Science Fiction Studies

#41 = Volume 14, Part 1 = March 1987


BOOKS IN REVIEW

The Politics of Utopia

Jean Pfaelzer. The Utopian Novel in America 1886-1896: The Politics of Form. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh UP, 1984. 211pp. $21.95

This book of Jean Pfaelzer's is a fine specimen of a study which combines socio-political analysis and the critique of genre. It deals with the turbulent decade that went from the year of the Haymarket Riot to that of the election of the Republican William McKinley to the presidency and the return to a more conservative national mood.

In her introduction, Pfaelzer argues for the difference between SF and utopia as well as--and above all--for that between utopia and the fantastic. The last two are often confused, and Pfaelzer cogently explains the distinction in their narrative systems, rhetorical patterns, goals, historical logic, and effects on the reader. Unlike the fantastic, which aims at breaking all national parameters, utopia is "predicated on logical principles that give it the aura of possibility" (p. 16), for it purports to represent an "as yet unlived history" (p. 25).

Pfaelzer's book provides a political reading of the utopias. She shows how they echo and at the same time subvert the prevalent opinions on the events of the day, in an era--full, as it was, of "social anxiety and political hope" (p. 3)--that was highly conscious of "historical dynamics." Joining in the struggles for industrial, agrarian, and feminist reforms, utopias integrated popular theories of social development into their narrative structures, and in this sense became "meta-histories" (p. 3). Yet, one can hardly describe their ideology as revolutionary. Through their sometimes unconformable differences, "industrial-progressive" utopias, "agrarian-pastoral" utopias, and "conservative," "apocalyptic," or "feminist" utopias all shared the bourgeois outlook that "capitalism contained the seeds of its own perfection" and that laissez-faire, with a number of checks and balance, would inevitably lead to the good society (p. 5).

Pfaelzer's analysis of Edward Bellamy's immensely popular Looking Backward ties in with a concise but solid description of the most popular movement of the decade: the creation of the Nationalist Party and the spread of Nationalist ideas, based on the program expounded in Looking Backward (1888). Its principles included the establishment of an enlightened technocracy, the elimination of poverty, alienated labor, and sexual discrimination, and solutions to the problems of transportation and pollution.

William Dean Howells' utopia of pastoral socialism Pfaelzer sees as depicting "mediated nature ...that is, nature that has been worked and altered for human needs" (p. 57). In Altruria (1894), Howells' idealization of agricultural community life led him to overestimate the power of agrarianism to produce political change towards justice, social harmony, and the expansion of the creative impulse. And Altruria has been decried as unrealistic by the radical critics of the time. One of the reasons for this, argues Pfaelzer, is that utopia came to Howells from memory (of the 18th-century country life) and from literary tradition (the pastoral) rather than from history; that is to say, it came from an anthropocentric view of nature rather than from a consciousness that the tide of social evolution cannot run backwards. This type of utopia which looks to a past Golden Age sharply contrasts with dystopias such as Anna Dodd's The Republic of the Future (1887), Arthur D. Vinton's Looking Further Backward (1890), or Charles E. Niswonger's The Isle of Feminine (1893). Typically, these dystopias are reactionary tales that reverse the utopian axiom of progress and that point to a time which is "preindustrial, preimmigrant, and preurban" (p. 80), without re-capturing the utopian ideal of a Golden Age.

Pfaelzer distinguishes between such reactionary tales and "conservative utopias," where "the future moves toward the present in righteous dominion" (p. 95). Works such as David H. Wheeler's Our Industrial Utopia (1895), Alvarado Fuller's A.D. 2000 (1890), or John Jacob Astor's A Journey in Other Worlds (1894) are but their authors' mystified reproduction of historical contradictions as perfection. These utopian visions would perpetually maintain the existing order through their Panglossian view of present-day America as utopia and as supremacist model.

The next socio-aesthetic category Pfaelzer deals with is that of the "apocalyptic utopia," exemplified chiefly by Ignatius Donnelly in Caesar's Column (1890). This category serves Pfaelzer as a synthetic designation for all the writers who set the idea of the catastrophic collapse of civilization as a precondition for the emergence of a utopian order. Yet it is reasonable to wonder whether the apocalyptic imagination can legitimately stand as a basis for differentiating among utopias when the apocalyptically imagined varies so much according to the writer's ideology. After all, "apocalyptic utopias" range from the stiffly conservative, through the aggressively expansionist and the demagogically populist, to the Marxist internationalist. Consider, for example, the difference between the cataclysmic outcome of the dream of world Anglo-Saxon supremacy in Frank Stockton's The Great War Syndicate (1889) or Stanley Waterloo's in Armageddon (1898), that of Donnelly's xenophobic populism in Caesar's Column, and that of Jack London's revolutionary Social Darwinism-cum-Marxism in The Iron Heel (1907) or The Scarlet Plague (1912).

Pfaelzer in her last chapter turns to such moderately feminist utopias as Mary E. Lane's Mizora (1889), Linn B. Porter's Speaking of Ellen (1890), and Albert Chavannes' In Brighter Climes (1895). These utopias do not produce spectacular breaks with the traditional model of the True Woman, but instead reveal "a deep tension in the genre" (p. 158): between sex and class, between domestic and public spheres, and between the old stereotypes of love sympathy, motherhood, and moral superiority attached to women and their new roles in industrial America.

Pfaelzer's book also contains a very rich primary and secondary bibliography. All in all, hers is no doubt one of the best books on its subject to date.

--Nadia Khouri Dawson College, Montréal


Deviant But Not Marginal

Nachman Ben-Yehuda. Deviance and Moral Boundaries: Witchcraft, the Occult, Science Fiction, Deviant Sciences and Scientists. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1985. x + 260pp. $25.00

The sociology of deviance concerns the violation of social norms. According to Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a sociologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem (and an avowed fan of SF), the field suffers from a plethora of disconnected studies of "outsiders"--juvenile delinquents, professional criminals, the mentally ill, sexual deviants, among others--but lacks an integrated conceptual framework. The resulting impression created by the current literature, he contends, is one of fragmentation and eccentricity, of isolated groups which, virtually by definition, are marginal to normative societal processes and unamenable to theoretical generalization. Deviance and Moral Boundaries is presented as an attempt to redress this picture. In it the author advances an essentially functionalistic theory of deviance as central, not marginal, to the understanding of social change and social stability. In addition to his theoretical formulations, he offers four case studies of (his titles) "the European witch craze of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries," "the revival of the esoterica" (i.e., the occult and SF), "deviant sciences" (e.g., SETI, ufology), and "deviant scientists" (those who commit fraud).

Ben-Yehuda is careful to insist that "deviance" is a relative concept: it is "the mirror-image of conventional morality and therefore of existing boundaries" (p. 20). Not only do normative behavior and values ("moral boundaries") vary with cultural context and historical period, they are constantly shifting within any single complex society in response to new pressures. This ongoing process of renegotiation and redefinition of moral boundaries (and necessarily of deviance from them) is a fundamental social process. In this context, deviance functions in support of both stability and change, for it is simultaneously the object against which social convention crystallizes and the source of alternatives which challenge the status quo. From this perspective, Ben-Yehuda argues, neither deviance nor its sociological study can continue to be regarded as marginal.

In legitimizing further the academic pursuit of SF and other social phenomena too often dismissed by critics as trivial, this conclusion is obviously a welcome one. But while the book's theoretical orientation often makes good sense, its point is really a simple one: deviance (in its many changing forms) is related (in many ways) to social change and stability. The four case studies accordingly should be read, I believe, not as proofs of this statement (are any needed?), but as illustrative explorations of its heuristic possibilities. Thus, moral boundaries in the case studies can be rigid or pluralistic, the norms of an entire society or the ethos of a single profession, while deviance may be fictional, intentional, imposed, or elective. With so many possibilities, it is not surprising that the results are uneven.

The European witch craze of the l5th-17th centuries (the period of greatest intensity more accurately is 1550-1650) is presented as the ultimately unsuccessful effort of its persecutors to maintain the disintegrating moral boundaries of medieval society during a time of intense social transition by fabricating the threat of an intentional, demonic (the author should rather say Satanic) subversion of Christendom. Readers who are familiar with the wide range of historical scholarship cited but not always fully appreciated by Ben-Yehuda will find little that is new here and much that should be qualified.

Stronger by far are the two chapters on deviant science and deviant scientists. Indeed, the latter is very likely the best discussion of the nature and extent of scientific fraud currently available. Fraud as deviation from the expected behavior of scientists is as clearly definable as the fictional conspiracy of Satanic witches against Christian society. For that matter, there are those who would insist that the claim of scientific fraud is equally a fabrication. But Ben-Yehuda is able to show that its incidence is more frequent than many may suppose and to indicate the factors that make it possible. Unlike witchcraft, however, fraud is not usually regarded as a crime, and punishment is irregular and slight. By contrast, deviant science does not involve intentional fraud, but allegedly scientific concepts or viewpoints that threaten established science. Ben-Yehuda usually, but not always, understands that science has still not yet been successfully defined methodologically or epistemologically so that it can be clearly demarcated from non-science. This means that deviant science cannot be defined; it is deviant simply because it is rejected by the establishment. Ben-Yehuda provides a most instructive comparative analysis of two such deviant sciences. One, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), gradually overcame skepticism and was accepted, more or less, into the scientific community (an example of deviance promoting change), but the other, ufology (the study of unidentified flying objects), failed to win significant support for specifiable reasons.

The remaining study, "the revival of the esoterica," puts together SF and the occult as two varieties of "deviant subcultural belief systems" (p. 74) which function within contemporary pluralistic society as alternative or "elective" centers for redefining personal values and moral boundaries. This is the shortest of the studies (32pp.), and the weakest, especially in its treatment of SF. On recent occultism there is now a substantial body, quantitatively speaking, of social-scientific literature which provides Ben-Yehuda with much of his information. But he neglects much of the literature of other disciplines, especially religion and history, and is unaware as a result of the many recurrences of popular interest in the occult during the last two centuries. On SF his principal sources of information are Nicholls' The Science Fiction Encyclopedia and articles from the Journal of Popular Culture; there are no citations from SFS, Extrapolation, or Foundation. Only a handful of SF authors and titles are mentioned (several of them misspelled), no texts are analyzed, and the history of SF is compressed into a single page (p. 78). The author is also uncertain of his focus. Although to him SF is "clearly" deviant, the nature of that deviancy remains elusive throughout his discussion. It is said to encompass the reader of SF, the person for whom "fandom is a way of life," and even members of SF-inspired cults such as Scientology and the Church of All Worlds. SF deviancy is also characterized as both a "belief system" and a "lifestyle"; but in the absence of any textual analysis or reader surveys, the content of the belief system cannot be specified, except as a quest for the "unknown" or the "beyond," a search for answers that "integrate both science and religion" (p. 101). As for lifestyle, it is not a factor for the average SF reader (an educated urban youth), who, the author states, otherwise leads a conformist life. In fact, most contact with SF, Ben-Yehuda contends, is on a more superficial level than participation in fandom. Simply reading a book or seeing a movie provides such people with "an almost instant gratification, a clear and strong sense of the 'beyond.' In this way, most can have, even daily, a small and controllable excursion into a revitalizing elective center," "a controlled encounter with the ultimate" (pp. 91, 93). This is a shrewd observation, but one that calls out for empirical verification. Similarly lacking is evidence that participation in SF at this level has any bearing on redefining the moral boundaries of society at large.

Deviance and Moral Boundaries has much to recommend it: a serious theoretical position, the author's sympathy for his subject matter, excellent discussions of deviant science and fraud, and helpful reviews of the social science literature. The treatment of SF, however, is perhaps best regarded as a prelude to the substantial contribution the author is fully capable of making.

--Robert Galbreath  Northwestern University


Historic Overview

Gérard Cordesse. La nouvelle science-fiction américaine. Paris: Aubier, 1984. ["Collection USA"]. 224pp. FF89.00

This work by Gérard Cordesse attracts our attention for various reasons. It is first of all an attempt to offer a synthetic and global panorama of all American SF written in the past 25 years. Next, his work does not lack ambition in other respects: Cordesse is aware of the theoretical stakes which demand a rigorous approach to SF and takes into consideration the principal questions of genology, narratology, communication theory, and the sociology of ideologies and discourses which have been discussed in SF scholarship in general. Finally, Cordesse, a onetime professor at Berkeley who now teaches at the University of Toulouse-le-Mirail, offers the advantage of a foreigner's dispassionate outlook on American SF, of which he is, by all evidence, a perspicacious reader.

In his first chapter, he attempts to construct a paradigm of literary communication in SF, derived from the model proposed by the German researcher Sigmund J. Schmidt. Indeed, he legitimately postulates that the object of investigation is not only the "literary text" but the whole of the processes in the communication field, along with the cast of authors, publishers, literary agents, critics, and readers who interact in this field. The dominant and sometimes autocratic role of editors, the network of interaction amongst readers who constitute the fandom; the position of authors themselves which was, until recently, quite subordinate and weak; the coexistence of a "quality" and a potboiler production often from the same writer--such matters are here spotlighted, as is the recent evolution of this communicational schema which had formerly been too favorable to the censure of editors and to inertia, routine, and the monotony of overused thematic recipes. The role of certain critics--Kingsley Amis, Damon Knight, James Blish, Judith Merrill--in the articulation of new demands, the discovery of original talent, and the extrapolation for the reading public of the genre's implicit aesthetic is brought forward. Cordesse feels the appearance of this "new criticism" was concomitant with other structural changes: the vogue of large retrospective anthologies since 1949, the nostalgic reprints, the access to hardcover format, and from there, new high-visibility promotions which started attracting a larger and more cultivated audience. In a rather accurate and telling periodization, Cordesse shows the development of the paperback market, the evolution of press runs; and indeed, he links the changes in themes, narrative devices, and formulae to a complete over- turning of the structure of communication. Cordesse shows the more or less simultaneous appearance of the first innovative texts by Chad Oliver, Bradbury, Dick (whose reputation in France had been, as we know, more rapidly established and whose success is stronger than it has ever been in the US), Sheckley, Bester, and--somewhat curiously--Edgar Pangborn.

What could not be avoided at this point is a detour into "New Wave" British SF, which, not being enclosed in the American ghetto of fandom and "hard science," is going to conquer, via Aldiss and Ballard, a new language and lay hold of a thematic of modernity against technological optimism, jingoism on a galactic scale, and the anti-intellectualism still dominant in the US. It seems to me that Cordesse rightly puts the accent here on the "English connection," those American expatriate writers who actively participated in Moorcock's New Worlds--above all, Thomas M. Disch, whose psychedelic pessimism opposed so radically the narrative style prevalent in the US, and Norman Spinrad. Returning to the US, Cordesse pursues his historical account by "immersing," as it were, the SF of the time in the political crises and ideological conflicts of the late '60s. The combat of the surviving Campbellites and the zealots of the New Wave is described as an avatar, internal to the SF field, of these encompassing conflicts. He describes a coalition, a common front of SF rightists through a tactical alliance of Wollheim, Cordwainer Smith, Anderson, and Heinlein, whereas another right wing, descending from L. Ron Hubbard and van Vogt, dreams of a superman with finally awakened ESP powers. A kind of conciliation amongst formal innovation, daring criticism, utopianism, and the populist traditions of the genre is finally achieved with the great generation of writers who mark the turning point of the '60s-'70s: Delany, Silverberg, and Le Guin. Chapter 4 represents, in Cordesse's work, a long theoretical and methodological meditation on the genre of SF, its social functions, and the potential therein. It is perhaps not too surprising to see this development appear in the middle of the book and before the long final chapter, "After the New Wave." The author feels that in the last ten years there have been many uncertainties developing, a certain entropy in SF production after the euphoria of the '60s, and a centrifugal dispersement of the genre itself. In this theoretical chapter, the author recapitulates and rediscusses some of the theses put forth by Suvin and Zgorzelski, and defines SF as "an aesthetic of the limits of reason"--while stating the fact that SF as mass production remains constantly tempted to reduce its otherness to sameness and to co-opt critical insight into cliché.

The last chapter is concerned with the past ten years; it is less successful at reaching a satisfying synthesis and clearly indicates, by comparing an article by Berger ("SF Fans in Socio-Economic Perspective," SFS No. 13) with a no less famous article by Gérard Klein ("Discontent in American SF," SFS No. 11), how interpretations can be so completely divergent, even in the same period. It is fitting to note in passing a paragraph devoted to SFS: while saluting the "high level" of this journal, Cordesse, rightly or wrongly, reproaches it as being too "professorial" and too preoccupied with the 19th century....In a more general way, Cordesse confesses to some irritation at the inflation of university-level studies in SF. The interpenetration of SF and the avant-garde mainstream--Pynchon, Burroughs, Nabokov--is presented as a welcome and significant development. Cordesse describes a number of trends that SF exhibited during the '70s: feminist SF; SF concerning sexual minorities; the opportunistic return to more traditional narrative formulas (Eklund-Benford); the return to a certain individualism with John R.R. Martin, John Varley, and John Crowley as the American representatives of the Post-New Worlds movement....The author acknowledges that lack of hindsight keeps him from being able to "separate the good grain from the bad," and his panorama of recent SF doesn't anyway betray for a moment any unmitigated enthusiasm on his part.

In 200 pages, Cordesse has succeeded in writing a compelling, well-informed book, full of critical developments and a far cry from those lugubrious lists of names and titles interspersed with commonplace anecdotes which often take the place of a historic overview. One can question the details and the choices made; but on the whole, this book offers a coherently argued and cogent view of American SF since the '50s. Certain limitations will undoubtedly be regretted: the very limited place accorded to cinema; the absence of discussion of SF comics; Cordesse's self-imposed restriction of any comparison between the evolution of English-language SF and that of other cultures (e.g., French). To be sure, such an attitude is devoid of jingoism, but nevertheless a parallel will have become evident in terms of the general tendencies peculiar to "the Americans." Lastly, it seems to me that Cordesse underestimates, by a deter- mined optimism, the thematic and stylistic ebb of the most recent SF production.

--Marc Angenot McGill University


Jack London

Gorman Beauchamp. Jack London. [The Starmont Reader's Guide to Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors No. 15.] Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1984. 96pp. $5.95 (paper).

Jack London is a very readable descriptive introduction, essentially meant for the wide public, to London the man and to his SF. The informed reader will immediately recognize as familiar Beauchamp's "sketch of life" approach to London as the adventurous rebel who led a tumultuous existence and who stamped his novels and stories with the peculiar political blend of Social Darwinism, Nietzscheanism, and Marxism along with a strong dose of anarchism. London's resemblance to H.G. Wells is predictably evoked: both wrote anthropological romances, both turned aspirations for science and socialism into SF utopias, both dystopically visualized the collapse of bourgeois civilization. But the differences are equally stark, and Beauchamp fails to consider them. The collapse of society, for instance, is never total in London: human life is never radically wiped out, but made to rise again from its ashes, after a long, fierce, and nearly desperate journey through the jungles of urban survival.

Beyond Wells, Beauchamp cites other relevant analogies. One is with the anarchist-Social Darwinist Petr Kropotkin and his theories on "Mutual Aid within Species" (the title of his 1888 book) as a decisive force in evolution. Much of the literature of the fin de sicle undoubtedly influenced London, and the Social Darwinism adopted by a wing of the radical left was the strongest shaping factor in his fiction. Beauchamp adequately enunciates its familiar themes and images: history seen as biological evolution apocalyptically dramatized through geological upheavals; social cooperation as an extension of natural solidarity; the theory of individualism intertwined with that of collective strength; the back-to-the-Stone-Age trope for the collapse of capitalism; the idea of progress from primitivism to civilization, and conversely, the relapse to barbarism; and finally, socialist revolution as the survival of the fittest.

Beauchamp's Jack London also contains a short annotated bibliography of primary and secondary works. Curiously, however, it does not include the most complete and relevant introduction to and anthology of works by London, Philip Foner's Jack London: American Rebel, even though Beauchamp himself quotes from it (p. 48).

--Nadia Khouri Dawson College, Montréal


On the Other Hand

James W. Bittner. Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin. ["Studies in Speculative Fiction," No. 4.] Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984. xvii + 161pp. $24.95 (cloth)

James W. Bittner adroitly accomplishes his objective: to make "exploratory approaches towards an understanding of the relationships within and among...[Le Guin's] novels and short stories...[and] to see some of the connections between part and part and between part and whole" (p. x). His study emphasizes Le Guin's connections between artists' aesthetic modes and scientists' rational modes. Bittner explains how Le Guin links science and myth and magic. While Le Guin defines "marriage" as her major theme, Bittner replaces this word with the more inclusive "complementarily," a marriage of opposites:

when [Le Guin] says that marriage is 'the central, consistent theme' of her work, we can understand her to be referring to any complementary, correlative, or interdependent relationship between what we may perceive as opposites or dualisms, but which are in reality aspects of a whole, or moments in a continuous process. Because the idea of complementarity...encompasses Le Guin's theme of marriage, being both more general and abstract than the idea of marriage, yet also more specific and concrete, I use it to define not only Le Guin's central theme, but also her fictional techniques, her modes of thought, and ultimately, her world view. (pp. x-xi)

Bittner deviates from his inclusive notions of complementarily and wholeness when he stresses A.L. Kroeber's effect upon Le Guin's work without attempting to understand the influence of Theodora Kroeber. And, in another example of misdirected emphasis, he makes too much of the fact that Ong Tot Oppong is a female ethnologist in The Left Hand of Darkness (p. 26). (The female elders in The Word for World is Forest are certainly more interesting as female characters than Ong Tot Oppong.) Despite these points, however, the book enhances an understanding of Le Guin's opus. To my mind, it is most valuable because it unintentionally clarifies why approaching Le Guin's fiction makes me (like other feminists) feel reverent--and impatient.*

I will review Bittner's book by reading it as a lens to provide focus and complementarily between my two disharmonious responses to most of Le Guin's fiction: appreciation and frustration. (Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula Le Guin is a revised 1979 dissertation. Appropriately, to ensure that my remarks coincide with Bittner's point of view, all of my comments, with the exception of those concerning Always Coming Home, refer to the fiction Le Guin published before 1979.)

It is not easy to criticize Le Guin. Negative responses cry out to be abruptly followed by "but, on the other hand" gestures towards the positive. Hence, my interaction with Bittner yields both critical and laudatory comments about Le Guin. I will first call upon him to help me articulate my impatience.

Le Guin creates narrative tools for "marrying opposites" and presents "an image of the world and of ourselves that transcends by synthesizing the opposition and conflict immanent in all reality" (p. xii). The good witch of the west waves her literary wand, unites magic and science and fiction--and, poof, she eradicates reality's oppositions and conflicts. When I was asked to review Bittner's study, I wondered why there should be yet another book on Le Guin, why so many literary critics choose to write about her. Bittner provides an answer when he defines "understanding complementarily in Le Guin's fiction" (p. xii) as the crux of each of his chapter's arguments. Le Guin's fiction establishes a complementary relationship between the opposing interests of the dissident literary left and the status-quo-perpetuating literary right. She marries these opposing left and right hands, providing something for everyone, touching all the bases. Or does she? Most of Le Guin's work does not provide enough for me. Reading Bittner heightens my awareness that this impatience has to do with my feminism.

On the other hand, this female writer who seems to appeal to everyone--with the exception of feminists--encourages new women SF writers and attracts female readers to SF. But I fear that Le Guin receives attention at the expense of other female SF writers. In other words, when SF critics feel obligated to direct their attention to a female writer, they add Le Guin, stir, and derive satisfaction from having included the correct ingredient. In the year that Bittner's book was published, "The Year's Scholarship in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Literature" individual authors' category listed approximately 180 male authors and approximately 25 female authors. Despite this bleak statistic about the lack of attention to women SF writers, Bittner's was one of two 1984 studies completely devoted to Le Guin.

Joanna Russ articulates an effective response to this complementarily between a female author and a male critic which results in acquiescence to the exclusion of a female protagonist. Here is Russ's complaint about women who exist to please men:

all I [Russ's character, Joanna] did was...

defer to The Man

entertain The Man

keep The Man

live for The Man....

Finding The Man,...pleasing The Man, interesting The Man, following The Man,...deferring to The Man, changing your judgment for The Man, changing your decisions for The Man, polishing floors for The Man,...losing yourself in The Man. (The Female Man [1975; rpt. Boston: Gregg Press, 1977], III:1:29; IV:11:66)

Le Guin, who herself admits that she writes for The Man, could be appropriately described by Russ's list. And The Man (in this case, Bittner as male critic) applauds her decision. As he offers a succinct and correct explanation of how Le Guin arrives at the truth about herself, Bittner also explains why I--and my fellow feminists--are dissatisfied. He states that Le Guin: gets at the Truth about her world and her self by imagination and artifice, by moving away from herself to an aesthetic distance....While Betty Friedan and Kate Millet were using nonfiction in those years to answer the question 'Who Am I?' Le Guin was answering the question by writing a science fiction novel addressed to a male audience. She defines herself as a woman...by communicating with...the predominantly male readers of science fiction....Le Guin assimilates her particular patterns, her particular self, to an archetype by telling a story with what Adrienne Rich calls 'the oppressor's language.' (p. 111)

Bittner's comments reveal that Le Guin embraced a stance which opposes the objectives of feminist discourse. French feminists (Hélne Cixous, for example) advocate a women's language; Le Guin turns to the oppressor's language. Feminist writers, particularly feminist SF writers who imagine separatist societies, advocate that women should learn the Truth about themselves and their world by moving towards the female self, Le Guin arrives at this Truth by moving away from herself. Feminism, then, is Le Guin's other hand, which remains outside her marrying of left and right hands, her universal appeal and complementarity.

Le Guin's method of finding herself by moving away from herself (writing for men and using the oppressor's language) is indirect and inefficient. Going backwards to go forwards does suit Genly Ai: "to go forward,...[Genly] has to go backward. Le Guin seems to be proposing, implicitly, that this is the way to redeem history also" (p. 114). But the method does not suit women's lives, and it is not the way to redeem women's history.

Le Guin's "own story, her Hainish history, herstory" (p. 112) stems from rejecting a literary father (Isaac Asimov) and incorporating a biological father (A.L. Kroeber). Bittner comments upon Le Guin's turn to her father: "In the first third of the decade 1963-73 in which Le Guin's future history was taking shape, she was working largely within the science fiction conventions established by Asimov and others, but in 1966, when she drew on her father's anthropology to invent the Ekumen, she outgrew those conventions" (p. 88). But Le Guin's Hainish history is not "herstory." On the contrary, these works which are derived from her father and directed towards a male audience exclude the feminine--"her" and "herstory." Bittner explains that "'the ground from which they sprang is the goal of all of Le Guin's questers...as it is the goal of Le Guin's Hainish history" (p. 124). Yet in emphasizing the impact of A.L. Kroeber's anthropology upon Le Guin's work, Bittner in effect suggests that she ignores half of the ground from which she sprang: her mother.

I now abruptly make a "but, on the other hand" shift to the positive. Le Guin's turn from one father to another--from Asimov to Kroeber--was a crucial step for the development of SF in general and feminist SF in particular. She altered SF's preoccupation with the Asimovian Galactic Empire which Bittner rightly defines as a "classbound, ethnocentric vision of universal history [which] ignores the ways and values of not less than three-quarters of our world's cultures" (p. 90). Le Guin, the toppler of an empire, shares much in common with Odo the revolutionary.

Bittner (p. 126) quotes the following passage from "The Day Before the Revolution" on the concluding page of his study: Odo "cursed Premier Inoilte to his face in front of a crowd of seven thousand...and pissed in public on the big brass plaque in Capitol Square." Le Guin altered the old conventions of SF in front of all of its readers and--in her lady-like fashion --pissed in public (I imagine her pouring urine from a ceramic urn) on Donald Wollheim's big outline of the Asimovian "cosmogony of the future" (Bittner: 90; Wollheim's outline appears on pp. 89-90). Le Guin, who created SF for and in terms of men, shifted the genre's emphasis from "essentially imperialistic, mechanistic, and masculine values" to "anarchistic, organic, and feminist values" (ibid.). If Asimov is the genre's patriarch, she is its revolutionary matriarch. Her work is "the epitaph of the Asimovian Galactic Empire and the beginning of a new and open history for science fiction" (p. 126).

Odo's story is finished and she bequeaths her goals to "a younger generation of revolutionaries" (ibid.). Le Guin, on the other hand, is not at the end of her story. Together with a younger generation of revolutionary feminist writers and critics, she can build upon the foundation she created. She can finally marry her own right (in the sense of "correct") revolutionary views with the left views of feminism.

She has already approached the altar: "Le Guin's Hainish future history thus ends as it began, with a story about a woman" (p. 126). This observation of Bittner's that Le Guin's Hainish work is framed by women needs to be updated: Always Coming Home strongly signals that she now intends to make women the crux, or center, of her writing. Stone Telling directly confronts her role as a woman in society as she chooses to leave her father's patriarchal culture and re-enter her mother's matriarchal culture. In addition to focusing upon a female character, the work can be read as Le Guin's own rejection of the Father and her return to the Mother. Further, instead of using the "oppressor's language," Le Guin literally invents a new language for the Kesh, a new (M)other Tongue. (I am alluding to Shirley N. Garner, Madelon Sprengnether, and Claire Kahane's The (M)other Tongue: Essays in Feminist Psychoanalytic Interpretation [Ithaca, NY: 1985].)

Le Guin is at the moment and appropriately embracing the feminist viewpoint, which is most certainly a part of SF's new and open history. She seems to be ready to continue distancing herself from the male Genly Ai, who "to go forward...has to go backward" (p. 114). Bittner has helped me articulate my desire for Le Guin to go forward with feminism without looking backward to fathers. He has produced a solid work about SF's major writer, a woman who, until very recently, has written primarily for men. I hope he will soon choose to tell us how the latest work of Le Guin, a daughter who overthrew a literary father by turning to her biological father, is directly influenced by the achievement of her mother. I hope that Le Guin will follow Always Coming Home with more feminist SF and that the male critics will direct their attention to it--as well as to the work of other female feminist SF writers.

In regard to Le Guin's maternal legacy, let me add this. I have emphasized Bittner's discussion of "marriage" and "complementarily" as the basis of Le Guin's modes of thought and world- view. The basis of her biological being and intellectual thought-- "the ground from which they sprang" (p. 124) -- stems, of course, from the marriage of A.L. and Theodora Kroeber, from their complementarity--from their decision to join hands. Le Guin, who turned to her father to create The Left Hand, reached for the other hand, her mother's right hand, when she wrote Always Coming Home.

It seems fair to say that Le Guin drew on her mother's ethnology to invent the Kesh. The Inland Whale (1959), Theodora's first book, is a retelling of nine California Indian legends. Whale includes notes on the literary, cultural, and psychological implications of each legend, parts of a whole unified by the recurrent figure of a woman; Stone Telling's presence unifies Le Guin's extensive notes on the Kesh. Theodora's following comments from the introduction to Whale might be read as a justification for Le Guin's inclusion of those extensive notes:

A work of art has more facets than are turned to the light at one time. My objective has been to transmit in some measure the sense of poetry and drama which these tales held for their own people. This has meant...making explicit many things which the native listener would not need to have included, because they would be commonplaces to him. The alien reader must be given enough background fact so that motivation and behavior are understood. He may need to know something as simple as the floor plan of a house, or the native concept of geography or etiquette or belief. (Whale, p. 12)

This reciprocity between mother and daughter indicates that feminists need no longer define themselves as "the alien reader" of Le Guin's work.

I would like to think that, like Stone Telling, Le Guin was always coming home to her mother, to feminism. I also hope that astute male SF critics like Bittner are prepared to make them- selves welcome within her new home.

*Female SF writers are expressing their impatience with Le Guin by creating feminist versions of her work. Mary Gentle's The Golden Witchbreed (1985), the story of a female interplanetary ambassador, can be read as a feminist version of The Left Hand of Darkness. Sheila Finch's Triad (1986), which includes an unsavory female interplanetary colonizer, can be read as a feminist version of The Word for World is Forest. When Bittner confronts the fact that Le Guin is other than male, he finds it quite easy to agree with her decision to place a male protagonist in The Left Hand of Darkness. While defending her decision, he indirectly explains why feminists have criticized this novel:

Although feminists have criticized Le Guin for choosing a male protagonist, she was, I think, right to do so, for the dialectic of the romance (and science fiction estrangement) almost make it imperative. She chooses a male, she says, 'because I thought men would loathe the book, would be unsettled and unnerved by it.... Since the larger percentage of science fiction readers are male...I thought it would be easier for them if they had a man....' (p. 25)]

--Marleen Barr  University of Iowa


Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Joan Gordon. Gene Wolfe. [Starmont Reader's Guide No. 29.] Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1986. iv + 116pp. $7.95 (paper)

Those of us whose impulse to say something about contemporary SF and fantasy has prompted us to write for the Starmont series know its built-in limits. The books are too short; writing about living authors makes our work outdated while it is still being edited; and budget printing makes the product resemble fan writing. Joan Gordon's second contribution to the series, however, transcends the limitations and is one of the most successful I have read. I was a bit puzzled to see that she discusses nothing later than 1983, but actually this restriction works in her favor and gives surprising unity to her book. This is a much better book than her Starmont Guide to Joe Haldeman (see my review of that in SFS No. 25) because of what she says about the genre as a whole.

Her generalizations, and the unity she gives her monograph by means of them, derive from the fortunate sense of climax that Wolfe himself gave to his career with the completion in 1982 of his major work to date, The Book of the New Sun, which suggests subtle and yet clear differences between the high fantasy of belief (what he might label science fantasy) and the "hard" SF of uncertainty and indeterminacy. This distinction, perhaps the most problematic in SF studies, is the subject of the excellent little essay that stands as the concluding chapter in Gordon's monograph. Wolfe has continued and will continue to produce fiction; but in New Sun Gordon finds a lucky stopping point for her study.

She notes Baird Searles' objection that underneath Wolfe's stylistic glitter and mastery of baroque complexity of reference there may be no real speculative ideas that point forward to open-ended possibilities in human beings or in nature. This would-be criticism, however, locates what Wolfe is driving at: his "ideas" are the old mysteries of paradoxical Christianity. Moreover, one of the more interesting subplots in Gordon's story is to watch her own progressive feminist politics twist under the pressure of Wolfe's essentially unchanging belief in a kind of historical change less linear than any liberation politics could tolerate. In the end, she does read Wolfe as both a Christian and a progressive feminist. But the lady doth protest too much, methinks. The puzzles and the conundrums in Wolfe, in fact, are explicated so succinctly and forcefully by Gordon (she points out that as a carpenter Jesus is both torturer who "nails" sinners and one tortured on the carpenter's cross) that we forget linear, open-ended movements as we read her. Rather it is the multi-layered, almost medieval scholastic, meaning of a Christian writer that contrasts, for those of us who read widely in SF, to the single-dimensioned yet complex vision of linear movement from the 18th-century Enlightenment.

Gordon has risen to her subject and challenges us with these fundamental differences in the nature of the genre. Perhaps the religious debate among the philosophes is not finished. We need equally ambitious readings of non-Christian SF writers because, in part, Gordon has made good use of the Starmont series here to throw down a gauntlet.

--Donald M. Hassler Kent State University


The "Sound of Wonder" Transcribed

Daryl Lane, William Vernon & David Carson, eds. The Sound of Wonder: Interviews from "The Science Fiction Radio Show." 2 vols. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1985. cat 200pp. ea. + illus. $18.50 each (paper)

This anthology of interviews with writers and others involved in the production of SF&F was inevitable: not only are there as many volumes of SF&F on bookstore shelves as there are mainstream fiction, but SF titles often take up half the places on the New York Times best- seller list. And SF courses are bourgeoning in colleges and universities. Such a comprehensive information and research tool is a welcome addition.

The anthology has a familiar form, on the Writers-at-Work model. Its editors are academic amateurs of the genre. Lane is Head of the English Department and Carson Head of the Audio-Visual Department at Odessa College, while Vernon, an industrial chemist, is lecturer in Chemistry at Texas University's Permian Basin Campus. The volumes contain discussions with a broad range of SF writers, all of whom are currently publishing. This spectrum is reinforced by interviews with Donald Wollheim, a crucially important SF editor over the last four decades; with Michael Whelan, one of the best current SF illustrators; and with a knowledgeable SF movie critic in the person of Roger ("At-the-Movies") Ebert. The short introductions add valuable details about the lives, methods, and writings of each author.

Only six of the writers included are influential members of the 1930s-'50s "golden-age" generation: Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson, Gordon Dickson, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Hal Clement, and Philip Jose Farmer. Nevertheless, the other major "golden-age" SF authors and their influences on their colleagues' writings are major topics of the interviews. Writers of the next generation include Stephen R. Donaldson, C.J. Cherryh, Charles Harness, Howard Waldrop, Rudy Rucker, Piers Anthony, Edward Bryant, James P. Hogan, Gene Wolfe, and George R.R. Martin.

As for the special circumstance that the interviews were done for purposes of radio broadcasts of limited duration, this seems to make little difference to their contents, especially since the book contains not programs, but the raw interviews from which the radio clips were extracted. The practice was to ask questions according to a scripted formula: what first led the author to writing and to the genre; the early writing, including influences; a review of the author's important books to date; and some discussion of the relations between the major themes in the writings and the contemporary world situation. In practice this formula somewhat restricts the topics discussed; and on occasion an interesting answer is not taken up by the interviewer because of the exigencies of time.

A point made frequently in the discussions is that a number of excellent women writers have come onto the post-"golden age" scene. And, indeed, some of the most insightful discussions are with the two women authors included in the text. C.J. Cherryh, though expressing her satisfaction with the freedom available in the SF genre (many of the authors in the anthology echo this view), touches on some universal problems of the fiction writer. There is, for example, the question of the persistence of themes in the author's mind, yet the difficulty of repeating them in a subsequent book (her solution is to alternate among completely different modes of writing). Marion Zimmer Bradley is equally interesting on general topics. She speaks of the problem of distinguishing between two narrative personae; her solution is to move from first-person to third-person narrative, a technique she gleans from Dickens's Bleak House.

Theodore Sturgeon is one of those who offers a valuable definition of SF. The best SF is about neither the past nor the future, but rather "that marvellous place called 'other'....You can study whole cultures and religions and also literature and art." His favorite protagonist is the misfit, who "sees society as a whole from its underbelly" (shades of Don Quixote). Piers Anthony makes the same claim for his "space operas": they may describe Jupiter, but they refer to contemporary America.

Philip Jose Farmer's interview is one of the most complex and interesting. His work appears as a fascinating game of literary "reality"; like Borges, Vonnegut, and Nabokov, he creates novels by fictional authors, playing off Tarzan and The Wizard of Oz. It is here as much as anywhere else that the distinction blurs between SF&F and mainstream fiction.

A number of the interviews deal in passing with the development of SF&F from the 1920s to the present, including the latest post-New Wave groups. The most valuable discussions from this point of view are with the six "golden-age" writers, and with Wollheim and Martin. In general, and despite its occasional anecdotal quality, the book will prove fascinating and useful as a source of information about the authors and their texts--both for students and teachers of the genre and for SF&F fans. It will also prove invaluable as an introduction to the craft and the trade for would-be SF writers.

--Howard Fink Concordia University


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