#66 = Volume 22, Part 2 = July 1995
BOOKS IN REVIEW
The Definitive First Men.
H.G. Wells. The
First Men in the Moon. Edited with an introduction by David Lake. The
World's Classics. NY: Oxford UP. xxxvii+229. Paper, $6.95.
David Lake has collated seven published texts of The First Men in the Moon:
those of the serializations in Cosmopolitan and The Strand, of the 1901
US and UK first editions, and of the novel as it appeared in the Atlantic and Essex
editions of Wells's work and in The Scientific Romances. He has also examined
manuscripts and proofs. The first UK edition is his copy text; all substantive departures
from it are listed in a note on the text.
Lake's introduction includes an excellent brief summary of previous fictional voyages
to the moon, indicating the extent to which Wells used them as sources, and of the
influence of the novel on later sf, as well as an excellent analysis of the novel itself.
There is an appendix on the science in the novel and a series of annotations that identify
people and places and define various turn-of-the-century terms likely to be unfamiliar to
As a volume in the World's Classics series, the book has the expected apparatus: a
bibliograpical preface, a Wells chronology, and a bibliographical note, all by Patrick
Parrinder, general editor for the books by Wells in the series, of which this is the
first. It is certainly good to have this inexpensive edition, though one must regret that
there is not yet a hardback edition on acid-free paper and with such secondary materials
as appear in the critical editions we now have of The Time Machine, The Island of Dr
Moreau, and The War of the Worlds.
The Radical Center.
Frederick Turner. The
Culture of Hope. NY: The Free Press (800-257-5755). 250pp. $23.00.
Frederick Turner is unique: a literary cultural maven with ties to science fiction.
When he embarks on a rousing, scalding redefinition of our culture, his angle of attack
rewards the science-fictional audience.
In this radical, insightful inspection of our cultural times, Turner proposes a quiet
revolution, close to the heart of the genre. He holds that with "postmodernism"
we have suffered through a cultural twilight and are about to enter a great cultural
epoch, deeply classical and informed by modern science: the "radical center."
He holds the academy, particularly the humanities, guilty of confusions and shoddy
thinking. "Like the Jodie Foster character in The Silence of the Lambs, we
have gone to school with monsters, with the Hannibal Lecters (or cannibal lecteurs) who,
in biting the text into pieces with their deconstructive slashes and parentheses, have
bitten off the faces of their authors."
Turner has written distinguished criticism, science fiction, even epic poetry about
transforming Mars. A professor of arts and humanities at the University of Texas, Dallas,
he takes no prisoners, Left or Right.
"The radical center sees that the avant-garde and the conservatives share certain
metaphilosophical assumptions, inherited from the nineteenth century..." (4). The
Left loves entropy, while the Right sees our salvation from shrinking resources in the
Invisible Hand's market. This split leads to art's "desperate crisis of originality,
its failure to find an audience, and its isolation from vital intellectual currents in the
human and natural sciences, religion, technology, and the environmental movement." To
the Left, "we are free only if we can perform a gratuitous act with no sense or
While he sees our present capitalist markets as "our closest approximation to
data" to natural "value-production" (26), he adroitly describes how the
Right barricades the past against the present. It "believes in the pretty; it denies
shame by exporting to the outside all the unpleasantness and smell of our lives.... Its
final state is the terminally bland." Rejecting shame means omitting our mammalian
selves, which the Right often offloads onto the "social, racial or sexual Other"
His radical center embraces evolution--in biology and in physical processes --as
producer of order in novel forms. "Chaos theory tells us that beautiful 'attractors'
can underlie apparent chaos, and that highly ordered systems can, through iteration,
feedback...generate entirely unpredictable emergent properties" (6).
To Turner, order is neither running down nor deterministic, and a strict division
order/chaos is just wrong. Such ignorance leaks into culture. Turner condemns "the
bankruptcy of post-modern fictional self-consciousness," noting that one genre
"has continued triumphantly to satisfy the requirement of a fullblooded and healthy
art: science fiction" (16). There, art rubs against science, pollinating with the
fresh visions available at the flowering center of science. It is the sole art able to do
this without flinching, sentimentalizing, or recapitulating the postures of the Romantic
era; in this is it truly modern, and so seldom uses post-modern devices.
Turner foresees that "postmodernism is destined, like the late eighteenth century
'picturesque' movement, to be seen as only a transitional phase into a new period of
cultural history that does not need to be labeled feebly with a modification of its
predecessor's name" (17).
America, as the leading Western culture, has "found the knack of listening to and
absorbing other cultural values." The essential, classical values come from
"deep neurobiologically based grammars, as does language itself, that are common to
all cultures." Turn to the genuinely universal art forms and genres, he urges, which
give us poetic meter, musical tonality and scale, methods of visual imaging and motifs,
mythical structures. His radical center then "rejects the ethnocentricism of the
Right, but it also rejects the demonization of the West by the Left" (22).
Turner turns to nature, particularly viewed through chaos theory and the gathering
theories of emergent order, as the true spirit of our century's science, and a deep source
for the arts. Lazy ignorance of these ideas has served the arts poorly.
Nature as dense and nonlinear is at the core of our science. "A single human brain
possesses more potential brain states than there are particles in the universe. More
happens in a year in one of our forests than has happened on Mars for the past million
centuries. Thus any ideology which is based on the 'tiny insignificant speck' worldview
(such as that we might as well give up the enterprise of civilization and devote ourselves
to exciting as many of our membranes as possible before we die) is founded on a false
This leads to a broad attack on many currently fashionable views. He accuses the
feminist worldview of resorting to "elaborate theories of conspiracy, in which the
patriarchy masks itself behind legalism and science" (137). This ironically leads to
a feminist vision mistaking the stuffy conservatism of many institutions for a
diabolically clever Establishment, wily and cunning beyond plausibility. He puts his
finger on the paranoia feminism inherited from Marxism, and its fantasy prehistory of a
benign matriarchy, overthrown by Bad Males back before the wheel. Feminists' deepest error
is their confusion over whether men and women are different, and how. This could be helped
by contributing to the ongoing studies of primate behavior and sociobiology, but few
feminists see this as a productive arena; the would rather snipe at it from afar, ritually
reciting their mantra of "social construction"--the view that there is little
truth afoot in the world, only our perceptions.
Turner's attacks are adroit, often convincing, but one must be familiar with the debate
to catch the nuances. Art, criticism and both high and low culture get their lumps.
Much of his vision is rooted in biology as the paradigm model of emergent order.
"We have a nature; that nature is cultural; that culture is classical. Our literary
and artistic nature is inscribed in our central nervous systems" in such diverse
features as our universal preference for poetic meter and narrative (127).
Much scientific evidence from the neurosciences, twin studies, sociobiology, physical
anthropology and genetics strongly implies that the nature/ nurture balance is roughly
70/30 or even 80/20. The central myth of the modern then, that we are born as blank slates
to be written on by culture, is largely wrong.
Beauty, too, emerges from biology. Our peculiar capacities lead to a natural
classicism, connected to our neuro-transmitters and endorphins. Rather than Freud's
equation of the aesthetic with a sublimated libido, a model of brain reward implies that
certain "lores" are privileged. Poetic meter has a line length of about three
seconds, tuned to the period of acoustic processing pulses in our brains. We remember by
internal echo for three seconds, then pass that to a longer-term memory system, which
edits, organizes and pushes the bit down to a less immediate level. Drive a natural brain
rhythm, like the ten cycle per second alpha rhythm, and large changes of brain state and
chemistry follow. Poetry gets processed not by merely the linguistic left brain, but with
the musical and spatial right brain. This stereo neural mode gives fresh power to ideas
which are genuinely nonverbal.
Avant-garde music then often goes astray because it fails to use our wiring diagram
effectively. Similarly, postmodern aesthetics' demand that we treat every visual element
as significant, avoiding hierarchies, misses an audience. A species which used such a
viewing strategy would be unable to throw a rock, dodge a spear or catch falling fruit.
Our "marvelously parsimonious cortical world-construction system" leads to a set
of classical values, to which he predicts we shall soon return.
In the end, postmodern art is obscene not because it is offensive, but because it is
boring. A "bankrupt tribe of venal mediocrities who now infest the arts" decry
the philistine mass, failing to note their own unmoored ideas, principally the notion that
reality is socially constructed.
His shores up his general argument with many pungent observations, and a few winding,
fantastical digressions which lose the thread--he gives in to his sense of the epic. This
gives a glimpse of his prescience, but at the price of coherence.
Though science fiction has singularly responded to the new visions of science, he does
not find that it has dealt with it to "reflect deeply into the linguistic and formal
medium" (223)--a comment that I find opaque, though he cites myself, David Brin, and
Michael Crichton as examples.
Still, this cogent, broad analysis will make many enemies, and deserves to be read for
that alone; delicious cuts and thrusts abound. Unlike nearly all the culture warfare
swirling about the maypole of politics, Turner's vision is positive.
Pay attention to the world, he says. It instructs.
--Gregory Benford UC Irvine.
A New, "Improved" Anatomy.
Neil Barron, ed. Anatomy
of Wonder 4: A Critical Guide to Science Fiction. R.R. Bowker
(800-521-8110), 1995. xxiv+912. Author/subjet index, title index, theme index. $52.00.
This newest edition of Neil Barron's venerable Anatomy of Wonder is very
different from the previous ones. And these differences go far beyond its new
multi-colored, retro-art cover and its slightly larger typeface. Although this Anatomy
continues to merit its reputation--with Clute and Nicholls' Encyclopedia of
Science Fiction--as being one of the "bibles" of modern sf scholarship,
readers should nevertheless be fully aware of what this 4th edition contains and what it
does not. In his Preface, Neil Barron writes:
Anatomy of Wonder
is intended to assist readers, from the devoted fan to the
casually curious, as well as to help librarians answer questions and build collections of
the best, better, or historically important science fiction works in English. Teachers,
from el-hi to college, can also benefit from the guide...which is even more strongly
oriented to classroom use in this edition. (xi)
The key words here, which signal a substantial departure from the contents of the 3rd
edition, are "librarians," "in English" and "even more strongly
oriented to classroom use." Apparently, in order to make this Anatomy more
marketable (and to clearly distinguish it from previous editions, especially among
teachers and acquisition librarians in the US and the UK), a number of specific changes
were made to its basic format.
The most obvious--and for some scholars, the most distressing--is the disappearance of
the chapters devoted to foreign-language sf. Explaining the rationale for this editorial
decision, Barron states:
Those familiar with the previous edition of Anatomy of Wonder will note the
elimination of coverage of SF not translated into English, which occupied 206 pages in the
third edition. There were several reasons for the exclusion of untranslated SF. The
audience for this guide is almost entirely English-speaking, mostly readers in North
America and the United Kingdom. Non-English SF is rarely found in libraries in these
areas, even in the specialized collections... A final reason is essentially economic: to
have included updated coverage of untranslated SF would have meant a book well over 1,000
pages in length and at a price few libraries or individuals could afford. (xiii)
In other words, hoping to enhance its sales potential, Anatomy 4 has chosen to
abandon its international focus in favor of the more profitable domestic English-language
sf market. This is regrettable. In 1987, when justifying the inclusion of a lengthy
discussion on foreign-language sf in the 3rd edition, Barron pointed out that "There
is still a tendency to regard SF as a primarily Anglo-American phenomenon, an insular view
that undermines balanced critical estimates" (Preface, viii). Today, this critical
bias has not improved; indeed, it might even have worsened. So the elimination of this
very important reference material from the 4th edition of Anatomy can only be
understood as the deliberate sacrifice of scholarship for consumerism.
On the other hand, for librarians and for those of us who teach sf on a regular basis,
it is encouraging to see the addition of so many excellent and highly useful chapters
designed to facilitate purchasing decisions and to enrich sf instruction in the classroom.
Included, for example, are a fine introductory essay by James Gunn on the history of sf
teaching and scholarship from the 1950s until now, a new chapter on cyberpunk, a
tabulation of sf writers keyed to ten "authoritative sources of more information
about the authors and their books" (xii), chapters on sf poetry and sf comics,
and--in my opinion, a most welcome addition--a 25-page Theme Index, arranged
alphabetically and ranging from "Absurdist SF" to "Women in SF,"
listing a wide variety of sf works which touch upon each theme.
But it is the extensive 50+ page section simply titled Listings (in contrast
to the more modest 23-page "Core Collection Checklist" in the 3rd edition) that
highlights this 4th edition of Anatomy. It may also be both the most informative
and the most controversial of this edition's many innovations. Therein one finds the
"Best Books" - These are classified into three general areas: sf fiction from
each historical period (including novels, anthologies, sf poetry, and young adult sf); sf
criticism (general reference works, books on sf history, on specific sf authors, on sf in
film, TV, and radio, on sf illustration, and on sf magazines); and sf teaching materials
(instructional guides, writing guides, and sf textbooks). Of course, as in most listings
of this sort, such designations of "best" books--whether fictional or
non-fictional--are very open to argument.
"Awards" - A chronological listing of sf works from 1952-1993 which won
various awards (Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, etc.) and a chronological
listing of sf scholars from 1970-1994 who received various academic awards like the
Pilgrim, Eaton, or IAFA.
"Series" - Novels belonging to a fictional series, listed by author.
"Translations" - This brief list identifies those available English
translations of foreign-language sf (Verne, Lem, Strugatsky, et al.), arranged by national
language, along with a short essay about the difficulties of translation itself. Woefully
incomplete, this list reinforces the impression that Anatomy 4 has abandoned all
attempts to provide critical coverage of sf written in any language other than English.
The editor even appears to openly admit this, suggesting that "Readers desiring to
read SF in non-English languages should consult the third edition of Anatomy of Wonder...the
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction...the Survey of Science Fiction Literature...and
the surveys that appear several times yearly in Locus" (807). In other
words, if this is what you readers are looking for, you had better go elsewhere.
"Organizations" - Those social organizations having sf as their main
interest, arranged alphabetically, ranging from the Association of Science Fiction &
Fantasy Artists to World SF, and including the name and address of the person to contact
"Conventions" - The innumerable fan "cons," described in general
fashion but (mercifully) not listed individually.
Yet another change appearing in Anatomy of Wonder 4 involves the contributors
themselves. The late Tom Clareson's article on "The Emergence of Science Fiction: The
Beginnings Through 1915" remains, as does Brian Stableford's (slightly modified)
essay on "Science Fiction Between the Wars: 1916-1939." But Joe De Bolt and John
R. Pfeiffer's "The Early Modern Period: 1938-1963" and Brian Stableford's
"The Modern Period: 1964-1986" have been respectively replaced by Paul Carter's
"From the Golden Age to the Atomic Age: 1940-1963" and Michael M. Levy and Brian
Stableford's "The New Wave, Cyberpunk, and Beyond: 1963-1994," and there is also
a new essay by Steve Eng called "The Speculative Muse: An Introduction to Science
Fiction Poetry." In other changes, Gary K. Wolfe has succeeded Neil Barron as the
writer of the "History and Criticism" section, Michael Klossner has replaced
Barron as author of an updated article on "Science Fiction in Film, Television, and
Radio" (where sf in radio did not figure in the earlier editions), Walter Albert and
Peter M. Coogan have joined Barron to discuss "Science Fiction Illustration"
(with an additional essay on sf comics), Joe Sanders has replaced Hal Hall for
"Science Fiction Magazines," Dennis M. Kratz rather than Muriel Becker now
discusses "Teaching Science Fiction" (previously called "Teaching
Materials"), and Randall W. Scott now covers "Research Library Collections of
Science Fiction" instead of Hal Hall and Neil Barron. As Barron explains in the
Preface to Anatomy 4:
New eyes mean new perceptions, and although many of the standard or outstanding works
are critically reevaluated, hundreds of books are new to this edition, many of them
published prior to the third edition. And whenever the earlier annotations could be
improved or updated, this was done to make the guide as current, balanced, and useful as
As a result of these many changes in contributors, there is much "new blood"
in the pages of this edition of Anatomy of Wonder. And this is as it should be,
especially since the stalwart Neil Barron has announced that he is retiring and will no
longer serve as editor for future volumes of this highly-regarded (and highly
labor-intensive) sf reference book.
Despite its disappointing and less-than-cursory treatment of international sf, this new
"improved" Anatomy of Wonder 4 must nevertheless be judged as one of
the best critical texts available today for getting an accurate and up-to-date overview of
the English-language sf field. For this reason, it is highly recommended for all
librarians, researchers, teachers, and readers of the genre.
[A response by Neil Barron appears in SFS 67
Superb Jules Verne Translations.
Jules Verne. Journey
to the Center of the Earth. Trans. William Butcher. The World's
Classics. Oxford & NY: Oxford University Press, 1992. xxxviii+234. $7.95 paper.
Jules Verne. Around
the World in Eighty Days. Trans. William Butcher. The World's
Classics. Oxford & NY: Oxford University Press, 1995. xlv+247. $7.95 paper.
I have been meaning for some time to call attention to the recent excellent
translations/critical editions of several Jules Verne works done by my British colleague
and fellow Vernian scholar William Butcher. His latest, a new version of Around the
World in Eighty Days, now provides me with that opportunity.
Known internationally as a top-notch Vernian scholar, Butcher's first translation was
of Verne's previously untranslated short story Humbug (Edinburgh: Acadian Press,
1991). His second was another previously untranslated Vernian text called Backwards to
Britain (Edinburgh: Chambers, 1992). That same year, he published for Oxford UP a new
translation of Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth for their World's
Classics paperback series. This latter translation, in particular, is a true pearl of a
book: the translation is accurate yet smoothly readable, the 23-page introduction is
insightful and reflected very up-to-date scholarship, and the 12+ pages of explanatory
notes at the end (annotations keyed to certain terms, places, or people cited in the text)
are extremely useful. Prior to Butcher's (re)translation of this novel, the best one
available was done by Robert Baldick (NY: Penguin Books, 1965). Both are very good
translations, especially if compared to that hackneyed and maimed original English
translation done in the mid-1870s and still reprinted today by many publishers (e.g., the
Signet Classic paperback version which-- perplexingly--is also published by Penguin). But
between the Baldick and the Butcher translations, I personally prefer Butcher's. His
rendering of Verne's stylistic idiocyncracies is more faithful to the original, he follows
more closely the original published format of Voyage au centre de la Terre (e.g.,
the absence of chapter titles, the mock footnotes, etc.), and he retains the use of Axel's
present-tense first-person narration in the log-book portion of the text (when the three
explorers are on the raft). Moreover, the additional reference material published in
Butcher's book--his introduction and notes, a select bibliography, a chronology of Verne's
life, and excerpts of Verne's critical reception over the past 125 years or so--combine to
make the OUP "World's Classics" version the one to buy.
Much the same can be said of Butcher's more recent OUP publication of Around the
World in Eighty Days. Since the original English translation of this novel done in
1873 was of good quality, the merit of Butcher's work on this text comes less from his
translation--excellent though it is--than from his close examination of the original
manuscripts and his first-rate analysis of how this famous novel came to be what it is.
Discussing, for example, Verne's initial ideas for this work, his orchestration of the
complex interplays of time and space in it, certain (never before noticed) undercurrents
of sexual desire and psychological ambivalence in the story's main characters, and the
masterful use of humor and satire throughout, Butcher's critical introduction is one of
the most interesting I have read. This introduction, coupled with a select bibliography, a
chronology of Verne's life, more than 30 pages of explanatory endnotes, and three very
informative appendices ("Principal Sources," "The Play," and "Around
the World as Seen by the Critics") make Butcher's and OUP's version of this
classic Verne text by far the best available, in either hardcover or paperback.
A Case Not Made.
Alan C. Elms. Uncovering
Lives: the Uneasy Alliance of Biography and Psychology. Oxford
University Press, 1994. xi+315. $25.00.
From the opening manifesto that psychologists should "take hold of
psychobiography," to the concluding chapter's discussions of research methods,
ethical issues, and potential biographical subjects, Alan C. Elms's Uncovering Lives
reads like a how-to primer for would-be psychobiographers. As a book addressed to other
psychobiographers, Uncovering Lives is very instructive; what is less clear,
however, is its interest to literary critics. Elms clearly is concerned with such
questions of audience, since he quite frequently positions himself and the discipline of
psychobiography as outsiders rejected by psychologists for being too "literary"
and by the literary academy for being too reductive.
Clearly, however, Elms does imagine his book as being of interest to literary critics
since one-third of the book's psychobiographical sketches are devoted to literary figures
(the other two-thirds are devoted to psychological theorists and politicians).
Significantly, as Elms notes, his creative artists are all "writers of the
fantastic" and include John W. Campbell, Robert E. Howard, Cordwainer Smith, Jack
Williamson, Isaac Asimov, L. Frank Baum, and Vladimir Nabakov. Although Elms's decision to
choose fantasy and sf writers is clearly based on substantial knowledge of and
appreciation for the genres, his explanation for the choice is a strange one indeed:
[Writers of realist fiction] as they try to keep at least one foot in the ordinary
world, are necessarily guided a good deal of the time by the conscious ego.
Writers whose bailiwick is in the future, or the off-Earth universe, or the world of
faery, leave more room for the play of less-than-conscious forces. So the
psychobiographical study of such writers may be, at least in some regards, more revealing
than the study of realists and semi-realists. (106)
Elms's logic here is that sf and fantasy somehow afford writers more imaginative
freedom and that with this freedom these authors are more likely to write fiction that
reflects their individual psychologies. Elms obviously intends this as a valorization of
sf and fantasy literature, and yet his account of why he is drawn to fantasy and sf
writers as subjects for psychobiography is strikingly similar to a fairly conventional
pathologization of these same writers. For example, in his discussion of Jack Williamson's
psychotherapy, Elms cites the therapist's reaction to Williamson's writing: "the
value of fantasy was constantly increasing and...in many ways [Williamson] was ignoring
reality in order to maintain this ever-increasing interest in [unrealistic] thinking"
(124). Significantly, both Elms and Williamson's therapist argue that sf and fantasy allow
authors to take leave of their "conscious ego." Moreover, as an understanding of
artistic practice, Elms's distinction is also very unconvincing: is H.G. Wells more
ego-bound when he writes Ann Veronica than when he writes The First Men in
the Moon? It is hard to imagine why sf authors as such would be "more
revealing" than any others.
More importantly, however, I wonder what the stakes are in the claim that artistic
personality is revealed in fiction. For example, in his chapter on Asimov, Elms argues
that we can read Asimov's stories differently after we understand the author's acrophobia
and agoraphobia. Yet, even as Elms handily describes scenes of these phobias in The
Robots of Dawn and "Nightfall," one wonders what profit this information
has afforded. That is, does the story become more interesting to us because we see how it
documents Asimov's phobias? I don't think it does. Let us suppose, however, that the
psychobiographer's interest is not in Asimov's fiction, but rather in his person. We might
argue, then, that the story would offer new insight into the writer's psyche and
psychoses. We might argue this, except that Elm's speculation about Asimov's phobias has
not, in fact, emerged from a reading of the stories, but rather from a reading of Asimov's
Autobiography. In a similar fashion, Elms admits in his discussion of John W.
Campbell that we can't know whether "writing 'Who Goes There?' restore[d] [Campbell]
to psychological health," because "The biographical data on Campbell remain
inadequate" (111). Once again, it is not fiction, but "biographical data"
(or, as in the case of Asimov, autobiography) that reveals psychololgy. As a result,
although Elms takes great pains to disassociate himself with what he calls reductive
psychobiography, the mark of his distinction is quite obscure. He criticizes, for example,
those psychobiographers who "mechanistically" and "reductionistically"
use "the life as a 'key' to the works, or the works as a 'key' to the life," and
yet he describes his own project in remarkably similar terms: how does "life feed
into work"? how does life "interact" or "correlate" with work?
how does one "reliably anticipate the other"? (106). Elms may possess a more
subtle set of keys, but his project nonetheless views life and work as code for one
It is not, however, the "key-like" methodology of psychobiography that makes
it reductive: rather, what is essentially reductive about psychobiography is the implicit
assumption that the impetus to write is always personal. Indeed, Elms argues that the
psychological function of fiction can be divided into three categories: expressive,
defensive, and restitutive. For Elms, "Writing fiction is one of the more potentially
visible--as well as potentially remunerative-- ways to express one's self-perceived
identity to others" (107) Fiction is primarily an expression of self, and, as such,
the entire focus of Elms's readings is on how an author's various psychological traits
(most often neuroses) are reflected in his or her various fictional characters. Although
Elms grants that there may be other motives in writing (he offers as alternatives the
desire to entertain or to make money), the primary function of fiction, if we buy the
psychobiographer's gambit, is ultimately private therapy. Foreclosed, then, are aesthetic,
philosophical, political, humanistic, or social motives for writing: indeed, Elms
literally forecloses them in his dismissal of such readings as they have been applied to
Baum and Nabakov (144, 170-71). As such, even as Elms devotes much time arguing for his
inclusion in the fold, his arguments are so unconvincing that I remain at the end of the
book quite content to let psychobiography remain in its marginal position.
--Elizabeth Hewitt Hamilton College.
[A response by Alan C. Elms, and Elizabeth Hewitt's
reply, appear in SFS 68 (July 1995).]
Dreaming Fathers, Practical Mothers,
and Lessing's Fiction.
Margaret Moan Rowe. Doris
Lessing. Women Writers series. NY: St. Martin's Press (800-221-7945),
1994. xii+137. $24.95.
Margaret Rowe astutely sets up her discussion of Lessing's fictional oeuvre by
extracting from the author's life a recurring tension between "paternal" and
"maternal" elements, between the "father as dreamer, the mother as
regulator" (6). This tension takes the form of a conflict between "action and
reflection" in both Lessing's life and her writing (11). While both elements are
there from the beginning, the balance and integration (or lack thereof) between the two
shifts throughout Lessing's long writing career. Rowe notes that the visionary reflective
mode, seen only momentarily in the early volumes of CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE seems unconnected to the series' major concern, the realistic
presentation of Martha Quest's experiences of family life, marriage, motherhood, and
political activity, as if "Martha's estrangement has to do with not being able to
make that connection" (22).
If the maternal strand represented by domestic or political activity seems to dominate
the early Martha Quest books, the paternal disposition to dream gradually begins to take
over the fifth book, The Four-Gated City. Here Rowe deftly traces Lessing's move
"from emphasis on the discrete individual in a specified milieu to an emphasis on
species" (54). By the end of The Four-Gated City Martha is no longer
charting the "the social life of London" (49), but rather sketching an
"evolutionary" future as yet "unmarked on any political map" (58).
In explicating Lessing's next move away from realistic fiction, the three "inner
space" novels that follow CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE,
Rowe offers perspicacious observations on the role that narrative strategy plays in
"setting up the right order between inner and outer space" demanded by Sufi
thought (73). Here the father's reflective mode has metamorphosed into the Sufi concern
with "characters at odds with their societies because of 'experience of other
dimensions'" (60). Rowe argues quite convincingly that both "other
dimensions" and the proper narrative balance between "authority" and
"intimacy" are most successfully represented in Memoirs of a Survivor.
However, Rowe is less successful in analyzing Lessing's five-volume "outer
space" series, Canopus in Argos. She begins by relating it to the paternal
emphasis on "dreams, imaginings" and taking "the long view of our petty
world" (80). But this promising insight is undercut by Rowe's lack of sympathy for
the long view and her total obliviousness to the short view represented, for example, by
the diaries of Rachel Sherban in the second half of Shikasta. Failing to
appreciate the way that Lessing uses Shikasta's novelistic structure to represent
the interpenetration and mutual influence of the visionary and the ordinary, Rowe
overlooks the instructive tension between the "outer space" perspective of the
Canopeans and the "inner space" vision of the Shikastans (Perrakis, SFS
With the two more personal novels of the CANOPUS series, The
Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five and The Making of the
Representative of Planet 8, Rowe has more sympathy and insight, finding that Marriages
"comes close to the 'resting point' between the individual and the collective"
(86) that Lessing describes in her early essay, "A Small Personal Voice."
However, Rowe never really seems to grasp the point of the series as a whole --the need
for the individual to recognize his or her place in a larger order, not by feeling
determined or insignificant, but by discovering a self beneath social conditioning and
individual unhappiness, a self that ties one to a larger scheme of things.
What is most interesting in Rowe's analysis of Lessing's fiction is her ability to
relate the author's need to find "a balance between father and mother," to her
formal structures, not only to the dialectic between realistic and hybrid forms of the
novel but to the "ongoing tension in Lessing between values of the big novel which
she associates with ideas, experimentation and usually male authors, and the small novel
which she associates with emotions and convention" (92). However, Lessing's
"big" novels almost always incorporate "small" novels within the same
work and strive to suggest a relationship between the two. Rowe is partially aware of this
in The Golden Notebook but misses it in the CANOPUS
series, especially Shikasta. In Lessing's later "small novels," The
Diaries of Jane Somers, The Good Terrorist, and The Fifth Child,
Rowe finds "maternal concerns ascendant" and notes that "all three novels
explore relationships in unconventional families, especially mother-child
Rowe writes in a clear, spare style that is a pleasure to read. She makes generous use
of the insights of other contemporary critics and often places Lessing in the context of
earlier figures in British literature, like George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia
Woolf. Rowe's last chapter, "The Battle of the Books," takes on Lessing's
attempts at "admonishing critics (usually academic) and directing readers"
(112). This is a fascinating aspect of Lessing's writing, and Rowe's analysis, like her
book as a whole, is clear and reasonable but perhaps too securely tied to the values of
the academy. Lessing's trenchant attacks on the tendency of critics and modern educators
to be conformist and straightjacketed in their reading of literature and the world as a
whole deserves a more daring response than Rowe's rather defensive reaction.
In general, this is a useful book, with interesting readings of all the novels up to The
Fifth Child and with especially good insights into the realistic works. But it
falters before the more imaginative demands that Lessing makes on her readers to step
outside their usual frames of reference and dare to dream of alternative ways of
understanding themselves and the world. It is in her sf novels, where Lessing makes that
demand in a fictional form, and in her interpretive comments, where she makes it in prose,
that Rowe falls short. As Rowe self-consciously admits, she is very much tied to the
"'old world' vacated by Lessing" (78), and this is the book's major drawback.
--Phyllis Sternberg Perrakis University of
Briefer Notices (RDM).
Stableford as Critic and Surrealist.
Brian Stableford. Algebraic
Fantasies and Realistic Romances: More Masters of Science Fiction.
Milford Series 54. Borgo Press (909-884-5813), 1995. 128pp. $25.00 cloth, $15.00 paper.
_____ Firefly: A Novel of the Far Future.
Classics of Fantastic Literature 1. Borgo Press (909-884-5813), 1994. $27.00 cloth, $17.00
The first of these two volumes contains seven previously published articles, four from Foundation,
three from more obscure places. "Algebraic Fantasies: The Science Fiction of Bob
Shaw," which appeared in a 1981 pamphlet issued by the BSFA, is an admirable account
and judicious assessment of Shaw's work through 1980; one can only wish that it had been
supplemented with an account of the later work. Two slighter pieces--one on Douglas Adams
and one on Stephen R. Donaldson--were written for a series in Interzone called
"The Big Sellers." Two of the articles from Foundation are concerned
with writers hardly known to today's readers, John Gloag, "The Future Between the
Wars," and Edgar Fawcett, "Realistic Romances." The latter is significant
as an account of one of the false trails in the development of sf; its chief virtue is
that it arouses one's curiosity about Fawcett's work and then satisfies it so fully that
one feels it quite unnecessary to read the work itself. For me, the most important article
is "The Politics of Evolution: Philosophical Themes in the Speculative Fiction of
M.P. Shiel," which, inter alia, presents a definitive refutation of the case
against Shiel as the most vicious of anti-Semites, a task that I once attempted without
much success. For other readers, the most interesting article, a comparatively slight
piece, might be "Animal Spirits: The Erotic and the Supernatural in Michael Jackson's
Firefly can hardly be considered a "Classic of Fantastic
Literature," for the present edition is its first appearance in print. A note at the
end of the book tells us that Stableford began it in 1964, when still in his teens, and
revised and expanded it in 1971. The story, which resembles Riddley Walker in
some ways, is perhaps best thought of as an exercise in (or exorcism of adolescent terrors
by) science-fictional surrealism.
Four-Star Masterpieces and No-Star Stinkers. . David Pringle.
The Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction: An A-Z of Science
Fiction Books by Title. 2nd ed. Scolar Press (Ashgate Publishing,
802-276-3162), 1995. xix+481. $59.
Pringle began his work with the goal of listing all sf titles published or reprinted
since 1970, but even with "fantasy," "children's fiction,"
"non-English-language sf," and "'slipstream' fiction'" rigorously
excluded, he finally found it necessary also to exclude "yesterday's ephemera"
and "the lesser works of lesser sf writers" (xiv-xv). The resulting list
consists of 2828 annotated titles, with the annotations often listing sequels and/or
similar works, so that the claim of 3500 titles is probably more than met.
The annotated books (but not the other books listed in the annotation) are graded on a
five-place basis: four-star, 106 titles; three-star, 797; two-star, 1327; one-star, 529
titles; and no-star, 69. Most of the no-star entries are film-novelizations, a type
excluded from the 1990 first edition, but included now on the basis that in "an
annotated title index," it would be "foolish not to include many of the
best-known titles of our time" (xvi). But the no-star ranking is also used to condemn
the Gor novels of John Norman, the late novels of Robert A. Heinlen, and some attempts at
humor that do not come off (e.g., The Eighty-Minute Hour by Brian Aldiss).
The number of four-star rankings, 106, does not seem too large; it is comparable to the
number of highest-ranked books, 91, in the new edition of Anatomy of Wonder,
though only 38 titles appear on both lists. The only four-star ranking I find indefensible
is that for Heinlein's Have Space Suit, Will Travel, which perhaps resulted from
the feeling that at least one Heinlein book should be so honored. But Pringle has to my
mind been far too generous with three-star rankings, which seem to have been made on the
basis of shifting standards. How else can one explain his placing A Princess of Mars
and Out of the Silent Planet on the same level of excellence?
An Anthology of Permanent Value. H. Bruce Franklin. Future
Perfect: American Science Fiction in the Nineteenth Century--An Anthology.
Revised and expanded edition. Rutgers University Press (800-446-9323), 1995. viii+395.
Most anthologies are soon dated, but not Future Perfect, which was first
published in 1966 and remains indispensible both for its selection of stories by major
American writers and for its perceptive commentary. The revisions are not extensive and
the expansion (a brief chapter on "Women's Work") would hardly justify your
buying the new edition if you already have a copy of the first or second edition, but if
you don't, you should certainly avail yourself of the opportunity offered by the book's
being back in print.
A Librarian in Sf. Fred
Lerner. A Bookman's Fantasy: How Science
Fiction Became Respectable: Twenty-four Essays with Four Introductions.
NESFA Press (P.O. Box 809, Framingham, MA 01701-0203), 1995. iv+97. $11.95 plus $2.00
S&H in USA, $4.00 S&H elsewhere.
Fred Lerner was one of the founders of the Science Fiction Research Association and the
first editor of its newsletter. At an early meeting of the SFRA board of directors, when
someone suggested that SFRA might award prizes to sf writers for the best sf of year, his
caustic comment that our function was to criticize their work, not to give them prizes,
effectively laid to rest that foolish idea. In 1981 he earned a doctorate in library
science at Columbia with a dissertation on the history of the science-fiction movement.
Since then he has contributed a large number of essays to library journals and fan
magazines, of which this volume presents a representative selection.
Fantasy sans Science. Charlotte Spivak and Roberta Lynne Staples. The Company of Camelot: Arthurian Characters in Romance and
Fantasy. Greenwood Press (800-225-5800), 1994. xiii+162. $45.00.
Alan Warren. Roald
Dahl: From the Gremlins to the Chocolate Factory. 2nd ed., rev. and
exp. Milford Series 57. Borgo Press (909-884-5813), 1994. 128pp. $25.00 cloth, $15.00
S.T. Joshi. Lord
Dunsany: Master of the Anglo-Irish Imagination. Contributions to the
Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #64. Greenwood Press (800-225-5800). xv+230. $55.00.
The Company of Camelot offers a chapter each on Merlin, Morgan le Fay, Sir
Kay, Gawain, Guenevere, Lancelot, Mordred, and Arthur as they appear in literature from
CrÈtian, Malory, and Tennyson to such present-day authors as Thomas Berger, Marion Zimmer
Bradley, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Stewart, and T.H. White.
Alan Warren's Roald Dahl has the format regular in its series: a
biography, discussions of individual stories and collections, and a primary and secondary
bibliography. Dahl is one of the best short-story writers of our day, but he has done very
little in the way of sf.
S.T. Joshi's Lord Dunsany, a critical biography, joins the Dunsany
bibliography reviewed by Ben P. Indick in our March issue (22:122-24) as a document in the
ongoing revival of interest in Dunsany, one of the most popular writers of the first third
of this century.
A Fannish Attack on Fannishness. Paul T. Riddell. Squashed Armadillocon;
or, Fear and Loathing in Austin: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the Fanboy Dream.
Illustrated. Blue Moon Books (503-345-6197), 1993. iv+151. Paper $10.00. The title says it
all. The copy sent to us was accompanied by a flyer for a new magazine, Proud Flesh:
Fiction for the Last Millenium, whose first issue is available for $3.75 from Chris
DeVito, 402 W. Washington St #2, Champaign IL 61820-3456.
Mormons on Sf. Marny K. Parkin and Steve Setzer, eds. Deep
Thoughts: Proceedings of Life, the Universe, & Everything XI. TLE
Press (LTU&E Proceedings Volume, 3163 JKHB, Provo, Utah 84602), 1993. xii+215. Paper,
$12.00 postpaid. Papers delivered by Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Barbara Hambly
and others at a 1993 conference at Brigham Young University on various sf topics. The Card
paper is titled "The Book of Mormon: Artifact or Artifice?"
New or Updated Bibliographies. Mike Ashley. The Work of William F.
Temple: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide.
Bibliographies of Modern Authors 28. Borgo Press (909-884-5813; fax 909-888-4042), 1994.
112pp. $25.00 cloth, $15.00 paper.
Jerry Hewett and Daryl F.
Mallett. The Work of Jack Vance: An Annotated
Bibliography and Guide.The Work of Jack Vance: An Annotated
Bibliography and Guide. Bibliographies of Modern Authors 29. Borgo
Press (909-884-5813; fax 909-888-4042), 1994. xxii+293. $35.00 cloth, $25.00 paper.
Roger C. Schlobin and Irene R. Harrison. Andre
Norton: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Rev. ed. NESFA Press
(P.O. Box 809, Framingham, MA 01701-0203), 1994. xxvii+ 92. $12.50 paper.
Philip Harbottle and Stephen Holland. British
Science Fiction Paperbacks and Magazines 1949-1956: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide.British
Science Fiction Paperbacks and Magazines 1949-1956: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide.
Borgo Literary Guides 7. Borgo Press (909-884-5813, fax 909-888-4042), 1994. 232pp. $30.00
cloth, $20.00 paper.
The lives and careers of William F. Temple (1914-1989) and Jack Vance (born 1916 and
still with us) could hardly have been more different. Prominent in British fandom from its
beginning and close friend to Arthur C. Clark, Temple struggled as a writer with very
little commercial success and finally gave it up. He is best known for one excellent
novel, The Four-Sided Triangle (1949), which developed out of a very unpromising
short story of the same name. Jack Vance, on the other hand, has never had much to do with
fandom or even with other sf authors (though friends with a few), but early attracted
attention by the excellence of his writing and has become one of the most popular and
intensely admired of sf authors, one whose work in all venues is eagerly sought by
collectors. The bibliography offered is one of the most extensive ever compiled for an
author in that it seeks to trace each work through all its appearances.
Andre Norton has been perhaps as prolific as Jack Vance, but she is usually regarded as
essentially an author for young people and so has not attracted as much critical attention
as her admirers believe she deserves. Her work is fondly remembered by many grown-ups who
read them when in their teens or younger. Most of her books have been published only in
paperback, but a number have reissued as handsome hardbacks by Gregg Press.
The Harbottle-Holland Vultures of the Void: A History of British Science Fiction
Publishing 1946-1956 (reviewed in SFS #60, July 1993) is an interesting and
informative work, but its hard to imagine that many collectors would be much concerned
with magazines and paperbacks of that time and place. For those who are, British
Science Fiction Paperbacks and Magazines 1949-1956 presents apparently as thorough a
listing as one could expect.
Vampires and Amerinds. A.A. Carr. Eye Killers: A Novel. American Indian Literature and Critical Studies
Series #13. University of Oklahoma Press (800-627-7377), 1995. vii+344. $19.95 cloth.
SFS does not review new fiction, and this book is fantasy rather than sf. Even so,
since its subject may well be of interest to some of our readers, and since it is
published by a university press and so will probably not be reviewed in most of the venues
devoted to fantasy and/or sf, we will quote from the blurb: "Lurking in the caves of
eastern New Mexico, a thousand-year-old vampire chooses his next bride: Melissa Roadhorse,
an Albuquerque teenager. ... In Eye Killers, Carr [a Navajo writer and film
director] delivers an imaginative clash of cultures--both a suspenseful thriller and a
valid rendering of Navajo and Pueblo tribal life in contemporary New Mexico."
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