Science Fiction Studies

#77 = Volume 26, Part 1 = March 1999


Man Behaving Badly.

Eric Jacobs. Kingsley Amis: A Biography. St. Martin’s (212-674-5151), 1998. xvii + 392 pp. $26.95 cloth.

The best part of this, the authorized biography of Kingsley Amis, is the introductory chapter "Portrait of the Artist in Age." In it the biographer follows his subject, a prematurely-aged and booze-sodden seventy-year-old, on a typical day, from his first bowel movement to his last tumbler of Macallan. In this "Portrait," a mere eighteen pages, all the apparent contradictions of the life are resolved. How did the angry young Communist become the national institution Sir Kingsley, dreaming amorously of Margaret Thatcher? The answer is simple: there never was any paradox. Amis, an only child used to being the focus of his parents’ middle-class suburban existence, was lucky to score a big enough early success that he could continue to tap profitably the vein of Men Behaving Badly for the rest of his life. Unlike some of his more disadvantaged postwar contemporaries, he was never angry, he was merely peevish. In youth as in age he was quick to lose his temper because he was easily bored, intellectually lazy, and impatient for gratification. Lucky Jim after forty years of being indulged became, unsurprisingly, an Old Devil.

Amis’s chief contribution to sf is generally considered to be New Maps of Hell (1960), based on a course of lectures he gave as Visiting Fellow in Creative Writing at Princeton in 1958-59. That a light comic novelist and versifier with no gift for or interest in literary scholarship should be offering Christian Gauss Seminars at Princeton to an audience that included Hannah Arendt and Robert Oppenheimer on a subject in which he had only the mildest interest (sf was later replaced by television soap operas in his canon of approbation) speaks a good deal about the residue of colonial deference in the Ivy League forty years ago. That the infelicitously-titled book of those lectures should be considered the most influential work on sf up to that time shows how uncertain was the relationship between sf and the academy as late as a generation ago. New Maps’s endorsement of sf as an arm of American popular culture whose function was to debunk the pretensions of utopians and to expose the effeteness of fantasists was patronizing and utterly ahistorical. But the young Amis thought he liked sf for the same reasons that he thought he liked jazz: because it was pooh-poohed by Oxford dons, and because what he liked of it was undemanding.

Even before Amis’s death in 1995, New Maps, like the rest of his extensive oeuvre, had become of historical interest merely. Amis’s sf—notably The Anti-Death League (1966), The Alteration (1976), and Russian Hide-and-Seek (1980)—never reached the depths of awfulness plumbed, for example, by his co-editor of the Spectrum anthologies, Robert Conquest, whose A World of Difference (1955) is one of the lowest points of British sf. Amis was always a competent, readable writer, but unlike his friend Philip Larkin, who was probably an even more unsavory human being, Amis was not an artist. Larkin cared enough about language to restrict his output to a few slim volumes that nonetheless contain about half a dozen of the best poems in English written since the war. Amis meanwhile labored on at five hundred words a day, his love of language reduced to accumulating the tired anecdotes and stale jokes that make up most of the entries in his posthumous The King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage (St. Martin’s, 1997).

Jacobs’s biography is readable and manages to evoke more than a modicum of sympathy for the quite unlikable Amis. The paucity of references to sf is not a fault. Amis was never very committed to the field, and by 1981 had come to feel that New Maps had given sf "a helping heave down the slope to destruction" (221) by making it respectable. He was as wrong then about sf as he had been in 1960, but he should not therefore be entirely dismissed for ego-centricity. A writer who could authorize such an unattractive biographical portrait deserves a measure of respect.

Nicholas Ruddick, University of Regina

Monkey Business, or Primate Revisions.

Cynthia Erb. Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture. Wayne State UP (800-978-7323), 1998. 280 pp. $24.95 paper.

Variety’s reviewer knew exactly what to make of King Kong when it premiered at Radio City Music Hall in March 1933: "That it lends itself so freely and proudly to 12-cylinder exploiting is King Kong’s ace in the hole. If properly handled the picture should gather good grosses in a walk" (in Donald Willis, ed., Variety’s Complete Science Fiction Reviews [NY: Garland, 1985]: 38). And it did, but the walk was longer than its makers expected, since King Kong did not become an impressive money-maker until it was re-released in 1952 and again in 1956, largely freed from its original genre identification as a jungle adventure movie and recontextualized as an elder sibling of the creature-features of the fifties.

The sf fan and scholarly communities have had more trouble knowing what to make of King Kong, more often than not treating it as fantasy or horror, with only tangential implications for sf film. The Clute-Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (St. Martin’s, 1993) identifies King Kong as "the classic monster movie" and "one of the great mythopoeic works of the 20th century," noting its impressive special effects; the unique blend of savagery, regality, and pity evoked by Kong; and the film’s themes of nature destroyed in the city and innocence destroyed by sophistication. While Bill Warren celebrates its 1952 re-release as a pivotal moment for the success of ‘50s sf film in his Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (McFarland, 1982-86), Vivian Sobchack doesn’t even mention King Kong in her Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (Ungar, 1987). Jim Gunn includes three stills from the film, but no comment about it, in his Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction (Prentice-Hall, 1975), and I somehow wrote a book about the impact of production technology and special effects on sf film—The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction Film in the Age of Electronic (Re)production (Greenwood, 1992)—without doing more with King Kong than to note that it challenges the boundaries of traditional sf film.

Cynthia Erb’s Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture is not likely to affect this film’s indeterminate status in sf discourses, but it offers a fascinating and compelling rethinking of King Kong, one that should remind us how little we actually know about most of the "classics" of sf film, and that may well suggest what can be gained from rigorous cultural-studies approaches to other sf films. What Erb contends in this addition to Wayne State University Press’s Contemporary Film and Television Series is that "readings" of King Kong fail to account for its cultural power, particularly since they tend to ignore or misunderstand the original and then the changing contexts in which the film has been received. "King Kong’s monstrous hybridity," she notes, "manages to absorb most of the binary structures characteristic of Western thought—East/West, black/white, female/male, primitive/modern" (17). Moreover, she argues that the "trivialization" of King Kong through the creature’s many appearances in commercial and popular culture—"advertisements, political cartoons, musicals, operas, novels, comic books, film sequels, music videos" (14)—has actually "become a kind of censorship that prevents us from looking at the figure’s cultural stakes" (13), which Erb claims "are quite high." (Somewhat curiously, Erb does not even mention articulations of the King Kong myth on the World Wide Web, a cultural site that might be expected to offer useful evidence of the myth’s place in world culture.) Aligning herself with film reception scholars such as Tony Bennett, Janet Woollacott, Janet Staiger, Barbara Klinger, and Eric Smoodin, Erb presents a revisionist history of King Kong’s original reception in 1933, as well as a persuasive account of its influence on Mighty Joe Young in 1949 and, more importantly, on Godzilla in 1956. She then turns to the new cultural use-value of the creature King Kong as an object of gay camp and mass camp treatment in the 60s and 70s and to black parodies that reappropriate and reprocess this film "via a hateful history of degradation through racist images of bestiality and sexual excess" (186). Her primary concern is with "spectators outside the ‘mainstream,’ including international, gay, black, and feminist artists and audiences" (14). Along the way Erb considers King Kong "as a fertile site for artists and audiences invested in working through issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, and national fantasy, from the 1930s to the present" (14).

Erb’s first chapter recontextualizes the 1933 reception of King Kong in terms of its production history, the complicated construction of its authorship (from the many writers and sources involved in the evolution of its pastichelike form), the "ballyhoo" practices of theater exhibitors, and particularly the cycle of jungle films that immediately preceded it. Her point here is that while modern audiences regard King Kong as a horror or monster film, its original audiences almost certainly saw it much more in terms of their familiarity with jungle and even travel film traditions. These latter traditions are the focus of the second chapter, which argues that any attempt to specify King Kong’s genre must take into account the changing nature of its codes and conventions over time. Specifically, Erb argues that original audiences best understood the film "through codes characteristic of the travel documentary and jungle adventure traditions—two generic fields in which Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack staked their professional reputations in the 1920s and early 1930s" (66). Then, following Donna Haraway (and Susan Sontag), she considers these traditions in terms of the "camera/gun trope" and the "drama of the touch," both of which bind together issues of femininity with issues of race and ethnicity. Chapter Three turns to the very different contextualization—the "textual spread"—of King Kong in the 1950s, when it was twice re-released as part of the larger phenomenon of Hollywood’s "recycling" of earlier films and when it was indirectly "remade" in the guise of Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla. Erb’s very insightful discussion of Godzilla will be of specific use to fans and scholars of sf film, and her study of the ways in which King Kong’s cultural value was reconstructed in the 1950s should be instructive for all of us who work with films that have attracted very different audiences over time. It is unfortunate that Erb’s book went to press before the 1998 remakes of Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young were available to her, but her third chapter will suggest a number of valuable lines of analysis to anyone interested in working with these newest "encrustations" of the King Kong myth.

Erb’s final chapter turns specifically to the consideration of issues of male spectatorship raised by King Kong and to parodies of the film. These parodies are largely grouped as "gay camp," "mass camp," and treatments that suggest a range of black responses to the racist tropes of primitivism and animalism in—or attending exhibitions of—King Kong. This is the chapter on which Erb’s identification of her work as a reception study seems most directly to rest, the "bottom up" analysis of spectatorship designed to complement the "top down" focus on production matrix, ballyhoo, and other "industrial" discourses. Erb eschews a cultural-ethnographic study of actual spectators, however, in favor of a kind of middle range "materialist reception study" that allows her to interpret textual responses to King Kong in lieu of actual interviews of inform-ants. I find Erb’s justification for this move understandable, even persuasive, but wonder why it was so important to her to insist that her book is a reception study even though it never actually isolates any specific audience response. Nevertheless, her focus on the phenomenon of King Kong as a cultural icon that has significantly to do with "male trouble" strikes me as quite valuable, and her discussion of black uses of King Kong in a range of parodies offers an intriguing glimpse of ways in which the film’s clearly racist dynamics have been inverted and reconstituted.

This is a good book that will be an instructive addition to the library of anyone interested in cultural studies approaches to popular film. Erb acknowledges that part of the impetus for this study was her "personal fascination with the unpredictable ways cinematic phenomena leave the space of the film and exhibition industries, to be taken up in surprising sectors of culture and everyday life" (207), a concern with particular application to both sf film and sf literature. More important for the sf community is the fact that this book offers a good example of a kind of saturation scholarship generally not found in sf film criticism, with the exception of a very few films such as 2001 (1968) and Blade Runner (1982). Indeed it is impossible to read Tracking King Kong without being reminded how very little of the received knowledge of sf film would stand up for very long under rigorous interrogation. Accordingly, this engaging study of a cultural myth that is sf-related, but not sf-specific, should challenge us to do more with films central to our discourse. And, if you have any sort of serious jones for King Kong, this is a book you don’t want to miss.

—Brooks Landon, University of Iowa

Dracula’s Century.

Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal, eds. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. A Norton Critical Edition. Norton (800-223-2584), 1997. xiii + 492 pp. $11.25 paper.

Carol Davison, ed. Bram Stoker’s "Dracula": Sucking Through the Century, 1897-1997. With Paul Simpson-Housley. Toronto: Dundurn Press (416-667-7791), 1997. 432 pp. $22.00 paper.

The year 1997, centennial of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, saw a flood of scholarship on that text, its cultural influence, and vampire literature generally. Probably the most significant title to appear was Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger’s anthology Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture (U Pennsylvania P, 1997; see review in SFS 25:2 [July 1998]: 385-88), in part because of its decision to focus not on Victorian precursors but on more modern contexts and materials: this permitted it to stand out against the horde of backwards-gazing volumes. The other major title was a re-issue of Stoker’s classic in a Norton Critical Edition. Nina Auerbach, author of Our Vampires, Ourselves (U Chicago P, 1995), and David J. Skal, author of Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of "Dracula" from Novel to Stage to Screen (Norton, 1990), were ideal editors for this project, and they have produced a wonderfully thorough and useful casebook, including an annotated version of the British first edition, a selection of contextual materials, a handful of contemporany reviews, extensive information on dramatic and film adaptations, a sampling of extant criticism, a thoughtful chronology of Stoker’s life and times, and a Selected Bibliography. The book will surely become the standard text for upper-division undergraduate and graduate classrooms— indeed, I am scheduled to teach a survey course on vampire literature and film in the Spring of 2000, and I expect to make ready use of it.

The editors’ annotations to the novel are models of brevity by comparison with the vast marginalia that fairly swamped Leonard Wolf’s Annotated "Dracula" (Ballantine, 1985; reissued as The Essential "Dracula" [Plume, 1993])—which included, for example, a recipe for the chicken dish Jonathan Harker enjoys at the Hotel Royale in Klausenburgh on his way to Castle Dracula. The section on "Contexts" gathers a brief essay on "Transylvanian Superstitions" from Emily Gerard’s 1888 travelogue The Land Beyond the Forest, a source for Stoker’s knowledge of the subject; an excerpt from James Malcolm Rymer’s penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1845-47), featuring the staking of a female vampire that clearly inspired Stoker’s bloody "purification" of Lucy Westenra; a selection of the author’s "Working Papers" for the novel, originally gleaned from the Stoker collection at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia and edited by Christopher Frayling for his excellent anthology Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula (Faber and Faber, 1991); and Stoker’s story "Dracula’s Guest," posthumously published in a volume of that title edited by his widow in 1914. Regarding this last item, Auerbach and Skal endorse the critical commonplace (prompted by Florence Stoker’s headnote to Dracula’s Guest) that it represents a deleted first chapter of the novel, a viewpoint which has been sharply criticized—by, e.g., Clive Leatherdale in his Dracula: The Novel and the Legend (Desert Island Books, 1985) and, conclusively, by Frayling in his introductory note to the story in his aforementioned anthology. This is one of the few missteps made by the editors, who were perhaps overly persuaded by Auerbach’s polemical view that Stoker removed the "chapter" willfully in order to erase evidence of the influence of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 lesbian vampire story "Carmilla" (see Our Vampires, Ourselves, p. 66).

The "Reviews and Reactions" section pulls together five immediate responses to the novel, four following its appearance in Britain (from The Daily Mail, Athenaeum, Spectator, and Bookman) and one following its first publication in the U.S. (from the San Francisco Chronicle in 1899). This is perhaps the most disappointing section in the book, not because the editors haven’t done their homework, but because the reviews are so generally insipid. As the editors point out: "While modern readers and critics of Dracula are transfixed by both the story’s primal narrative power and its extraordinary psychosexual, sociopolitical subtexts, the novel was initially treated by reviewers as a harmless, if thrill-producing, entertainment" (363). Who could have guessed at the time that it would become perhaps the most well-known and influential piece of fiction of the twentieth century, remaining consistently in print in most major languages and generating more dramatic treatments, in diverse media, than any other work?

That Auerbach and Skal were especially suited to editing this volume is proven by the section on "Dramatic and Film Adaptations," which features substantial excerpts from their own books (Skal on the 1920s Balderston-Deane "Vampire Play," Auerbach on film adaptations of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s). Along with annotated checklists of major theatrical and film treatments, this section also includes an excerpt from Gregory A. Waller’s The Living and the Undead: From Stoker’s "Dracula" to Romero’s "Dawn of the Dead" (U Illinois P, 1986), which offers a reading of Tod Browning’s 1931 film version starring Bela Lugosi.

The final section gathers seven critical readings of the novel, including feminist (Phyllis A. Roth), colonial/postcolonial (Stephen D. Arata), Marxist (Franco Moretti), and queer-theoretical (Christopher Craft). Due to necessities of space, the essays are abridged—Moretti’s "The Dialectic of Fear," included in his Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms (Verso, 1987), prominently discussed Shelley’s Frankenstein (1816) as well as Stoker’s Dracula, and the editors have understandably chosen to emphasize the latter reading exclusively—but the result, for those who know the originals, is at times somewhat alarming (Moretti has, essentially, been reduced to only one side of his "dialectic": the vampiric aristocrat is represented but not the proletarian monster). I can’t quibble with the inclusion of any of these four essays: all are pathbreaking; my only real concern is that two of them (Roth and Craft) are readily available, in unabridged form, in Margaret Carter’s anthology Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics (UMI Research Press, 1988).

The other three critical studies, however, are of debatable importance, especially given all that has been omitted. Presumably intended to highlight "psychological" themes, Carol Senf’s essay (also in Carter’s anthology) is thin and diffuse compared to some of the classic psychoanalytic interpretations, from Maurice Richardson’s infamous take on the novel as "a kind of incestuous, necrophilous, oral-anal-sadistic all-in wrestling match" (in "The Psychoanalysis of Ghost Stories," Twentieth Century 166 [1959]: 419-31; see p. 427) on down to more recent treatments. Talia Schaffer’s essay on the relevance of Oscar Wilde’s trial to Stoker’s conception of the novel is interesting, but rather redundant given that Christopher Craft’s "‘Kiss Me With Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula" argues brilliantly for the novel’s homoerotic subtexts. Schaffer’s essay was likely included due to Auerbach’s fascination for the general subject, as evidenced in the editorial introduction (xi-xii) and in her Our Vampires, Ourselves (see especially pp. 83-5).

Similarly, Auerbach’s interest in nineteenth century images of demonic women—the subject of her earlier book Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth (Harvard UP, 1982)—probably explains the presence of the brief excerpt from Bram Dijkstra’s Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (Oxford UP, 1986), which excoriates Dracula as a "commonplace book of ... antifeminine obsession" (460). But Dijsktra’s earnest, quirky argument—which links the novel to a host of late-Victorian discourses on female sexual predation—is barely given room to breathe (only two pages) before being snuffed out. In my view, the omission of Senf, Schaffer, and Dijkstra would have made room for two other, more trenchant critical pieces—which might have included Judith Halberstam’s study of Stoker’s anti-Semitism ("Technologies of Monstrosity," in Victorian Studies 36:3 [Spring 1993]: 333-52), or a sample of David Glover’s fine work on nationalist ideology in Stoker’s texts (material recently gathered into Vampires, Mummies, and Liberals: Bram Stoker and the Politics of Popular Fiction [Duke UP, 1996]), or Friedrich Kittler’s potent meditation on information-processing systems in the novel ("Dracula’s Legacy," in Stanford Humanities Review 1 [1989]: 143-73). But these various carpings and second-guessings should not be perceived as diminishing my deep respect for this timely, useful volume.

Carol Davison’s Bram Stoker’s "Dracula": Sucking Through the Century, 1897-1997 is also obviously timely, though not so useful as the Norton edition (and is, moreover, lumbered with an execrable title!). Intended to trace "the specific bonds Stoker’s novel had with its 1890s point of conception, and the nature of its subsequent transmutations within other socio-cultural contexts" (23), the volume contains a substantial Introduction by Davison; a Preface by New-Gothic author Patrick McGrath; a lengthy study of the geography of Dracula, liberally illustrated with maps, by Gerald Walker and Lorraine Wright; four sections containing fourteen essays (all but two of them original) covering 1890s contexts, twentieth-century outgrowths, cinematic traditions, and broad social concerns raised by the novel; an archive of information on various Dracula societies and fan groups; two appendices containing information on Stoker’s personal library and his controversial death-certificate, and a brief catalogue description of his papers held at the Rosenbach Museum and Library; and an extensive bibliography. While much of this material is worthwhile, I feel the general rationale for its gathering is never made convincingly by Davison, and as a result the book is something of a hodgepodge.

Also, its design is not exactly reader-friendly: there is no index, and the diverse collocations of front and end matter are confusingly arranged and dubiously purposed. For example, I have no idea what possible value can lie in reprinting the catalogue description of Stoker’s notes for Dracula, especially given that Frayling has made most of this material directly available in his anthology. Leslie Shepard’s terse remarks on Stoker’s death certificate, intended to fend off the notion—forcefully argued by Stoker’s great-nephew Daniel Farson in his biography, The Man Who Wrote "Dracula" (St. Martin’s, 1985)—that the given cause of death ("Exhaustion") was a Victorian-Edwardian euphemism for tertiary syphillis, are unconvincing and seem like special pleading. The section of entries on Dracula-related "Associations/Awards/ Resources" features an odd conglomeration of items that I am at times hard-pressed to grasp the relevance of. The information on the various Stoker-Dracula-Transylvania fan clubs is readily available in J. Gordon Melton’s The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (Visible Ink, 1994), whose encylopedic form justifies its inclusion of such ephemera; and the list of winners of the Bram Stoker Awards, given since 1988 by the Horror Writers of America, seems a curious offshoot of the volume’s basic design (are we to assume that the work of these contemporary authors—Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Joyce Carol Oates, Peter Straub, et al.—has been somehow inspired or influenced by Stoker’s Dracula?) The effect of these pack-rat gatherings is at times a white-noise of unassimilated data given coherence merely by reference—sometimes in name only—to Bram Stoker and/or his most famous creation.

But the heart of the book is the fourteen essays, and most of these are quite good. I suppose it is rather a problem that the best of them are the two reprinted pieces: an excerpt from Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves on 1970s vampire fiction and Veronica Hollinger’s Pioneer Award-winning essay "The Vampire and the Alien" (originally published in SFS 16:2 [July 1989]: 145-60), which traces connections between Gothic horror and science fiction. I suppose it is also a problem that these two pieces are connected to Stoker’s novel in only the most tangential of ways. But it is a pleasure to encounter them here, as they substantially build out and deepen the discussion of modern vampire fiction inaugurated by Margaret L. Carter’s essay on the "Sympathetic Vampire in Mid-Twentieth Century Pulp Fiction." The essays on 1890s contexts are equally interesting if not as critically compelling: indeed, they work better as a unit rather than as individual studies. Carol Senf’s, Jan Gordon’s, and Stephanie Moss’s essays all address, in different ways, the horrible force of the monstrous past erupting into the present—Senf by way of a comparison of Dracula with Stoker’s mummy novel, The Jewel of Seven Stars (1912), Gordon through an examination of the literary tensions between Gothic roots and fin-de-siècle realties, and Moss by exploring connections with proto-Freudian psychological theories. Davison’s own essay in this section, which considers Dracula and Jack the Ripper as "Blood Brothers," is energetically written and broadly researched, though not very deep.

The weakest section of essays covers "Celluloid Vampires." The problem with Jacqueline LeBlanc’s essay on "Dracula and the Erotic Technologies of Censorship" is not that it is bad—in fact, it is excellent—but rather that it is out of place, having little really to do with cinema save for some closing remarks on Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). On the other hand, Jake Brown’s essay on major Dracula film adaptations, while more clearly relevant, is essentially a rehash of commonplaces, and Natalie Bartlett and Bradley Bellows’ essay on "Vampires in Japanese Anime," while entertaining, is critically superficial (a much better discussion of popular Japanese vampire texts is Mari Kotani’s essay in the Gordon-Hollinger volume Blood Read). The final section, which considers social issues raised by the novel and its legacy, includes Richard Anderson’s provocative but undeveloped discussion of the "landscapes of modernity" implicit in Dracula; Livy Visano’s diffuse but generally fascinating consideration of the novel as a "critical ethnography" of Victorian moral contradictions (though why this essay appears here and not in the 1890s-contexts section eludes me), and Benjamin LeBlanc’s meandering diagnosis of the vampire’s cultural mainstreaming and consequent demise. In sum, Bram Stoker’s "Dracula": Sucking through the Century is an uneven but ultimately worthwhile collection, proving if nothing else the endless fecundity of Stoker’s novel to provoke responses, generate interpretations, and generally to haunt the twentieth century imagination.

—Rob Latham

A Monument of Feminist Horror.

Julie Bates Dock, ed. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wall-paper" and the History of Its Publication and Reception: A Critical Edition and Documentary Casebook. Penn State UP (814-865-1327), 1998. xii + 132 pp. $35 cloth; $16.95 paper.

With the possible exception of Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening (1899), there is no more famous example in American literature of feminist recovery of a forgotten text than Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story "The Yellow Wall-paper." Gilman’s first-person account of a young wife and mother’s suffering under the harsh regimen of a "rest cure" imposed by her clueless physician-husband is universally hailed by modern critics and scholars as a scathing allegory of patriarchal oppression. As the story has made its way into the American literary canon, it has brought with it a compelling back-story: based on the author’s own mistreatment at the hands of the famous physician S. Weir Mitchell, "The Yellow Wall-paper" was either misread or ignored in Gilman’s own lifetime. Not until Elaine Hedges’ edition of the story appeared from the Feminist Press in 1973 was the story rediscovered; since then, it has acquired a small mountain of critical commentary and become a staple of college literature anthologies.

But then, not quite, according to Julie Bates Dock. In a 26-page introduction, "The Legend of the Yellow Wall-paper," Dock convincingly dismantles some of the stories that have grown up around Gilman’s text. "The Yellow Wall-paper" was ignored and/or misunderstood during Gilman’s lifetime? Dock quotes numerous contemporary reviews of the story, almost all of which are favorable and some of which are fully aware of what the story says about the often oppressive realities of marriage. (One—male—reviewer wrote in 1899, "Nothing more graphic and suggestive has ever been written to show why so many women go crazy.") William Dean Howells falsely took credit for helping to get the story published? Dock points out that Edwin Mead, the editor of The New England Magazine, where Gilman’s story first appeared, was a Howells protégée and cousin by marriage, and so was quite readily influenced by Howells. S. Weir Mitchell abandoned his "rest cure" after reading the story? Dock demonstrates that there is no evidence to support this claim other than Gilman’s own after-the-fact comments. The story disappeared until resurrected by Hedges and the Feminist Press? Dock lists 23 reprintings of the story between its original publication and 1973—not an avalanche, to be sure, but still well short of obscurity. Admirably, Dock lays out her case without falling victim to Camille Paglia Syndrome and blaming a monolithic feminist conspiracy for the partially inaccurate myth of Gilman’s story and its reception. There is, to be sure, a quiet satisfaction evident in the footnotes that document other editors and scholars taking her critiques into account (based on an earlier essay in Publications of the Modern Language Association), but for the most part Dock presents her case with malice toward none. Genre readers will undoubtedly forgive Dock her obvious glee in noting one critic’s howler: a claim that H.P. Lovecraft had "included" Gilman’s story in Supernatural Horror in Literature "as recently as 1973" (17).

Dock’s main purpose in the present volume, however, is to provide an "authoritative text" of Gilman’s story, which she does convincingly. Fourteen pages are occupied by the story itself; 90 pages are given over to textual commentary, apparatus, supporting documents, and a bibliography of reprintings of Gilman’s story that shows what a difference a few decades can make. After going through three editions as a small book from 1899-1911 and the aforementioned 20 reprints between 1911 and 1972, "The Yellow Wall-paper" has been reprinted at least 80 times—Dock describes her post-‘73 listings as "representative, not exhaustive" (121). In choosing for her copy-text the story as it was first published in The New England Magazine rather than an extant handwritten manuscript, Dock allies herself with Jerome McGann’s "‘social theory’ of textual editing" which, rather than privileging a pure notion of authorial intent, holds that "editors should recognize the essentially interactive nature of texts as communicative events that involve authors, printers, readers, and others in a complex network of social relations" (44). Dock supports her position by suggesting that in fact a different handwritten manuscript may have been edited for magazine publication and by citing Gilman’s own writings to show that the author was not particularly concerned about her work on a word-for-word basis: writing in 1898, Gilman declared that she was "‘No self-conscious artist. If you care little for my style why I care less’" (61). (One wonders, however, why, after her skeptical reading of Gilman’s comments on Weir Mitchell, Dock should here take Gilman’s comments on her own work at face value.) Given that there was relatively little difference between the handwritten manuscript and first magazine publication, any debate as to which is a preferable copy-text is of interest primarily to textual scholars. Critics and scholars at large should, however, read with great interest Dock’s detailed accounting of variations among subsequent texts that were often unacknowledged by later editors and occasionally make a real difference. As Dock points out, it may not matter if the word is spelled "phospites" or "phosphites," but it does matter if the sentence "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage" is changed in a later edition to read, "John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that" (7).

In addition to its obvious value as a textual study, Dock’s book is of special interest to sf scholars for what it says, and doesn’t say, regarding the status of Gilman’s story as a work of the fantastic. Implicit (and sometimes explicit) in the assertions of earlier feminist scholars that "The Yellow Wallpaper" was "misread" in Gilman’s day is the notion that turn-of-the-century readers were reading it as "only" a horror or ghost story. Was there really a woman behind the wallpaper? According to this line of thinking, the reader who says "yes" devalues the story and misses the point. Dock seems to buy into this false dilemma when, during her discussion of feminist critics’ complaints about Gilman’s work being compartmentalized as a supernatural story, she notes that "there is a definite distinction between a tale of horror and a tale of ghosts" (16). True enough, but the implication remains that, the more literally we interpret the story, the further away we get from its "real" meaning. Nonetheless, Dock also points out that the story "has appeared in at least a dozen collections of gothic horror or suspense since feminist critics taught us all how to read it aright" (20). (She does not, however, mention its likely influence on recent feminist sf—e.g. Kate Wilhelm’s short story "The Downstairs Room" [1968], wherein sinister lineoleum tiles replace the eponymous wall-covering.)

One of those "collections of gothic horror" was The Dark Descent (NY: Tor, 1987), edited by David G. Hartwell. In his introduction to Gilman’s story, Hartwell writes, "‘The Yellow Wall-paper’ is either a haunted house story or a story of insanity, but in either case it is a monument of feminist horror, pointing out subtly and effectively all the restrictions which bring the central character to the moment of the story" (460). We may hope that someday academic criticism may be able to respond to Gilman’s story as sensibly as Hartwell and realize that the phrase "feminist horror" is neither an oxymoron nor an insult. In the meantime, Julie Bates Dock has provided us with an extraordinarily useful book which sheds new light on a story that remains, however one chooses to interpret it, one of the most extraordinary performances in American literature.

—F. Brett Cox, Gordon College

Better Than It Looks.

Lionel Adey. C.S. Lewis: Writer and Dreamer. Eerdmans (616-459-4591), 1998. x + 307 pp. $22 paper.

Lionel Adey’s characterization of C.S. Lewis as "Writer, Dreamer, and Mentor" is the rationale for this new book on a man already buried under a plethora of critical studies, memoirs, and biographies. "Why another book on C.S. Lewis?" asks Adey, and his answer—at once factually inaccurate and critically valuable—is that there has been until now no study of Lewis as "a maker and reader of books" (1). This is hardly the case, since Lewis’s fame and hence the many books about him implicitly rest on his dual vocations of writer and scholar—that is to say, maker and reader of books. Nevertheless, in spite of its apparent redundancy, Adey’s study performs a valuable service in explicitly drawing together these particular aspects to create a portrait of the life of the mind, tracing the threads of Lewis’s intellectual and creative life as literary historian, critic, theorist, writer of fiction for adults and children, poet, essayist, and speaker.

While Lewis, although a little out of fashion at present, is still a respected scholar, and has as well a devoted following as a Christian apologist, I venture to guess that most readers will hone in on Adey’s treatment of Lewis’s fiction—his adult fantasy novels and the "Chronicles of Narnia" (1950-56). Addressing these in turn, Adey begins with the seven works (they are not all novels) which he groups as Lewis’s adult fantasy. These he sees as moving through a series of genres from the naive allegory of The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) to the psychological realism of Till We Have Faces (1956) by way of the science fiction of the space trilogy. Thus, the Regress is allegory, Out of the Silent Planet (1938) is science fiction, Perelandra (1943) is "mythopoeic fantasy" (126), That Hideous Strength (1945) an uneasy mix of fairy tale and satire, and Till We Have Faces "psychologized myth" (151). The Screwtape Letters (1942) and The Great Divorce (1945), which Adey classifies as theological satire, are the two misfits in the group, for they are hardly fiction, only thinly disguised as fantasy, and their religious didacticism is considerably more overt.

Nonetheless, the grouping interacts fairly well with Adey’s two Lewisian personae of Dreamer and Mentor, with the Mentor dominant in the satires and the Dreamer in the fantasies. But of course both are present in both. Thus during Ransom’s voyage in Out of the Silent Planet, the night sky is inexpressibly beautiful but the earth is a "megalomaniac disc" (124). "Here," says Adey, "the Mentor jogs the Dreamer’s arm" (124), as happens again in the next novel in the series, Perelandra (though Adey does not note this), when the luscious beauty of that planet becomes the setting for theological disputation. The Mentor is paramount in That Hideous Strength, which "pillories everything Lewis disliked about twentieth-century life, from feminism, relativism, and reductionism to vivisection, technology, and philistine development" (134).

The operative phrase throughout Adey’s discussion is "maker and reader of books," for Lewis the writer is presented as the offspring of Lewis the reader. This is not in itself invalid, for writers write in the shadow of their predecessors, and few modern authors have borrowed from their reading more explicitly and unabashedly than did Lewis. Adey, however, tends to find influence everywhere, making Lewis’s reading a major influence on his writing and linking both to the climate of his emotional life. Lewis himself called this The Personal Heresy, and argued vigorously—though not altogether unassailably—against the proposition that "all poetry is about the poet’s state of mind" (see Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide [San Francisco: Harper, 1998], p. 598). The poet’s state of mind must be a concern of any critical analysis, but Lewis was on the right track in seeing that an exclusive focus on this privileges the author over the work, resulting in biography rather than literary criticism.

Adey himself falls into the trap, arbitrarily linking episodes or figures from Lewis’s life not just to similar elements in his writing, but to episodes or figures in his personal experience. This is reductive when applied to any work, and does a disservice not just to Lewis, but to several of the great fantasy authors whose books had a palpable influence on his fiction, among them George MacDonald, H. Rider Haggard, and David Lindsay. Lewis was perfectly capable of appreciating the imaginative power of these authors, and of learning from their works, without necessarily finding in them reflections of his own early life. The White Lady in MacDonald’s Phantastes (1858) need not "have represented Lewis’s early bereavement" (27) in order to have impressed his imagination; the heroine of Haggard’s She (1886) and Ayesha (1905) might have been fascinating in her own right, without speaking to Lewis as "a recently bereaved boy," nor need the fact that she is multilingual have "surely" recalled to Lewis his "mother, his first teacher of Latin and French" (14). Stretching the biographical approach beyond reasonable limits, Adey asserts that the episode in Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) wherein a mother abandons her children "touched the ever-sensitive spot of Lewis’s grief for his mother" (117). No evidence is produced to support any of these claims.

It is a bit surprising, therefore, to see Adey open and close his discussion of the "Chronicles of Narnia" in outraged reaction to David Holbrook’s Freudian-biographical approach to Lewis in The Skeleton in the Wardrobe (Bucknell UP, 1991). While he concedes that "most, if not all, works of art spring from some trauma," Adey’s strictures against "the now-dated game of psychoanalytic reductionism" nevertheless lead him to conclude that "the only issue that should concern a critic is the quality of craftsmanship evident in the resultant works" (193). Given Adey’s critical posture as described in the previous paragraph, one has to wonder if he had read his own book. Once past this inconsistency, however, Adey settles down to inquire into the popularity of the Chronicles and comes up with some cogent reasons.

The enchantment of the series owes much to the Dreamer’s predilection for folklore and romance, while the heavy-handed attacks on modernism and secular humanism derive from the Mentor’s cultural prejudices. Adey, I think correctly, sees the continuing popularity of the Chronicles as coming from their childless author’s identification with children and the attractive and exasperating fact that part of him never grew up. The exterior chronology of their writing shows a progression from early childhood to old age, as well as increased subtlety in narration, as Lewis warmed to his theme and entered more deeply into his story. Read in this order, as Adey perceptively notes, the sequence gives evidence of Lewis’s "underthought" and fosters a personal experience of the books, especially for young readers. The interior chronology of events in the story approximates the Christian mythos from the creation and Fall of The Magician’s Nephew (1955), through sacrifice and resurrection in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), the "Narnian equivalent of Exodus" (175) in The Horse and His Boy (1954), the journey toward Heaven in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (1952), a descent into Sheol in The Silver Chair (1953), and the apocalypse in The Last Battle (1956). This order of reading, whose recognition depends on the reader’s age, education, and acquaintance with the Bible, puts greater weight on Lewis’s theological "overthought."

As with Mark Twain’s characterization of Wagner’s music as better than it sounds, this book is better than it looks. While there are inconsistencies in his study, on the whole Adey takes a thoughtful and critical look at the pervasive themes of Lewis’s literary career. The personified headings give Adey a handle on the sometime interaction, sometime conflict between Lewis’s rationalist and romantic selves out of which the fiction, especially, arises. In sum, for people who do not like C.S. Lewis, or who find him only mildly interesting, the ground covered here may seem already well-trodden, and the Mentor and the Dreamer a predictable allegorizing of a man whose intellect often muffled his emotions. For people who like C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, this is the sort of book they will like.

—Verlyn Flieger, University of Maryland

Canadian Dreams.

Edo van Belkom. Northern Dreamers: Interviews with Famous Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Writers. Out of This World Series #4. Ontario: Quarry, 1998. 254 pp. $19.95 CDA; $14.95 USA paper. Dist. in USA by InBook (800-243-0138).

This collection of 22 interviews with Canadian sf, fantasy, and horror writers is the first of its kind, and as such it is a valuable guide to the genre in Canada. Edo van Belkom is a professional editor, author of horror fiction, and a Canadian Regional Director of the Science Fiction Writers of America. His familiarity with his interview subjects and the field in Canada is immediately evident. He can be forgiven, then, for the effusive claims he makes for these authors in his introduction. While not all of these writers are "pioneers, leaders, and supreme masters of their realms" of speculative fiction (8), as he suggests, they do represent the leading voices in Canadian speculative fiction. Indeed, most of those included have received international awards, critical and reader acclaim, and some commercial success.

Van Belkom can also be commended for the breadth of his selection since the volume includes male and female writers in nearly equal numbers. Attention is focused on professional writers who have established active careers in speculative fiction, including gaming fiction, rather than on newcomers to the field. The book thus makes an excellent companion to David Ketterer’s Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (Indiana UP, 1992), since more than half of these writers appear in his overview of the Canadian genre. American and Canadian readers and scholars will recognize, in particular, the names of William Gibson, Robert Sawyer, Spider and Jeanne Robinson, W.P. Kinsella, Guy Gavriel Kay, Terence Green, Charles de Lint, and Phyllis Gotlieb. The anthology does not include other Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and a number of sf short fictions, who are not primarily identified with speculative writing. One particular shortcoming for researchers is the volume’s emphasis on English Canada. The only Quebecois author represented here is Elisabeth Vonarburg, whose work has been translated and distributed widely in English Canada and the US.

Despite what the subtitle may suggest, it is not fame that unites these writers; rather it is the fact that all the interview subjects live and work in Canada. Since the majority of these authors were born in the United States, questions about Canadian content and identity have an interesting spin. When van Belkom asks his interviewees about the importance of their identities as Canadians, two linked themes emerge: the importance of a Canadian identity for their writing, and the difficulty of success in the publishing marketplace. Despite their international awards and sales, as van Belkom points out, few of these 22 writers have had books published in Canada. These are writers who have largely made their professional careers and reputations in the US. According to those interviewed, the Canadian literary mainstream, including both critics and publishers, is mostly uninterested in speculative fiction; only smaller presses like Quarry, Tesseracts, and Pottersfield have consistently published sf anthologies and genre books.

When questions of Canadian content and the significance of national identity arise, few authors, at least in this context, seem concerned with a symbolic landscape of the North or with the idea of geographical alienation. Instead, many embrace Canadian urban landscapes. Nancy Baker, Tanya Huff, Charles de Lint, and Spider Robinson use Canadian urban settings despite the publication or marketing of their novels in the US. As Terence Green suggests, "it’s very much not having an inferiority complex as a Canadian and realizing our world is as interesting to outsiders as it can be to insiders" (107). Similarly, Michael Coney is not alone in suggesting that, though adamantly committed to Canada, the literary distinctions between American and Canadian sf elude him: "The truth is: I don’t know what a Canadian story is.... Currently I have a story ... [that] has snow, Indians, possibly even caribou, and it was deliberately written to sound Canadian. We’ll see what people think of that" (31).

As one might expect from interviews, these writers respond well when asked to discuss their literary influences, their reasons for choosing their genre, anecdotes from their careers, and their views on the direction of the genre as a whole. More unusual is the subject of the publishing marketplace. Strong insights into complexities of marketing forces in Canada and the US and their influence on speculative writing are articulated in nearly every interview. Among the most penetrating on this subject are Terence Green, Robert Sawyer, Michele Sagara, Candas Jane Dorsey, and Dave Duncan, who offer candid opinions about genre categorization, sales figures and marketing, agent and author relationships, and self-promotion strategies. On the whole, this collection remains positive about the genre. Many of these same authors also discuss the writing process and its personal rewards. Phyllis Gotlieb, now in her seventies, remarks that while she began her career as the only visible Canadian writing sf, with little support and few models, she has few regrets. Now, after a career of 36 years, she asserts: "neighbors who came snickered at the dust on my furniture, but then afterwards they said, ‘Phyllis you had the right idea!’ (103)."

—Nancy Johnston, Ryerson Polytechnic University

Ghosts and Other Masochists.

Katherine A. Fowkes. Giving Up the Ghost: Spirits, Ghosts, and Angels in Mainstream Comedy Films. Wayne State UP (800-978-7323), 1998. 202 pp. $24.95 paper.

In Giving Up the Ghost, Katherine A. Fowkes investigates recent supernatural comedies, such as Heaven Can Wait (1978), Always (1989), Ghost (1990), Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991), and Heart and Souls (1993), which she locates in relation to the neighboring genres of fantasy/horror, romance/ melodrama, and comedy. Drawing on scholarly work by theorists of filmic masochism such as Kaja Silverman and Gaylyn Studlar, she argues that these ghost films expose and bring to the surface masochistic structures and pleasures which underwrite many Hollywood movies: "Ghost films dramatize an explicitly masochistic fantasy in which the desire to switch genders is part of a desire to achieve sexual sameness" (11). In Fowkes’ view, this masochistic aesthetic covers not only viewing pleasure but also narrative and generic structures. That is, Fowkes’ central claim is that ghost movies share with masochism a similar emphasis on "delay, suspense, and distance—all of which is seen in abundance in the delay caused by the ghost’s transitional and ineffectual status as it attempts to communicate with the living" (56). As this focus suggests, Fowkes attempts to revive a dated discussion in film studies—sadism vs. masochism—in order to frame her work as a corrective counterpoint to arguments that explain the pleasures and narrative processes of mainstream films by drawing on psychoanalytic theories of sadism. In this context, Fowkes’ all-too-familiar villains are 1970s psychoanalytic film theorists—in particular, Laura Mulvey.

What Fowkes finds intriguing and significant is the gendered nature of the masochistic aesthetic, its location in a generic form that draws from women’s melodramas, yet still seems to be obsessed with issues of masculinity. Indeed, as Fowkes asks candidly: "Why are all the ghosts men?" (25). She finds an explanation in ghost comedies’ subversiveness. The male ghost’s linkage to feminine-coded domesticity and his "passivity, poor communication, and ineffectuality" (118) thwart his narrative agency and "in a sense, [force him] to switch genders" (25). Masculinity’s alignment with a "female position" prompts Fowkes to conclude that ghost comedies "provide a substantially different approach to traditional gender roles" (11). Thus, ghost films fulfill an important cultural function, since "the process of being made ineffectual is extremely important for the male protagonist and the male viewer because this process facilitates a suspension of passive and active categories and an engagement of varied identificatory positions" (163).

For Fowkes, these utopian politics of ghost comedies are not limited to the sphere of gender, but also cover the politics of subjectivity more generally. For example, these films are apparently able to: expose the voice "as the paradoxical vehicle of illusory subjecthood" (87); "expose the dilemma of the subject who speaks but who is also himself spoken by the language" (88); demonstrate "the unfulfillable fantasy nature of romantic union" by simultaneously "provid[ing] the mechanism to reverse temporarily the melodramatic tragedy" and prolonging it (106); and, by disassociating the voice from the body, "manipulate the audience’s sense of the unified subject" (94). Indeed, such a return to a utopian belief in the radical possibilities of the popular text to expose the illusory nature of "bourgeois subjectivity" can’t help but produce the uncanny feeling that Fowkes’ own work is haunted by a certain "delay" or "suspense," the apparition of 1970s film theory’s valorizing of the self-reflexive, avant-garde cinema of the time. In this sense, Fowkes is not alone in seeming to fear that writing about popular commodities casts a suspicious shadow on the political importance of a scholar’s work. This, then, requires as a counter-move an (often desperate) attempt to convince the reader of their objects’ almost inherent radicalness or subversive potential, rather than seriously engaging their function as popular texts within the context of their social circulation.

Although Fowkes is working mainly within a psychoanalytic theoretical context, with occasional and brief excursions into genre theory and neoformalism, she nonetheless seems to argue for a need to locate these texts in their cultural and historical contexts when she writes: "Because we must take into account the role that the viewer plays in relation to textual meaning, any analysis of films or film ghosts must stem from and be influenced by one or more cultural perspectives" (13). She further adds that "meaning and pleasure do not lie in the text, but in the interaction between the text and the perceiver" (14). Unfortunately the inference that this might mean paying attention to how ghost films become meaningful in relation to various cultural narratives of the time (i.e., discursive contexts of reception) turns out to be unwarranted optimism, since Fowkes quickly reveals that this "cultural perspective" is feminist psychoanalysis. Indeed, her insistence on the text-viewer interaction is just an empty gesture, since nowhere in the book does she venture outside the textual limits of these films and the hypothetical pleasures they imply. As a result of this ahistorical, culturally undifferentiated psychoanalytic framework, she is unable to explain the re-emergence of ghost movies during the last two decades or what particular significance this particular cycle may hold.

Within the psychoanalytic methodology Fowkes employs, the attention to gender instabilities as a central element of the films’ structural composition and potential viewer effect follows logically. However, Fowkes fails to understand that the phenomenon of males taking up a masochistic position is rarely accompanied by a shift in the dynamics and structures of gendered power. Due to her emphasis on textuality at the expense of a culturally contextualized reading of texts, Fowkes is unable to see how intimately male masochism is connected with contemporary cultural narratives that locate (white) men as victims of various cultural forces, ranging from the Vietnam war and economic shifts to Civil Rights and the women’s movement. Indeed, as scholars such as Tania Modleski, in Feminism Without Women: Culture and Criticism in a "Postfeminist" Age (NY: Routledge, 1991), have warned us, during the last two decades we have witnessed a renewed attempt to uphold masculine privileges by appropriating "feminine" and feminist positions. Indeed, we should be wary of strategies that actually conserve male power in the very act of appearing to renounce it. As Modleski so astutely observes: "The disavowal often involves the illusion that one can not only have it all, but also be it all—male and female, father and mother, adult and child—without altering the power structure in which men rule over women and adults over children" (90). This may indeed be among the most damaging of the "omissions or blind spots that are a direct result of the time lag between the initial ideas and the publication of this book" (9), of which Fowkes warns the reader in her preface.

—Martti Lahti, University of Iowa

Brief Notices

Stephen T. Miller and William G. Contento. Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Weird Fiction Magazine Index (1890-1997). Locus Press (510-339-9198), 1998. $49.95 cd-rom.

Charles N. Brown and William G. Contento. The Locus Index to Science Fiction, with Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, by Contento. Locus Press (510-339-9198), 1998. $49.95 cd-rom.

These two cd-roms update, and make available in electronic form, three of the most significant reference works ever devoted to sf literature: Stephen T. Miller and William G. Contento’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Weird Magazine Index: 1890-1990 (3 vols.; Garland, 1995), Contento’s Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections (2 vols.; G.K. Hall, 1978-84), and Charles N. Brown and Contento’s Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: A Comprehensive Bibliography of Books and Short Fiction Published in the English Language (Locus Press, 1984-91), an annual volume which consolidated the bibliographic archive of Locus magazine with Contento’s ongoing anthologies/collections index. Since 1991, when this annual series ceased publication in book form, Brown and Contento have been working to generate an electronic equivalent, and that has now appeared; the editors promise to release updated editions annually, including information on new (and newly discovered) publications. For those who purchase this year’s cd-roms, on-line addenda can be readily accessed; indeed, two of these indexes are fully available on the World Wide Web—the Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections at <> and the Locus Index at <>. Anyone who has ever made use of the hard copy versions (I assume that includes all of you!) will know how immensely valuable they are—in fact, invaluable; there are simply no other bibliographic sources as extensive or thorough. Taken altogether, they amount to a treasure trove of information on over a century of English-language sf short fiction and a decade-and-a-half of book publication. The electronic versions are easy to use, essentially mimicking their book form by linking everything to a central Table of Contents; cross-links are minimal but well-conceived. You will need to use a standard web browser to access the cd-roms, a nice arrangement since it makes the discs compatible with both Apple and PC machines (as well as making it simple to access the on-line addenda). Information on purchasing the cd-roms can be found on-line at <www.>. All university libraries should acquire them immediately.

—Rob Latham

Russell Hoban. Riddley Walker. Expanded Edition, with Afterword, Notes, and Glossary. Indiana UP (812-855-8054), 1998. 235 pp. $25 cloth; $12.95 paper.

For Russell Hoban, until 1980 best known for a series of (charming) illustrated books for young readers about a badger named Frances, Riddley Walker was a breakthrough. Written in a dialect-of-the-future (Hoban’s Afterword calls it Riddleyspeak) whose fractured and morphed English in itself attests to the destruction of English society following a holocaust, the novel also discloses the persistence of English (specifically, Kentish) folk customs and characters. Drawing its own influences about equally from Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1884), Hoban’s novel has inspired subsequent writers from Connie Willis to Michael Swanwick. (I do not have any signed depositions as proof of that, of course, but it is apparent that Hoban’s novel has influenced most post-1980 fiction that has used a post-holocaust setting.) Riddley Walker was wielded as a weapon in sf’s (and the mainstream’s) culture wars of the 1980s: it was misread as essentially high-minded and elitist. According to John Leonard’s early review in The New York Times, Hoban’s novel was "designed to prevent the modern reader from becoming stupid," the kind of nose-in-the-air comment that drives any self-respecting reader away from new novels. Fortunately, as this re-issue of the novel shows, Riddley Walker is not sf at its most edifying and highbrow but at its most linguistically and imaginatively exuberant; it is a thought-experiment with a heart and a sensibility as well as a mind. It is also an outright love-letter to Hoban’s adopted country—he was born in Pennsylvania—and a work of authentic humanism, meaning a consideration (both celebratory and cautionary) of human doings and undoings. The novel was a pleasure to re-read in this attractively packaged new incarnation, but I should close by mentioning that the "expansion" touted in the subtitle is very modest: four and a half pages of Afterword, two pages of working notes, and two-and-a-half pages of Glossary, along with a full-page photo of Hoban looking very much like Mr. Punch. The dozen or so new pages are in themselves illuminating and helpful; the added material will provide guidance to teachers without overwhelming students who may be encountering the novel in high school or college classrooms. The new information provided, however, is hardly enough to suggest (let alone explicate) all the playful invention of Hoban’s imagination and language, and this skimpiness is probably for the best, leaving readers sufficient space to immerse themselves in Hoban’s teasing linguistic landscapes. To paraphrase Riddley himself: "Parbly we wont never know its jus on us to think on it." The anemic scale of the enlargement is a slight disappointment, but it is wonderful to have this classic back in print.

—Carol McGuirk

Charles L. Harness. An Ornament to His Profession. Ed. Priscilla Olson. NESFA Press (fax: 617-776-3243), 1998. 520 pp. $25 cloth.

Murray Leinster. First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster. Ed. Joe Rico. NESFA Press (fax: 617-776-3243), 1998. 464 pp. $25 cloth.

The New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) Press has recently been issuing substantial memorial volumes on important sf writers whose work has either been long out of print or critically neglected. Following fine tomes covering the short fiction of Cordwainer Smith (The Rediscovery of Man, 1993), Zenna Henderson (Ingathering: The Complete People Stories, 1995), and C.M. Kornbluth (His Share of Glory, 1997), 1998 has seen the release of collections focusing on the work of Charles L. Harness and Murray Leinster. An Ornament to His Profession gathers seventeen of Harness’ stories— including the brilliant novella "The Rose" (1953)—plus informative and valuable essays by David Hartwell and George Zebrowski, and a thorough bibliography assembled by editor Priscilla Olson. Harness’ fiction is both richly literate and extravagantly imagined, and has led Brian W. Aldiss to coin the resonant term "Wide-Screen Baroque" to describe it (in his introduction to the 1967 Four Square edition of Harness’ 1953 novel The Paradox Men [a.k.a. Flight into Yesterday]). Aside from three tales included in the 1966 volume The Rose, Harness’ short fiction has never been collected before, and thus An Ornament to His Profession represents a valuable work of salvage. By contrast, most of the 25 stories gathered in First Contacts have already appeared in previous collections of Leinster’s work (Random House’s 1978 "Best of" volume featured twelve of them); moreover, the book’s scholarly apparatus is non-existent—no bibliography, no contextualizing critical essay, merely a brief tribute from sf writer Hal Clement. I must admit, too, that of all the authors NESFA has so far selected to revive and enshrine, Leinster seems to me the least worthy aesthetically, though the real value of these volumes is that they provide sf critics an opportunity to assess the importance of purportedly "minor" writers to the history of the genre. Future volumes will cover the fiction of Anthony Boucher and Eric Frank Russell. For more information on NESFA titles, consult their website at <>.

—Rob Latham

Clive Bloom, ed. Gothic Horror: A Reader's Guide from Poe to King and Beyond. St. Martin’s (212-674-5151), 1998. xvii + 302 pp. $19.95 paper.

This bizarrely organized critical anthology culls snippets from 27 writers and critics, ranging in length from a paragraph to thirty-plus pages, on the topic of Gothic horror in Anglo-American literature. While some of the abridgments are abominable—Freud’s classic essay on "The Uncanny" (1919) is reduced to four brief, elliptical fragments—others are merely odd (e.g., two pages from interviews with and speeches by Stephen King, but nothing from his vast meditation on the genre, Danse Macabre [Everest House, 1981]), and altogether they hardly amount to a coherent overview of their putative subject. The longest by far of the four vaguely chronological sections is the fourth, canvassing "Contemporary Critical Accounts," which cobbles together seminal theoretical insights (tiny bits hacked out of Todorov’s The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre [Cornell UP, 1973]), musings on general topics (e.g., Robert F. Geary "On Horror and Religion"—an excerpt from his book The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction [Edwin Mellen, 1992]), and studies of individual authors and texts (Gina Wisker on Angela Carter, Judie Newman on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House [1959]). The book’s subtitle claims it to be a "Reader’s Guide," but its coverage is so spotty that it cannot adequately serve such a function, and editor Bloom’s slapdash Introduction provides no real rationale for its structure or contents. Teachers seeking a good critical anthology on the subject will have to look elsewhere.

—Rob Latham

Roger Bozzetto. Territoires des fantastiques: des romans gothiques aux récits d'horreur moderne. Aix-en-Provence: Publications de l’Universitè de Provence, 1998. 275pp. 160 French francs/24.4 euros, paper.

Although I have no special expertise in the horror genre, this book is definitely one of the best comprehensive studies of the evolution of early Gothic fiction into modern horror that I have read. In addition to its lengthy introduction and conclusion, where the author offers a detailed theoretical argument to "frame" his analyses, the main body of the text is structured around three general divisions: 1) the gothic/horror tale in the West—from Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) to James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898) and to Lovecraft; 2) its development in Latin America via "magic realism"—through authors like Borges, Cortàzar, Casares, Ocampo, Marquez, Hernandez, et al.—as well as in China (Pou Song Ling, mostly); and 3) an especially evocative discussion of the genre’s ability to portray that shadowy realm where love, desire, and eroticism rub elbows with death and dissolution in the works of Poe, Rodenbach, Benson, Stoker, Rice, Ballard, et al. Very interesting!

—Arthur B. Evans

Stéphane Nicot, ed. Les Univers de la Science-Fiction: Essais (supplement to the sf magazine Galaxies #8 [March 1998]). April 1998. 222 pp. 70 French francs/10.7 euros, paper.

This collection of twelve essays on science fiction by several well-known French sf scholars is noteworthy because it provides a glimpse into the current "institutional" status of the sf genre in France. According to its editor, this publication represents a concerted effort to establish a venue for learned sf criticism within the francophone university system—where sf has traditionally had difficulty in being accepted as a legitimate object of literary study. As he explains (my translation):

Contrary to its status in Anglo-Saxon countries, where science fiction now enjoys a growing institutional recognition, France still remains "open territory" for this genre which could well become—as Dan Simmons recently described it in an interview for Galaxies—one of the possible futures for modern literature.

The French university today voluntarily embraces the study of those various forms of literature descending from Dracula, but the study of sf still remains essentially suspect.... A strong polarization has developed between the specialists of sf—who, in the face of this disdain by the "establishment," exhibit an invigorating if sometimes undisciplined passion—and this institution of cultural legitimation called Academe. The former enclose themselves in a kind of ghetto logic; the latter hide behind their outdated notion of "paraliterature." Given these conditions, one can understand why serious study of sf has been slow to develop, especially in comparison to other countries like the United States or Canada.

It is to begin to remedy this regrettable situation that, starting in the spring of 1999 and every other year thereafter, an international university conference will take place in Nancy under the direction of Jean-Marc Gouanvic (professor at Concordia University in Montréal and founder of the sf journal imagine...). The proceedings of this conference will be published regularly.

In the interim, we felt it necessary to begin the debate: such is the goal of this publication. Both university scholars and specialists of sf have agreed to confront each other in this public arena. And we thank them both warmly. (3)

The volume is divided into three roughly chronological sections: "Great Ancestors," "Sf and Modernity," and "Confrontations." And the critical essays appearing within each part—inevitably of uneven value but, surprisingly, about half of them recycled from earlier publications—include the following (my translations): Michel Meurger, "The Peril Comes from the Moon: A War of the Worlds in 1809" (on Washington Irving’s A History of New York and the theme of lunar invasion); Dominique Warfa, "The Adventure Novel and the Origins of Science Fiction"; Dominique Kucharzewski, "Abraham Merritt: The Memory of Worlds"; Stéphane Nicot and Eric Vial, "The Lords of History: Notes on the Uchronia" (reprint of a 1986 article); Christine Renard-Cheinisse, "Religious Problems in this Literature Called Science Fiction" (reprint of a 1968 article); Jean Marigny, "Desert Initiation in Frank Herbert’s Dune" (reprint of a 1988 article); Michel Lamart, "1984-2050: A Defense of Language—Notes to Accompany George Orwell’s 1984"; Gérard Klein, "A Petition by Agents of the Dominant Culture for the Dismissal of Science Fiction" (reprint of his 1977 article, available in English in SFS 7:2 [July 1980]: 115-123); Jean-Marc Gouanvic, "The Social Stakes of Translating American Science Fiction During the 1950s: The Case of Rayon Fantastique" (reprint of a 1995 article); Jacques Goimard, "The Science-Fiction Generation" (reprint of a 1985 article); and Pierre Stolze, "Science Fiction: A Literature of Images, Not Ideas."

And the title of the final essay appearing in this collection, by Roger Bozzetto, struck me as especially à propos given the obvious lack of recent scholarship on sf by French university professors: "Science-Fiction Literature: Desperately Seeking Criticism."

—Arthur B. Evans

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