A Most Important Book.
Robert Reginald. Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature 1975-1991: A Bibliography of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Fiction Books and Nonfiction Monographs. Detroit and London: Gale Research, Inc., 1992. xiii+1512. $199. Orders: 1-800-877-4253.
Since there's not a lot to be said about a book of this kind, this notice comes first in our BIR department to emphasize the book's importance. It lists some 22,000 books, provides all pertinent bibliographical data in the author list, has a title index, a series index, a doubles index, and an awards index. The
"monograph" listings include anthologies of critical/scholary work as well as single-subject books.
A Sounding of Sordid Depts.
Philip Harbottle and Stephen Holland. Vultures of the Void: A History of British Science Fiction
Publishing, 1946-1956. I.O. Evans Studies in the Philosophy and
Criticism of Literature 13. Borgo Press, P.O. Box 2845, San Bernardino, CA 92406-2845.
1992. 128pp. $27 cloth, $17 paper (add $2.00 shipping).
"Zelda, her soft comely breasts rising and falling rapidly beneath their torn
flimsy coverings, stood beside him, her eyes alight with tenderness." This passage from Pirates
of Cerberus by "Bengo Mistral," published ca. 1953 by Gannet Press, epitomizes
the quality of the British pulp science fiction of the period dealt with in this study.
The writing itself defies parody; the house pseudonym, supposedly "hard" and
American-sounding, resembles a clumsy anagram; the publishing house is inadvertently but
aptly named after a bird notorious for its voracious and undiscriminating appetite. Harbottle and Holland are tempted to print the entire work: "every word is the
essence of rubbish...a must for anyone who thinks he has read the worst SF novel" (92).
Their study is an attempt to reveal just how low British pulp SF sank in the immediate
postwar period, and to explain why.
The Void, then, was the "wretched" (33), "abysmal" (37), "awful"
(87), "simply atrocious" (37) SF scene, during the decade in question. The Vultures
were the greedy publishers who exploited some of the most incompetent hacks ever to put
pen to paper on behalf of a public so indifferent to what it was reading that it would
devour a misbound novel, half space opera and half gangster-thriller, without noticing the
mismatch. For Harbottle and Holland, the publishers were the real villains. There are
anecdotes here of a publisher who chased an author around with a fireman's axe; of one
"so warped and dishonest" (64) that he would burgle his own warehouse by night; of
one who kept a writer in a basement cell and forced him to churn out two books a week. The
conditions under which these Vultures flourished were produced by a combination of paper
rationing and a postwar hunger for American-style SF (on the back of the demand for
sex-and-gangster thrillers). Those publishers who had hoarded paper could sell just about
anything to the sensation-starved British--at least until paper rationing was lifted in
The achievement of this book is that it takes a brief sounding of the sordid depths of
pulp SF in Britain. But there are many unsatisfactory aspects to the study. It relies
heavily on memoirs of the period by E. J. Cornell, E. C. Tubb, Gordon Landsborough, and
Kenneth Bulmer--so heavily that about forty of the one hundred pages of narrative consist
of verbatim quotations from these writers. The problem is not with readability, for these
forty pages contain most of the best anecdotes, but with documentation. Nowhere is there
any indication of the source or verifiability of the "essays," while Harbottle and
Holland show real reluctance to offer commentary, on them.
Moreover, there is a failure by Harbottle and Holland to see this trash publishing
within the context of a British science fiction that long preceded the craven attempts
during this period to ape American models, a British science fiction that in fact
continued to flourish in blithe disregard of both Vultures and Void. Harbottle and Holland
chastise the "so-called 'experts' in science fiction history" (8) for ignoring the
information they present--but they depict the period as a Void. Consequently, the
so-called experts might be forgiven for turning the period over to the popular-cultural
sociologists for a rather harder analysis of the relations between publishers, writers and
readers than Harbottle and Holland, with their delighted nostalgie de la boue,
are able or willing to offer. For Harbottle and Holland, the period was a
science-fictional vacuum minimally aerated by the indefatigable John Russell Fearn. In
fact, many accomplished but now unjustly neglected works by Gloag, Southwold, Stapledon,
Heard, Kavan, Huxley, Shute, Dahl, Kneale, Collier, Dunsany, Koestler, and Sarban were
produced, not to mention several famous novels by Orwell, Wyndham, Christopher, and
Still, this study brings to the attention of the archaeologists of popular culture a
period of great potential interest. It is a pity that, because of its lack of
documentation, this work cannot offer more than a crude hint as to how to write one aspect
of the history of postwar British science fiction.--Nicholas
Ruddick, University of Regina.
Charles L. Elkins and Martin Harry
Greenberg, eds. Robert Silverberg's Many
Trapdoors: Critical Essays on His Science Fiction. Contributions to
the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy 53. London & Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.
x+156. $47.95 (credit-card orders, 1-800-225-5800).
If there is one science fiction author whose career can profitably be viewed as a
microcosm of the genre's development in America during the past 40 years, it is probably
Robert Silverberg. Starting out in the world of fandom, Silverberg edited the fanzine Spaceship
in the early 50s, then turned to professional writing during the boom of the mid-50s,
producing hundreds of stories under many pseudonyms for magazines like Fantastic
and Super-Science Fiction. Most of this material was essentially apprentice work,
though estimable enough to earn him a 1956 Hugo Award for most promising new writer and an
entree to the Milford Workshop hosted by Damon Knight. When the boom went bust in the late
50s, Silverberg, like many of the decade's authors, moved on to other literary endeavors
(mostly non-fiction for juvenile markets and pornography, two disparate fields in which he
produced at least 200 titles during the 60s). The mid-60s paperback boom, coinciding with
the advent of the New Wave, lured Silverberg back into the genre fulltime, and soon he was
producing some of the most celebrated SF of the late 60s and early 70s--novels like Thorns
(1967) and The Book of Skulls (1972), stories like "Sundance" (1969) and
"Born with the Dead" (1974)--as well as editing one of the most memorable anthology
series of the period, New Dimensions (not to mention serving as president of the
Science Fiction Writers of America). When the serial novel with quest fantasy elements
came to dominate the genre in the late 70s and early 80s, Silverberg emerged from a brief
retirement with the Majipoor trilogy (Lord Valentine's Castle , Majipoor
Chronicles , and Valentine Pontifex ). Since, he has continued
to publish steadily, producing about a book a year, his work often reflecting contemporary
trends, such as an emphasis on mythic (Gilgamesh the King ) and
anthropological (At Winter's End ) themes and an involvement in corporate
publishing ventures like shared-world anthologies (Time Gate ) and
sharecropper novels (Nightfall, with Isaac Asimov ).
Given such a trajectory, Silverberg's career provides an unparalleled opportunity to
assess the evolution of SF as both an aesthetic and a commercial genre during the modern
period. However, Elkins and Greenberg's volume--the first collection of critical essays
devoted to Silverberg's work--tends to focus on a limited span of his career, the New Wave
period of the late 60s and early 70s, and (not surprisingly, given this focus) to be
concerned principally with aesthetic issues. That Silverberg's New Wave writings
constitute a brilliant artistic flowering sandwiched between two periods of more or less
arrant hackwork, is a thesis which several of the essays either seem tacitly to accept or
are concerned openly to oppose, but in any event, aesthetic and commercial considerations
are viewed as basically inimical. Only Thomas Clareson's synoptic Introduction
(essentially a distillation of his 1983 Starmont Reader's Guide to Silverberg) seems
really comfortable with the general shape of Silverberg's career as a prolific
Edgar L. Chapman's essay on Dying Inside (1972), for example, opens with an
invocation of the alleged "transformation of [Silverberg's] career from journeyman
professional to high art [sic]" (39), a transformation effected, in the case of Dying
Inside, through "a sophisticated critique of the somewhat naive and romantic
science fiction visions of the [telepathic] 'superman"' (40). The result is a novel that
has more in common with "the modernist tradition of Joyce and Eliot...[and] the
American Jewish novels of Bellow, Malamud, and Roth" (54) than with such genre stalwarts
as A.E. van Vogt's Slan. Now I certainly agree that Silverberg, in his novel,
subjects the SF figure of the telepathic hero to a corrosive irony derived from the two
literary canons Chapman adumbrates, but the hierarchical tone of the argument--Chapman's
platitudinous reverence for the "modernist masterpieces" of "the giants of
twentieth century literature" (41) and his kneejerk contempt for so-called "juvenile
adventure fiction" (52)--serves no greater purpose than to affirm the critic's impeccable
good taste. Moreover, its effect is to consign the great bulk of Silverberg's writing, and
of the SF genre itself, to the category of sub-literary junk unworthy of serious scholarly
A similar problem besets Russell Letson's putative "Overview" of Silverberg's
career, a retrospective that basically highlights key works of the New Wave period. Letson's analysis of the interplay of themes of alienation and renewal in this fiction is
quite good, but, again, the critic feels the need to draw invidious distinctions between,
on the one hand, the "easy optimism and philosophical certainty of conventional
SF"--typically "an adolescent power fantasy" (17) rendered through
"conventional narrative structure and characterization" (24)--and, on the other
hand, the moral seriousness and technical sophistication of modernist literature.
Silverberg's achievement is thus seen as converting the former into the latter, a judgment
that basically endorses the New Wave's historical self-description as renovator of a
moribund genre. One outcome of this view is to make Silverberg's more recent fiction seem
problematic, with Letson forced halfheartedly to defend Silverberg against the charge that
he "sold out" his artistic values for the quick buck when he published Lord
Valentine's Castle (1979). The fact that Silverberg has always been a professional
writing for money, and that the differences in his fictional output correlate to
historical evolutions of the genre, is rendered literally unthinkable by the normative
posture Letson adopts.
Joseph Francavilla provides a refreshing tonic to this normative "myth" of
Silverberg's career in his essay on ironic twist endings in the author's short fiction.
Unsatisfied with the conventional wisdom that Silverberg in the New Wave period
"suddenly shed his ugly caterpillar body and sprouted butterfly wings" (60), Francavilla examines six tales across the span of the author's career (from 1957's
"Collecting Team" to 1983's "Amanda and the Alien") to show how he
consistently worked to perfect "a peculiar variation on the 'well-made' magazine
story ending" featuring an ironic reversal. Unabashedly a "commercial contrivance"
(60), this formal trick is nonetheless susceptible to deftly played ramifications
"allow[ing] further stylistic experimentation even while he [Silverberg] relied on a
formulation of the craft of storytelling he discovered in the 50s" (71). Though Francavilla's essay too is infected with a superior attitude toward "the bulk of
commercial science fiction" (71) which "it is perhaps hard to take... seriously"
(66), his approach is nonetheless the most fruitful in the book, as it permits attention
to issues of both aesthetic and commercial import, displaying, even if only implicitly,
their inextricable imbrication. Unfortunately, a side effect of Francavilla's eagerness to
dispel the myth of the epochal New Wave rupture in Silverberg's canon, is too great a
stress on continuity, relying on too small a sample of stories.
Thankfully, the remaining four essays abandon the whole vexed issue of art versus
commerce, rupture versus continuity, instead highlighting specific moments and topics in
Silverberg's writings, Frank Dietz's essay on "The World Inside  as an
Ambiguous Dystopia" and Robert Reilly's on the theme of "ambiguous transcendence"
in "The Feast of St. Dionysius" (1973) and Tower of Glass (1970) are solid
and efficiently argued (if, once again, limited to retreading New Wave territory). John H.
Flodstrom's essay on "Personal Identity in the Majipoor Trilogy, To Live Again
, and Downward to the Earth ," would merit the same praise were it
not deformed by pseudo-philosophical maunderings that ultimately devolve into special
pleading for Transcendental Meditation. It seems to me that the theme of self-discovery
through transcendece of the ego which emerged in Silverberg's writings during the New Wave
period--and whose basic structure Flodstrom capably analyzes--can be better
explored through an anatomy of the social (and chemical) milieu of the era
rather than through the dubious conjectures of Eastern "sages."
Flodstrom's essay is one of the few to address Silverberg's post-New Wave
writings--though it avoids problems of periodization by making no effective distinction
between the Majipoor trilogy and his earlier novels; it's all grist for the mystic's mill.
The final essay, C.N. Manlove's discussion of Tom O'Bedlam (1985), is the only
one to focus exclusively on a work from the 80s (though Manlove emphasizes Silverberg's
refurbishing of religious motifs and themes from 70s stories such as "Thomas the
Proclaimer" and "Trips"). Nominally SF, the novel is, like so much of the genre
during this period, actually "an ambivalent mixture of science fiction and fantasy"
(121) which Manlove contrives to analyze through comparison and contrast with David Brin's
The Postman, another tale of life in postholocaust America published in the same
year. Manlove convincingly details how "Brin's novel is centrifugal in movement,
Silverberg's centripetal" (123): whereas the former depicts efficacious heroism
culminating in the restoration of a shattered community, the latter presents ambiguous messianism further fragmenting society into individualist psychopathology. The analysis is
purely formal, a virtuosic comparative reading; Manlove makes no effort to link the
systematic differences between the two works to the strife between regnant science fantasy
and the hard-SF reaction during the early 80s. Moreover, Manlove's observation post on the
other side of the Atlantic has apparently made him tone-deaf to the allegorical resonances
of the novels for American readers: The Postman is clearly a quasi-Reaganite
apology for survivable nuclear war while Tom O'Bedlam is a critique of the New
Age pretensions of yuppiedom. Still, his essay is intelligent and worth reading.
Though this is basically true of most of the pieces considered separately, the whole is
slightly less than the sum of its parts, a slapdash mosaic rather than a judicious
overview of its protean subject. The book's frankly obscene price insures that only the
most financially flush libraries are likely to buy it; if you happen to live near one and
are a fan or student of Silverberg, the volume is worth a look.--Rob Latham, San Francisco.
French Conference Papers on Science and
"Science et science-fiction," Actes du 4eme colloque
international de science-fiction de Nice, 3-6 avril 1991. Ed. Denise Terrel. Métaphores,
#20-21-22 (Sept. 1992). 2 vols. 653 pp. 180FF. Order from J. Emelina, UFR Lettres, BD
Herriot, 06007 Nice Cedex, France.
The published papers of the 4th international conference on SF at the University of
Nice is an impressive two-volume collection containing more than 600 pages, 40
illustrations, and both English and French versions of those papers originally given in
the former. The goal of the conference was to bring together and explore the relationship
between science, scientists, and SF authors. It should be noted that colloquia such as
this one are rather unusual in France: few actual SF writers attended and many more
scientists and littéraires--which created some difficulty at times in discerning
exactly how the notion of SF itself was defined among the latter group. By contrast, it
seemed that the scientists were quite conversant with the principles of "hard" SF:
one has only to read the entry by Jacques Demaret called "Les Univers parallèles en
science-fiction et en cosmologie" (449-81) as an excellent case in point. Further, the
papers presented by the scientists proved in general to be much richer and more
imaginative that those of their "literary" counterparts, notwithstanding the
presence of some very high-quality participants such as Norman Spinrad, Doris Lessing, and
Frederick Pohl. The papers of the scientists tended to open vast new horizons to the
imagination, not by use of metaphorical language but rather by discussing the reality of
their respective professions and the astonishing results of their discoveries. By
contrast, apart from a few allusions to sociology or psychiatry, the littéraires
seemed both unfamiliar and ill at ease with the principles of science and scientific
speculation--occasionally pointing out a fact or figure and deducing from them generally
In reading these papers, one begins to wonder if any link remains between SF and the
scientific imagination. Of course, SF is capable of making us dream or philosophize about
new worlds or literary rhetoric--i.e., linguistic constructs wherein the reader still
perceives some relationship to (at least a certain image of) Science. But the solid
connection which used to exist between SF and real scientific endeavor seems to have
disappeared. Does this mean that SF has finally achieved autonomy from Science itself?
Maupassant, in his preface to Pierre et Jean, asserts that "realist"
authors are the best illusionists since they give to the reader--independently of what
they write--the illusion of truth. One might say that the SF of today is highly illusionistic: the science to which it refers is no more real than the "realism" of
Zola or Thomas Hardy as compared to the social reality of their times. But these
observations, inspired by several rich and provocative texts in this 2-volume work, should
not discourage one from reading those of certain literary critics who also target SF:
participants such as Abraham Moles or Jacques Goimard who do indeed grasp the essence and
function of SF as a literary genre. But it was nevertheless those conferees who find
themselves outside the realm of literature and literary criticism--like Evry Shatzman on
extra-terrestrial civilizations (541-51), Mark Rich in "From Earth to Ecosphere:
Science fiction, spaceships and ecology" (373-93), or Derrick De Kerckove in "Le
Réel, le virtuel et la science-fiction" (215-31)--who demonstrate much more clearly the
close linkages which could exist between Science and its exploration/exploitation in
In sum, one cannot but help but admiring this collection of papers documenting the
fertile encounter between scientists and critics, creators and questioners, and the extent
to which it stirs the imagination. And Denise Terrel, who had the necessary patience and
perseverance not only to organize this event but also to edit (and translate) the many
fascinating papers presented there, deserves to be commended for her herculean efforts.--Roger Bozzetto, Université
Jost Hermand. Old
Dreams of a New Reich: Volkisch Utopias and National Socialism.
Trans. Paul Levesque in collaboration with Stefan Soldovieri. Bloomington: Indiana UP,
1992. xvi+332. $35.00. (Credit-card orders, 800-842-6796).
Old Dreams of a New Reich is a very faithful and readable translation of Jost
Hermand's 1988 book Der alte Traum vom neuen Reich: Völkische Utopien und
Nationalsozialismus, which built on some previous essays by the author on the
relationship between national socialism and some works of German science fiction, after
Manfred Nagl had already stressed the ideological content of German SF in his pioneering
study, Science Fiction in Deutschland (1972). Unlike Peter S. Fisher's recent Fantasy
and Politics: Visions of the Future in the Weimar Republic 1919-1933 (1991, reviewed
in SFS 19:141-44, #56, March 1992) that covers part of the same ground, Jost Hermand,
William F. Vilas Research Professor of German at the University of Wisconsin, Madison,
although he also analyzes a considerable number of little-known novels of popular science
fiction, doesn't concentrate on SF but gives a broad and penetrating picture of Volkish
ideas and tendencies as they appeared in German history from the wars of liberation and
Napoleon and the revolution of 1848 up to the end of the Nazi rule. Fittingly, the book
starts from the German historians' dispute whether Hitler was an accident, a fluke of
history, or perhaps the inevitable and logical consequence of more than a century of
German history, and ends with Hitler's colloquies in his East Prussian headquarters in the
last stages of the war. There he continued to muse about his favorite ideas of Social
Darwinism, wishing for the German people to die with him because they had failed him in
the war by not proving as tough as expected; and he still believed in Hanns Hoerbinger's
"World Ice" theory, a bizarre cosmological construct which postulated a clash of
fire and ice everywhere in the universe, a notion that may have appealed to him
symbolically, so that he endowed it with political significance.
Central to the book's thrust is the idea of the "Volksgemeinschaft," a mystical union
of the German people, the supreme ideal of German nationalists and chauvinists that
supposedly made insignificant all class interest as well as individual aspirations. This
feeling grew perhaps especially virulent in Germany because national unity had been
achieved only late in the 19th Century, in the wake of the Franco-German War of 1870/71,
and came about only by a "revolution from above" (Bismarck's design), not by the efforts
of the German people. Closely allied to this idea of community of the Teuton
race is the notion of a "Führer," a leader who by his charismatic personality will tell his
followers what they should think and do; he is as ubiquitous in these writings as are
racist, anti-semitic and social Darwinist ideas. Jost Hermand traces the roots, the main
branches and the many branching-outs as well as the curious flowerings of these ideas, and
his detailed accounts of the many groups and sub-groups of these German/ Teutonic makes
for some fascinating reading. One of the most radical "thinkers" was Jörg Lanz von
Liebenfels, who bought himself a Teutonic castle for headquarters where he flew the
swastika. In his periodical Ostara he argued "that members of an inferior race
should be threatened with castration in order to discourage them from reproducing. He also
supported the concept of 'breeding colonies,' recommending the establishment of rewards
for racial beauty, the implementation of euthanasia, the isolation of Nordic
'breeding mothers' or 'Nordins,' the creation of procreative prerogatives for Aryan-German heroes,
and the radical extermination of all Jews" (54). Dubbed by one historian as "The Man Who
Gave Hitler His Ideas," he was nevertheless forbidden to publish as soon as the Nazis had
risen to power. This is not the only such instance in which the Nazis didn't acknowledge
their forefathers. Hitler perhaps didn't acknowledge any forerunners because he wished to
appear more original than he was, and most Nazi leaders, aside from such crackpots and
idealistic dreamers as Heinrich Himmer and Alfred Rosenberg, were cynical political
pragmatists, interested not in ideology but only in power, who scoffed at such ideas. All
such movements were either incorporated into the Nazi organizations or forbidden. In a
recent study on the related genre of fantasy (Die fantastische Literatur der frühen
Moderne, 1991), Marianne Wünsch also notices a flowering of occultist/spiritist
writers (and fantastic fiction) for the period 1890-1930, with a peak in the troubled
times of the Weimar Republic. This development was sharply cut off by the Third Reich.
As Jost Hermand notes and amply demonstrates in his book, German national socialism
didn't have any consistent, developed ideology; the Nazis instead reacted ad hoc on many
questions, shifting their views for propagandistic effects and purposes (e.g., although
calling themselves a workers party and frequently attacking capitalism, they were closely
allied with German industry and finance) and were able to take the most blatant
ideological contradictions in their stride. In their official propaganda, for instance,
the Nazis advocated that women be only mothers, or held the life of the peasant in the
country, close to the soil, to be the ideal, while in fact during their rule ever more
women took on jobs and there was much movement from the countryside into the cities. The
statistics were well known to the Nazi leaders, but no steps were taken to bring the
reality nearer to the professed ideal, for in fact both men and women were sorely needed
as workers in the Nazi war machine. The secret goal of Hitler's politics was war, and as
he well knew, this war could be waged and won only by a superiority in tanks, aircraft,
and artillery, not by "racial superiority" or any "furor Teutonicus."
The whole Nazi system was based on lies, above all the lie of a pure "Aryan"
race. Although the various "Volkish utopias" analyzed by Jost Hermand must be considered
debile works of literature, they are nonetheless extremely interesting, for if they did
not help to shape the politics of their time, they did at least mirror it faithfully; not
in every detail, but in the broad views and ideas they express. Here one finds all the
pseudo-scientific, racial, and occult theories that infested the time, with the Teutonic
master race sometimes shifted into the past, to Atlantis as an Aryan paradise. Jost
Hermand's book offers a fascinating and exact map to the horrifying utopian landscape
that, one would wish, was really an accident of history and not the logical culmination of
a fatal tradition.--Franz Rottensteiner, Vienna.
A Prestigious Anthology.
Tom Shippey, ed. The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories.
Oxford and NY: Oxford UP, 1992. xxvi+587. $22.50.
If you turn to "Oxford Book" in the titles section of Books in Print,
you will find some sixty entries beginning with these confidence-inspiring words; if you
also look for "Oxford Anthology," "Oxford Companion," "Oxford
Dictionary," "Oxford Guide," "Oxford History," etc., the count will run to
perhaps four hundred. The name Tom Shippey, familiar to readers of TLS and now
gracing three recent SF books, also inspires confidence. The book under review is being
promoted with in-store displays and a story-writing contest. One assumes that a paperback
text edition will follow in due course and that for a few years at least many people will
think of this book as the standard SF anthology.
Shippey's introduction begins with a promising paragraph--and a term which, though not
of his own coinage, appears here perhaps for the first time in print:
A revealing way of describing science fiction is to say that it is part
of a literary mode which may be called 'fabril'. 'Fabril' is the opposite of 'pastoral'.
But while 'the pastoral' is an established and much-discussed literary mode, recognized as
such since early antiquity, its dark opposite has not yet been accepted, or even named, by
the law-givers of literature. Yet the opposition is a clear one. Pastoral literature is
rural, nostalgic, conservative. It idealizes the past and tends to convert complexities
into simplicity; its central image is the shepherd. Fabril literature (of which science
fiction is now by far the most important genre) is overwhelmingly urban, disruptive,
future-oriented, eager for novelty; its central image is the 'faber', the smith or
blacksmith in older usage, but now extended in science fiction to mean the creator of artefacts in general--metallic, crystalline, genetic, or even social.
This concept allows Shippey to open his selection of stories with one generally
dismissed as of little artistic merit and denounced by at least one critic as politically
unacceptable: Wells's "The Land Ironclads" (1903), best known as the story in which
Wells invented the tank as an instrument of warfare, but read here as bringing "into
confrontation two countries, two armies, two ways of life, two kinds of human being"--the
pastoral and the fabril, if you will, or, as Wells would have said, those who look to the
past and those who look to future. Read as Shippey reads it--read as it should be
read--the story may be seen as having both artistic and intellectual merit.
It cannot be said that Shippey's introduction, as interesting and informative as any I
have ever read to any anthology, does much with the fabril concept, and indeed it is hard
to see how much of anything could be done with it. It is the artefacts, "metallic,
crystal, genetic, or even social," that structures his introduction.
One point Shippey makes is that "there is no absolute need (in the science fiction
short story at least) for a hero, heroine, or central figure" (x). All fiction
to some extent blends the public with the private. The public tends to bulk larger in SF
than in other genres, and there are some stories devoted almost entirely to great events
or historial developments in which individuals figure hardly at all. Among short stories
Wells's "The Star" (1897) is the chief model; for book-length works, one might cite
Michael Young's satiric masterpiece, The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033
(1958). The introduction is perhaps most interesting in its development of this point.
The second story in the book, "Finis" (1906) by one Fred Pollack, has the merit
of doing something once thought central to science fiction, dramatizing a fact that
contradicts common sense and thus is known to us only from science. That looking at the
stars is looking into the past is probably something that every child is amazed to learn
and a fact that was probably unknown to many 1906 readers of The Argosy. If the
universe is of finite age and has a great central sun, the light and heat from that sun
has not yet reached us but might do so at any moment. (How the gravitational forces that
shape the universe have operated at a speed greater than that of light is not explained.)
This story of the greatest of all (im)possible events is marred by a sentimental and
melodramatic depiction of individual behavior.
The third story is Kipling's "As Easy as ABC" (1912), which is contrasted to much
later SF in the sophistication of its literary techniques, its "careful and assured
handling of multiple voices" (xv). The book then moves through the decades with stories
exclusively from within the SF community, beginning with Jack Williamson's "The Metal
Man" (1928) and ending with David Brin's "Piecework" (1990). I am disappointed with Shippey's selection from the Gernsback years and the Golden Age. It is not so much that he
has been rash enough to omit Heinlein, Asimov, and Sturgeon, as that some of the stories
he has chosen seem to me of poor quality and not the best work of their authors; e.g.,
"The Metal Man," Campbell's "Night," van Vogt's "The Monster," the last
being just about the silliest story I know. When we get to the years of the New Wave, with
its sophisticated techniques, there is much less to find fault with. Shippey's selection
demonstrates, in the writers selected--those named above plus Aldiss, Ballard, Blish,
Clarke, Disch, Gibson, Harrison, Le Guin, Martin, McAuley, Walter M. Miller, Niven,
Padgett (i.e., Kuttner-Moore), Pohl, Schenck, Schmitz, Sheldon, Simak, Cordwainer Smith,
Sterling, Weinbaum, and Wolfe--and in those omitted--Anderson, Asimov, Bester, Boucher,
Bradbury, Davidson, del Rey, Delany, Dick, Ellison, Farmer, Heinlein, Knight, Kornbluth,
Lafferty, Leiber, Lovecraft, Matheson, Ward Moore, Pangborn, Russ, Scheckley, Sturgeon,
Tenn, Vonnegut, Wilhelm, Zelazny, to mention only those of whose work I can recall at
least one memorable story--that although there have been and are many good short-story
writers in SF, there is perhaps none so good (not even Delany) as to be indispensable.--RDM.
In Defense of the Popular.
Sung-Bong Park. An
Aesthetics of the Popular Arts: An Approach to the Popular Arts from the Aesthetic Point
of View. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Aesthetica Upsaliensia 5,
1993. Order from: Almqvist & Wiksell International, Box 4627, S-116 91 Stockholm,
Sweden. 188p. Paper; price not specified.
In this book, which is very good introduction to aesthetics in general as well as an
excellent treatment of its particular subject, Sung-Bong Park begins by making it clear
that he is one of us:
I belong to a
generation that was raised on one or another form of the popular arts, for example comic
strips, story magazines, TV serials, matinée movies, pop songs, etc. Inasmuch as the
popular arts have already deeply saturated my aesthetic sensibilility, I cannot deny that
their presence is as concrete an experience as, so to speak, a cool beer. A. Kaplan says:
"There is a time and a place even for popular art. Champagne and Napoleon brandy are
admittedly the best of beverages; but on a Sunday afternoon in the ballpark, we want a
coke or maybe a glass of beer." This being the case, the striking breach between the
popular arts and the serious arts, which in school was taught in terms of worse art and
better art, has always been a baffelment to me. In a sense, this study of the aesthetics
of the popular arts is a challenge to that bafflement. (9)
I say "one of us" on the assumption that most readers of SFS grew up immersed in
the popular arts and, for all their college and graduate training in the canonical,
continue to enjoy the popular, at least in its proper time and place, without shame though
In 2 Park defends his choice of the term "popular art" as opposed to such other
terms as "trivial art" and at the same time defines it in ways that contradict
social-class assumptions, so that he can in 3 define "popular" in qualitative rather
than quantitative terms as having "some potential power of attraction that can appeal
to almost everybody, whether it is a Moscow bureaucrat, New York businessman, Provence
farmer, Uppsala undergraduate or London housewife" (61). Having quoted descriptions of
the popular arts that lead to the formulation "widely liked, easily accessible and
commonly approved," Parks opts for "widely liked, easily accessible but commonly
disapproved"; that is, we enjoy the popular arts but think we shouldn't (61).
Park approaches his conclusion with a discussion of "Five elementary qualities of
experience of the popular" in each of which, including the sentimental, he finds positive
as well as negative aspects: "the comic, the erotic, the sensational, the fantastic
and the sentimental" (114-28). In opening his discussion of the sentimental he notes that
"While the comic, the erotic, the sensational and the fantastic have been
occasionally treated in the discourses of the category of the serious as a part of it, the
sentimental has been ruled out as an unremediable specimen of the category of the
Although Park grants that his list of elementary qualities may seem arbitrary, the five
seem adequate to me--and adequate for serious as well as popular fiction if the fifth
quality is named "either sentimental or thought-provoking." For we can have the
comic without the farcical, the erotic without the pornographic, the sensational without
the melodramatic, and the fantastic without the downright silly, but we cannot have the
sentimental without the sentiments (the maxims, the assumptions) that inhibit critical
From a quantitative point of view "popular fiction" is in one sense not exactly
popular: although, for example, SF as a whole commands a large audience and produces some
best-sellers, the typical SF novel has only a small sale and the SF magazines have only a
miniscule audience. The concept of "easy accessibility" is also subject to question:
many SF stories are accessible to "nearly everyone," not in their specifically
generic aspects, but only in those they share with fiction of all types. That is to say,
popular fiction, and especially SF, does sometimes provoke thought and so may make a story
worthwhile (serious) even though it is marred by melodrama and sentimentality. And, one
may add, some so-called serious fiction provokes no thought and so is mere entertainment
however artistically wrought. As one who is no longer much entertained by mere
entertainment, I prefer the thought-provoking to the merely artistic.
Finally, the opposition popular/serious or sentimental/thought-provoking holds only
when the opposition youngish/mature is also invoked: for children and adolescents popular
fiction does provoke thought and so for them is serious fiction. That some grownups never
become sophisticated enough to appreciate serious fiction is our problem as educators.
Even so, it must be said that Park succeeds in his purpose of providing principles by
which we may understand why the popular arts appeal to us as well as to those we may
regard, with respect to literature, as our intellectual inferiors.--RDM.
Colin Manlove. Christian
Fantasy: from 1200 to the Present. Notre Dame, IN: University of
Notre Dame Press, 1992. x+356. $32.95.
"Christian fantasy," as defined in Colin Manlove's latest monograph, is
"fiction dealing with the Christian supernatural, often in an imagined world" (5).
Because such works, no matter how diverse they may be otherwise, presuppose Christian
belief, they constitute a genre as apparently oxymoronic as SF itself. What role can
fiction or the fantastic play in dealing with truth (or, in this case, the truth)? None at
all for those who believe the Bible is the complete and sufficient word of God. But for
the authors Manlove considers there is value in making the familiar surprising, in
awakening believers to what has been taken for granted, in gradually unveiling truth
through mystery and wonder.
Manlove's approach is to examine the changing role of the imagination in the
development of Christian fantasy from the French Queste del Graal(1215-30)
through Dante, the Middle English Pearl, Spenser, Marlowe, the Metaphysical
Poets, Milton, Bunyan, and Blake to George MacDonald, Charles Kingsley, Charles Williams,
and C.S. Lewis. As this list makes clear, modern (i.e., post-Romantic) Christian fantasy
differs qualitatively from the earlier tradition and, in Manlove's view, is in decline. No
longer is it written by authors of the first rank, it becomes far more fictive and
inventive as the authority of Biblical supernaturalism declines and thus less fearful of
the dangers of imagination (indeed, Manlove notes that "now it actively invokes
our imagination" ), and it is more immanentist in its orientation to the divine,
finding God within the world rather than apart from it.
Christian fantasy is now much less common, to Manlove's regret. He finds only three
clear twentieth century examples: Williams, Lewis, and T. F. Powys. Otherwise, there is
simply fantasy which "may be Christian" (Tolkien), religious fantasy which is not
Christian, and science fiction which "transfers numinous awe from God to the alien or
the remote" (209). His final chapter reviews these developments and includes brief
treatments of SF works by Wyndham, Blish, Clarke, Miller, Farmer, Lessing, and Dick.
As with all Manlove's work, Christian Fantasy is well written and well
informed. For readers of SFS it provides a thoughtful counterpoint to the development of
science fiction.--Robert Galbreath, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Back to Home