Not Ça Ira but Icarus.
Robert P. Sutton. Les
Icariens: The Utopian Dream in Europe and America. U of Illinois P
(800-666-2211), 1994. xiv+199. $26.95.
Icaria was not one of the more important nineteenth-century American communistic ideal
societies, but its establishment and collapse constitute an interesting minor moment in
history. In 1834 Etienne Cabet (1788-1856), a contentious French lawyer, journalist, and
political activist, had the misfortune to fall into water so hot that he had the choice of
two years in prison or five years in exile. Taking refuge in England, he read More's
Utopia and became acquainted with Robert Owen, the founder of the New Lanark factory
reform movement. With characteristic enthusiasm and self-confidence Cabet now recognized
what was wrong with European society. To expound his socioeconomic conclusions, Cabet
wrote a long novel (final title Voyage en Icarie). First privately published in 1839, then
commercially reprinted, it became a near best-seller in France and a focal point for much
of the social and economic turmoil that accompanied the local industrial revolution. The
novelistic Icarie was essentially a Biedermeier eutopia, deistically Christian,
family-oriented, totally communistic in all property, rigidly organized and
paternalistically controlled (yet embodying social equality), work- focused, and
appreciative of the arts. Karl Marx fittingly called it a petit-bourgeois world. A
faddist short-lived Icarian movement arose in France, with hundreds of thousands of
members largely drawn from the small-artisan class and those dissatisfied with the Bourbon
regime. It collapsed suddenly when Louis Philippe was ousted, but before the collapse
Cabet undertook to establish a real-life Icaria in the United States. By this time there
were only a couple of hundred men and women enthusiastic enough to follow him. From here
on, as Sutton analyzes it, there was a repetitive history of incompetence,
perhaps some skullduggery. Cabet was swindled in land that he bought in northern Texas; it
was unreachable, tied up in red tape, and unutilizable. Many of the advance settlers died
of fever and hardship in Texas. The remainder retreated to New Orleans, where they met
Cabet, who then bought the empty Mormon plant in Nauvoo, Illinois. Hardships, imaginative
bookkeeping, Cabet's dictatorial methods (including an organized system of internal espionage), and struggles for power brought about desertions, schism after schism, and new
settlements for splinter groups as the Icarians gradually dwindled in number. In part, the
immigrants were simply not suited for pioneer life; in other part, a basically parasitic
organization had difficulty providing what its host demanded. In 1898 the final moment
came in Iowa when the eight surviving Icarians disbanded. The name Icaria is generally
taken as a partial anagram of the motto Ça ira of the French Revolution, but the fate of
Icaria was Icarus's. Along their fifty-year way the Icarians accomplished little. They
were a small, isolated ethnic group that never had the impact or interest of Oneida, New
Harmony, Brook Farm, or the Mormons. Were they happy? Nineteenth century visitors like
Charles Nordhoff chronicle their joyously grim acceptance of what amounted to slavery in
the name of freedom. Professor Sutton's book is a fascinating account, deeply researched
and well presented, of both French and American episodes in the lives of Cabet and Icaria.
While Icaria has little or no direct relevance to science-fiction, Les Icariens can be
read as a cautionary tale against trying to transform fantastic fiction into reality. An
English translation of Cabet's novel is not available, but significant portions are
translated in Frank and Fritzie Manuel's French Utopias and Marie Berneri's
through Utopia. "Travels in Icaria. Trans. Robert P. Sutton. Macomb: Western Illinois
University Press, 1985" cited (187) in Sutton's bibliography (which is otherwise not
impeccable) is not quite a ghost book, but perhaps ectoplasmic. Readers need not waste
their time trying to locate it. It seems to consist of xeroxes of a typed ms. prepared by
the author. Two copies are recorded, but they are not available on interlibrary loan.
--Everett F. Bleiler Interlaken.
Fiction Factory and Noble Fantasist.
William J. Widder. The
Fiction of L. Ron Hubbard. Bridge
Publications (800-722-1733), 1994. 373p. $50.00.
S.T. Joshi and Darrell Schweitzer. Wider Fields: Lord Dunsany: A Bibliography.
Scarecrow Press (800-537-7107), 1994. xxiv+363. $42.50.
Over 20 years ago Rev. Henry Hardy Heins published his monumental bibliography of Edgar
Rice Burroughs and initiated a literary form for the genre. Since then there have been
fine bibliographies on the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance,
L. Sprague de Camp and others. Such books are invaluable to the collector and researcher
and also of interest to the curious or admiring general reader.
Bridge Publications, set up by and devoted to the fiction of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986)
has just issued such a volume, The Fiction of L. Ron Hubbard, by William J. Widder. It is
no less exhaustive than its predecessors in the field, and every fictional piece Hubbard
ever wrote, published and unpublished, is listed, with many also described; it even covers
Hubbard's work in his lesser known experiments in music, screen and stage writing, and
poetry. In a generalized biographical chapter, Widder mentions but does not list or
explore those particular non-fiction phases of his career, Dianetics and Scientology,
which have made Hubbard famous, wealthy, and notorious.
Some readers fear that any book about Hubbard may be proselytizing medium for his
psychological and religious philosophies. This is not the instance here. Although these
subjects are touched upon respectfully and briefly, the book is faithful to its own
purpose: the cataloguing of his fiction. The publishing house is apparently dedicated to
reprinting every novel and story the adventuring author ever wrote, irrespective of the
literary stature of the venue. Several dozen have already appeared in a project destined
to take years and to produce very expensive volumes, inasmuch as many, some containing
only short stories, will be issued individually, or, in some cases, collectively, leather
bound. In 1950 Hubbard wrote a serial for Astounding Science Fiction, "To the
Stars." With well over one hundred million copies of his books published already,
they may well reach the stars one day.
As might be expected, the book offers the requisite lionization. A foreword and preface
reassure the reader not only of Hubbard's genius, bunching him with some of the most
renowned names in American literature, but of his seminal importance in the progress of
science fiction as a form. Whether one agrees that he "began to fundamentally and
permanently change the face of the genre...and to definitely shape and dynamically enlarge
the dimensions and imaginative vistas of living literature" is an individual choice.
This said, the book remains a handsome and useful compendium. It offers in 19 chapters
a total overview of everything Hubbard ever wrote, from school and college days through a
successful and remarkably busy pulp-writing career, a brief period in Hollywood, military
service, and then, after a hiatus of nearly 40 years, a triumphant return to fiction on
just as active a basis, before his untimely death at the age of 75 in January 1986. It
offers a chronology in some detail of his life, including travel and adventures, for he
was indubitably a very mobile and inquisitive man, some of whose activities clearly
predisposed his preoccupation with mental health. Regrettably, nothing is mentioned of the
intermediate years, after his announcement of Dianetics, nor of his family, other than his
parents, nor his various legal contretemps reported elsewhere.
His fiction in all genres is first summarized chronologically. Each genre is then
listed separately, adventure, western, mystery/detective, fantasy, science fiction, and
romance. This offers valuable insight into what was required of a writer to be financially
successful within the popular medium of the pulp magazines. Hubbard's facility and
adaptability were already evident. Postage- stamp-size reproductions of representative
pulp magazine covers accompany these lists. Regrettably, there are no reproductions in
large size of the inimitable illustrations by Edd Cartier for many of Hubbard's best
Unknown and Astounding Science Fiction stories. Since Hubbard and Cartier are associated
in the memory of readers in the same manner as Burroughs and J. Allen St. John, whose
illustrations for Burroughs are reproduced by Heins in his book, Widder would have been
well advised to follow Heins's example.
A list of books follows, including all foreign publications. Forthcoming releases and
approximate publishing dates are listed, reprinting most of his stories, through 1999. A
major part of the book is a complete listing together with synopses of all of his magazine
fiction. Special notes illuminate what the editor considers his most significant stories.
There is also a list of non- fiction writings which are "relevant to the author's
fiction writing career", which includes pieces on writing, aviation, and deep-sea
diving. Those published under pseudonyms bear those names, and there is a complete list of
his sixteen pen-names for fiction as well as four for non-fiction magazine articles.
Chapters for published and for unpublished verse and for audiotapes and recordings follow.
The final third of the volume is more fully concerned with Hubbard as a personality:
the honors he accumulated, snippets of praise from newspapers and fellow writers, reprints
of the essays he wrote as forewords to his latter-day novels, recounting the glory of the
"Golden Age of Science Fiction," in which he felt he had played a part, and
especially the glory of the Writers of the Future Program he initiated, which continues
and has produced a number of authors who went on to writing success. This program occupies
much of a color section, which also contains a broad photo of some of the gloriously lurid
pulp-magazine covers (not always featuring his contribution) and book jackets for his
work, as well as photographs of him at different times of his life. Somewhat inexplicably,
and posthumously, a room was dedicated to him and his writing at Moscow University in
Russia in 1992.
In his introduction to Battlefield Earth, he wrote of his omission in the
novel of his "serious subjects", that "I also did not want to give anyone
the idea I was doing a press relations job for my other serious works." The Bibliography may give such an impression, but what is one to make of so protean and
controversial a man? Affable in appearance, egocentric in nature, he almost required that
quality without which he could never have crammed so many lifetimes into one. One might
note that his screenplays were only for serials and his fiction only for lowly pulp
magazines. And his religion? Charles Dickens wrote as fast as he could to meet magazine
deadlines for a penny a word; half a century later Hubbard was doing the same thing.
Posterity has not done badly by Dickens. In the early 19th century a young man in upstate
New York revealed that he had discovered a cache of golden tablets with messages from an
angel. A century and a half later Mormonism has adherents around the earth. Scientology,
the brainchild of a pulp writer, a sky jockey, a World War II Lieutenant JG, already has
millions of adherents. Posterity will have the last word here too, on those pulp yarns of
stalwart heroes, fainting heroines, and nasty villains as well as on his notion of
In the directness, rapidity, and diversity of his thinking, actions, and writing, L.
Ron Hubbard is unquestionably a child of the 20th century. The elegant mysticism and
poetic fantasy favored in late 19th-century England is reflected in the early work of
another subject of bibliography, Lord Dunsany, who, in a life as long as Hubbard's, would
come to reflect the 20th as well.
Born in London of an Anglo-Irish family whose origins could be traced for centuries,
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, 18th Baron Dunsany (1878-1957), did not
publish a word for his first 27 years. Thereafter, as Lord Dunsany, beginning with the
mythic fantasy for which he is now primarily remembered, he wrote steadily for half a
century in nearly every medium, fiction, drama, essays, poetry, book reviews, letters,
etc. He even once ran for parliament (he lost). It was an incredible range and surely he
was a man for all seasons. Yet his season in the sun was brief. Early in his career,
having published some fantasy, he became acquainted with William Butler Yeats and the
fabled Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He turned from the graceful other-worldly fantasies which
would so impress H.P. Lovecraft and which remain his greatest heritage critically, to
drama, and very quickly achieved success, on a world-wide scale. Not only were his plays
translated into other languages, but, incredibly, at one time he had five plays running in
different theatres in New York City! For the most part, his plays were written during the
era of World War I.
A serious injury during the war dampened his writing ardor, but he returned soon.
However, on stage his popularity waned quickly and his work ceased to have any theatrical
importance. His signature fantasies, characterized by mystical imagination and a
well-defined, poetical longing for magical realms, altered in time as well, and his later
stories have a more earthbound quality. He found renewed pleasure and reward from a new
public, however, in short stories about Mr. Joseph Jorkens, his clubman who endured an
incredible number of even more incredible adventures, many involving science-fictional
themes, for the most part humorous with twist endings. Five collections of these stories,
many of which appeared first in magazines, found print. One of his stories alone, the
grisly "The Two Bottles of Relish" (the initial article is usually and
incorrectly omitted), first published in 1932, was reprinted nearly forty times. It
sometimes drew outraged letters from readers, who pointed out certain physical improbabilities. A curious reader is invited to read the tale, which would have pleased Alfred
Hitchcock's palate, had he been allowed to film it.
In the 1970s, well after his death in 1957, there was some renewed interest in his
fiction, the "Dunsany renaissance," as the authors term this modest revival.
They maintain that his early fantasy had led to it, and indeed the new critical interest,
by such fantasists as L. Sprague de Camp and Ursula Le Guin, has tended to slight the work
of the latter years of his career, which, while different, was substantial. Regrettably,
there has been little interest in Dunsany in Ireland, where his attitudes have been viewed
as pro-British or unsympathetic to Irish causes. His drama has only rarely received a
second viewing, although the period charm and fantasy might offset its indubitably dated
quality. The poetry which has occasionally qualified Yeats for dramatic revival is not to
be found in Dunsany's plays, although he was a serious if undistinguished poet in the
years preceding his death.
The book is a remarkable feat of bibliographical detection, for such biographical or
critical matter that exists on Dunsany offers scant enumeration of his specific works,
especially the later work. Dunsany reportedly kept a private notebook which presumably
would have made their work simpler, but it has been unavailable to the editors. Although
their work has been accomplished over a decade of search through periodicals, they
consider their book, despite its length, "preliminary." It will nevertheless be
a surprise to devotees of Dunsany to discover the range of his writings, and it will be an
invaluable tool to students.
The contents are arranged in chronological order by date of first publication, with
reprints duly noted. The book contains a splendid introduction to Dunsany's life and
thought; it insists that criticism of their subject on grounds that he is humanistically
remote and inadequately attentive to human concerns will fail upon wider reading of his
work. It seems likely, however, that his literary status will remain dependent upon the
work which gave him initial fame. There after the book is divided into categories of
fiction, essays, poetry, plays, book reviews, letters, and miscellany. Works in
translation and Dunsany criticism are also included. Listed collections of stories include
the contents, but no individual sections for novels and collections per se are
included. Published plays are included with the fiction, as well as within a separate
section which includes initial dates of performance, a useful adjunct for theatre lovers.
There is excellent cross-indexing of titles within the text as well as a thorough index of
three sections in 42 pages.
For general readers, the bibliography will prove to be a formidable book with little
adumbration of any sort, except, for whatever curious reason, his more minor writings,
essays, book reviews, and letters, to most of which a few words of description are
appended. Novels, stories, plays, all glide by as titles, sources and dates. No
illustrations appear, not of the subject himself, nor even a portfolio of the incomparably
romantic and also neglected art by Sidney Sime which accompanied many of Dunsany's early
fantasies. No stills of any of his plays appear, to reward the curious reader.
A haunting refrain throughout his finest fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Rodiguez
and The King of Elfland's Daughter is "the fields we know," with the
inherent nostalgia but also the quest for whatever mystery and beauty lie beyond them.
Hopefully, this valuable book will rekindle interest not only in his early, greatest work
but also in those wider fields he subsequently discovered.
--Ben P. Indick, Teaneck.
of 19th-Century Russian SF.
Osip Senkovsky. The Fantastic Journeys of Baron Brambeus. Translation and
introduction by Louis Pedrotti. Middlebury Studies in Russian Language and Literature,
Vol. 5. Peter Lang Publishing (212- 764-1471), 1993. xix+232. $32.95 paper.
A friend of mine, who happens to be an anthropologist with a keen eye for forms and
fashions, maintains that when it comes to clothes, a form-fitting elegantly feminine (or
masculine) silhouette (of one type or the other) always defines the mainstream, but just
as invariably a loose and baggy alternative style slouches and swaggers somewhere at
fashion's margins, attracting those who like . . . well, you know why you like (or abhor)
intentionally inelegant lines of attire.
So it would seem to be, in general, with literature. No matter what style or genre
currently defines the ideal form of verbal creation, a loose and baggy antigenre will
emerge to parody formal conventions, underdress pretensions to seriousness, all the while
claiming for itself the advantages of being "comfort able" and
"casual" reading. Senkovsky's The Fantastic Adventures of Baron Brambeus
offers up fantastic voyages to the center of the earth ("The Sentimental Journey to
Mount Etna"), to an antediluvian "Egyptian" civilization flourishing on the
now-frozen Siberian plain ("The Scientific Journey to Bear Island"), and to a
steamy and stylized Turkish Orient ("The Poetic Journey over the Great, Wide
World"). Along the way the narrator, Baron Brambeus, takes the opportunity to
satirize a variety of topical literary and scientific issues of the day, all the while
maintaining a chatty rapport with the reader. In the ostensible foreword to his adventures
he confides, "I'm a man, too. I also like stupidities, especially my own and those
I've picked up personally in this world. We can share them in a friendly way." The
Baron then tells us that "The most stupid thing I ever did in my life was to leave my
own country to travel in foreign lands." Thus, the narrator leads us out of his
native St. Petersburg, a city which is characterized in the opening narrative frame by a
stifling dullness, chilly dampness, and bureaucratic heartlessness of mythological
proportions. As the commentary to the text indicates, here Senkovsky (alias Baron
Brambeus) is not alone in satirizing the classical grandeur of Imperial Russia's capital
city. The "dark side" of St. Petersburg finds its ultimate expression in the
works of Pushkin, Gogol, and Dostoevsky. The Baron Brambeus, however, wastes no time in
leaving literary Petersburg for more extravagantly romantic landscapes. The translator's
commentary provides a useful historical overview of the theme of the fantastic voyage and
Senkovsky's role in popularizing science fiction in Russia.
Osip Ivanovich Senkovsky (née Sekowski, a Polish family name) was a brilliant student
of oriental languages; traveled extensively in the Near East, and was made a professor in
Arabic, Persian, and Turkic at the University of St. Petersburg in 1822. He was also the
publisher and editor of a commercially successful journal of popular literature, to which
he himself was the foremost contributor. Senkovsky's eclectic erudition is revealed in the
fascinating details of the stories collected in this volume: Baron Brambeus' travels
through time and space are also tongue-in-cheek popularizations of Senkovsky's real
scientific interests: the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, the theories surrounding
Halley's Comet, the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the evolutionary theories
recently forwarded in the new sciences of geology, paleontology and comparative anatomy.
The brunt of Senkovsky's critical wit, irony, and sarcasm, when it is not aimed at
scientific data with which he disagrees, is directed towards certain cumbersome
grammatical and stylistic conventions still prevalent in Russian letters at the time.
However, judging from Senkovsky's fictional as well as non- fictional literary reviews, he
failed to appreciate with any seriousness the greatness of his contemporaries, Pushkin and
Gogol, as innovators and reformers of the Russian literary language. This has somewhat
dimmed his reputation in retrospective histories of 19th century Russian literature, but
it did not at all dampen the genuine popularity of Senkovsky's writings at the time.
Furthermore, it should not deter the modern connoisseur of "off-mainstream"
genres (as certainly all science fiction readers are) from enjoying the racy adventures of
Baron Brambeus. Louis Pedrotti, Professor Emeritus of Russian at the University of
California, Riverside, and author of a monograph on the life and works of Senkovsky (Jozef-Julian
Sekowski. Portrait of a Literary Alien) has produced a fine translation accompanied
by extremely interesting and informative footnotes, in addition to the scholarly
The publication of this volume in English will certainly open new doors to those
interested in the history of science fiction as an international genre, to historians of
science who will find further evidence of the formative interaction between science and
literature, to students of the 19th century women's emancipation movement (who may be
appalled), and, of course, to the reader who wants to be entertained.
--Yvonne Howell University of Richmond.
Excellent Introduction to the Field.
Edward James. Science
Fiction in the Twentieth Century. OPUS series. Oxford University
Press, 1994. xiv+250. $11.95 paper.
This book may immediately be said to be the best book of its kind now available and so
the book to be adopted as a supplementary text for undergraduates. The first chapter,
"The Development of a Genre, 1895-1940," begins with a brief discussion of the
situation in 1895, when sf was already plentiful though inchoate, and then discusses its
development under three headings: the extraordinary voyage (usually set in the present),
the tale of the future, and the tale of science (also usually set in the present).
Sections follow on the work of H.G. Wells, on sf publishing history in the UK and the US,
on sf between the wars outside North America, on sf in the American pulps, and on defining
the genre. Chapter 2, "The Victory of American Sf, 1940-1960" is largely to what
may be called Campbellite sf. Chapter 3, "Reading Science Fiction," offers sound
comments on the differences between sf and the mainstream literature in which the student
has presumably been trained. Chapter 4, "The Sf Community," deals with the fans,
writers, and publishers that have devoted themselves to the genre. Chapter 5, "From
New Wave to Cyberpunk and Beyond, 1960-1993," continues and completes the historical
account. From a book published in a series like the OPUS, which "provides concise and
original introductions to a wide range of subjects," one could hardly ask for
anything more or anything better.
Foundation #60 (Spring 1994) was devoted to "Science Fiction Research:
The State of the Art." In a note for that issue I wrote that "Most of the things
we wanted to do back in 1973 have now been done. The history of sf is now pretty well
understood...." Science Fiction in the 20th Century is the first history of the field
to take full advantage of that fact, so that we have here the results of consensus rather
than original research, which, for an introduction to the field, is what we should expect.
I find little to fault in the book. James does repeat, and does not question, Harry
Bates's tall tale on the founding of Astounding about which I wrote in
(21:110-11, March 1994), and he is ill-informed on pre-1920 American magazines, a period
in which the distinction between "pulp" and "slick" hardly existed,
and in which magazines printed on pulp paper were quite respectable and had sedate rather
than garish covers, and in which "quality" magazines as well as pulps regularly
had ragged edges.
Jane L. Donawerth and Carol A. Kolmerton, eds.
Utopian and Science Fiction by Women:Worlds of
Difference. Foreword by Susan Gubar. Utopianism and Communitarianism
Series. Syracuse UP (800-365-8929), 1994. xix+260. $34.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.
Claire Myers Spotswood Owens. The Unpredictable Adventure: A Comedy of Woman's Independence.
Afterword by Miriam Kalman Harris. Utopianism and Communitarianism Series. Syracuse UP
(800-365- 8929), 1993. xviii+511. $16.95 paper.
Here are two more volumes in the very good Syracuse UP series on utopian and
communitarian literature edited by Lyman Tower Sargent and Gregory Claeys. Each in its own
way is deserving of attention and appreciation and each has much to offer the interested
reader. The first is a collection of essays on feminist utopian literature, while the
second is the reprint of a utopian novel which has long been unavailable.
Donawerth and Kolmerton's Utopian and Science Fiction by Women comprises
twelve essays which trace the course of utopian literature by women from the seventeenth
century to the present. The historical research which has gone into these essays makes the
collection a particularly valuable document in the field of feminist utopian studies;
indeed, it is a worthwhile addition to the field of utopian studies in general. While
three of the essays collected here deal with more or less contemporary subjects, it is the
essays on texts such as Margaret Cavendish's The Description of a New World, Called
the Blazing-World (1668) and Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford (1851-53) which
will, I think, be of special interest. If nothing else, these essays offer irrefutable
evidence that the tradition of women's writing in the utopian genre goes back for
centuries. As Donawerth and Kolmerton describe their aim in this undertaking, "this
volume is the first...to argue that these fictions [both utopian fiction and science
fiction] historically speak to one another and together amount to a literary tradition of
women's writing about a better place" (1).
Not unexpectedly in a project of this kind, there are rather a lot of plot summaries to
be found in these essays, but this is as it should be, since they aim, for the most part,
either to introduce rare material like Margaret Cavendish's singular invention of the
Blazing-World, or to reread more familiar works like Gaskell's Cranford within
the context of the utopian tradition. Again, not unexpectedly, the overarching plan of
this collection is to highlight the similarities among an otherwise disparate group of
texts whose writers are women concerned with the condition of women. Thus, scattered
throughout these essays are valuable insights into the ways in which these texts differ
from male-authored utopian texts. For example, Rae Rosenthal, in one of the best of the
essays collected here, "Gaskell's Feminist Utopia," draws attention to several
characteristics of utopian writing by women, including its "emphasis on feminine
values and issues, commitment to communalism, and an ability to overcome male intruders
through either expulsion or conversion" (74). Rosenthal also usefully reminds her
readers of something which is perhaps too easily forgotten, the fact that feminism itself
is a utopian project: it thus makes perfectly good sense that there should be such a long
tradition of utopian writing by women.
In Jane Donawerth's contribution to this collection, "Science Fiction by Women in
the Early Pulps, 1926-1930," we are also reminded that it is around the beginning of
the present century that the utopian tradition begins to become indistinguishable from
that of science fiction. For this reason, two of the final essays, by Sarah Lefanu and
Michelle Erica Green, are single-author studies of Naomi Mitchison and Octavia Butler,
while the final essay is Naomi Jacobs' thematic survey, "The Frozen Landscape in
Women's Utopian and Science Fiction."
Scattered among those essays whose focus is one or several texts of specific
historical interest are others which take a broader generic perspective. One of the best
is Jean Pfaelzer's "Subjectivity as Feminist Utopia," which, through readings of
Louisa May Alcott's "Transcendental Wild Oats" (1872) and Rebecca Harding
Davis's "The Harmonists" (1866), demonstrates how American women writing in the
utopian tradition broke away from the male-authored tradition which Pfaelzer characterizes
as attempting "to realize the ahistorical, antiestablishment and antisocial elements
of romanticism" (94).
Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference contains a wealth
of information about early women writers in the utopian tradition and a wealth of
intelligent analysis about their work and about the writers who have succeeded them.
Donawerth and Kolmerten have put together an exemplary collection. The Unpredictable
Adventure: A Comedy of Woman's Independence might easily have provided material for
one of the essays in the Donawerth/ Kolmerten collection except for the fact that it has
been out of print for decades. First published in 1935, it was promptly banned from the
shelves of the New York Public Library. And deservedly so, one is tempted to think, given
its unabashed exploration of female sexuality, its subversive examination of Christianity,
and its fierce intelligence. These are only some of the elements which serve to make The
Unpredictable Adventure one of the quirkiest, most entertaining, and most unexpected
novels I have come across in years.
Written as an extended allegory, The Unpredictable Adventure recounts the
adventures of Tellectina (Female Intelligence) Femina Christian who leaves her comfortable
home in Smug Harbour to explore the forbidden land of Nithking (Thinking). As the previous
sentence indicates, Spotswood Owens' play with language is not the least of the charms of
her novel. The Glossary appended here serves both to unravel some of the wordplay and to
identity many of the literary figures whom Tellectina meets on her travels. Tina's
encounters with mentors and lovers, her discoveries of her own talents and of the foibles
of the human race, her struggles to becomes her own woman and to reach the heights of Mt.
Certitude add up to a long, rambling, frequently very funny exploration of the
difficulties faced by women of intelligence and education during the early part of the
twentieth century. The final solution to Tellectina's unhappiness in the face of the
vicissitudes of life is Cianite Vitrgrew (Creative Writing), and this is obviously the
same "drug" which Spotswood Owens applied herself for the same condition.
The richness of this novel precludes any detailed description here. Suffice it to say
that, although it met with little success when it first appeared in the 1930s, it was
praised by the likes of James Branch Cabell and Aldous Huxley. Abandon your comfortable
home in Smug Harbour and take up the practice of Reasonese with Tellectina Femina
Christian; let the Sillidinous Vines remove the protective film from your eyes; you might
even take to the drug Cianite Vitrgrew yourself. As Tina discovers, "there [are]
thousands of stupid and ignorant to spare" (153); the heights of Mt Certitude are
much less densely populated.
Anne Rice in the Academy
Bette B. Roberts. Anne Rice. Twayne's United States Authors Series.
NY: Twayne Publishers, 1994. xii+173p. $26.95.
This volume in the Twayne US Authors series is the first full-length academic
examination of Anne Rice's literary output. Deliberately or not, its appearance coincides
nicely with the release of the film version of Interview with the Vampire. As I
write this review, Tom Cruise's Lestat is no doubt vamping at a theater near you, wherever
you happen to be. It is a shame that Bette B. Roberts' study will not meet with the same
popularity as Neil Jordan's film, because it's a better study than Interview is a
film, providing as it does a gracefully written and intelligent introduction to what is by
now quite a prolific body of writing.
Roberts opens her study with the claim that Rice's vampires "are metaphors that
are just as meaningful to our own fin-de-siècle climate as the infamous Dracula was to
late-Victorian decadence" (viii). She argues that Rice's VAMPIRE
CHRONICLES are as influential in their own way as Stoker's novel was to
the end of the British nineteenth century. And it is to her credit that the case she makes
is a strong one. While Rice's work may or may not enjoy the shelf-life of Stoker's, there
is no doubt that THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES have redefined the
literary vampire; and since the appearance of Interview in 1976, these novels
have been almost single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of the vampire in
contemporary literature and film. Not surprisingly, Roberts' study emphasizes the four
novels in THE CHRONICLES, devoting a chapter to each. Rice's
rather awful mummy novel, Ramses the Damned, and the first of her witch novels, The
Witching Hour, share a chapter, as do her historical novels and her erotic fiction.
Rice's latest novel, Lasher, appeared too recently to be discussed in any detail.
Roberts reads Rice's novels from two perspectives. The first is biographical, and she
relies heavily on Katherine Ramsland's 1991 Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne
Rice for the details of Rice's life which she mentions here. The second and more
important perspective is the tradition of Gothic romanticism, and she draws on some good
standard studies of Gothic fiction to provide the framework for this part of her work.
Thematically, Roberts emphasizes Rice's vision of "the savage garden," exploring
her characters' commitment to a form of contemporary existentialism in the face of a
meaningless universe where "the only truths are aesthetic ones" (2).
All in all, this is a thorough overview of Anne Rice's output from 1976 to 1992, when The
Tale of the Body Thief, the fourth book of THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES,
appeared. However, in spite of Roberts' efforts to convince her readers that the
"history" of Rice's novels is also a "history" of authorial
development, she ultimately fails to convince me that Rice ever wrote more than two very
good books: these are Interview with the Vampire and its 1984 sequel, The
Vampire Lestat. Her other vampire novels and her historical novels are acceptable
popular fiction, while Ramses the Damned is really bad, and her erotic fiction by
and large fails to grip its readers. While, as Roberts argues, the success of Rice's
vampire novels makes her a suitable subject for academic study, her literary output does
not justify quite the enthusiasm which Roberts brings to this task. However, if the
continuing popularity of Dracula is any indication, one or two hot books may just
be enough to give Rice the kind of literary immortality which Stoker, himself no great
writer, still enjoys today.
From Fiawol to Gafia: All about
Joe Sanders, ed. Science Fiction Fandom. Contributions to the Study
of Science Fiction and Fantasy 62. Greenwood Press (800-225-3571), 1994. xii+293.
Joe Sanders, an academic and a veteran fan, has gathered 24 essays by prominent members
of fandom in Science Fiction Fandom, a comprehensive examination of this broad
and populous adjunct of the science fiction and fantasy genre. Aside from a brief preface
by the editor it also offers a comprehensive bibliography and a glossary of the arcane
words fans have originated to describe themselves and their activities. It is a competent
overview for the uninitiated.
The preface sets the parameters by inquiring "what is science fiction fandom, and
what keeps it alive?" The diversity of essays indicates there is no simple answer.
The essentially personal nature of fandom is apparent in the responses, some impersonally
academic but for the most part idiosyncratic. Fandom is seen by some as a breeding ground
for future science fiction writers or as an arena for discussion; other fans have long
since lost interest in science fiction per se and enjoy fandom for its
associations with other fans, explaining and justifying the acronymn Fiawal,
"Fandom Is A Way Of Life." (For those leaving the field, Gafia is
"Getting Away From It All.") The book itself is very much a sez-con
fanzine, a collection of serious essays; the inevitable Wahf, "we also heard
from," commonly letters of comment received but not printed by fanzines, here refers
to essayists omitted for lack of space.
After an introductory pair of essays by Juanita and Robert Coulson individually on the
personal nature of fandom and the fan, the book commences with essays on the history of
the movement. Sam Moskowitz, a major historian of the early years of fandom, dates it to
the appearance of Weird Tales in 1923, with resultant reader response and
meetings of readers. H.P. Lovecraft's Kalem Club even issued a magazine of membership
contributions, perhaps the earliest fanzine. However, the success of Amazing Stories
in 1926 was "the definite catalyst" in urging formation of fan groups. Robert A.
Madle carries it to World War II, describing internecine fighting, some
Communist-inspired, the beginnings of fanzines, from hand-written through hektographic,
and the beginnings of the large conventions. The essay is marred by inexcusably bad
proof-reading. Art Vidner discusses fandom during WWII; an enthusiastic veteran, his essay
exemplifies truly fannish writing, characterized by excesses, gossip, and personalities,
including his unsubstantiated claim that "nearly the entire core" of British
fandom, which numbered far fewer than their American counterparts, was so pacifist as to
be "swept away into farm labor camps or prison." He fails to mention Fanewscard,
a much-appreciated fanzine-as-a-postcard sent to fans and servicemen the world round by
Walt Dunkelberger of Fargo, N.D.
Harry Warner Jr. takes up the period between WWII and Sputnik. A news paperman and
author of two volumes on fan history, his essay is skillfully written, as he describes the
introduction of new printing techniques and the proliferation of fans and fanzines, to a
point where fan friendships overrode any interest in science or science fiction. He also
notes the appearance of female and minority fans. Rich brown (sic) brings the history up
to date, concentrating on fan writing and activities, often in fannish jargon. John and
Bjo Trimble elaborate on this by comparing the relative homogeneity of most other organizations with the diversity of SF-fandom in its sub-genres, sf-cinema fandom, comics fandom,
fantasy-oriented folk ("filk") song, Star Trek, costume and more. Perhaps
because the demographics have never been determined, no estimate of the actual size of
fandom is given. It is world-wide and Worldcons may attract 10,000 and more fans. The
Society for Creative Anachronism, medieval role-playing, according to the Trimbles, has a
paid-up membership of 26,000 by itself. Star Trek fans without doubt far outnumber even
A growing fandom abroad is considered as well by essayists from those countries.
British fandom is nearly as old as American, although smaller. Elsewhere, like science
fiction itself, fandom arrived later, and in France, on the continent, in China and Japan
is still growing, despite what Roelof Goudriaan describes as a persistent attitude abroad
of science fiction being "a foreign, American genre of literature." Australia,
which has a growing, vociferous fandom and even associates, like England, in raising a
fund with American fans to send an elected representative fan to each other's conventions
on a bi-annual basis, is not given a separate chapter.
"Social Interactions" covers various aspects of the scene: fan clubs, which,
although local, may mail club fanzines nationally, and conventions, which are of much
wider scope, together with their history, programs and financing. Fanzines, the most
prominent feature of fandom, are discussed by Harry Warner Jr, perhaps the most prolific
writer of locs (letters of comment) and fanzine collectives, Amateur Press Associations,
or APA'S, which may have international membership are included.
Professional writer Richard Lupoff admits that many writers were initially fans, but
finds such an apprenticeship of dubious value, an opinion shared by numerous fans who
disregard fanfic. Jack Gaughan, a professional artist who likewise had his roots in
fandom, finds the experience useful as part of an innate desire to draw, in which case it
may channel the imagination of the artist. A history of serious book publishing
originating from amateur efforts, book-collecting, and the quality of fan criticism
considered on an academic level complete the text. The subject is well-covered, but, to
the degree that the book preaches to the converted, the material is familiar to
experienced fans; others may find it a history of a curious self-contained group and
--Ben P. Indick Teaneck.
William L. Slout. The Trial of Dr. Jekyll. A Play in Two Acts.
Clipper Studies in the Theatre No. 7. San Bernadino, CA: Borgo Press, 1993. viii+75.
This stage adaptation takes large portions of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and
Mr. Hyde verbatim and cleverly recasts them in the form of (American) courtroom
proceedings against Jekyll. Putting it as a "Case" in that sense, Slout turns
the spotlight on Stevenson's book as a rational inquiry into human duality (rather than as
a "thriller," for example). But the result, though in actual performance it may
bring home that aspect of Stevenson's meaning, does not advance any intellectual
understanding beyond the point, say, of my discussion of the book in Into the Unknown
Paul G. Haschak.
Utopian/Dystopian Literature. A Bibliography of Literary
Criticism. The Scarecrow Press (PO Box 4167, Metuchen, NJ 08840),
1994. viii+370. $52.50.
The bulk of this volume--80% of it, to be precise--consists of a listing, arranged
alphabetically by author, of criticism relating to individual titles or to a given
author's entire oeuvre. The primary works in this listing Mr. Haschak subsequently indexes
by title, and the secondary sources by critic; and there is also an appendix of just over
16 pages, giving the full bibliographical data for books whose citation Mr. Haschak
In a rather perfunctory preface of less than two pages, Haschak tells us that his
"is the first book-length checklist in the English language devoted exclusively to
the general literary criticism of individual Utopian/Dystopian literature"
except for poetry (vii). But despite the circumspection of his qualifiers
("book-length," "English language," "individual"), he does
not clarify what he means by the one word that he himself emphasizes. A potential user of
this volume might suppose that Mr. Haschak, in concentrating "exclusively" on
"the general," has deliberately left out candidates which are too
highly specialized to count as such. That proves not to be the case, however. David Ketterer's brief note, "Oedipus as Time Traveler," appears among the items on The
Time Machine; and under Gulliver's Travels are articles by Ann Cline Kelly
and Donald Torchina dealing quite particularly with the putative equation of the Yahoos
with the Irish--articles which do not so much as mention utopia. To be sure,
these random examples would not indicate a big problem if the entries in this
volume--their total number is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3600, by my
estimate--included everything of more or less central importance. But that isn't the case
either. Omitted under Gulliver's Travels are, inter alia, John
Reichert's essay on "Plato, Swift, and the Houyhnhnms" (PQ 1968) and mine on
"Swift, Gulliver, and 'The Thing Which Was Not'" (ELH 1971); and John Traugott's
oft-anthologized comparison of Swift and More is listed only under the latter, with no
cross-reference (the same is true, mutatis mutandis, for my "The Language of
Utopia," say, which Haschak does not refer readers of Nineteen Eighty-Four
to, even though I am comparing Orwell and Swift). Meanwhile, entries for The Time
Machine do not include, for example, the insightful essays by Patrick Parrinder and
Veronica Hollinger published in SFS in 1976 and 1987, respectively.
Nor, according my rather cursory examination, are these illustrations unrepresentative.
As a couple of further instances: the entries for L'An 2440 leave out Paul
Alkon's account of Mercier's book in The Origins of Futuristic Fiction (1987);
and no reference is made to what is probably still the best discussion of Wells's A
Modern Utopia, David Hughes's essay in a 1977 issue of Extrapolation (a
journal for which I find no citations whatsoever). Equally quirky are the authors and
works that do, or do not, figure in this bibliography. For instance, there are entries for
Don Quixote, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, She, and The Wizard of Oz;
but none whatsoever for Stanislaw Lem or The Island of Doctor Moreau (though
Wells's Russia in the Shadows gets a listing), and no specific title for the
Two other failings of this volume, though comparatively trivial, are nevertheless worth
noting. Mr. Haschak, despite having the assistance of ten people, has evidently not
inspected the contents of all of the items he indexes; and he thus, for instance, credits
me with having written Wells's radio broadcast on "Utopias," the text of which I
briefly introduced when I printed it in SFS #27. Perhaps more surprising in a professional
librarian, Mr. Haschak sometimes records the anthologized reprint of an article without
giving so much as the original date of publication.
All of this is not to say that Mr. Haschak's no doubt considerable efforts have totally
gone for nought. His selections are eccentric enough to comprise items that may have
escaped the attention of those particularly concerned with this work or that; and a
perfunctory check on my part turned up no "bibliographical ghosts" or other
misinformation of any significance. Those virtues, however, do not counterbalance the
failings I have specified, in consequence of which this volume seems a luxury rather than
The Canonical Supernatural.
D.J. Enright, ed. The
Oxford Book of the Supernatural. Oxford UP, 1994. ix+557. $25.00.
Among the epigraphs to this book is a passage from T.S. Eliot's "The Dry
Salvages" that begins, "To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits,/To
report the behaviour of the sea monster,/Describe the horoscope...," which
illustrates pretty well the conflation of scientific possibilities with the supernatural
in the minds of many people. The attitude toward the supernatural recommended by D.J.
Enright is stated in words attributed to a character in Robertson Davies' Murther
& Walking Spirits who calls for "a fine credulity about everything, kept in
check by a lively skepticism about everything" (2).
The Oxford Book of the Supernatural is a collection of hundreds of brief
passages from literature, most of it canonical literature, hence the title of this note.
The passages are sorted into 16 chapters, of which the first is "Assorted
Apparitions" and the last "Believers and Disbelievers: On Reading and Writing
About the Supernatural." The most science-fictional passage occurs in "Sex and
the Supernatural": Guillaume Apollinaire writes about time machines that could be
"aimed at spot where they knew that at a certain date a certain woman had lain down
[and so could reach] the precise moment when they could encounter the subject in the
proper attitude." The narrator, having encountered Leda at the proper moment, writes
in triumphant capitals "I HAVE CUCKOLDED THE SWAN"
of Sauk City.
Alison M. Wilson. August
Derleth: A Bibliograpby. Scarecrow Press (PO Box 4167, Metuchen, N J
08840), 1983. xxvi+229. $26.00 (A special price of $14.50 postpaid is being offered by the
Press in honor of the August Derleth Society).
August Derleth published and edited over 700 novels, short stories, poems, essays,
reviews, and sundry pieces in varied literary genres. It is a large oeuvre, of which
Derleth was proud, but his fame rests less on his writing than on his creation of the
specialty publishing firm, Arkham House, and, through it, his role in bringing the work of
H.P. Lovecraft to public attention, long after the death and the publishing of the last of
Lovecraft's stories in a pulp magazine.
Alison M. Wilson undertook an annotated bibliography of his work and the result is not
only of frequent delight for her piquant notes to the bulk of his writing, but also for
her thoroughness. She provides as well a brief introduction and biography to round out the
picture of this most active literary midwesterner.
Derleth had been one of the numerous young protégés of the Providence master of the
horror genre; since his death, however, Derleth has often been criticized as overly
inserting himself into the Lovecraft heritage. As publisher, he insisted that his firm
possessed full legal rights to the writings of Lovecraft, and regularly threatened suit
against anyone who infringed, when in actuality it had no such rights. He was content to
publish Lovecraft's fiction as it had appeared in various pulp magazines, but there it had
often been deplorably edited by other hands. (New editions of the writings, edited by S.T.
Joshi, and based on scrupulous study of original holograph manuscripts have since been
issued by Arkham House.) Derleth bowdlerized the letters of Lovecraft, excising what he
considered embarrassing comments in a racial or other sense. (Ironically, he himself quit
writing a weekly newspaper column because his words were tampered with by a cautious
editor.) He listed chronologies of the work which have been proven inaccurate. He wrote
numerous "collaborations" which were that in no sense of the word, being merely
stories he wrote based upon sentences or fragments Lovecraft had jotted down into his
notebook, The Commonplace Book. Worst of all, in the opinions of Lovecraftian
scholars, is the very term "Cthulhu Mythos," which Derleth created to cover the
pantheon of extraterrestrial creatures of Lovecraft's fiction; it is a term which bids
fair to be forever associated with the hapless author, who never intended such a creation.
Ms. Wilson points out the irony that a man who had published so much was so quickly
disregarded in literary circles, even during his own lifetime, for the most part. She
offers reasons, one being that most of his writing was for disparate genres, whose readers
did not cross over, and that the editions were, in any event, small. In addition, while he
did receive prizes early in his career and never tired of repeating the praise afforded
him by Edgar Lee Masters (to whose daughter Derleth was briefly engaged in 1943-44) and
Sinclair Lewis in the lists of his titles which he published regularly, he admitted he
wrote swiftly without revising, simply for the money. Not infrequently he had more than
one story in a single issue of a magazine, and he used more than half a dozen pseudonyms
to conceal this. In one amusing instance Wilson relates, a story of his appeared in Weird
Tales under his favorite pen-name (also a character in his Sac Prairie stories)
"Stephen Grendon." Unfortunately, the cover of the issue, printed first, listed
it as by August Derleth. A note was hastily added to the title page explaining that by
error, Grendon's agent, Derleth, had been listed. A number of his short horror tales are
of better than average quality, but his hasty hackwork ultimately relegated him to the
status of a minor writer, possibly excepting the regional novels, his Sac Prairie Saga,
which he considered his best work, aside from his poetry.
Wilson offers a warm and satisfactory review of his life, including the facts of his
marriage and divorce, as well as his career, summarized in a chronology, although she does
not discuss the contretemps with his original partner in Arkham House, the science-fiction
and weird-tale writer Donald Wandrei, whose last years were embittered by what he
perceived as injustice. Nevertheless, if Derleth's literary contributions are now seen as
modest, his name remains a major one in the horror genre. Not only did he revive the name
of Lovecraft, but he also brought to light many other writers buried in the pages of
moldering pulp magazines, as well as celebrating nearly forgotten British masters of the
genre; his attention also made possible the revival of Robert E. Howard and the sword and
sorcery genre, which became a major publishing field in itself. The money he made through
his hastily written fiction, even his derivative Judge Peck mystery novels, subsidized
Arkham House, which, despite his justifiable pride in it (and, indeed, it remains his
monument) was hardly a money-generating machine for most of its years. As a poet he also
published poetry magazines, allowing the voices of numerous poets to be heard, until he
could afford that luxury no longer.
Wilson divides the bibliographical bulk of the book into two divisions. The first is
"The Fantasy Worlds: Mystery, Science Fiction and Horror." It includes his own
short stories, over 250 under his own name or his pseudonyms; collaborations with Mark
Schorer, which were truly so, as well as those he termed such with Lovecraft; the
"Pontine Canon"; Judge Peck books; collections of his stories; anthologies
edited by Derleth; plus his introductions. The second part is "Sac Prairie and the
Real World." This includes not only his many regional stories and novels but also his
juvenile literature, non-fiction, a selection of articles, reviews, and letters, which
merely tap the volume of available material, plus his many books of poetry, with a listing
of poems included. The Index consists of titles only, of novels, stories, collections, and
poetry books but not individual poems.
Ms. Wilson mentions in the Chronology the three magazines Derleth published, but,
strangely and regrettably (because he was very much a part of each) offers no other word
on them. These include, under the Arkham House imprint, The Arkham Sampler and The
Arkham Collector, each containing articles, poems, fiction, and advertising plus his
editorial comments; merely copyrighted under his own name is what he described to me as
"the only little magazine I ever edited," Hawk and Whipporwill, ten
lovely issues containing the work of numerous contributors, conservative (reflecting the
editor's tastes), and his own editorial wrap-up in each issue on the world of poetry.
He was a remarkable man, larger than life in many respects, and if people reacted to
him otherwise, this reviewer remembers him with great affection. Once, after many years
away from fantasy, I was hospitalized. Musing over the past I wrote to August Derleth,
asking whether his long-time dream of publishing the letters of Lovecraft had ever been
realized. He responded, recalling my name, encouraging and wishing me well, and enclosing
a copy of the first volume of those letters. Fantasy publishing has not seen nor likely
will see again another with his devotion and editorial acumen.
--Ben P. Indick Teaneck.
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