts at launching a quality journal of SF, we do hope that the new formula will be successful. In its second issue Orbites published a number of short stories by Moorcock, Matheson, Robert F. Young, and Scott Baker. Half of the issue is devoted to critical surveys (on heroic fantasy in this case), notes, and reviews.

Jacques Bisceglia (with the help of Roland Buret for SF) Trésors du roman policier, de la science-fiction et du fantastique: catalogue encyclopedique Paris: Les Editions de l'amateur, 1981. 431p. FF135.00.--This bibliographical catalogue attempts to provide a complete listing of all that has ever been published in French in detective fiction' SF, and fantasy. The authors do recognize that this compilation of 25,000 titles or so, with a grouping by series and publishers, still presents gaps and errors. As it stands, however, their work is a mine of information that will be welcomed by collectors and second-hand booksellers as well as by university scholars. An average price on the second-hand bookmarket is provided where possible.

Koinos Kosmos, edited by Klaus Johansen. Odense, no. 2:1982. US $1.00 per issue.--This fanzine, published in English by a Danish fan, Mr. Klaus Johansen (Godthäbsgade 61/ 5000 Odense C./Denmark) stands unique in its kind for exclusively publishing critical texts on Philip K. Dick. In issue number two, an interesting polemic between Stanislaw Lem and O. Terlecki pro and against Dick has been translated.

"Special Uchronie," Imagine..., Montréal, no. 14:1982. 171p. Can. $5.00.--This is an excellent special issue of this journal, dealing with alternative future romances, a subgenre of SF that is examined in a dozen interesting essays. For information write to: J.M. Gouanvic/403 west, St.-Joseph, #21/Montréal. Ouébec/Canada H2V 2P3.

R. Reginald. Science Fiction & Fantasy Awards. First Edition. San Bernardino CA: Borgo Press ["The Borgo Reference Library," Vol. 21, 1981. 64p. $8.95 cloth, $2.95 paper.--This booklet contains a complete listing of all awards related to SF and SF film through the end of 1981, not only the American awards but also the major foreign ones.


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