Science Fiction Studies

#75 = Volume 25, Part 2 = July 1998


An Unconvincing Study.

David W. Sisk. Transformations of Language in Modern Dystopias. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #75. Greenwood (800-225-5800), 1997. 206pp. $57.95.

The impact of structuralism is often seen as having led to a privileging of language and linguistic models in the 1960s and 70s across a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, with a corresponding attention in science fiction and science-fiction criticism to language, most notably in Samuel R. Delany's attempts to define sf in terms of its linguistic features (see for instance his The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on The Language of Science Fiction [Dragon Press, 1977]), and in two studies dealing with a range of linguistic issues in sf: Myra Barnes' Linguistics and Languages in Science Fiction-Fantasy (Arno, 1971) and Walter Meyers's Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction (U Georgia P, 1980). These books dealt, among other topics, with various portrayals of the future evolution of language, including critiques of the often naive simplicity of translation machines, and discussed the creation of imaginary languages (as in Tolkien's explanation that Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings [1954-5] followed from his attempts to develop an imaginary language). They also addressed the question of using language to shape and control thought, not only within the parameters of existing languages (as Orwell had done with Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four [1949]), but in the creation of entirely new languages, as Jack Vance had done in The Languages of Pao (1958) and Delany in Babel-17 (1966)--or later, Ian Watson in The Embedding (1973) and Susan Elgin in her Laadan project following from Native Tongue (1984; see her web-site at < ~kms/laadan/index.html>).

Today the Barnes and Meyers books seem dated, not only because of the sf works dealt with, but more generally because some of these questions no longer seem to hold the same importance. Consequently, David Sisk's return to linguistic issues in the dystopia carries with it risks along with opportunities, since so much science fiction dealing with these themes has appeared since the studies of Barnes and Meyers. I turned to this latest offering with a great deal of interest, which quickly turned to disappointment as his assurance that "twentieth-century fiction in English offers a rich body of literature in which concerns of social control through forcibly narrowed language plays a critical role" (2) was followed by the examination of an all-too-familiar and predominantly British corpus which almost completely excludes science fiction: Huxley's Brave New World (1932), Nineteen Eighty-Four, Burgess' A Clock-work Orange (1962), for the classics; Elgin's Native Tongue and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985) as "feminist dystopias"; and Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker (1980). There is no explanation for the choice of these (four English, one Canadian, and one U.S.) novels, except of course that some of them do deal with language, as numerous critics before Sisk have pointed out. Nor is there any explanation for the omission of the dystopian classics of science fiction of the past fifty years; Native Tongue will have to stand for all those sf works (although a few of them are mentioned in passing).

Sisk's purpose in this book is to provide "a generic model of language use in dystopian literature" (2), and in his Conclusion he states that he has found such a model: "Can we conceive of a successful (i.e., grim but aesthetically pleasing) dystopian fiction that does not include the theme of language as the battleground between oppression and resistance? I argue that language is so crucial to the dystopia that we are justified in labeling it a generic structural element: without its inclusion, a fiction cannot be considered a dystopia" (174). While this leads to some interesting explanations of secondary linguistic elements in some of the novels under study (e.g., the Scrabble game in The Handmaid's Tale), I remain unconvinced by the central premise, namely that the dystopia is defined by the inclusion of language as a "generic structural element."

The shakiness of his hypothesis is evident in the six works under consideration. The two novels which best illustrate his central thesis are, of course, Nineteen Eighty-Four (for the issue of control through language) and Native Tongue (for the issue of language as resistance to oppression). A Clockwork Orange and Riddley Walker offer elaborate renditions of future versions of English, but these languages have not been consciously developed. While they are certainly remarkable for their imaginary languages, I do not see how these languages constitute a "structural element" of the novels or how they function as "the battleground between oppression and resistance." Similarly, neither control nor resistance through language seems central to The Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World. They are unquestionably dystopian, and do include some neologisms as well as attempts to invest familiar words with new meanings, although such refunctioned words (along the lines of the Pentagon's use of the term "pacification" during the Vietnam War) hardly constitute a major linguistic innovation, and there are many other dystopian sf stories and novels with occasionally deformed or reappropriated words and expressions.

As for Sisk's neglect of recent developments in science fiction and utopian/dystopian writing, there are several possible explanations. The first, suggested by the absence of any reference to Lyman Tower Sargent's bibliography British and American Utopian Literature 1516-1986 (Garland, 1988), is that this is an outsider writing about the field. This explanation is bolstered by the absence of any reference to Keith Booker's more recent bibliography of Dystopian Literature (also published in Greenwood's Con-tributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy series in 1994, along with its companion volume The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature). Sisk does mention two studies of dystopian sf published in the 1960s--Mark Hillegas's The Future as Nightmare (Oxford, 1967) and Chad Walsh's From Utopia to Nightmare (Harper, 1962)--which at least mention writers like Bradbury and Vonnegut, and he does cite Barnes and Meyers; but he does not mention how much his work overlaps those earlier studies. For instance, the last chapter of Barnes's book is titled "The Language of Thought Control," and analyses Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamiatin's We (1924), The Languages of Pao, and Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938). (Elsewhere he discusses A Clockwork Orange and Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz [1960].) Meyers' study is more wide-ranging, including extended discussions of Babel-17 and The Languages of Pao, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Watson's The Embedding, James Cook Brown's The Troika Incident (1970), A.E. van Vogt's The World of Null-A (1945), as well as Tolkien's Lord of The Rings and Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974). Finally, Booker's survey of dystopian literature begins with an extended examination of Nineteen Eighty-Four, We, and Brave New World. While my own list of classic sf explorations of language and control in a dystopian vein which Sisk has overlooked would begin with Ian Watson's presentation of the creation of an artificial controlling language in The Embedding, I am sure that you can all think of works which should have been discussed. The "Linguistics" entry in the Clute and Nicholls' Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (St. Martin's, 1993) gives many more exam-ples of sf dealing with these themes.

Another explanation for Sisk's inclusions and omissions may be his definitions of terms since, as can be seen from the above list, he includes a work which many of us would describe as "utopian": Elgin's Native Tongue. While Sisk is correct in asserting that the future setting of Elgin's novel is dystopian--as are those of most of the feminist utopias of the 1970s, including Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975), Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and Suzy McKee Charnas' Motherlines (1978)--he does not distinguish between The Handmaid's Tale as a dystopia and the very utopian project of the women linguists in Elgin's novel. While Sisk sees science fiction and dystopia as having some similar features (7-10), he does not seem to be aware of Darko Suvin's explanation, in his Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (Yale UP, 1979), that: "Strictly and precisely speaking, utopia is not a genre but the sociopolitical subgenre of science fiction.... For all its adventure, romance, popularization, and wondrousness, SF can finally be written only between the utopian and anti-utopian horizons" (61-62).

In terms of the definition of the dystopia, I would also question the putting together of dystopias--which Sisk quite reasonably describes as "pessimistically extrapolating contemporary social trends into oppressive and terrifying societies" (2)--with works like Brave New World, which--as can be seen in its celebrated epigraph warning that the difficulty is no longer how to achieve utopia but how to avoid it--is clearly an anti-utopia, a critique of the utopian project itself. Although Sisk discusses the two terms (dystopia/anti-utopia), he argues that "dystopia as a genre encompasses a spectrum of works ranging from a few anti-utopias proper (such as some aspects of Book 4 of Gulliver's Travels) through novels that create miserable societies without directly attacking utopian ideals (e.g., The Handmaid's Tale)" (6); he then makes matters worse by seemingly calling William Morris' News from Nowhere (1890) an anti-utopia: "Many anti-utopian fictions depict pleasant societies. For instance, of the many attacks mounted against Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888), William Morris's News from Nowhere (1890) is easily the most readable and persuasive. Morris undercuts nearly every aspect of Bellamy's novel by advancing a very different, but equally attractive, model society" (6). Because Morris wrote his utopia as a critical reply to Bellamy's utopia, Sisk seems to be calling it an "anti-utopia."

In conclusion then, this study overlooks almost the entire body of science fiction, while reviewing some very familiar works (whose relevance is not always clear), in order to put forward a rather questionable hypothesis about language as a "generic structural element" of the dystopia. While the actual readings are competent, and contain some useful information about the texts (referring to much of the latest criticism on Orwell and Huxley, for instance), I didn't find much of interest on the central question of how dystopias attempt to shape language as a form of resistance or control.--Peter Fitting, University of Toronto

Back to the Drawing Board.

Milton T. Wolf, ed. Shaw and Science Fiction. SHAW: The Annual Shaw Studies #17. Penn State UP (800-326-9180), 1997. x + 294. $35.00.

As there are no revelations about the extent of Bernard Shaw's knowledge of the science-fiction field or its writers to be found in this volume, and as an inherent difficulty of distinguishing figure from ground baffles any unsophisticated attempt to trace the actual influence of the world-famous Shaw upon the genre or of the genre upon him, Shaw and Science Fiction is largely given over, as one might expect, to a series of essays on Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921). Each scholar seems to have worked alone (which is hard to do in a world of e-mails), to have come separately to his or her understanding of his or her aspect of the vast pentateuch. The result is a gaggle of blind scholars trying to describe an elephant. Some of them fondle the exact same bits of the beast, though in confusingly different terms; other bits of the beast--and most certainly the shape of the pentateuch as a whole--are never touched on at all.

But this is not, in fact, the first problem, which is that of text. This reviewer does not have on hand the previous sixteen volumes of SHAW, and presumes that somewhere in those thousands of pages there may darkly lurk some assay at establishing a bibliographical context for the study of Shaw's problematical text. Unfortunately, no such context is suggested here, nor do the various scholars who focused their energies on Back to Methuselah seem to have come to any sort of consensus. As most readers of Shaw are aware, Back to Methuselah exists in a large number of versions, the last text Shaw himself modified appearing (I believe) as late as 1945. But not being au courant with Shaw bibliography, I do not know whether or not Shaw modified his text even after that date. Nor do I know to what extent Shaw, as edition succeeded edition, modified, polished, altered the language of, backed away from, introduced various themes and motifs, to his play; he would surely have been moderately intrigued to find--here, appropriately, in a volume nine of whose fifteen essays concentrate on the pentateuch--that scholarship has found no evidence that he changed anything of substance over the 20-odd years of his active involvement with the work he considered his masterpiece.

What makes me rather less than grateful is to be given precisely nothing: no explanation of this bibliographical silence is articulated; and not one of the nine essays that features Back to Methuselah gives any reason for selecting one or another source text for any of the numerous quotations that (at times) come close to inundating the volume as a whole. Contributors seem generally to have taken their quotations from editions adjacent to their desks: George Slusser quotes from the 1922 Brentano edition (which may or may not differ from the first edition published in 1921 by the same firm); Jeffrey M. Wallmann and Tom Shippey use the 1930 Collected Works from William Wise; John Barnes uses a 1947 printing from Oxford University Press, which may or may not be identical to the 1945 revision as released in the Oxford World Classic series; Elwira M. Grossman chooses the 1962 Penguin printing, which may or may not have been set in Penguin Style; Julie A. Sparks takes the Complete Plays from Dodd, Mead, dating it 1962, while Susan Stone-Blackburn and Elizabeth Anne Hull choose the same publisher's edition of the plays, but date it 1963; and for his detailed analysis of Shaw's style, Peter Gahan takes from the 1970-1974 Collected Plays from Reinhardt.

To repeat: not one of these textual choices is remarked upon, either by an individual contributor or by Editor Wolf, who also chooses the 1963 Dodd, Mead for his introduction. Three comments may be made upon this: 1) even if it did not matter a jot which textually variant edition was selected, it would seem a matter of elementary scholarly decorum to tell us so--to tell us that a wide variety of texts was quoted from because it didn't make an earthly difference which of Shaw's versions was in fact used; 2) any users of Shaw and Science Fiction who wished to back-study quotations in their original context would face the lugubrious task--as there is no single text referred to--of searching out and sorting through five or six different and differently paginated editions of the play; and 3) as each cited edition of Back to Methuselah is indeed paginated differently, no one simply reading through the essays could readily determine the textual location of any quotation relative to the textual location of any other. This seems less than friendly.

Moreover, if there is a principle lacking throughout this volume it is the principle that context counts. Dates of books referred to or quoted from are haphazardly given and are not very reliable when they do appear (on one page [20] Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is dated first 1821 and then 1818; even Tom Shippey manages to designate James Blish's "Cities in Flight" series by the title of one of its component parts and to misdate They Shall Have Stars, which is 1956 not 1957). There are further scumbles, and a general sense that a volume of this very moderate size was never examined for factual errors, or to achieve coherence of citation.

On the other hand, Elizabeth Anne Hull, in her essay on "Shaw and Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End," almost uniquely in this volume quotes a version of her chosen text which scholars seem generically (see above) to scorn (but which I do not): she quotes from the original edition. The essay itself seems to establish pretty firmly, though rather against Hull's will, that the two writers are connected by very little more than Clarke's general knowledge of the world-field occupied by the opinionations of Shaw. But this is the figure/ground problem: Shaw's fame was so pervasive over the last half-century of his life that it is very difficult to find later authors who do not know something (perhaps something wrong) about him, his ectomorph-from-Mars antics, or his pervasive, acute, translucent, bullheaded intelligence (in "Skeptical Speculation and Back to Methuselah," which is by far the best and most civilized piece of narrative exposition in the book, Tom Shippey brilliantly demolishes Shaw's claim to understand, and hence to leapfrog over, Darwin); the shape of Shaw feeds into the surrounding ground.

Here is Shippey, furthermore, on the difficult epistemology of influence. He has been discussing and listing a wide range of analogues between Shaw and later science-fiction writers. But, of this range of likenesses, he says: "This is, in a way, a coincidence. I do not think it likely that any of the authors above (except probably Blish) used Shaw as an actual literary source, to be re-read, considered, used, and answered as they use each other and as many science-fiction authors have always used Wells. However, although a coincidence, it is not a meaningless one." Shippey is surely correct in suggesting that the relationship between Shaw's work and the world that followed does not constitute a meaningless coincidence; the other pieces assembled within the specific remit of this anthology do not manage to make convincing any larger claim of influence. So if it had been the intention of Milton Wolf to demonstrate through this book that such an influence is traceable, Shaw and Science Fiction must be deemed a failure. Essays like Elwira M. Grossman's "Witkacy and Shaw's Stage Statues" or George Slusser's "Last Men and First Women: The Dynamics of Life Extenion in Shaw and Heinlein" or Julie A. Sparks's "Shaw for the Utopians: Čapek for the Anti-Utopians" do little more than stir the Big Culture Pot in search of assonances. Other essays extract "theme words" out of context from Shaw's career, and attempt to demonstrate intellectual and creative genealogies by demonstrating that the same "theme word" was used by a later writer, regardless of context, meaning, motivation, shape, or sense. The only essay in the entire book to explicate an actual text (other than Peter Gahan's rather dogged "Back to Methuselah: An Exercise of Imagination") is Rodelle Weintraub's competent "Bernard Shaw's Fantasy Island: Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles," which demonstrates pretty thoroughly that this play is 1) far more interesting than most had thought, but 2) is fantasy, not science fiction, and does not belong in this book.

Science-fiction plays not given any sustained attention here include The Apple Cart (1930), On the Rocks (1933), Too True to be Good (1932), Geneva (1939), and Buoyant Billions (1948). Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings (1934), which includes several science-fiction stories, is similarly sidelined. John R. Pfeiffer's checklist of Shaviana, continued from earlier volumes of SHAW, is usable and thorough. Excepting Shippey and Weintraub, not much else here was

.--John Clute, London

Clarke Crib Notes.

Robin Anne Reid. Arthur C. Clarke: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers. Greenwood (800-225-5800), 1997. xiv + 205. $29.95.

This is one of a new series of Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary (i.e., best-selling) authors in various genres. Clarke here finds himself in company with V.C. Andrews, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, and more than a dozen others. The subjects were chosen by an advisory board comprising two high school English teachers, one K-12 curriculum administrator, and four high school or public librarians. The series editor indicates that all the works in the series conform to the same plan. They open with a biographical introduction (in this case "The Life of Arthur C. Clarke"). Then comes a contextualizing chapter ("Science Fiction and Arthur C. Clarke"). This is followed by a chapter each on a number of novels (in this case the nine novels from Rendezvous with Rama [1973] to 3001: The Final Odyssey [1997]). To conclude there is a nine-page primary and secondary bibliography.

A description of any one of the novel chapters (I will use the one on Rendezvous with Rama) will suffice to describe the others. First comes an introductory précis of the content of the chapter, with the approaches to the novel summarized in point form. The rest of the chapter is divided by subheads. There are three pages describing the Rama series; three on plot development; one on structure; one on narrative point of view; five on character development, itself divided into four sections on The Endeavor Crew, the Rama Committee, Hermians, and The Personification of Rama; one on themes; and finally six on an "alternate reading." This last is an interpretation according to a critical approach. Rendezvous with Rama and four other novels are given a feminist reading, the rest approached from a broader gender or post-colonialist perspective.

Reid, who is an academic, writes reasonably lucidly, and seems familiar with the Clarke oeuvre and criticism, though it is apparent from the contextualizing chapter that she is not a science-fiction specialist. She has enthusiasm for the subject, but this tends to be neutralized by the highly constrained format of the book. There is only one page on Clarke's short fiction (though this manages to give away the plots of both "The Star" and "The Nine Billion Names of God"). There is almost nothing on Childhood's End (1953), The City and the Stars (1956), or any of the other novels before Rama. Reid justifies this by suggesting that pre-existing criticism covers the earlier work well. Yet the editor speaks of the series' mandate to cover "the writer's most important, most popular, and most recent novels in detail" (x). One fears that Childhood's End is not recent enough to be popular, and therefore not popular enough to be important.

The most interesting sections ought to be the "alternate approaches," but even here the rigid format, based on the implicit assumption that no one in his or her right mind is going to read the book all the way through, serves to dispel enthusiasm. Thus, each reading must begin by repeating a rubric about the origin, nature, or purpose of the particular critical perspective. There is no real justification offered for the use of one approach over another; instead, one gets the illusion that there is always a hard and fast line between, say, a feminist and a gender approach.

But my objections are based on the faulty premise that this "Critical Companion" is really intended to offer the Clarke enthusiast insights into his recent fiction. It should be apparent by now that this book is intended for high schools. Let me posit two kinds of high school English teachers (there may be others): (A) those who love their subject, and who can get their students excited by anything, even Pope's "Essay on Criticism"; and (B) those who are teaching English because they speak the language, but who would really prefer to be coaching volleyball. Let me then posit two kinds of high school students: (A) those who enjoy reading but dislike being patronized; and (B) those who do not read anything unless they have to. This book will annoy groups (A), but be useful to groups (B). From its pages, members of groups (B) will be able to patch together several classes (if they are teachers), or a book report (if they are students), on any of the nine Clarke works it covers, without having to read the novel.

In other words, this is a high school crib. It is a competent crib, and it calls itself a "Critical Companion," but it is a crib all the same. Consequently it is not recommended for university libraries.--Nicholas Ruddick, University of Regina

Valuable Vampire Volume.

Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger, eds. Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture. U Pennsylvania P (215-898-1671), 1997. xiv + 264pp. $36.50 cloth; $16.50 paper.

Whatever else may be said of 1997, it was certainly a vintage year for cultural productions and studies devoted to vampires. This productivity seems to attest to the fact that Count Dracula--the bloodsucker whose hundredth birthday, in large part, inspired this publishing frenzy--remains a cultural icon of extreme potency. Or does it?

This is one of several questions hovering over Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, a new collection of essays edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger. In its claim that the "transformations [of our monsters] deserve serious critical attention," Blood Read draws some of its inspirational life's blood from Nina Auerbach's comments, in her popular study Our Vampires, Ourselves (U Chicago, P, 1995), that vampires may "promise escape from our dull lives and the pressure of our times, but they matter because when properly understood, they make us see that our lives are implicated in theirs and our times are inescapable." In charting the vampire's many transformations over the last century, Blood Read particularly foregrounds a contrast between the diversity of contemporary vampires and Count Dracula, whom Gordon and Hollinger refer to as a "figure of relatively uncomplicated evil."

While the editors of Blood Read correctly argue that the vampire "is never simply a vampire" but a metaphor for various socio-cultural preoccupations, they perhaps go too far in maintaining that "it is as a metaphor that the vampire has been least acknowledged." Although vampires have fought long and hard just to be vampires, cultural productions such as Punch magazine--which used the vampire throughout the nineteenth century to represent such things as Ireland draining England--and cultural scholars like Franco Moretti--who reads Count Dracula as the embodiment of monopoly capitalism--haven't let them be. Indeed, in the introduction to the 1996 Oxford University Press edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Maud Ellmann has somewhat mockingly highlighted the most famous critical readings of the vampire's metaphoric versatility. According to Ellmann, "Dracula has been interpreted as a figure for perversion, menstruation, venereal disease, female sexuality, male homosexuality, feudal aristocracy, monopoly capitalism, the proletariat, the Jew, the primal father, the Antichrist, and the typewriter." Only the kitchen sink seems to be missing from Ellmann's shopping list!

Focusing on the vampire as metaphor, Blood Read is divided into four sections containing three to four essays each: the first focuses on continuities in the metaphoric tradition of vampires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the second deals with the representation of the vampire from the fiction writer's perspective; the third treats the vampire as a metaphor for consumption; and the fourth examines the vampire as a metaphor in the postmodern period when, the editors argue, "the boundaries between 'human' and 'monstrous'...[have] become increasingly problematized."

Perhaps one of this volume's greatest strengths is the variety of contending voices that emerge from its pages. The first section strikes the keynote. Nina Auerbach argues in her opening essay that the "hygienically heterosexual" Count Dracula has bequeathed a legacy of impersonal imperialism to the vampires of the twentieth century. Even the recent cinematic renditions of Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novella which Auerbach claims featured the vampire as intimate partner, have been drained of intimacy. Counter to this reading, Jules Zanger argues in his essay "Metaphor into Metonymy: The Vampire Next Door," that the vampire has "fallen" from the status of anti-Christ in the nineteenth century to that of a secular sinner in the twentieth. In what seems to be a lament for Stoker's original Dracula, an "objectification of metaphysical evil "who threatened "the eternal souls of his victims," Zanger claims that the vampire's socialization and humanization in the twentieth century have diminished both the vampire and his victims.

Margaret Carter expands upon Zanger's portrait of the humanized vampire in her essay "The Vampire as Alien in Contemporary Fiction." In her assessment of various vampire novels--including a series of vampire novels for children--Carter concludes that the vampire outsider is both attractive and glorified in the twentieth century. Further, he seems to have assumed the role of a social-worker-style Christ-figure for, Carter argues, the more optimistic of the vampire-as-alien novels help us "become freer to understand the frightening yet attractive 'other' sexes, races, and species that share our planet with us." Joan Gordon's essay "Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth: The Vampire in Search of Its Mother" completes the opening section. Gordon's claim that vampire literature is subversive and that "virtually any vampire literature of the last two centuries...[has] much to say about motherhood and family which the dominant culture suppresses," exhibits the signature problem with several of the essays in Blood Read: it is too willing to valorize "subversive" readings (an abused concept in much recent literary criticism) over against arguments that the vampire --and the genres of Gothic literature and horror cinema more broadly--is profoundly conservative in effect.

This problem is especially prevalent in the third and fourth sections of Blood Read. While the range of subjects and interpretations is provocative--Sandra Tomc reads Anne Rice's works as incorporating a "liberatory model of radical weight loss," Trevor Holmes focuses on gay male vampire fiction in the 1990s, and Mari Kotani examines the significance of the vampire in contemporary Japanese literature--a general lack of awareness of the vampire's treatment within the Gothic tradition, coupled with a variety of misreadings of Stoker's Dracula, significantly detract from the analyses. Nicola Nixon's examination of 1980s vampire films (The Hunger, Near Dark, The Lost Boys, etc.) offers a case in point. Nixon's conclusion that these films tend to avoid the AIDS crisis while spooning up dollops of "family values" fails to acknowledge that this cultural conservatism is actually true to Gothic tradition. Stoker's Dracula, for example--which isn't even part of the "classic" Gothic--may also be accused of avoiding the syphilis epidemic while promoting family values.

Two essays in the latter half of Blood Read exhibit an awareness of the tradition of Gothic literature. First, Rob Latham's essay, "Consuming Youth: The Lost Boys Cruise Mallworld," offers an erudite neo-Marxist/neo-Freudian examination of the vampire as representative of the erotic complicity between capital and labor within contemporary consumer capitalism. Drawing as it does upon Franco Moretti's analysis of Stoker's Dracula, Latham's article, which focuses on the film The Lost Boys, forges important connections between nineteenth and twentieth-century Gothic cultural productions. Veronica Hollinger's concluding essay, "Fantasies of Absence: The Postmodern Vampire," also stands out for offering a generically-aware examination of the archetype of the vampire in a cross-section of recent literature. Armed with her definition of the vampire as "an inherently deconstructive figure" who functions as "a metaphor for certain aspects of postmodernity," Hollinger provides an intriguing reading of Angela Carter's wonderful story, "The Lady of the House of Love" (1979).

Where Hollinger and several others trip up a bit, however, is in regard to their understanding of the Victorian era, particularly the period of the fin-de-siècle when Stoker's Dracula was published. Several of Blood Read's contributors cite Burton Hatlen who, in a popular 1980 article, argued that Stoker's characters are "firmly committed to the values of technology, rationality, and progress." While this reading is, in part, true, it fails to explain why a nice bunch of professional, rational (?) Englishmen are running across Europe armed with crucifixes, holy wafers, and stakes. More recent essays like Rosemary Jann's "Saved by Science? The Mixed Messages of Stoker's Dracula" (Texas Studies in Literature and Language 2 [1989]: 273-287) and Joel N. Feimer's "Bram Stoker's Dracula: The Challenge of the Occult to Science, Reason, and Psychiatry" (in Contours of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Eighth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, ed. Michele K. Langford; New York: Greenwood Press, 1990: 165-171), have helped to make us more attuned to the complex nature of the nineteenth-century fin de siècle, especially with regard to the science-versus-faith debate. These essays help, in fact, to illustrate connections between Stoker's time (which Hollinger incorrectly describes as grounded in rational empiricism and a "solid" Victorian ideology) and our own "postmodern" fin de siècle. As texts like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) also illustrate, postmodernism has no monopoly on problematizing the boundaries between the human and the monstrous.

In its inclusion of essays by three writers of vampire novels--Suzy McKee Charnas (The Vampire Tapestry [1980]), Brian Stableford (The Empire of Fear [1988]; Young Blood [1992]), and Jewelle Gomez (The Gilda Stories [1991])--Blood Read is especially original. Here, again, the voices are singular and contentious. While Gomez, whose central literary character is a black lesbian vampire, comments on the dearth of female vampires in the 1980s and criticizes mainstream fantasy and sf writers who "remain so limited when reflecting race and gender in fantasy writing," Charnas explains that she decided against creating a powerful female vampire character because "she hardly exists in reality." Although Charnas intended to avoid the "desperate romanticizing of evil" popular in much vampire fiction, she ended up replicating it in the figure of Dr. Weyland, an attractive, predatorial professor. Brian Stableford's informative third-person-style essay regarding some of the influences at work in The Empire of Fear and Young Blood, is also marked by humor. As he informs us, "Modern writers of vampire stories are, for the most part, amiable and well-adjusted people." Stableford's scholarly knowledge of the literary vampire tradition is refreshing as is his Freudian-based speculation that the vampire motif may be rooted in human gestation and breastfeeding experiences.

Despite its sporadic myopia vis-à-vis the Gothic tradition and its blindspots regarding Stoker's Dracula, Blood Read is a very valuable contribution to the study of the cultural phenomenon of the vampire. It is particularly eye-opening for those of us who are out of touch with the diverse transmutations of the vampire in contemporary culture.--Carol Margaret Davison, Concordia University

A Babel of Voices.

Norman Talbot, General Editor. Babel Handbooks on Fantasy and SF Writers. Australia: Nimrod Press, 1997. $10 each, Australian or U.S.

1. David Lake. Darwin and Doom: H. G. Wells and "The Time Machine." 23pp.

2. Norman Talbot. Betwixt Wood-Woman, Wolf and Bear: The Heroic-Age Romances of William Morris. 28pp.

3. Yvonne Rousseau. Minmers Marooned and Planet of the Marsupials: The Science Fiction Novels of Cherry Wilder. 26pp.

4. Rosaleen Love. Michael Frayn and the Fantasy of Everyday Life. 31pp.

5. Sylvia Kelso. A Glance From Nowhere: Sheri S. Tepper's Fantasy and SF. 34pp.

The Australian-based Nimrod Publications has undertaken a set of little pamphlets intended to elucidate some tricky sf writers' works. These pamphlets naturally feature some Australian writers but don't overlook the rest of the sf world. They even include writers not normally considered part of that world, like Michael Frayn. The premise of the series is to present "critical studies of fantasy and science fiction writers in English, each making a case for the quality of one or more works of the writer chosen." None of these five pamphlets exceeds 36 pages of good-quality, folded A4 paper. Each includes a useful bibliography, and each is written by someone knowledgeable on the topic at hand. Each sells for $10 in either Australian or U.S. dollars, or 5 pounds sterling. The five pamphlets reviewed here represent less than half of the First Series of Babel Handbooks; a Second Series awaits "encouraging response" to the First Series, and a Third Series, with "stronger American content," is contemplated. Since the Second Series may include Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Cordwainer Smith, one wonders just how much more American it should get.

No specific audience has been suggested for the Babel Handbooks; though possibly aimed at library holdings, teachers and general readers might also find them helpful. Each contains a generous helping of interesting ideas about the writers in question; each suggests ways to organize one's responses to the works. I found those pamphlets most successful which took on a limited number of a writer's works, or examined a limited set of organizing metaphors. Thus, Lake's book on H.G. Wells succeeds brilliantly in following Wells's critique of Victorian optimism and his focus on the combination of Darwinian evolution and inevitable entropy, while Talbot's on Morris suffers badly from the lack of such a focus. The problem seems to come from Talbot's wide-ranging knowledge of Morris's work and interests, and his inability to edit the digressions out--or to organize the essential so as to avoid repetition. The Wells volume claims only to discuss The Time Machine, Wells's first major work, but actually illuminates many of Wells's scientific romances. The Morris volume, also claiming limitation, tries to take on many aspects of the works, while failing signally to limit each section to the topic at hand. And yet the book is full of fascinating bits of information--about Morris himself (who translated Icelandic sagas, and based his romances on them), about the "heroic age" which Morris romanticized (from the discovery of iron to ca. 500 CE), about Morris's position as an inventor of the whole heroic fantasy genre, about the astonishingly modern gender roles Morris applied in his texts, etc., that the pamphlet seems worth mining just for these details. Yet the Wells volume left me with the ambition to re-read Wells, while the Morris volume encouraged me to swear off Morris forever.

Yvonne Rousseau centers her discussion of Cherry Wilder in the varying settlement myths of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which differ widely from the more familiar myths of settlement of the American west. In all these geographical areas--as in Rhomary, Wilder's fictional planet--newcomers found already-established indigenes. The most telling detail is Rousseau's explanation of the term "minmer"--the name given to the humans by the planet's largest intelligent life-form--which actually becomes part of the humans' own ideas about themselves. Wilder is not familiar to me, but Rousseau's analysis makes her work sound very attractive.

The same holds true of Love's discussion of Michael Frayn's novels and plays. Not often considered "fantasy," Frayn's work as described by Love certainly seems to edge quietly out of the limits of mimetic fiction. In her analysis of Frayn's work, Love neatly identifies some of the essential qualities of satire, irony, and fantasy as well. Having read Love, I now realize that I got less than half the fun out of Noises Off (1982) as I might have done, and I am inspired to look at more of Frayn's work. For her part, Sylvia Kelso takes on a very large subject by dealing not only with Sheri S. Tepper's sf but also her fantasy, with a side glance at her mysteries. However, the patterns traced by Kelso do illuminate the progression of Tepper's work as it becomes increasingly dark and intricate, moving from metaphysical and religious speculation into the connected issues of ecological destruction and human overpopulation.

Taken on the whole, the Handbooks discussed here do live up to their promise. Each potential purchaser must decide individually whether they are worth the money--including shipping from Australia--and the problem of acquisition.

--Martha A. Bartter, Truman State University

[Editor's Note: The First Series of Babel Handbooks includes further pamphlets on C.S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, Damien Broderick, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tanith Lee, J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Dowling, and Mervyn Peake, penned by various hands. Full information on the series is available by writing to Nimrod Press, P.O. Box 170, New Lambton, NSW 2305, Australia--RL]

 New Brazilian Sf Publications and CD-ROM

Roberto de Sousa Causo, ed. Biblioteca Essencial da Ficção Científica Brasileira [Essential Library of Brazilian Science Fiction], Vol. 1, containing "Ensaios Internacionais de Ficção Científica Brasileira" [International Essays on Brazilian Science Fiction]. Brasópolis, MG: Edgard Guimarães, 1997, 46pp.

Roberto de Sousa Causo, ed. Biblioteca Essencial da Ficção Científica Brasileira, Vol. 2, containing an essay by André Carneiro, "Introdução ao Estudo da 'Science Fiction'" [Introduction to the Study of Science Fiction]. Brasópolis, MG: Edgard Guimarães, 1997. 58pp.

Bráulio Tavares. "Ficção Científica no Brasil" [Science Fiction in Brazil] in NEO Interativa, No.7, 1995-96 [an interactive magazine on CD-ROM].

The editor of the Biblioteca Essencial (an sf/fantasy writer himself) states that the first of these two volumes is "a gathering of essays and reviews concerned with Brazilian works of sf and [the] fantastic." Two of the essays were first published in a U.S. scholarly journal, Luso-Brazilian Review. The volume includes the following articles:

Two professors of Portuguese in the U.S. (one Brazilian, one American) analyze and defend the use of Brazilian sf in Portuguese language instruction to English speakers.

An American scholar gives his opinions about the classification (as sf or not) of a 1982 novel of future ecological catastrophe by a prominent mainstream Brazilian author, Ignácio da Loyola Brandão.

A German visiting scholar at a Brazilian university defends the notion of the existence of high-quality "fantastic literature" in Brazil with the example of the short stories of Murilo Rubião, another very prominent mainstream author.

A brief note by a French scholar, which appeared in the French sf journal Antarès, describes the interest in Brazilian sf which produced the new Jeronymo Monteiro Prize, inaugurated by the publishing house which puts out the Brazilian editions of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and Analog.

An article by Orson Scott Card, which appeared in a São Paulo newspaper, exhorts Brazilian sf authors to work toward creating a Brazilian audience, rather than simply aspiring to be published in translation in the United States. (It is interesting that Card lived in Brazil in the early 70s as a Mormon missionary. He obviously retains a great deal of affection for the country, while lamenting the increasing infiltration of American customs and products which could, he feels, eventually obscure what is distinctive about Brazil.)

Finally, there is a series of 17 reviews of Brazilian sf and fantastic works which appeared in the U.S. publication World Literature Today, between 1978 and 1996. All of the reviews appear to have been written by Americans (about two-thirds of them) or by Brazilians resident in the U.S. Only one of the works reviewed had been published in English translation; all other works were Brazilian publications, which at the time of the review only existed in Portuguese.

The second volume of the Biblioteca Essencial series reprints "the very first Brazilian book-length essay on science fiction," written in 1967 by a leading Brazilian sf writer. It has long been out of print. The editor of the series, Roberto de Sousa Causo, defends its reprinting by noting that Brazilian fandom has recently lost most of its intelligent sf critics, and needs access in order to serious criticism to counteract the tendency to simply see sf as "space opera."

In general, Carneiro's 1967 essay stresses three important points: that sf is not simply escapist literature but a way of placing man inside the fantastic reality of technological progress; that sf is literature and must be judged as such; and that the name "science fiction" may be counterproductive--many people fear science (which seems to be constantly changing our way of life) and covet stability instead. Therefore, the subject of the essay is not simply Brazilian sf, but a defense of sf as a genre. Many of the references are to English-language sf, even though he does translate the titles into Portuguese, with some references to Brazilian sf and a few to sf from other countries.

Carneiro's historical analysis speaks of: the period from sf's roots (Plutarch, Kepler, and Cyrano de Bergerac) through Verne and H.G. Wells to the modern period; the role of science in modern life; modern sf; and the value of sf and its expression in other arts.

This essay, while its points may be obvious to the reader or critic well-versed in the development of sf, may well serve the educational function for Brazilian fandom intended by the editor. It puts criticism on a serious level, systematizing the various divisions of sf (such as space voyages, time travel, robots and androids, alien contact, fear of the destruction of our civilization, and the mechanization/collectivization of our society), and also deals with what is (and is not) sf. For a fandom which had not really analyzed its preferences, surely Carneiro's essay was a revelation, and since the naive fan is a type which continually needs educating due to the constant influx of younger readers, Carneiro's essay will probably serve its purpose repeatedly for some time to come. The caveat which we might put on the essay is that many of the works to which Carneiro refers might not be readily available today.

Further volumes in this series include (or will include): 1) a series of essays on alternate history, written by the Brazilian sf author Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro; 2) a collection of 15 stories which have won the Nova Science Fiction Award (the "Brazilian Hugo"); 3) 20 Brazilian stories which appeared in the 70s in the Brazilian edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; 4) an anthology of speeches delivered at the international sf symposium held in Rio de Janeiro in 1969, including such luminaries as Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, A.E. van Vogt, Frederik Pohl, and J.G. Ballard; 5) a collection of reports about sf in Brazil which the series editor wrote for the semi-prozine Locus. These volumes were all scheduled to come out between 1997 and 1999.

Brÿulio Tavares' "Ficção Científica no Brasil" is an article on CD-ROM, written by one of the most prominent contemporary sf authors in Brazil. It serves as a good introduction to Brazilian sf, organized and presented in an attractive and convenient format, at least for those who can read Portuguese. (Those who know Spanish can probably make their way through it as well.) The author has found not only works which are overtly sf but also mentions those authors (some of them well-known names such in Brazil as Machado de Assis and Monteiro Lobato) who used themes common to sf--with a few dating back over a hundred years.

Tavares notes that Brazilian sf was almost non-existent until the end of the 1930s, and that the first author who principally wrote sf was Jeronymo Monteiro (1908-1970); his first story dates from 1947. Since then, there has been gradual growth in the genre in Brazil, exhibiting since the 1960s some of the same characteristics of the development of sf in the United States: pulp magazines, fan clubs, fanzines, anthologies, and annual awards.

A very interesting section of the article is the catalog of 156 Brazilian sf novels, novelettes, and short story collections, published between 1856 and 1994. Most works deal with generally-recognized sf-type topics; authors who touch sf themes only tangentially appear not to have been included. Each page is devoted to one work, and there is not only a complete bibliographical line but also a description and/or brief synopsis of each work. The list, or any part of it, can be exported for use in a text editor. In counting the dates of publication, one can see how Brazilian sf has flourished in recent decades: 23% of the works listed were published before 1960, 32% in the 1960s and 1970s, and 45% between 1980 and 1994. This listing could be a good resource for further investigation by those who know Portuguese or Spanish, since it would be rather easy to pick out certain works for further study, on subjects such as utopias/dystopias, time travel, or feminism.

Finally, there is an anthology of original texts (accessed from the first screen of the article), including short stories and excerpts from important works. There are 18 chapters, covering the period 1875-1994, though one would have to find the dates in the above-mentioned catalog. These texts can be searched by word and exported to standard word processing programs. The anthology and the full text of the catalog (without the search function) are on the Internet at <>

--James Rambo, DePauw University

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