Science Fiction Studies

#40 = Volume 13, Part 3 = November 1986


Lem's Complexity: Chance and Order

Jerzy Jarzebski. Zufall und Ordnung: Zum Werk Stanislaw Lems, trans. Friedrick Griese [from Przypadek i Lad. O tworozosci Stanislawa Lema.] Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1986. ["Suhrkamp Paperback No. 1290."] 219pp. DM 12.00.

This is the sixth book on Stanislaw Lem to be published in West Germany, if one includes the huge book of discussions with Lem conducted by Stanislaw Beres of the University of Wroclaw: Lem über Lem. Gespräche (Frankfurt/Main: Insel Verlag, 1986). Like that book and Lem's most recent work, Jarzebski's study shares the distinction of having been published first in German, although written in Polish and scheduled also to be published by Wydawnictwo Literackie in Cracow. This fact has no political significance; it reflects only the inefficiency and problems of Polish publishing houses. The book was, however, commissioned by the German publisher and probably would not exist without this initiative. Jarzebski's book is also the third monograph on Lem in Poland (following Ewa Balczerzak's study of 1973 and Andrzej Stoff's published doctoral thesis, 1983) and the first full-length study in German. Earlier German books have been mostly collections of essays on Lem: Werner Berthel's compilation, Insel Almanach auf das Jahr 1976; Stanislaw Lem. Der dialektische Weise aus Kraków, Werk und Wirkung (Frankfurt/Main: Insel Verlag, 1976); with partly the same contents and by the same editor: Uber Stanislaw Lem (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1981); and Florian F. Marzin's anthology, Stanislaw Lem: An den Grenzen der Science Fiction und darüber hinaus (Meitingen: CorianVerlag Heinrich Wimmer, 1986). The fifth volume that I am referring to is a report on a 1981 workshop with Lem held in connection with the interdisciplinary Project INSTRAT at the Free University of Berlin: Informations und Kommunikationsstrakruren der Zukunft, ed. Ralf-Dirk Hennings, Wolfgang Muller, Gerhard Vowe, and Gernot Wersig (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1983).

Jerzy Jarzebski is a younger Polish scholar who has published on Witold Gombrowicz, Bruno Schulz, and Czeslaw Milosz; he is not familiar with SF. This proved to be an advantage for his book; for an alert intelligence, an analytical mind, and a sound education are more valuable in interpreting Lem than the knowledge of countless unreadable SF "classics," old or modern. He sees Lem in the cultural context of modern literature, especially Polish literature, for which Lem is an outsider; and indeed, Lem made his reputation first abroad, and it is there that Lem is discussed most.

Jarzebski's book consists of three main sections: a short introduction about "Lem the Writer," which offers a short profile of his life and career; the longest part, "Lem's Worlds," which discusses his books in a mostly chronological order with a few deviations from it suggested by structural similarities; and the final short section of about 30 pages, attempting a synthesis of Lem's ideas, grouped into chapters headed "Space and Time," "Characters," "Chance," and "Technology." This search for general conclusions and a common denominator in Lem's work is the weakest section of the book. But the other parts are very good indeed (much more so than merely popular introductions to Lem's cosmos of ideas, themes, philosophy, and writing modes), and they probe deeply.

Lem's biography is not eventful and certainly not colorful. Without the brief but formative influence of the Second World War, nothing extraordinary would have happened at all in his life. Lem belongs to a generation of writers called in Poland the "Columbus Generation" (after Roman Bratny's novel), signifying people who experienced World War II as very young people, then developed an enthusiasm for Communism and its promise of a brighter and liberating future, went through the motions of socialist realism, and then broke with Stalinism, writing debunking works often with a strong autobiographical element. Lem differed from them in that he believed more in science than in the collected works of Marxism, and conformed for a time to Marxism only insofar as it promised a better future and the scientific guidance of life. In books like The Astronauts and The Magellan Nebula (which he now intensely dislikes), Lem portrays a conflictless utopian future that he denounces now as naively optimistic. Jarzebski makes a strong point, however, for the belief that the seeds of Lem's later, more complex SF are to be found not so much in his early two SF novels, but rather in the philosophical discussions included in his very first novel, The Hospital of Transfiguration. In that work, Lem comes to grips with his experience of the German occupation of Poland. The individual staff members of a hospital for the mentally ill are already seen here against a vast cosmic background, engaged in a search for meaning in an absurd world.

Jarzebski's book has perhaps one major limitation: it is restricted to a discussion of Lem's fiction; the non-fiction is mentioned and quoted only insofar as it sheds light on the fiction. Jarzebski takes this approach even though he recognizes very well that Lem the essayist and philosopher is motivated by the same problems as the writer of fiction, only that the perspective and stance are somewhat different, and that Lem takes much greater liberties in his imaginative works (where he is often likely to play the role of advocatus diaboli) than in his "serious" speculations. It is typical for Lem to see the same problems from many different sides, as if he were trying to find the vantage point from which to get the best view; or even, believing there is no one "best" view, that only the sum of all views can give a full picture of the problem. Thus sometimes a thing is seen from the perspective of a struggling, suffering, and heroic character (as in Solaris and "The Mask"), and sometimes from the viewpoint of a superior observer who laughs at the problems or treats them with scorn (as in The Star Diaries and "Golem XIV").

Central in Lem's fiction, according to Jarzebski, is his concept of play. "The cognitive play that Lem has constructed for himself requires that he become everything at the same time: the piece on the chessboard, the player who moves the pieces, and the theoretician and even the historian of chess," claims Jarzebski.

Jarzebski's interpretations of individual works are of varying depth and originality. In general, I have the feeling that his inter-analyses of the more "literary" stylizations, the parodies and fictions embodying the heroic attempt at cognition in an absurd world, are better than those of the less accessible and more philosophical works like His Master's Voice or "Golem XIV" (in Imaginary Magnitude). Particularly good are his interpretations of The Star Diaries, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, and the inexhaustible possibilities of "The Mask." Memoirs, for instance, is a "concept of the cosmos and at the same time an allegory of the life of the individual under various aspects (of cognition, the striving for values, service to society and the state, individual self-realization, etc.)." In Memoirs there exists no authenticity, for every human action is already foreseen and contained in it (although the mechanism of the world-building is randomness). Other stories present exactly the opposite, worlds where everything is planned (as in the mock-review "Being, Inc.").

For Jarzebski, Lem's writings can only be understood in terms of irreducible antinomies that structure all of his work and thought, such as the "chance" and "order" that gave Jarzebski's book its title (and it is surely no accident that the editors of The New Yorker independently selected the same title for Lem's autobiographical account). Lem's work is a titanic effort to strike a precarious, ever shifting (in the light of new knowledge) balance between "chance" and "order." Lem's keen interest extends to all sorts of order, all attempts of the human spirit to master the world and hold back chaos: language, genetics, cybernetics, codes (both biological and linguistic), religion, cultural norms (but not myths), the interfaces of biology and mechanics, creation in all its forms, most particularly creation as a way of cognition, including self-cognition (e.g., his series of limited gods, perhaps all-powerful with regard to their creations, but just as unsure about their own ends and goals and the meaning of existence as their creations). Jarzebski succeeds in showing the complexity of Lem's views and work, work which does not attempt to give any final answers but tends to reproduce the processes of cognition and axiological creation so as to allow the reader, as Jarzebski puts it, to partake in the adventure of cognition.

Jarzebski's book is hardly the last word on Lem, discussion of whose work has barely begun. But it is undoubtedly the best book on Lem so far. It is a valiant, well written, and often elegant study. Much more than a mere introduction, it is a book that no future Lem scholar can ignore.

Franz Rottensteiner Vienna, Austria

 Alchemy and Science in Frankenstein

Samuel Holmes Vasbinder. Scientific Attitudes in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. [Studies in Speculative Fiction, No. 8.] Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984. 111pp. $24.95

It is rarely a good idea to publish even a superior dissertation in unrevised form, let alone, as in this case, a poor one. But, Samuel Vasbinder might object, he did make revisions--he dropped the dissertation subtitle ("Newtonian Monism as a Basis for the Novel"), slightly changed four of his chapter titles, and added one 1983 item to his Bibliography. Unfortunately, however, Vasbinder seems not to have made any of the substantive changes that were necessary: I counted ten or more statements that were true when the dissertation was accepted in 1976 but untrue in 1984 when the book was published. For example: "The criticism presented in this chapter ["Mary Shelley and the Critical Tradition"] is the most complete list of articles and books written about Frankenstein to date" (p. 85) ("to date" here is not true of 1984); Richard Garnett's edition of Mary Shelley's Tales and Stories "remains the only complete collection of her short works in existence" (pp. 8-9) (it was superseded in 1976 by Charles Robinson's Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories); and there are several references to Martin Tropp's "unpublished dissertation" (pp. 25, 88, 107) on Frankenstein (it was published in 1976). The most recent work discussed in Vasbinder's survey of the "Critical Tradition" appeared in 1975.

At least one statement is inaccurate now and was inaccurate in 1976: "[in] the working manuscript of the novel...there are no cancelled passages that elaborate on the features of the artificial man" (p. 37). In fact, in the manuscript "handsome" features are changed to "beautiful" ones, "dun skin" is changed to "yellow skin," and "his hair was flowing" is expanded to "his hair was of a lustrous black and flowing."

Two post-1976, pre-1984 publications that bear directly on Vasbinder's subject matter should have been taken account of in a revised text. In "Frankenstein and the Alchemy of Creation and Evolution" (Studies in Romanticism, Spring 1977), Irving H. Buchen shows how Frankenstein attempts to wed the transcendent vision of alchemy to the methodology of science. In a little-known biography, The Man Who Was Frankenstein (London: Frederick Mullen Ltd., 1979), Peter Haining proves that the lecture on electricity that Mary Shelley, in her journal, mentions hearing on Wednesday, 28 December 1814, at Garnerin's lecture hall was given by a (subsequently notorious) scientist named Andrew Crosse, and argues that this event played its part in the inspiration of Frankenstein.

The meat of Vasbinder's book is in chapters 5 and 6 ("Ceremonial Magic and Alchemy" and "Use of the New Science in Frankenstein")-- some 30 pages out of a total of 84 pages of text. An informative article might have been salvaged from these chapters. The remaining five chapters contain little that is not already well known or otherwise repetitious, served up in at best plodding and often awkward prose. The changed title of chapter 4 ("The Literature on Artificial Humans Prior to 1818") is actually misleading since its main topic is Mary Shelley's reliance on sensationalist psychology in detailing the monster's emerging consciousness. The dissertation chapter title, "Mary Shelley's Artificial Man and Its Place in the Literature on Artificial Humans Prior to 1818," allows more clearly for this emphasis. Among the advantages of cutting chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 would be the disappearance of the following kind of irrelevant footnote information: "Mr. Nelson is author of The Baroque Lyric and teaches comparative literature at the University of California at Los Angeles. The Yale Review offers an intellectual potpourri on a diverse number of matters" (p. 87). This and similar material in ten other footnotes to the "Critical Tradition" chapter should, of course, have been cut anyway.

I have no quarrel with the unstartling case that Vasbinder makes for Mary Shelley's general knowledge of "the monistic, Newtonian science of Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, and Sir Humphry Davy" (p. 2); but his general conclusion that the scientific aspects of Frankenstein outweigh the ceremonial magic (or necromantic) and alchemical elements strikes me (and has struck others, including the aforementioned Irving H. Buchen) as the precise reverse of the truth. At issue here is the generic placement of Frankenstein. Vasbinder is more cautious than Brian Aldiss, who fingers Frankenstein (in Billion Year Spree) as the first genuine work of SF; but Vasbinder does wish to situate the novel, on the basis of its supposed scientific emphasis, "well within the tradition of speculative fiction," a "term more comprehensive" (p. 2) than "science fiction." Vasbinder's hedged betting here is well-nigh meaningless since the term "speculative fiction" is so loose that a work so classified need contain little or no science. Although the monster is apparently animated by scientific means, Vasbinder fails to observe that the "science" involved is treated by Mary Shelley in a metaphoric manner that owes more to the necromantic and alchemical studies that Frankenstein supposedly foregoes than to any of the Newtonian sciences that he supposedly embraces.

At fault here is Vasbinder's failure to pay attention to the subtle artistry of the novel. The imagistic use of magnetism and electricity, which is what the scientific in Frankenstein boils down to, betokens a sublime realm of alchemical transcendence, in effect. Like other oppositions in Frankenstein, that between alchemy and science becomes equivocal. Finally, in stressing the only two "overt references to alchemy in the entire novel" (p. 60), Vasbinder overlooks the extent to which Frankenstein is permeated by the symbolic language of alchemy. Hence all the following textual motifs: the night, the Moon, the sea voyage, the infernal descent (the monster is created from the infernal parts of the Earth), the hermaphrodite (see William Patrick Day's In the Circles of Fear and Desire: A Study of Gothic Fantasy [Chicago UP, 1985] and William Veeder's Mary Shelley & Frankenstein: The Fate of the Androgyne [Chicago UP, 1986]), and the union with the mother (see Marc A. Rubenstein's 1976 Studies in Romanticism article, " 'My Accursed Origin': The Search for the Mother in Frankenstein").

David Ketterer Concordia University

American Technological Utopianism

Howard P. Segal. Technological Utopianism in American Culture. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1985. x + 301pp. $14.95 (paper).

The relation of SF to science, of utopias to technology, has long been the subject of unduly large generalizations, so it is welcome to see a study that considers with historical specificity a single set of utopias--25 of them, valorizing technological change and written in America between 1883 and 1933. These Segal places in relation to transformations in ideology, technology itself, and the social institutions of this period, as well as within the larger context of attitudes toward technology particular to American culture.

Of these "American Visions of Technological Utopia," the best-known is Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888). Others include Chauncey Thomas's The Crystal Button (1891), Henry Olerich's A Cityless and Countryless World (1893), King Camp Gillette's The Human Drift (1894), and Edgar Chambless's Roadtown (1910). In these works, as Segal notes (and Bellamy's Boston is here exemplary), technology is "domesticated" through the creation of a megalopolis in which agriculture is incorporated into the industrial city to create an "industrialized garden" (p. 24) and technology absorbed into the household to destroy the separation between the spheres of work and home.

Within these integrated systems, according to Segal, "the ethos of technology shapes the values" of the citizens (p. 27) into a worship of "efficiency" manifested in a pervasive self-control in public order, in family life, and even in sexuality. Here, however, Segal too readily accepts the ideology of his utopians, for technology does not possess any inherent "ethos" that determines social "values." Rather, there is a complex interaction at any specific historical moment between technological possibility and ideology. As Segal points out in his valuable chapter on the lives of these utopians, they were not dreamers but well-educated Protestant males with some technological knowledge, what we would now call members of the Establishment. And thus their utopian vision of technological change, combined with social discipline and the repression of unproductive emotion, is connected to the dominant ideology of corporatism and the shift to large-scale industry at the turn of the century rather than to an ethos inherent in technology. Indeed, it was the dominance of bourgeois values in Looking Backward that stimulated William Morris to write his alternative utopia, News from Nowhere (1891).

Segal's concern throughout is less with the specific texts than with their place within the strain of "technological utopianism" within American culture. The great value of his book for critics of SF lies with its account of the cultural issues inscribed in American SF of the late 19th century and early 20th rather than with analysis of specific works. Segal quite correctly notes that from its beginnings, American thought was characterized by the desire for positive accommodation to the machine rather than the opposition characteristic of the literary culture of England. This leads Segal to conclude with a call for a continuation in our own time of this American utopian tradition, with its recognition that what he terms an "appropriate" technology is compatible with the ideal life.

Herbert Sussman Northeastern University

The Origin of (the) Specious

Helen N. Parker. Biological Themes in Modern Science Fiction. Ann Arbor, Ml: UMI Research Press, 1984. 109pp. $27.95.

The time is certainly ripe for someone to write a critical study of SF based in the biological rather than in the physical sciences. After all, the last 20 years have seen a revolution in the biological sciences. In the 19th century, biological thought was completely reoriented around Darwinian evolutionary theory. In the mid-20th century the Synthetic Theory finally reconciled evolutionary theory with Mendelian genetics. Since then, an exponential explosion of research, especially at the molecular level, has produced a body of fact and theory that has brought us to the brink of a complete understanding of the nature of biological identity, its developmental expression, and its phylogenetic change. The practical consequences of this revolution are far-reaching and profound. Already, for example, the ability to modify molecular identity is (especially via biotechnology) changing the face of medicine and agriculture, enabling biologically active substances to be individually designed and then mass produced, and providing new methods of pollution control. It will soon be possible to correct errors in the information content of an individual (inborn genetic errors), to repair breakdowns in the flow of this information through the individual (cancers and auto-immune diseases), and to strengthen an individual's chemical ability to tell self from non-self to the extent that viral, bacterial, and parasitic diseases will become a thing of the past. When the processes of development, repair, and regeneration are fully understood, can immortality be far behind? Further insights may be just over the horizon. With an understanding of the emergent properties associated with various hierarchical levels of biological organization will come insight, for example, into the workings of nervous systems and the relationship between their structure and the phenomena of memory and intelligence, into the ecological interactions of communities of organisms, and into the dialogue in time between a total biosphere of living things and a chunk of rock orbiting around a sun in space.

All of this is exciting stuff, and even at the basic sense-of-wonder or linear extrapolation-to-the-future levels, there are many interesting stories that can be written. But more than this, contemporary biological theory provides relatively complete metaphors that can be used for the SF literary exploration of, for example, such basic oppositions as similarity/difference, change/ stasis, isolation/connectedness, progression/regression, and of the nature of identity at any level from the personal to that of a planetary ecology. At any of these levels, biological tropes provide a means of exploring effects resulting from both internal and external processes. Not being fools, SF authors have, of course, taken full advantage of this potential for story telling. Over the past 15 years or so, there has been a steadily growing body of SF drawing on the implications of contemporary biological science. There is great variety of theme and of style of execution among these works. What an opportunity, then, for the SF literary critic-naturalist to come to grips with this literary jungle: to catalogue its species and to examine their structure and function, to discover the sources of their sustenance, to determine their ancestry, and to note their differences, as a community, from the other literary forests of the SF planet.

It was therefore with considerable interest and expectation that I set about reading Helen N. Parker's work, which is the book form of her 1977 doctoral dissertation. The period covered is roughly from the late 19th century (Verne and Wells) to the 1970s; the most recent book discussed is Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976). Parker divides biologically-based SF (BSF) into four categories: evolutionary SF, genetic SF, the SF of manipulation, and the Biological Parable. While these categories, especially the last, could be stretched to encompass just about anything written in the line of BSF, Parker in fact restricts her coverage to future human evolution (one chapter), limited aspects of playing around with human genes and/or embryos (two chapters), and a quick look at aliens and at humans who have continued their evolution on planets other than ours (one chapter). Two introductory chapters and a concluding chapter round out the book. Parker's approach is thus severely limited in scope, but what about its depth? Here is Parker's major conclusion concerning BSF: "The central issue in these works, as in all science fiction, is the inevitability of change and man's ability to adapt to that change" (p. 79). This conclusion not only fails to find distinctive features in BSF; it is a statement that could be made about just about any work of fiction, SF or not. So, there is little profundity here--there isn't even gender-free locution: people are invariably men in Parker's book. This is a trifle peculiar, considering the book's subject matter and the sex of its author. It is hardly surprising, then, that the BSF literature on the biological basis of human gender differences (not inconsiderable, even in pre-1977 times) also falls outside Parker's chosen bailiwick.

In fact, a book like this could be organized conveniently around the concept of change, providing that specifically biological aspects of change are identified and the advantages each holds for the SF writer are investigated. However, concerning evolutionary SF, this is the best Parker can do: "The negative tone of many of these works, their questioning attitude about man's evolutionary future, centers, then, in the vital relationship between man's evolutionary progress and his ability to adapt to changes occurring in and around him" (p. 34). What, if anything, does this mean? For a start, the vital relationship is tautologous: adaptive tracking of environmental change is evolutionary change. Moreover, Parker's offhand use of the word progress, here and in other parts of the book, implies that she is unaware of the significance the concept of progress has had in the history of evolutionary thought. Although, for almost all evolutionary theorists, evolutionary change--even in the human species--is now seen as being value-free, ideas of progressive evolution were a hot subject for the Social Darwinists and eugenicists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They have surfaced again more recently among neo-conservative philosophers. If indeed BSF authors have selected ideas concerning progressive evolution to write about, rather than any other aspect of evolutionary theory, then this is a significant fact that needs pursuing in any or all of several directions. Parker refrains from doing this. She identifies a negative attitude towards evolutionary progress in BSF authors but, again, does not follow this up in anything but a totally superficial way. The very identification itself is suspect. It is based on a consideration of only five works of evolutionary SF that, we are told, "represent particularly well the varied narrative and thematic approaches to the concept of evolution into higher human form" (p. 17); but we are not shown that they are representative. A sample size of five is perilously small, and one needs more than the author's word for it that it is representative. In fact, only 43 works, by 29 authors are considered, as primary sources, in the whole book: few of these receive more than a cursory examination.

The major investigative chapters all follow the same plan. A topic is introduced; a work is selected; its plot is summarized; its style is briefly considered; its basic ideas are briefly stated; some conclusions are drawn; another work is selected and the process is repeated. Sometimes something like an insight breaks through. Parker's discussion of Robert Silverberg's style in Son of Man (1971) is effective. Nevertheless, in a book of this sort, I would have preferred learning about Silverberg's use of an evolutionary metaphor to tell a story about connectedness and completion to being told how he uses writing technique to engage his reader's attention. In other places, the stylistic analysis is presented as if it is something that has, for some reason, to be ploughed through, whether or not it is relevant to the issues at hand. Some of the works also seem to have been chosen for examination with no particular point in view. For example, Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves ( 1972) is given (by the rest of the book's standards) an extended examination, little of which bears on Asimov's (exo)biological theme. If the only major conclusion reached is that "Asimov has buried his captivating alien creatures in an uncharacteristically mediocre fictional effort" (p. 70), then surely some other book should have been chosen for examination in the first place.

The general discussion chapters of the book also keep sliding away from making any specific points. In the concluding chapter, the discussion moves from a mostly reiterative consideration of BSF to an unnecessary and pedestrian discussion of SF as a whole, where, among other familiar refrains, we are told: "...both its subject matter and the forward-looking, extrapolative approach to that subject matter distinguish science fiction as a literary, as well as a popular phenomenon" (p. 81).

I agree wholeheartedly with Parker's general idea about BSF: "As representative of the genre, it offers a chronological and thematic scope difficult to obtain elsewhere in science fiction" (p. 85). Unfortunately, though, hers is not the book that effectively investigates that scope. Interest and expectation are not rewarded. For an indication of what can be done, even at a superficial level, in terms of investigating a particular type of BSF, I would recommend Norman Spinrad's column in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 10, no. 5 (May 1986):180-90.

Michael D. Rose New Jersey Medical School

A Step in the Right Direction

Rosemarie Arbur. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1985. 138pp. $6.95 (paper).

This pioneering study of Marion Zimmer Bradley's fiction has much to recommend it. Rosemarie Arbur takes the conception of writing a "reader's guide" seriously, and provides a good deal of interesting biographical information about Bradley's life and career. Arbur also offers a chapter describing the nature of the Darkover setting, central to much of Bradley's work, and the appendices and bibliography are generally useful. For instance, one appendix provides a map of Darkover which should be helpful to those reading their way through the sequence of Darkover novels (which Arbur contends, not very convincingly, is not a "series"). Another appendix offers suggestions about pronunciations of the language of Darkover; in general, aficionados of this saga should be pleased with such work.

The bibliographical material is generally well presented also. One section of the bibliography presents terse but perceptive summaries of the Darkover novels, along with occasional shrewd comments on them. Another appendix presents information on forthcoming or projected works by Bradley, only two of which have been published as of this writing. Clearly, Arbur has made effective use of information from Marion Zimmer Bradley in the preparation of this book. As a result, her skills as a bibliographer--already apparent in her earlier bibliography of Leigh Brackett, Bradley, and Anne McCaffrey--are admirably displayed here.

Since not much serious critical attention has been given to Bradley's fantasy and SF--a rather surprising situation, perhaps, in contrast to the considerable amount of work on Ursula Le Guin--Arbur's small book opens up some largely unexplored territory. As an exercise of literary criticism, however, Arbur's Starmont Guide displays some obvious weaknesses as well as strengths. Arbur presents a helpful overview of Bradley's career, and her biographical sketch shows how Bradley has grown from a struggling apprentice into an assured professional, how she finally matured into a major figure in SF and fantasy with such works as The House Between the Worlds (1980) and The Mists of Avalon (1983). Arbur also provides information on Bradley's uneasy relationship with feminists within the SF community; for the bitter reaction, perhaps unwarranted, caused by Darkover Landfall (1972) apparently influenced Bradley to correct some impressions about her attitudes through the plot and themes embodied in The Shattered Chain (1976). Even so, Arbur does not attempt to analyze very thoroughly the underlying reasons why a writer like Bradley, though attracted to romantic mother-goddess mythology, might still be unconcerned with the ideological interests of some contemporary feminists. (It may be risky to say this, but I think the conflict between Bradley and more politically engaged feminists is a deeper one, on the imaginative level, than Arbur concedes.)

In actual fact, Arbur seems to be somewhat inexperienced as a practical critic. Despite much attention to the Darkover series, she does not present analytical assessments of the individual works in the saga, and her chapter on "Theme and Technique in the Science Fiction" is the most disappointing in her monograph. She attempts to defend Bradley against charges of inconsistency by resorting to critical theory about authorial personae--theory (derived from Wayne Booth) that makes an elementary distinction between Bradley and her fictive narrators. But this is a transparent ploy: it might have been better to look more closely at Bradley's growth as a mind and an artist. Even worse, Arbur sometimes stops to lecture the reader on what seems to be the obvious. Her tone becomes quite impeccably pedagogical when she warns us about the dangers of naive Freudianism, or explains a little unnecessarily why dogs, as the "descendants of domesticated wolves," may have a compulsion to bark at the Moon.

When she turns to Bradley's fantasy novels in the final chapter, Arbur becomes a somewhat better critic, perhaps because she obviously thinks highly of The Mists of Avalon. Even when her judgments sometimes sound rather impressionistic--as when she describes one weakness of the Atlantis novels (Web of Light and Web of Darkness [both 1983]) as a failure to make their theme "magnificent"--such assessments still seem to be rather reliable. Her discussion of The Mists of Avalon defines some illuminating parallels with The Lord of the Rings and makes some perceptive remarks about Bradley's characterizations. But Arbur needs a stronger theoretical basis for approaching epic fantasy: her discussion depends too much on comments gleaned from Coleridge's familiar distinction between the fancy and the creative imagination.

Although this Starmont volume does not provide a critical assessment of Bradley's contribution to SF in the Darkover books, and although it fails to describe the relationship between The Mists of Avalon and other major Arthurian fantasies, it may be unfair to expect such evaluations at this point. On the whole, Arbur's work is a positive contribution, containing much that is valuable. Her study of Bradley is presented in a lively style--her occasional lapses into a pedagogical tone notwithstanding--and its scholarship is solid. In short, the book ably fulfills its description as a "reader's guide," and it should prove quite helpful to future critics--including perhaps Arbur herself--who undertake the task of assessing Bradley's fiction by a more rigorous analytical approach. At any rate, Arbur is successful in making a case that Bradley deserves serious critical attention.

Edgar L. Chapman Bradley University

Viewing Science Fiction from Down Under

Jenny Blackford, Norman Talbot, et al., eds. Contrary Modes: Proceedings of the World Science Fiction Conference, Melbourne, Australia, 1985. Melbourne: Ebony Books, 1985. ii + 156pp. US$6.00 (paper; add $5.00 for air mail).

The academic track of Aussiecon II provided an alternative to the more popular author-panels at the convention, and the often lively talks which took place in the academic lounge are faithfully reproduced in this volume. However, the collection has a central flaw which is highlighted by co-editor Norman Talbot in his somewhat apologetic introduction: "the contributors have not been forced to follow a common format of approach, presentation or conventions" (p. ii). One could add "quality" to this list, since what results from such a flexible editorial approach is an uneven anthology of diverse quality and style. The effect, in Talbot's words, is that "No one is going to like all of this" (ibid.).

The ten essays are loosely divided into three sections: the Monster as Hero, the Australian SF tradition, and Women and SF. Perhaps some of the more interesting essays in the volume occur in the first section. Certainly one of the best papers is Janeen Web's "The Monster as Hero," a well-documented essay which explores "the necessary the heart of heroic literature..." (p. 1). In a very readable style, Web discusses three main types of monster: the "imaginary animal," "malformed variants...of recognizable life forms," and the "person twisted" by wickedness, cruelty, etc. She makes detailed reference to such texts as John Gardner's Grendel, Stephen Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever and Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun. (Other writers whom she refers to include Joanna Russ, Angela Carter, and Douglas Adams.) Following hers are three essays which study specific examples of this theme, two focusing upon Aussiecon II's Guest of Honor, Gene Wolfe, and his The Book of the New Sun. The most comprehensive and interesting of these is Talbot's discussion of the audience and narrators in New Sun. (Wolfe himself was so interested in the talk that he arrived half an hour late at an author panel he was involved with.) "Lucinda Brayford's" essay on the same book is far more lightweight and is even incomplete (the remainder to be published elsewhere). Worth reading is Russell Blackford's examination of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, despite (what he confesses) his personal approach to the text.

The three essays concerning the Australian SF tradition display three very different approaches: George Turner's attempt at presenting an Australian perspective on SF represents little more than his own subjective views; he makes sweeping generalizations about national character, unsupported by any evidence, using a patronizing tone which assumes a naive and uneducated readership. Turner seems to consider himself as one of an elite who can distinguish between quality and pulp SF: "Appreciation of the best on both sides remains with the minority of readers with tastes sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate the difference between creative endeavour and traditional follow-my-leader" (p. 82). This sort of arrogance will do little, I suspect, to endear readers to his arguments. Van Ikin's analysis of Australian SF and its relationship to Australian mainstream is a more scholarly paper and, with some success, suggests "new co-ordinates to the chart" of Australian literature. It suffers, however, from its brevity and lack of enthusiasm; in the end, it only amounts to a series of prefatory speculations, anticipating the author's forthcoming collaboration with Russell Blackford on a critical history of Australian SF. John Baxter's analysis of structures in George Miller's Mad Max films, on the other hand, is a well-argued paper which highlights a number of themes common to Australian SF. It makes profitable use of the various drafts of Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior), including writers' comments, giving an insight into the process of the film's construction.

Among the essays in the Women in SF section, Bruce Wells's is the least useful. Surveying Hugo and Nebula award-winning novels, he comes to the conclusion that "male authors are (still) avoiding the female hero" (p. 151 -- something, I imagine, we all knew anyway. He concludes by questioning the logic of his selection of examples--an exercise which it would have been more appropriate for him to have engaged in before he wrote the paper. Diane Cook argues, uncontroversially, that there has always been a body of feminist SF and traces its development, while Judith Hanna deals with the problems female SF writers have both in getting published and with regard to the presentation of women in SF. Although she evocatively describes the feel of being a woman in a patriarchal society, and connects that matter to the social-ethical role of SF, her argument is marred by its conversational, or journalistic, style, which loses something in the translation from spoken to written medium. Furthermore, her central point--and this is true of Cook's too--has already been made elsewhere by other people (Joanna Russ, Pamela Sargent, Susan Wood, etc.) though it may well be worth making again, given the persistence of the problems that women have in regard both to publishing SF and to how they're presented in it.

On the whole, this anthology is not likely to add significantly to our knowledge of SF. It might have profited from a more discriminatory and cohesive editorial method, but its problems do not lie wholly with its editors.

All of the papers were written, presumably, with a view to encouraging audience discussion, and the result is that many seem to be leading somewhere but do not actually arrive. For that reason, Contrary Modes is disappointing, though not without some merit. At the least, it might serve as a memorandum for those who attended the Aussiecon II talks or as a record of them for those who could not.

Mark Leahy University of Adelaide

The Politics of Soviet Science Fiction

Patrick L. McGuire. Red Stars: Political Aspects of Soviet Science Fiction. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985. xvii+ 152pp. $24.95.

This study, number seven in the "Studies in Speculative Fiction" series, is a slight revision of a work first published in 1977; for all practical purposes, it maintains its original cut-off date of 1976. Aside from the above stricture, it is an intelligent overview within its own limits: Soviet SF from the view of a political scientist.

Few comments about the literary qualities of individual works are to be found here. An initial chapter provides tables of the dramatic fluctuations in the publication of new SF works in the USSR between 1923 and 1976, together with useful discussions of how they reflected official policy, especially during the tides of Stalinism. Later chapters are devoted to attitudes towards the communist future shown in various works at various times, including what themes seem to have been forbidden or ignored. At times, SF was restricted to showing only the immediate future or to describing the lives of fictional scientists. Occasionally protected as entertainment in technical journals or as a branch of children's literature, SF had considerable vicissitudes before 1967, the year of Sputnik and Ivan Yefremov's watershed Andromeda--as McGuire notes, the first Soviet utopia published since 1931. (McGuire's Introduction makes clear that he consulted with Yefremov and other Soviet writers, but their opinions are never cited in the body of the text.) Considerably more new SF became available during the following nine years.

McGuire's overview contains a quantity of interesting information: Soviet authors usually avoid describing a future that includes a nuclear war, while alien civilizations are almost invariably friendly. Works cast in the far future assume world or galactic communism, but the period of transition is usually avoided. The future history of the Strugatsky brothers is a partial exception, and McGuire's analysis of hints in their books may be of more direct literary interest than most of this useful background matter.

Charles Nicol Indiana State University

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