Remaking the Past.
Bud Foote. The
Connecticut Yankee in the Twentieth Century: Travel to the Past in Science Fiction.
Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #43. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1991. xii+209. $39.95.-- Rarely does a single book inaugurate a genre as
did More's Utopia and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Bud Foote rightly argues
that in this elite company we must include Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur's Court as progenitor of the time-travel story. It provided a compelling new
archetype. Nothing quite like it had appeared before. Its precursors deal mostly with
one-way travel to the future in the manner of Rip Van Winkle or the legend of the
Seven Sleepers. In those few previous tales where the past is visited there is no attempt
to change it as Twain's Yankee tries to do. Soon after A Connecticut Yankee,
however, two-way time-travel stories not only proliferated but very often devoted
attention to the consequences of altering as well as observing the past. Such tales remain
so much a staple of SF that it is hard to imagine how it could do without them. Foote
persuasively makes the case that for spurring this development Twain deserves far wider
recognition than he has yet received as a pivotal figure in the history of SF. It follows
too that A Connecticut Yankee should be ungrudgingly elevated to its rightful
place in SF courses and histories alongside such key texts as Frankenstein and The
Foote does not scant the context of romance, adventure, and other forms that provided
the necessary foundation for Twain's achievement. Thus after remarking that "all tales of
temporal stranding are robinsonnades,'' he stresses affiliations to this genre:
"Just as Defoe created a whole new subspecies of fiction with Robinson Crusoe...so
among Twain's many accomplishments must be numbered the adaptation of that subspecies to
the temporal sphere'' (93, 94). Acknowledgement of this debt in no way diminishes Twain's
originality though it will, I hope, enhance appreciation of Defoe's many affinities with
SF. Despite some inevitable adaptation of available conventions, the remarkable features
of A Connecticut Yankeeare its bold departures from its precursors and its
serviceability as a model for new variations on its distinctive topic of attempting to
meddle with the past.
To show how elaborately this topic and its implications are developed in Twain's
complicated text, as well as how widely it has served as a model for subsequent
time-travel stories, Foote organizes the core of his book into five chapters headed
"Children of the Yankee.'' Each takes up a different category of affiliated tales: the Nostalgics; the Innocents Abroad; Cecil Rhodes and Company; Dear Old Dad and His Girl; and
These Curious Strangers. Under these whimsical headings Foote provides accurate analysis
of a wide range of 20th-century stories to show how they elaborate upon issues implicit or
explicit in A Connecticut Yankee: nostagia for a past rightly or wrongly viewed
as better than an unsatisfactory present or threatening future; Americans from the new
world as tourists revisiting the old world to search for their cultural past; imperialist
exploitation of natives in technologically primitive areas that are regarded as part of
the past rather than the present and accordingly fair game for looting; the psychology of
curiosity about the past and of fantasies about revisiting our earlier selves, especially
for a replay of childhood with the advantage of adult hindsight; and the time traveller as
alienated stranger through whose eyes readers can view themselves and their civilization
from an estranged perspective. Foote's five core chapters are a nice exercise in
comparative literature at its best. They show how well A Connecticut Yankeeserves
as a paradigm for understanding later varieties of time-travel stories. They show too how
comparison of such stories with Twain's text allows exact analysis of its structure and
These morphological concerns are widened in other chapters taking up the conventions of
time-travel narratives and the crucial question of why, granted the impossibility of time
travel in the real world, such stories are part of SF at all, let alone central to it,
rather than a hallmark of fantasy. Foote provides several perceptive answers, of which the
most telling is that in one way or another tales of travel to the past, no less than tales
set in the future, force connection of a story to real history presented with some degree
of cognitive estrangement rather than, as in places like Tolkien's Middle Earth, allowing
contemplation of a world altogether disconnected from our own timestream. I wish more
people shared Foote's understanding that our best SF achieves much of its relevance by
virtue of powerful engagement with history, even--and perhaps especially--where the
vehicle of that engagement is alternate past history or imaginary future history. Think
only of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which now partakes of both modes.
Causal questions are always more slippery than matters of morphology, but Foote does
not shrink from posing the hardest ones: "Why did the idea of travel to the past, and the
attempt to change the past with hindsight and technology, first appear in America? Why in
1889? Why in the work of Mark Twain?'' (171). Foote's answers are plausible. He points to
a conjunction of phenomena ranging from American equation of geography with time and thus
of spatial with temporal travel (with Eastern states and Europe as past and the Western
frontier as future) through such disparate events as expansion of the geological
time-scale; imminence of threatening technological change; the heyday of imperialist
exploitation in undeveloped areas; expansion of tourism via development of the steamboat;
Twain's psychological response to the stories of Faust, Prometheus, and Frankenstein; and
even Twain's experience as a steamboat pilot who belonged to "the first generation to
whom it was a matter of course that one might sail up the river as well as down it''
(178). Throughout the book these answers are elaborated in ways that, though not always
altogether persuasive, are never reductive and are always valuable in understanding the
significance as well as the cultural matrix of Twain's major contribution to SF.
For those wishing to pursue that cultural matrix beyond the confines of SF, I suggest
David Lowenthal's The Past is a Foreign Country(1985). Lowenthal draws on A
Connecticut Yankeeand other SF along with a vast array of material outside literature
to illustrate shifting attitudes toward the past, and our reasons for seeking it out.
Further useful reading suggestions abound in Foote's list of works cited. He explains that
space limitations prevented any attempt there at an exhaustive annotated bibliography of
SF about travel to the past and related scholarship, but promises "an additional
(bibliographic) volume on the subject'' (ix). We need that volume from his expert hand.
While awaiting this sequel, all those concerned with SF, with American studies, and with
time in literature should read The Connecticut Yankee in the Twentieth Century.
This lucid book is indispensable.
--Paul Alkon University of Southern California
SF Strategies in Controversy.
Philip John Davies, ed. Science Fiction, Social Conflict and War.
Manchester (UK) UP, 1990. vi+186. $49.95 cloth, $13.95 paper.
Convinced that "SF is a literary form particularly suited to the analysis of conflict
and war,'' Philip John Davies has assembled a thoughtful and cogent collection of essays
that examine various strategies employed by this still disreputable genre to limn some of
the most important issues of our time. The contributors to Davies' anthology discuss how
SF has grappled with sexual politics, racism, the intersection of the personal and the
political in utopian writings, the formidable challenges facing writers in the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe before the stunning and momentous changes of recent years,
violent revolution in modern American SF, the Vietnam War, and nuclear weapons.
Near the end of his introductory essay Davies cites the remarks of one of Kurt
Vonnegut's characters, Eliot Rosewater, who proclaims at a convention of SF writers:
You're the only ones who'll talk about the really terrific changes going on, the only
ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one either, but one
that will last for billions of years. You're the only ones with guts enough to really care
about the future, who really know what machines do to us, what cities do to us, what big,
simple ideas do to us, what tremendous mistakes, accidents, and catastrophes do to us.
You're the only ones zany enough to agonize...over the fact that we are right now
determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to Heaven
or Hell. (6)
Today, a quarter century after Rosewater's salute to SF writers, the threat of
"tremendous mistakes, accidents, and catastrophes'' surely looms as large as ever. If
more and more people are now convinced that the principal peril facing humanity is not
nuclear war, but ecological collapse, reflective human beings will continue to interrogate
not only what kind of future we might have, but what must be done to ensure that
there will indeed be a future.
If we are to effectively ameliorate the kinds of social strife and conflict that are
not only terribly destructive in themselves but also serve as breeding grounds for
militarism, war, and environmental degradation, it will be necessary to allocate
additional attention to issues of class, race, and gender, and, perhaps even more
important, to challenge our culture's tendency to regard the "personal'' and the
"political'' as discrete realms. By helping us to appreciate that the personal and the
political are, on the contrary, intimately related and continually reinforcing, the essays
in Davies' anthology make an invaluable contribution to this essential task.
In the volume's opening essay, on sexual politics and women's SF, Jacqueline Pearson
argues that the increased participation of female writers in SF is "perhaps best
understood in the light of Darko Suvin's assertion that SF is `historically part of a
submerged or plebian lower literature expressing the yearnings of previously repressed or
at any rate non-hegemonic social groups''' (8). Pointing out that female writers have
found SF tropes especially useful for dramatizing the politics of gender, Pearson
maintains that SF "has changed spectacularly because of the intervention of women writers
who have radically revised the tropes of a male-dominated literary form'' (23).
In his essay on the "race question'' in American SF, Edward James points out that
there is an important methodological problem that must be faced by anyone who wishes to
explore changing ideas about race relations in the United States:
to distinguish those stories which actually are about race from those which
are not, and secondarily perhaps, to separate those stories which are consciously
about race from those which are not. The field is very wide, for one of the most
ubiquitous themes in SF is Contact with the Other: there are potentially a huge number of
stories which might "really'' be about race. The problem of deciding whether the
Other--an alien, a robot, an android--is actually intended as a metaphor for the racial
Other is a crucial problem if we want to understand the role played by race in SF. (39)
Based on 30 years of reading SF (rather than on an exhaustive analysis of thousands of
stories), James finds "an historical progression in the treatment of the Other.'' The
theme of a unified humanity dominated in the 1950s and early '60s. During the next decade
"the alien, in particular, became the oppressed colonial (and Vietnam Wars devastated
planet after planet)'' (44). Environmental concerns were central in the '80s, but during
the past decade "SF had very largely lost the sense of being the educational tool that SF
writers had, in the 1950s, espoused with almost missionary zeal" (44). With at least
a perceived increase in racism during the Reagan-Bush era--a perception that undoubtedly
has considerable basis in fact--a forthright confrontation with the intractable and
virulent "American dilemma'' by more SF writers would be a welcome development.
James suggests that considerably more attention to issues of social class would also
seem to be in order. In his second essay, on violent revolution in American SF, James
observes that during the last half-century very few American SF writers have imagined
radically different socio-economic systems, and virtually none have conceived of such
fundamentally different systems resulting from violent revolutions. If, in an age of
proliferating weaponry of mass destruction, the costs of violent revolution are becoming
increasingly prohibitive, most writers, unfortunately, also seem to have little enthusiasm
for the less exorbitant and worthier alternative: the possibility that nonviolence
can help to establish a just and enduring peace. "Political speculation,'' James laments,
"is...minimal in most writers: American science fiction these days offers few ways out of
the perceived trend towards environmental disaster or political or economic oppression.
Near futures are, usually, darker versions of our own world'' (110). In an age of
pervasive cynicism, we should hardly be surprised that we have a plethora of future
dystopias "but few visions of how to dismantle them'' (111).
The prolonged and enormously destructive US military intervention in Indochina
undoubtedly has contributed to the cynicism of the post-Vietnam generation. In his essay
on SF and the Vietnam War, Alasdair Spark observes that "a genre predicated on faith in
future technology and America'' found "itself confronted by futility and perversion in
the present'' (114). Spark cites J.G. Ballard's observation that from about 1930 to 1960
American SF writers evinced extraordinary confidence that science and technology could
solve all problems. But in a 1969 interview Ballard underscored that this optimism clearly
was no longer the dominant form of SF.
Unfortunately, the blithe optimism that dedicated scientists might be able to discover
a technological fix or panacea for our most pressing problems is an illusion that more
than a few political leaders, and all too many ordinary citizens, remain especially loath
to relinquish, as we learned once again when Ronald Reagan's chimerical dream of a
Wars'' defense to make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete'' was received with
considerable popular approbation. But this cruel hoax, H. Bruce Franklin reminds us, is
only the most recent recrudescence of the perennial fantasy that some kind of ultimate
weapon can be developed to finally make war obsolete.
In a nuclear age, Franklin warns, there might be apocalyptic consequences if ordinary
citizens fail to read various texts, including SF, with considerably more acumen than
their leaders appear to have done. He points out that "The miraculous beam and other and
other antimissile weapons of Reagan's Star Wars fantasy, designed to make America
invulnerable and thus to secure eternal peace, had long been familiar features of American
science fiction.... By the late 1930s, they had become standard features in comic books
and Hollywood movies'' (166). One of these miraculous weapons of deliverance was featured
in a 1940 Warner Brothers film, Murder in the Air; as it happens, the young actor
who then parlayed an ultimate superweapon to save America was named Ronald Reagan.
Forty-three years later the not-so-young actor proposed that a nation more than a little
frightened by his own rhetoric and policies accept an even more incredible script to end
the nuclear nightmare. (Franklin also suggests that SF may have exercised more than a
modicum of influence upon another American president, Harry Truman, and his decision to
inaugurate the nuclear age by obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)
In another incisive essay on the bomb, Paul Brians discusses what has been, until quite
recently, a largely neglected topic in SF: depictions of nuclear war (or its aftermath)
written specifically for young readers. Because young people cannot avoid the topic of
nuclear war, "They deserve books which confront their fears honestly and present the
reasonable but difficult, inescapably political solutions.'' Unfortunately, very few books Brians had read met this standard. All too many writers have trivialized nuclear war, or
romanticized its aftermath, or have suggested that solutions to the nuclear dilemma are
"primarily scientific and technological rather than ethical and political'' (140).
Perusing more than a thousand nuclear war narratives, Brians could find only two which
dramatized antinuclear activism as both rational and hopeful. Perhaps with the ending of
the Cold War, SF writers who choose to treat this subject can now in good faith begin
providing readers with genuinely optimistic conclusions, rather than the bogus hopeful
endings which have been all too common during four decades of superpower strife.
The thoughtful concluding essay in the anthology, Martha A. Bartter's "Normative
Fiction,'' also addresses the problem of nuclear war at some length. Bartter notes that
when we attempt to discuss the central assumptions we live by, we immediately encounter a
major problem: we are rarely cognizant of what these assumptions are. One such unconscious
and unnoticed assumption shared by much of the world is "that nuclear devices, though
admittedly dangerous, form our only defence against invasion, or worse'' (173). During the
late '70s and early '80s, when more and more citizens began to challenge this proposition,
Ronald Reagan himself appeared to have joined the peace movement by asking whether it was
not better to "save lives rather than avenge them.'' Bartter observes that various SF
stories about nuclear war have confidently assumed that the scientists who created the
bomb will come up with an effective defense against it. The uninstructed narrative of at
least one US president, of course, also embraced this simplistic nostrum.
According to Bartter, public ignorance of science and the scientific method,
exacerbated by the pervasive secrecy of the nuclear establishment, militates against
conceiving and implementing enlightened solutions for the nuclear predicament. The Star
Wars controversy itself, a science-fictional concept if there ever was one, certainly
feeds on this ignorance. The uninformed expect simple answers. Scientists who try to
remain intellectually honest appear merely undecided; those with a personal stake in the
outcome make unsupportable claims; and "ordinary people'' don't know enough about
scientific method, much less about science, to evaluate the situation. (180)
The three authors in this volume who have focussed on the nuclear quandary all warn
that however complex and arcane this issue appears, it is simply too important to be left
to the "experts.'' The Cold War itself may finally be over, but the problem of the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction must remain at or near the top of the agenda
for both responsible political leaders and ordinary citizens. If more individuals are
willing to engage those SF texts that do intelligently confront the nuclear problem, they
might consider the liberating possibility that they too can become part of the solution.
And that even in the absence of a technical fix, human beings are not necessarily
condemned to be forever subjugated by nuclear technology.
--Daniel L. Zins Atlanta College of Art.
Mormon and Mammon.
Michael R. Collings. In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization, and Landscape in
the Fiction of Orson Scott Card. Contributions to the Study of
Science Fiction and Fantasy. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1990. xvi+192. $39.95
Collings veers between celebrating Card and studying him, between acting as a critic
and dismissing criticism. His book really has two main arguments, one extremely useful.
The other, borrowed from his author, is a limp and defiant apology, about which more
The thesis of this book is certainly clear, stated in the main title and almost
immediately in the Preface: "Card takes his place beside C.S. Lewis, who is one of the
rare writers in Science Fiction and Fantasy who used the genre to give shape to his
deepest religious beliefs.'' While this strikes us as overblown, it is immediately
qualified down to the nearly trivial: "this does not mean that he must or even should be
seen as a religious writer, in spite of the fact that he has described himself as `a
Mormon writer dabbling in science fiction''' (vii). Collings typically writes banner
headlines but then becomes more modest once he gets to the details.
The most important of these details is that--leaving SF aside--Card is an incredibly
productive writer for the Mormons. Collings usefully documents quite a number of plays
produced at Brigham Young University, fiction and reviews for religious magazines, novels
of religious education, and "more than 300 scripts for LDS-oriented audiocassette and
videocassette series'' (5). While Card is far from the first SF writer to be wildly
prolific, Collings argues that for Card this is a virtue: he is driven. Of
course, this might be said about anyone who writes this much, from Dickens to the
anonymous hacks who turn out reams of formula fiction. It usually guarantees that they
view writing as a craft rather than an art, but however much most of us assume (probably
incorrectly) that such writers could do a better job if they slowed down, productivity is
not necessarily relevant to quality. And Card's commitment to the LDS, including a stint
as a missionary in Brazil, is obviously a driving force in his personal life. Indeed, the
rather unpleasant afterword that Card wrote to The Folk of the Fringe made clear
that he is much more comfortable around Mormons than around other SF writers.
How does this commitment influence Card's SF (other than in the stories of The Folk
of the Fringe, where the Mormon home base in Utah is a primary background)? After
all, at one point Card said in an interview that "my moral beliefs, my personal
philosophy are inseparable from my work: my theology and institutional membership have no
place in it'' (12). In studying Card's protagonists and their actions, Collings comes up
with three levels of relevance. (1) Card uses aspects of the monomyth to develop his
heroes, and the monomyth applies to Moses and Jesus. We should note, however, that the
monomyth equally applies to heroes of other myths, legends, and religions, such as
Hercules, Helen of Troy, and King Arthur, and has been used by many SF writers who
demonstrate little overt religious sentiment. Any author who, like Card, wishes to add
mythic and epic components to his fiction will turn to similar materials. Further, the
monomyth is general enough that these observations are not especially valuable. (2)
Specific details from the Bible are used in plot development. Again, these are available
even to secular SF writers who regard the Bible as a good field for myths and ideas.
However, because some of the details are clearly drawn from this specific source,
Collings' observations do give us a better sense of Card's writing, both in its process
and its goals. (3) Specific details are drawn from the life of Joseph Smith, and stylistic
devices from the Book of Mormon. While these are not abundant in Card's SF, Collings'
examples are convincing and important. They remind us that Card is heir to a religious
tradition with which few of us are familiar, and caution us that at times, things are
going on in his writing that we are likely to miss without such a guide. For these
specifics as well as the biographic and bibliographic information about Card's work for
the LDS, Collings' book is indispensable.
However, there is another, less attractive aspect to this book, the running argument
that "Card is a storyteller, a consummate storyteller''--apparently in
opposition to being a consummate writer. Throughout the book, Collings sticks to
an argument first developed by Card himself using the same perversely quaint spelling,
that readers approach fiction on three levels--epick, mythick, and critick--and
that the last is the least important. This argument weakens both Card's fiction and
Collings' study. It seems to go as follows: if we suspend our critical faculties, then
Card is a major SF author; "the fundamental differentiathat separate Card's
works from those of many of his contemporaries rise from the fact that the most important
element in Card's fictions is not the writing as art or craft per se, but the
story that he finds himself compelled to tell and the depths at which that story
influences his readers'' (3).
Card does not believe that critical reading is important, because "critickal readers
evaluate the meaning or truth of the story consciously, usually detaching the meaning from
the story itself'' (30). Card himself aims for the gut. Therefore, the argument goes, a
bit of the old ultraviolence is all to the good, as in the story "Kingsmeat'': "The
story was criticized for its graphic violence, yet the violence is necessary. It provides
a way to suggest viscerally (i.e., emotionally rather than intellectually) wining
[sic] the reader the reality and the pain necessary for true sacrifice. As both Man and
God, the Christ that underlies Card's Shepherd sees further and deeper than mortals can''
(82). Or in A Planet Called Treason: "His life-quest intensifies, moving away
from his selfishness in the opening chapters to recapitulate broad movements from the life
of Christ, despite the overt sexuality and graphic violence that early reviewers decried''
(84). Of course, if this was all so necessary, and critical reading so unnecessary, why
does the next sentence note that "Card's subsequent revisions in Treason retain
the Christic outlines while softening the sexuality and violence''? Meanwhile, the real
criticism of Card's violence remains: at times, it looks suspiciously like the continual
search for the meaningless action of pulp fiction, comic books, and martial-arts movies.
But while Collings isolates and justifies violence in one section of his book, this is
not the only problem area; it is part of the whole attitude that writing should be
directed toward readers who do not "evaluate the meaning or truth of the story
Critickal readers use such terms as "manipulative,'' "sentimental,'' and "tugging at
heartstrings'' to characterize this level of belief; mythical or epickal readers, on the
other hand, understand that Card has created a story and a world in which characters can
in fact make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Again, Collings doesn't disagree with what the critics say, he simply dismisses it as
irrelevant. Card and his apologist are rejecting the only readers who really count
(certainly the only readers who might be likely to read a book such as this one), the ones
who are fully aware of how the writer is writing and why.
The chink in Collings' armor is his utter astonishment when the critics claim Card to
be deficient in characterization, which he believes is Card's strongest point. He
demonstrates this supposed proficiency by summarizing with approval Card's rules for
developing character: "(1) by submitting the character to `the sharp edge of pain'; (2)
by placing him or her in jeopardy; and (3) by developing a character legitimately larger
than life'' (36). Unfortunately, this formula fits Rambo better than Madame Bovary. If
Card concerned himself more with life-like characters than with blow-ups, he would get far
better marks not just in characterization but all across the map. Indeed, this weakness is
especially apparent in Card's best known works, the Ender series (a third novel is
promised). Even though it was extremely action-oriented, the 1977 story "Ender's Game''
(Card's first venture into SF) created a memorable boy who certainly suffered considerable
pain and eventually proved himself "larger than life.'' But when Card expanded the story
into a novel, he created a totally unbelievable brother and sister for Ender; the three of
them seemed to have ten times the genius of J. D. Salinger's oddball and tormented Glass
family, and were ten times less convincing. Larger than life indeed. Then, when Card was
stymied in writing Speaker for the Dead, he brought back Ender as its hero (37).
Now we had an Ender who was not a desperate little boy but the oldest man in the universe,
and the wisest as well. Why? It fit nothing we knew of the original Ender. Somebody gave
it a Nebula anyway. Maybe Collings did.
--Charles Nicol Indiana State University
The Rip Van Winkle Syndrome.
Lorelei Cederstrom. Fine-Tuning
the Feminine Psyche: Jungian Patterns in the Novels of Doris Lessing.
NY: Peter Lang, 1990. 241pp. $44.95
This reads like a book caught in a time warp; it should have been published in the
early 1970s. Most of the references date from that time, and the argument is innocent of
any hints of poststructuralist theory. In her "Acknowledgements,'' Cederstrom speaks of
her frustration at the delay in publication. Having done the first dissertation in the
world on Lessing's novels, she was kept from turning it into a book by parenting
responsibilities which, as she rightly points out, often take a much greater toll on a
woman's career than on a man's. One can be sympathetic with the problem, but sympathy
cannot undo the upheavals in the critical landscape that have occurred since
structuralism. Like Rip Van Winkle, this book returns to a community of discourse much
changed by intervening events. Speaking a language that glances off rather than connects
with contemporary theory, it unintentionally inscribes a rhetoric of lost opportunities.
Perhaps the most serious of these occurs in connection with one of Cederstrom's major
themes, the conflict between the collective and the individual in Lessing's work. Writing
with verve and insight, Cederstrom argues that Lessing became increasingly disenchanted
with the possibilities offered by collectives, a trajectory she traces most convincingly
through the CHILDREN OF VIOLENCEseries.
Displacing Lessing's early faith in collectives is a growing emphasis on the journey
within, which Cederstrom sees as a Jungian struggle towards individuation. Individuation
implies a distinction between ego and self. The ego, abrogating to itself all of
consciousness, is shocked to realize that there are deeper, darker aspects of the self
that extend beyond its ken. Progress requires encounter with these darker aspects, which
the ego is all too eager to ignore or deny. From these encounters an enriched,
strengthened ego can emerge. For Cederstrom, The Golden Notebook is a pivotal
text, marking the point at which Lessing abandons faith in the collective altogether,
turning instead to such cataclysmic descents into the self as Anna Wulf's madness. Only
after Anna encounters her animus in Saul Green and comes to terms with it can
reintegration be achieved, followed by a return to normality.
There is much to be said for this reading of Lessing's canon. It illuminates major
themes in Lessing's fiction and often leads to sharp insights into the development of
characters. But there are also significant problems with it. One is the simplified way in
which Cederstrom discusses what she calls the "Marxist-Realist'' emphasis in Lessing's
early writing. Because she is committed to a view of Lessing's canon as a turning away
from collectives to individuation, she tends to construct collectives in negative terms,
as self-deceptive political practices that substitute role-playing for authentic
encounters with the self. This assumes that there is an essentialist and archetypal self
that exists independent of the collective into which it is interpellated. To defend this
position today, one would need to take account of post-Althusserian Marxism and its view
of the relation between subjectivity and postmodern modes of production. Yet Cederstrom
refers only to Luk·cs (in passing), ignoring the critiques of essentialism launched by
such diverse theorists as Eagleton, Jameson, Jardine, Foucault, and Derrida. The sense of
a missed opportunity is strong here, for Cederstrom recognizes that archetypal patterns
have individual "signatures'' (a distinction she takes over from Leslie Fiedler) that reinscribe the patterns into terms appropriate to the particular circumstances of the
individual author. It would be interesting to see what would emerge from an encounter
between Jungian archetypes and critiques of postmodern subjectivity. That there is no hint
of such an encounter here testifies to the time-warp quality of this text.
Equally interesting, and also missing, is how a Jungian might reply to the radical
critiques of ego psychology initiated by Lacan, Deleuze, and Guattari. Like them, Jung
distrusted the claims of the ego to selfhood; unlike them, he saw the goal of therapy as
the strengthening and enlarging of the ego through its encounter with the self. Following
Jung, Cederstrom reads the ending of The Golden Notebook as a triumph for Anna.
Entertaining the more radical contemporary critique of ego psychology might have led her
to a different kind of reading, in which the reassertion of the ego is an ambiguous
achievement at best, indicated stylistically by periodic repetition and thematically by
the coöptation that both Molly and Anna experience in their "normalized'' lives.
Another difficulty comes from Cederstrom's championing the idea that after The
Golden Notebook, the collective virtually disappears from Lessing's writing. Where
collectives seem to be important, for example in the decaying society depicted in Memoirs
of a Survivor, Cederstrom argues that they are meant to be read symbolically: not as
actual societies on the brink of dissolution, but as interior landscapes that signal the
individual's dissociation from the collective. This position commits Cederstrom to reading
Lessing's recent work not as SF (which would imply that the societies of Canopus exist at
least in an imagined future) but as "mythic narratives'' recording the encounter of the
individual with her own internal landscape. Here the strongly thematic orientation of Cederstrom's reading does her a disservice, for it impels her towards an either/or
construction of the individual and the collective, rather than towards a view that sees
how they interact and mutually form each other.
Perhaps because of the frustration Cederstrom says she felt as she watched other
scholars publish ahead of her, there is an ungenerous quality to her citations that too
often puts her in the position of telling everyone else who has written on Lessing where
they have been wrong. (An exception is Evelyn Hinz, who provides the blurb for the back
cover.) The zeal with which Cederstrom takes others to task for readings that do not fully
come to terms with the complexity of Lessing's work is ironic, for especially with the
later work, her analysis tends to become relentlessly programmatic, showing how every text
fits into the Jungian framework. Yet even at its most programmatic, Fine-Tuning the
Feminine Psyche offers acute insights into the broad themes and structures of
Lessing's fiction. This is a book that is wiser than it knows, responding to Lessing's
fiction with a sympathy and fullness of vision that frequently exceeds its own strict
--N. Katherine Hayles University of Iowa
Asimov as Mega-Novelist.
William F. Touponce. Isaac Asimov. Twayne's United States Authors
Series #578. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991. xv+ 122. $19.95
After decades of assiduously avoiding all but the most prominent of science-fiction and
fantasy authors, the venerable Twayne's United States Authors series is rapidly making up
for lost time. Recent volumes have covered Heinlein, Dick, Herbert, Le Guin, and Harry
Harrison. William Touponce, who wrote the Twayne volume on Herbert, has now produced a
very brief (103 pages of text) study of Asimov which focusses almost exclusively on
Asimov's various series and his attempts in recent years to tie them all together.
The most worrisome thing about the Twayne series is that it threatens to appear
definitive. It is among the most ubiquitous series of critical works in American
libraries, and among the first that any undergraduate is likely to encounter. The volumes
are uniformly short, attractive, and accessibly written, and in many cases they treat
authors on whom there is precious little other material, at least in book form. Their
titles are simple names, without the conventional colonized subtitles which are
characteristic of academic works, and which serve to give notice that a work discusses an
author from a particular point of view or with a particular thesis. Given all this, it
would seem that authors in the Twayne series carry a certain responsibility to exercise
caution with the reader, to make clear any unusual or idiosyncratic approaches, and to
avoid using the Twayne series as a hobbyhorse.
For the most part, Touponce has taken these responsibilities seriously. His book offers
a clear and concise summary of most of Asimov's major novels and several of the robot
stories, and his is the first critical book to explain how Asimov has cleverly (and at
time tortuously) welded together The End of Eternity, the robot stories, the
Foundation stories, and the mysteries set in the Galactic Empire into a massive tapestry
of future history that almost puts Heinlein to shame. Touponce is much less clear on why
Asimov is doing this, whether he is really succeeding at it, and what it all suggests
about SF and the nature of SF narrative. The SF world as a whole, in fact, is decidedly
marginal to Touponce's study, and even John W. Campbell, Jr.--whom many view as virtually
a collaborator with the early Asimov--barely rates a few passing mentions. This is not a
book to consult if you want a detailed understanding of how and in what context Asimov's
James Gunn's 1982 Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fictiondoes offer a
good account of Asimov's career, and it and Joseph Patrouch's 1974 study The Science
Fiction of Isaac Asimovare the books with which Touponce is most likely to be
compared. It is simply not true, as Touponce claims, that these earlier studies are
"outdated in their assumptions because they were written before Asimov decided to link
the nonrobotic universe of the Foundation with the robot novels (101; Touponce
consistently refers to "the robot novels'' when he means the future history developed in
the robot short stories). The "assumptions'' of Gunn and Patrouch are no more outdated
than were Asimov's own assumptions at the time, and it's foolish to suggest that a story
written in 1942 is now a different story because it's been force-hammered into a larger
This leads us to the first of Touponce's idiosyncracies. Whereas Gunn's study sets out
to show us the real world of SF writers in the forties and fifties by promoting what he
called "criticism in context,'' Touponce takes an almost diametrically opposite approach.
After a brief chapter on Asimov's life and career, he organizes his study not according to
theme or chronology, but according to the chronology of future history which Asimov has
more or less retroactively imposed on his work in order to make it all fit together. This
has the advantage, as Touponce claims, of allowing the reader to "grasp the basic story
of a given novel, as well as that story's role in the development of Asimov's future
history, in the same discussion'' (ix). But it also has the disadvantage of falsely
implying that a given story was written to play a role in a future history that hadn't
even been devised yet, and gives rise to confusing references such as "the first
Foundation novel, Prelude to Foundation'' (62). Prelude to Foundation,
of course, describes events that precede those of THEFOUNDATION TRILOGY, but wasn't written until four
The result is that we have to approach Touponce's study not as an account of Asimov's
development as a writer, or of Asimov's place in SF or in literature, but rather as a
detailed analysis of a single meganovel--perhaps "saga'' is a better word--written over
the space of nearly five decades but not conceptualized fully until the 1980s, and in fact
still not finished (since Forward the Foundation, filling in more Foundation
history, is still forthcoming). This is undoubtedly invaluable to anyone wanting to
untangle Asimov's present thinking about his own work, but I'm not sure it's fair to
Asimov's body of work as a whole. It results, for example, in an almost cursory discussion
of The Gods Themselves, one of Asimov's most ambitious novels, and virtually
ignores the vast majority of his short fiction, his mystery fiction, and his nonfiction.
Granted, the prospect of writing a short book on an author of more than 400 books is a
daunting one, and Touponce's strategy for making this manageable is understandable--but
the compromises show. In the welter of plot summary necessary to show the evolving history
of the galactic empire, questions of style and structure are often elided. I looked
forward, for example, to Touponce's explanation of the convoluted narrative structure of The
Currents of Space, only to be told that the novel "awaits a detailed analysis that
accounts for its narrative technique'' (67).
Touponce's other idiosyncrasy is a minor one, and only seldom gets in the way. His main
critical tool is the narratology theory of Gerard Genette, but he doesn't go very deep
into Genette's ideas and doesn't discuss at all the narratological problems specific to SF
which have been explored by such critics as Samuel R. Delany or Carl Malmgren. Mostly, he
adopts narratological terminology to discuss relatively straightforward questions of plot
and story. For the most part, this is unobtrusive, but occasionally it gets us sentences
like the following, in which Touponce tells us he's going to describe the plot (as opposed
to the chronology) of The End of Eternity: "Nonetheless, I do want to annotate
the main features of the temporal articulation of the discourse level of The End of
Eternity, which are superimposed over the story level and rearrange it into a field
of anachronies, composed of both retrospection (analepsis) and anticipation (prolepsis)''
(28). In fairness, most of the book doesn't sound like this--it's usually clear and
concise--but this very inconsistency of style suggests that Touponce's critical approach
is unclear. On the one hand, he seems to want to show us that Asimov's fiction can stand
up to the latest theoretical machines--but he uses the machines like hammers, to make
simple points. He makes similar use of John Cawelti's formula theory in discussing
Asimov's SF mysteries. Essentially, all the invocation of Cawelti proves is that Asimov's
mysteries are real mysteries.
The overall result is a very narrow and focussed view of one aspect of Asimov's protean
career, supplemented by a list of main recurring characters in Asimov's universe and a
highly selective bibliography that lists, for example, only one of the five Lucky Starr
juveniles, only four essays and interviews by Asimov, only five of Asimov's nonfiction
books, and only four critical articles. As a general resource of information or critical
opinion about Asimov, then, Touponce's volume is of limited value; it's hardly the
overview of Asimov as a writer that the Twayne format seems to promise. As an accurate and
detailed account of the plots, characters, and interconnections of his major series work,
however, it is a worthwhile complement to earlier studies.
--Gary K. Wolfe Roosevelt University
Daniela Guardamagna. La Narrativa di Aldous Huxley. Bari:
Adriatica Editrice, 1989. 252pp. L. 30.000
Despite the common tendency to reduce Aldous Huxley to the role of a pamphleteer and
polemicist, Daniela Guardamagna is determined to demonstrate that his fiction could--and
should--be considered from a different point of view. Her study accordingly focusses on
what she neatly perceives as a crucial issue: the order/disorder conflict which Huxley
seems to posit as both a structural and a thematic core of his novels. Without simplifying
issues, she succeeds in making a convincing and critically supported case for Huxley's
movement towards an almost positive Weltanschauung.
A key word immediately obtrudes itself in these pages: irrelevance. By this,
which she resolutely refuses to translate into Italian (a wise decision, since noun or
adjective can actually express the same cluster of meanings), Guardamagna means to call
attention to a fatal incompatibility between two different types of phenomena--an
opposition, a contradiction which can in no way be reconciled. In that sense, the word
locates a far-reaching conflict of values and themes implicit in Huxley's perception of
reality. The fascinating richness and beauty of the world often appears side by side with
disorder, violence, illness, and death.
This conflict is endlessly duplicated in Huxley's novels, where it never seems to be
completely resolved. Furthermore, Guardamagna argues, Huxley's inability to cope with the
irrelevance felt inside himself and in the world outside makes for a negative sub-text,
perceivable in most of his novels and often translated into a web of recurring dark and
pessimistic images--an aspect of his fiction that critics have often underestimated or
Far from trying to undertake a general--and unavoidably generic--survey of the whole
bulk of Huxley's writings, Guardamagna selects some novels, "the ones in which the
underlying negative text is more evident.'' As an operational strategy, she divides the
whole of Huxley's narrative into two phases: before and after his religious conversion. On
the basis of this essential demarcation, Guardamagna analyzes the way Huxley's imagination
works in his fiction.
Some of the crucial issues are worth pointing out. While admitting a basic homogeneity
in themes and techniques in the two phases of Huxley's fiction, Guardamagna seems to
perceive in his writing an increasingly evident tendency towards resolving conflict.
Obviously, no final answer is ever given by Huxley. On the other hand, Guardamagna argues,
most of Huxley's novels are characterized by an attempt to achieve solutions to a
consciously posed problem. The complexity--and ambiguity--of reality is posited as a sort
of still center in the Huxleyan narrative. His development as a writer is felt as a
movement from a totally negative view of reality to a sort of apparent conciliation of the
opposite forces at work in the human brain. The main problem does not change in the two
phases. What does actually change is the instrument selected.
By this criterion, Antic Hay (1923) and Point Counter Point(1928)
attempt to confront the disorder of reality through the clean, cold order of rationality.
The consequent awareness of the rational lie and of its inability to fill the widening gap
between the self and reality is the path which leads to Huxley's conversion, the first
literary outcome of which is Eyeless in Gaza (1936). In Guardamagna's view,
familiar bits and pieces recurring in the first phase of his career are now given an
unfamiliar setting and therefore take a different shape. It stands to reason that the
writer's purpose at this stage involves an explicit attempt to provide his readers with an
instrument concentrating within itself the essential meaning of human experience. The
search for this meaning is deeply systematic; however, it is ultimately unable to erase
evil from human existence in the world.
The final step of Huxley's progress towards a reconciliatory view of life is to be
found in what Guardamagna calls his "Utopian Trilogy,'' which is the subject of the third
part of her book. There, through close and careful analysis, she shows that Brave New
World (1932), Ape and Essence (1948), and Island (1960) retain the
usual Huxleyan conflicts. But while Huxley's basic dichotomies persist--order vs disorder,
beauty vs illness, life vs death-- a positive project, a (qualified) resolution, is
While there is considerable overlap between chapters, this does not mean that
Guardamagna repeats herself. Rather, she gradually enlarges her fundamental critical
premises, adding new details well supported by extracts and quotations from Huxley's
fictional and non-fictional texts. The result is a study that offers insight not only
about Huxley's writings, but also about utopian fiction at large.
--Nicoletta Vallorani, Universitý di Torino
The Socialist Artistry of William
Florence S. Boos and Carole G. Silver, eds.
Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris.
Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1990. x+177. $25.00
As an active socialist and an establishment artist William Morris occupied a unique
position in late Victorian life. His distrust of the restrictions imposed on art by
conventional bourgeois realism caused him to embark on a series of literary experiments
aimed at establishing a truly popular socialist aesthetic. Many of the works that resulted
from this are of particular relevance today not only because they challenge established
definitions of genre but because in doing so they raise questions of importance to the
discussion of romance, utopianism, fantasy, and science fiction. It is to issues such as
these that the ten essays of the present book are addressed.
Although the list of contributors is impressive, it has to be said at the outset that
for a declared "introduction to its subject'' (6) the book is often confusing, otherwise
valuable contributions being marred by factual errors. On the first page of the
Introduction, for example, Florence Boos gives the impression (unintentionally I'm sure)
that The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains were
originally serialized in Commonweal, then states that Morris prepared "several
thousand editorials and short `political notes' for Commonweal'' (in fact he
signed less that 500), and finally informs us that "Socialism from the Root Up'' appeared
in Commonweal as "twenty-one articles'' (in fact its 23 chapters were serialized
in 25 installments). As an admirer of her recent work on Morris I found it particularly
sad to note a number of such errors in her "Narrative Design in The Pilgrims of Hope.''
She dates this poem to 1885 (147) when it was still being serialized in Commonweal
as late as 3rd July 1886. Having discussed section 3, she states that the "dramatic
monologues of the poem's next two sections are spoken by the narrator's wife, and give
expression to the poem's central exhortation that political action end as well as begin in
love'' (152). Although the protagonist's wife does indeed speak section 4, section 5 is
spoken by the protagonist himself. Boos then states that this section is followed by
"number 4, `The New Proletarian''' (157), which is in fact section 6.
A similar problem occurs in Michael Holzman's essay "The Encouragement and Warning of
History: William Morris's A Dream of John Ball.'' Holzman makes the important
observation that Morris interrupted the serialization of "Socialism from the Root Up'' in
order to publish A Dream of John Ball, and that for the readers of Commonweal
the latter work would have served as an "imaginative expansion'' (100) of the historical
material to be found in his theoretical collaboration with E. Belfort Bax. It is a pity,
therefore, that having established the importance to a full understanding of the novel of
this contextual reader-response, Holzman undermines his case by quoting throughout from
the revised version of John Ball that appears in the Collected Worksinstead
of from the original in Commonweal, in which the relationship is much clearer.
There are also occasions on which theoretical considerations threaten to overwhelm
substantive textual analysis. In "Counter-Projects: William Morris and the Science
Fiction of the 1880s,'' Darko Suvin makes some revealing comments about the portrayal of
Morris as a narrative agent in two SF stories of the 1880s: The Socialist Revolution
of 1888, by an Eye-Witnessand W.A. Watlock's The Next 'Ninety Three.
However, his argument that two other texts--In the Light of the Twentieth Century
by Edward Heneage Dering and The Inner House by Walter Besant--can be read as
"counter-projects'' to News from Nowhere is not altogether convincing. I thought
this was particularly obvious in the comparison he makes between Dering's book and News
from Nowhere. What appear to be coincidental similarities in their narrative
frameworks, their chronology, and their language hardly support the theoretically
portentous conclusion that "This take-off would fit well with the putative relation
Morris-Dering, which I submit is in some ways analogous to the relation Morris-Bellamy; in
linguistic terms, semantico-pragmatic opposition coupled with syntactic parallelism; in
ideological terms, a counter-project based on the stimulating irritation supplied by some
significant reusable formal elements'' (94).
Something similar happens in Lyman Tower Sargent's "William Morris and the Anarchist
Tradition,'' since Sargent's argument that "Morris was a creative theorist of anarchism''
(72) is conducted on an exclusively theoretical level. No serious attempt is made to
examine Morris's revealing correspondence with the anarchists, his relationship with Kropotkin, or the internal divisions and disagreements within the English anarchist
movement of the 1880s. As a result the essay is little more than an elevated abstract
The most effective essays in the collection are those which confine themselves to
consolidating and confirming existing trends in Morrisian studies. One such trend has been
to define and assess the origins of Morris's utopianism, a theme examined in Lawrence
Lutchmansingh's "Archaeological Socialism: Utopia and Art in William Morris.'' Having
taken the reader over such familiar territory as Morris's belief that the collective
values of the Middle Ages had been destroyed by the rise of capitalism, Lutchmansingh
points out that the unique historical circumstances prevalent in the Middle Ages
nevertheless provided Morris with a model on which to evolve his own visionary ideals.
Morris's greatest achievement in this area was the manner in which he "redirected this
originally conservative and nostalgic impulse towards a revolutionary heuristic purpose
and incorporated its historical force into a dynamic utopian vision'' (16).
The text in which this vision is revealed most fully is News from Nowhere.
Norman Talbot in "A Guest from the Future: News from Nowhere'' begins by
"acknowledging the book's honorable membership in the category of utopian fiction'' (38).
His own narratological account of the novel, however, sets out to highlight "another and
profounder aspect of its achievement, its use of the narrator-protagonist'' (38). He
concludes that Guest's relationship with the utopian world of Nowhere is not static, as is
often suggested, but interactive. When he returns to the 19th century he "leaves behind a
better, tougher Nowhere'' (57) but at the expense of the personal loss he must experience
at being "expelled from the locus amoenus, the heart of his paradise'' (60).
Talbot's essay is more wide-ranging than its title suggests, and he has some interesting,
if occasionally speculative, comments on Morris's medievalism, his portrayal of women, and
the influence of both Dickens and Edward Bellamy on the novel.
Morris's debt to Looking Backward is also examined in Alexander Macdonald's
"Bellamy, Morris, and the Great Victorian Debate.'' Macdonald gives a workmanlike account
of the reception of the two books and outlines the basic contrasts in their narrative
structures and in the organization of their respective utopias. He concludes that News
from Nowhereshould be read as a successful alternative to the inherently dystopian
elements in Bellamy's vision.
The most interesting issue raised in Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William
Morrisconcerns the nature of Morris's challenge to contemporary literary values. The
consensus in the volume is that Morris's achievement was to repudiate successfully the
individualistic bourgeois aspirations of the realist novel and to create alternative
structures as vehicles through which to emphasize the universal values of socialism.
Carole Silver, in "Socialism Internalized: The Last Romances of William
Morris,'' argues that such a counter-aesthetic is to be seen in his use of the
romance form in the six prose fictions of the 1890s, while Laura Donaldson makes
similar claims for Morris's utopianism in "Boffin in Paradise, or the Artistry of Reversal in News from Nowhere.''
However as Christopher Waters argues in "Morris's `Chants' and the Problems of
Socialist Culture,'' Morris in developing such a counter-aesthetic was not only
challenging bourgeois realism but also indigenous working-class culture. Waters points out
that most working-class poetry and songs of the period were "expressions of local
occupational experience, rooted in the work places and communities in which they were
written'' (144). They were "realist'' in the most obvious sense of the word. Yet the
leaders of the socialist movement in seeking to stress the universality of their message
rejected this art of the people in favor of their own creations which were thus,
ironically, "manufactured and imposed from above'' (144). Waters' argument would seem to
imply that fantasy and romance were not the most appropriate genres by which to appeal to
a proletariat whose own experiences were firmly rooted in the everyday realities of
Socialism and the Literary Artistry of William Morris is a book whose whole is
less than its parts. While the individual contributors have much of value to say about the
nature of Morris's literary aesthetic, their combined efforts fail to forge a convincing
link between his creative writing and the political ideals that he was pursuing as a
pioneer of English socialism in the 1880s and 1890s. Far more attention needs to be paid
to the context in which these works were produced.
--Nicholas Salmon University of Reading
Science and Art Mutually Dependent.
Tom Sorell. Scientism:
Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science. London and NY:
Routledge, 1991. xi+206. $45.00
Is science, especially natural science, "the most valuable part of human
learning--much the most valuable part because it is much the most authoritative, or
serious, or beneficial''? (1). Not really, Tom Sorell argues in this closely reasoned but
remarkably narrow book.
The cultural fracture noticed in the Snow-Leavis controversy rears even larger now, in
a time more affected by science's unsettling revelations about ourselves and our position
in the natural order, and by relentless technology, science's burly handmaiden. While F.R.
Leavis smugly thought that the prospect of more jam "cannot be regarded by a fully human
mind as a matter for happy contemplation,'' bringing as it does "human emptiness and
boredom'' (Spectator, March 9, 1962), the traditional perspective he represented
has withered before the implication that the salvation of the bulk of humanity, especially
in the Third World, was not a matter of much concern to humanists. Snow proposed a more
scientifically sophisticated culture as key to saving the masses outside the West. This
moral point has not truly been worked out in the thirty years since it was put forward.
Sorell points out rather devastatingly that neither Snow nor Leavis realized that
"there is the whole genre of creative writing, namely science fiction,'' devoted
to imaginative inspection of the divide he fretted over. And "such omissions are
evidence, I think, of Snow's not having taken seriously the possibility of literary
culture taking science in its stride'' (105). Then Sorell proceeds to do the same thing.
What does science do that's so unsettling to literary types? It "disturbs or perhaps
eliminates entirely our sense of being at home in the world'' (107). This brings an
"objectifying tendency the alienating effects of which arts, and especially the fine
arts, are needed to counteract'' (106). But is estrangement from the world the poisoned
gift of science? Not if we mean botany, or human anatomy, or zoology. It is simply false
to proclaim that physics, the Brahmin discipline of this century, represents the entire
spirit of science. Sorell rightly urges a view of science and art as mutually dependent,
each needing the insights of the other. What we should seek is some mediation beyond mere
popularization, cross-talk not quite so cross, which reconciles "practitioners of
different intellectual disciplines to the reality of different intellectual demands''
History and philosophy he recommends as sources of mediation, never again taking up
literature, especially science fiction. Though he does entertain the notion that
is a species of fantasy'' (125), he seems to feel that science can be integrated into the
"high'' cultures through academic disciplines, forgetting the immense change we see in
A pity, for he has thought widely in other matters. He occasionally touches upon the
spirit seen in much SF, when he flails at sociobiology without laying a glove on it. It is
an oddly ineffectual flailing about, never imagining that perhaps empiricism has some
claim to priority in describing what humans most deeply are. He feels the same about
Patricia Churchland's Neurophilosophy, which rather science-fictionally proposes
that we abandon the classic questions about human consciousness, and seek new categories
and questions, based on what we learn from computers and the pursuit of artificial
In the end Sorell's excursions against philosophers such as Quine, and the general
posture of anti-metaphysical investigation, ring rather hollow. Often his discussion turns
upon close readings of definitions, nose pressed studiously into the middle of a
dictionary, ignoring the more recent spirit of rather casual acceptance of science in
other aspects of culture, such as SF. He recognizes that there is much to be done by
philosophy when "some of its central questions are cut down to the size of scientific
ones'' (128) and calls for "a way of thinking about the principal parts of learning or
culture all at once'' (176). But never does literature with its sweep and insight commend
itself to him as a bridge across the Snow-called abyss. Perhaps SF is too popular, and the
efforts of litbiz to incorporate science too anemic (Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind), to
suggest a fresh path to him. In any case, this is a blinkered look at an immense problem,
more interesting for its silences than for its rather skimpy conclusions.
--Gregory Benford University of California,
Science Fiction in Weimar Germany.
Peter S. Fisher. Fantasy
and Politics: Visions of the Future in the Weimar Republic.
University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. x+289. $40.00 cloth, $13.25 paper
It seems almost as if the history of German SF has found more attention in the USA than
in its own country. The essential German study, a broad Marxist overview, is still Manfred
Nagl's Science Fiction in Deutschland (Tübingen 1972), supplemented by a few
rare special studies such as Hennig Franke's Der politisch-militärische Zukunftsroman
in Deutschland, 1904-1914(Frankfurt 1985) or Jost Hermand's Der alte Traum vom
neuen Reich: Völkische Utopien und Nationalsozialismus (Frankfurt 1988). Of
interest, especially for collectors, are also the three lavishly illustrated popular
volumes by Claus Ritter, which are notable for their nostalgic appeal: Start nach
Utopolis (1978), Anno Utopia (1982), and Kampf um Utopolis(1987).
In the USA, there is W.B. Fischer's The Empire Strikes Out: Kurd Lasswitz, Hans
Dominik and the Development of German Science Fiction(1984; reviewed in SFS #36, July
1985, 12:217-19). And now we also have Peter S. Fisher's excellent study, the book version
of his 1985 dissertation at Harvard.
Fisher examines some 30 authors of German SF and their works from the end of
WWI up to 1933 (some well known but most today totally obscure), and arranges
them in three comprehensive sections, the logical choice: "Revanchism and Racism: Fantasies of the
Radical Right,'' "Nationalist Dreams for the Masses: Weimar's Technological Visions,''
and "Hope and Despair: Socialist and Pacifist Visions.'' As is to be expected, the
examples in the first two chapters present but a small selection of the total offerings,
whereas the third chapter gives the impression that the author hasn't missed a single
work. The SF story in the Weimar Republic is aptly characterized by Fisher as "often a
quirky mixture of adventure story, fairy tale, millenarian vision, and political program''
that was intended to act as a catalyst inflaming the same type of emotions among the
readers that originally elicited the fantasies in the minds of their creators. In this
manner, what originated as compensation for the frustrated individual was transformed into
a psychological tool, a propagandistic call for militant nationalism and engagement in antirepublican politics. (6).
The trauma of the Weimar years, especially for writers of the right, was the German
defeat in 1918, and the restrictions imposed on Germany by the treaty of Versailles, for
the right a betrayal. They clung to the fantasy that the German soldier wasn't defeated in
the field but "stabbed in the back'' by the revolutionary republicans at home. They
extolled the virtues of the front-line soldiers in the trenches and the experience of war
and devised fictional ways by which Germany might regain its former colonial possessions
and its former might, aspirations that they regarded as moderate. Fisher provides a
precise picture of the general attitudes of the times, the frustration about the lost war,
the depressing economic conditions and the differing interests of the various strata of
society, which usually disappear in being subjected to the national goal in these novels.
There are grades of radicalism, revanchism, racism, but common to them all is a contempt
for democracy, for differing opinions, for an international orientation whether in the
arts or in politics. Germany's main enemy differs from author to author. Often it is
France, which enviously wants to keep Germany down. The French use of colored troops in
WWI and the occupation of the Rhineland is considered a special ignominy and a sign of
French decadence, for these colored soldiers were felt to have a special appetite for
white women. In other novels the enemy is foremost a "perfidious Albion'' that is
supposed to rule the world by setting the various peoples and nations against each other.
These novels are more or less a continuation of the pre-war future-war novels in which
Germany had to fight for "her rightful place under the sun'' by building up strong
military and naval power. Russia is seldom seen as an enemy but instead often appears as a
natural ally for Germany, especially after the country has been rid of Bolshevism. And in
fact the Reichswehr coöperated with the Red Army and used Russian sites for the
development of new (and forbidden) weapons right up to Nazi rule. Many of these novels are
antisemitic, for internationalism and communism, as well as bourgeois capitalism, are
strongly associated with Jews. That too is a continuation of such antisemitic works as the
pseudonymous Count Teja's Der Abgrund (The Abyss: Pictures from the German
Twilight of the Year 2106) of 1914.
The second part discusses the novels that provided the bulk of SF
publications in the Weimar Republic and later: "utopisch-technische Zukunftsromane,'' novels of technological
inventions, in which politics is secondary or which are unpolitical--which invariably
means, as Fisher notes, that they are rightist. But it should be added that this wasn't
just so in the Weimar period. In these novels the hero is often a lonely inventor who, by
virtue of his overwhelming personality, forces his will upon the world. Hans Dominik was
the most successful of these writers, but there were scores of others, of whom some (Max
Heinrichka, Egon Falkenhayn, Otto Willi Gail, Reinhold Eichacker, Otfrid von Hanstein, et
al.) are discussed here along with Thea von Harbou's Metropolis and Die Frau
im Mond, both the basis of well-known films. These scientific romances, too, are full
of racism and notions of revenge, and the technological aspects are usually just as
primitive as the political.
The group of pacifist and leftist works is by far the least numerous. It is also one
that shows traces of satire, humor, and wit. But it should be noted that a pacifist
attitude, rare as it was, was no guarantee against other prejudices. Ewald Gerhard
Seelinger, for instance, who had the rare distinction of having poked fun at Hitler at a
time when Hitler was just a Bavarian beer-table politician (in Die Entjungferung der
Welt, 1923), nevertheless shared the anti-French sexual sentiments in Die
Zerstörung der Liebe (1921, The Destruction of Love), just as he had represented
anti-British attitudes in Englands Feind: Der Herr der Luft (England's Enemy: The
Master of the Air) in 1910. Or take Arthur Zapp, a strict pacifist who had already
attacked the horrors of the coming war in Der letzte Krieg (1907, published under
the pseudonym V.E. Teranus) and who in the ironically titled Revanche für Versailles!(1924)
wrote a forceful attack on German militarism under the Hohenzollerns (little did he
suspect how peace-loving Wilhelm II was in comparison with Hitler), but who also wrote Im
Frauenstaat (1922, In the State of Women), a quite antiquated picture of the role of
women in society. Nevertheless, a book like Konrad Loele's Züllinger und seine Zucht
(1920), an extremely rare work, is an inventive anticipation of future events and a
spirited satire. Hanns Gobsch's Wahn-Europa 1934 (1931) is the rare pacifist
vision of an early member of the NSDAP turned into a "leftist observer of European
politics.'' Better known is the socialist story Utopolis(1930) by Werner Illing,
one of the rare works in German SF that had a paperback reprint in a commercial SF series
after World War II.
Fisher gives detailed analyses of the selected works, more detailed than those in Nagl,
often with a psychoanalytical orientation. For some authors he sketches in the
biographical background, and sometimes he has even found and interviewed surviving
relatives, as in the case of Martin Bochow, author of an anonymous Revolution 1933
(1930). Many of the books discussed here are extremely hard to find and have not been
The whole field is again well summed up by Fisher:
With few exceptions, Weimar's visionary writers identified the republic with their
enemies. The radical nationalists viewed it as the creation of the Versailles Powers, as a
tool of international capitalism, the Jews, the SPD, and the bourgeoisie. For the radical
socialists, the republic was a façade behind which capitalists, Junkers, monarchists, and
clergymen cemented their hegemony over the people.
Dictatorship loomed in the visionaries' minds as the ideal form of government. The
sense of identity between the populace and the dictator, repeatedly described in the
political fantasies, expressed both a longing for harmony and a desire to harness the raw
power embodied in the frustrated masses. The uncontrolled mob, depicted in some fantasies
in scenes of civil war, in others by apocalyptic images of panic, revealed the writers'
underlying feelings of fear and mistrust of modern mass society. (219)
It is hard to argue what influence these SF books had. Some undoubtedly had large
circulations, and Fisher provides some publication figures. Others had such a small
circulation that their influence must have been close to zero, and some were confiscated
on publication or later blacklisted by the Nazis and burnt. But whatever their influence,
they provide a clear and informative picture of the forces at work in Weimar society, the
hopes and fears and anxieties, so that their idealized and romanticized pictures are more
indicative of their own time than of the anticipated future that turned out to be more
horrible than any of these mostly very weak and banal visionaries could imagine.
--Franz Rottensteiner Vienna
The Lovecraft Revisionists.
David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi, eds. An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays
in Honor of H.P. Lovecraft. Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP,
1991. 347pp. $39.50
In March 1937 I sent August Derleth a copy of the first issue of River, a Magazine
in the Deep South, saying in the accompanying letter that I had read some of his
fiction in other little magazines and would welcome a contribution to River. He
responded with "Atmosphere of Houses,'' a chapter from a novel in progress, Evening
in Spring(1941). In accepting the piece, I spoke of having some years ago read some
his stories in Weird Tales and of having been spellbound by H.P. Lovecraft's
stories until I had come to realize that it was all fakery, the effects achieved not by an
actual depiction of the horrors but by the use of adjectives like horrible, ghastly,
unspeakable. His response was a long letter defending Lovecraft's stories--and, not
long thereafter, having learned of Lovecraft's death, two manuscripts constituting a
moving tribute to his friend: "Elegy: in Providence the Spring. . . ,'' a poem,
and "H.P. Lovecraft--Outsider,'' a brief account of Lovecraft's life and work. In the latter
there appeared, presumably for the first time in print, a sentence attributed to Lovecraft
that later became first famous and then notorious: ". . . all my stories, unconnected as
they may be, are based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at
one time by another race who, by practising black magic, lost their foothold and were
expelled, yet live on outside ever ready to take possession of this earth again. . .'' (River,
1:88, June 1937).
From the publication by Derleth's Arkham House in 1939 of the first Lovecraft
collection, The Outsider and Others, until his death in 1971, Derleth reigned as
the supreme authority on Lovecraft. But in the 1970s a new generation of Lovecraft fans
and scholars began to challenge Derleth's interpretations in general and the (in)famous
sentence in particular, which they had been unable to find in any of Lovecraft's writings.
I could not believe the accusation that the sentence had been concocted by Derleth
himself; that is, I could not believe that Derleth would have taken immediate advantage of
Lovecraft's death in order to attribute to him a statement he had not made. The
matter has since been cleared up, as I learn from an essay in the Schultz-Joshi
collection by Robert M. Price, "Lovecraft's `Artificial Mythology''': it had originated in a letter to Derleth
from a correspondent who claimed to be quoting a letter to himself from Lovecraft, and
Derleth had accepted the claim at face value (255).
In the River article, Derleth had gone on to characterize the sentence as
"a formula remarkable for the fact that, though it sprang from the mind of a
professed religious unbeliever, it is basically similar to the Christian mythos,
especially in regard to the expulsion of Satan from Eden and the power of
evil.'' Price writes as follows: "Derleth would preface...every Arkham House collection of Lovecraft's tales with
introductions forewarning and forearming readers with a misinterpretative framework based
on his own misreading of Lovecraft. No reading of the Lovecraft stories themselves would
yield a good-vs.-evil scenario with Elder Gods smiting Old Ones to save the human race.
But once Derleth told you in advance that Lovecraft so intended his stories, you tended to
assume he was correct'' (255).
The book under review, in addition to Joshi's fine introduction, contains 13 valuable
articles, though one is weakened by a potted history of pulp-paper magazines marred by
factual errors and questionable interpretations. There are three biographical, six
thematic, and four comparative studies, all concerned to some extent with "the systematic
clearing away of misconceptions about the man and his work'' (15). The one I found most
impressive is Schultz's "From Microcosm to Macrocosm: The Growth of Lovecraft's Cosmic
Vision,'' which shows how the material in the early tales (those that entranced me when
reprinted in Weird Tales circa 1930) is systematically reworked in the later
stories that deal no longer with "the landscapes of diseased minds'' but instead with
horrors possible in a universe utterly indifferent to man's fate. But there is no need to
single out this article or that; they are all worth your while if you have any interest at
all in Lovecraft.
A Man with a Mission.
Scott Alan Burgess. The
Work of Dean Ing: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide. Bibliographies
of Modern Authors #11. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1990. 82p. $19.95 cloth, $9.95
This book follows the format of the series as detailed in SFS #53, March 1991
(18:151-53). Compiled with coöperation of the author concerned, the bibliographic details
in the books of this series, so far as one can tell, are accurate and not simply complete
Ing, with degrees in speech and a doctorate in communications theory, seems to have
minored in engineering, or to have made himself something of an engineer while in the Air
Force and during later employment with aircraft firms. In the years 1962-65 he designed
and built (in his back yard, as it were) "the Mayan Magnum, a state-of-the-art automobile
which was featured at numerous auto shows in the late 1960s and early 70s'' (13), an
accomplishment that lends substance to his vividly expressed contempt for US auto makers,
US industry in general, and the soft-living, wealth-worshiping American society. People,
he says, should have status not for what they own but for what they have accomplished.
With respect to the Mayan Magnum, "most idolaters gave me status for buying the
bloody thing'' (72).
Dean Ing is a man with a mission. In 1977 he resigned the professorial position he had
held for three years in order to devote himself entirely to writing. Since then, through
1990, in addition to numerous magazine stories and articles, he has written 14 books (six
SF novels, two spy thrillers, one story and one essay collection, and five collections in
which SF stories are mingled with essays on related topics), all or almost all devoted to
themes also propounded in three non-fiction books of which he was editor or co-author: High
Frontier by General Daniel Graham (1983), a book supporting Reagan's "strategic
defense initiative,'' Mutual Assured Survival, with Jerry Pournelle (1984), and The
Future of Flight, with Leik Myrabo (1985). He has also edited and/or completed seven
novels derived from manuscripts by Mack Reynolds, who died in 1983. The last book in
Burgess's list is a half-book: Silent Thunder bound with Heinlein's "Universe''
and scheduled for 1991.
Although disagreeing with the politics of High Frontier and Mutual Assured
Survival, one can hardly disagree with Ing's diagnosis of present-day ills in his
coversation with Burgess (5-11) and in his Afterword, "Excuse the Shouting'' (71-74), or
with with the fundamental messages (self-reliance and social responsibility) that he
wishes to convey through his fictions (95% entertainment, 5% message ). His literary
aesthetic, as indicated by his choice of the thriller as the basic model for his SF, is
another matter. The three stories in Anasazi (1980), perhaps the least typical of
his books, contain many good things, but each is vitiated by the bang-bang action of its
resolution, not to mention the spiritualism that eventuates in a conclusion similar to
that of Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil.
The Frustrated Utopian.
John Huntington, ed. Critical Essays on H.G. Wells. Boston:
G.K. Hall, 1991. xi+186. $40.00
Whether or not one is familiar with some or all of Wells's best known fictions, the
best way to begin a serious study of Wells is with The Anatomy of Frustration(1936)
in tandem with the best essay yet published on Wells's work as whole, Robert M. Philmus's
"Revisions of His Past: H.G. Wells's Anatomy of Frustration'' (1978). It is the
best because it demolishes the still widely held "proposition that H.G. Wells's period of
literary creativity ended more or less abruptly circa 1910,'' with Wells thereafter
"lapsing finally and irretrievably into `journalism' and sacrificing any concern for the
niceties of literary construction and the felicities of literary style to the
propagandizing of his ephemeral ideas'' (111) and demonstrates both that Well's thought is
consistent in its continuity and development and that his search for adequate modes of
expression, his experimenting with forms of discourse, continued to the end of his life. Wells's artistic experiments late in his career are also discussed by William J. Scheick
in The Splintering Frame(1984) and by Robert Bloom in Anatomies of Egotism
(1977), two books from which excerpts are reprinted here.
Prior to 1948 adverse criticism of Wells's work tended to grant the worth of both the
early romances and the early novels, and even to regard Tono-Bungay as a
masterpiece, but there were dissidents to this generosity even then, and they found their
most influential spokesman that year in Mark Schorer, who argued that "art will not
tolerate such a writer as H.G. Wells'' even in a "novel like Tono-Bungay,
generally thought to be Wells's best'' (34-35). In 1963, J.I.M. Stewart, in Eight
Modern Writers, the 12th volume in The Oxford History of English Literature,
mentions Wells (aside from passing references when dealing with other authors), only in
his Introduction, granting that Wells "fulfilled one of the wholly legitimate functions
of literature more vigorously and abundantly, perhaps, than it had ever been fulfilled in
English before,'' but dismissing him as one whose "basic endowment as a novelist was
scarcely generous, since he had only a moderate interest in men and women'' (Stewart 11).
The best-known defense of Tono-Bungay against such criticism is
David Lodge's "Tono-Bungayand the `Condition of England''' (1966), not included in this volume
inasmuch as Professor Huntington has chosen not to reprint any of the essays that appeared
in either the Bernard Bergonzi or the Suvin-Philmus collection of essays on Wells. The
defense, however, is carried on by two fine essays in this book: Patrick Parrinder's
Bungay and Mr. Polly: The Individual and Social Change'' (1970) and Linda R.
Anderson's "Self and Society in Tono-Bungay'' (1980).
In "The Mood of A Modern Utopia'' (1977), David Y. Hughes examines the
narrative art of that remarkably complex work. Although this brilliant essay has since its
first publication had a profound influence on my own understanding of Wells, I could wish
that Hughes had not described the classification of Wells's utopians as an "organic
hierarchy'' (71) with a "stepwise classification of the Base, the Dull, the Kinetic, and
the Poietic Personalities'' (72). It should be apparent that this scheme involves three
criteria (criminality, intelligence, and temperament) and so requires a dichotomizing that
could begin with any of the three. When the Base, who may be dull or bright, poietic or
kinetic, have been convicted of crime and exiled to their islands, Utopia is inhabited
only by the law-abiding. When the law-abiding dull, who may be kinetic or poietic, have
failed to graduate from secondary school, we have the intelligent kinetic and the
intelligent poietic (about 90% of the population). There is not stepping upward; the
poietic are not regarded as superior to the kinetic. Both are necessary to any modern
(i.e., evolving) utopia and even to be found, I should think, in a fully perfected utopia,
if only on the basis that each individual is just barely more one than the other.
Following Huntington's introduction, the book opens with an excerpt from Darko Suvin's Metamorphoses
of Science Fiction (1979), "Wells as the Turning Point of the SF Tradition,'' in
which one would be hard put to find any fault. The book concludes with four quite
different approaches to Wells's life and influence. The historian A.J.P. Taylor's
"The Man Who Tried to Work Miracles'' is a vigorous--I am tempted to say "Wellsian''--polemic
against Wells's utopian mission. My own "Problems of an Amorous Utopian'' finds value in Wells's struggle to treat, even as he represses them, central conflicts in his life and
thought. Nancy Steffen-Fleur's essay on "Women and H.G. Wells'' finds defensiveness and
even desperation behind Wells's promiscuity. Such abrasive readings of matters in which
Wells himself took much pride may seem to some admirers of Wells simply hostile, but there
is no longer any point in holding on to idealizations of Wells. These essays pay Wells the
compliment of trying to see him wholly and realistically. Finally, to fill out the
portrait of Wells, the collection ends with Robert Crossley's eloquent rendering of
Wells's inspirational presence in his own time. Wells was an extraordinary force for
enlightenment, and these essays lead us toward an understanding of the sources of his
energy. They also help us to see that he must be taken seriously, not necessarily on the
terms of his own self-estimation, but as a complex human figure whose achievement is in
part his ability to make constructive use of what he would call in his Autobiography his
"ordinary brain.'' (13)
Crossley's essay (1990) is non-controversial. I find little to fault in Huntington's
essay (1987), which is indeed a brilliant piece literary analysis, and not much in
Steffen-Fleur's (expanded from a review-article SFS #37, 1985), though finally unpersuaded
by her psychologizing. But it seems to me that a pro-Wellsian response should have been
provided to Taylor's onslaught (an essay from a 1966 issue of the Listener, based
on reminiscences rather than scholarship).
Almost all the essays collected by Huntington tend to suggest what is proclaimed most
vividly by Steffen-Fleur, "It is Wells' images, not his vaunted ideas, that
provide the real unity in his life's work'' (161), and most flatly by Taylor, "Wells did
not really understand what he was talking about'' (129). That is to say, it is Wells's art
we respect, not his thought. Philmus is an exception, and perhaps Hughes, at least in
part. The latter, after discussing the overt content of A Modern Utopia, breaks
out with "All this and the Third Reich, Oceania, and Watergate, too? We need either less
sociology or a better one,'' but then goes on to demonstrate how the form and technique of
the fiction "redeems Wells's `rigid' sociology'' (71) by opening it to numerous
questions, so that in the end "Wells explicitly waves away `clear resolves . . . lists of
names, formation of committees, commitment of subscriptions,' instead ending `in dust and
doubt, with, at the best, one individual's aspirations''' (75). What I wish to point out
is that the absence of closure, the doubt, the tentativeness runs through all of Wells's
journalism as well as through his fiction and so "redeems'' much that may at first glance
seem rigid or naive.
As a book, Critical Essays on H.G. Wells is more unified and so rhetorically
stronger than H.G. Wells Under Revision, whose miscellaneous nature was dwelt on
by Hughes in his review-article in SFS #55. But for a balanced view of Wells, the two
books need to be read together. Warran Wagar's essay in the latter is a good antidote to
Taylor's. It is unfortunate that two essays, Huntington's and Crossley's, appear in both
Counting the Countless Awards.
Daryl F. Mallett and Robert Reginald. Reginald's Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards: A Comprehensive
Guide to the Awards and Their Winners. 2nd edition. Borgo Literary
Guides #1. San Bernardino, CA: The Borgo Press, 1991. 248pp. $29.95 cloth, $19.95 paper
Just as funerals are for the living, not the dead, so awards are for the awarders, not
the awarded. This book lists 94 institutions that make or have made awards in the fields
of SF and fantasy--64 in English-speaking countries and 30 elsewhere--together with
complete lists (so far as that is possible) of the winning works and authors (artists,
directors, whatever). There is also a supplementary list of awards made to SF&F
authors by institutions outside the SF&F community, such as the National Book Award in
Children's Literature for 1973 to Ursula K. Le Guin, or the Oscars awarded over the years,
most often for special effects, to SF&F films. Some of the awards are of course of
real financial value to the recipients, and all (even the most minor) are of spiritual
value, even when rejected, as in a few instances they have been. For the managing editor
of an SF journal, always in need of some bit of information, this is a reference book of
real value. It should also be of value and/or interest to scholars in the field.
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