An Exercise in Creative Genealogy.
Thomas C. Renzi.
Jules Verne on Film: A Filmography of the Cinematic Adaptations of His Works, 1902 through 1997. McFarland (fax: 910-246-5018), 1998. xiv + 230 pp. $55 cloth.
The title of this book is somewhat misleading. It perhaps should have been called Jules Verne on Film: A Very Selective Filmography of the Cinematic Adaptations--Including Movies Arguably Derived From, Influenced By, Associated With, Parallel To, or Somehow Conveying the Aura Of--His Works, 1902 through 1997. What Thomas Renzi has done, in essence, is to lump together many (but far from all) of the straightforward cinematic adaptations of Verne's novels with a wide variety of other films that, in some way, appear to "echo" Verne's works. The result is often surprising and, at times, not a little incongruous. Movies such as Thunderball (1965) and Barbarella (1967), for example, find their supposed "origin" in Verne's Face au drapeau (For the Flag, 1896) because they feature mad scientists who threaten the world with doomsday devices. Films such as The Warlords of Atlantis (1978) and The Abyss (1989) are said to be spin-offs from Verne's L'Ile mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island, 1875) because they have undersea cities--"submerged islands"--that, according to the author, "suggest an aftermath to Twenty Thousand Leagues, since they have a kind of 'after-the-Nautilus-what' premise where events seem an outgrowth of Nemo's advanced science" (134). And a host of such popular movie thrillers as Meteor (1979), Asteroid (1997), and--incredibly--Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive (1986) are seen as somehow deriving from Verne's Hector Servadac (Off on a Comet, 1877) because their plots are about an impending collision or near-miss between Earth and a wayward heavenly body.
This enthusiastic, freewheeling, but very naive exercise in what might be called "creative genealogy"--where virtually any film might be labelled as "influenced by" Jules Verne because it contains a theme, a stock character, or some storyline once used by Verne--is hardly convincing. And it is definitely not serious film scholarship. But it is fun. And, to the author's credit, his commentary often implies that these putative cause-effect "borrowings" are mostly in the eye of the beholder. Almost every page of the book is filled with entre nous caveats--e.g., for the texts cited above as descendants of Verne's Face au drapeau, Renzi acknowledges: "In most such films, the similarities to Verne are more coincidental than intentional" (55). Nevertheless, I found it quite delightful to see gathered in one place so many different films supposedly related in one way or another (thematically, symbolically, or structurally) to Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires. Beyond the obvious and well-known adaptations--by Mè:liés, Disney, et al.--it is easy to see how certain movies like Fantastic Voyage (1966) might be construed as a "clever variation" (200) on Verne's Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, 1870). But who among us would have ever thought of associating the television movie Charlie and the Great Balloon Chase (1982) with Verne's Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1863)? Or the Orson Welles film The Lady from Shanghai (1948) with his Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine (The Tribulations of a Chinese Gentleman, 1879)? Or movies such as Blade Runner (1982) and Black Moon Rising (1985) with his Robur-le-conquér-ant (The Clipper of the Clouds, 1886) and Maître du monde (Master of the World, 1904)? Renzi makes clever, if at times rather strained, efforts to cement these connections, although his inclination to rope in filmic adaptations of several other writers' works--e.g., The People That Time Forgot (1977) is "blatantly derivative" (15) of Les Aventures du capitaine Hatteras (The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, 1866) despite being based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel (itself, Renzi asserts, essentially a Vernian text)--tends at times towards the critically reductive, if not the monomaniacal.
Despite its wide-ranging coverage, let there be no mistake about this book's much-less-than-comprehensive treatment of both Verne and "Verne-like" films. Although many of the straight cinematic adaptations of Verne's novels are represented, many are not. In particular, certain movies made for televi-sion--like the French ORTF broadcasts of the 1960s and 1970s--and animated Verne films in general are treated very sporadically if at all. Experts estimate that there have been over 300 cinema and television adaptations of Verne's works produced in the twentieth century, making him one of the most "translated" fictional authors (on celluloid, as on paper) in the world. In contrast, the total number of movies featured in Jules Verne on Film--including both straight adaptations and "derivational" titles--is a mere 167. There have been, for instance, no fewer than eight film adaptations of Verne's Les Enfants du capitaine Grant (The Children of Captain Grant, 1867) alone--this book lists three, plus one "related" film. Verne's short story Maître Zacharius (Master Zacharius, 1854) has been filmed at least five times, in both Europe and the USCand this book does not list it at all. A few other overlooked novels and short stories by Verne to have appeared on the large or small screen over the past few decades include Un Drame en Livonie (A Drama in Livonia, 1904) by Semione Aranovitch in 1972 in the USSR, La Chasse au météore (The Chase of the Meteor, 1908) by Roger Iglésis in 1966 in France, his country-man Jacques de Berne's 1982 adaptation of the short story Frritt-Flacc (Frritt-Flacc, 1885), the 1974 cinematic version of Le Pilote du Danube (The Danube Pilot, 1908) by Hungarian Miklós Markós, and a German animated version of L'Ile &$224; hélice (Propeller Island, 1895) by Armin Lang in 1978, among others. And I found it especially strange that Renzi's book virtually ignores those short films directed and produced by Jules Verne's own son Michel: e.g., his 1916-1919 cinematic productions of his father's La Destinée de Jean Morénas (The Destiny of Jean Morénas, 1910), Les Indes noires (The Black Indies, 1877), L'Etoile du sud (The Southern Star, 1884) and Les Cinq cents millions de la Bégum (The Begum's Fortune, 1879).
As for the overall structure of Jules Verne on Film, after the author's introduction and a brief--and unfortunately error-marred--biography of Verne, the book contains 23 chapters arranged alphabetically by title (in English), from The Adventures of Captain Hatteras to Voyage Across the Impossible (an unpublished play by Verne and Adophe d'Ennery, 1882). Each chapter begins with a thumbnail synopsis and some analysis of Verne's original story, and then goes on to offer detailed descriptions of those various films associated with/related to/derived from it. The plot resumés for the works listed seem generally quite reliable, despite occasional small errors like naming the central character of //I> "Cyrus Harding" (from the English translation) instead of "Cyrus Smith" (from the French), or describing the beginning of Les Enfants du capitaine Grant as "The story begins with a message found floating in a bottle" (34) when, in fact, the bottle is found in the belly of a shark. Finally, the book is handsomely illustrated throughout, and it concludes with two appendices--a chronological listing of Verne's novels and short stories and a (rather thin) bibliography of critical sources--and three indexes arranged by film director, by film title, and by general subject.
As a general reference tool, the value of this easily readable and sometimes insightful--yet often flawed and wholly idiosyncratic--book might be most aptly described as greater than the sum of its parts, principally because it is the only study currently available that discusses Jules Verne in the context of the international film industry. Brian Taves's excellent treatment of the cinematic adaptations of Verne's works in a chapter titled "Hollywood's Jules Verne" in his The Jules Verne Encyclopedia (Scarecrow, 1996: 205-48) is more rigorous and scholarly. But its coverage is restricted to "only Verne films either made or co-produced in the English language" (205). So until such time as either Taves or another Vernian researcher publishes the definitive study of Jules Verne in the cinema, Renzi's Jules Verne on Film will continue (alas) to stand as the best book on the subject
Imagination as Social Criticism.
Betty T. Bennett.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An Introduction.
Johns Hopkins UP (410-516-6998), 1998. xiii + 177 pp. $13.95 paper.
Most readers know Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley as the author of one novel, Frankenstein (1818), or at best two, as science fiction scholars and students of utopian literature also have discovered her novel of 1826, The Last Man. In this biocritical study--an extensively expanded version of the introduction written for Pickering and Chatto's recent eight-volume set of Mary Shelley's novels and other writings (eds. Nora Crook and Pamela Clemit, 1996)--Betty T. Bennett argues persuasively that the accepted views of Shelley, based on a limited awareness of her literary output as well as its full social-critical implications, underrate her abilities and misread her intentions.
As the daughter of two social radicals and the wife of another, Mary Shelley produced a body of work that consistently challenged her society's models of power, both in the private domain of the family and in the public realm of politics. Yet, ironically, critics have generally overlooked the political aspects of her work, in her own time and since. Her contemporaries, blind to the politics of the patriarchal family and convinced that public policy was a male domain, could not recognize the import of Mary Shelley's social criticism. More recent feminist scholars, reading Shelley through a generalized theory of women's writing, readily identify her criticisms of domestic politics but miss her "sociopoliti-cal reformist ideology" based on her "acute awareness of world events" (4). In short, Bennett argues, Shelley's "multidisciplinary fusion of literature, political philosophy, and history calls for a commensurate multidisciplina-ry reading in order to understand the complexities of both the author and her works" (4).
Bennett's purpose, well fulfilled in this short volume, is to provide such a multidisciplinary reading. Smoothly intertwining the key events and relationships of Mary Shelley's life with brief descriptions and analyses of her writings--the seven novels, her volumes of travel letters, short stories and reviews, and biographies--Bennett convincingly demonstrates that Shelley was a perceptive observer of her own time who used her writing, especially her imaginative writing, to grapple with problems that still haunt the twentieth century: issues of power and responsibility, both personal and societal, and the often-unexamined connections between these two realms. I suspect other readers will come away from this volume, as I did, with a generous respect for Mary Shelley, an unconventional young woman striving to make a place for herself in a Victorian world growing increasingly rigid, conventional, and materialistic. More than the tragic widow of the great Romantic poet, Mary Shelley was, as Bennett makes clear, a Romantic revolutionary in her own right--one "who outlived her peers but not her Romantic principles or her claim to be recognized among the 'Elect' of nineteenth-century literature and political reform" (121). Using her imagination, she strove to work out the problems that her more famous companions had raised but had not had the time in their brief lives to resolve, regarding the complex relationship of the individual to the larger society.
Bennett--who has also produced a valuable sampling of Mary Shelley's letters, Selected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Johns Hopkins, 1995), an abridgement of her 1980 three-volume edition- -and has co-edited, with Charles E. Robinson, the richly eclectic Mary Shelley Reader (Oxford, 1990)--has created here not only a deeper context for interpreting Shelley's best-known works, but also a reason to consider reading some of her previously overlooked material--much of which is now readily available, in no small part thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Bennett herself. The notes and bibliography are thorough without being obtrusive. This book is highly recommended for both scholars and teachers.
Kathleen L. Spencer, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College
[Editor's Note: That Mary Shelley's "overlooked material" is starting to draw increased critical attention is proven by the fourteen original essays gathered in Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after FRANKENSTEIN: Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Birth (Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997), edited by Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. All of Shelley's "other" novels--the obscure sentimental, gothic, and historical texts--as well as some of her short fiction are considered from diverse critical perspectives. The three essays covering The Last Man (1826), Shelley's end-of-the-world novel, and "The Mortal Immortal" (1834), an "alchymical" fairy tale, are of interest to sf scholars, as is Franks' annotated bibliography, which exhaustively canvasses the critical commentary that Shelley's post-Frankenstein fiction has received.--RL]
The Far North and Beyond: An Index to Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy in English Language Genre Magazines and Other Selected Periodicals of the Pulp Era, 1896-1955.
Occasional Paper #61. School of Library and Information Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada B3H 3J5), 1998. 62 pp. $28.95 (U.S. or Canadian; latter must add GST) paper. Overseas orders to Vine Press (c/o Mr. Eric Winter, The Library Association, 7 Ridgmount St, London WC1E 7AE).
If asked for a synonym for the English language, you might reply Anglo-American, but you might thereby wound the sensitivities of residents of other countries where English is the dominant language, such as Canada or Australia. Most of the material appearing in the 50,000 to 60,000 individual issues of English-language magazines emphasizing fantastic literature published in this century was written by American or British authors. About one percent of these issues--599, says Bell--contained fiction, poetry, or illustrations by 81 Canadians in 76 English-language magazines. Bell claims "there is also a significant amount of Canadian fantastic literature still unrecorded in Canadian, American, and British non-pulp periodicals of this same era," adding that the "resulting bibliographical record reveals a far greater degree of Canadian participation in the pulps than has hitherto been recognized" (6). The statement is unsupported boosterism; I don't know of anyone who has quantified the amount of earlier participation by Canadians, and I suspect few cared or care.
Bell decided, reasonably, to survey only native-born individuals, including expatriates like Gordon Dickson and A.E. van Vogt, and the foreign-born who resided in Canada for ten or more years. Bell's most difficult problem was to identify the nationality of the authors and illustrators in his sample, then check them against the numerous secondary sources listed in his bibliography--tedium writ large. The thirteen-page author index, which includes dozens of cross-references from pseudonyms, is the base list. Each author entry shows birth and death dates, source of biobibliographical information, title and length of story, magazine source, and date. This is followed by a title index, an illustrator index (the only significant one of the eleven listed is Hubert Rogers), and magazine and series indexes. An appendix lists the magazines published in Canada during this period, only two of them Canadian in origin.
Within Bell's narrow limits, he is very thorough. He cites Bleiler's Science-Fiction: The Early Years (Kent State UP, 1990) but not the equally massive Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years (Kent State UP, 1998), which appeared too late. In both volumes Bleiler made determined attempts to provide bio-graphical information about each author, but for many showed simply "no information." I checked half the 522 pages of the later volume, surnames beginning A-L, and found only three Canadian authors not listed by Bell: Clinton Constant(inescu), T. Proctor Hall, and Winthrop W. Hawkins, prob-ably a Canadian. Their fiction was as forgettable as most of that listed by Bell.
For someone wanting an overview of Canadian fantastic literature, by far the best introduction is Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy by David Ketterer (Indiana UP, 1992; remaindered copies are available at $10 from the author, 4321 Wilson Ave, Montreal H4A 2V1). Ketterer discusses both English and French-Canadian texts and of course does not limit himself to the pulps, which in any case were not the locus of the most significant work. The prolific John Robert Colombo's entry, "Fantastic Literature in English," in the Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature (2nd ed., 1996), provides a seven-page overview, with more detail available in his AFour Hundred Years of Fantastic Literature in Canada" in Andrea Paradis' Out of This World: Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature (Quarry Press and National Library of Canada, 1995). Colombo also co-compiled the 85-page bibliogra-phy, CDN SF & F: A Bibliography of Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (Hounslow Press, 1979), which descriptively annotates approximately 600 books published or set in Canada or written by Canadians. The Bell bibliogra-phy is little more than an overpriced, extended footnote, of interest only to a few specialists.
Neil Barron, Vista, California
[Editor's Note: Readers interested in Canadian sf are further directed to two anthologies edited by David G. Hartwell and Glenn Grant for Tor Books: Northern Stars (1994) and Northern Suns (1999). Featuring work by estab-lished writers (Michael G. Coney, Geoff Ryman, Phyllis Gotlieb) alongside newcomers--most of it published within the last decade--and mixing in mainstream talents who have dabbled in the fantastic (Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood), these books show that contemporary Canadian speculative literature is a thriving enterprise. Along with the stories, the volumes include substantial essays (by the late Judith Merril, Candas Jane Dorsey, and John Clute), as well as appendices listing major Canadian genre awards through 1998. Either book would be suitable for an sf course seeking to broaden its horizons, though Northern Suns has yet to appear in a paperback edition.--RL]
Bibliography of Portuguese SF Series
R.C. Nascimento, ed. Edição Comemorativa da Publicação do Volume 500 da Coleção Argonauta (A Commemorative Edition for the Publication of Volume 500 of the Argonauta Collection). São Paulo: Clube de Leitores de Ficção Científica/Qanat Fantasia e Ficção Científica. April 1999. 114 pp. Cover design by Octávio Aragão. Information: Caixa Postal 2105-Agência Central, São Paulo-SP, 01060-970, Brazil, or rcnascimento"zipmail.com.br.
Begun in 1953, the Coleção Argonauta, published by Livros do Brasil, a book company based in Lisbon, Portugal, is the most important sf book collection in the Portuguese language, even though it lacks good translations or fine editorial presentation. Publishing the main works of most of the Golden Age authors, plus a host of French writers, Argonauta arguably has shaped the science fiction readership both in Portugal and Brazil (where it has been more or less overtly smuggled, its distribution being interdicted); and it is still quite popular and beloved among the fans it helped to create. In April 1999 it issued its five-hundredth volume, Frederik Pohl's 1998 novel O Pioneer! (as Ó Pioneiro!, translated by Alexandra Santos Tavares).
In commemoration of the series, the Brazilian fan club Clube de Leitores de Ficção Científica (Science Fiction Reader's Club) has printed 150 copies of this Edição Comemorativa, edited by Brazil's main sf bibliographer, R.C. Nascimento--who, in 1985, used a reference book about Argonauta, his Quem É Quem na Ficção Científica, Volume 1: A Coleção Argonauta (Who's Who in Science Fiction, Vol. 1, The Argonauta Collection), to invite fans to found the Clube de Leitores. Edição Comemorativa has thirteen commentaries by major fans, booksellers, and collectors, including authors AntÓnio de Macedo (from Portugal), Finisia Fideli, José dos Santos Fernandes, and Miguel Carqueija; a short story by Norton Coll; editorials by Nascimento and Humberto Fimiani, the Club's current president; and copies of Portuguese newspaper stories on the appearance of the collection. Though it gives the reader a handy snapshot of Brazilian fandom, as influenced by Argonauta, it would be hard for those who don't read either Portuguese or Spanish. On the other hand, the bibliographical sections, which extend from pages 39 to 113, are mostly self-explanatory and may interest the English-speaking reader.
Nascimento's presentation of the bibliographical sections starts with a five-page explanation of his methods and a strong criticism of Argonauta's sometimes shabby editorial policies (for example, they published Pohl's A Plague of Pythons  and its revised and expanded version The Demon in the Skull  without any warning to readers that they were essentially the same story). In the bibliographic entries, Nascimento begins with the Portuguese title on one line, followed by the original title on a second line and the author on a third; at the left of each three-line column appears the series number (or numbers: many novels were printed in two or three volumes). Collections are marked with a [C]. Titles are listed first by publication order, then separately by author. This second list shows that Clifford D. Simak was the most published writer in the series (with 30 titles in 36 volumes), followed by Robert A. Heinlein (21 in 31) and A.E. van Vogt (21 in 22).
Using William G. Contento's Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections (G.K. Hall, 1978, 1984), Nascimento compares all the collections and anthologies published in Argonauta with the originals, showing cuts and reassemblings made by the Portuguese editors. Asimov's The Hugo Winners, Vol. 3 (1977), for instance, was reduced to 6 stories from 16. We also learn that the only book by a Portuguese author in the whole history of Argonauta was Lima de Freitas's anthology Os Melhores Contos de Ficção Científica: De Júlio Verne aos Astronautas (The Best SF Short Stories: From Jules Verne to the Astronauts), which included works by Verne, Wells, Lovecraft, Bester, Bradbury, Clarke, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown, Lester Del Rey, Daniel Keyes, J.-H. Rosny Aîné (France), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), Karel Capek (Czech Republic), Ivan Efremov (Russia), but none, strangely, by a Portuguese author. Other lists cover awards, translators, and cover artists. Edição Comemorativa will be of interest to sf bibliographers, literary agents, and book collectors.
Roberto de Sousa Causo, São Paulo
A Taste of Stapledon
Olaf Stapledon An Olaf Stapledon Reader, ed. Robert Crossley. Syracuse UP (800-365-8929), 1997. xxi + 314 pp. $45.00 cloth; $17.95 paper.
This volume is geared both for those unacquainted with Olaf Stapledon and those already familiar with his work. To the former, Crossley advises: "This anthology cannot replace the experience of reading Stapledon's masterpieces in their entirety"--and by masterpieces, he is referring, of course, to the four pillars of the Stapledon library, Last and First Men (1930), Odd John (1935), Star Maker (1937), and Sirius (1944)--"but it does let new readers wade at their leisure before taking the plunge over the falls" (xv). Those who already know Stapledon's major works, on the other hand, will discover a host of compelling material--namely, some creative pieces that are nowadays either difficult to obtain or out of print, as well as heretofore unpublished letters, essays, and memoirs that provide insight into Stapledon's intellectual physique and modus operandi.
Divided into five sections encompassing Fiction, Essays and Talks, Memoirs and Meditations, Letters, and Poems, the Reader is equipped with a wide-ranging editorial introduction, as well as with substantial headnotes to every document. Consequently, it is very user-friendly. For instance, in his introduction to the novella "The Flames" (1947), a remarkably Phildickian narrative in its treatment of paranoia fostered by a (potentially) "divine invasion," Crossley provides a paragraph of descriptive and historical information regarding the story's composition and its place in the Stapledon chronology, followed by canny speculation as to its inherent design. Similarly detailed and engaging commentary pervades the Reader and is one of its greatest strengths.
Crossley's general introduction offers a wealth of information underscoring the prophetic nature of Stapledon's work. In fact, one of the main purposes of the Reader is to "exhibit a generous sampling of Stapledon's prophetic utterances in a variety of genres and voices, ranging in time from his student days in 1908 to the day before his death in 1950" (x). Some of the most notable of these utterances are: "The Story of John," a blueprint for the satiric novel Odd John, which focuses on the trials, tribulations, and ultimate demise of a race of superhumans; an excerpt from the novel Darkness and the Light (1942), which posits two alternative futures, one utopian, one dystopian; the essay "The Splendid Race" (1908) and the talk "The Remaking of Man" (1931), both giving an idea of Stapledon's lifelong interest in eugenics; and the better part of the Reader's poetry. Stapledon's verse is not the most musical stuff, but it is thematically provocative, philosophically rich, and deeply absorbed with humanity's relationship to the universe, both today and in days to come. Sometimes as confident and zealous as Nietzsche, sometimes as uncertain and hesitant as Kafka, Stapledon emerges from this Reader as a unique, trailblazing forecaster of things to come--though, as Crossley stresses, "his real aim all along was mythmaking rather than prediction" (xi).
At one point in his literary career, following the publication of Last and First Men, Stapledon actually enjoyed a modest fame in literary circles. But by the time of his death, he was a relatively obscure figure in English letters, his name preserved only within the sf genre--and even there, marginally. I hope that Crossley's volume is successful in reintroducing the author to a wider audience. The profundity and immensity of Stapledon's vision remains, I think, unparalleled, and An Olaf Stapledon Reader presents a fine taste of this vision--one that will leave those already familiar with its flavor piqued, and those new to it wishing for more
David H. Wilson, Michigan State University
A Superior Achievement
J.P. Telotte A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age. Wesleyan UP (fax: 860-685-2421), 1999. xi + 218 pp. $19.95 paper.
A Distant Technology deals primarily with sf films produced during the "Machine Age"--defined as approximately 1914 to 1940--in the Soviet Union, Germany, France, the United States, and Great Britain. Forming a fine companion volume to Telotte's Replications: A Robotic History of the Science Fiction Film (1995), the book is a substantial work of scholarship and criticism, one that I have already begun to incorporate into my teaching of sf. Before rendering my praise, however, I do have a few complaints.
Telotte correctly stresses that he deals with neglected films, but he stresses the point a bit too much. It is true that Vivian Sobchack's coverage of the genre in Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film (Ungar, 1987) begins in 1950, and that David A. Cook's A History of Narrative Film (Norton, 2nd ed., 1990), a standard general reference, claims that sf emerged as a distinct film genre only in the postwar period. Still, not only did John Baxter deal with early sf films (in several national traditions) in his book Science Fiction in the Cinema (A.S. Barnes, 1970), a point Telotte acknowledges, but also John Brosnan's Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction (St. Martin's, 1978) and Frederik Pohl and Frederik Pohl IV's Science Fiction Studies in Film (Ace, 1981) focused, in their opening chapters, on sf cinema of the silent era and immediately afterwards. The films Telotte studies have, as he writes, "largely gone unexplored" (15)--but with the important emphasis I here supply.
More significantly, Telotte never makes clear why he identifies 1914-1940 as "The Machine Age." If this periodization is usual and customary in the history of technology, then he should tell that to readers who are ignorant of the relevant dating conventions. Telotte uses to good effect Henri Bergson's turn-of-the-century essay on "Laughter," with its underlying assumptions about mechanism and vitalism, yet Thomas Carlyle presented similar views on "Mechanics" vs. "Dynamics" in his influential "Signs of the Times" essay of 1829, wherein he claimed that Europe had entered "the Mechanical Age." There is nothing wrong with focusing A Distant Technology on the years between 1914 and 1940, but a quick review of nineteenth-century debates about the culture of technology would have been useful, indicating why, say, Carlyle's Mechanical Age was not yet a Machine Age in Telotte's terms.
Telotte's understanding of the social and psychological implications of the Machine Age derives largely from Robert D. Romanyshyn's Technology as Symptom and Dream (Routledge, 1989), wherein a notion of "distance"--of the detached observation of things and people--is developed by way of the theories of Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord. Yet, again, this definition does not clearly demarcate an early twentieth century machine culture from a Victorian one: in Sartor Resartus (1831), for example, Carlyle pictured a similar sense of detachment and isolation resulting from the generalization of a mechanistic world-view. Likewise, Telotte's excellent discussion of Chaplin's Modern Times (1936)--wherein he traces the workers' fear that modern techniques of production would make them "not just the manipulators but the manipulated ... not just the masters of the machine but the mastered as well" (27)--converges with Karl Marx's critiques of factory production written in the mid-nineteenth century. The concept of "distance" in A Distant Technology seems closely related to what Carlyle described and Marx and others have analyzed as alienation. Telotte's discussion of the Babel sequence in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) suggests that we could trace the roots of such alienation back to Bronze Age city building, the origins of kingship, and the belief in an individual immortal soul; certainly we can go back farther than the 1920s and 30s "to see the foundation of a typically postmodern anxiety" (27). Generally speaking, Telotte's formulation of historical periods would benefit from clarification.
But now let me praise A Distant Technology. With so many of the works Telotte discusses now readily available on videotape and DVD, this attempt at a synthetic reading of early sf film is very welcome, especially to teachers. And Telotte is an excellent reader, making sense of Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924) by means of the linked themes of seduction and what Romanyshyn calls the "dream of distance"--the problems of "a self separated and isolated from the world" (43). The (anti)hero of the film, the engineer Los, must resist the seductions of high-tech space flight and romantic adventure on Mars and recommit himself to his wife and the Revolution. This same model of seduction and distance allows also a very elegant reading of Metropolis, not only giving the Babel sequence the emphasis it deserves but also opening up new possibilities for interpreting the gaze of Joh Fredersen, the master of Metropo-lis, and the Modernist cityscape panoramas that initially are the favored objects of his gaze.
In addition to his analyses of such standards as Lang's Metropolis and Die Frau im Mond (1929), Telotte offers insightful readings of films ranging from the classic silent comedies of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton (as well as Chaplin); to Paris Qui Dort (Sleeping Paris, a.k.a. Le Rayon Invisible [The Invisible Ray], 1924), with its powerful imagery of distance; to American sf serials; to the ever-so-earnest British production of Things to Come (1936). If a coherent reading of Aelita is an achievement, Telotte perhaps tops it in his discussion of Things to Come, where he argues (following a reading suggested by Christopher Frayling) that the phallic Space Gun featured in the climax of the film visually "rhymes" with a toy cannon in the opening Christmas sequence. Thus, to progress, as the film does, from a toy cannon to real anti-aircraft guns to a gun that allows peaceful exploration of the universe suggests "a kind of growth, a maturation of the technological spirit" (160).
A Distant Technology ends with a discussion of "The New York World's Fair as Science Fiction," in which Telotte shows how Machine Age visions were disseminated throughout twentieth century popular culture. The book is capped with extensive and useful notes, a filmography, a bibliography, and a serviceable index of proper nouns with occasional subdivisions by topic (the index would be more useful if it offered also key words directing readers to themes). A Distant Technology is a work to be argued with and built upon; a superior achievement of scholarship and analysis, it is an important contribu-tion to the field of sf film studies,
Richard D. Erlich, Miami University (Oxford, OH)
A Culture of Flow
John Johnston Information Multiplicity: American Fiction in the Age of Media Saturation. Johns Hopkins UP (410-516-6998), 1998. x + 307 pp. $55 cloth; $18.95 paper.
John Johnston's Information Multiplicity closely studies five postmodernist novelists--Thomas Pynchon, Joseph McElroy, William Gaddis, Don DeLillo, and William Gibson--whose work foregrounds the phenomenon of uncertainty in information transfer, "inquir[ing] into the nature and limits of the culture's instruments of data processing" (13). Drawing on cybernetics and post-structural-ist theory (especially the concept of "assemblage" as developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in Mille plateaux [A Thousand Plateaus, 1980]), Johnston applies a decentered model of information that necessarily exceeds consciousness, arguing for the power of information technologies to inform and mold our perceptual and cognitive capacities. Of course, this concern is not an exclusively postmodernist one, as Marshall McLuhan has shown in his study of Joyce's incorporation of newspaper layout and film techniques into Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939) respectively (see McLuhan's 1954 article, "Joyce, Mallarmé, and the Press" in The Interior Landscape [McGraw-Hill, 1969]). The basic principle of "McLuhanism" is that the technologies of mass media essentially preempt content, becoming themselves an integral part of the information under transfer.
Unsurprisingly, Johnston's touchstone text is Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)--a work (extensively influenced by McLuhan) that assembles an allegory of how we process information within an environment saturated by the mass media. Just as communications technology mediates landscape in the novel, so protagonist Oedipa Maas' progressive "revelations" trigger memories themselves mediated by technology. In short, there is no point of origin preceding the media, a narrative situation Johnston attributes partly to the story's California setting. Pynchon presents California as the privileged site of the arms industry, commercially every bit as important as the communications media, a fact that explains the rampant paranoia of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow, (1973)--another text treated extensively here. As Johnston shrewdly puts it, Gravity's Rainbow opposes the "official" organization of information by "transposing its history into a continuous but indeterminate stream of delirious media effects" (63). Pynchon resists processes of capture and control--Weberian "rationalization"--by demonstrating the non-rational impulses on which these processes are grounded: a desire for transcendence and a suppressed collective death wish. The novel deploys a whole range of disruptive techniques like burlesque and anarchic farce to ridicule those agencies that presume to control and exploit information.
It is in his very good discussion of Pynchon that one of Johnston's most conspicuous omissions emerges. Although he admits that William S. Burroughs was a formative figure upon the variant of postmodernist fiction surveyed in the book, no chapter is devoted to Burroughs' work. Burroughs pursued the implications of a central trope--the virus--that he appropriated from 1950s science fiction, using it to conflate biology and information technology. In his novels of the early 1960s, the virus constitutes an overmastering narrative of invasion and takeover, emerging as an analogue of the imperialistic expansion in state bureaucracy. Burroughs never describes any transfer of information without recognizing its dimensions of power and control and its implications for embodied consciousness--hence his fascination with technicians of mind-alteration such as Doctor Benway in Naked Lunch (1959) or Dr. "Fingers" Schafer in Dead Fingers Talk (1963). Burroughs is the invisible presence behind Pynchon's recognition of the death-directed processes informing postwar society, and one would have liked to hear Johnston's take on his pathbreaking work.
If Johnston does not adequately trace Pynchon's own literary and cultural sources, he does a fine job of tracking his influence on other writers. Johnston's discussion of McElroy shows a strong continuity between that author and Pynchon, and indeed Lookout Cartridge (1974) can be read partly as a more elaborate version of Lot 49, exploring a character's attempts to organize the bewildering welter of data unearthed during a search. This search focuses on a film, since destroyed, that the narrator had helped to make; but the novel enmeshes the film in a web of competing economic interests and political rivalries. Like Burroughs and Pynchon, McElroy makes the film part of the novel's textual condition: the recurrence of such terms as "insert" and "loop" invite comparisons linking the narration with film scripts and even computer processing, with the result that all linear goals--from the protago-nist's quest to the techniques of storytelling itself--are undermined by the proliferation of different information networks within the novel.
As Johnston demonstrates, the writings of his chosen novelists are deeply implicated in the very media processes they are critiquing. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gaddis's JR (Gaddis was the subject of Johnston's first book, Carnival of Repetition [U Pennsylvania P, 1990]). Drawing on the theories of Baudrillard and Lyotard, Johnston argues that the novel dramatizes at enormous length the extent to which American corporate capitalism produces a culture of "flow." The main currency now is less money than words, a situation foreground-ed by the novel's extensive use of dialogue--a literary method that minimizes location and appearance, and flattens out the difference between human speech and technological "voices." As a result, characters become attenuated into a sequence of disembodied utterances. Making his business deals over the telephone (one of the main media in the novel), the youthful protagonist JR literally speaks into being his "Family of Companies," which thus come to have a virtual existence independent of any administrative location. In fact, as Johnston argues, Gaddis problematizes the nature of these and other corporations, implying that they are scarcely more substantial than verbal constructs. Echoing Deleuze and Guattari, Johnston identifies the dialogic speech acts in JR as "little desiring machines" playing against one another; much of the comedy in the novel grows out of the grotesque interplay among different verbal registers and the general noise of voices cutting across other voices.
Gaddis, like Pynchon and DeLillo, is described in Tom LeClair's monograph on the latter, In the Loop (U Illinois P, 1987), as a "systems novelist"; indeed, LeClair's study anticipates many of the themes of Johnston's volume. The astronaut-narrator of DeLillo's 1983 story "Human Moments in World War III" finds himself drawn by technical jargon into a weapons system whose internal functioning blinds him to the system's implications. This basic situation recurs throughout DeLillo's work, which, Johnston stresses, views "reality" as highly mediated and structured, often by official agencies, with the various jargons of these systems scripting the behavior of the protagonists. Johnston proposes Libra, DeLillo's 1988 novel of the Kennedy assassination, as his most characteristic work. Certainly it is impossible to imagine any other event in postwar America that has been so intensely scrutinized; for that reason, Johnston calls it an "event as multiplicity" (188). Libra alternates two plot lines, one following Lee Harvey Oswald's gradual implication in the growing conspiracy, the other chronicling the efforts of ex-CIA operative Nicholas Branch to write a history of the killing. Branch, whose very name suggests bureaucratic proliferation, boggles at the enormous stacks of materials provided for him, the sheer quantity of which suggests the impossibility of any single viewpoint. As Johnston shows, DeLillo presents Oswald as a figure who could actually be constructed by the different agencies--in other words, as a pawnlike creation.
A common theme running through every chapter of Information Multiplicity is that the conventional methods of fictional realism have proven totally inadequate to cope with the media environment of postwar America. In fact, most of Johnston's writers have been drawn, at one time or another, to science fiction, a genre with an acute sensitivity to the symbiosis between human behavior and technology. While Johnston occasionally characterizes the novels he surveys in quasi-sf terms--he describes Lookout Cartridge as the "prose fiction equivalent of a hyperspace and the drama of one character's attempt to trace his own cognitive map of its contours and passages" (120), thus implicitly invoking cyberpunk--it isn't until the closing sections of the book that he addresses the genre directly. His chosen examples are William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) and, in a brief coda, Pat Cadigan's Synners (1989).
Johnston broadly distinguishes Neuromancer from the other novels he considers by asserting that Pynchon, Gaddis, and DeLillo tend to preserve distinctions among the media they weave into their narratives, whereas Gibson evokes a total information environment. He writes a "fiction of spatial multiplicity" (253) where the media blur together into a single shifting field; what Gaddis shows (in JR) as a clash among levels of discourse, Gibson renders as a collapsing together of functions. Information is such a centrally defining feature of Gibson's composite urban world that his cities are mapped on an electronic grid according to frequency of information transfer, not density of population. Like Gibson's novel, Cadigan's Synners evokes a world of streetwise hustlers for whom data is the subject of deals, individual and corporate; however, Cadigan's treatment of character, Johnston argues, offers an implicit critique of Gibson's mythic vision of the cyberspace cowboy. In Neuromancer, Case looks down on the body as mere "meat," an attitude satirized by Cadigan in her character Visual Mark, who dreams of escaping his "meat hell" through brain implants that permit access to an ecstatic cyberspatial realm beyond mortal boundaries. Cadigan retains a notion of the necessary constraints of embodiment, as evidenced by the bodily cost paid by Visual Mark, who suffers a massive stroke while jacked in--in the process releasing a virus that has both biological consequences (in the deaths that ensue) and technological results (when L.A.'s computerized traffic control system collapses). In Johnston's words, Synners shows a "continuum of subjectivities inseparable from but not reducible to the workings of a new technological assemblage" (265), thus reminding us of the complex fate of the body within the fiction of information transfer.
Information Multiplicity has the double value of offering sophisticated analyses of complex contemporary fictions and at the same time opening up a series of issues related to mass media and the body that resonate with other novels foregrounding the concept of information. His strong discussion of the cyberpunk texts of Gibson and Cadigan suggests fruitful connections with sf novels Johnston does not discuss--such as Thomas M. Disch's Camp Concentration (1968), with its intelligence-enhancing drug that facilitates the ability to process information while at the same time destroying the body, or (especially) Bernard Wolfe's Limbo (1952), which weaves into its narrative the cybernetic theories of Norbert Wiener, using them to support radical techniques of bodily manipulation. These are only two examples--the works of Philip K. Dick could supply many others--where the human subject shades into networks of transfer and communication. Johnston's provocative and valuable study relates closely to approaches developed by critics such as David Porush, Tom LeClair, and Scott Bukatman, in which media technology is seen as inflecting the mode of narration itself. The length and complexity of so many of the novels discussed by Johnston seem to conform to the encyclopedic genre identified some years ago by Edward Mendelson--with the irony that, the more these novels amass information, the further they move away from any totalizing view. In that sense they confirm an impetus Johnston locates within information flow towards proliferation and diversity.
David Seed, University of Liverpool
John Taliaferro. Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan.
Scribner (fax: 212-632-4957), 1999. 400 pp. $30 cloth.
This is a very well done biography of perhaps the most successful popular writer of the century. My only complaint is that no one's "real" life could ever measure up to the careers of Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars, both of whom are not only action heroes par excellence, but are also to die for. Burroughs' long, very professional, and startlingly prolific career as a one-man culture industry pales in comparison to the immensely colorful lives of his fictional characters, especially that of his most famous and long-lived creation, the white-skinned and blue-blooded Lord of the Jungle. Still, as John Taliaferro, erstwhile senior editor at Newsweek and Texas Monthly, tells us in this detailed account, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) hardly led a conventional life. In the course of his seventy-four years, he punched cattle in the midwest, joined the army and chased Apaches in Arizona (he didn't find any), invested in an endless array of almost-crackpot ideas for getting rich quickly, got rich relatively quickly due to the endless appetite of the pulps for his brand of product, was a so-so husband and a quite good father, speculated in land in California, founded the California town of Tarzana, involved himself in the early radio and film industries, was involved in WWII as its oldest war correspondent, made fortunes and could not keep them, and established the still-profitable Tarzan business empire known as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. He also, of course, wrote over seventy books, twenty-four of them featuring Tarzan. Like Philip K. Dick, he craved acceptance by the literary mainstream, but unlike Dick, his literary stock is hardly higher now than it was when he was alive. Whether or not it is true, as Taliaferro suggests, that "The life of Edgar Rice Burroughs is a chronicle of personal highs and lows, successes and insecurities that faithfully mirror the aspirations and tensions of the society around him" (23), this is the story that shapes Taliaferro's biography. Burroughs plays out his life against the backdrop of an American social/political scene ranging from post-Civil War Chicago to post WWII-California. Tarzan Forever is impressively well researched and tellingly detailed (if somewhat lacking in irony), and its focus is on Burroughs' life rather than his writing. This leads me to wonder what a critical biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs' writing career would look like: would it be a good thing or a bad thing? Or something else entirely?
Tony Magistrale, ed. Discovering Stephen King's THE SHINING: Essays on the Bestselling Novel by America's Premier Horror Writer. 2nd ed., rev. & exp. 144 pp. $30 cloth; $20 paper.
Bill Munster, ed. Discovering Dean Koontz: Essays on America's Bestselling Writer of Suspense and Horror Fiction. 2nd ed., rev. & exp. 184 pp. $31 cloth; $21 paper.
Darrell Schweitzer. Windows of the Imagination: Essays on Fantastic
Literature. 208 pp. $33 cloth; $23 paper.
William F. Touponce.Ray Bradbury and the Poetics of Reverie: Gaston
Bachelard, Wolfgang Iser, and the Reader's Response to Fantastic Literature. 2nd ed., rev & exp. 168 pp. $31 cloth; $21 paper.
These four books, all 1998 titles, are among the last to be published by Borgo Press, which announced its closing this past Spring after twenty-four years in operation. All are volumes in a curiously eclectic (indeed, in
retrospect, really rather madcap) series: I.O. Evans Studies in the Philosophy and Criticism of Literature. Three of them--the Touponce book on Bradbury and the Magistrale and Munster anthologies--are second editions of titles published by the defunct Starmont House: the latter books are of only marginal interest to sf scholars, and the former was already reviewed in these pages by R.D. Mullen in SFS #53. All I will add to Mullen's comments is that Touponce's study is probably the most ambitious attempt to apply reader-response theory to sf, though its narrow focus on a single author makes its conclusions difficult to generalize; like Mullen, I find Touponce's readings of Bradbury's work somewhat strained. The Schweitzer collection is an amiable ensemble of materials, including autobiographical essays, studies of Lovecraft and of supernatural fantasy generally, reviews of various fiction and nonfiction (including sf by Stanley G. Weinbaum, Philip K. Dick, and Ursula K. Le Guin), and other obiter dicta. Taken altogether, these books show Borgo Press at its best and worst: though underproduced and overpriced, they feature comment on genre writers (both famous and obscure) otherwise unlikely to reach print; while the level of this comment varies from the penetrating to the pedestrian, it is generally valuable to have. One would have wished that Borgo had decided to issue titles featuring newer material--such as a couple of collections of Brian Stableford's essays announced but now cancelled--instead of these three "revised and expanded" volumes, especially given that they have in some cases been only marginally altered (the Magistrale book on King is the one most thoroughly reworked). A title by Stableford that did make it into print, Glorious Perversity: The Decline and Fall of Literary Decadence, will be reviewed in a future issue. The Borgo Press fax number (909-888-4942) remains in operation as of this writing (September 1); those interested in ordering copies of these or other books are urged to do so immediately. The Science Fiction Research Association, on its listserv in the Spring and at its annual conference in June, debated the possibility of forming an SFRA Press in the wake of Borgo's demise; the organization recently appointed a committee to consider possibilities.
James Gunn, ed. The British Way: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5. . White Wolf (800-454-9653), 1998. 622 pp. $14.99 paper.
This installment in James Gunn's excellent historical anthology series is one of two new volumes devoted to non-American sf (the other, entitled Around the World, is reviewed elsewhere in this issue). Although the four previous books had included British work, Gunn admits in his introduction that he "had described sf as it had come to me: as an American genre" (9), and thus these new volumes were needed to balance the series. As a survey of British sf, one might perhaps debate a few of the book's omissions (no John Christopher or Barrington J. Bayley, no stories post-1986) or its specific selection of texts (why include the deeply obscure Peter Phillips? why pick such a minor work by M. John Harrison?), but honestly, these would be mere quibbles with what is clearly a solid and valuable gathering of UK sf--35 works by 33 authors, ranging from an excerpt from George T. Chesney's The Battle of Dorking (1871) to short stories by Tanith Lee, Ian Watson, and Brian M. Stableford. The only major drawbacks are Gunn's introduction and headnotes, which pursue the platitudinous thesis that British sf is "dark" and "pessimistic" by contrast with the American tradition. Still battling the British New Wave's purported "vision of impotent humanity facing the ineffable, the incomprehen-sible, and the overwhelming" (488), Gunn's critical perspective is excessively narrow and, frankly, rather embarrassing given the ideational and emotional amplitude of the fiction itself. My recommendation: devour the latter, ignore the former.
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