Science Fiction Studies

#39 = Volume 13, Part 2 = July 1986


Après Nous le Déluge

John Newman & Michael Unsworth, eds. Future War Novels: An Annotated Bibliography of Works in English Published Since 1946. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1984. x + 102pp. $25.00

To begin with the commendations. First, full marks to the authors (with later qualifications) for deciding on a sensible limitation to their bibliography. The innumerable wars and warriors of recent space fiction are not a bad thing and reality of a kind is "in." The compilation deals solely with those novels that "relate in a realistic way to general human concerns, at least as these are known in the free world, about nuclear weapons and future wars" (p. x). Second, the listings are restricted to works of fiction published in English from 1946 to the cut-off point in 1983. By that prudent decision the authors have saved themselves years of toil in many languages. In effect, then, their bibliography is a marker for the greatest-ever divide in the tale of the war-to-come. The entries are necessary documents in the case that the mission of the Enola Gay to Hiroshima 40 years ago changed (and was seen to have changed instantaneously), the conduct of warfare on planet Earth. The evidence for this new, generally fearful attitude is apparent throughout the annotations that accompany the entries. Indeed, the ample annotations are the most valuable element in the bibliography: they provide complete coverage of the contents for every title, and they will undoubtedly help readers to home in rapidly on whatever themes or topics they are pursuing. More than that, the bibliography is a gift to researchers who are casting about for a subject. The 191 entries in Future War Novels provide the groundwork for a variety of publications. If John Newman and Michael Unsworth are not already hard at work on Hiroshima and the Horrors-to-Come, they would be well advised to get to their word processors as rapidly as possible.

And now, as Jules Verne used to say to Hetzel, après les éloges commencent les fignolés. If the authors stand by the principle that a bibliography should aim to provide the maximum relevant information, then they should think again about their attitude to pseudonyms. It would undoubtedly help readers to know, for instance, that the author of their first entry, Will F. Jenkins (The Murder of the USA, 1946) is better known by his pseudonym of Murray Leinster, as entered in the fifth item, Fight for Life (1947). This failure to indicate pseudonyms runs through the entire book. Thus the reader is left to find out that Nevil Shute is Nevil Shute Norway, that Angus Wilson is Frank Johnstone, and that Paul MacTyre conceals the eminent Scottish academic, Robert James Adams. These are a few of the omissions that the authors should put right in a second edition. And in like manner they should look to the weaknesses in their proof-reading. Did their word processor betray them with that never-never author: H. Kutter? He is undoubtedly the real Henry Kuttner; and the UK publisher is not Weidenfel but Weidenfeld, one of the most successful of British publishers. Again, there is the matter of translations from foreign languages, neglected almost entirely by the authors. Quite properly, they record that The Seventh Day is a translation of Keiner kommt davon by Hans Helmut Kirst; and that is about as far as they go. And yet, something more than "early French novel" is required to place Philip Reynolds (author of When and If, 1952) in the international context to which he rightly belongs. What about: "First published as Ce pourrait passait comme ça"? And what about Sven Holm, whose Termush is assigned to 1969? He appears in the "Author Index" as "Holm Steve," an odd first name for a Dane who published his book (under the same title as the translation listed in Newman-Unsworth) in Danish in 1967.

Although the authors state that they give "a listing of as many other English language editions as could be identified" (p. x), there are some inexplicable absences. A quick skimming of several standard works of reference would have established that there were UK editions of, for example: Theodora Dubois' (Du Bois'?) Solution T-25, Albert Guerard's Night Journey, and so on for no fewer than 20 other editions of listed titles. Again, the first UK edition of Heinlein's The Day After appeared not in 1972 but in 1962. More unfortunate is the entry for Storm Jameson's The Moment of Truth (NY, 1949); for it hides the facts that, first the book was published simultaneously in the UK and the US by Macmillan and that, second, the record should note that Jameson is an English authoress of some standing. The same point applies to L.P. Hartley's Facial Justice, which was published simultaneously by Hamish Hamilton in the UK and by Doubleday in the US--an interesting item of information that underlines the international reputation of a fine British writer who made this sole venture into futuristic fiction.

It could well have been a Freudian slip that caused the compilers to miss the detailed and loving description of a successful black rising in Alan Seymour's The Coming Self-Destruction of the United States (1969). Nevertheless, there are many other titles that would seem to come within Newman and Unsworth's definition of "future wars." Here are some potential candidates for consideration: Brian Aldiss's The Eighty-Minute Hour, James Barlow's One Half of the World, Alistair Mars's Atomic Submarine, H.A. Van Mierlo's By Then Mankind Ceased to Exist--the list of possible entrants could go on for some 30 to 40 additional titles. However, the biggest surprise of all is the failure to include a number of the post-catastrophe stories that have been a staple in this literature ever since the appearance of Huxley's Ape and Essence in 1948.

Here is a question....What have the following in common: Brian Aldiss's Greybeard, Andre Norton's Star Man's Son, Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz? And a transatlantic echo has to answer that in one way or another the authors examine the state of our world after some vast future disaster. "Three hundred years after a nuclear holocaust"--that is the beginning of the annotation for Star Man's Son (p. 11); and the entry for Facial Justice opens with: "For some decades after World War III..." And so, the next and more painful question has to be: If these titles are included, then why are many comparable stories excluded? There can be no denying that Ape and Essence is the first classic example of the post-warfare state, the black opposite of A Canticle for Leibowitz. Why this and not that? And by that same argument, if the bibliography has an entry for Angela Carter's Heroes and Villains, then there is a good case for the inclusion of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids as well as The Chrysalids. A rapid count suggests that there are some two dozen post-catastrophe stories that could with advantage be included in the bibliography.

All of this indicates that bibliography is a most difficult and trying art. So much depends on the definition of the subjects, more on the interpretation a reader will put upon the subjects, and even more on the good luck of fortunate discoveries often made in the most unexpected ways. The peculiar misfortune of the bibliographer is to be a trail-blazer with little honor in any country. All original listings are gifts to the ungrateful; they want more and they want it better. In Yorkshire, the home of good beer and plain speaking, that is known as nit-picking; but there can be no niggling here. In their Future War Novels, Newman and Unsworth have produced a bibliography that is good, as far as it goes...and that is most of the way. Like almost every bibliography since the days of the library at Alexandria, it could be better; and the wish for the compilers is that a second edition of Future War Novels, in the usual way of bibliographies will be an enlarged and improved version of the first.

--I.F. Clarke Milton-un-Wychwood, UK

A Field-Theory Model as Critical Strategy

N. Katherine Hayles. The Cosmic Web: Scientific Fields Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca, NY & London: Cornell UP, 1984. 209pp. $19.95

This is a difficult book but one that rewards a reader's efforts. Katherine Hayles studies the "literary strategies" of five novelists--Robert Pirsig, D.H. Lawrence, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Thomas Pynchon--as they relate to what is known in modern science as the "field concept." To appreciate what Hayles has done the reader must be familiar with these authors before reading her explications; there are no plot summaries here. Furthermore, the reader must be willing to grapple with some rather formidable concepts, concepts drawn for the most part from modern physics. It is a strenuous exercise, but one that builds intellectual muscle.

Defining the "field model" is itself a daunting task. As Hayles explains:

Characteristic metaphors are a 'cosmic dance,' a 'network of events,' and an 'energy field.' A dance, a network, a field--the phrases imply a reality that has no detachable parts, indeed no enduring, unchanging parts at all. Composed not of particles but of 'events,' it is constant motion, rendered dynamic by interactions that are simultaneously affecting each other. As the 'dance' metaphor implies, its harmonious, rhythmic patterns of motion include the observer as an integral participant. Its distinguishing characteristics, then, are its fluid, dynamic nature. the inclusion of the observer, the absence of detachable parts, and the mutuality of component interactions. (p. 15)

It's not simply that the field concept is difficult to define; implicit in this revolutionary new paradigm is "the realization that there are inherent limits on what can be spoken, and that these limits arise because language is part of the field described" (pp. 20-21). The "stickiness of this situation" leads Hayles to adopt the metaphor of the "cosmic web" which is designed to "entrap ...the dynamic, holistic reality implied by the field concept. But the prey always escapes, precisely because the web is articulated; speak is to create, or presuppose, the separation between subject and object that the reality would deny" (p. 21).

In addition to struggling with the field concept, the reader is obliged to wrestle with such concepts as symmetry (as defined by modern physics), Cantor's theory of infinite sets, the notion of time reversal, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, singularity, and black holes. And while Hayles makes heroic efforts to make these concepts clear the demands on the reader are, nevertheless, substantial.

The Cosmic Web is based on "the premise that. . .well-known developments in the modern novel are part of a larger paradigm shift within the culture to the field concept" (p. 24). Hayles' choice of the five novelists mentioned above is based on her desire to exhibit a variety of literary strategies which authors have adopted in confronting the concept of field and to use authors who demonstrate "varying degrees of knowledge and sympathy toward science" (p. 25). Thus we have a range: from D.H. Lawrence, who knew practically nothing about modern science, to writers such as Nabokov and Borges, who were intimately familiar with some aspects of modern physics and mathematics.

Hayles is generally successful in the task she sets for herself. We all understand the pitfalls in trying to establish literary relations from some Weltanschauung, but even here Hayles avoids the obvious traps. For example, in discussing the relationship between Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistic générale, Einstein's 1905 papers, and Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's Principia Mathematica, Hayles argues:

That Saussure's proposals are remarkably similar in spirit to those occurring about the same time in physics and mathematics does not require that Saussure knew of Einstein's 1905 papers or read Principia Mathematica. Indeed, to suppose that such parallels require direct lines of influence is to be wedded to the very notions of causality that a field model renders obsolete. A more accurate and appropriate model for such parallel developments would be a field notion of culture, a societal matrix which consists (in Whitehead's phrase) of a 'climate of opinion' that makes some questions interesting to pursue and renders others uninteresting or irrelevant. (p. 22)

In her first chapter, "Spinning the Web: Representative Field Theories and Their Implications," Hayles establishes the "climate of opinion" and explores "the parallels between modern literature and modern science."

The modern novel emerged from exploring the Cartesian dichotomy in literary terms; or, to put the proposition in its more usual form, from exploring the relation between the teller and the tale. Modern physics developed from exploring the Cartesian dichotomy in scientific terms; or to state it in its accustomed form, by exploring the relation between the observer and the observed system. Literary readers are well acquainted with the former assertion, scientific readers with the latter. What has been insufficiently recognized by either is the isomorphism of the two propositions, and the resulting implication that both entail the self-referentiality of language. As self-referentiality of language is virtually the defining characteristic of post-modern criticism and texts, so is it also of post-Newtonian science. (p. 41)

Hayles' discussion of Gödel's Theorem (the Incompleteness Theorem), of the concept of Strange Loops, of the positivists' program to sanitize scientific discourse, of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, quantum mechanics, and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is a model of economy and clarity. She concludes with the following observation:

What our survey of the field concept in various scientific models has shown is that the problem of articulation is intrinsic to this view of reality, whether the language involved is the binary sequence of computer programs, the 'wave-packet' equations of quantum mechanics, or one of the syntactically linear natural languages in which scientists attempt to come to grips with the philosophical implications of their models. Because the task of articulation requires that a vision of a dynamic, mutually interacting field be represented through a medium that is inherently linear, fragmentary, and unidirectional. the novelists' concern with language will have much in common with these scientific concerns....The authors...have their own perspective and insights to bring to this problem. Whereas the scientific theories are created through the attempt to express the field view in rigorously exact models. the literary strategies are forged by the desire to find a form, and a language, adequate to interpret its human meaning. (p59)

Clearly readers do not need to be familar with the field concept to appreciate and enjoy Pirsig, Lawrence, Nabokov, Borges, and Pynchon. Indeed, Hayles' explications are often confined to a single work (e.g., Nabokov's Ada and Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow). Moreover, I am not at all convinced that the field model helps explain Lawrence's The Rainbow and Women in Love. To identify Lawrence's notions about the unconscious--primarily drawn from his reading of Freud--with the field concept and to argue that Lawrence in referring to his concept of the male/female relationship as a "polarity" is drawing his terminology from the domain of field theory--i.e., from Maxwell's theory of electromagnetic fields (p. 86)--taxes the most credulous reader.

However, aside from the chapter on Lawrence, the other sections of the book will help the reader to do more than appreciate the works under discussion; they will give him or her new insights into each novel and a clearer understanding of some of the problems--technical as well as conceptual--that each author was attempting to resolve. One comes away from The Cosmic Web convinced that the field concept provides a useful frame for examining modern literature and that it would yield interesting results if it were applied to other works in addition to those Hayles examines.

--Charles Elkins

The (US) Space Program: An Optimist's View

Ronald Weber. Seeing Earth: Literary Responses to Space Exploration. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1985. xiv + 138pp. $19.95 (cloth)

As Ronald Weber's subtitle suggests, his book offers a perspective on the modern literature responsive to the human adventure in space, and more specifically to manned spaceflight and the moon landings. The book's primary title hints at the particular attitude that Weber finds dominating the outlooks of the authors of this material--his sense that, in the imaginations of the majority of writers analyzing human reactions to our adventure in space thus far, there has appeared an interestingly homey focus. He concludes that the exploration of outer space, the great undertaking of our time, has had the result of directing the attention of the majority of writers less outward, less upward to contemplation and dramatization of the celestial voyage of discovery, than back to the place from which the journey began, back to Earth. His study of writings on this subject makes for an engaging and revealing insight into both the creative mind, and the contrasts between the sense of adventure as it has been conceptualized in American literature in earlier times and as it appears in literary reactions to the contemporary enterprise of space flight.

Ranging from Richard Brautigan to Joseph Campbell, and including such writers as Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey, John Updike, Ben Boom, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Saul Bellow, and Norman Mailer, Weber stresses that it is far too soon to be drawing any final conclusions about the effects of space exploration upon our literature. However, in what he carefully defines as his "preliminary report," we can see already a curious sterility and abstractness about the space- exploration endeavor up to this point that has kept it from striking fire in the creative imaginations of the majority of the writers observing (most often from a distance) its astonishing scientific achievements. To be sure, one group of future-oriented authors (e.g., Carl Sagan, Ray Bradbury, Daniel Boorstein, and Joseph Campbell) have found the space program and its intimations of what is to come quite thrilling, have seen the new penetration into the unknown as a vitally engaging human adventure parallel to earlier extensions of human curiosity. ingenuity, and daring. Yet a second, larger, group of writers see value mainly in the sense of inward-turning, on a grand scale, which they feel has been prompted by the space program of the US and other countries. This second group, in Weber's view, believes that the main achievement of the space program lies less in enriching scientific knowledge of the heavens than in inspiring a new, passionate, and protective view of Earth and in giving us a new, increased appreciation of how precious our lives here are. In compiling, assessing, and juxtaposing these various ideas, he does the reader a valuable service.

Weber carefully delimits the sample of views upon which he focuses, and this contributes largely to the value of his work. Instead of treating SF or quasi-SF visions of the ultimate possibilities of space flight, he concentrates on accounts rooted in actuality, but exclusive of purely factual, non-evaluative reports of the space program. In other words, he examines the years from first reactions to Sputnik to the present as events of those years have been pictured by US astronauts who have written of their experiences in space and by US novelists, poets, journalists, and scholars who have in some manner drawn upon the adventure of humankind's first steps in space and attempted to interpret those events. What he finds common to most of these accounts is the sense that the end-product of the great voyage outward is a new and enhanced perception of Earth. Weber finds a moving poetic figure for this process in the image with which Thoreau concludes Walden: "Our voyaging is only great circle sailing" (p. 16). This is to say that the most important aspect of our travels, whether inward or outward, is that they bring us back to our point of departure with a new appreciation of that beginning place.

That new sense of discovery of Earth recurs variously in the writers whom Weber studies. The most striking images first come from those focusing not upon the excitement of the voyage out from Earth, but on the fact of looking back at our planet-home through the technological eyes that we have transported into space and on the new inner vision that they inspire. John Dos Passos, for example, while generally enthusiastic about the space odyssey, is particularly touched by his first glimpse of "earthrise," as seen from the Moon. "The literary imagination has been pretty good in forecasting discoveries, but not all the science fiction in the paperbacks could have forecasted the astonishment, the awe, the feeling of your heart turning a somersault inside you, you felt when you first saw the photograph of the lovely living earth rising above the dead horizon of the moon" (p. 6).

Weber makes it clear, of course, that there have been--and continue to be--strong and often eloquent voices in this literature that speak of the human adventure in space as a marvelous and richly rewarding step forward in and of itself, a humanly-created miracle that attests to our technological genius and hence bodes wonderfully well for our kind and our future on Earth. He cites, for example, the historian William Irwin Thompson, who, in Passages About Earth (1974), describes his reaction to witnessing the launching of Apollo 17 as something bordering upon a religious experience. Stressing his feeling for the humanity involved in bringing about this great experiment, Thompson refers to the astronauts as "religious hicks" who "pricked the sky with a rocket, letting all the hot air out and all the heavenly vibrations in" (p. 17). Unlike the majority of writers considering space flight, Thompson has no problem seeing the adventure of our space exploration as fully accessible, both in general terms and in terms specifically religious. To him, the astronauts were spiritual emissaries for us all, and he puts special emphasis on the statements of those among them who felt that they had something akin to a religious experience in space, noting that by their inner adventures they may well have transcended their seemingly robotic and emotionless roles as they followed rigid flight plans.

Sagan, Weber points out, echoes this sense of new discovery and of awakening to a new awareness. He pictures the infinite possibilities that the space program is opening for humankind in terms which suggest an analogy with an earlier age of exploration: "We have put our ships into the cosmic ocean. The waters are benign and we have learned to sail. No longer are we bound to our solitary island earth" (p. 4). This, Weber remarks, is also pretty much the view of Boorstein, who sees the adventure in space as the renewal of the great American spirit of exploration. William Anders, the Apollo 8 astronaut, sensed this same connection when he spoke of himself as journeying to a new frontier, "And here I was in the lead wagon" (p. xii). Ray Bradbury is similarly upbeat, echoing Werner Von Braun by seizing upon the landing at Tranquility Base as an expression of the human "effort to become immortal," (p. 5).

The predominant theme however, has been that of the return-to-Earth articulated by Vincent Cronin in The View from Planet Earth (1981): "Man went to the moon, but found the Earth" (p. 9). Authors of every sort have dealt with extraterrestrial flight as conducive to an inner voyage of private appreciation and personal insight. In some cases, too, the images of soaring through space are employed to draw harsh contrasts between the dazzling achievements of the space pioneers and the unhappy lives of the earth-bound observers. who often question the value of the space adventure.

Weber, in his introduction, goes into some of the reasons for skepticism. For one, he points out that the space adventure does not necessarily compare favorably to the discovery of the New World. Relative to the latter, manned space flights have not gone all that far from Earth, and being rigidly preplanned, they have produced a minimum of surprises (except where accident--alas--enters the picture, as in the recent space shuttle explosion). Furthermore, the explorers of the space age have been a highly specialized, albeit very courageous, cadre--test pilots and technical experts primarily, graphically removed from the unearthly terrains they traverse by the space suits and exploration vehicles which encapsulate them. Nor has it helped for making the experience of those barren expanses human that most astronauts have spoken in A-OK's and statistics rather than in the language of poetry. Add to this the structures of numerous, and mostly faceless, earth-bound specialists, and it is no wonder that many intellectuals have bitterly reacted against the space program for incarnating the technocracy destructive of the American pastoral ideal. The shocking human devastation felt after the explosion of the shuttle Challenger may begin the humanizing of the astronauts, especially since the nation's first teacher in space perished in this worst space accident to date, but that humanizing is certainly yet to be seen and is not present in the works that Weber scrutinizes.

For Norman Mailer, many of these perceptions become problems that he grapples with in Apollo 11: Of a Fire on the Moon (1970). Employing the style of personal Journalism that has marked most of his treatments of modern life, he seeks to account for the space program and its impact in a way that will render it meaningful for him, a self-admitted naïf where space technology is concerned. Mailer makes it clear that, as a writer and intellectual, he cannot act involved with the space story in the same manner as he could engage himself emotionally in symbolic gestures. He cannot join a march, express himself in a speech, or perform an act of civil disobedience. He must witness the launch as he must observe the whole program, from the removed vantage of the visitor's bleachers. He cannot even communicate with the closed technological society, let alone influence it by a personal gesture, for he lacks the expertise to understand it. Though a moon rock thrills him, he can only look at it, not touch it. in its sealed cabinet.

The astronauts, too, are sealed to him, in their seeming impersonal interchangeability, which Mailer perceives to be as significant as a similar property in parts of a machine. He wonders about what went through their minds during the years of risk and discovery, but ruefully concludes that he will never be able to compose a book about their psychological adventures, desirable though such a fascinating account would be.

Struggling to come to a conclusion about the significance of the moon mission, Mailer--typically for him--divides himself in two and argues with himself. Is the adventure "the noblest expression of the Twentieth Century or the quintessential statement of our fundamental insanity" (p. 105)? Is the flight of Apollo 11 a show of "grandeur or madness"? Is the force behind the quest the Devil or the Divinity? (Mailer turns to the realm of theology as he grows more and more troubled by his inability to resolve the other questions he poses.) The first conclusion occurs to him while watching a Labor Day picnic in Provincetown, where friends drink beer while they partially bury a worn-out Ford with much ritual; a sculptor who works in metal welds the hulk into shape roughly resembling the moon lander. Leaping at the connection, Mailer notes that where the Pilgrims landed there is now only "an immense quadrangle of motel" to mark the hallowed spot (p. 106).

Yet he does finally come to a moment of imaginative synthesis that goes beyond this understanding of how the space program, seen from Earth, has been trivialized as a mass-market spectacle--a synthesis exemplifying the return-to-Earth theme that Weber is talking about. The moon rock touches him in a way that brings Mailer to experience "a subtle lift of love." An "object at last for his senses," the rock prompts him to celebrate the adventure, to honor the participants in the moon flight, for what it says about Earth. In the "mystery of new discovery," Mailer (as Weber puts it) experiences "the...reawakening of an older and non-mechanical view of life, one in which we are brought to 'regard the world once again as poets, behold it as savages'" (p. 106). In other words, Mailer succeeds in relating the mysterious world of space technology to the infinite mysteries of life and to certain of our deepest, most primal emotions, feelings connected also with the combat of God and the Devil for the soul of the American nation.

The return-to-Earth commentators do not all share this religious resolution of Mailer's in their images of the space program or his sense of the impersonality of the astronauts. In The Right Stuff, for instance, Tom Wolfe attends to the first astronauts not only as fighter pilots, test pilots, men of rigid codes in a closed-shop flying game that required adaptation to its daily risks, but also as very human human beings. Wolfe notes that the all-American-boy image that the astronaut corps acquired was largely the result of John Glenn's expert public-relations job, his editing of the test-pilot style for the best P.R. impact.

Wolfe makes the astronauts seem real and credible by stressing that their ascent to the top of the "flying pyramid" as the best in the business was a ferociously demanding human activity and that the elite, macho style and status which they projected underwent numerous modifications during the evolution of the astronaut program. The 1950s' "fighter jock," flying the X-15, scorned the initial Mercury Program opportunities, feeling that there would be no real flying done in the rocket-launched vehicles which were not, in their opinion, true airplanes. The rapid celebrity that the first seven astronauts received, however, quickly changed this point of view. Glenn's family-man, church-goer style, though at first offensive to the fighter jocks, quickly became the mode that really sold well, both in the press and with the government. And as they saw the possible profits, fliers with space ambitions retooled their images with haste. The press control that managers of the astronaut corps maintained, as Life magazine contracted for exclusive rights to their stories, kept the group shielded behind the chosen facade of modesty, decency, and patriotism that Glenn had cultivated. Wolfe reestablishes them, however, as real men, fiercely competitive, self-serving, sexually appealing, and terribly concerned, not with death, but with fear of looking bad in the eyes of their peers.

Wolfe conveys much of the return-to-Earth tone in his accounts of thoroughly unheroic moments in the Great Adventure. Perhaps the most striking of these concerns Alan Shepard, desperate to urinate as he tries to wait out endless countdown delays; Mission Control finally tells him to piss in his space suit. Wolfe also recounts various sexual adventures with astronaut "groupies," tales that rarely contribute to the heroic stature of the astronauts. By thus establishing their humanity, Wolfe allows us to identify with their responses and hence makes the emotional side of space exploration accessible.

Similar in effect is Weber's analysis of the astronauts' own accounts of their re-entry into non-astronaut life. Edwin E. ("Buzz") Aldrin's Return to Earth begins with the landing of his space capsule in the sea. The mysterious voyage that concerns him is not the trip into space, the passage through the "known" (because simulated in advance) experience, but the return to the now-accustomed Earth, from whose unpredictabilities and strains of human relations his long stint in the space program's totally artificial, hermetically-sealed training environment had shielded him. "I traveled to the moon," he says, "but the most significant voyage of my life began when I returned from where no man had been before" (p. 36). (Note the language of Star Trek--a telling feature vis-à-vis Mailer's Plymouth Rock motels.) A typical astronaut, a "workaholic" with great attraction to tasks with specific goals, Aldrin could exert himself remarkably to achieve his ends; but the goal accomplished, he found that his life began to unravel. Aldrin's is typical of other accounts when he speaks of his marriage growing rocky, his career progress slowing, the sexual temptations of the astro-groupies becoming more inviting and less resistible. There is nothing, he feels, that can really approximate the pleasure of the demanding task he has fulfilled as an astronaut, and there is no experience to match that of walking on the Moon. "You son of a bitch," he addresses the Moon two years after his book appeared-- "you're the one that got me in all this trouble" (p. 40).

Literary observers of the Moon Program sometimes echo the spirit of Aldrin's meditation, as they do other doubter-astronauts' feelings; but more often they turn a critical eye upon the artificiality of the fliers' lives, and particularly upon the simulated training-experience, as it usurps original, unrehearsed response on the astronauts' part. James Dickey, in "For the First Manned Moon Orbit," speaks of the astronaut as "float[ing] on nothing/But procedure alone,/Eating, sleeping like a man/Deprived of the weight of his own/And all humanity in the name/Of a new life" (p. 84). At the end of his poem, however, Dickey speaks most directly of the return to Earth as the more positive of the directions in which the journeying has taken place. The fliers leave the Moon's irregular surface, "bombed-out by the universe," for their home, the "blue planet steeped in its dream/Of reality, its calculated vision shaking with/The only love" (p. 84).

This kind of ironic vision of the moon flight appears in the fiction of John Updike, too, as Weber remarks in his examination of space imagery in Rabbit Redux (1971). Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, watching TV's depiction of the American conquest of space, cannot accept the newscaster's analogy with Columbus: "as far as Rabbit can see it's the exact opposite: Columbus flew blind and hit something, these guys see exactly what they're aiming at and it's a big round nothing" (p. 63). The ever-troubled Rabbit is not uplifted as he watches man set foot on the Moon; he tells his mother that he wishes he felt something, but cannot. Ultimately the novel is about Rabbit's private return, his self-resuscitation, as he finally stops looking outward and focuses on his inner self, relying on his own emotional resources, especially his capacity to love. He returns to his estranged wife and begins to work out a new relationship with her--and with himself--even if the start is only tentative. The space imagery suggests that Neil Armstrong's stepping onto an unknown world has much less meaning than Rabbit's passage down or back into himself, that the private space he enters as he re-enters the familiar embrace of his wife is far more important than that crossed in traveling to other planets or to the Moon.

This inner voyage represents the sort of reaction to the stimulus of the space program that Weber sees as the most characteristic among the writers he surveys. As Robert Frost says in "Birches," "Earth's the place for love:/ I don't know where it's likely to go better" (p. 85). That is the message which many American authors get from the space adventure (including some SF writers, whom Weber leaves out of his account--especially the Vonnegut of The Sirens of Titan [1959]). Even those who deplore the wastefulness of that program or resent being left out of it nevertheless find it a stimulus to new creativity in celebrating the virtues of our life on this planet, our love for one another, and our hope for the human spirit. That, at least, is what Weber suggests in this carefully-assembled and thoughtful book.

--St George Tucker Arnold Florida International University

Children's Science Fiction as Retreaded Romance

Janice Antczak. Science Fiction: The Mythos of a New Romance. NY: Neal Schuman, 1985. xxiii + 233 pp. $24.95 (paper)

Traditional literary scholars tend to believe that the "important" literature they study requires their professional attention exactly because it isn't simple; it has to be interpreted before it can be understood, and that is why it is important. But children's literature is simple--simple, at least, by the definitions of such matters acceptable to traditional literary scholars. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop people with a sincere regard for children's literature, and a sincere wish to make it seem respectable and important, from trying to talk about it in the same terms traditionally used to treat more complicated literature. That makes their work seem both pretentious and pointless. "Simple" literature is served least well by those who pretend it is not different from other sorts of literature and apply to it analytical tools designed to deal with quite different kinds of writing. What matters most about such literature, surely, is its very "simplicity"--an openness to being understood and enjoyed easily that is inherently threatening to the authority of those whose power resides in the ability to interpret hard books. That openness can best be understood in the context of the varying relationships different sorts of books have with their readers. Wise scholars of SF, a literature also often accused of being "simple," know that truth just as well as do wise scholars of children's literature; wise scholars of SF written for children should know it best of all. Unfortunately, Science Fiction: The Mythos of a New Romance suggests that Janice Antczak does not know it. Most of this book offers adults, critics, and educators interpretative plot summaries of novels so little in need of interpretation that they can be read and understood easily by nine and ten year-olds. Worse, it does so in the service of an approach to children's SF that is not just pretentious, but quite unconscious of the possible real significance of this literature's actual "simplicity."

Antczak's thesis is that SF acts in the lives of children today as mythology once acted in the lives of the people who believed in it: "in many ways science fiction and its pantheon of superheroes have become a mythology for our age...for both science fiction and mythology serve as a mirror of society's belief and value systems. Science fiction provides myths that the reader can believe" (pp. 2-3). On the other hand, however, "the conventions of the science fiction story express the mythic archetypes of the quest in the idiom of the space-age. This expression of myth and archetype in the language of its age may increase the reader's ability to meet an uncertain future with tolerance and flexibility because he or she encounters, and metaphorically deals with, ideas, objects, and issues that are now symbols in story but which may be part of future reality" (p. 3).

As the difference between those two quotations suggests, Antczak's thesis is fuzzy; she so wants SF to be the central operative factor in a child reader's response to life that she cannot decide if the myths it mirrors represent the values of today (and thus show children the values of their own time) or if, alternately, they offer forewarnings of the values of tomorrow (and thus teach children about the future). Perhaps she merely makes the disastrous assumption that the values of the present and those of the future are and will continue to be identical with each other. She also seems unable to decide if SF is important because it mirrors what children already believe or because it can teach them what they ought to know. While she speaks of "young readers' intuitive responses to science fiction imagery" (p. 205), and suggests that their responses to such images are "innate and unconscious" (p. 39), she suggests elsewhere that those same images "provide children with new kingdoms to explore" (p. 169).

Antczak's idea of the place of SF in the lives of children is unclear simply because her enthusiasm leads her to claim the wrong sort of importance for it; she wants SF to matter in the same way that traditional scholars think Shakespeare matters, and the slight novels she discusses simply can't bear the burden of that responsibility. Furthermore, the suggestion that these novels must have that sort of significance before they can be considered worth reading or discussing reveals some ignorance both of SF and of the way serious scholars have thought about it in recent years. Antczak offers a misleading mini-history of SF, describing it as a medium that unconditionally praised science and technology until well after the Second World War. She so firmly believes in evolutionary advance (as she herself understands advance) within the medium that she skirts over the unsettling implications of Frankenstein and the ambiguities of Wells and ignores Stapledon and Zamiatin altogether. In the same evolutionary faith, she sees contemporary SF for both adults and children firmly enmeshed in the arms of the mainstream--a fact that will surprise most of its current practitioners--and both seriously over- rates some recent writers and underrates some earlier ones.

But most distressingly, even though Antczak lists a few SF theorists in her bibliography, there is no hint that she has considered their theories. For Antczak, in fact, the idea that SF might be in any way estranging, that it might in any way involve its readers in a useful distancing from conventional ideas and attitudes, would be alien indeed. For her, SF is really just old archetypes in a new disguise. And unlike Northrop Frye, who first postulated the idea that literature contains mythic archetypes, she assumes that new versions of the old myths not only have the same shape, but also express the same values: as she sees it, all books with quest patterns are about the quest for self-identity and teach the same truths about selfhood and maturity.

Antczak's focus on archetypes and on their conventional meanings forces her to concentrate on what books have in common with each other rather than on what is unique in them. As a result, she ignores the unusual features of conventional books. She discusses the surprising revelations found at the end of Sleator's House of Stairs as if we knew all about them from the beginning. She ignores unconventional books--Garner's Red Shift, O'Brien's Z for Zachariah--altogether. She focuses her attention exclusively on discussions of hero myths and quest motifs; in suggesting that it is these patterns that make SF therapeutic for young readers, she never explains why comic-book superheroes or Saturday morning TV cartoons aren't, as purer forms of these patterns than the books she discusses, even more beneficial for young people.

Antczak claims to base her idea that children's SF focuses centrally on the traditional hero's quest in Frye's theory of "displacement": she sees the robots and aliens of SF as displaced versions of the archetypal characters of mythology. But Frye does not identify "displaced" images as old archetypes in new forms; instead, he suggests that displacement is the process by which mythic patterns find expression in styles of writing more conducive to naturalistic prejudices about what is real-- writing that allows for more ironies and ambiguities. In a fine article called "Paradise Lost? The Displacement of Myth in Children's Novels" (Studies in the Literary Imagination, Fall 1985), Virginia Wolf argues that "children's novels displace myth much less than many adult novels": this is a necessary corrective to Antczak's blithe assumption that children respond to displaced myths more readily than undisplaced ones.

Wolf's article also points to what is wrong with Antczak's attempt to make children's SF important by representing it as uncritically and unambiguously expressive of archetypal myths. Not that Antczak is wrong about the values of much children's SF: for all its robots and aliens, it does share with the children's novels Wolf analyzes the tendency to describe a paradisal world in an uncritical way--and thus it tends to leave unconsidered the possible negative implications of conventional values. Children's literature is characteristically conservative; and that is why critics like Jacqueline Rose (The Case of Peter Pan: Or, The Impossibility of Children's Fiction [Macmillan 1984]) attack it as a repressive endeavor of adults trying to impose conventionally acceptable ideas of childhood on children.

But while Antczak may be correct in reading children's SF in that way, it is astonishing, in the light both of other SF and of other readings of SF, that she should accept what she has discovered in such a blithely unreflective way. For as Antczak describes it, children's SF sounds quite different from other SF; there is no estrangement here, no imagining of truly new possibilities--only old archetypes and worse, old and often repressive values, in new disguises.

To be uncritical of that--to even see it as a special strength of children's SF--is to encourage the use of literature in the repression and conventionalizing of children. As a parent and an educator, I find such unexamined approval of societal norms unacceptable. Furthermore, and more important, I believe it misrepresents children's SF. These novels do often indulge in conventional plots and patterns, but they are indeed SF, they do act to estrange and to liberate; they are not mythology, not an expression of conventional societal values, exactly to the extent that their images are innovative and that young people read them to experience different possibilities.

In finding such conventional explanations for the liberating oddities of children's SF, Antczak not only focuses on exactly what is least interesting and least worthy of comment, but also ignores what really matters to young readers--and therefore what really ought to matter to adult scholars. If children's SF offers conventional ideas and archetypes, then surely our major responsibility is to discuss how it can both do that and be SF at the same time. If children's SF is truly "the mythos of a new romance," then Antczak's major mistake is to dismiss what is new about it, and to read it as just a retreading of the old romance.

--Perry Nodelman University of Winnipeg

Flotsam from the Moon Pool

Sam Moskowitz, ed. A. Merritt: Reflections in the Moon Pool. Philadelphia: Oswald Train (PO Box 1891/PA 19105), 1985. 399pp. $20.00

A. Merritt is not as widely read and loved today as his supporters think he is, but he remains an important historical figure if only because he took a certain type of pulp fiction about as far as it could go. He was in many ways the quintessential Munsey writer, perhaps the best of them, and one might argue that his florid style, powerful images, and unrestrained plots helped to keep alive a tradition of popular fantasy at a time when the bulk of popular fantastic literature in America was veering off in the directions of SF and supernatural horror. On the one hand, his fantasies of wish fulfillment--far more blatantly sexual than those of his near-rival E.R. Burroughs--made him the John Norman of his day; on the other, there is an undeniable imaginative power in his work that can still work magic. Lord help us if Steven Spielberg finds these books.

Sam Moskowitz, who has always treated early SF as his personal used-car lot, has here assembled a collection of minor stories, essays, fragments, poems, and letters--prefaced by a lengthy biographical essay by Moskowitz himself--which seems designed to do for Merritt what such early collections as Something About Cats did for H.P. Lovecraft. The book is primarily for devotees and collectors, although there is much in it that scholars interested in Merritt or the Munsey magazines will find provocative and useful. It is not by any means an introduction to Merritt or a reasonable critical treatment of his work. In the first place, as Moskowitz acknowledges, the Merritt works represented here are quite minor and of little intrinsic interest; in the second, Moskowitz's biographical essay, which ought to be the most valuable part of the book, is plagued by the maddening obtuseness and obsessive trivia-hunting that have unfortunately become his trademarks.

Moskowitz's methods are all too familiar by now; he industriously gathers information that no one else has, assembles it without the slightest sense of priorities, and then babbles to us, often on the verge of incoherence, about the magnificence of his achievement and the immortality of his subject. The man is a syntactical terrorist ("They epitomize the unknown, the mysterious, and exude power" IP. 54]), and he seems determined to make use of every last notecard (Merritt's assistant editor at Hearst had "a good head of hair" [p. 124]). He is relentlessly naive: when he reports that Merritt--who viewed his own work as escapist--responded to the question of what he was escaping from with the remark that it was Morrill Goddard (his intimidating senior editor at Hearst), Moskowitz can only assume that this was entirely a joke, since "Goddard supplied the money that bought him the fine home, chauffeured limousine, and maid" (p. 55). He is willing to go to absurd lengths to work himself into the narrative: a frozen food magazine on which Moskowitz worked once published the largest issue (540pp.) of any magazine until that time, we are told, and the excuse for telling us this is that the business manager of the magazine Merritt worked on once offered to buy it. Such pointless details abound: Merritt and Goddard "had yellow pads and they would swing around in their swivel chairs and write notes to one another" (p. 33). Merritt's maid prepared a dish called Matzoh Brei, so we are told how to prepare it. And on and on.

Many readers, faced with such obstacles, might dismiss this book too peremptorily. For all his faults, Moskowitz remains our best exemplar of the passion and devotion of the fan-scholar. If Merritt is worth reading at all--and I think he is--then it is worth asking why Moskowitz is the only one doing this work, and worth admitting that what he is doing is valuable. This volume includes the most complete accounts we are likely to have of the early trips to Mexico and Central America (prompted, apparently, by a need to avoid testifying about some undisclosed political scandal) which provoked Merritt's interest in archaeology; of Merritt's own view of his work as essentially SF; of his intriguing but undeveloped ideas of mathematics as a model for precision of style. We get glimpses of the sometimes appalling sexual attitudes which underlie Merritt's fiction--such as his opinion, recorded by Hannes Bok, that C.L. Moore "will never write once she's had a man" and that Merritt would have liked to collaborate with her "if she hasn't yet lost her virtue" (p. 146). We also can draw some inferences from the minor works reprinted here, which include a rather ugly poem about the "yellow hordes" and a sophomoric attempt at soft-core pornography, as well as some useful comments, culled from fanzines, about his major stories. (The biographical and autobiographical sketches culled from the fanzines, however, should be treated with caution, since they are not only inconsistent among themselves but often smack of puffery and wishful thinking.)

As the definitive primary source on Merritt, Reflections in the Moon Pool achieves its objective, however clunkily. It may not win new converts, but it will have to be consulted by anyone doing work in this area in the future, and may even be of value to historians of journalism interested in the daily workings of Hearst's immensely popular American Weekly. Furthermore, like many such devotional works, A. Merritt is a handsomely bound volume, complete with a selection of photographs and a Stephen Fabian dust jacket that could bring back Theda Bara. Also like many such volumes, it lacks either primary or secondary bibliographies-- although the bibliographical history of Merritt's stories, together with some limited documentation, can be teased out of Moskowitz's prose if one works at it.

- -Gary K. Wolfe Roosevelt University

Canopus in Limbo

Mona Knapp. Doris Lessing. ["Literature and Life" Series.] NY: Frederick Ungar, 1984 [1985]. xviii + 210pp. $15.50 (cloth); $9.95 (paper)

Mona Knapp's comprehensive study deals with all of Lessing up to 1983: her short fiction, her (little known) plays and poems, and her various works of non-fiction, as well as the novels on which her fame rests. (Her four most recent titles--the sixth volume in the Canopus series and three new realistic novels--were published too late for Knapp to take them into consideration.) Knapp argues that in Lessing's work personal development is always propelled and determined by the greater social framework, and she shows Lessing's characters trying out a succession of what invariably turn out to be inadequate solutions to the problems posed for the individual by society.

The early Doris Lessing, who largely wrote realistic fiction, from The Grass is Singing (1950) and Martha Quest (1952) to The Golden Notebook (1962), was the darling of the Left and of feminists. Martha Quest, for example, moves from home to marriage and motherhood, and thence to Communist activism. But in The Four-Gated City (1969), the fifth and last novel in the Children of Violence series, Martha renounces direct action; and Lessing has since moved further away from engagement, first with her "inner"' and then with her "outer" "space fiction" (though she continues to explore the relations between individuals and the various societies they inhabit). The "outer space fiction"--the six volumes of Canopus in Argos: Archives that have appeared to date--has mystified and dismayed some fans of the early Lessing, and at the same time it has attracted new readers who never particularly liked the realistic early work.

Knapp is in the same position as most earlier commentators in having originally been drawn to the engagée realist of the 1950s and early 1960s. She does her best to be fair to Lessing's more recent work, but she is not able entirely to disguise her dismay at the fatalism she finds in it. (This is hardly surprising, of course; and Lessing has drawn plenty of criticism from various quarters for what is often seen as her betrayal of the progressive social views she espoused during the 1950s and most of the '60s.) Martha Quest's rejection of direct political action in The Four-Gated City in favor of "madness and mutation" (as Nancy Porter describes it) prompts Knapp to charge Lessing with copping out; and while Knapp restrains herself from repeating the complaint apropos of the breakdown of Western civilization in Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) and the pervasive pessimism of Canopus, she is unable to muster much enthusiasm for these recent books. An apocalyptic trial of the white race described in Shikasta (1979) "fizzles out," she tells us, "with the insight that man's inhumanity to man is universal, a laconic outcome typical of these novels' shoulder-shrugging indifference to political issues" (p. 138).

Knapp concentrates on describing the "outer space fiction" as matter-of-factly as she can, as if reluctant to make the kind of judgments about the works falling under that heading that liven up her discussions of the realistic works. A more serious, and certainly related, problem with her discussions of the Canopus titles is that Knapp is ill at ease with these novels' genre. Early in the chapter devoted to them, she considers the question "why this virtuoso of down-to-earth realism should turn to the fantastic at all." Among the explanations she offers is the view that Lessing finds realism "too political to accommodate her increasingly apolitical viewpoint." Like many ex-Communists of her generation, Knapp goes on, Lessing "no longer believes in literature as a consciousness-raising tool": "Utopian fiction, in contrast [sic], has two advantages. While on the one hand it provides escape from an altogether imperfect reality, it furnishes on the other hand a detached and often impartial perspective for scrutinizing the human condition" (p. 131).

Several of these notions are at best questionable, and Knapp's use of terms like "space fiction," "science fiction," "utopian fiction," and "fantasy" as though they were synonymous--and largely meaningless--is breathtaking. Nor do her attempts to deal with them as something other than alternative names for the same rose accomplish anything beyond raising thorny issues. She argues, for instance (in a footnote) that "strictly speaking, the Canopus novels can most accurately be called 'space fiction' or utopian novels rather than science fiction, which deals with the effect of actual science on human beings" (p. 193; italics in the original). "Mystical elements such as reincarnation and telepathy," she continues, "go beyond the boundaries of the scientifically possible." The impression that Knapp is badly out of her depth in this discussion is confirmed when she describes the first Canopus volume, Shikasta, which covers several thousands of years in its first 100 pages, as having a "complete disregard for literary precedent" (p. 133).

Knapp's background is in modern German literature (her book is sprinkled with references to German writers, to whom she compares aspects of Lessing's work); and she writes about the early, realistic Lessing and even about the "inner space fiction" with energy and insight from a feminist and progressive viewpoint. Her comments on Lessing's "outer space fiction," however, are not nearly as valuable, thanks to her evident uneasiness not only with the shoulder-shrugging and the pessimism she discerns in them, but also--and more crucially--with their genre. Had she understood more about SF, she would not necessarily have liked the Canopus novels better, but she might well have had more perceptive observations to make about them.

--Linda Leith John Abbott College

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