Science Fiction Studies

#78 = Volume 26, Part 2 = July 1999


A Writer and His Quirk.

Michel Delville. J.G. Ballard. Plymouth, UL: Northcote House, 1998. x + 102 pp. £8.99 paper.

The "Writers and their Work" series has a standard format of 30,000 words, and critics are asked to write in an accessible, introductory style, making no assumptions about prior knowledge of authors. The books tend to be single-author studies, although studies of the sensation novel and the working class novel have also appeared. This extensive series is co-sponsored by the British Council, which still plays a curious role as ambassador of British culture in offices around the world. Perhaps, then, there is a certain irony in Ballard’s inclusion in this publishing line. In the 1950s and 60s, the "Writers and their Work" series issued through Council offices were flimsy pamphlets in garish orange covers on the great figures of British letters, and the series could clearly be read as a cultural armature of empire (it was published then by Longmans, a company with extensive markets throughout the empire and latterly the Commonwealth). The officers of the British Council might well have been the sort of insular English figures satirized by Ballard in Empire of the Sun (1984), attending elegant fancy-dress parties, secure in their cultural superiority, yet refusing to face their collapsing political power.

For a post-colonial age, however, the "Writers and their Work" books have a new publisher, and, under the general editorship of Professor Isobel Armstrong, the series has shifted towards much more theoretically and politically informed assessments of writers. Canonical figures are still featured but are opened to new readings, and contemporary writers like Ian McEwan and Tony Harrison have been included from the beginning of the re-launch. Michel Delville has no doubts about whether Ballard deserves inclusion: his book ends with the claim that the author’s work represents "one of the most unsettling, imaginative and uncompromisingly political fictional achievements of the latter half of this century" (91). That Ballard is (or was?) an sf author is not at issue here, and the single-author focus inevitably forecloses sustained discussion of broader sf contexts.

Michel Delville has done, on the whole, an excellent job within the limits of the series format. In ten brief but always informative chapters, he covers Ballard’s output chronologically from the early catastrophe books to the latest novel, Cocaine Nights (1996). He pauses on what he considers key texts–there is equal space for Crash (1973) and Concrete Island (1974), and a lengthy treatment of The Unlimited Dream Company (1979) as "one of Ballard’s most untypical, but also most successful" books (58)–and is skillful in using clusters of Ballard’s short stories to demonstrate important themes. Although the need to cover such a productive career occasionally reduces some texts to breathless summaries, Delville resists any simple trajectory through the work–different refractions of the desire for transcendence, say, as in Gregory Stephenson’s Out of the Night and Into the Dream (Greenwood, 1991)–and is particularly interesting on the dangers of reading Ballard’s impersonations of autobiography in the 1980s and 90s as marking a redemptive maturity compared with the confrontational ferocity of The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and Crash. After the publication of The Kindness of Women (1991), the critic Nicholas Zurbrugg described Ballard as an "ex-dystopian," a writer who had resolved his destructive obsessional drives. Delville is dismissive of such therapy-speak, and almost welcomes the clumsy, heavy-handed reworking of old themes in Rushing to Paradise (1994) as much as he does the overt return to perversity and psychosis in Cocaine Nights.

Delville’s theoretical approach takes its lead from the novels, and so explores Ballard’s work in principally psychoanalytic and semiotic terms. Delville is adept at discussing in an accessible way Ballard’s repeated staging of the "return of the repressed" despite the best societal controls and superegoic defenses; he explains clearly how those emerging repressed drives in the Freudian paradigm necessarily intertwine desire and death, Eros and Thanatos. Ballard’s fascination with media saturation and its effects on contemporary subjectivity suggests to Delville that the author’s notion of the "death of affect" is central to mapping the varieties of extremity, isolation, and alienation in his fiction, not just in the more obviously "extreme" texts of the 1970s, but beginning with the early stories set in Vermilion Sands (collected in 1971). In my view, Delville shares with other recent critics of Ballard a tendency to over-emphasize connections between the author’s approach to media issues and the cultural theories of Jean Baudrillard. Perhaps this is a personal bugbear, but I would not want to see Ballard perpetually given legitimation as merely "reminiscent" or "anticipatory" of Baudrillard, particularly as the latter’s star is obviously on the wane. Nevertheless, important ideas regarding media "simulation" and the "loss of the real" are presented by Delville with clarity and care.

One of the strangest effects of the book is the relative ease with which Delville discusses texts that rank among the most disturbing in postwar fiction. The theories of Freud, Baudrillard, and Bataille, and the fictions of Genet and Burroughs, have come to form a cultural/critical context in which the extremities of Ballard’s work "make sense." I wonder if such frameworks have now become over-familiar and even domesticating, since they function to make books like The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash seem remarkably uncontroversial. Outside of academic and avant-gardist discourses, however, Ballard’s work can still provoke extraordinary responses, and two years on from the much-delayed release of the film version of Crash in Britain, the center of London is still divided between zones where it is banned from cinemas (in the borough of Westminster) and zones where it is not (in Camden). Giving more attention to the extraordinary venom unleashed by the film in Britain and elsewhere–the conservative film critic of the London Evening Standard termed it "the most depraved film ever made" and the government minister for National Heritage encouraged local authorities to ban its distribution and screening–might revitalize the need to explain Ballard’s extreme vision in ways that are less comfortably ensconced in academic presuppositions, or which would at least acknowledge its still very visceral uneasiness.

Curiously, Delville only becomes censorious when citing Ballard’s hymn to 30-second ads for prostitutes on American cable TV as "the most interesting films of today" (89). Apparently Ballard here reveals a theoretical weakness: his "postulate that televised sex and violence can promote social emancipation seems to ignore the blatant mercantilism of media culture" (89). One could agree, but also wonder why Ballard’s comments, at this juncture, receive such criticism when there has been no discussion of the violence towards women evidenced in his novels and only a cursory analysis of Ballard’s failure to "create credible and sophisticated female characters" (47). Delville makes a distinction between the ludic properties of Ballard’s fiction and the extra-fictive utterances of his reviews–from which the cable TV comment is derived–but this creates a false boundary. Many of Ballard’s fictive and extra-fictive utterances originate from exactly the same crucible of 60s cultural radicalism, the same desire to épater les bourgeois with the rhetoric of desublimation.

Indeed, I would suggest that there is one key area that neither Delville or any other critic has yet adequately addressed: Ballard as a reviewer and non-fictional essayist. Since the publication of his nonfiction collection A User’s Guide to the Millennium (1996), it has become easier to appreciate Ballard’s mastery of the book review as a surreptitious way of continuing his fiction by other means and gaining a wider audience for his polemics. He has amassed an iconography of the late twentieth century that matches Roland Barthes’ Mythologies (1957) for its concision, wit, and subversiveness, whether deploying it to needle the liberal readership of the Guardian or Independent on Sunday or to slowly corrupt the Tory readership of The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that rather unbelievably began to take his reviews in the 1990s. No one seems to have noticed as yet that Ballard rarely reviews the books in question, but uses the space to spin yet more fictions around his favored fetishes. Perhaps recognizing this might have messed up the edges of a "Writer and his Work" and done something to dislodge the sense in which Ballard’s complex and idiosyncratic discourse could be too easily reduced to a concise aesthetics and a manageable oeuvre.

Roger Luckhurst, Birkbeck College

[Ed. Note: On Ballard as an essayist and reviewer, I refer interested readers to my article covering Ballard’s User’s Guide to the Millennium in the March 1997 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.–RL]

Interviews with Jules Verne.

Daniel Compère and Jean-Michel Margot, eds. Entretiens avec Jules Verne 1873-1905.. Genève: Editions Slatkine, 1998. 275 pp. 35 Swiss francs/22 euors (approx. $25) paper.

This book constitutes an important new contribution to the scholarship on Jules Verne. For the first time, all personal interviews with Verne (many of which have never before been published and/or were previously unknown) are collected into one meticulously annotated volume. The editors are expert Verne scholars, familiar to and respected by all Verne aficionados. Daniel Compère has published several top-notch books and dozens of insightful articles on Jules Verne over the past two decades, his Jules Verne, Écrivain (Droz, 1991) being perhaps the most notable. And Jean-Michel Margot is one of the world’s leading bibliographers and Vernian book collectors: his continually-updated Bibliographie documentaire sur Jules Verne (Centre de documentation Jules Verne, 1989) now contains over 7000 items. Incidentally, this extensive book collection has recently been moved from Switzerland to the United States and is now available to everyone wishing to do advanced research on Verne; those interested should contact Margot at the following e-mail address for more information: <>.

Entretiens avec Jules Verne is divided into eight chronologically-based chapters and includes editorial introductions that offer useful historical and literary insights into the 32 interviews showcased in the book. These chapters are arranged as follows: A Bord du Saint-Michel ("Aboard the Saint-Michel"–referring to Verne’s first yacht, purchased in 1868, and featuring two early interviews from 1873 and 1875); Le Tour du Monde de Nellie Bly ("Around the World with Nellie Bly"–five interviews from 1890, the year after Nellie Bly’s famous 72-day circumnavigation of the globe); Chez Jules Verne (seven interviews from 1893-99 at Verne’s home in Amiens); Le Tour du Monde de Gaston Stiegler (six interviews from 1901, the year Gaston Stiegler completed his trip around the world in a record-breaking 63 days); Dernières et Prolifiques Années ("Final and Prolific Years"–ten interviews from 1902 until Verne’s death in 1905); Un Souvenir, Un Adieu ("A Remembrance, A Farewell"–two published eulogies, one in France and one in the United States, appearing after his death); and Entretiens avec Michel Verne (two interviews with Verne’s son who, as research now shows, collaborated very closely with his father during Jules Verne’s final years).

The book also contains a general introduction and a postface wherein the editors speak not only of their own modus operandi in collecting this material but also of the "kaleidoscopic" (259) portrait of Verne that emerges from these interviews and the growing "Jules Verne myth" that began to cling to his name partly as a result of them. An appendix concludes the volume, listing all works of Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires in chronological order by date of first publication, along with a somewhat skimpy but functional index. Finally, the book includes numerous handsome black and white illustrations from the period; its translations of the original English-language interviews appear to be complete and accurate; and its overall typography is thankfully free of those irksome little misprints that often plague publications of this sort.

I consider this book to be one of the most significant additions to Jules Verne criticism since the Taves and Michaluk Jules Verne Encyclopedia (see SFS 23.2 [July 1996]: 305-306). It provides scholars with many original documents never before available and, unlike the many derivative conjectures in Herbert R. Lottman’s "modern biography" of Verne (see SFS 24.3 [Nov. 1997]: 489-98), this collection of interviews allows the well-known but often misunderstood Verne to speak for himself. In fact, I dare say that, had this book been published earlier in this century, many of the most common myths about Jules Verne the man–e.g., that he was a visionary prophet of things to come, that he read and spoke English fluently, that he was a scientist, a misogynist, a secluded eccentric, etc.–would probably have never developed.

The Verne who emerges from these interviews is a vigorously prolific, vastly imaginative, yet sometimes stubbornly self-effacing writer who chose to shun the sycophantic literary salons of nineteenth-century Paris for the quiet town of Amiens in order to chronicle the wonders of the Machine Age. He proves to be a man who was fully engaged in the scientific and social issues of his era, yet who preferred to be called a simple "story-teller." And he is also shown to be a novelist who was painfully aware of his own oxymoronic status as one of the most popular and translated authors of all time, yet ignored by the literary establishment of his native land. Most important, it is Jules Verne himself who, in his wide-ranging discussions with the many journalists whose work is reprinted here, provides the raw materials for this firsthand reportage.

My only quibble with this excellent volume is that all the interviews contained within it–even the ones originally published in English–are in French only. This may seem, of course, wholly understandable given the publisher and the book’s intended audience. But for all those monolingual Verne fans of the world’s sf community whose native tongue is English–and who perhaps have an even greater need for such primary texts to penetrate the many fallacies surrounding Verne’s legacy–it is regrettable that only a fraction of these interviews will continue to be accessible. Despite this basic reservation, however, I strongly recommend Entretiens avec Jules Verne 1873-1905 to all French-reading scholars of sf and especially to those historians of the genre who are looking for a glimpse of the real man behind the myth.


A Champion of Humane Values.

Jerome Klinkowitz. Vonnegut in Fact: The Public Spokesmanship of Personal Fiction. U South Carolina P (800-768-2500), 1998. 168 pp. $24.95 cloth.

Perhaps it was inevitable that having written several distinguished books about Vonnegut’s novels, Jerome Klinkowitz would at last write about everything else. Vonnegut in Fact covers in detail the two volumes of short stories; the three collections of essays, interviews, and speeches; and the many public addresses, commencement speeches, and sermons produced over the years by Vonnegut. Klinkowitz relates the basic technique of Vonnegut’s public addresses to that of his polemical writing and both of these–eventually–to his novels. Vonnegut once remarked that "the only way a novelist ... can have any political effectiveness in his creative prime" is through public speaking. A rereading of his public addresses–prompted by Klinkowitz–reveals how excellent they are. Vonnegut is easily one of the best public spokespersons for humane values America has. His clear-headed discussions of complex issues reminds his audiences again and again of the fragility, the sacredness, of human beings and of the considerable folly of which we are capable.

Like Thoreau, Vonnegut chooses to speak simply but with great humor, passion, and effectiveness. Much of the power of what he says derives from his naive pose as a speaker who sees familiar things directly and fresh. For instance, looking at Christ’s often quoted–and misquoted–statement about the poor that "you always have with you," Vonnegut sees Jesus as jokingly saying "about what Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln would have said under similar circumstances"–when tired, foreseeing great pain, and exasperated by the phoniness of someone like Judas. So Jesus turns to Judas and says, in Vonnegut’s refreshing translation of the Hebrew seen through the New Testament Greek: "Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone." This, Vonnegut hastens to explain, is "a divine black joke, well suited to the occasion. It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor" (101). Simple, brilliant, to the point, and–I suspect for anyone in Vonnegut’s audience–unforgettable. Such nuggets are buried in all the best of his public addresses.

Throughout the book, Klinkowitz takes a dim view of science fiction, almost going out of his way to separate Vonnegut from the mode. Looking back at Player Piano (1952) and The Sirens of Titan (1959), Klinkowitz contends that they "seem far less science-fictionish than commonly middle-class" (3). His remark appears to suggest more than it means, since "middle-class" does not necessarily exclude "science fiction" or any other literary mode or genre. Vonnegut’s science fiction novels with their often blatant middle-class values have stood the test of time as science fiction with a wide readership–all remain in print. A good argument can be made that the best of Vonnegut’s work is his science fiction, beginning with The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle (1963) and continuing through Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) to Galápagos (1985). Klinkowitz praises Timequake (1997) as "something new: the autobiography of a novel" (133). Perhaps. What remains clear, however, is that Timequake exemplifies science fiction at its best as Vonnegut utilizes the mode to explore the experiences of loss and love.

The great strength of Vonnegut in Fact lies in its thoroughness. Klinkowitz covers virtually everything Vonnegut has written or said. He clearly knows where all the bodies are buried. Vonnegut once warned Klinkowitz and John Somer–co-editors of The Vonnegut Statement (Delacorte, 1973) and Vonnegut in America (Delacorte, 1977)–that there were some things they had not discovered and he was determined that they would not find. It now looks as if Klinkowitz has dug up just about everything there is of the Vonnegut oeuvre. His readings of the various books are always lucid. If Vonnegut in Fact has a limitation, it must also lie in its thoroughness, for its considerable detail often overwhelms rather than convinces. Still, on balance, Klinkowitz has performed yet another valuable service for Vonnegut readers and critics.

Donald Morse, Oakland University

A Relaxing Tour of Possibilities

Clifford Pickover The Science of Aliens. Basic Books (800-386-5656), 1998. xvi + 222 pp. $21 cloth.

This chatty, informal look at how aliens might appear comes to us filtered through Pickford's usual once-over-lightly style. It is not scholarly, and often seems slapdash. There are some references to written sf, but much of Pickford’s view of aliens seems shaped by TV and films.

He announces early that "Jack Chalker is my favorite science fiction writer for his sheer diversity of aliens" (42), and follows with a tour of many possibilities. His knowledge of written sf is spotty; he seems to prefer gosh-wow descriptions of how aliens look to understanding how they could come about. When he speculates that "it might be possible to have intelligent flying aliens on planets with lower gravities than that of Earth or with denser atmospheres" (30-31), he seems unaware that Poul Anderson (who rates no index entry) wrote an entire novel thinking through such a world, The People of the Wind (1973).

Pickford’s grasp of some areas is broad, however. He considers in separate chapters alien senses, extreme environments, non-Earthlike worlds, alien sex, communication with aliens, how they might travel, and social modes. There is a long chapter on alien abductions, much of it a waste in my view. He centers on Whitley Strieber, whose Communion (1987) kicked off the best-seller abduction industry. Reviewing that book for the New York Times, I opened by saying, "This work can best be understood either as a calculated attempt to create a best-seller, or as the work of a deranged author." I tend toward the former explanation still, but Pickford treats abduction as a genuine question.

There is some scholarly apparatus: index and footnotes and references. Pickford knows none of the critical attention paid to aliens as literary devices, including the Eaton Conference volume–Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction (Southern Illinois UP, 1987), edited by George Slusser and Eric Rabkin–which staked out much of the territory. Instead, he conveys well the sense of wonder at the idea of how odd aliens might be. The best aspect of this book is the many drawings, several quite evocative. Pickford has researched some of their scientific backgrounds well, and renders this clearly.

For a relaxing tour of possibilities, his work is fun. Don’t look for much more.

—Gregory Benford, University of California at Irvine

Brief Notices

Bison Books. "Frontiers of Imagination" Series. U Nebraska O (fax: 402-472-6214), since 1998. Standard price $14.95 paper.

This reprint series of trade paperbacks of "classic" sf titles includes, to date, editions of Jules Verne’s The Chase of the Golden Meteor (1908), Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot (1918), Camille Flammarion’s La Fin du Monde (1893-4), and a collection of Jack London’s Fantastic Tales, with editions of J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder (1911) and Mary E. Bradley Lane’s Mizora (1880-81) forthcoming. None of the books contains what might be called a scholarly apparatus (though each is graced with an introduction or foreword by a contemporary sf writer), and while their production values are appealing in terms of physical appearance, little of the publisher’s budget has been spent on the texts themselves. The Flammarion and Verne novels, for example, have not been retranslated. Instead, very dubious early translations–for Flammarion, the anonymous 1894 translation, retitled Omega: The Last Days of the World, published in the US by Cosmopolitan Publishing Company; for Verne, the Frederick Lawton translation published in London by Grant Richards in 1909–have been retained unchanged, probably because they are in the public domain and thus cost Bison Books nothing. Furthermore, the gathering of London stories is merely a reproduction of the 1975 collection edited by Dale L. Walker for Kennikat Press; indeed, in his (unchanged) introduction, Walker refers to the book by its original title, Curious Fragments. Walker also quotes literary critic Earle Labor’s comment, in 1974, that "a coming critical generation will have the understanding and the resources to assess [London] justly and fully"–an assessment that has in fact occurred, prompted in part by the publication in 1988 of the author’s letters (edited by Labor, Robert C. Leitz, and I. Milo Shepard for Stanford University Press), and culminating in Jonathan Auerbach’s fine critical study, Male Call: Becoming Jack London (Duke, 1996). A fresh introduction to the collection might have taken the past two decades worth of scholarship into account, but apparently Bison Books’ budget did not permit them to commission one. Still, it is a pleasure to have these rare materials back in print in inexpensive editions, though teachers will need to use them with care and to supplement them with background information. If Bison is looking for other prospective reprint titles, they should examine the work of M.P. Shiel and Marie Corelli.


Lucie Armitt. Theorising the Fantastic. St. Martin's (fax: 800-672-2054), 1996. vii + 205 pp. $59.95 cloth; $17.95 paper.

This is a very useful, although densely presented, review/overview of a range of theoretical work on the fantastic and a good updating of Rosemary Jackson’s Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (Methuen, 1981). At the same time, Theorising the Fantastic attempts, quite successfully, to incorporate recent theoretical constructions of the body and embodiment into this existing critical framework. Like Jackson, Armitt views fantasy as an imaginative mode rather than as a specific narrative (sub)genre; as she argues in her introduction: "now we can look at the fantastic as a form of writing which is about opening up subversive spaces within the mainstream rather than ghettoizing fantasy by encasing it within genres" (3). Theorising the Fantastic is organized into two large divisions, "Reading Theory" and "Reading Texts," the first of which introduces readers to some of the most influential constructions of the fantastic, while the second applies Armitt’s own synthesis to detailed readings of specific texts. "Reading Theory" offers carefully balanced analyses of structuralist and psychoanalytic approaches to the fantastic, and then develops Armitt’s own conceptual model of the "metamorphic body," which she sees as central to the contemporary fantastic. Theorising the Fantastic thus situates itself within current debates in the study of contemporary sf and fantasy for which the body–both the physical body and the imaginative body–is a crucially important category. Armitt’s detailed considerations of the grotesque body and the cyborg body, for instance, suggest new and useful ways to envision science fiction’s place within the much broader arena of the fantastic. Armitt is a British academic and, while several of the texts she reads, such as Iain Banks’s The Bridge (1986), may be unfamiliar to North American readers, for the most part she has selected works like Lewis Carroll’s Alice books and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1914), which enjoy a wide readership. Armitt is the editor of an earlier collection of essays on sf, Where No Man Has Gone Before: Women and Science Fiction (Routledge, 1991), and Theorising the Fantastic demonstrates her continuing interest in feminist and gender issues in fantastic literature. There is much here that will reward readerly attention. Given its rather stiff and dense rhetorical style, however, readers familiar with Rosemary Jackson’s gracefully written earlier work might well regret that her influence on this present study remains confined to the area of ideas.


W.J.T. Mitchell The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon. U Chicago P (fax: 773-702-9756), 1998. 321 pp. $35 cloth.

This is an absolutely delicious cultural history of the dinosaur as the "totem animal" of the twentieth century. Although it has only a tangential relationship with science fiction, the figure of the dinosaur has lurked around the margins of speculative fiction and film for so long now that The Last Dinosaur Book has much to offer sf fans, as well as readers interested in a more general study of popular culture and the workings of cultural representation. W.J.T. Mitchell, a distinguished and prolific scholar of art history, here takes on the role of "iconologist" to study the changing fortunes of what is probably, in spite of its extinct status, the most publicized species of animal on the planet. For Mitchell, "The dinosaur’s revival from the dustbin of the history of science has been one of the big stories of paleontology in what cultural historians call the postmodern era" (24). This, however, doesn’t say anything about The Last Dinosaur Book itself, which is one of the most beautiful and entertaining textual objects to come my way in years. The proliferation of visual images is overwhelming, ranging from photographs of museum exhibits, to Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strips, to stills from Bringing Up Baby (1938), King Kong (1933), and Jurassic Park (1993), to reproductions of some of the most interesting "dinosaur art," such as Rudolph Zellinger’s huge fresco of "The Age of Reptiles" commissioned by Yale’s Peabody Museum. The Last Dinosaur Book is a kind of collage, not only in the layout of its individual pages (which burst at the seams with illustrations, margin notes, and a variety of typefaces), but in its overall construction as well. Mitchell has divided it into several large sections, each of which is itself a pastiche of stories, fantasies, historical information, scientific evidence, and contending representations, and his text is as charming, informal, and intelligent as are the visual images which are so central to his project. This is an exemplary visual and cultural history, packed with information, with critically astute commentary, and with whimsical speculation. Might the dinosaur, whose image has circulated everywhere for so long now, be facing a second extinction here at the end of the twentieth century? "Could Jurassic Park actually be the last hurrah of the terrible lizards, a premonition that they could disappear a second time?" (84). The context in which Mitchell sets his iconographical study is also very appealing: imagine, he suggests, that a race of erect reptilian bipeds visits earth in the far future and tries to reconstruct a picture of a vanished human civilization. They will, of course, find images of dinosaurs absolutely everywhere, and might, in fact, produce a cultural history which looks a lot like The Last Dinosaur Book.


Keith Allen Daniels, ed. Arthur C. Clarke and Lord Dunsany: A Correspondence.Anamnesis (fax: 415-255-3190), 1998. 83 pp. $19.95 paper.

This curious little book is the chronicle of an epistolary exchange between Clarke and Dunsany that ran from 1944 to 1956. The exchange is marked by mutual admiration–e.g., Clarke calls the ending of The Charwoman’s Shadow (1926) "the finest piece of pure magic I know in the whole of literature" (82)–and by a lively shared interest in imaginative writing and its relationship to issues scientific and philosophical. The pair debate the theories of Charles Fort, the work of Lovecraft and C.S. Lewis, and the implications of various astronomical discoveries. The exchange is generally charming if rather lightweight in terms of its scholarly value (and, perhaps, its value for the dollar). Anamnesis has promised a follow-up volume, C.S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke: The Space Debate.


William S. Burroughs. Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader. Grove (fax: 212-614-7886), 1998. xxxi + 932 pp. $27.50 cloth. Includes an audio CD

This book surveys the life’s work of the author whom J.G. Ballard once called the greatest myth-maker of the twentieth century from his early unpublished writings up to his final texts of the 1990s. Burroughs not only wrote a very strange brand of quasi-sf, he also often wrote explicitly on science fiction, and Word Virus contains, for example, his fascinating essay on the theme of immortality (which offers readings of sf novels by Colin Wilson, Fred Mustard Stewart, and David Rorvik), as well as some scattered musings on how he used sf texts in his notorious cut-up experiments. Some remarkable sf-inspired sequences are also reproduced–e.g., the attack on the alien mind screens section of Nova Express (1963), which contains delirious parodies of sf exposition ("Enemy plans exploded in a burst of rapid calculations– Clicking in punch cards of redirected orders ... Sound of thinking metal–" [232]). Burroughs distilled sf, along with other elements of contemporary technoculture, into a unique prose poetry of remarkable lyrical power. Readers seeking an introduction to his vast and multifarious oeuvre need look no further than this magnificent volume.


Magali Cornier Michael. Feminism and the Postmodern Impulse: Post-World War II Fiction SUNY P (518-472-5000), 1996. x + 275 pp. $21.95 paper.

This book is a competent study of the intersections of feminist politics and postmodernist aesthetics, primarily (despite the subtitle) during the 1970s and 80s. It is of interest to sf scholars because of its chapters on Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985); other chapters cover Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962) and Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus (1984). Michael makes some effort to place sf in terms of theories of postmodernism, developing and critiquing the views of Brian McHale and Marleen Barr.


Teresa A. Goddu. Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation. Columbia UP (fax: 800-944-1844), 1997. x + 226 pp. $45 cloth; $16.50 paper.

This solid study of eighteenth and ninteenth- century American Gothic literature makes a compelling case for the form’s essential links to social and political realities such as slavery and the relations between the sexes. Sf scholars will be particularly interested in Goddu’s arresting reading of Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym(1838) in terms of the text’s implication in contemporary pseudo-scientific theories of racial identity. There are also strong chapters on Crèvecoeur, Charles Brockden Brown, John Neal, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Harriet Jacobs.


David G. Hartwell and Milton T. Wolf, eds. Visions of Wonder: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology New York: Tor, 1996. 798 pp. $24.95 paper.

Unlike previous anthologies endorsed by the SFRA, Visions of Wonder is less concerned with historical scope than with reflecting the current state of the genre. The earliest story included hails from 1965, and the vast majority were published within the last decade. The tales are divided into nine rather vague thematic sections, each prefaced by a critical "essay." These nonfiction pieces, none original to the volume, are curiously eclectic, ranging from full-fledged essays to book chapters to introductions culled from earlier anthologies. They have at times been sketchily edited for their appearance here: an excerpt from Hartwell’s historical study of the genre Age of Wonders (Walker, 1984) refers to other sections of that text as if they were forthcoming. Despite the SFRA’s imprimatur, none of these essays are by academic critics, but rather by major sf authors (Samuel Delany, Joanna Russ, Brian Stableford), reviewers (Damon Knight, Algis Budrys), and editors (Hartwell, Judith Merril, J.W. Campbell). Some of these pieces are of historical importance only, while others have continuing critical relevance; yet the editors provide no real guidance permitting one to make these discriminations. The volume’s major lack, as a teaching anthology, is a substantial analytic introduction that would provide pedagogical orientation as well as a convincing rationale for what appears in the book and what does not. Indeed, despite its apparatus–which includes a judicious "selective guide to scholarship" prepared by Gary K. Wolfe–the animating perspective of the volume is essentially that of the creative anthologist whose selections are geared not to clarify issues of scholarship but to trace intuitive crosscurrents within the fiction. Happily, Hartwell is the best sf anthologist currently practicing; as a result, the book is a treasure-trove of solid stories rich with subtle connections that the seasoned teacher can exploit effectively. Visions of Wonder is, in short, not for teaching novices or those new to the field. It is also of dubious value to sf courses designed as historical surveys; much better in this regard is James Gunn’s excellent "Road to Science Fiction" series, some volumes of which are currently available in paperback from White Wolf Press (see their website at <>).


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