Science Fiction Studies

#44 = Volume 15, Part 1 = March 1988


Handle with Care

Simone Vierne. Jules Verne. Paris: Balland, 1986. 447pp. FF89.00

As well as her Rite, roman, initiation (1973), Professor Vierne is justly well-known for her long-term pioneering work on Jules Verne--authorship studies, her 1972 thèse d'Etat, Jules Verne et le roman initiatique (published in 1973), prefaces to Garnier Flammarion editions of the "Voyages Extraordinaires," and many other distinguished efforts. Unfortunately, this latest volume--which appears in the Phare series, devoted so far to Freud, Machiavelli, and Malraux --does not fully live up to what might have been expected. The book, it is true, is written for a very general audience, and thus originality is not necessarily an important criterion; but all the same, Jules Verne shows signs of a certain haste. It is sometimes needlessly drawn out and repetitious; allusions are dropped which the general reader cannot possibly fathom; assertions are made but not followed up; and recent scholarship, especially of the non-traditional variety, is under-represented (e.g., Delabroy's thesis). All this is a shame, for there is a great deal of value in the book, especially for those new to the subject. The style is elegantly straightforward, and the decision to complement each of the six chapters with a selection of eminently-quotable extracts both from other works by Verne and from the critical corpus is very effective.

After a chronology of Verne's life, Vierne provides a general introduction and then proceeds to individual novels. Her commentary on Cinq semaines en ballon does justice to the brilliant chapitre sur rien of the desert scene, to the English and Scottish character types, to the role of the tree-refuge, and, more generally, to the authentic poetry of much of Verne's writing, its unique combination of realistic and symbolic levels. Her discussion of Voyage au centre de la Terre pins down much of the intertextuality evident in the text, including the mythical substratum. Vingt mille lieues and Le Tour du monde are dealt with adequately; but only a tantalizing snatch is given about a first draft of part of L'Ile mystérieuse; and Le Château des Carpathes, finally, could have been covered in a more analytical fashion. One interesting detail from all this is that the extremely passionate and lyrical "quotations" put into Aouda's and La Stilla's mouths were apparently invented by Verne--although some evidence for this view of Vierne's she does not supply.

Ultimately, the most useful aspect of this book is its account of the reactions to Verne. His persistent reputation for scientificité and authenticity originated, it can be seen, in the contemporary critics, themselves often merely reproducing the hand-outs of his publisher, Hetzel (whereas we can recognize that the authenticity is in fact rarely more than extreme plausibility). Rimbaud's reaction in particular can be read in his very Vernian Bateau ivre; and Zola, in a first article, also quite liked Verne--but then subsequently attacked him ferociously, denying his works even the quality of "novels."

The errors in this book include: "Forum de New York" for the Forum of New York (p. 26); "Goalh's companion de Boston" for Youth's Companion (p. 100); "Ney Land" (p. 232); "Haarper' Bazar" (p. 385); "John Clark" as author of 2001 (p. 427); and "Gallacher" (p. 444) for Gallagher. It is also wrong to claim that Allotte de la Fuÿe was the first biographer of Verne (p. 35); that the North and East of France were "peu accessibles à l'époque" (p. 81); that "les jeux de mots des bravent jamais l'honnêteté" (p. 86; see Compère and Soriano); that Apocalypse Now is about the atomic bomb (p. 91); that "ce n'est que par hasard que le cataclysme n'a pas lieu" in Sans Dessus Dessous (p. 98); that Verne quotes Wagner with admiration only before 1871 (p. 100); that wheat ever multiplies in "progression arithmétique" (p. 303); that the Minard RLM bibliography is still continuing (p. 394); and that the number of articles on Verne is "au moins 2000 à mon avis" (p. 443--it already exceeded 2600 in 1982). Very debatable as well, in my view, are the claims that: "L'Eternel Adam" is purely and simply "extrêmement pessimiste" (p. 90); that "Saknussem" (sic) ever really reached the center of the Earth (p. 163); that my own thesis is "difficilement accessible," probably formalist, and systematically Ricardolien (pp. 412-13); that time can ever be totally "abolished" (p. 209); or that time's mythical and metaphysical aspects are ignored by Verne (p. 426).

But I would not like to give the impression that this book is without considerable usefulness. It's just that, to get from Jules Verne to Jules Verne, you need to keep your wits about you. A manier avec précaution.

--William Butcher University of Buckingham

Second Chances

Richard Hauer Costa. H.G. Wells. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1985. xx + 177pp. $13.95.

Robert Crossley. H.G. Wells. Starmont House, 1986 [rpt. 1983 ed.]. 79pp. $7.95 (paper)

By the very fact that Twayne has issued a revised H.G. Wells, one is reminded of how much has happened in Wells studies since Richard Hauer Costa originally produced his survey in 1967; and, indeed, in the updated index, bibliography, and acknowledgments, Costa cites some 25 new books about Wells. Pity he does not make better use of them. He does remedy some of the holes in the 1967 text. The discussion of Wells and feminism has been expanded, and there is a head-on effort to gauge the Wellsian and Jamesian types of "central intelligence" by comparing them in Britling and The Ambassadors. But very little has been added or altered as regards the Wells of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, where the survey was --and remains --the scantiest. What has not been remedied at all (indeed, has in some ways been exacerbated) is bad organization, with attendant repetitiousness, and factual unreliability.

For present purposes, I shall consider mostly the revised text. Rather than assimilating the old text to the requirements of the new findings, Costa typically retains the major sections of the original nearly verbatim and then at remote and arbitrary junctures interpolates the results of recent criticism. In large part because of this untidy and repetitious procedure, the book has fattened by maybe 30%. For example, the discussion of Wells's early SF is barely altered (occupying chapter 3 in the 1967 edition and chapter 2 in 1985); but then eight chapters later, without warning, comes a new section, "The Science Fictionists: The Time Machine," which is subheaded disjunctively under "Suvin," "Parrinder," "Philmus," and "Huntington," and which alludes to the chapter 2 discussion only in passing. The all-new chapter 8, "Wells and Science," is another unexpected add-in. It explicates the science connection in Wells's opus by reference to the recent critics, Roslynn Haynes and (again) John Huntington; but the eighth chapter (out of 11) would be much too late for the basic question of Wells and science were it not that the subject has already been broached in the aforementioned chapter 2. This sort of postscriptum procedure makes the book a chore to read.

Unreliability is a bad problem. The book being a frankly derivative summary survey of Wells and his critics, factual accuracy is particularly important. I made a partial check of quotations and quickly turned up over 100 errors in the quotations themselves, the page references, or the attributions, and the majority of them were carried from the first edition. Too many slips are symptomatic. A survey may be derivative, but it ought not to be erroneously derivative. That last sentence is Richard D. Mullen's from a 1967 review (in Riverside Quarterly) that decisively memorialized Costa's remarkable ignorance of the contents of The Holy Terror (taken as a sample of his general ignorance of the later Wells) and his evident erroneous understanding of his second-hand source, whatever it was, which he had not acknowledged. Actually, the source turns out to be Antonina Vallentin (apparent from verbal echoes), and it is true that Costa condenses her remarks to the point of inanity. The stinger, though, is that the "revised" (1985) Holy Terror discussion reads exactly as before. After that nothing is surprising, but I shall add four other curious inaccuracies. The Philmus-Hughes bibliography of Wells's early science journalism is said to list over 200 items (p. 10), when in fact it lists fewer than 100; William Bellamy's Rieffian psychological analysis of Wells at the fin-de-siècle is said to account for the "exhilaration" of Wells's short stories (p. 31), when in fact Bellamy's analysis sets out to account for "images of malaise"; Huntington is said to chronicle all of Wells, "The whole performance" (p. 107), when in fact Huntington halts at about 1905--except for the elaboration of a single phrase that he borrows from The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind; and Philmus is said to have stated that the Time Traveler brings back a wilted flower "from the one hundred twenty-first century" (p. 146), when in fact Philmus mentioned that century in another connection, did not relate it to the wilted flower, and would have been about 690 millennia in error if he had.

As a Starmont pamphlet, Robert Crossley's H.G. Wells surveys exclusively the SF, a much less ambitious undertaking than Costa's, which is further simplified by limiting discussion to Wells's five SF classics (The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon) and a rather spotty run-down of the short stories. Granted these disclaimers, Crossley offers much in little. The core of individual readings of the SF, in the above order, is preceded by a sketch of Wells's life to age 30 and a concise account of Wells's development after 1900 as a movement from the "pure fantasy" of the SF to the "applied fantasy" of the action-oriented works that followed. So even though those works lie beyond Crossley's scope, he shows the SF as opening a path to them. The individual readings themselves are thematically unified in terms of continuing religious, political, and social motifs; but, at the same time, Crossley's approach is at bottom literary and aesthetic, as indicated by his rarely equaled interest in Wells's characters-as-characters and his attention to Wells's use of language. The latter involves generous and often un-shopworn chunks of quotation. Also, Crossley's own style is fluent and strikes off teachable if sometimes glib critical phrases. A few examples: as already noted, fantasy may by "applied" or "pure" (p. 13); Wells, with Samuel Johnson, would "regulate imagination by reality" rather than, with Henry James, build "a house of fiction," because Wells's was "a documentary imagination" (pp. 16-17); the Time Traveler is in part "profoundly Morlockian" (p. 26), and in the cannibalism of his future, "politics shall become flesh" (p. 28); and so forth. Altogether, this is a fresh, readable guide to Wells's most famous SF, and, at the same time, it is knowledgeable, unobtrusively at home with the recent secondary literature (i.e., as of 1979, the date of composition; and the 10 pages of primary and secondary bibliographies, usefully classified and annotated, have been brought up through 1984).

Science is Crossley's blind spot--I think less from a humanistic or aesthetic than from a religious standpoint. He minimizes the science Wells knew by treating T.H. Huxley's influence as purely philosophical, as if Huxley never taught the dissection of a rabbit, and by encapsulating all of Wells's science in the fact that "he left school with a mediocre record and got various undistinguished jobs teaching science to preadolescent boys" (p. 13), as if Wells had not later taken the B.Sc. with first-class honors in zoology, taught adults (one of whom he married), and written or collaborated on two biology texts. Then, turning to the fiction, Crossley tends to equate science with the pseudo-scientific patter that accompanies time travel, invisibility, or anti-gravity, and by dismissing the patter, to undercut the claims of science upon Wells's science fiction. In turn, the vacancy thus opened up tends to promote religious themes stepping in, not necessarily an implausible displacement: it is 15 years since the Mackenzies connected the evangelical Christianity of Wells's youth with the apocalyptic aspects of Darwin (especially Huxley's Darwin). Crossley's religious glossings make good (if only partial) sense. He notes Wells's frequent biblical language and comments on the creation scenes by Moreau and on the lunar surface, the transformation scenes in The War of the Worlds, and the first (Adamic) and last (contra-Adamic) men scattered through the SF. In a word, Crossley seems to miss the point that Wells uses the vistas opened by science to dwarf the "eternities" of religion and to create out of religious language and imagery an ironic comment on religious anthropomorphism.

In spite of this caveat, Crossley's H.G. Wells excels as an introduction intended for a wide audience, including non-specialists of all sorts.

--David Y. Hughes University of Michigan

Something to Think About

Joseph Sanders. E.E. Smith. [Starmont Reader's Guide No. 24.] Mercer Island, WA: Starmont Press, 1986. 96pp. $7.95 (paper)

This monograph deals with the problem of why good men write bad books and why sensible people read them-- or, to be precise, those are two issues that must be faced when dealing with such monuments of the Semi-Precious Metal Ages of SF as Doc Smith. I suspect that few men over 30 who read SF during their adolescence (I cannot speak for the women) did not enjoy Doc Smith's books--and that few would now admit to rereading, let alone enjoying, them. The "Skylark" and "Lensman" series, along with the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edmond Hamilton, Ray Cummings, Robert E. Howard, and others of their generation and publishing niche, comprise the literary acne of SF&F, a painful and embarrassing adolescent memory. What Sanders must manage, beyond the basic Starmont imperative to deliver biographic and bibliographic data, is to remind those of us who have forgotten what it was that might have appealed to us in those tales of iron men in wooden prose.

One fairly common answer must be: "Nothing. We were, after all, immature, tasteless, and probably neurotic. Any lingering fondness for the stuff is evidence that we never quite managed to grow up." This is pretty much Brian Stableford's position in two brief critical pieces on Smith's work ("The Skylark Series" and "The Lensman Series" in Survey of Science Fiction Literature, ed. Frank Magill, 1979), where the best he can say is, "The Skylark books are aesthetically and intellectually vacuous, and can no longer offer the same kind of revelatory consciousness-expansion that they once did" ("Skylark," p. 2094). Smith's space operas were popular in their own time, Stableford says, partly because they offered marvels new to that time; they manage to remain popular thanks to a "constant supply of new naive readers" ("Skylark," p. 2095), for whom the "innocent brutality" of Smith's work is therapeutic rather than dangerous.

The strength of Sanders' study is that it is a sympathetic response to Smith's work, one with a sense of the history of the field and of its audience. Its weakness is that it is sometimes too sympathetic, so that readers who do not share Sanders's feelings about the subject will likely leave without satisfying answers to some of their questions about the continuing importance of Smith in SF. Sanders does offer a good portrait of E.E. Smith the man. He was, by more accounts than this one, decent and industrious, intellectually and athletically active, and ethically sensitive enough to get himself fired from a munitions plant job in a dispute over quality control. His outdoorsy, Western upbringing (which Sanders uses to explain some of Smith's gaudy, exaggerated dialogue) and his day-job career as a doughnut-factory chemist make him sound like something out of an old Saturday Evening Post story, and there is something appealingly of the period about Smith's life.

But the real question is: What kind of writer was Smith--where did those books come from and why did (and does) their audience enjoy them? Sanders shows how Smith worked, how he grew as a writer (I can already hear the opposition grumbling at that last verb). In the case of the "Lensman" books especially, we see how the series developed, changed, accreted; and we get some sense of what the appeal must have been as the four original serials (Galactic Patrol, 1937; Gray Lensman, 1939; Second Stage Lensman, 1941; Children of the Lens, 1947) appeared in Astounding, each topping its predecessor (vide the "Riverworld" series for a similar effect). That Smith's ambitions for his space operas were large and their effects consciously worked at there can be little doubt; Sanders shows that the core of the "Lensman" series was conceived as a single large adventure, each new serial opening out onto a wider and wilder picture of who the galactic bad guys really are. Such planning makes Smith less the stereotypical pulpster, following up on a popular success with more of the same, improvising feverishly to top each climax with a bigger one.

With the addition of First Lensman (1950; written from scratch to fill a gap) and Triplanetary (1948; revised and patched in from a 1934 serial), the series became a different kind of work from the serials. First, the reworking of Triplanetary changed the way later generations of readers would experience Smith's saga by giving away at the start the mystery of who stands behind the forces of evil rather than revealing the layers of Boskone's organization a layer at a time. Second, the presentation of the series as a single multivolume work reinforced the impression that the author's intentions went beyond ephemeral pulp adventure; the specially-bound set issued as The History of Civilization (1955) may seem an example of fannish exuberance or authorial pomposity, but there is a kernel of serious purpose at the center of the title and packaging. Sanders argues that Smith was concerned with "the moral struggle for contact/ growth" (p. 60), the need to develop one's own powers and to recognize the humanity of other thinking creatures (including women). In this view, the heroes and villains are synechdochic representatives of their societies, of Civilization and Boskone, and we know Civilization through, say, Kimball Kinnison rather than through a clear portrait of his culture.

It is in explanations such as this that Sanders has the most trouble. Having handled the objection that Smith's picture of a future Civilization is sketchy (indeed, what we see looks remarkably like 1938 America) by saying that "Smith's lack of interest in the masses of society is balanced by his very strong interest in the individual" (p. 46), he must deal at once with the fact that Doc was not known for his characterization either. Here I think Sanders may be trying too hard to defend Smith against all comers, and I am not sure that case can be made without apologizing for Doc's limitations at least a little. I reread Gray Lensman before starting this review, and even after reviewing Sanders's argument that Smith's nearly-perfect heroes are hard to believe because their lack of ambivalence and weakness is "alien to most human experience" (p. 47), it still seems to me that Smith simply lacked the skill to pull off such portraits, and perhaps had not thought too deeply about what a moral, intellectual, and physical superman might be like.

In the end, Sanders makes as good a case for Smith as one can, and if he cannot completely answer the Stablefordian critique, he does balance it. Critical response to Smith and to space opera in general, I suspect, is less a matter of substance than of how one feels about works that do not transcend adolescence. It may indeed be difficult or impossible to revisit the scenes of teenage wonder without noticing that the backdrops are painted flats and that the wires holding up the spaceships are visible, but a complete devaluation of such works also devalues their audiences, and that is something that we should think about.

--Russell Letson St Cloud, MN

Blooming Absences

Harold Bloom, ed. Ursula K. Le Guin. ["Modern Critical Views Series."] NY: Chelsea House, 1986. x + 274pp. $27.50

Chelsea House has not shown much interest in including SF authors in its "Modern Critical Views" series--for which oversight, authors and scholars can be thankful. Reputations are not aided by being bound up in Chelsea House boards, in spite of the prestigious Harold Bloom serving as General Editor and as author of the introductions.

The Le Guin volume consists of 17 essays, arranged by date of publication (1974-85). The "Editor's Note" does not indicate how the essays were selected, only that they are the "most illuminating criticism" (p. ix). Essays were apparently chosen for uncovering central themes or background sources; for discussing meaningful contexts for Le Guin's work--genre, utopian literature, ethnology; and for examining, in depth, her major works.

It is disturbing to consider how many significant aspects of Le Guin criticism are missing--for example, Kathleen Spencer's study of Le Guin's fiction in light of Victor Turner's concept of liminality and social structure, Marty Bickman's demonstration of the unity of concept and structure in The Left Hand of Darkness, Kate Hayles' examination of the ambivalence of androgyny in The Left Hand of Darkness, Tom Remington's studies on the imagery of touch in Le Guin's work, M. Teresa Tavormina's discussion of physics as metaphors in The Dispossessed, Peter Nicholls' early review-article on the concept of death in The Farthest Shore. Also missing are the more controversial essays by other SF authors who admire Le Guin, but urge her beyond what they perceive as her limitations--Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany, Stanislaw Lem. There are no essays which give the more personal side of Le Guin, such as those by Karl Kroeber or Vonda McIntyre.

Perhaps one reason for the absence of this variety is that nearly two-thirds of the essays were selected from the two best known and most readily available sources of SF essays--the two North American journals devoted to SF. Seven essays in the Bloom volume are from SFS, four are from books, three from Extrapolation, and one each from Mosaic and Children's Literature; one is original to this volume. Two of the omitted essays mentioned above, for example, were published in Foundation.

Another reason may be a lack of familiarity with Le Guin's entire opus. The last eight essays in the volume are identified as focusing "in depth upon what would appear to be Le Guin's principal achievements to date: The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed and The Beginning Place" (p. ix). The consensus on The Beginning Place is not that clear; nor does the volume give any consideration to Le Guin's collection of short stories, The Compass Rose (1982), or to her most recent novel, Always Coming Home (1985). In fact, neither of these works is even listed in the chronology of Le Guin's life and work at the end of the Bloom volume.

The arrangement of the essays is chronological, yet there is no discussion, in either the "Editor's Note" or "Introduction," of the history or development of Le Guin criticism. The book begins with essays by Ketterer (1974), Barbour (1974), and Scholes (1975). Not only are the dates misleading (both Ketterer's and Scholes's essays were first published a year earlier), but Eleanor Cameron's 1971 essay on A Wizard of Earthsea, which discusses the anthropological, mythical, and Jungian elements in Le Guin's fantasy, is noticeably missing.

All of these absences and oversights suggest a "factory-line" production of the "Modern Critical Views" series. Unfortunately, there is even further evidence of a carelessly produced volume. The note on Susan Wood, a contributor to the volume, is written in the present tense; she died in 1980. The co-editor of SFS is listed as R.D. Miller; R.D. Mullen, a thorough and careful editor himself, deserves better than this. The volume's bibliography lists only 26 additional essays and books. How items were selected for this "honorable mention" list is not indicated; its title, "Bibliography," is misleading since the list is so short; neither of the two previous anthologies of criticism on Le Guin appears in the list (I mean De Bolt's and Olander and Greenberg's).

The most shocking indication of careless production is that all notes and references that originally accompanied the essays have been stripped away. I cannot imagine an audience that would find the Bloom volume's version of any of these essays useful or acceptable--neither high school nor university students or libraries. The reader must find an earlier published version of each essay to recover the original author's careful, scholarly documentation. It is unconscionable that anyone would wish to foster among students and scholars the idea that documentation can simply be deleted--and without even mentioning that it was ever there. Nor should any scholarly book foster the idea that critical essays are written without knowledge of colleagues' work. Furthermore, the editor has not provided notes of his own on the publishing context of the articles. Thus, the reader has no idea that Klein's contribution is the second part of an essay, the first part of which was published in SFS No. 13 (1977), nor that Joanna Russ responded to its sexism in SFS No. 17 (1979). Nor does the reader know that Ketterer's essay prompted several written responses (in SFS No. 6 [1975] and No. 8 [1976]) or that Barbour published an addendum to his article in SFS No. 7. Nor does the reader know that Scholes's discussion of the SF&F context of Le Guin's work rests on his identification and definition of an inclusive genre called "structural fabulation."

The conclusion is obvious: do not buy this book and do not ask your library to buy this book or any other volume in the "Modern Critical Views" series.


Bickman, Martin. "Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness: Form and Content," SFS, 4 (1977):42-47.

Cameron, Eleanor. "High Fantasy: A Wizard of Earthsea," Horn Book, 47 (1971): 129-38.

De Bolt, Joseph, ed. Ursula K. Le Guin: Voyager to Inner Lands and to Outer Space. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat, 1978.

Delany, Samuel R. "To Read The Dispossessed," in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (Elizabethtown, NY: Dragon, 1977), pp. 239-308.

Hayles, N.K. "Androgyny, Ambivalence, and Assimilation in The Left Hand of Darkness," in Olander & Greenberg, pp. 97-115, 228-29.

Ketterer, David. "The Left Hand of Darkness: Ursula K. Le Guin's Archetypal 'Winter Journey,'" Riverside Quarterly, 5 (1973):288-97.

Kroeber, Karl. "Sisters and Science Fiction," Little Magazine, 10 (1976): 87-90.

Lem, Stanislaw. "Lost Opportunities: Part II: The Left Hand of Darkness," SF Commentary, 24 (1971):22-24.

McIntyre, Vonda. Introduction to Le Guin's From Elfland to Poughkeepsie. (Portland: Pendragon, 1973), pp. xiii-xviii.

Nicholls, Peter. "Showing Children the Value of Death," Foundation, 5 (1974):75-79.

Olander, Joseph D. & Martin Harry Greenberg. Ursula K. Le Guin. ["Writers of the 21st Century Series"] NY: Taplinger, 1979.

Remington, Thomas J. "The Other Side of Suffering: Touch as Theme and Metaphor in Le Guin's Science Fiction Novels," in Olander & Greenberg, pp. 153-77, 234-36.

________. "A Touch of Difference, A Touch of Love," Extrapolation, 18 (1976): 28-41.

Russ, Joanna. "The Image of Women in Science Fiction," in Red Clay Reader 7 (Charlotte, NC: Southern Review, 1969), pp. 35-40.

________. "Review of The Dispossessed," Fantasy and Science Fiction, 38 (1975):41-44.

Scholes, Robert. "The Good Witch of The West," Hollins Critic, 11 (1974):1-12.

Spencer, Kathleen. "Exiles and Envoys: The SF of Ursula K. Le Guin," Foundation, 20 (1980):32-43.

Tavormina, M. Teresa. "Physics as Metaphors: The General Temporal Theory in The Dispossessed," Mosaic, 13 (1980):51-62.

--Elizabeth Cummins U. Missouri -- Rolla

Totalizing History

Brian W. Aldiss, with David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. NY: Atheneum, 1986. 511pp. $24.95

When Brian Aldiss's Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction (1973) appeared over a decade ago, it announced itself as "th[e] first history of the genre" (p. 2); and considering its scope, it was right to do so. In spite of its less than rapturous reception by reviewers and critics at the time (a fact which an understandably disgruntled Aldiss does not let readers forget in his introduction to the present revised and updated edition) Billion Year Spree proved to be a valuable compilation of SF history and (non-academic) criticism. That qualifying "non-academic" means that it is both intelligent and readable, entertaining in a way that, unfortunately, many works written for purely academic reception are not. This is the book I recommend to friends when they want to know more about an area in which I am currently investing so much of my time.

Billion Year Spree is subtitled in a way which calls the reader's attention to one of the earliest extant fantasies, the 2nd-century True History of Lucian of Samosata. Aldiss's implicit alignment of his 1973 history with a text of pure imagination gives to Billion Year Spree the kind of cachet such a work requires: it seems prepared to admit its own subjective limitations as the history of a literary genre which invites many differing perspectives. Even in this first edition, however, Aldiss was quite prepared to defend his historical viewpoint against all challengers. And in its present reincarnation, his history of SF is no longer (ironically?) subtitled "true history"; it has become simply "the history of science fiction." This much less flexible self-advertisement leaves Trillion Year Spree open to the many criticisms which can be (and have been) leveled at historical totalizations of any kind. Since this is a history which has been "designed to serve in schools where SF is on the curriculum" (p. 23), it is important to keep such caveats in mind.

It is as if Aldiss and David Wingrove have decided to accept Sam Moskowitz's critically naive assurance (recently expressed in his "Five Steps to Science Fiction Sanity," Extrapolation, 27 [1986]:281-94), that there are "mountains of facts" available to be gathered about SF and that the "assemblage" of these facts is "very likely to give the right answers, just as placing all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place offers the complete picture" (Moskowitz: 291). From this perspective, Trillion Year Spree proves to be a rather more irritating reading experience than its forerunner because it seems even more insistent on its own ability to offer "the complete picture." Since historical "facts" are precisely not like "the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle"--who chooses them? which facts are available to which historian? which facts do not fit which theory and therefore are not considered? how much does taste and personal history affect the choice of these facts? how can one separate historical facts from traditionally received ideas which have solidified into "facts"?--all one can ever hope to produce is "a" history, never "the" history, no matter what one's subject happens to be. All this strikes me as somewhat ironic since Aldiss and Wingrove express their agreement with James Blish's remark that Moskowitz's "sole critical principle is one of infinite regress" (p. 440, n. 23). From this perspective, Trillion Year Spree itself suffers from a certain critical backsliding.

As a consequence, I find myself somewhat less than completely reassured by the authors' claim that Trillion Year Spree has been written "with as much neutrality and freedom from favoritism or prejudice as its authors can contrive between them" (p. 23). I assume this is why the authors chose to exclude Aldiss's own work from their history. Not only am I not convinced of the wisdom of such an exclusion, since Brian Aldiss is one of the most important figures in the history of modern British SF; but it holds true only insofar as the body of the work is concerned. The endnotes, while attesting to research which is both relevant and wide-ranging (and which clearly demonstrates the authors' familiarity with much of the critical work which has been produced since the publication of the previous volume), also amount to a mini-history of Aldiss's own work as SF writer, critic, and public figure. This hardly counts as complete exclusion from the text.

The authors make it clear in their introduction that the critical framework of the previous edition has remained unchanged. This framework was constructed upon several theses, all of which are still operant in the present volume: (1) that SF is a literary descendent of the Gothic mode; (2) that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the first "real" SF novel; (3) that SF can be defined as "the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mould" (Billion Year Spree, p. 8). The reader can accept these contentions or not; what counts here is the clarity with which Aldiss and Wingrove's framework is presented. I am happy enough to concede Frankenstein to Aldiss: it is certainly as appealing as any other starting point which has been suggested for SF and has much to recommend it as at least a significant progenitor. As for historical roots and definitions, Aldiss's arguments add much useful fodder to the critical debates surrounding these topics. However, while Trillion Year Spree continues to offer ideas which are intellectually challenging, its tone is often annoyingly self-congratulatory. For example:

It is hard to recognize now the confusion that existed then [at the time of Billion Year Spree's publication]. Before my book appeared, there was no accepted idea of when SF began. Some critics claimed it all started in a semi-juvenile pulp magazine in the twenties, others that Homer wrote science fiction. Ludicrously enough, these were often the same critics. Yet to have no understanding of this matter is to have no understanding of the function and nature of SF. (p. 20)

This is not only arrogant; it is questionable. And its tone guarantees that it will come under attack: to claim that one has set straight the entire literary community as to the provenance of a particular literary genre seems to me to be like waving a red flag at a breed of bull which is only too ready to involve itself in battles of this nature.

In the current volume, the authors have "modified" Aldiss's original definition of SF by changing two words: "man" has become "mankind" and "mould" has become "mode." The latter change emphasizes Aldiss's contention that SF is a mode rather than a genre; this change is advertised in the Introduction. Curiously, however, there is no mention of the change from "man" to "mankind." I assume that this is an attempt to excise the sexist language of the original ("science fiction is the search for a definition of man...") through the use of a word which is more "inclusive." But just as the use of "mankind" is a move in the right direction which still remains less than acceptable, so Trillion Year Spree includes a recognition which is also less than adequate of feminist presence in SF, in spite of the few pages devoted to the subject in their final chapter. This aspect of Aldiss and Wingrove's history indicates what I consider to be a significant weakness in their approach: a lack of recognition of the inevitably political nature of so much of the material in question. One example of the results of what I consider to be their underplaying of the role of feminism in the development of SF should suffice: in chapter 3, "Honourable Ancestors: Good Places and Other Places," which includes a consideration of utopian fiction in the development of SF, the authors conclude that "Aldous Huxley's Island (1962)...may be among the last of the considerable utopias until the world climate alters" (p. 74). Not only has this discussion not mentioned Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland (1915), which is introduced only in the subsequent consideration of 19th-century SF; there is no acknowledgment at this point that works such as Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) or Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1977) may perhaps be worth at least as much attention as Huxley's rather fatigued final effort at utopian fiction. Aldiss and Wingrove demonstrate a subjectivity in their approach to the whole idea of utopian writing--which perhaps accounts for their relative neglect of works by Piercy and Russ (not to mention Le Guin and Delany) at this particular point in their history. They conclude that

a decline in the general belief in political systems; a profound questioning of the effects of technology; even the retreat from so much as lip service towards established religion; these are some of the factors which render unlikely the creation of utopias in the immediate future. (p. 74)

Surely "a decline in the general belief in political systems," for example, is itself a political attitude. And it is exactly these issues which are responsible for the creation of works like Woman on the Edge of Time, The Female Man, The Dispossessed, and Triton, all of which are considered important contributions to the field of utopian fiction. This is only one example of the subjectivity at play in Trillion Year Spree; if it were more openly acknowledged, perhaps the reader might feel more tolerant about the occasional lapses from "fact" into personal approach. In addition, the tendency to "fracture" discussions (Gilman's mention in chapter 4, which we are then presumably expected to link to the discussion of utopian fiction in chapter 3, is a case in point) in order to preserve the chronological continuity of the book proves distracting at times and diffuses some critical arguments before they have been fully developed.

Part of the problem is that Aldiss and Wingrove are not attuned to political content, which is always an intrinsic aspect of SF, as of any other genre (or mode). Their introduction of feminism as one of the "many ground swells" (p. 322) which came into prominence during the 1970s is particularly revealing. It not only suggests the misguided notion that SF was relatively free of ideological programming before the "New Wave" insurgence of the late '60s; it reduces feminism to simply one of any number of political axe-grindings--choose your own axe. Feminism thus takes its place in a list which includes "ecology, computerisation, proliferation of nuclear power, psychoanalysis, [and] sexual liberation." The constant use of words like "man" and "mankind" throughout Trillion Year Spree is not only disturbing; it tempts me to conclude that, since feminism has developed into one of the major forces involved in "the search for a [re]definition of mankind," Aldiss and Wingrove have not taken to heart their own definition of SF.

As "a" history of SF, however, Trillion Year Spree occupies the same niche as its predecessor did a decade ago. It is an intelligent, entertaining, and wide-ranging effort to impose form on the "mountain of facts" available to the SF historian. While problems do arise in the final chapter, they are problems inevitable to a work which sets out to encapsulate the current state of any literary movement. As in Billion Year Spree, the present volume concludes in a rather diffuse and shapeless manner, as it attempts (a noble attempt at an impossible task) to list as many contemporary writers as the authors believe worthy of note. Inevitably (and this too is inherent in the attempt), the reader will question certain inclusions and exclusions: the range is wide but the choices, in the final analysis, depend upon less than completely objective criteria. The penultimate chapter, on the other hand, contains what I consider to be a series of necessary and cogent (re)evaluations of the current anomalous celebration of such '50s' figures as Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, and Clarke (in the chapter appropriately titled "How to be a Dinosaur"), writers whose work represents SF for the average contemporary reader while new directions in the genre tend to be overlooked. In addition, some of the earlier chapters have been usefully expanded. The chapter devoted to the works of H.G. Wells, "The Great General in Dreamland," is a case in point: Aldiss and Wingrove include examinations of the impact of many of Wells's later works which were not discussed, or were only mentioned in passing, in the earlier Spree.

In spite of its shortcomings (many, although certainly not all, of which are unavoidable), however, Trillion Year Spree is an impressive undertaking, offering as it does a wide range of intelligent information about the historical development and current state of SF, entertainingly written, and exhaustively researched. The opposition and debate which it inevitably invites is by no means a bad thing, since it should stimulate many SF readers and critics to (re)define and clarify their own perceptions of the genre (or mode).

--Veronica Hollinger  Concordia University

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