Science Fiction Studies

#76 = Volume 25, Part 3 = November 1998


BOOKS IN REVIEW

Slackademia.

Jodi Dean. Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outer-space to Cyberspace. Cornell UP (607-277-2338), 1998. xii + 242 pp. $15.95 paper.

I had high hopes for this book. As the subcultures of UFOlogy and alien abduction have emerged into the mainstream, intelligent commentary has been hard to find. Jodi Dean teaches political science and has written on feminism and identity politics. Her interest in the shifts within cultural politics (in the context of transformations of the public sphere) situates her at a productive inter-disciplinary conjuncture to analyse the circulation of abduction narratives in America. This is not a book about sf per se, but about media technologies, conceptions of democracy, and "the more mundane aliens that populate alternative science" (6). It sets out to explore that peculiar process of the "science-fictionalization" of aspects of contemporary American culture.

There is a further reason to be sympathetic to Jodi Dean’s work: the conservative wrath of Frederick Crews has been directed at Aliens in America. Across several pages of The New York Review of Books (June 25, 1998), Dean has been vilified as exemplifying a certain "slacker" trend in academia, where "the gestural radicalism of Paris 1968 has reached its futilitarian nadir." Unfortunately, this is a book which turns out to be hard to defend. It contains some extremely acute observations and has unearthed some fascinating primary material, yet it suffers from an infuriating lack of focus, a reliance on rather over-familiar postmodern rhetoric about contemporary America, and a severe case of specious relativism.

Dean’s broad aim is to present a political history of postwar America via its fantasies of outer space. Dean argues that we have moved from the "NASA-space" of the 1960s to cyberspaces in the 1990s. NASA was engineered as a public spectacle, a vehicle for nationalism, a restatement of frontier myths; cyberspace is marked as a transnational yet private, fragmented, interiorized space in which conceptions of national collectivity or "the public" are no longer relevant. This new Cyberia includes the claims of UFOlogists and abductees who embody, for Dean, this changing conception of the public sphere. Technology is not an instrument but has become invasive; the agency of the Space program is replaced by the passivity of abduction; the State is no longer the sponsor of awesome spectacles, embodying the ideology of the "land of the free," but is either suppressing the truth or conspiring with aliens. Dean suggests that the death of Christa McAuliffe in the Challenger disaster in 1986 marks the end of NASA-space. Within a year, women no longer dream of becoming astronauts but pour out their hypnotic regressions of abduction to researchers like Budd Hopkins, whose book Intruders: The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods was a bestseller in 1987. UFOlogy itself shifts from outer space to inner space, using therapy to chase evidence encrypted in "repressed memories" and producing a generic story of agonizing private dispossession and public denial.

As a narrative of cultural responses to technological change, this is a plausible account. This is the historical framework explored in chapters two and three of the book, but Dean’s interest does not really lie here. In fact, she launches the book by using the pervasive presence of abduction narratives to exemplify her case about a radical relativizing of any claims to rationality or truth in American society. This is where Dean succumbs to a rather alarming chain of logic. "UFO belief is widespread enough to conflict with the concept of a unitary public reason," she asserts (11), having claimed that abduction accounts are symptomatic of "the lack of widespread criteria for judgments about what is reasonable and what is not" (9). From uncertainties of judgment, the argument escalates rapidly to allege that we "can no longer presume a reality based on consensus" (15), and hence have reached a "collapse" of the political sphere and the rise of conspiracy culture. This ultimately means that scientists or cultural commentators cannot contest the claims of abductees because, as Dean concludes, "there is no overarching conception of reality" on which to adjudicate competing claims (170).

And what is the cause of this wreck of reason? Technology, in a series of dispiriting, clichéd guises. "We are all connected in a world wide web, a borderless information economy" (168) where "one site, one link, is as plausible as any other" (132), so that UFOlogists can "reclaim their rationality on their own terms" (9). Abductees also appear on television, and, Dean claims, "their televisual presence...links them with the real, with that which happens" (103), because the measure of the "real"—like History itself—is now televisual. Apparently, an abductee on Jerry Springer is rendered equivalent to a news report, or else Dean presumes the audience too foolish to tell the difference. At least abductee accounts about the strange life of domestic technologies, of VCRs, microwaves and telephones, of secret messages embedded in popular sf films and TV series, are more inventive than this.

It is not the technological determinism or the familiar postmodernist rhetoric of "crisis" and "collapse" that is worrying here; it is the poorly premised relativism of the argument. Leaving aside the constant leaps from epistemological uncertainty to claims of ontological collapse, is it really the case that abduction discourse, because it is relatively organized on the Net, and because it mimics the methodologies of science, marks a crisis of reason? Apparently so: "heretofore reasonable procedures take an alien form. As the criteria for legitimacy are themselves abducted, the mainstream, the serious, the conventional, and the real become suspect" (58). Carl Sagan is held as being "nostalgic, even naive" compared with Budd Hopkins, "because he, Sagan, works within a world view that he doesn’t question" (170). Such absurd statements might benefit from historical perspective. In one footnote, Dean hopes "to investigate more thoroughly in the future" the world of nineteenth century Spiritualism (221). She should do so: the Spiritualists were highly organized at the local and national levels, had three newspapers in London in the 1870s and thousands of supporters. Spiritualists were linked to both radical politics and the heart of the political establishment; they ceaselessly appropriated both the language and methods of science and the newest technologies as "vehicles" for belief. A number of eminent men of science became Spiritualists, and offered scientific rationales for communication with the dead. There was no crisis of reason, no collapse of the Real (whatever that means); Spiritualism at its height remained a definitively marginal science. Jodi Dean sets off on the wrong foot in making abduction narratives evidence of the relativizing of any possibility of truth; it means she ends up losing any possibility of critique, which requires, after all, some kind of ground on which to argue a case.

Although I could not disagree more with Frederick Crews on most issues, his "slacker" epithet kept returning to me as I read Dean’s book—and not just because that exemplar of slacker fiction, Douglas Coupland, goes millennial and mystical in his latest novel, Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), even giving one of the lead characters a technical job on the set of the X-Files, just before the world ends. Aliens in America is a slacker book because it makes grand assertions about the public sphere without really bothering to argue them through. Slackerdom is about letting everyone have their own reality, in a quietly ironic yet ultimately respectful way, unless they do some really heavy job like working for the military-industrial complex. This is a slacker book because it can never settle on any sustained treatment of a text, but flits from one concern to another. Indeed, Aliens in America reads a bit like a series of texts connected together by hyperlinks on the Internet. But then, if you visit the <www.aliensinamerica.com>, a very well-appointed site with connections to Dean’s home page, selected reviews, excerpts from the book, video feeds, and a pretty good UFO search engine, you’ll see why Dean is always using the metaphor of "clicking onto" issues and concerns. This project began, one suspects, as a tour through abduction web pages, and perhaps it should not have been fixed in the unforgiving print of an old-fashioned book. Cornell University Press may well be more to blame than Jodi Dean in publishing a book that certainly hits a "hot" topic but is a few drafts away from offering fully finished thoughts on the subject of aliens in America.

Roger Luckhurst, University of London


Christa McAuliffe Meets Captain Kirk.

Constance Penley. NASA/TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America. Routledge/Verso (800-634-7064), 1997. 169 pp. $50.00 cloth; $14.00 paper.

Constance Penley has written a great deal on film history, science fiction, psychoanalytic feminism, and Star Trek fandom; to sf scholars, she is perhaps best known as the co-editor of the anthology Close Encounters: Film, Feminism, and Science Fiction (Minnesota, 1991). Her new book, NASA/ TREK, brings together a number of questions that she has addressed throughout her career, namely the relationship between gender politics, popular science, and "K/S," or "slash," fandom (women Trekkers who write pornographic, utopian romances depicting Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock as lovers). More succinctly, Penley’s NASA/TREK explores intersections between sex and science, as these are staged within contemporary popular culture.

NASA/TREK is divided into two sections: the first focuses on NASA, the second on slash fandom. In the first, Penley argues that NASA has "adopted the film industry’s summer blockbuster approach" in order to "rejuvenate the near-moribund idea of an ideal future toward which dedicated people could work" (12). In this way, the agency has become popular science. Paying particular attention to the case of Christa McAuliffe, the school teacher who died with seven other astronauts in the Challenger disaster, Penley shows how the agency selected the young educator both for her "representative mediocrity" and her appeal to "Republican motherhood" (24-5). In doing so, Penley reveals an agency caught up in utopian propaganda and high-stakes budget battles that not only contributed to the Challenger explosion but also to the "sick" jokes that sprung up following the disaster.

Penley sees these jokes about McAuliffe as evidence of a displaced form of popular criticism of NASA and, more problematically, as a "collective public disavowal" reflecting the "horror of women in space" (32). NASA perpetuated these jokes by not coming clean on the politics and facts behind the disaster. Indeed, the space agency has yet to release the tapes of the final moments of the astronauts’ lives (after the initial explosion and minutes before the crew cabin slammed into the ocean). According to Penley, "Our knowing and not knowing how Christa McAuliffe and the other Challenger astronauts died… opens up a symbolic void to be filled with our own worst imaginings" (33).

Space enthusiasts such as myself might find it difficult to read Penley’s critique of NASA and the case of McAuliffe. I remember exactly where I was when the Challenger exploded. Like many of my friends, I shed tears for the crew, their families, and lost dreams. Indeed, I have always supported NASA, and, unlike many other scholars and critics, I applaud the shuttle program, the international space station, and "manned" missions to Mars. But Penley is on the mark, especially in terms of her critique both of the agency’s polemical propaganda and its misogynistic mission to exclude women from space. NASA, for all the dreams it facilitates and embraces, was—and perhaps to some extent still is—caught up with itself, forgetting that its mission isn’t to wow citizens and seduce budget-axe-waving politicians but to engage science and explore space. Penley asks the agency to end its propagandistic and misogynistic practices, and boldly take us where we need to go.

This section of NASA/TREK has its weaknesses. It explains too much by way of the unconscious, particularly infantile psycho-sexual displacements and condensations. Penley writes:

We process our knowledge of NASA in a variety of unconscious ways, ranging from simple displacement to outright denial. A lot of this individual and collective refashioning of NASA’s meanings tends to be wish-fulfilling, to produce the NASA we want, not the one we have. And here the stuffy space agency is aided (again, more or less unconsciously), by an increasingly symbolic merging with its hugely popular fictional twin, Star Trek. (15-16)

Unconscious explanations like these are overly reductive, easy answers that can be proven only with theory; in other words, they are unaccompanied by evidence of real people’s interpretations and actions. Interestingly, Penley invokes Gramsci’s notion of hegemony, a theoretical concept that implies coercion and consent—largely preconscious and conscious activities, not unconscious psycho-sexual processes. One might have wished for more development of this alternative, materialist mode of explanation. Still, although I find Penley’s specific theory lacking, her criticism both of NASA and of the public’s relationship to the agency is generally quite insightful.

Sf scholars in particular will be interested in Penley’s discussion of Arthur C. Clarke’s and J.G. Ballard’s widely different imaginative relationships with NASA. While Penley admires Clarke’s blending of "utopianism about space exploration and its future with a critical edge toward ideological and institutional issues that shape this future" (79), she is highly critical of Ballard’s astronaut stories, which she sees as animated by an "easy cynicism"—and a fascination with what Paul Virilio has called the "new romanticism of techno-logical ruin"—that renders them incapable of offering "any useful thinking on the impulse to venture into space, much less on the space program itself" (80). Sf literature is not a major area of analysis in the book, but Penley admits at the start that the "voyages scripted by Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Bradbury, Tiptree, and yes, I am afraid, Hubbard, inextricably wove themselves" into her own memories and views of the space program (1-2). She is also quite conversant with the primary and secondary literature on feminist sf (103-4, 147).

In the second section of NASA/TREK, Penley addresses the phenomenon of slash fandom—the largely heterosexual, female community of Trekkers who extend the Star Trek narrative into a romantic, "inner-space" universe. These are the fans who produce fanzines and explicit drawings depicting Kirk and Spock as lovers. For Penley, these Trekkers bring to the Star Trek phenomenon a "tough-love" approach, simultaneously embracing and critiquing the science-fiction mega-text. Finding the series explicitly sexist and implicitly homoerotic, slash Trekkers have appropriated its familiar characters and situations and woven them into "a unique, hybridized genre that ingeniously blends romance, pornography, and utopian science fiction" (101).

Informing Penley’s analysis of these fans is the work of Michel de Certeau, who theorized that otherwise powerless communities often employ "tactical maneuvers" in an effort to "resist, negotiate, or transform the system and products of the relatively powerful." Taking de Certeau’s notion further, Penley shows how the fans are doing more than simply reading or viewing in tactical ways; they are also generating real products—fanzines, short stories, and drawings—that "mimic and mock those of the industry they are ‘borrowing’ from while offering pleasures found lacking in the originals" (105). Indeed, according to Penley’s research, these female Trekkers have formed a sort of vertically integrated industry, retaining control over production, distri-bution, and consumption of their fanzines and drawings.

My concern with this section of NASA/TREK is that it fails to address explicitly the criticism and conclusions of the first section. The two sections of Penley’s book are not effectively tied together. Indeed, while the author shows us how NASA invokes Trek in its mission to explore space, it isn’t clear how the slash community invokes or addresses NASA (unless their extensions of the Trek universe are somehow unconscious revisions of the real space agency). The reader of NASA/TREK is left to conclude that the general public should rewrite NASA in the same way that slash Trekkers rewrite Captain Kirk and Mr.Spock.

In sum, NASA/TREK provides a rigorous critique of NASA, as well as a persuasive analysis of fandom in general and slash Trekkers in particular. While the book has its failings, it is a worthwhile study of two relatively neglected subjects.

Daniel Bernardi, UCLA


A Handbook of Their Own.

Chris Hables Gray, ed. The Cyborg Handbook. With Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera and Steven Mentor. Routledge (800-634-7064), 1995. xxi + 540 pp. $24.99 paper.

The publication thirteen years ago of Donna Haraway’s "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s" marked the beginning of a beautiful—or beautifully monstrous—friendship between cyborgs and postmodern cultural theory. Claudia Springer has called the cyborg "the consummate postmodern concept" ("The Pleasure of the Inter-face," Screen 32.3 [1991]: 306); John R.R. Christie sees it as an "icon" ("A Tragedy for Cyborgs," Configurations 1.1 [1993]: 195); and David Tomas, invoking Raymond Williams, identifies the signifier itself as a "keyword" for recent times ("Feedback and Cybernetics: Reimaging the Body in the Age of the Cyborg" in Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment, eds. Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows. [London: Sage, 1995] 21-43). This obsession has even led one critic, Allucquère Rosanne Stone, to formulate the notion of "cyborg envy," which she describes as the longing to "cross the human/machine boundary" and to cease to be a subject in the tradition of modernity ("Will the Real Body Please Stand Up?: Boundary Stories About Virtual Cultures" in Cyberspace: First Steps, ed. Michael Benedikt [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991] 108). And yet until recently, the field of cyborg studies lacked a substantial anthology to call its own. The appearance of The Cyborg Handbook from a major academic publishing house is, therefore, a significant event. (The monumentality of the event is conveyed by the sheer size and weight of The Cyborg Handbook: 43 articles and a lengthy bibliography run to over 500 pages. It is impossible, therefore, for me to consider every piece contained in the collection; I can only attempt a general overview.) Although Donna Haraway stressed that her cyborg was an "illegitimate offspring" ("A Cyborg Manifesto" in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature [London: Free Association Books, 1991] 151), it would seem that cyborg studies is finally legitimate.

This is not to imply that something has been lost, that cyborgs have sold out to the academy. On the contrary, as the editors make clear in their timely introduction, The Cyborg Handbook actively preserves the heterogeneity and ambiguity called for by Haraway. "There is no one kind of cyborg," they insist (2), before adding that "we have allowed authors to keep their own citation style in their works" in the name of heteroglossia (11). Moreover, they stress that the book, "far from being an answer to the cyborg question, is rather an initial map of the important cyborg questions, anxieties, problems and possibilities" (2). In this respect, The Cyborg Handbook consistently refuses to project what Jean-Franšois Lyotard calls a "metanarrative"; there is, instead, a parade of smaller, competing narratives that cannot be resolved into a smooth whole. This is not an encyclopedia (in the modern, and here paramount, sense of the term). There is a sense, therefore, in which the title of the collection has a double edge: it is both a handbook about cyborgs and a cyborg handbook in staging the principles of its subject matter. Of course, it goes without saying that there is here no literal blending of the organic and inorganic, but the text is, nonetheless, faithful to the spirit of Haraway’s cyborg as that which resists "the drive...to produce total theory" (181). Moreover, as The Cyborg Handbook makes clear on numerous occasions, cyborgs are far more than merely literal beings.

Although Donna Haraway ceaselessly problematizes traditional origin stories, her essay has, as Thomas A. Bredehoft pointed out in a recent issue of SFS, frequently been posited as the birthplace of the cyborg ("Origin Stories: Feminist Science Fiction and C.L. Moore’s 'Shambleau,'" [SFS 24.3 (1997): 371]). In this respect, The Cyborg Handbook is invaluable, for its first section reprints the brief article "Cyborgs and Space" published by Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline in an issue of Astronautics twenty-five years before Haraway’s manifesto. Clynes’ and Kline’s project was, from the perspective of hard science, to come up with an efficient way for human beings to survive in an extraterrestrial environment (these were the heady days of the space race). The cybernetic organism, or Cyborg (they consistently capitalized the signifier), was how they chose to name their solution: the body of the human would be modified in order to allow him/her to rise to the challenge of space travel.

The other texts in this introductory section neatly map out the terrain claimed by/for the cyborg in its early years: Manfred Clynes’ "Cyborg II: Sentic Space Travel," which Astronautics commissioned but refused to publish in 1970, develops the concept beyond its original parameters (notably in the area of emotions); Jack E. Steele’s contribution to the Ohio Bionics Symposium in 1960 shows that Clynes and Kline were not alone in their revolutionary thought; and, finally, Chris Hables Gray’s fascinating interviews with Steele and Clynes reveal how both men have continued to think about such themes in recent years (the latter’s hostile dismissal of The Terminator [1985] as a "monsterification" [47] is particularly telling). My only (slight) regret is that Gray failed to elicit Clynes’ response to the work of Donna Haraway (although I feel confident that this, too, would be deemed a "monsterification").

Parts two, three, and four of the volume—collectively entitled "The Proliferation of Cyborgs"—proceed to chart the appearance of cyborg figures in the military, in medicine, and in the imagination, respectively. Throughout these sections The Cyborg Handbook deftly mixes theory, fiction (Philip K. Dick’s "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon" [1980] makes an appropriate appearance), and scientific documentation, to the point that generic boundaries begin to dismantle themselves as ideas shift from domain to domain. Hugh Gusterson’s essay in the second section, "Short Circuit: Watching Television with a Nuclear-Weapons Scientist," is important in that it makes explicit what is implicit throughout the entire volume. Recognizing that Donna Haraway "put cyborgs on the map of cultural criticism" (109), Gusterson nonetheless asserts a distance from Haraway’s work. Resisting the temptation to take the manifesto as a truly modern, programmatic document, he identifies a tendency towards essentialism and romanticism in Haraway’s text. For him, the manifesto is a little too confident that the cyborg is a figure of salvation; it can just as easily undermine a socialist-feminist agenda. Whether Haraway actually pre-empts this type of criticism is open to debate; my point is that Gusterson’s essay is like the volume as a whole in both taking up and taking issue with Haraway’s work. The Cyborg Handbook is neither an homage nor a series of mere footnotes to the manifesto.

Important essays in the third section touch upon the relationship between cyborgs and the politics of reproduction. Monica J. Casper’s contribution is particularly insightful, neatly posing fundamental questions about agency and choice. Also discussed is the case of Barney Clarke (the first recipient of a permanent artificial heart who died 112 days after the operation), and the limits of "human-ness" in contemporary medical discourses. Section four opens with Mark Oehlert’s study of cyborgs in comics, before moving to Jonathan Goldberg’s compelling reading of the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger; for Goldberg, Schwarzenegger, like the characters he so memorably plays in the two Terminator films, is actually a cyborg. But perhaps the most perceptive contribution to this section of the collection comes from Jennifer Gonzalez, who calls for cyborg theorists to study "the form and not merely the fact of this interface between automaton and autonomy" (269-70). Displaying an acute sense of history, Gonzalez reminds us that cyborgs are not inherently liberating; it is easy to become "a cyborg of slavery" (273).

The final two parts of The Cyborg Handbook, "Cyborg Anthropology" and "The Politics of Cyborgs," are brought together under the larger banner of "The Futures of Cyborgs," suggesting not only that the concept should remain open to what is to come, but that the future of the cyborg is not necessarily unitary. Indeed, David Hess’s contribution raises the intriguing possibility that the signifier itself might already be "too low-tech to serve as an appropriate symbol of postmodern technoculture. Would some other image be more appropriate, say, the holorg?" (372). Hess may well have a point, for the recent cinematic rendition of Judge Dredd (1995) asks the same question, depicting what most people would term a cyborg as the forgotten, obsolete inhabitant of a postindustrial wasteland. The real issue in the film’s diegesis appears to be genetics, the transformative power of DNA, and Rico’s cry of "Send in the clones" would seem to usher out the cyborg as yesterday’s hero/ine.

Hess neatly puts his finger on the fundamental problem of the field: what exactly do we mean when we use the signifier "cyborg"? Hess frames his question around Clynes’ and Kline’s definition; he is bound to a certain literality. The editors’ introduction, however, proposes that "anyone whose immune system has been programmed through vaccination to recognize and kill the polio virus" (2-3), together with "the potentially billions of humans yet unborn who will be the products of genetic engineering" (3), might be considered cyborgs, simply because any appeal to a purely natural state of being is futile. There is, the editors conclude, "no consensus on what a cyborg is" (3), and this is where the postmodernity of the figure (and The Cyborg Handbook itself) lies. In fact, as Jacques Derrida has pointed out, the very question "What is...?" rests upon the metaphysical assumption that something can be made fully present and tied to an economy of truth. The postmodern strength of the cyborg, as the Handbook generally makes clear, is that it is more concerned with asking "What if...?" than "What is ...?"

It does not necessarily follow that cyborgs eradicate politics, and the final section of The Cyborg Handbook addresses this problem. Chela Sandoval’s suggestion that "cyborg consciousness can be understood as the technological embodiment of a particular and specific form of oppositional consciousness that I have elsewhere described as ‘U.S. third world feminism’" (408) is immediately (although indirectly) refuted by Joseba Gabilondo’s insistence that postcolonial subject positions are always already excluded from the realm of the cyborg. For Gabilondo, the cyborg "is not the general, postmodern form of subjectivity created by multinational capitalism but rather the hegemonic subject position that its ideology privileges" (424). Through a refashioning of Althusserian theory, he concludes that cyborgs are interpolated by the Ideological Global Apparatuses of late capitalism; postcolonial spaces such as Africa, which owns just 1% of the world’s television sets, cannot hear the call. For Gabilondo, contrary to Haraway’s claim, we are not all cyborgs.

It is fitting that the final section of the book should be marked by such a disagreement, or, to use Lyotard’s term, a differend. As Chris Hables Gray and Steven Mentor insist in the closing essay, the struggle over technology, its meaning and its application, must go on: "There is no choice between utopia and dystopia, Good Terminator or Evil Terminator—they are both here" (465). I would only add the words: "in this book."

While postmodernity is all about the interrogation of fixed boundaries and essentialisms, it does not (contrary to many of its detractors) follow that anything goes, that there is no longer such a thing as a simple mistake. This is where The Cyborg Handbook finds itself on thin ice, for the volume is riddled with inaccuracies. I have no way of knowing if these errors are attributable to the individual authors, to proofreaders, or to the publisher, but more than fifty works are mistitled (words or entire subtitles omitted), dates of publication are given incorrectly, names are misspelt, and bibliographies are left incomplete. This poor scholarship provides ammunition for traditional academics who view fields like cyborg studies as a waste of time. I can only hope that future print runs are corrected.

This is my only real reservation concerning The Cyborg Handbook. While my own research might lead me to disagree with some of the arguments in the collection, I can only applaud the policy of sheer diversity observed by the editors. Indeed, the very heterogeneity of the text makes it impossible for anyone to agree with everything in it. There is, quite simply, no coherent, unified (syn)thesis. This is precisely the strength of The Cyborg Handbook, truly a cyborg handbook.—Neil Badmington, University of Wales at Cardiff


An Admirable Enterprise.

Daniel Leonard Bernardi. Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future. Rutgers UP (800-446-9323), 1998. 256 pp. $48 cloth; $17 paper.

A number of scholars have examined Star Trek, seeking answers to diverse sorts of research questions. These questions have derived from a range of approaches, from feminism to social history to ethnography. These (or most of these) studies have been quite valuable, but one area of scholarly inquiry has been conspicuously absent. I am talking, of course, about the theory of race and ethnicity. For scholars of Star Trek, science fiction, and popular culture, Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future, an extended analysis of the representations of race that have appeared in one fictional "universe" over the last 30 years, is thus a much-needed addition. It provides us with a solid start, a first step in the critical study of race in sf media.

Bernardi argues that "race" as a term has had a contested usage, and he attempts to fix the limits of the term in ways that will be most productive for his project. As he defines it, the term race "refers to a racial formation, a system of historically specific meanings that have a profound impact on the institutions and systems of representation informing sociocultural life" (21). Race is not a static physical marker but something continually being formed and reformed, something continually coming into being as the result of complex interplays of power, "common sense," and resistance to these dominant practices and ways of thinking. Therefore, race is a contested location that can be inscribed with conservative or progressive interpretations and usages in different cultural texts at different historical moments.

Bernardi begins with the articulation of race in the "Original Series," which he believes was the most overtly "liberal" in its attempts to portray a multi-racial crew and universe. To build his claims, he investigates production notes and interviews with Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, which suggest that Roddenberry was interested in presenting a crew that reflected the diversity he thought would characterize the future. These documents likewise reveal that Roddenberry was also trying to address American views on racial diversity and equality, and was calling for more egalitarian ways of life.

How well did Roddenberry succeed? Bernardi argues that, while on the surface the crew was certainly more diverse than any other cast assembled for prime-time television, racism (intentional or not) intervened to keep the minority crew members secondary to the "white" ideal of Captain Kirk. For example, non-white characters such as Lieutenants Uhura and Sulu were rarely featured in episodes, or given more than minimal dialogue (Uhura’s standard— and often only—line in each episode seemed to be "hailing frequencies open, Captain"). Bernardi points out that in The Star Trek Guide (used as a resource for writers of the series), Sulu is described as "a white-identified Japanese-American who prefers French customs over Japanese traditions. Mixed oriental in ancestry, Japanese predominating, Sulu is contemporary American in speech and manner. In fact, his attitude toward Asians is that they seem to him rather ‘inscrutable’" (p. 40). While the show indeed casts minority actors, descriptions such as this work to "whitewash" these attempts at diversity. Sulu is a character disconnected from his own heritage and cultural identity, who instead chooses to emulate white heritage and culture. Evidence such as this strengthens Bernardi’s argument that, while on the surface the crew was multicultural, the reality of cultural diversity was minimized or erased.

Bernardi also shows, through production notes and interviews, how the producers of Star Trek intentionally created episodes and introduced aliens to comment on racial politics of the day. Some aliens did not just "happen" to be dark or light, but were instead concrete statements about equality and justice. In "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," two humanoids engage in cosmic struggle board the Enterprise. They hail from the same planet and are different in only one respect: one is black on the left side of his body and white on the right, while the other is white on the left side of his body and black on the right. This difference is the basis for a civil war between the two factions that ultimately leads to the destruction of their planet. The efforts of the Enterprise to stop this war prove futile, leading Bernardi to argue that the episode serves as a morality play of sorts for American race relations in the 1960s. The period, he argues, offered a more open climate to consider race and racial injustice, and the producers of Star Trek took advantage of this opportunity. This opportunity, however, was not to last.

Race relations are not always so explicitly paralleled or always so progressive in Star Trek. When The Next Generation series was designed, U.S. racial policy and the general political climate had swung toward the right, and racial representations mirrored these changes. While the crew of the new Enterprise continued in its multicultural makeup, racist beliefs about non-white members persisted. Perhaps the best example is the Klingons, at this point at peace with the Federation. Lieutenant Worf is the first Klingon to serve on a Starfleet vessel and is a prominent member of the cast, given feature episodes and many scenes. However, racist beliefs about African-Americans give the figure of Worf, as well as all Klingons, stereotypical traits that mark them as unlike or not quite equal to the white "ideal." For example, the Klingons are portrayed as an extremely warlike race, given to strong emotion and physical displays of strength and power. This is in contrast to the more sedate, presumably superior traits of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (a Frenchman with an English accent), who is famous for his diplomatic skills as well as his intelligence and control. Depictions such as these tend to reinforce the superiority of whiteness, and the implicit argument of the Star Trek series becomes a steady march towards a racial hegemony involving the gradual assimilation of all other races and cultures to this ideal. This process was reflected in the series by more stereotypical portrayals of darker aliens, and a continuing hierarchy of race (as well as gender) that permeated the Enterprise’s crew.

It is here that Bernardi’s argument becomes thin. While his analysis of the non-white characters and species is sophisticated, his argument for the portrayal of whiteness could use more theoretical grounding. This sort of approach is especially relevant now that whiteness—as opposed to its various historical others—has begun to be seen as a social construction, a tissue of representations rather than an essential identity. While I would agree that the premise of the Star Trek world is about assimilation to a common goal and identity, the argument needs to be extended and strengthened.

Another limitation lies in the choices the author made about which Star Trek series to examine. Certainly, the "Original Series" and The Next Generation provide useful and relevant material, but for more complex perspectives dealing with the issue of whiteness, even brief attention to the Deep Space Nine or Voyager franchises would have added substantially to Bernardi’s critique. These series feature an African-American captain of a space station and a white woman starship captain, respectively; the crews on these shows are even more diverse, and the characters are more likely to examine their relationships with other humans and species. These more recent representations call into question the ideal of assimilation to a white standard, and explore in more detail issues of inter-racial or inter-species relationships. In addition, in Deep Space Nine, more explicit opposition to the Federation and its assimilationist goals is foregrounded. These are areas that would greatly add to our understandings of hegemonic whiteness, and how they are articulated—and potentially subverted—in the Star Trek universe. This is an area that remains to be addressed.

This book advances our knowledge not only of Star Trek, but also of racial representations in American popular culture. It gives a glimpse into the minds of the creators of Star Trek (something few researchers of the series have attempted to do) as well as of the fans. Bernardi’s book does an admirable job of analyzing race in Star Trek’s imagined twenty-third century: he illuminates what this means not only now, but at the historical moments when the series were created. This work also challenges other scholars to build on its solid foundation

.—Mia Consalvo, University of Iowa


The Curmudgeon of Krakow.

Peter Swirski. A Stanislaw Lem Reader. Northwestern UP (800-621-2736), 1997.129 pp. $14.95 paper.

The title of this excellent little book is a bit misleading. Unlike the usual sort of "Reader," such as the Olaf Stapledon Reader published recently by Liverpool and Syracuse, Swirski’s does not contain representative selections from Lem’s fiction and discursive prose over the course of his career. In fact it consists of only two interviews, conducted by Swirski in 1992 (in person) and 1994 (in writing), and a 1991 essay by Lem reflecting on the fate of his major nonfiction work, the Summa Technologiae (1964), which is still untranslated into English. This is very much a reader directed toward people who already know and respect Lem’s work.

This is the first book in which interviews with Lem have appeared in English; indeed, it is the first book other than Lem’s own discursive essays (Microworlds [Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984]) that offers Lem’s readers an accessible commentary on his thinking. Lem has given many interviews; some of them have appeared in SFS (with Raymond Federman in #26, and with me in #40), some in other journals. But unless one sets out to browse through the literary databases, these belong to the arcana of sf. It is much to Northwestern University Press’s credit to have published Swirksi’s interviews (though one may also wonder whether this is all that they approved from a more ambitious project).

As a former interviewer and correspondent of Lem’s, I cannot avoid both hearing Lem’s voice and comparing Swirski’s approach to my own. Swirski is uniquely placed among North American scholars of Lem: he is bilingual in Polish and English, and has a solid background both in literary studies and philosophy of science. He is able to converse with Lem without any appreciable loss of information, a privilege even Lem’s German and Russian interlocutors may not have enjoyed, despite the writer’s command of those two languages. Swirski is a fine interviewer. He treats Lem as an intellectual rather than a bellettrist and is much more interested in his views on twentieth-century science than in his fiction per se. We get a picture of Lem’s polymathic familiarity with the philosophy of science that few literary writers can approach. It may seem strange to say that Swirski’s questions about game theory, Steven Hawking’s contributions, or the possibility of mathematizing literary analysis are friendly questions for a fiction writer, but these are precisely the sort of matters that Lem likes to expound on. Lem does not have a high opinion of most other people’s fiction, and even his own fiction he rates lower than his "philosophy of the future," the speculative-analytical writings collected in the Summa, Science Fiction and Futurology (1970), and the Philosophy of Chance (1974), none of which have been translated into English.

In the past, Lem has tended to treat aesthetics as inferior to science; in recent years, having given up writing fiction altogether, this disdain sometimes approaches contempt. Swirski seems to be on Lem’s wavelength on these matters. He, too, appears not to consider the affective realm, or questions of what makes art valuable, to be very interesting. Sometimes Swirski seems plus royaliste que le roi, as when he asks Lem whether he believes there’s any hope for a mathematical literary criticism. Lem sagely responds that scientization of criticism would probably be worse than the actually existing fuzz, and that art is not a form of cognition. Earlier in his career Lem would have gone on to speak about play as a virtue in its own right, but the days of the playful Lem seem to have passed. Perhaps a more playful interviewer might have teased more respect for fiction from the Curmudgeon of Krakow. But Swirski’s emphasis on science and contemporary culture is completely appropriate. Most of my interview of 1986 was concerned with Lem’s opinions about art and his writing; since Lem almost never changes his mind, Swirski’s approach leads to new ground. He delves into matters that previous interviews touched on lightly or not at all.

The Stanislaw Lem Reader opens with a brief introduction to Lem’s career. It is perhaps a bit too brief, and slanted toward viewing Lem as a lumen rather than as a great writer of fiction. This is understandable, considering the heavily cognitive slant of the Reader as a whole and the fact that Swirski is familiar with the Polish originals of all the major works of speculation that Lem has produced and which Lem seems now to view as his chefs-d’oeuvre. It may be trivial to complain that Swirski’s introduction neglects Lem’s rhetorical and storytelling genius. For Swirski, Lem’s fiction and discursive work are "a single magnum opus" with a "single historiosophic scenario":

His novels, stories, and essays model plausible socio-cultural reactions to powerful new stimuli, often of global proportions. Inventing fictional crises to portray the flexibility of our culture’s potential response, Lem suggests—correctly in my opinion—that the stable dynamic equilibrium of a sufficiently large system will tend to dominate its overall pattern. (18)

Lem would certainly agree with this. It is what makes him a serious intellectual. However, Swirski’s short account might also work, in terms of the fiction at least, for John Christopher or George R. Stewart. Lem’s distinctiveness as a writer, his use of language, his profound irony and wit (which Swirski should have better purchase on than any of his non-Polish colleagues), his use of concrete symbols, his rich sense of the literary tradition, are arguably at least as important as his culturological speculations. But for Swirski Lem is an oracle, whose management of the two-culture split does not include raising literary art to greater importance but, as it were, to the projection of a future in which he cannot even imagine more than one culture, the culture of science. If Swirski does have a weakness, it is his stubbornness regarding the possibility of applying game theory to literary studies. This, too, is forgivable, since that appears to be one of the main attractions of Swirski for Lem; Lem’s Philosophy of Chance and his essay on Sade (untranslated, of course) are two of the most serious discussions of the use of decision theory in literary studies. But to Swirski the matter appears more serious than it does to Lem, for whom, one suspects, his own discursive works are more ironic in spirit than they appear to earnest students of science and literature like Swirski.

The centerpiece of the book is Lem’s own essay "Thirty Years Later," originally written to commemorate the writing of Summa Technologiae. In it, Lem describes the Polish intelligentsia’s long-standing dismissal of the work as a compendium of positivistic fantasies. Lem vents, at greater length than usual, his resentment against Leszek Kolakowski, one of the most prominent Polish philosophers and the leader of a circle to which Lem peripherally belonged in the 1950s. Clearly, at the time of the essay’s publication in 1991, the book was still considered a weird, indigestible meal in Poland, and Lem writes as if he were introducing a foreign book to his Polish readers. He gains his revenge by pointing out how well his book foretold the coming of virtual reality—which Lem called, with characteristic wit, "fantomatics"—long before computer engineers took it seriously. Lem quotes abundantly from the text, showing not only how precisely he conceived fantomatic technology, but how deeply he pondered its cultural implications. The Summa is unquestionably a wonderful book; most of Lem’s themes appear in it in neutral form (i.e., with relatively little irony), and Lem consistently displays his erudition with a sprezzatura not unlike that of The Star Diaries (1976). The Summa is one of the great works of cultural futurology, and the lack of an English version is scandalous. One can hope that the excerpts included in Swirski’s book, excellently translated by Swirski himself, will whet the appetite of readers sufficiently to inspire the publication of the whole book. I cannot imagine a better translator and editor for the job than Swirski himself.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.


Managing the Unconscious.

Matthew C. Brennan. The Gothic Psyche: Disintegration and Growth in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. Camden House (803-788-5633), 1997. 179 pp. $55.00 cloth.

I want to begin this review by publicly acknowledging my bias—one I am certain many readers will share: I generally do not find Jungian criticism persuasive, since it relies upon generalizations of mythic proportion and encodes a way of thinking that is essentially allegorical in nature, without openly acknowledging its status as such. Indeed, Jungian thought has been out of favor among literary theorists for some time for precisely this reason, despite minor flashes of renewed interest in Carl Jung throughout the twentieth century, and irrespective of the continuities it shares with Joseph Campbell’s large influence on the scholarship of fantasy and myth. The cover copy for The Gothic Psyche claims that today there is a "growing popularity...of Jungian ideas," and while this may be true of the self-help genre (see, for example, Robert Hopcke’s recent spiritual guidebook, There Are No Accidents: Syn-chronicity and the Stories of Our Lives [Riverhead, 1997]), I do not believe that Jung scholarship jibes with the cultural studies-informed inquiries of most literary theory today.

Jungian literary criticism has fallen from favor because it inevitably func-tions to reduce the literary text to little more than supporting evidence of Jung’s totalizing (and rather mystifying) theory of the "collective unconscious." This theory alleges that when we read literature, we dip into a universal repository of the entire psychic experience of the human race, which is evoked through archetypes (or what Jung calls "racial memories") we all supposedly carry within us, and whose traces can be found in the patterns and symbols of literature. This sort of approach inevitably explains away individual narratives by showing how they fit into Jung’s larger meta-narrative, which often disem-powers works of literature in the process. In other words, Jungian criticism risks telling the same story over and over again, naively setting aside textual and cultural differences.

Yet in The Gothic Psyche, Matthew Brennan succeeds in overcoming these pitfalls of vulgar Jungianism, by emphasizing Jung’s theory of individuation (rather than just the archetypes) in order to theorize the Gothic consciousness evident in such nineteenth century classics as Frankenstein (1816), Dracula (1897), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)—with additional chapters dedi-cated to Romantic poetry, Emily Bront╬, and Poe. Brennan uses Jung’s work on the psyche and on dream interpretation in order to "amplify" these Gothic texts, and to "uncover how these works symbolize the threat of psychic collapse, which the novels and poems warn can occur if the nightmares are repressed" (147-8). For Brennan, literary texts are a source of power and healing, a way of integrating our unconscious impulses into our psyches, in a quest to adapt to our own shortcomings. Thus, the crux of Brennan’s work is that Gothic narratives are essentially cautionary tales about psychic disintegration, about maintaining boundaries and adapting to one’s own "shadow" or hidden self. Gothic texts, in Brennan’s view, offer their readers lessons in wholeness by helping the ego manage its unconscious, adapting to its dark power, and assimilating it into an integrated psyche (this is Jung’s process of "individuation").

Although such issues as "disintegration" have always been underscored in theoretical readings of the sublime in Romantic literature, Brennan adds an important facet to such studies by not only discussing integration in enlightening ways, but also "integrating" Jungian criticism with more recent work on cultural theory: specifically, Victor Turner’s dynamic theories of social ritual and Ernest Hartmann’s notion of the "boundary-deficit" and its relationship to the nightmare (see The Nightmare: The Psychology and Biology of Terrifying Dreams [Basic, 1984]). Brennan’s introduction articulately explains the relevance of Jungian theory to Gothic texts, which Brennan treats as imagistic dreams as well as products of nineteenth-century culture. He explains Jung’s theory of individuation with enviable clarity, and is very careful not to over-generalize when discussing Jungian archetypes. The entire book is elegantly written and efficiently researched, each chapter following an introduction focusing on an individual novel (with the exception of the somewhat hasty chapter on Romantic poetry). Primarily driven by an analysis of how characters disintegrate by losing their sense of boundaries, Brennan reads the nightmare worlds of Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wuthering Heights (1847) as cautionary lessons in the failures of repression, offering compelling readings of the protagonists’ various Gothic downfalls as neurotic failures to adapt to the unconscious.

While Brennan’s readings are enlightening and well-wrought, there is a tendency toward redundancy in support of his overarching theme. Moreover, there are social ideologies at work in the Gothic which Brennan neglects in order to focus on the psyche of the individual. The choice of primary texts is also a bit shopworn, but on the other hand, the familiarity of these canonical texts lends a clarity to Brennan’s thesis that makes this book perfect for the academic classroom or for the general reader interested in learning more about Jungian criticism. I believe it would be a strong addition to any senior-level course in Gothic Literature or to any advanced Psychoanalysis and Literature class hungry for an alternative to the dominant Freudian (and post-Freudian) views. For scholars of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, Brennan’s text may also be useful, because of its emphasis on individuation over archetype—a more process-oriented use of Jung than most of the Jungian fantasy scholarship or myth criticism I have read.

If my review seems ambivalent, it is indicative of my ambivalence toward Jung, not Brennan. In the end, I remain skeptical of Jung, but very supportive of Brennan’s emphasis on the dynamic potential of Jungian criticism for understanding post-Enlightenment subjectivity, and am strongly in favor of any scholarship that asserts "individuality" as a process and a performance rather than a stable, organic whole.

Michael A. Arnzen, University of Oregon


Tolkien’s Telepathic Time Machines.

Verlyn Flieger. A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faerie. Kent State UP (216-672-7913), 1997. 288 pp. $35 cloth.

Flieger’s critical approach in A Question of Time is "New Historicist" in the broad sense: "personal history is a necessary context for art," she says (13). To explicate Tolkien’s lifelong preoccupation with questions of time, she begins by establishing the author’s deliberate reactionism provoked by a "childhood spent in the Edwardian farewell to the nineteenth century" and a young adulthood marked by "the two most devastating wars of the twentieth century" (1). In a period of headlong cultural change, often violent, generally grim, he and his fellow Inklings looked backward as "reluctant modernists," convinced that "very little had been gained and too much had been lost." Their writings, "deliberately at variance with the twentieth century," are nevertheless "in tune with [its] needs," reflecting by temporal dislocation "the psychological disjunction and displacement" of their era (11-12). "Tolkien and those like him were at once reactionary and avant-garde" (17).

In preparing her critical discussion, Flieger traces the author’s preoccupation with temporal frameworks, from his landmark lecture to the British Academy, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," through his several unfinished attempts to write a time-travel story (The Lost Road, The Notion Club Papers), to the temporal frames that develop his great themes, "Death and Immortality," in The Lord of the Rings. Several influential treatments of temporal relativity, which influenced Tolkien and his contemporaries (including C.S. Lewis, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Henry James, Olaf Stapledon, and H.G. Wells), were Nietzsche’s theory of Recurrence; the lives shared in dream of George Du Maurier’s Peter Ibbetson (1891); Charlotte Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain’s An Adventure (1911)—about stepping into the past—and its very trendy and influential explanation via J.W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time (1927); James Barrie’s faerie time warp in Mary Rose (1924); and Henry James’ unfinished time-travel story The Sense of the Past (1917), made into a play by John Balderston, Berkeley Square (1929). These works severally touch upon elements of Tolkien’s themes—language as memory, nostalgia, the temporal power of dream, the recurrence of identity.

These influences are ultimately brought to bear upon the text of The Lord of the Rings. For example, the difficulties of representing a timeless place in a time-bound narrative provide a focus for Flieger’s discussion (in Ch. 4, "Over a Bridge of Time") of Frodo and company’s departure from Lothlorien in The Fellowship of the Ring. Drawing (as Tolkien did) heavily upon J.W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time, Flieger compares Tolkien’s manuscript revisions and his marginal notes, cites Christopher Tolkien’s commentary, parallels Tolkien’s doodlings to the illustrations in Dunne’s little book, and concludes: "Tolkien’s theme, if not his plot, needed two kinds of time [mortal time and elven timelessness]...yet the narrative structure demanded that outside Lorien time should go on as usual.... [T]he practical difficulties of trying to balance chronology against timelessness would strain the most limber imagin-ation" (105). Ultimately Tolkien opted for ambiguity, Flieger says, recasting the dialog between Sam Gamgee, Frodo, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli careful-ly so as to suggest the quality of timelessness without literal commitment to it.

Much of the discussion, however, focuses directly upon Tolkien’s unfin-ished time-travel narratives. Although The Lost Road was abandoned fairly early (before Tolkien began the "sequel" to The Hobbit which his publishers were demanding), Tolkien returned to the themes introduced there again and again. The Lost Road was apparently intended to chronicle a reverse series of "incarnations" carrying the present day Errols (father and son) back through parallel identities increasingly remote in history, until the earliest avatars would participate in the destruction of Numenor, i.e., the fall of Atlantis. The plot’s time-travel mechanism is dream, a nearly infinite series of nested dreaming personalities, all timeless in the view of an Omega Point perceiver such as Dunne’s "Observer 2." The focus on dreaming and the narrative goal, the Fall of Numenor, remained the same when Tolkien returned to the theme in 1944, while apparently stuck in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. The result was The Notion Club Papers, which began with a flurry of activity and the hope of "finishing in a rush," apparently by incorporating some of the material he had sketched out but never written for The Lost Road. Set in modern day Oxford, the Notion Club presents a coterie of scholars interested in antique and occult subjects. Its members are to some extent modeled on the Inklings, and the impetus for the story (subtitled "Out of the Talkative Planet") is obviously Lewis’s "Perelandra" trilogy. One of the functions of the Club is to discuss the technical aesthetics of presenting time and/or space travel in fiction. Wells’s Time Machine, Lewis’s crystal "packing case," Lindsay’s torpedo in A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), all get low marks. Guildford, Tolkien’s apparent spokesman, offers finally that the only believable, scientifically probable, fictionally credible way to arrive in any world is "Incarnation. By being born." Time travel thus becomes a kind of telepathy, a contact through the dreaming mind with the mind of an avatar in that world. The medium of contact is language, which contains "deep within its vocabulary and syntax the history of its speakers and, on a psycho-mythic level, is itself embedded in the soul-memory of the human organism.... [T]he theory realizes the implications of Guildford’s word ‘incarnation,’...which brings with it the memory of past language" (141). (The language of the Ents is apparently a literal image of the process.) Through the dreaming mind, then, the past is relived; the telling of such dreams was to be the burden of the unfinished book. Flieger’s exploration in Ch. 6, "Travel-ers Between the Worlds," of the mythology Tolkien developed for these dream journeys is perhaps the most fascinating part of her book.

However, she returns at last to explication of The Lord of the Rings with Ch. 8, "Frodo’s Dreams." The last chapters are worth waiting for—they greatly enhance the metaphysical depth of the trilogy. As she says, Tolkien’s dream visions are "more like Chaucer’s than Freud’s," and respond best to "a literary analysis compatible with his imagination." They are usually "hidden messages from a spectrum of external reality wider than the dreamer’s own unconscious" (176), and thus similar to the vicarious experiences of the past embodied in Lowdham’s dreams in The Notion Club Papers. Frodo’s visions likewise follow the expanded consciousness of Dunne’s Observer 2, who can see events outside the scope of the protagonist’s present moment, not accessible to conventional consciousness. When he dreams of Gandalf’s rescue from the tower at Orthanc while asleep in Tom Bombadil’s cottage, Frodo witnesses a true event he could not otherwise have seen. He is travelling "out of body," in space and time. In his very first experience of it neither he nor the reader can know the nature of such dreaming; recognition comes only with the confirming event, and the final dream of the sequence is not identified until the very last scenes of the book, as Frodo and the reader recognize the image of his arrival in the Undying Lands. In this way Tolkien’s experiments with time-travel narratives have expanded the consciousness, and the metaphysical awareness, of his protagonist in LOTR.

With Tolkien’s dreaming fully explicated, Flieger returns to Lorien to identify it as a true dream in the metaphysical sense: "Lothlorien is indeed a Dreamflower, a dream woven, a song sung by some other mind than those of the company who are inside this dream." Lorien, the God of Dreams among the Valar, is also Dunne’s "observer at infinity" to whom all fields of time are accessible. Galadriel’s Mirror is his agency, showing "things that were, things that are, and things that yet may be." The images Frodo finds there "illustrate the widened field of time that is central to Tolkien’s fictive vision" (196). And Frodo’s final sense, that his return to the Shire, after the dangerous journey, is "like falling asleep again"..."suggests dream as real experience and dis-misses waking life as a dream." In a sense, between his unrecognized vision of Valinor in Bombadil’s house and the Grey ship’s arrival there at the end, Frodo’s "ultrareality" has become the desperate adventure, the dream journey, during which he has become "the overarching consciousness, [that of] the observer at infinity for whom the field of time is spread open like a book" (205). This perspective, of course, is also that of the author himself, whose ultrareality is his fictions. Such poetic irony has good company—reversals of waking life and dream figure prominently in the works of David Lindsay and George MacDonald, the last of whom also quotes (at the end of Lilith [1895]) the same line from Novalis ("Our life is no dream, but it ought to become one, and perhaps will") that Flieger uses as an epigraph to Ch. 8, though she does not seem aware of the connection.

Flieger’s is a learned and compassionate commentary, focused on the larger issues of perspective reflected in the Tolkien oeuvre. Tolkien’s body of work, the vast majority of it unfinished and never intended for publication in his lifetime, presents enormous problems of coherence and consistency. The author’s apparently inexhaustible saleability has encouraged his literary exe-cutor, Christopher Tolkien, to publish almost all of it, and despite his informed commentary, such publication does little to relieve devoted readers from "understandable signs of distress...when various early and late versions seem to contradict one another" (256). Flieger has given us a very insightful survey of this welter of revision, using significant unpublished works to elucidate the author’s apparent intentions, and to identify themes, like Tolkien’s preoccupation with a "memory" of drowning Atlantis, which lurk beneath the surface of LOTR, but somehow never made it into publishable form. As a window into the imaginative life of an author, Flieger’s book is first rate

.—Robert A. Collins, Florida Atlantic University


Four Great Essays and Some Not-So-Fantastic Others.

Brett Cooke, George E. Slusser, and Jaume Marti-Olivella, eds. The Fantastic Other: An Interface of Perspectives. Critical Studies, Vol. 11. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998. xiv + 276 pp. $78.50 cloth; $23.50 paper. [FAX: (20) 4472979]

This collection comprises an introduction and fifteen essays which arose from a conference on "The Fantastic in New Critical Theories" in 1990 at Texas A&M University. Though three editors are credited, only Brett Cooke has written the introduction, suggesting that he dominated the editorial role. As the volume’s subtitle suggests, the various authors examine the idea of "the fantastic other" from a variety of perspectives, invoking Marx, Hegel, Jung, Freud, Todorov, and Kristeva to deal with a variety of works: science fiction, works of German and American Romanticism, modernist and postmodernist literature, even an opera. The essays also vary in quality, with a few very good ones, some sensible or stimulating ones, and too many that state the obvious or are poorly written. While the introduction briefly discusses the range of essays, it does not make clear any organizing structure for the volume, nor does it offer any definition(s) to clarify what is meant by the fantastic other, which comes to mean almost anything. This is a work that suffers from the lack of a strong editorial hand.

Four essays are excellent—justification, perhaps, for the book’s publication—though one of the four, by H. Bruce Franklin, had already been published in Science-Fiction Studies. Lance Olsen’s "Narrative Overdrive: Postmodern Fantasy, Deconstruction and Cultural Critique in Beckett and Barthelme" investigates with clarity and wit the question, "What would a completely altered reality look like?" Olsen dismantles the notion of "consensus reality" and adopts a "postmodern spin" on reader-response criticism, declaring each reader "a nexus where at least three forces come together and skirmish: 1) cultural history; 2) personal history; and 3) biochemical state" (75). Using examples from Beckett and Barthelme, he uses the uncertainty of the outcome in the reader-response skirmish to illustrate the destabilization of narrative that permits a glimpse of the else-unknowable other by its employment of "uncertain place, uncertain time, uncertain characters, and uncertain events" (80).

The second really superb essay is H. Bruce Franklin’s "The Vietnam War As American Science Fiction and Fantasy" (winner of the 1991 Pioneer Award), which originally appeared in the November 1990 issue of Science-Fiction Studies. Its relevance to the theme of the fantastic other is somewhat tenuous; while the Vietnam War splintered America into alienated factions, that isn’t really the same as the "fantastic other." Nevertheless, the essay is so beautifully reasoned, so carefully substantiated, so clearly presented, and so solidly illustrated that one is glad to find it where a good model is a welcome relief. The essay’s supple thesis is that "fantasy and science fiction conceived in response to the Vietnam War are offered as an antidote to the science fiction and fantasies from which it materialized" (181). Franklin develops and supports this thesis, using such texts as Heinlein’s Glory Road (1963) and Haldeman’s The Forever War (1974), always telling just enough about the stories to serve his thesis and the texts, but never telling too much. Of course, Franklin’s political commitment and energy are present throughout.

Frank Dietz’s "The Doppelganger Motif in Speculative Fiction" offers a clear and convincing analysis of three stages of the relationship between the self and the double in sf: the mechanical double (as in Frankenstein [1816]), the utopian double (as in Russ’ The Female Man [1975]), and the post-individualistic, celebratory double (as in Cadigan’s Mindplayers [1987]). The essay’s specificity and clarity, and its concise and sophisticated use of critical theory, make it a model short essay.

The fourth of the really fine essays is the last one in the volume, "Freed From Certainty: Toward a Feminist Theory of the Fantastic" by Judith Lee. This essay uses Kristeva’s idea of abjection as its starting point, but moves beyond its terrifying aspect to equate it with "liminality, for being ‘in between’ a space that one can demarcate as one’s own and a space that remains unpredictable and unimaginable" (258). This essay considers the fantastic other in feminist terms, seeing the "in between" as the "ordinary position of the marginalized subject" (259). Like Olsen’s essay, it uses a convincing hybrid of reader-response and other postmodern theories. Here Lee deploys her hybrid theory to move from the question "Who am I?" to "Who are you?", examining Rachel Ingalls’ Mrs. Caliban (1982) and Isak Dinesen’s "The Dreamers" to illustrate how the feminist fantastic recognizes that "world-making is a process that cannot end" (261).

These four essays have in common careful reasoning, clear prose, solid but not numbing use of illustrative examples, awareness of current critical ideas, and recognition of complex ways of reading. Other essays manage to edify or stimulate, however. Eric Rabkin’s opening essay on "Imagination and Survival: The Case of Fantastic Literature" discusses the historically-perceived dangers of the imagination as deception, neurosis, temptation, and delusion, and concludes that fantastic literature provides a safe field of play for the imagination. "Speculation’s Fiasco: Lem, Ethics, and Alterity" by Michael Beehler offers a thought-provoking explanation of various principles of deconstruction, applying them to what he calls the playful armchair philosophy of Stanislaw Lem’s Fiasco (1986), though this essay is a bit repetitious while ignoring postcolonial issues that would have enriched the argument. Suzette Haden Elgin’s "The Feminist Pragmatics of Applied Fantasy" is a lively political tract with a linguistic approach and a thesis that "fantasy provides to feminist writers a mechanism by which to attempt the destabilization of patriarchy through language" (118).

Gary Westfahl’s "Marxism, Science Fiction, and ‘The Fantastic Other’" is a combative, hostile look at Marxism which valorizes sf as the literary, popular, and fantastic other, concluding that Marxist critics "have failed to realistically address the true nature and history of science fiction" (204). Westfahl’s infuriated and infuriating stance makes this essay the trigger for further valuable discussion. Margaret Wise Petrochenkov offers a sensible Freudian interpretation which recognizes current feminist thinking in her "Castration Anxiety and the Other in Zamyatin’s We."

The remaining six essays in the volume have a variety of problems, many of which could have been avoided with more careful editing. Some never go beyond the merely descriptive, with lengthy plot summaries or reviews of standard critical or psychological theories. Some are just poorly written: unclear, wordy, even ungrammatical. Because of these problems and because the volume has neither an index nor any information on the contributors, the book looks hastily thrown together, despite the lapse of eight years between the conference on which it was based and its publication.

A conference volume such as this tends to sink into obscurity unless the quality of the essays and the care taken in organizing and editing the work transforms it into a collection with a clear and intellectually valid purpose. This volume had the potential to escape obscurity. Its focus, a variety of perspectives on the nature of the other in fantastic literature, is tremendously vital, as evidenced, for instance, by the number of recent science fiction novels using first contact with alien species to examine postcolonial issues. A careful organizing structure for the essays would have given this book more coherence—perhaps grouping them in subsections, for example. A clearer, more sharply specific introduction would have established that coherence. A more active editorial hand with individual essays would have helped more of the contributors move beyond the pedestrian and would have saved them all from the embarrassment of glaring errors. As it is, I must hope that all the really fine essays in this volume will see publication elsewhere, as H. Bruce Franklin’s did, and that the remaining writers receive the editorial guidance to make their essays more effective and illuminating.

Joan Gordon, Nassau Community College


The Mundanization of the Non-Normal.

Nancy H. Traill. Possible Worlds of the Fantastic: The Rise of the Paranormal in Literature. U Toronto P (416-978-2239), 1996. ix + 197 pp. $45.00.

Possible Worlds of the Fantastic is a modest but useful modal study of the genre of the fantastic, based on Traill’s dissertation. Traill restricts her analysis to two complementary foci: a typology of the sub-modes of the fantastic and the historical contexts in which they emerged, with special emphasis on the type Traill names the "paranormal." Her typology derives from a version of possible worlds theory, in which different genres of fantasy reflect different attitudes toward a fundamental opposition between the world of the physically possible and worlds that are physically impossible. Possible Worlds of the Fantastic is clearly formulated as a critique of Todorov’s Introduction á la littérature fantastique (1970; trans. 1973), a work that has long exercised a fascination in English-language genre-studies of the fantastic far exceeding its usefulness. Traill discards Todorov’s narrowly conceived model—that the fantastic is created by the hesitation of the protagonist and the implied reader about whether phenomena in the story are of natural or supernatural origin— for the sake of "a theory of the fantastic as a universal aesthetic category." Her conception comports with the generally held intuitions, at least in the Western tradition, of what constitutes fantastic writing as an inclusive class. For Traill the fantastic is a modality rather than a specific genre, and it has a history of transformations in different historical periods.

At the other end, Traill’s approach also contrasts strongly with studies such as Lucy Armitt’s Theorizing the Fantastic (St. Martin’s, 1996) and Rosemary Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (Methuen, 1981), which are primarily concerned with generative psychoanalytic and ideological "motivations" for fantastic writing. Traill aims for what she considers a purely descriptive approach. Her concern is with the different ways in which authors conceive of the opposition between the "natural" world and impossible worlds, and the only motivations she considers are the accepted notions of this relationship in the historical cultures in which the writers operated.

Traill identifies five modes: the disjunctive, fantasy, the ambiguous, the supernatural naturalized, and the paranormal. The modes succeed each other roughly in correspondence with the prevalent beliefs of successive historical periods, although emerging modes do not wipe out their precursors. In each successive mode, the gap between the physical and the impossible narrows and becomes indistinct. The disjunctive is characterized by the uncontested separation of the physical and the non-physical worlds; nothing in the tales can "disauthenticate" the supernatural beings that appear in them. Fantasy is a subtype of the disjunctive; in it the natural world is either entirely absent or appears merely to frame the fantasy world. Fantasy’s main world is supernatural. This class includes marvellous tales, fantastic romances like Vathek (1786), and such sophisticated versions as Gulliver’s Travels (1726).

The ambiguous mode corresponds roughly to Todorov’s fantastique. It does not determine with certainty whether the supernatural world exists or not, leaving it to be constructed by the readers as a potentiality, an "as if" or "may be." The narrator or protagonist-narrator—who for Traill is the medium for authentication or disauthentication in all fantastic fiction—offers no clear solution to the question, and inspires Todorovian hesitation. Traill cites The Turn of the Screw (1898), in which the narrator’s or protagonist’s uncertainty prevents the reader from resolving the tension. She also defends Gogol’s "The Nose" (1835) against Todorov’s rejection of it as a work of "fantastique"; Gogol shows that ambiguity need not be localized in a mediating character/perceiver, but can be raised to a higher level of textual abstraction by the reader’s uncertainty about how to respond to the narrative.

The supernatural naturalized corresponds to Todorov’s "supernatural explained," but for Traill, unlike Todorov, this is a valid form of the fantastic. In it, the supernatural is constructed in the disjunctive mode, but then it is disauthenticated via naturalizing explanations. For Traill the sense of the fantastic in Ann Radcliffe, Clara Reeve, and Potocki’s Saragossa Manuscript (1805-15)—and most obviously in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)—is not dissolved by the rationalized endings; often in such works the credibility of the explanation is itself in doubt. (This is a point that Traill might have expanded on: evidently the fantastic for her is not merely a mode of representing the relationship between worlds, but an effect. Only in this way can the rationalized Gothic remain fully in the domain of the fantastic; the feeling of world-strangeness that is ultimately explained away must be so strong that it survives the explanation. This playful—and eerie—overriding of the natural becomes an explicit feature of the paranormal.)

Traill is most interested in the paranormal mode, in which a structural change occurs: the natural domain is enlarged and encompasses a special region accessible to those with extraordinary perceptual capacities. Supernatural phenomena are reinterpreted and brought within the paradigm of the natural. They are latent in nature or innate in humans and other animals. The laws of the physically possible natural domain are not violated, but they are reassessed and their range is extended to include the scientifically unproved. (17-18)

As her subtitle indicates, the paranormal is the central mode in Traill’s theory. Indeed, it appears that her whole theory of fantastic modes derives from her attempt to describe what makes the paranormal fantastic. In Chapter 2, she provides a succinct and engaging history of the rise of spiritualism in nineteenth-century Europe and the US, emphasizing the career of mesmerism as a model of the rationalization process. This chapter is extremely useful for students of sf, for it describes the widespread distribution of supposedly supernatural beliefs throughout English and French scientific culture. For many of the leading scientific minds such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Alfred Russel Wallace, William Crooke, Charles Richet, and even the arch-materialist T.H. Huxley, the effect of scientific progress and evolutionary ideas was to make acceptable the idea that knowledge is never completed, and the domain of known things cannot be arbitrarily closed off from the supposedly irrational or superstitious.

These ideas were the basis for the boom period of proto-sf writing in Traill’s paranormal mode. The paranormal was the appropriate form of the fantastic for the second half of the century, not only permitting realist writers to continue the literary tradition of pitting known and unknown worlds against each other, but also expressing the deep social anxiety about empiricism’s conquest of religious-spiritual culture. Traill devotes the second half of her book to a study of how three authors—Dickens, Turgenev, and Maupassant—use the different fantastic modes, which culminated, in Maupassant, with the adoption of the paranormal. In these chapters, Traill uses these writers’ extraliterary opinions about supernatural phenomena, as found in their letters, journals, and journalism, to contextualize their fantastic stories.

Most interesting for students of sf is Traill’s analysis of Maupassant’s story "The Horla" (1886). Taking it through its early versions, Traill observes the ways Maupassant uses narrative devices to create the effect of scientific horror, in ways that seem to establish the model used later by Wells. But Traill is not interested in sf; her object is the way the fantastic tale is formulated in the midst of nineteenth-century realism. Sf is a form of writing beyond her horizon.

This is a pity, because there is much that could be said about the similarities of the contexts in which the paranormal and sf develop. Todorov, too, makes only slight mention of sf; for him it is a species of the "instrumental marvelous," where "the supernatural is explained in a rational manner, but according to laws which contemporary science does not acknowledge" (56). Characteristically, the sf tale presents the reader with supernatural data ("robots, extraterrestrial beings, the whole interplanetary context") which is steadily naturalized, so that the irreducible opposition between natural and supernatural explanations is dissolved by the reader’s acceptance that the marvellous data are part of an expanded reality (172). In its full-fledged Maupassantian form, Traill’s paranormal has a similar dynamic, except that the protagonist’s/narrator’s difficulty of adapting to the expanded conception of the natural brings it closer to Todorovian hesitation than Todorov himself would allow. The hesitation is no longer an epistemological indecision, but one of morale; accepting the consequences of the expansion would imply that the values held most dear by human protagonists are undermined by the new nature, a perfect representation of cultural anxiety in face of the rise of scientific materialism. The paranormal’s protagonist/narrator hesitates to believe what is true.

This model may be adequate for much sf. The sf reader does usually go through a process of "adaptation," learning the new words and referents that an sf text uses to dislocate the reader from the here and now, and this is how his or her in-text natural world is "expanded." Even though most sf begins in medias res alias, as far as the reader’s knowledge is concerned, this may not constitute a decisive difference from the paranormal. It is widely held that sf is tied to the rhetoric of realism, if only to keep alive the essential separation between the natural and the supernatural in the form of the separation between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Adventure fiction worked in an analogous way; lost tribes were modeled on real anthropological "discoveries"; and supernatural events could be rationalized through the magical belief systems of these others, in a natural world where parallel world-systems could exist at the same time. But the formal congruence of the paranormal and sf says little about sf. For one thing, the "supernatural" is increasingly depicted in sf as the product of human technology. The supernatural emerges "immanently" from the natural world, or worlds just like it, rather than being discovered existing on a separate plane of the real. But this is not the end of it, since the "supernatural" in much sf is not only produced in the course of human activity, it is mass-produced, by technological means, or by supposedly natural means that are modeled on technological production. The term "supernatural" or physically impossible has little meaning in sf; indeed, the very idea of the "normal" has been made subject to hesitation, since an sf reader can be sure that normality merely indicates ignorance and, perhaps more important, impotence.

But even these questions seem somehow off the point. Sf comes in many forms. It may be that much of it inherits the paranormal mode, and much of it is completely different. At the very least, one would expect that the new conditions of technological world-transformation in the twentieth century would bring about new modes of the fantastic, analogous to the development of the paranormal during the scientific revolutions of the nineteenth. If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, does it not mean that all wonders are merely extremely complex immanent material processes? Is there a difference between a fantastic that conceives of a single opposition between the physical and the physically impossible, and one that entertains the statistical possibility of countless alternatives to physical normality? The mundanization of the non-normal—i.e., the easy entertainment of realities that differ significantly from our own—must certainly distinguish twentieth-century fantasy from that of the nineteenth.

The question is whether such an attempt to describe different species of the fantastic modally is truly useful in the study of sf and its historical context. Lem criticized Todorov for, among other things, ignoring the interpretations of the depicted world that are shared by the author and the reader. Thus, for example, a structural-formal approach must ignore the irony of certain tellings, since that is merely an interpretation of the given textual world. However, the complexities of these "colorations" surround the possible world-modalities at the very moment the reader tries to construct the fictional worlds in question. In many cases, one can say that the world supposedly presented as a home-base for the reader is so unstable that no decision can be made about which possible world it is. This is not only a problem—the most intriguing one, at that—in works like Solaris (1961; trans. 1970), Roadside Picnic (1972; trans. 1977), A Case of Conscience (1958), The Embedding (1973), Ubik (1969), The Female Man (1975), Triton (1976), and scores of other sf works, but in classical literature as well.

What, for example, does the modal analysis tell us about The Golden Ass? Apuleius’s second-century novel is surely a work of the fantastic, since it tells the story of a man transformed by magic into a jackass, and later returned to human form, a better one than before, through the power of the goddess Isis. Gritty Roman physical normality works side by side with sympathetic magic and spiritual transformations of mystery cults, flickering in and out of allegory, autobiography, Milesian satire, devotional prose, and rhapsodic porn. This carnivalesque confusion of forms does not lead to hesitation, or even contestation, but to a kind of revelling in different ways of interpreting the world, without granting any way dominance. Sf similarly includes in it the potential of a carnivalesque chaos of worlds, most of which can be conceived as rationally explicable, even though they may be contradictory. And given the Lafferties and Cordwainer Smiths, the Dicks and Strugatskys of the sf world, sf is potentially the genre of the infinite proliferation of worlds, all of them licensed by ideas that are theoretically natural. In such a domain, Traill’s possible worlds theory needs to be greatly refined.

Traill notes that her operative notion of the real is not the same as Auerbach’s mimesis. Auerbach is concerned with the sense of the real that comes from mundane experience in the world in a given age. Traill wishes to expand the idea to cover also the theoretical (or philosophical) sense of the real of a given age, i.e., the abstract conceptions of the real nature of things, which may have little to do with everyday life. Yet one might argue that in certain periods, and in certain versions of the fantastic, the theoretical real is so uncertain that even in everyday life people do not set up a simple opposition between the physical and the impossible. One might say that the modal approach, like structural analysis in general, works best with works that are so simple that the idea of "world" is not called into question by the text. The sf novels I listed above might all be called meta-sf, since they assume that their readers are so familiar with basic sf conventions that they will appreciate how their works deviate from those conventions. But the well-known argument against structuralist approaches that cannot identify the difference between a convention and a complex artistic message may apply in Traill’s case, too.

That being said, I don’t doubt that Traill’s approach might be fruitfully applied to sf, if the writer is willing to take the risk to see whether it survives the test.

Istvan CsicseryRonay, Jr.


Leftovers.

Gary Westfahl, George Edgar Slusser, and Eric S. Rabkin, eds. Foods of the Gods: Eating and the Eaten in Fantasy and Science Fiction. U Georgia P (706-369-6163), 1996. vi + 253 pp. $45.00 cloth.

The essays in this book consider eating in various genres and contexts, from mystery novels to body-building magazines, Balzac to Octavia Butler, Steven Spielberg films to that warhorse of sf, Robert A. Heinlein. The goal is to explore the relation between reason and the material body, between the ritual of the communal meal and the horror of solitary eaters, between gnosticism and orthodoxy, between transcendence and the turd. However, this is one of those conference volumes that gives you the strong impression the conference was a lot more fun than are its gathered remains. The puns I’m sure flowed fast and furious (there was clearly plenty of food for thought...); what Pat Cadigan calls food porn must have been readily available; and one assumes that theory frequently devolved into yummy practice.

Claude Lévi-Strauss said, "Food is good to think with," but alas this is not always the case in this book; moreover, not enough exchange occurs among the pieces. Thus, a careful critique of the dangerous Social Darwinist philosophy at work in Heinlein’s and Frank Herbert’s fiction (Peter Fitting’s "Eating Your Way to the Top: Social Darwinism in SF") shares space with a deeply untheorized deployment of exactly that philosophy to explain utopian fiction (Brett Cooke’s "Utopia and the Art of the Visceral Response"). A laughable speculative fiction about homo erectus male sexual fantasies and shamanism—Wayne Allen’s "Shamanic Manipulation of Conspecifics: An Analysis of the Prehistory and Ethnohistory of Hallucinogens and Psychological Legerdemain"—rubs elbows with an erudite, elegant, and historically precise discussion of cannibalism in Jonathan Swift and H.G. Wells in Paul Alkon’s "Cannibalism in Science Fiction." The so-unabashed-it’s-almost-cute sexism and homophobia of George Slusser’s "The Solitary Eater in Science Fiction and Horror" mingles uneasily with the delightful comfort in gender-bending evidenced in Stephanie Hammer’s "Watching the Forbidden Feast: Monstrous Appetites, Secret Meals, and Spectatorial Pleasures in [Jean] Cocteau, [Anne] Rice, and [Octavia] Butler."

What left the worst taste in my mouth, however, was the way many of the essays reversed Lévi-Strauss’ dictum and seemed actually to stop thinking once they dug into the topic of food. Perhaps because eating seems so connected to the realia of biology—the animal demand to acquire, chew, swallow, digest, expel—too many of the essays fall into deeply problematic and unthinking dependence on specious notions of "the natural." Drawing on sociobiology, gender stereotypes, the Hobbesian fantasy of the naturalness of competition, and Malthusian images of scarcity, many seem completely unaware that these theories themselves are science fiction. They are stories masquerading as science to normalize specific relations of inequality. Maybe it’s the glaring Eurocentrism of the collection, but by naturalizing what is historically specific to capitalist post-colonial patriarchy, many of the essays are leeched completely of politics and thus lose the tastiest part of sf—trying to imagine something different from what we know. Finally, given the array of newer sf that is barely mentioned in this volume—cyberpunk (save for one or two Neuromancer references), everything non-EuroAmerican, and almost anything written by women (with the exceptions of Stephanie Hammer’s piece and passing references to Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, Jr.)—is it really "good to think with" yet more essays on Heinlein or Tolkien (Jonathon Langford’s "Sitting Down to the Sacramental Feast: Food and Cultural Diversity in The Lord of the Rings")?

But enough of this w(h)ining and down to the dining. There are indeed some scrumptious entrées here and even a few of the more irritating pieces offer tidbits of interest. The fascinating essays forego structuralist binaries and acknowledge that the fascination with eating in the sf, horror, fantasy, and detective fictions discussed is precisely about intermingling and incorporation, about what’s outside coming in and what’s inside coming out. Eating in practice and metaphor is about Self meeting Other, first-contact protocols, and those very boundaries getting fabulously and frighteningly interpenetrated. Eating and the eaten are interesting because they are about identity, the process of its construction, and the vital role that fantasy and culture (not simply biology) play in that process. The more nutritious pieces also interpenetrate genre boundaries, fruitfully finding science fiction in unexpected places. For example, Brooks Landon’s delicious "Ain’t no Fiber in Cyberspace: A Metonymic Menu for a Paratactic Potpourri" describes the 1893 World’s Fair as science fiction. Here in the 100-years-ago "White City," food became architecture and a substitute for travel to distant and exotic locales, and the exhibition became a foretaste of cyberspace where nothing is eaten (only grokked). Harking back 400 years, the Fair points to a primal scene of first contact, when the Prime Directive was a bit different from Starfleet Command’s. This is l492, the moment when the cannibal, who haunts many of these pieces, was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus. Expecting to find Kublai Khan, his head filled with Herodotus’ visions of barbarian anthrophages and, apparently, the fantasy of being eaten himself, Columbus mixed it all together when he encountered the Carib people and coined the word "cannibal" (later transposed by an early sf writer to "Caliban").

Why the fantasy of being eaten? Because identification is about the desire for the desire of the other, or as Cheap Trick put it, "I Want You to Want Me." Columbus seemed to fancy himself a tasty morsel at the same time that the image is clearly horrific. The complexity of the relations of self to other, of their interpenetration understood through idioms of eating, is at the core of the best essays in the book: Alkon describes Wells’ Time Traveller’s shock at finding that the cannibal Morlocks are his future; Sharon Delmendo’s "Consuming Horror: Richard Bachman’s Thinner, Stephen King’s Dark Half, or, Just Desserts" cleverly mixes King’s fictions with his "real life" relations with his pseudonym; Hammer explores how eating is the key to the self and how "doing it," "eating it," and "seeing it" are intimately related.

Then there’s the religious connection, which several essays explore. Imagine Columbus’ cannibals’ shock to find the same people who were persecuting them for their (usually imagined) alimentary preferences themselves claiming to eat the flesh and drink the blood of their Lord. Of course, Susan Navarette in "The Fine Reality of Hunger Satisfied: Food and Desire in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra" must take on some of these Christian themes, as does the most lively essay in the book, Frank McConnell’s "Alimentary, My Dear Watson: Food and Eating in Scientific and Mystery Fiction," where he argues that sf longs to make "food either a sacrament or an excrescence, a passage to a higher world or a castoff relic of the mortality we hate" (206). Leaning on Calvin and Hobbes (the philosophers and the comic strip), in cannibal mode, he argues that humans must be both gnostic and orthodox, that immanence and transcendence are not a choice, but "our lot" (211). It seems that that interpenetration is what is so interesting about eating and the eaten.

Snacks to ruin your supper: despite shishkebabbing it above, I did find Slusser’s reading of the Balzac tale "The Centennarian" quite interesting. Andrew Gordon’s "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Bad Medicine" is also fun, although I find Spielberg’s exuberant homosociality (culminating in Saving Private Ryan [1998], which has no women in it) a bit more irksome than he does. Gary Westfahl’s "For Tomorrow We Dine: The Sad Gourmet at the Scienticafé" suggests that we imagine the future as a hospital, so of course the food is terrible; it’s a clever idea that would be interesting to expand. In sum, this volume contains a decent measure of ambrosia, but this nectar shares the plate with sizeable helpings of the academic equivalent of fast food.

Diane M. Nelson, Lewis and Clark College


Brief Notices

Madelyn Jablon. Black Metafiction: Self-Consciousness in African American Literature. University of Iowa Press (319-335-2000), 1997. x + 209 pp. $27.95 cloth.

This book, which traces postmodernist techniques in twelve contemporary African-American writers, is of interest to sf scholars because of its final chapter, "Metafiction as Genre," which offers a reading of Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 novel Parable of the Sower. The overall argument of the book, which expands the canon of postmodernism to include a neglected tradition of vernacular experimentalism, is arresting and valuable, but Jablon's grasp of genre in this chapter is sketchy, conflating sf, fantasy, and utopian writing and advancing some debatable generalizations (e.g., sf has tended to ignore the issue of race because it slights history generally [165]). Her take on Butler’s novel is engaging, however, and the book as a whole well worth reading, providing a useful expansion and update of Robert Elliot Fox’s Conscientious Sorcerors: The Black Postmodernist Fiction of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and Samuel R. Delany (Greenwood, 1987)—a work Jablon, curiously, never cites. Those interested in the subject of race in/and sf should also consult a provocative new essay by Delany, "Racism and Science Fiction," in the August 1998 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.—Rob Latham

Mikita Brottman. Offensive Films: Toward an Anthropology of "Cinéma Vomitif." Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #72. Greenwood (800-225-5800), 1997. x + 212 pp. $55 cloth.

According to Mikita Brottman, Cinéma vomitif is "a disreputable substream of the horror/exploitation genre" (4) that "deals almost exclusively with issues of the human body: the opened body, the body in panic, the body in threat, the body in death" (12). In seven chapters, she considers representative examples: Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), William Castle’s The Tingler (1959), Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973), Michael and Roberta Findlay’s Snuff (1976), Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1979), and the Faces of Death video series (1989-94). Brottman’s theoretical framework is a hodgepodge, drawing for its concepts on literary theory (Bakhtin’s "carnivalesque"), anthropology (Mary Douglas’ "anti-rite"), and psychoanalysis; the only consistent thread is her enormous enthusiasm for these marginal atrocities, which is frankly rather infectious (it helps if you already harbor a fondness for outré material). Compared to recent works of film criticism such as Steven Shaviro’s The Cinematic Body (Minnesota, 1993) and Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws (Princeton, 1992), which cover similar terrain, Brottman’s book adds little to the discourse on transgressive/underground horror cinema, but it is consistently witty and intelligent, informed by a cheerful nihilism. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.—Rob Latham

Joseph Pearce. Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton. Ignatius Press (800-278-3566), 1996. xiv + 522 pp. $29.95 cloth.

British author G.K. (Gilbert Keith) Chesterton is a marginal but fascinating figure in sf history, and Joseph Pearce’s biography—originally published in Great Britain and now available in the U.S. from Ignatius Press—provides an overview of his long and diverse career as a writer of fiction, history, literary criticism, and theological polemics. It is in his capacity as a defender of Roman Catholism that Pearce seems most interested in his subject (unsurprisingly, since Ignatius is a Catholic publishing house), offering only brief remarks about Chesterton’s quirky quasi-sf—e.g., The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908)—and a wealth of information on Chesterton’s opposition to various competing doctrines, Christian and otherwise. For sf scholars, the book is valuable for the light it sheds on philosophical and political controversies dividing Chesterton—and his friend and frequent collaborator Hilaire Belloc—from "the two most brilliant Socialists alive" (132), George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. Their stark ideological differences led in 1908 to a series of hilarious exchanges in the pages of the British journal New Age, with Shaw notoriously castigating his enemies as a two-headed beast called "The Chesterbelloc." Two decades later the fight continued, with Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man (1925) offering a sustained attack on the secular-humanist perspective animating Wells’ The Outline of History (1920)—though the relationship between the two men remained congenial. Despite its clear partisanship, Wisdom and Innocence is worth consulting by critics interested in the worldview animating some of the strangest works of fantasy of this century.—Rob Latham


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