BOOKS IN REVIEW
The View from Starmont House
Donald M. Hassler.
Hal Clement. 1982. 64pp. Eric S. Rabkin. Arthur
C. Clarke. 1980. 80pp. Gary K. Wolfe.
David Lindsay. 1982. 64pp. Jane Branham Weedman. Samuel
Delany. 1982. 79pp. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House. $4.95 ea.
The Starmont Reader's Guides to Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors offer
a thorough examination of each author....Each volume is divided into a chronological table
of the author's life and literary career, a full biography, chapters on the major works or
groups of works, and both primary and secondary bibliographies. Without sacrificing the
sophistication that each author creates in his or her fiction, they clearly and cogently
explore and explain the important issues, providing depth and understanding for both the
beginning and the sophisticated reader.
I will not consider the four monographs under review in terms of the very ambitious
description of the series included in the first volume, from which I have just quoted, but
as introductions which demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the
format of this rapidly expanding series.
The strengths of the series can be seen in the studies of Clement and Clarke, which
provide useful introductions to their respective works. Hassler's study of Hal Clement is
a straightforward presentation of the life and work of a "major hard science-fiction
writer" which reviews Clement's themes and ideas from his earliest SF story,
"Proof" (1942), through his 1980 novel, The Nitrogen Fix. Hassler
begins by quoting approvingly James Gunn's view (writing of Asimov) "that this type
of literature should not be searched for effects beyond the most obvious effects of
plot" (p. 9); and this certainly sums up the approach here, which works well with the
uncomplicated writing of Clement.
Much the same can be said of Eric Rabkin's competent and useful introduction to Arthur
C. Clarke. His study begins with a "Bio-critical Introduction" describing the
influence of Wells and Stapledon and the scientist I.D. Bernal on the development of
Clarke's ability to blend scientific detail with "optimistic and transcendental
visions" (p. 17) in his SF. The book includes chapters on Childhood 's End, The
City and the Stars, 2001, and Rendezvous with Rama, as well as a discussion
of his short stories, a bibliography of his non-fiction, and a "selected secondary
bibliography"; and it contains a very useful annotated bibliography of Clarke's
fiction, with brief descriptions of more than 80 of his short stories. The chapters on the
individual novels are primarily descriptive: Rabkin gives a clear and intelligent
presentation of Clarke's major themes and ideas.
Gary Wolfe's study does not deal with quite so accessible or familiar a body of work:
that of the British writer of "symbolic fantasies," David Lindsay (1878-1945),
whose reputation rests on his A Voyage to Arcturus (1923). In this instance the
Starmont format also works well: Wolfe gives us an introduction to that author's
"strange and tragic career" as well as a close reading of the major novel and a
valuable account of the author's other, largely unknown (and until recently unavailable)
novels. The most important of these, The Haunted Woman (1922) and Devil's Tor
(1932), Wolfe examines in some detail. But the main part of his study comprises a
lengthy reading of A Voyage to Arcturus, Lindsay's "philosophical-symbolic
fantasy," which has become a classic since its reprinting in 1963--a novel which, in
contrast to the more accessible fiction of writers like Clement and Clarke, both demands
and resists interpretation.
Wolfe's analysis begins with a discussion of the work's literary and philosophical
antecedents, including the symbolic fantasies of George MacDonald, Norse mythology,
Vedanta philosophy, and Jungian psychology; "but the reality principles that lie at
the heart of Lindsay's system of thought probably owe more to Nietzsche and
Schopenhauer" (p. 15). These differing influences and sources coalesce in the theme
of a higher truth beyond the illusions of ordinary reality. In his reading Wolfe leads us
through the strange scenes and events of the novel as he follows the hero's voyage of
discovery: the "stripping away of illusions" which constitutes the hero's
education and transformation leads Maskull to the strange planet of Tormance and the
ultimate reality of Muspell, as well as to his own "final sacrifice." While
Wolfe's analysis is informative, however, it is caught in a contradiction: between the
novel's "demand" for a "close interpretation" (p. 18) (the novel is
"the exposition of a specific philosophical system" [p. 38]) and what Wolfe
calls its "irreducibility":
What is Muspell? It is no more a reducible symbol for Lindsay than Moby-Dick for
Melville--the inscrutable reality that lies behind all masks. But there is no way to
discuss the brilliant, complex vision with which A Voyage to Arcturus ends without seeming
reductive, and to attempt a broader discussion of Lindsay as philosopher on the basis of
it alone would be premature. What is of great importance in terms of symbolic fantasy is
that symbolic fantasy seems a necessary condition for the embodiment of this vision. Even
had Lindsay chosen to write a purely expository tract and abandoned fiction altogether, he
would have found it necessary to turn to fantasy for his metaphors and illustrations. (p.
The limits and disadvantages of these short studies are most apparent in the treatment
of an author like Delany, whose ongoing work is an exploration and testing of the limits
and possibilities of SF. Jane Weedman's starting point is an important and original one:
Delany's "double-consciousness" as a black writer in a white society. This
double-consciousness manifests itself not only in terms of themes and characters, but in
formal terms, through the recurring presentation of worlds and events "from the
viewpoint of a member of a minority culture" (p. 12)--most frequently in the figure
of an artist and/or criminal. In her readings, however, she moves away from the full
impact of her initial insight by relying too much on Delany's own comments to her about
In her reading of The Einstein Intersection, for instance, she takes as her
starting point a comment by Delany that "both societies depicted in the novel were
black: one was meant to represent a rural black society and that the other represented a
black urban society" (p. 51). While she questions his proposition that "the
urban society is all black," she nonetheless accepts the rural/urban dichotomy as the
central organizing principle of the novel:
Delany creates two societies...which inhabit the remnants of a highly technological
world abandoned by its former inhabitants.... Those in the rural areas decided to begin
afresh on the planet, developing their own culture. The city dwellers, on the other hand,
chose to relive the past in an attempt to find out why and how the previous culture
destroyed itself. (p. 51)
This leads her to conclude:
The Einstein Intersection is, then, a novel about experiments in culture.
Delany contrasts a changing society with a society that has taken the precepts of another
culture to learn what mistakes it had made. Lobey, as the angry black protagonist, rejects
the future projected for him by an alien society. His rejection takes the form of the
destruction of two of the central institutions of the urban technological society: science
and the Christian religion. (p. 59)
Certainly as a paradigm or set of "myths," Christianity is
"rejected" in the novel. But so are two other sets of myths which she does not
mention: (1) the founding tradition of "Western" (i.e., white European)
civilization, as expressed in the novel by the elements from Greek mythology: PHAEDRA, the
Minotaur, Orpheus, etc.; and (2) Delany's working through of his own personal myths,
as can be seen in a number of passages used as epigraphs to the various chapters. Two
"myths" in particular stand out: Delany's identity as a child prodigy and as a
I remember a year and a half ago when I finished The Fall of the Towers,
saying to myself, you are twenty-one years old, going on twenty-two: you are too old to
get by as a child prodigy: your accomplishments are more important than the age at which
they were done; still the images of youth plague me, Chatterton, Greenburg, Radiguet. By
the end of TEI I hope to have excised them. Billy the Kid is the last to go. (The
Einstein Intersection [1967; NY: Ace, 1973], p. 118)
Jean Harlow? Christ, Orpheus, Billy the Kid, those three I can understand. But what's a
young spade writer like you doing all caught up with the Great White Bitch? Of course I
guess it's pretty obvious. ("Gregory Corso/In conversation," ibid., p.
I am also disappointed by her treatment of Triton. While it was perhaps
understandable for Rabkin to leave aside Clarke's Islands in the Sky and The
Deep Range in favor of a close examination of The City and the Stars and Childhood's
End, Ms. Weedman's decision to relegate Nova and Triton to a
catch-all chapter entitled "Minor Novels and Short Stories" is more
questionable. This decision could be explained by the Starmont format; but the distorted
synopsis of Triton in her "Annotated Primary Bibliography" indicates
her own lack of understanding of that novel: "Bron undergoes a sex change and finds
himself in a world where every type of being is readily accepted and individualism is
therefore dying" (p. 74). This inability to come to terms with Triton is
apparent as well in her three-page discussion of it (pp. 34-36)--where she spends more
space discussing the novel's appendices than in attempting to deal with what for many
critics is Delany's most important work.
Despite the above criticisms, the Starmont Reader's Guides are useful works which
provide a good introduction to an author's life and work, and, through the primary and
secondary bibliographies, a wealth of suggestions for further reading.
Gary Wolfe, ed. Science
Fiction Dialogues Chicago: Academy, 1982. viii + 227pp. S8.95 paper
Under normal circumstances this collection, described by its editor as "the first
book devoted exclusively to the work of the [Science Fiction Research] Association,"
might have merited a briefish and favorable review. It is a mixed bag containing the first
publication of the correspondence between H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon; essays on SF
magazine history by Algis Budrys and Joseph Marchesani; a spirited piece of self-defense
by Brian Aldiss, referring to his SF history Billion-Year Spree; two papers given
on the occasion of the presentation of the Pilgrim Award to Sam Moskowitz; a
bibliographical section, including Marshall Tymn's listing of SF and fantasy scholarship
published in book form between 1980 and 1982; and several competent essays on individual
writers and works ranging from Hal Clement to Joanna Russ. Altogether, one would think, an
unexceptionable volume, making a desirable addition to the serious SF scholar's bookshelf.
And so in many respects it is.
Circumstances however are not normal. Several contributors to Science Fiction
Dialogues are understood to be unhappy about the liberties taken with their texts,
and at least one has written to various journals disowning the finished product. For a
book published with the SFRA's imprimatur and edited by a recipient of the Eaton Award for
SF scholarship, with the support of an editorial board which includes such respected names
as Rabkin, Wagar, Schlobin, and Barron, these are serious allegations. SFRA President
James Gunn writes in an Introduction that the Association should assert that the
"academy with all its apparatus...intends to be a significant force which speaks for
excellence and will reward those who produce it" (p. 6). The pursuit of excellence,
however, begins at home and is a matter not merely of the spirit but of the apparatus. Science
Fiction Dialogues falls lamentably short in its apparatus.
Since this book's deficiencies (which we shall describe in a moment) are editorial, it
is profoundly ironic that one of its major themes is the nature of commercial SF editing.
Algis Budrys gives a fascinating account of the editorial and topographical processes
employed in pulp-magazine publishing. Any SF scholar unfamiliar with "transposed
slugs" and "widow-killers," or with the difference between ordinary and
chain-magazine serialization practices, should read this article. Budrys asserts that
editors believed they had to work conspicuously, with plenty of blue pencil, if they were
to keep their jobs. Proof-reading was slapdash since its real justification was to
"insure against the printing of an accidental obscenity." Writers received
neither proofs nor adequate payment. Printers turned to alcohol to relieve the effects of
lead-poisoning brought on by handling type-metal. Clearly this account has lost nothing in
the telling, but Joseph Marchesani supplements it with a reappraisal of Galaxy editor
Horace Gold, whose habits of editorial intervention "often exceeded what his
contributors thought to be appropriate limits" (p. 72).
Plus ça change? Gold
remained convinced of the rightness of what he was doing, and was not afraid to tell his
contributors so. Nor was his self-confidence altogether unjustified.
I am not sure why Budrys' essay is titled "Nonliterary Influences on Science
Fiction." Perhaps he means non-authorial influences? While it is true that textual
interference in the pulp magazines was practiced with exemplary crudity, such interference
occurs at every level of modern literary production, scholarly books not excepted. Nor is
the editor's task by any means to be deplored. It can be well or badly done. Both the
Budrys and the Marchesani essays are marred by errors which an editor ought to have picked
up. Budrys says that John W. Campbell "did not want" better examples of the
chain style of publishing; this seems to be the exact opposite of what Budrys means. In
Marchesani's essay, Gravy Planet becomes Gravy Train (p. 77). Moreover,
while Budrys states that in Silverberg's heyday as a pulp-magazine writer "the top
rate of payment was one cent a word on acceptance," Marchesani says that Gold raised
the "standard payment" for a story from two cents a word to three. Editorial
intervention should have sorted this out.
Turning to the Wells-Stapledon correspondence, the 33 surviving letters are of
considerable human and historical interest. Stapledon handles Wells--a sometimes tetchy,
sometimes indulgent literary lion--with a telling combination of boyish cheek, earnest
disputation, and genial prostration in front of the shrine. These letters, mainly by
Stapledon, suggest how much is left out from currently fashionable accounts of English
literary and political culture in the 1930s. Having said that, much of the correspondence
is at best tangential to the history of SF. The two writers are involved in philosophical
and political attempts to "settle the Whole Damn Silly Universe" (Wells's
phrase, of course). Stapledon somewhat tortuously tries to assert that he can be
"following in [Wells's] footsteps" without being "quite on the same
track." (Stapledon was a founder-member--in 1934--of the original H.G. Wells Society.
When is a Wellsian not a Wellsian? When he is Stapledon.) Some readers will buy the book
for these letters alone, and this makes it the more distressing that their editor, Robert
Crossley, has felt obliged to dissociate himself from the finished product.
To be fair to Gary Wolfe, the text of the letters is, as far as I can tell, correct in
all but one small particular. Crossley's introduction to the letters has apparently been
abridged and, moreover, his editorial apparatus as printed contains errors which are of a
piece with other errors scattered throughout Science Fiction Dialogues. Titles
are incorrectly given: we read of First and Last Men, Apropos of Delores, the
Mercury (presumably a newspaper on wheels), and Ectopia (sic, sic, sic, sic). Quotations
are mangled: from Last and First Men, from The Work, Wealth and Happiness of
Mankind, and worst of all from Peter Nicholls' Science Fiction Encyclopedia (where
the elimination of a double negative makes nonsense of Joe De Bolt's peroration on the
occasion of the Pilgrim Award). More seriously, thought itself is garbled and deformed.
Robert Crossley is made to describe Stapledon as a "spiritualist" where I take
it he meant to refer to his "spirituality." Robert Galbreath, in an essay on
Philip K. Dick and Harold Bloom, calls Valis "Dick's first major science
fiction novel, perhaps since 1970, and probably one of his more important" (sic, p.
115). Another contributor speaks of a book's "metaphor" where she plainly means
its "moral." Still another tells us that it took the work of critics like
Scholes and Rabkin to "rediscover" Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov! How can a
book perpetrating such muddles possibly claim to speak for an "excellence"
permitted to the academy and denied to commercial SF? It is simple imposture.
This leads to wider questions about Science Fiction Dialogues. Between or with
whom do these "dialogues" take place? One of the contributors, June Howard,
seems to be addressing a much-wider-than-SFRA readership. Her essay on The
Wanderground and The Female Man is intended to "widen the audience for
them, so that feminists might read them and other science fiction" (p. 155). Good
luck to her, I would say. The wider audience will not necessarily be indulgent towards
slapdash editing. And if the "dialogues"--Ms. Howard's apart--are mainly to be
within the SF field, then it is the contributors and other SFRA members who have been let
It is not gratuitous to mention SFRA's members, since Gary Wolfe does so himself in his
Preface. They come at the end of a list of people whose "valuable suggestions,"
"expert help," and "guidance and encouragement" are noted; none of
these appears to be a publisher's editor (which suggests that the publisher's role was
neutral rather than interventionist) nor unfortunately does Wolfe make the customary
avowal discharging his helpers from responsibility for blemishes in the finished product.
SFRA members at large are thanked because their "commitment to the ongoing serious
discussion of a body of literature once regarded as trivial has made a book like this
possible" (p. viii). They must be smarting under such a compliment. Who are these
members, or who, more pertinently, do Wolfe and his editorial board think that their
membership is? A possible indication is given by the bibliographical essay in which one
board member, Neil Barron, dismisses Darko Suvin's Metamorphoses of Science Fiction as
"intimidating and densely written" (p. 197). Perhaps the average SFRA member, in
the eyes of its officials, is delineated there? Someone who can't take the hard stuff, a
benighted refugee from the theoretical rigor, deconstructionist vigor, and non-American
idiom of today's graduate schools? A scholar, perhaps, who decently kept quiet when Suvin
was given the Pilgrim Award but was much happier to see it go to Moskowitz? Maybe the
members are like this--in which case they deserve more effective spokesmen--but I am
inclined to doubt it. What they should perhaps be doing (I write as an outsider) is to
question their current leadership. However good some of the material, and however good the
professed editorial intentions, this first book devoted exclusively to the work of the
SFRA does not sustain or enhance that organization's credibility.
Finally, here are two cautionary notes, one from Stapledon and the other from Wells.
Stapledon very sensibly remarks, of Christians and scientists, that "it is easy to
see that both lots are silly, and not so easy to escape being silly oneself." Wells
in an unusually dispirited letter--it was July 1940--wrote: "What my dear Stapledon
is the good of writing books? You go on with your garden by the Dee and grow food. People
of our sort can have no say in the fate of mankind." Dialogues in SF and elsewhere
are all very well. But we have to make sure someone is listening.
News of Haggard
D.S. Higgins. Rider
Haggard: A Biography. NY: Stein & Day, 1983.266pp. S21.95
The events of H. Rider Haggard's life (1856-1924) guarantee that almost any biography
will present enough flamboyant incident to sustain interest. At various times, a teenage
imperialist advancing English civilization in South Africa, a newlywed ostrich farmer
failing dismally while the Boer War thundered around him, a correspondent and loyal friend
of prominent contemporaries like Teddy Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling, Haggard turned his
experiences to lucrative purpose in writing a total of 68 books. His set of beliefs
included provocative variations of spiritualism, imperialism, racism, and radicalism. He
survived the loss of his lifelong love and a good deal of literary scandal. And his novels
have survived both as films whose influence reaches as far as Lucas and Spielberg and as
objects of serious literary and historical analysis.
D.S. Higgins's biography of Haggard joins the works of Morton Cohen (Rider Haggard:
His Life and Works, 1960) and Peter Ellis (H. Rider Haggard: A Voice from the
Infinite, 1978) in narrating these events, and many duplications of quotation and
chronology occur in the three books, especially since they all rely to some extent on the
two early works, one by Haggard himself (The Days of My Life, 1926) and the other
by his daughter Lilias ( The Cloak That I Left, 1951). Cohen's study includes
comprehensive historical and literary analysis and a distinctly formalist critical
approach. Ellis, although he purports to refute Cohen's estimate of Haggard's supposed
failure, sets up a bit of a straw man here: Cohen is more evenhanded than to write off
Haggard's success entirely. In the light of this substantial earlier work, the
contributions that justify Higgins' new book center on his new information, much of it
relating to the women in Haggard's life, and on his somewhat franker tone.
Higgins manifests his frankness by treating the plagiarism question more directly than
either Cohen or Ellis. Unlike them, he does not dismiss the possibility that Haggard
borrowed substantially from earlier works for incidents in his novels. Instead, Higgins
juxtaposes the similar passages effectively, letting readers note the similarities and
judge for themselves.
But the biggest coup of this biography is unquestionably the identification of
"Lilith," the Beatrice figure whom Haggard was confident he would meet on the
other side of the grave, as Mary Elizabeth Jackson Archer. When Lilith rejected Haggard
for a richer, older man, Haggard's shock, according to Higgins, caused him to involve
himself with black women of the Transvaal, an indulgence that Higgins, without much proof,
suggests left Haggard with an enduring guilt. Higgins also emphasizes the influence of
Haggard's writing mother and gives his sister-in-law, Agnes Barber, reasonable credit for
her contributions to his writing.
One only wishes Higgins had more detail on Lilith and her later life. Having jilted
Haggard for a banker, she suffered through her husband's financial rein with Haggard then
left his care to rejoin Archer for an attempted recovery in South Africa. Her subsequent
infection with her husband's syphilis (and eventual death from the disease) adds another
to the numerous stories of Victorian women infected by their husbands--so that chaste and
perfectly monogamous angels in the house died painfully of venereal diseases.
A more elegant prose style would also have been welcome. Higgins' serviceable prose
lacks the charm of Cohen's descriptive passages and occasionally becomes solecistic. A
Haggard character resembling Lilith, according to Higgins, gets "pressurized"
(p. 154) into marriage; Haggard's speech at the Canadian Club "may now seem naive and
racialistic" (p. 191).
Higgins relies a good deal on publication histories of Haggard's books; but given their
quantity, this tends to become wearisome. Some of the 68 books, however, maintain their
life and continue to merit both popular support and serious scrutiny. She, the
novel most often filmed, was done by archetypal expressionist George Méliès in 1899; in
a 1965 version Ursula Andress played Ayesha. Recently Sandra Gilbert has placed She as
"one of the century's literary turning points, a pivot on which the ideas and
anxieties of the Victorians begin to swivel into what has come to be called
the same collection of essays, Susan Gubar compares the male utopian fantastic journey of She
with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's female utopia Herland, a novel in which,
according to Gubar, the author "confronted the misogyny implicit in [Haggard's]
imperialist romance" ("She in Herland: Feminism as
Fantasy," in Coordinates, p. 140).
The young imperialist of the 1870s, born before the Second Reform Bill, grew old and
died during the Jazz Age. By juggling literary, political, and agricultural professions,
Haggard dealt with some of the radical changes of his period adroitly. But because his
literary responses to the changing role of women during his age are absorbing attention
currently, Higgins' delvings into the network of fear, compulsion, and guilt that rose out
of Haggard's relations with women justify the new biography most convincingly.
[*Sandra Gilbert, "Rider Haggard's Heart of
Darkness" in Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy, ed. George E.
Slusser, Eric S. Rabkin, & Robert Scholes (Carbondale, IL: 1983), p. 131.]
Isaac Asimov, by a Friend
James Gunn. Isaac
Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction. NY: Oxford UP, 1982.
236pp. $18.95 cloth, $6.95 paper
In this new addition to the Oxford University Press SF series, James Gunn writes
revealingly about Isaac Asimov's works, with special emphasis on recurrent plot elements
and on ways in which the fiction reflects the author's life. Following a chapter on Asimov
the man, Gunn turns to Asimov's SF, treating in successive chapters the Foundation novels
(which were still a trilogy when Gunn wrote), the robot stories, other short stories, the
two robot novels, Asimov's less successful novels, and finally The Gods Themselves. The
organization of the book is intelligent, for it brings to light common characteristics
among the works in each chapter and allows Gunn to stress the connection between themes or
plot elements (claustrophilia, acrophobia, rationality) and Asimov's own character or
About Asimov's life there are no major revelations in this book, for Asimov has written
so widely about himself that his life has become familiar material. The good news, though,
is that readers who have not read Asimov's needlessly long autobiographies,
Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt, can get the essentials from Gunn's book and
avoid the trivia that clutter Asimov's own accounts. Nor do we lose the personal touch in
this manner, for Gunn writes about Asimov from a perspective that is almost
indistinguishable able from Asimov's own view of himself. Gunn makes no real presence of
objectivity: he even dedicates his book to Asimov, and the back cover blurb refers to his
"thirty-year friendship with Isaac Asimov." We are warned, then, that we are
dealing with a biased witness, one who will interpret the evidence in the light most
favorable to his friend.
Thus, for example, Gunn tends to avoid or at least underplay such elements as style,
characterization, and breadth of vision, since these are not among Asimov's strengths;
instead, he emphasizes the narrative line. The result, unfortunately, is that far too many
pages are devoted to plot summary: the eight pages given over to a synopsis of the Foundation
books may not seem excessive, in view of the fairly complex narrative in these
volumes, but it seems unnecessary to spend more than five pages summarizing The Stars,
Like Dust, particularly since both Gunn and Asimov regard this novel as weak. One
result of the long summaries is that when Gunn turns to a discussion of theme his
commentary all too often seems perfunctory, especially when he is concerned with lesser
works that will not reward much critical scrutiny.
There are, I believe, two other serious problems in this book. First, there are no
reference notes, which means that at times it is difficult to tell where a quotation comes
from. The other problem is Gunn's rather parochial assumption that SF is a genre largely
limited to America. The subtitle of this volume, used also as the title for chapter 2, is
typical: behind Gunn's clever play on Foundation is the notion that SF is
something "constructed in the science-fiction magazines created by various
entrepreneurs [in America] from the mid- 1920s to 1950" (p.27). Elsewhere Gunn tells
us that in 1947 "[t]he time for the publishing of original science-fiction novels had
not yet arrived" (p. 140). It would seem a simple matter to admit that we are
considering only American SF, which largely grew out of the pulp magazines, rather than
the earlier and more sophisticated British (and continental) writers; but that would
require some admission that writers like H.G. Wells, David Lindsay, Aldous Huxley, Olaf
Stapledon, and C.S. Lewis had set a far higher literary standard than Asimov could ever
Despite my reservations, this is in general a successful book, for it accomplishes what
its author wanted: it demonstrates the major forces behind Isaac Asimov's work and points
to the strengths of that work. The primary bibliography is thorough, and the analyses of
Asimov's best fiction--the robot stories and novels, "Nightfall," and The
Gods Themselves--are enlightening. What it lacks in balance and perspective, Gunn's
book gains in enthusiasm for its subject. Those who share that enthusiasm will enjoy
reading Gunn on Asimov.
--Patrick A. McCarthy
A Valuable Record
Raymond H. Thompson. Gordon R. Dickson: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography.
Boston: G.K. Hall, 1983. 108pp. S27.50
One of the unsung virtues of the G.K. Hall bibliography series is that the volumes
sometimes contain introductory essays which are themselves as substantial as any of the
critical works listed. This is the case with Raymond H. Thompson's introductory essay to
the present volume, which provides as good a brief overview of Dickson's work as I have
seen (though there is not much competition, as the bibliography itself demonstrates).
Dickson is an author all but ignored by academics and too often peremptorily dismissed by
reviewers, but Thompson makes a good case for the significance of this author's craft,
particularly as it relates to his treatment of aliens.
It is awkward, then, that such a good essay in a generally good bibliography should
contain bibliographical errors. But Thompson has Dickson reading in 1938 magazines which
did not begin publishing until 1939, lists None But Man as a retitling of Necromancer
(it was actually a different novel; the retitling was No Room for Man), and mis-cites four of his own entries, making it hard to check his sources (for the benefit of
those who may have the book, on page xv D208 should be D212, D214 should be D218, D161
should be D160, and D226 should be D230). There also might be a quibble about whether the
"illusion and reality" conflict which Thompson identifies as "the most
pervasive theme in Dickson's works" is really just an appearance vs. reality theme,
but generally Thompson's insights are sound.
These errors, I should hasten to add, do not recur in the bibliography itself, which
lists as its cutoff date early 1981. There are a few omissions (such as the reprint of
"Steel Brother" in Reginald Bretnor's
Orion's Sword in June 1980), and
occasionally alternate titles are listed with no indication of whether these are
manuscript titles or editor's titles. "Spacelifter's War," for example, is given
as an alternate title for None But Man, but shows up neither in the index nor
the list of Dickson's papers in the appendix. Similarly, it is unclear in the
"media" section whether a group of radio plays apparently sold by Dickson in
1956 were in fact produced; surely radio drama collectors could have verified that.
Thompson's own thoroughness as a scholar is to blame for some of this, of course: had
he not uncovered these references in the first place, we would not know to ask these
questions. And some of what he uncovers is important not just to Dickson enthusiasts; the
Bantam anthologies ghost-edited by Dickson under the name Rod Serling, for example, are
significant to anyone who tries to view them as evidence of Serling's own tastes.
I am not sure this volume will do much to stimulate immediate interest in Dickson's
work, but it is gratifying to see it done and done well. The question inevitably arises as
to whether Dickson needs this kind of treatment; but if Dickson delivers all he has
promised on the Childe Cycle, there may be a number of scholars rushing to look up this
book. Even if he does not, Thompson provides a valuable record of an increasingly popular
--Gary K. Wolfe
Polish Science Fiction
Antoni Smuszkiewicz. Zaczarowana
gra [ The Magic Game]. Poznan: Wydawnictwo Poznanskie, 1982. 377pp.
85 zts. (ca. USS1.50)
Antoni Smuszkiewicz is well-known in Poland for his interest in SF. His most recent
book is an ambitious attempt to look at the history of Polish SF, trace its origins, and
analyze its position in relation to Western SF. The author does not limit himself to the
historio-literary approach. He looks closely at the modifications of the genre throughout
its history, noting at the same time their relation to the world tendencies in science,
technology, and literature, SF literature in particular.
With her difficult history and harsh reality under the partitions, Poland had little to
sustain the genre which thrives on technological innovations and scientific thought.
Affected by the political controversies, the literature--both adult and for young
readers-- dealt with patriotic issues, romantic idealism, and nostalgia for the lost
freedom. Nevertheless, even one of the greatest Polish romantic poets, Adam Mickiewicz,
worked on an SF novel, unfortunately never published. From what we know about the
manuscript, his History of the Future treated the mutual relationships between
culture and technology, the problems which half a century later, through the novels of
Wells, were to start a new trend in SF. With the changes of the political reality of
Europe, Poland could more easily accept SF, and the genre immediately found ardent
admirers. However, quite early in the course of its development, Polish SF was preoccupied
with a critical approach to the possibilities of human thought, to man's capacity for
In the period between the two world wars, Polish SF reflected an major literary fads of
the time. It showed the fascination with the occult and reflected wide-spread
catastrophism in prophesying the fan of Western culture and civilization. Right after
World War Two other difficulties appeared, and SF had to defend itself against the
socialist realism demanded by the Stalinist regime. One of the first to fight for the
rights of SF was the greatest Polish SF writer Stanislaw Lem. Smuszkiewicz discusses the
creativity of Lem and other post-war writers in the context of three major periods visible
in the development of Polish SF: the years 1945-58, when the only acceptable tone in
literature was an optimistic faith in the glorious future of mankind, guaranteed under the
new ideology; the years 1959-70, the time of Lem's masterpieces, when SF becomes
acceptable and immediately abandons rosy visions of the future to deal with grave
questions of human life, humankind's position on Earth and relation to technology and
culture; and the years 1970-81, where Smuszkiewicz, commenting on the most recent trends
in SF, sees a tendency to abandon fantasy on technological themes in order to deal with
the human problems on Earth. Generally speaking, the development of Polish SF corresponds
to the development of European SF: it tries to show men in new perspectives, in new
contexts, and to pose the eternal human questions in a contemporary way.
Smuszkiewicz's book is a valuable introduction to the problems of Polish SF, its
generic tendencies, its historical and literary development. While placing Polish SF in
the context of Western literary development, it highlights those particular features which
are the result of Poland's unique historical and political position.
Far from Indispensable
Alan Frank. The
Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook. Totawa, NJ: Barnes &
Noble, 1983. 187pp. + index. S24.95 cloth
British film critic Alan Frank, author of The Horror Film Handbook, has now
followed up that volume with The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook. His
book is an annotated filmography, useful to a degree, but far from indispensable. Rather
than being a handbook, the bulk of the text is a rather selective reference guide to
several hundred genre films, listed alphabetically by title. For each, the author gives
complete credits (including close responsible for special effects) along with a cast list
(with the names of each character), running time, a paragraph of plot synopsis and
evaluation, and a brief extract from one or more reviews, both British and American. The
summaries are generally accurate and the evaluations of the films judicious. There are
over 200 stills from the films, but they do not overwhelm the text.
The second section, "People," gives brief biographies and genre filmographies
of 75 figures, both major and minor, in the history of SF and fantasy films, including
actors, actresses, directors, writers, and special-effects technicians. The third section,
"Themes," is all too brief, basically a listing of films under a few categories
such as "alien encounters," "space travel," and "time
travel." There is also a list of alternative titles for the films and a very complete
index, in which the people mentioned are subdivided as Producers, Directors,
The limitation of the book as a basic reference in the field is its selectivity. In an
apologetic introduction, Frank admits that "my choices for inclusion or exclusion
here may be considered to be debatable: the final selection, then, is a purely personal
one....[T]here are so many genre films in existence that limitations of space have meant
that more movies have had to be excluded than I have been able to put in the book....I
hope, in future editions, to expand the entries...." If Frank had been writing a
history of SF and fantasy films, then the selectivity might have been more understandable.
As it is, he limits the usefulness of his text as a reference guide. For the scholar
seeking something more comprehensive, I would recommend instead Walt Lee's reference
guide, Fantastic Films: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (self-published in
three volumes, 1972-74), or A.W. Strickland and Forrest J. Ackerman's more recent A
Reference Guide to American Science Fiction Films, vol. 1 (Bloomington, IN:
T.I.S. Publications, 1981).