BOOKS IN REVIEW
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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/st.tv./DK 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.
Back to Home