Science Fiction Studies
#81 = Volume 27, Part 2 = July 2000
Camille Paglia. The Birds. BFI (British Film Institute) Press, 1998. 104 pp. $10.95 paper.
Iain Sinclair. Crash: David Cronenberg’s Post-mortem on J.G. Ballard’s "Trajectory of Fate." BFI (British Film Institute) Press, 1999. 128 pp. $10.95 paper.
The BFI Film Classics series—released in the US by Indiana UP—continues to feature uneven but occasionally valuable commentary on a number of genre titles (see Brooks Landon’s review-essay on the series in SFS 25.2 [July 1998]: 361-70). Two recent volumes, covering Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliantly apocalyptic The Birds (1963) and David Cronenberg’s flawed but fascinating 1996 adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel Crash (1973), show the series at its best and worst. While the project of monograph-length essays on individual films is a worthy one, the rather sketchy editorial quality-control tends to vitiate the series’s promise. More thought seems to have gone into the production and packaging of the books (which are quite attractive) than into their critical content or the general process of selection: the films canvassed are chosen by the individual authors, who clearly have carte blanche in terms of their methods of approach. Thus, while Iain Sinclair’s study of Crash is deeply researched (including firsthand interviews) and offers rich contextual readings of both film and novel, Camille Paglia’s essay on The Birds is so impressionistic and dominated by plot summary that it can hardly be called a work of scholarship at all. In other words, Sinclair provides film criticism while Paglia offers film appreciation.
This difference is reflected in their books’ structures: Crash is divided into eight chapters that usefully sort Sinclair’s analytical frames, whereas The Birds comes out in one long logorrheic rush. Sinclair, who is a distinguished British novelist and poet, has admirably avoided the celebrity turn to which Paglia, a renowned (not to say notorious) American cultural critic, has allowed herself to succumb. As a result, Sinclair’s book provides an arresting and detailed study of the imaginative work involved in the process of adaptation, tracing Ballard’s and Cronenberg’s mutual debts to a fertile mix of technoculture sources, as well as to sf literature and cinema and the experimental texts of William S. Burroughs. By contrast, Paglia offers a stew of vague bromides (The Birds is about "captivity and domestication" ), aimless erudition (the blue square of sky in the pecked-out roof at the end of the film "reminds me of the smashed brothel window in Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’" ), and cute asides (do we really need to know that Paglia "usually cheer[s]" when a specific character is attacked? [57-58]). The best analysis of Hitchcock’s masterpiece remains Bill Nichols’ chapter, "For The Birds," in his Ideology and the Image: Social Representation in the Cinema and Other Media (Indiana UP, 1981), which Paglia never cites—probably because of her oft-stated disdain for academic criticism (though one might think that Nichols’ rigorous marxist/semiotic approach would fit quite nicely with Paglia’s conviction that the "more microscopically [The Birds] is studied, the more it reveals" ).
Other recent (1998-99) genre-related titles in the series include Richard Dyer on David Fincher’s brooding serial-killer film Seven (1995), Kim Newman on the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur classic Cat People (1943), and Mark Kermode on William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), an updated 2nd edition of his 1997 study released to coincide with the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary.—RL
Jack H. Stocker, ed. Chemistry and Science Fiction.American Chemical Society, 1998. xxii + 292 pp. $29.95 paper. Distributed by Oxford UP.
Charles Sheffield. Borderlands of Science. Baen, 1999. 367 pp. $22 cloth.
Here are two very different books exploring the connections between science and our genre. At the core of Stocker’s odd and uneven Chemistry and Science Fiction are a number of papers first presented at a 1992 meeting of the American Chemical Society’s History of Chemistry Division. Other pieces have been written specifically for the book, while still others are reprints from various sources. One essay, the first of Isaac Asimov’s Thiotimoline parodies of scientific papers, is more than fifty years old. Most of the authors are or were working chemists, not to mention longtime readers of sf. The book also includes basic introductory pieces by James Gunn and Connie Willis. Stocker opens the volume with a brief preface explaining how the book came about and follows it up with a set of elaborate and sometimes humorous biographical notes on his contributors. One of the things we learn about the editor, who is currently Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of New Orleans, is that he is also a member of First Fandom. This fact may partially explain the odd, offhand tone of Stocker’s own contributions to the volume.
The book is divided into five sections: An Overview, History and Tradition, The New Media: Television and the Movies, Chemists at Play, and Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom. An Overview begins with an essay entitled "A Science-Fiction Primer for the Uninitiated" by Stocker, which has the feel of a reminiscence created by a lifelong fan whose knowledge of the field is extremely broad, but whose view is somewhat idiosyncratic. Touching briefly on both the genre’s popularity and its dubious respectability, Stocker suggests a variety of definitions of sf, trotting out standard quotations from Sturgeon and Clarke. Unfortunately, he makes mistakes: e.g., Ralph Bellamy did not write Looking Backwards (though he was a decent actor); Tarzan is not really sword-and-sorcery; the digest-style sf magazines that emerged in the 1950s are not usually classified as pulps. Stocker is also confusing when he attempts to explain the distinction between "supernatural" and "scientific" fiction. He asks "When one ‘explains’ an apparently ‘supernatural’ phenomenon in ‘scientific’ terms, does the story involved then become science fiction?" The answer to this question, it seems to me, is a straightforward "yes," but Stocker immediately gives an example (in which a "demon survive[s] a direct hit by a 10-kiloton A-bomb") that is simply irrelevant to the question asked.
The section on History and Tradition begins with Ben B. Chastain’s short summary of the field from Kepler through Wells, with most of the material devoted to the latter figure. What distinguishes this piece from other such basic surveys is the fact that Chastain looks briefly at the use each author makes of chemistry in his or her stories. Mark A. Nanny examines a wide range of stories devoted to the exploration of other planets with particular emphasis on planetary chemistry. This essay is the first piece in the book likely to appeal to veteran sf readers, with its brief but detailed explanations of the science in well-known stories by Weinbaum, Miller, Simak, Silverberg, and others. Other competent essays in this section discuss chemistry in the fiction of Asimov, Pynchon, and Conan Doyle. Less successful are a piece on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s The Moon is Hell! (1951)and the work of the eminently forgettable T.P. Caravan, not to mention editor Stocker’s "On the Covers of Science Fiction Magazines," a pictorial essay that has no real connection with the book’s ostensible topic.
The next section of the book, The New Media: Television and the Movies, features Natalie Foster’s "Where No One Has Gone Before: Chemistry in Star Trek" and Penny A. Chalconer’s "Chemistry in TV Science Fiction." Foster’s piece pairs up three sets of episodes from the original Star Trek and The Next Generation that center on various aspects of chemistry, coming to surprisingly positive conclusions about their scientific accuracy. Chalconer opens her somewhat more skeptical essay by discussing two of the same Star Trek episodes as well as a number of Dr. Who episodes, using them to examine how TV science fiction influences public perceptions of science and scientists. She closes her essay, in many ways the most interesting in the book, with an examination of how these episodes reflect contemporary concerns, particularly about the environment.
Chemists at Play reprints in their original, faded, two-column format two of Asimov’s science parodies that had been discussed earlier in the book, plus another short parody by Michael J.S. Dewar. Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom features several essays on teaching sf, the most interesting a statistical study by Clarence J. Murphy et al. on the appearance of chemists and physicists in various sf—which, unfortunately, is marred by multiple misspellings of Larry Niven’s last name and a listing of Asimov’s I, Robot (1950) as simply Robot. The book concludes with an Appendix that consists primarily of a series of recommended reading lists provided by Connie Willis, James Gunn, and several other contributors to the volume. Of particular interest is Mark A. Nanny’s contribution, which is divided by planets. The various lists must be used with caution, however, because they are seriously undermined by typographical errors.
Chemistry and Science Fiction is a decidedly mixed bag. Several of the essays included are excellent and are likely to be of interest to the typical reader of SFS, particularly the pieces by Nanny, Foster, and Chalconer, as well as James F. O’Brien’s on Sherlock Holmes. Some of the other essays are either too basic to hold the attention of a veteran sf reader or, though well done, likely to appeal exclusively to other chemists (who may, after all, be seen as the intended audience for the volume). Alas, a number of the essays struck me as badly written, poorly organized, trivial, or in serious need of fact checking.
In Charles Sheffield we have a writer whose feet are firmly planted in both science and science fiction. A mathematician, physicist, and former president of the American Astronautical Society, he’s also a past president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and a Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner, not to mention a member of the Science Fiction Research Association. Although it deals with cutting-edge science and technology, Borderlands of Science is a curiously old-fashioned book in some ways, harking back to such works as Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)—books intended, with incredible ambition, to encompass all knowledge of the day. Sheffield ranges across most of the major scientific fields likely to be of interest to prospective sf writers, giving a brief, clear history of that field, explaining the significance of each scientific breakthrough, and gradually leading his readers to what he calls the "borderlands," the place at which hard science breaks off and speculation begins.
Perhaps the best way to indicate the amazing breadth of this book is simply to list the major chapter headings: these include "The Realm of Physics," which centers on quantum mechanics, relativity, and related issues; "Physics in the Large," which concentrates on stars and black holes; "Physics in the Very Large," which concerns cosmology; "The Constraints of Chemistry," which deals with such topics as materials science and organic and inorganic chemistry; "The Limits of Biology," which discusses the origins of life, aging, viruses, and other topics; "New Worlds for Old," which summarizes the current state of our knowledge about each planet of the solar system (connecting nicely with Nanny’s essay in Chemistry and Science Fiction); "Spaceflight"; "Far-out Alternatives," which examines SETI and some less likely possibilities for interstellar travel; "Deus ex Machina," which concentrates on computers; "Chaos: The Unlicked Bear-Whelp," which centers on chaos theory, fractals, and strange attractors; "Future War"; and "Beyond Science," which goes into a variety of radical ideas that, although not entirely outside the realm of scientific possibility, are, or at one time were, considered heresies by the science community at large. Among these are the death of the dinosaurs due to an asteroid impact, the Gaia hypothesis, cold fusion, the steady-state universe, and panspermia. Among Sheffield’s many subtopics are such intriguing fields as quantum teleportation, high-temperature superconductivity, fullerenes, prions, space elevators, the vacuum energy drive, and Frank Tipler’s Omega Point theory (which, I have to admit, I would have included in the Beyond Science chapter, although Sheffield lumps it in with Cosmology). He also gives numerous examples of sf stories by himself and others that have already made use of these ideas in interesting ways.
Sheffield is a hard sf writer. Although he is willing to speculate pretty wildly—witness his use of the Omega Point theory in his 1997 novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow—Sheffield considers it basic to true science fiction that a writer should never violate known scientific fact. His goals in Borderlands of Science are twofold: to give beginning writers a quick course in what those facts are and to suggest areas on the edge of accepted science where it might be profitable for an author to speculate in his or her fiction. In general Sheffield succeeds admirably in achieving both goals. Although this book is clearly aimed at the non-scientist, its primary readers will undoubtedly be the scientifically literate—subscribers to Scientific American or Science News, for example. While a significant amount of the material is likely to be known to them, Sheffield’s book is so packed with ideas and speculations that interested readers are sure to find themselves fascinated.—Michael Levy, University of Wisconsin-Stout
William E. Burrows. This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age. Random House, 1998. xviii + 723 pp. $34.95 cloth.
Howard E. McCurdy. Space and the American Imagination. Smithsonian Institution, 1997. x + 297 pp. $29.95 cloth; $17.95 paper.
Methodologically distinct, but usefully complementary, two recent books on the origins and evolution of the space age will amply reward the attention of readers interested in the history of space exploration and the relationship between public policy and popular culture.
In This New Ocean, prolific aviation and space journalist William E. Burrows provides the most comprehensive narrative to date not only of the Cold War-era competition between the US and the USSR that resulted in the Apollo 11 moon landing of July 1969, but also the fate of the US and (post-) Soviet space programs during what some would argue has become a three-decades-long denouement to the first phase of "manned" exploration. Although the first two-thirds of the book will be at least somewhat familiar to readers of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Walter A. McDougall’s often brilliant, if ideologically debatable, The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (Basic Books, 1985; reissued Johns Hopkins, 1997), which basically concludes with the Apollo program, Burrows’s massive book has more to recommend it than the obvious advantage of being less dated and therefore more attentive to the developments of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
Perhaps best known heretofore as the author of the widely praised study Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security (Random House, 1986), Burrows has drawn on recently declassified materials from the US and Soviet archives, several dozen interviews with scientists and engineers from both sides, and his own longstanding fascination with national security and technology in creating a panoramic history, one more attentive than McDougall’s to the competing and often irreconcilable agendas of scientists, engineers, politicians, and the military, as each group tried to co-opt space for its own purposes. Indeed, in Burrows’s telling, the drama often emerges more via intranational than international conflicts—not just in the US military’s well-known resistance to the creation of NASA as a putatively "civilian" agency, but also in lesser-known tensions such as those that have played out among the scientists willing publicly to denounce manned space exploration as a waste of money and the scientists who have offered public obeisance as the price of getting their experiments aloft.
The issue of why space exploration has been equated with manned exploration is also at the heart of Howard E. McCurdy’s Space and the American Imagination. A public policy analyst who has written previously on NASA, McCurdy adopts a quasi-cultural studies model in showing how writers of popular science and science fiction succeeded in linking their vision of the inevitability of human space exploration to pre-existing mythologies in US culture, most notably that of the frontier. In this fashion they influenced the decisions of policymakers to pursue the manned exploration that had captured the public’s imagination rather than the often cheaper, more scientifically justifiable and technologically sophisticated unmanned programs. McMurdy develops his argument using a multitude of fascinating examples, ranging from famed rocketeer Wernher von Braun’s savvy participation in public forums (including a Collier’s Magazine series on space and televised Walt Disney specials) as a means of drumming up public support (and funding) for his research, to the probable influence of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 1969 film 2001: A Space Odyssey on early design plans for the space shuttle that President Nixon approved four years later.
McCurdy makes a fairly compelling case for his view that technological innovation and political calculation would not have resulted in programs such as Apollo and the space station had cultural workers not already laid the groundwork. Lay readers, however, would be better served by turning first to This New Ocean, because McCurdy’s thematic approach to his topic seems geared toward those who already have a solid grasp of the technological and political history of space exploration. In fact, one can only hope this is the case, since his decision to gloss over the ethically compromised backgrounds of key figures such as von Braun seems otherwise inexplicable. Where Space and the American Imagination obviously bests This New Ocean, though, is in having a clearly articulated thesis. Burrows is much harder to pin down, exposing various forms of collusion among industry, the military, and politicians while still sometimes writing as though he truly believes the US is a free-market economy, not to mention claiming to be interested in giving comparable treatment to the US and Soviet space programs, even as he resorts to lampooning Khrushchev as a shoe-banging lout.
As this example might suggest, a weakness of both books is their failure finally to move beyond the US/USSR binary in thinking about space exploration. This omission is more justifiable for McCurdy, since he presents his work as being specifically about the "American" imagination, and he also does at least take note that the fantasy of manned space exploration has historically had greater appeal to white men than to women or people of color. Burrows, by contrast, offers his study as being more broadly about the "First Space Age," and as a result his failure to talk about developments outside the US and former Soviet Union, such as the history of the European Space Agency, is disappointing. The omission is particularly noticeable since Burrows’s opening chapter offers a historically and geographically sweeping survey of (male) fantasies about exploring the cosmos. To this reader’s mind, such a paradigm shift—not only away from a single-minded belief that space exploration must be human-centered, but also towards more equitable global participation in any programs that are developed—ought to be the sine qua non of the true beginnings of a second space age.—Doris Witt, University of Iowa
[Editor’s Note: Another recent book on the Space Age that might be of interest to our readers is T.A. Heppenheimer’s Countdown: A History of Space Flight (Wiley & Sons, 1997), which generally ignores sf save for some discussion of its appeal to members of the American Rocket Society in the 1930s. Frederick I. Ordway and Randy Liebermann’s anthology Blueprint for Space: Science Fiction to Science Fact (Smithsonian Institution, 1992), the most thoroughgoing attempt to trace the connections between the genre and historical space programs prior to McMurdy’s volume, remains in print and, with its inclusion of chapters by sf scholars and authors such as Sam Moscowitz and Ben Bova alongside entries by historians and engineers, could prove of use in the classroom.—RL]
Arthur C. Clarke. Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays.St. Martin’s, 1999. xviii + 558pp. $35 cloth.
Keay Davidson. Carl Sagan: A Life. John Wiley & Sons, 1999. xx + 540 pp. $30 cloth.
William Poundstone. Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos. Henry Holt, 1999. xvii + 473 pp. $30 cloth.
Quick readerly advice: read the Clarke volume to be cheered up. Throughout, Arthur sustains a lofty, amused (and bemused) voice. He sees endless possibilities, stretching from his own ideas about satellites in the 1940s to the vast opportunities that confront our imaginations today. By contrast, the Sagan biographies are sobering. Not because Sagan’s vision lagged—though it did, certainly, compared with Clarke’s—but because his fate was mortal, tinged, a rueful testament to the limits of what we can do in this raw world, even if we have great dreams.
Clarke came earlier and more powerfully to the task any intellectual must shoulder: seeing the stretching implications of current ideas. Keeping space travel as his central metaphor for the general expansion of human horizons— surely the great agenda of modern times, in all its implications—he teased out the details of endless possibility. Though he sometimes uses gauzy transcendentalist prose in his fiction, he seldom does in his essays as he details the many technologies that so fascinate him. He embraces fractals as easily as dolphins, with the pictures to prove it. His journey from sf writer to world figure of the future comes spelled out in a disorganized—but for perhaps that reason intriguing—set of essays, with telling photographs to chronicle his voyage.
The two Sagan biographies probe at a central figure that emerged from the general constellation of speculative science in the second half of the twentieth century. Davidson is a science writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, and his close-up version of Sagan explores with journalistic flair the man’s research, politics, and personal passions. Proudstone’s book deploys a crisp, eyebrow-lifted inspection that imposes a clarifying organization on a chaotic life. Both catch a goodly piece of the man, but not all.
Anyone who knew Sagan and Clarke personally, as I did from the 1960s on, will compare their version and vision to these printed, dried forms. I preferred Clarke’s playfulness to Sagan’s driven intelligence. Yet Sagan may be included in that company of well-meaning enthusiasts, almost like Percival Lowell, whose Martian canals revealed more desire than detail. As a scientist myself, I worry that Sagan was attacked merely for being speculative. He popularized, yes, and paid dearly for it. The now-notorious National Academy of Science rejection of him as a member (mostly through the politics of the particle physicists, a class I satirized in part because of this incident in my own novel COSM ; let us be honest here) echoes in the minds of all those who think that speaking to the public about the deep dreams of science is worthy.
Sagan had great range and some depth; so does Clarke. Both inspired and led. Neither had patience for careful experiments, beyond personal tinkering, and this cost Sagan a good deal. We expect a kind of rapt attention from scientists, a mole-like concentration on a small suite of problems; Clarke evaded this by emerging with his visions from pulp magazines, not the Astrophysical Journal. Clarke has kept his focus narrower, in human terms. He seldom ventured into politics, and thus avoided Sagan’s outright blunders. Led by his hatred of military matters, Sagan over-claimed the effects of nuclear winter, finally predicting a calamity to emerge from Iraq’s burning of oil wells in Kuwait. This hurt him in the eyes of many, as it should have—he overstated results and dodged questions, a scientific sin—but here luck prevailed: nuclear winter helped devalue the Soviet Union’s militarist faction, hastening the conversion to true civilian rule, and the end of that awful empire. Sagan’s domestic enemy, Reagan, got some credit Sagan could have used—a final irony.
So what are we sf people to make of these figures? Great and emblematic, to be sure. Their lives trace out the gathering power of science-fictional ideas in the larger public mind. Sagan wrote the stuff, Clarke came from it. Their trajectories—complex, sobering, full of great gossip—frame the envelope of a culture enraptured with its future, at the landscape of blithe possibility, and show the graceful power of science made in equal parts of word and deed and dream.—Gregory Benford, UC-Irvine
A Labor of Love.
J.R. Hammond. An H.G. Wells Chronology. St. Martin’s, 1999. xvii + 171 pp. $65 cloth.
Readers, not to mention scholars, of Wells owe a very considerable debt to John Hammond. He founded the H.G. Wells Society in 1960 and is responsible for a growing number of editions, reference books, and critical studies, including most recently his updated and expanded version of Wells’s Complete Short Stories (J.M. Dent, 1998). The present volume is yet another labor of love for Hammond, who has always worked as an independent scholar, though he now holds an honorary position at Nottingham Trent University.
Why, then, a Wells chronology? The General Editor’s Preface to this series of "Author Chronologies" published by Macmillan (UK) and St. Martin’s refers to the frustration we have all felt trying to determine the exact time and place of events in a writer’s life that the standard biographies only mention in passing. Even the best-annotated and most-indexed biographies tend to be economical with small facts, moving seamlessly from one occurence to the next and allowing the reader to lose track of the day, month, and even year in which each of the events took place. Biographies are ill-designed to serve the ready-reference needs for which scholars constantly have to turn to them.
As someone who has recently written a very short (4500 word) biographical essay on Wells, I can say that those most in need of an author chronology may well be the biographers themselves. Literary critics wanting to check the publication dates of Wells’s books and pamphlets (all of which, needless to say, are specified by Hammond) have a number of sources for quick reference. If, however, I decide to look for some basic facts about—let us say—Wells’s second wife Catherine, they are difficult if not impossible to find. A prolonged search through Wells’s autobiography and published correspondence, and through nine or ten biographies, will give me numerous suggestions as to her character and relationship with Wells, but not her date of birth or the exact time and place of their marriage. Once one has mastered the format of An H.G. Wells Chronology, locating this information is simplicity itself. (The quick way to do it, however, is to turn first to Hammond’s brief biographical summaries, and not—as most new readers would—to his terse and unhelpful index.)
In his introduction, Hammond speaks of Wells’s deep-seated restlessness and suggests that "Few men can have lived so fully and actively" (ix). Perhaps unavoidably, the Chronology presents him primarily as an historical figure rather than a novelist or writer of sf. Nor is there much sense of his scientific context; T.H. Huxley’s coining of the word agnostic in 1869 is recorded here, for example, but there is no mention of his "Evolution and Ethics" or any of Huxley’s scientific publications. Hammond has adopted a severely utilitarian format, using approximately 120 sets of initials to denote Wells’s friends, his books, and the newspapers and magazines in which he published. Yet even within the day-by-day, month-by-month tabulation of his doings, there are hints of high drama. Consider the 48 hours following Britain’s declaration of war upon Germany on August 4, 1914, during which Wells attended the Countess of Warwick’s annual flower show with his family, then rushed up to Norfolk and back to be present at the birth of his and Rebecca West’s son Anthony, and wrote "The War that will end War," the first of ten newspaper articles he would publish that month. A novelist’s most productive times are, doubtless, the weeks or months in which he or she remains glued to the desk and there is little or no external activity to record. Yet a fair proportion of Wells’s total output consists of journalism produced hurriedly—on the move, in transatlantic liners, in hotel rooms, and in railway carriages.
The Chronology gives a necessarily selective listing of his movements, activities, and publications—of what he was saying in his letters, and to whom. It will be some time before the full value of Hammond’s work here can become apparent, but already I can record with gratitude that he has made me correct several dates in my forthcoming mini-biography. Hammond’s own work is not, however, error-free. For example, he gives the date of the young Wells’s disastrous footballing accident as August 30, 1887 (10); it actually took place on Monday, August 29. The "Geology Part I" test that Wells passed at the Normal School of Science in June 1886 cannot have been the same level of examination as the "Geology Part I" that he failed a year later (8, 10). Finally, on his 1938 visit to Australia, Hammond has Wells flying from Fremantle to Perth, a short hop indeed (123). The author may have been misled by Wells’s letter stating that "I shall probably have to rush from the ship to the plane at Freemantle [sic]," but this doubtless refers to the plane to Adelaide that—having enjoyed a formal welcome and dinner in Perth—Wells caught the day after his ship landed. Do such details matter at all? If like me you think they just possibly might, then sooner or later you will certainly want to consult An H.G. Wells Chronology.—Patrick Parrinder, University of Reading
Michael Swanwick. The Postmodern Archipelago. Tachyon, 1997. 65 pp. $7.50 paper.
This saddle-stapled booklet contains two essays—both published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine—that should be read by anyone interested in American sf and fantasy of the 1980s and 90s. (Both pieces have also been gathered into Swanwick’s collection Moon Dogs [NESFA Press, 2000].) "A User’s Guide to the Postmoderns," from 1986, was one of the first attempts to offer a critical survey of the genre in the wake of cyberpunk, and Swanwick’s division of the field into two broad camps of writers, with the mirrorshades school on one side and the "humanists" on the other, drew the wrath of many at the time (Orson Scott Card is quoted at length on the back cover ranting against Swanwick’s argument). Swanwick admits, in his introduction to the collection, that "the heat and fury raised up" by his piece startled him, but his attempt to dismiss "User’s Guide" as a "harmless little bit of fluff" (4) unworthy of such attacks is disingenuous, since the essential distinction he makes in the essay appears to me to be a strong one. While the so-called humanists never really constituted a literary school in the same way that the cyberpunks often seemed to do, there is indeed a meaningful difference between the two forms of writing Swanwick identifies, and that he sees as typified by the work of Kim Stanley Robinson and William Gibson, respectively. Certainly those who took umbrage at being lumped into one camp or another—or, as Swanwick slyly points out, at being ignored entirely—missed the piece’s humor, its "extravagantly self-mocking" style (3). But beneath this layer of irony, Swanwick put his finger on something that seems even truer now than it may have done at the time (this admission, by the way, is coming from one of those who roasted "User’s Guide" in print, in my column in the March 1987 issue of Fantasy Review), so it is unfortunate that Swanwick has chosen to pooh-pooh his earlier insights.
The second essay gathered here, entitled "‘In the Tradition...’," was published eight years later, and while it has the same sardonic tone, its basic approach is shrewd and valuable. A survey of what Swanwick perceives as the best in contemporary fantasy writing—what he calls "hard fantasy" by analogy with critical understandings of hard sf as "the central place" in the genre (32)—it enshrines a canon of major authors with whose literary credentials it would be hard to argue: John Crowley, Terry Bisson, Robert Holdstock, Tanith Lee, Jonathan Carroll, James Blaylock, and Iain Banks. Yet its tacit silence on the merits of other authors and subgenres, and the sketchiness of its basic definition of hard fantasy, were explicitly designed to stir up a second controversy, as Swanwick admits in his introduction. Instead, "the warmth with which the essay was received was nothing short of spectacular. I’d written the one essay ["User’s Guide"] in innocence, and was met with rage. I wrote the other with malice, and was welcomed with open arms" (5). The reader should welcome the reprinting of these two rare works of criticism from this insightful writer.
Incidentally, Tachyon is a fairly new small-press publisher rapidly building a solid reputation for the thoughtfulness of its work in the field: major recent (since 1995) reprint titles include a new edition of Stanley G. Weinbaum’s 1939 novel The Black Flame, introduced by the late Sam Moscowitz, which restores some 18,000 words of text, as well as "best of" volumes featuring the short fiction of two Nebula Grand Masters: Clifford D. Simak in Over the River and Through the Woods and A.E. Van Vogt in Futures Past (though the latter selection of stories strikes me as somewhat eccentric). For more information, consult their website at <www.tachyonpublications.com>.—RL
Samuel R. Delany. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.New York UP, 1999. xviii + 203 pp. $19.95 cloth.
-----. Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York. Drawings by Mia Wolff. Powerhouse (fax: 212-366-5247), 1999. 44 pp., plus unpaged introduction and afterword. $14.99 paper.
One way that Samuel R. Delany can be understood is as one of the great city writers. Such sf masterpieces as Dhalgren (1975) and Triton (1976) belong to a fictional tradition of urban (and urbane) representation that stretches back to the Aeneid, but that, in the modern era, is most notably exemplified by Blake and Balzac and the Wordsworth of Book VIII of The Prelude, by Dickens and Dostoevsky and Joyce. Delany’s memoir of his early manhood, The Motion of Light in Water (1988), is not only one of the major autobiographies but also one of the major biographies of a city—in this case, New York during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In nearly all his work, Delany is a writer for whom the etymological link between city and civilization remains vital—though he would certainly add that, to be worthy of the name, civilization must include not only all the high culture with which Lord Kenneth Clark identified the term, but also the free practice of bodily pleasure. The title of Delany’s most famous unwritten novel (with its echo of Balzac) is typical: The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities.
In the two brilliant nonfiction books under review here, Delany continues to tell the story of himself and his city. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, the more substantial of the two texts, focuses, as the title implies, on the most famous urban intersection in the world. The book is about the sexual play-ground that Times Square used to be, and especially about the porn theatres where Delany spent countless happy hours over some thirty years, from the 1960s until the 1990s; and it is also about the destruction of this sexual playground in the 1990s, as Times Square was "cleaned up"—i.e., gentrified and Disneyfied. In vintage Delany fashion, different types of discourse are employed, from extremely personal reminiscence to rigorous Marxist analysis of the larger socioeconomic forces at work. The result is one of the most remarkable and useful works of social criticism to appear in some time.
A brief review like this cannot even mention all the important things the book contains. We get a gallery of the memorable characters (sketched by a great novelist) who were some of Delany’s friends and sexual partners in the old Times Square. We also get a sense of the relatively free, humane environment that enabled such human relationships to grow out of chance contacts between individuals of many different classes, races, ethnicities, educational levels, sexual orientations, and occupations. Delany does not sentimentalize: he knows the suffering caused by the crack epidemic in the old Times Square, and he knows that even his beloved porn theatres were, after all, built by the same capitalist profit-motive that eventually destroyed them. But he cherishes the unplanned cross-class contact that the theatres helped to make possible and that, he maintains, constitutes one of the chief joys of city life—in contrast to networking, which tends to be intraclass, and which, though often elaborately planned, seldom delivers the rewards it seems to promise. Urban policy these days (and not only in New York) is increasingly devoted to the destruction of the traditional human-scale city spaces on which contact depends. Delany explains why: he shows that, interestingly, all the noisy ideological crusades for "family values" have been of secondary, though real, importance; primary has been the greed and political clout of the big real-estate developers, who, owing to the odd financial structure of their business, often reap huge profits even when the gargantuan high-rise towers they throw up remain nearly empty. But Delany does not believe that we need accept such glass-and-aluminum monstrosities as inevitable. He knows that the old Times Square where he enjoyed so many orgasms will never return, and in some ways he does not even wish it to. But he does maintain that it is possible to plan cities so as to maximize the pleasure, safety, and cultural diversity of the many rather than the profits of the few, and he offers a number of interesting practical suggestions as to how this might be done. Times Square—a single intersection in a single city—may superficially seem a narrow subject for an entire book. But Delany handles his subject so as to produce one of the best analyses we have of the culture and economy of America in the 1990s.
Bread & Wine functions beautifully as a kind of lyrical pendant to Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. A pure memoir (in comic-book form), it tells the true story of a random contact on the streets of New York that blossomed first into a friendship, then into a love affair, and finally into a full-fledged committed relationship. Though as sexually frank as can be, it contains little of the impulse to shock, or even to problematize normative heterosexuality, that characterizes much current gay writing. Instead, it is an old-fashioned romantic love story: the tale of two lonely New Yorkers of very different backgrounds and situations (Chip Delany, the middle-class African-American intellectual, and Dennis, the homeless Irish-American street vendor) who find happiness in finding each other. Utterly realistic, it is utterly sweet and tender too. As of this writing, word has it that Chip and Dennis are still living together—a thought that must give pleasure to any well-intentioned reader of Bread & Wine.—Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University
Donna R. White. Dancing with Dragons: Ursula K. Le Guin and the Critics. Camden House, 1999. xii + 144 pp. $50 cloth.
The particular value of this overview of criticism is that it brings together the analyses of scholars in fields that are barely aware of each other’s existence. Noting that "literary criticism is, above all else, territorial" (3), White summarizes the problem in her Introduction:
Critics of children’s literature have claimed possession of A Wizard of Earthsea and its three sequels, while the science fiction community has a lien on The Left Hand of Darkness and all other works set in Le Guin’s fictional future universe. As a result of this divergence and of Le Guin’s later work in other genres, criticism of Le Guin has become balkanized. Most science fiction scholars remain unaware of criticism in the field of children’s literature, for example. Critics who publish in mainstream literary journals often have no idea there is a large body of criticism available in the marginalized genres of science fiction and children’s literature. (2)
Because of White’s broad perspective and acute awareness of critical niches, she is able to show us exactly how wide-ranging Le Guin’s work really is. Much of it is virtually unclassifiable, falling outside the borders of all those tight little territories. The works that don’t fit into any niches—including the Orsinian books, which really are set close to the Balkans—just don’t get written about. And of course, since White is reviewing the criticism rather than the works themselves, she doesn’t get to write about them either—though sometimes she can’t resist tossing out hints like breadcrumbs that might lead some other scholar into or out of the woods. A chronological bibliography is included that shows what did get written about, and when.
I suspect that most of us in sf must plead guilty to not knowing the criticism in children’s literature—which includes most of White’s own previous scholarship. She is amused at the academic hierarchy implied by all this: "science fiction critics look down on children’s literature as beneath notice and children’s literature critics behave as if young adult literature does not exist" (3). One of the first things this impressive little book shows us, then, is that children’s literature commentators ought to be noticed. And considering how long it takes for sf works to be accepted, surely we should be impressed that within two years of the publication of A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) in Britain, the leading British journal of children’s literature had printed two articles on how to teach it.
Still, Douglas Barbour’s brief 1973 article on The Lathe of Heaven (1971), described here as "the first in-depth scholarly discussion of a Le Guin work" (51), appeared in Algol a mere two years after the novel’s publication. "The first to point out influences and connections that have long since become givens in Le Guin criticism: her use of Taoism and balanced dualism" (51), Barbour continued to develop his insights in 1974, discussing A Wizard of Earthsea in Riverside Quarterly and the Hainish novels in the first volume of SFS. By this time David Ketterer’s New Worlds for Old (Anchor, 1974) had appeared, with a major chapter arguing that there were theoretical flaws in Left Hand of Darkness (1969); this prompted a major debate at the SFRA conference, with selected papers published in the second volume of SFS, including a rejoinder by Le Guin herself. White’s comment is wry: "A reader familiar with both Left Hand and New Worlds for Old can’t help concluding that neither author has much understanding of the other" (53).
That last comment demonstrates White’s delightfully sharp tongue, one that gets sharper the bigger the target. "1986 was the year the prolific critic Harold Bloom incorporated Le Guin into his vast publishing machine.... Bloom gets incredible publication mileage out of other people’s work. He also manages to copyright the exact same introduction twice. What he doesn’t do is contribute anything substantial to Le Guin criticism" (73). Fredric Jameson is "an eminent literary scholar whose penchant for incomprehensible and turgid scholarly prose has earned him several ‘awards’ for bad academic writing" (84). Praise is also bestowed where White deems it is due: "Spivack’s book is the best of the monographs on Le Guin" (71)—referring to Charlotte Spivack’s 1984 Twayne study.
Turning from the critics, one is left with an increased respect for Le Guin, on two grounds brought up by White that perhaps have not had much attention devoted to them. The first is that Le Guin, a critic herself, actually reads the criticism about her; she not only responds to it directly, she also pays attention to it in the sense that she has demonstrably learned from it—notably in terms of feminist thought, but also in other areas. The second is that, because of White’s own insights about the territoriality of critics and the Balkanization of their analyses, it becomes strikingly clear what a widely ranging author Le Guin is, how difficult she is to pigeonhole, and how easily she escapes generalization. Students of Le Guin have some catching up to do.—Charles Nicol, Indiana State University
Jo Elwyn Jones and J. Francis Gladstone. The ALICE Companion: A Guide to Lewis Carroll’s ALICE Books. New York UP, 1998. xii + 319 pp. $50 cloth.
The authors alphabetically survey Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872), from "Acland, Sir Henry Wentworth" (family doctor of Alice Liddell [1852-1934], professor of medicine, and possible model for the White Rabbit) to "Zoomorph" (people drawn as animals by "Alice" illustrator John Tenniel [1820-1914]). Strongest on Carroll’s covert references to academic in-fighting at Christ Church College, Oxford, where Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) held a life-fellowship ("Studentship") from 1852 and lectured on mathematics (1855-81), the book is weakest in its erratic focus. The authors’ ill-assorted alphabetical headings reminded me forcibly of the poorly translated manual of a foreign car a friend of mine once owned, whose index listed information about the battery under "W," for "When your car won’t start."
A reader would need prior knowledge of the environs of Oxford, for instance, to guess at the significance of such headings as "Nuneham Courtney" (190)—the name, as it happens, of the Thameside estate whose boathouse may have been the setting for Wonderland’s "Pool of Tears" episode. Other headings are not so much recondite as willful: under "Balthus," for instance, we learn that "Like Carroll, this most mysterious modern painter (1908-) refuses to reveal much about his life" (4). In this case, vagueness eventually gives way to possibly germane details: Balthus, it is explained, often paints girls just awakening from sleep, holding white cats. The entry for Kafka, however, is nebulous throughout: "There are striking similarities between Carroll and Kafka, the Czechoslovakian writer" (144). Except for quotation of W.H. Auden’s praise of both Kafka and Carroll, no reason whatever is given for this culturally tone-deaf entry (Kafka lived in Prague but he wrote in German and was at least in part inspired to write by his sense of alienation as a Jewish resident there). Notwithstanding the appearance of tidy order and broad knowledge fostered by the alphabetical format, then, this book is disorganized and uneven, almost always veering off-course when venturing outside Victorian England.
The nineteenth-century information, though frustratingly scattered, is often fascinating. The "Mad Hatter" entry provides two often suggested prototypes: Willliam Ewart Gladstone (a liberal statesman who was anathema to Dodgson, a High Church Tory) and eccentric Oxford furniture dealer Theophilus Carter. But in an entry on a rival author, Charles Kingsley, whose Water Babies (1863) was published two years before Alice in Wonderland, the authors round up a new suspect, noting a "facial resemblance" (147) between Kingsley and John Tenniel’s Mad Hatter. Only in the following entry, however, on Charles Kingsley’s younger brother Henry, do they finally express their view that "the Hatter’s Mad Tea-Party was in part a parody of Charles Kingsley and Christian Socialism" (147).
For patient readers willing to work through the volume and ignore redundancies and digressions, there is plenty of good background on in-joking and score-settling in the "Alice" books. Carroll’s rival photographer, the wild-tressed, well-connected Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), may be the model for the "White Queen" of Looking Glass (31). And Alice Liddell’s parents were social climbers: her father, Dean of Christ Church, was disliked by Dodgson as an instigator of hideous and expensive renovations at the College, at the same time that he conspired (thought Dodgson) to cut corners on the food purchased for the Fellows’ dining hall. Jones and Gladstone speculate that memorandum-writing and doodling Dean Liddell was the model for the indecisive King of Hearts; they are not the first to suggest that the Dean’s wife, who banned Dodgson from access to Alice and her sisters around 1863 (Alice was eleven; this was two years before the publication of Alice in Wonderland), may have inspired the imperious Queen of Hearts. Other entries remind us that the words "chortle" and "galumphing" are Carroll’s inventions ("Jabberwocky" 137), and that the Walrus of Looking Glass may mix the names of (Wal)ter Pater and John (Rus)kin. (Carroll was jealous of Ruskin, who had been asked by the Liddells to teach drawing to adolescent Alice .) As Jones and Gladstone note, the song of the Walrus and Carpenter episode promises to speak "of many things"; "Many Things" is also a chapter title in Ruskin’s Modern Painters. (With typical offhandedness, this information is given under "Carpenter", not "Walrus," where it is only cross-referenced.) Exactly how Pater, a popular Oxford teacher, figures in the portrait of the gluttonous Walrus is explained only in the "Pater" entry itself (201).
The authors also see a link between reclusive Edward Fitzgerald (in 1859, translator of Omar Khayyám’s twelfth-century Rubáiyát, a bestseller of the 1860s) and the oracular Caterpillar of Wonderland. Fitzgerald’s translation calls life "a checquerboard of Nights and Days/Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays" (33), which may have inspired the chessboard landscape of Looking Glass. (This is discussed under "Caterpillar": there is no cross-reference under "Chess" and no entry at all for Fitzgerald, Omar Khayyám, or The Rubáiyát.) Jones and Gladstone argue, sensibly enough, that the precise nature of Dodgson’s intense friendships with (and photographs of) wellborn little girls must remain a matter of speculation, not confident assertion. Their own preferred context, though they mention other theories, is nineteenth-century collegiate celibacy and the eccentricities it encouraged: "Carroll’s type of English bachelor became less common after 1871 when dons were allowed to marry" (4).
Jones and Gladstone sketch a Victorian milieu very helpful in understanding Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Critics primarily interested in "Lewis Carroll," however (the more lovable and sprightly persona adopted by shy, envious, strange, stuttering Dodgson), will much prefer Martin Gardner’s superbly useful The Annotated ALICE (1960), released by Norton in an expanded, "definitive" third edition in November 1999. Gardner’s focus on Carroll’s extrapolative consistency, mathematical ingenuity, and playfulness is much more likely to interest readers and critics of science fiction.—CM
Martha C. Nussbaum and Cass R. Sunstein, eds. Clones and Clones: Facts and Fantasies About Human Cloning. Norton, 1998. 351 pp. $14.95 paper.
This intelligent and intriguing collection is more proof that we live in a science fiction world, that the future arrived before we were quite prepared for it, and that we have to run very hard indeed simply to keep up with it. The twenty-four pieces compiled here are all, in their various ways, responses to the 1997 article published by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues in Nature that announced the successful cloning of a sheep from the mammary cells of an adult female. Not surprisingly, the existence of Dolly the Cloned Sheep of Edinburgh has precipitated intense debate about the near-future possibilities of human cloning; among other things, it also precipitated the US National Bioethics Advisory Committee’s strong recommendation that a ban be imposed for the foreseeable future on all forms of research into the cloning of human beings.
This, briefly, is the context for Clones and Clones, which collects a wide range of articles and essays published, for the most part, during this intense period of public debate. Nussbaum and Sunstein, both of them distinguished scholars of law, ethics, and political science, have put together an equally distinguished group of contributors, among them Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Andrea Dworkin, Laurence Tribe, and Richard A. Posner. In addition, they have very usefully reprinted several key sections of the NBAC’s final report, including its specific recommendations against research into human cloning. The collection is divided into five sections: "Science," "Commentary," "Ethics and Religion," "Law and Public Policy," and "Fiction and Fantasy." This last section is made up of four short pieces of speculative fiction, although only one, "World of Strangers" by Lisa Tuttle, is by a recognized sf writer. In fact, the most effective story, "Little C," a moving account of the disappointments and delights attendent upon cloning a lost lover, is by co-editor Nussbaum.
On the whole, this is a wonderful collection. Many of the pieces positively glitter with intelligence and rigorous argument, even as they reach a variety of differing conclusions about the pros and cons of human cloning. Certain images and themes recur as central to the cloning debate and this helps to maintain the coherence of such a wide-ranging collection. The issue of identical twins, for instance, is of prime importance as evidence of cloning in nature, as well as evidence mitigating against cultural anxieties about the clone’s potential lack of individual identity. Questions about the frequently opposed positions of science and religion are also raised as particularly relevant to the current debate. The topic of genetic determinism is frequently raised, usually in critical terms that warn against taking any simple position in the nature/nurture arguments inevitably aroused by the issue of cloning; questions about who has the authority to speak to the topic are also broached, and I was pleased to see that the editors included an article on "Queer Cloning."
One of the most informative pieces collected here is co-editor Sunstein’s "The Constitution and the Clone," which imagines a near-future legal challenge to the ban on human cloning in order to tease out some of the constitutional complexities of the subject. Sunstein writes up two plausible but mutually opposed Supreme Court decisions, the first upholding the individual’s right to clone her/himself, the second maintaining the constitutional ban on human cloning. Each decision is carefully reasoned and equally convincing, and the effect of Sunstein’s imaginative exercise is to demonstrate in a very direct way how utterly complex the situation is. Perhaps Richard Dawkins issues the most useful challenge to our thinking about these complexities. He argues passionately that, "In the case of human cloning, if some people want to do it, the onus is on those who would ban it to spell out what harm it would do, and to whom" (66). He also maintains that, "Where morals and values are concerned, there are no certain answers to be found in books" (66). While Clones and Clones cannot supply us with "certain answers," it nevertheless does demonstrate the usefulness of books in our own working through some of the thorny questions being raised everywhere in contemporary technoculture.—VH
Glennis Byron, ed. New Casebooks: DRACULA (by Bram Stoker). St. Martin’s, 1999. ix + 225 pp. $49.95 cloth.
Clive Leatherdale, ed. Bram Stoker’s DRACULA Unearthed. Wessex-on-Sea: Desert Island, 1998. 512 pp. £16.99 cloth. Distributed in the US by Firebird (800-353-3575).
Bram Stoker. Dracula: or The Un-Dead: A Play in Prologue and Five Acts, ed. Sylvia Starshine.Nottingham: Pumpkin, 1997. xxix + 277 pp. £16.99 cloth. Distributed in the US by Firebird (800-353-3575).
Here are a few last gasps of the 1997 Dracula centennial. Under normal circumstances, Byron’s anthology of essays would be a welcome addition to the New Casebooks series and a valuable update of Margaret L. Carter’s still-indispensable Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics (UMI, 1988). Unfortunately, however, the recent flood of secondary materials on Stoker’s novel has rendered it largely superfluous. While it reprints only two pieces included in Carter’s compendium (Phyllis A. Roth on representations of female sexuality in the novel and Christopher Craft’s brilliant study of the tale’s suppressed homoeroticism) and includes eight additional essays and book chapters, six of them published since Carter’s volume appeared, Byron’s tome has wound up being trumped by Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal’s selection of secondary material for the Norton Critical Edition of Dracula, published simultaneously, which has the advantage of being considerably cheaper and thus more widely accessible. Auerbach and Skal also gather Franco Moretti’s penetrating Marxist reading of the novel (an excerpt from his essay "The Dialectic of Fear") and Stephen D. Arata’s strong critique of its colonialist themes (though Byron reprints this essay in its entirety, whereas the Norton abridges it), as well as the Craft and Roth articles. Given the steep price of Byron’s book, libraries will have to decide whether having the six pieces not in the Norton edition is worth a cost of $8.50 each. Of these other materials, the standouts are Judith Halberstam’s "Technologies of Monstrosity," a compelling reading of Stoker’s anti-Semitism, and David Punter’s brief but shrewd assessment, culled from his classic study of the Gothic, The Literature of Terror (Longman, 1980). The problem is that Halberstam’s essay has already been gathered into her book Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Duke UP, 1995), and Punter’s book, at one time out of print, has recently been released in an updated edition by Addison-Wesley (1996); most major libraries will own both texts. They will also have Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves (U Chicago P, 1995), David Glover’s Vampires, Mummies, and Liberals: Bram Stoker and the Politics of Popular Fiction (Duke UP, 1996), and Elizabeth Bronfen’s Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (Manchester UP, 1992), which Byron also excerpts. This leaves only a single essay, by Rebecca A. Pope, that has not been recently anthologized or featured in a single-author study, and while Pope provides a fascinating Bakhtinian reading of Dracula, it is not enough by itself to justify the book’s purchase; nor is there an extensive editorial apparatus that might serve to make Byron’s book unique. Smaller libraries that do not have wide holdings may want to consider it, since it is a well-conceived and representative selection of criticism. It just came out at the wrong time.
Clive Leatherdale’s DRACULA Unearthed similarly suffers from superfluity in the current glut of Stoker criticism: a difficult to obtain annotated hardcover edition of the novel is hardly worth seeking out when the Norton paperback can be had readily and cheaply; and while Auerbach and Skal’s annotations are somewhat skimpy, they are certainly sufficient for most readers. Those seeking more can always consult Leonard Woolf’s The Essential DRACULA (1993), still in print from Plume. Thus, I cannot urge you to acquire Leatherdale’s book—though I would recommend his fine critical study, Dracula: The Novel and the Legend (Aquarian Press, 1986), which Desert Island Books has just reissued as part of its "Dracula Library."
Finally, another British small press, Pumpkin Books, has released the dramatic adaptation of Dracula composed by Stoker and "performed" at the Lyceum Theatre in London, where Stoker was the acting-manager, the week before the novel’s publication, in May of 1897. The event was a legal convenience designed to protect copyright on dramatic adaptations of the story rather than a genuine theatrical production; in fact, the performance would appear to have been a straight read-through rather than a dramatization. Editor Starshine’s excellent introduction thoroughly anatomizes this curious offshoot of the novel (about which she is more enthusiastic than the text itself warrants), and she has also unearthed and included photographs of the first actors to portray Mina Harker and Professor Van Helsing, along with some other well-chosen illustrations and contextualizing materials. The "play" itself is a drab and overly discursive business, largely because the characters are compelled to summarize offstage plot developments for pages on end, and has none of the (melo)dramatic flair of Hamilton Deane’s 1924 adaptation, which formed the basis for the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi. Still, Dracula fans and critics will want to have this peculiar alternative version, printed here for the first time.—RL
David Seed, ed. Imagining Apocalypse: Studies in Cultural Crisis. St. Martin’s, 2000. ix + 240 pp. $55 cloth. Published in the UK by Macmillan.
I remember listening, back in my mid-1950s adolescence, to the rantings of a radio evangelist who identified World Communism as the Beast of the Apocalypse and January 1, 2000 as the zero hour for the Last Judgment and wondering what in fact the end of the century would bring. Hysterical prophecies were characteristic of much of the Cold War era, but by the time the calendrical odometer rolled over the big three zeroes, World Communism had collapsed, and except for a small cult in Uganda most fundamentalists had figured out that the year 2000 would have nothing to do with the Millennium referred to in Revelation. The brouhaha over the Y2K bug neatly captured and defused such cultural anxiety as was still floating around when the date came; otherwise there were few signs of the End Times in evidence.
There has been a distinct shortage of films and books on the apocalyptic significance of the end of the Second Millennium. Many other periods in the twentieth century stimulated more talk about the End of the World—most recently during the Reagan-era nuclear race. There is not, it would seem, a lot really new and striking to say on this subject. So it is not surprising that this collection of essays, despite its stellar gathering of sf scholars, finds little to report in the way of apocalyptic social change. By stretching the notion of "apocalypse" to cover any sort of large-scale misfortune, the authors manage to apply the term to a remarkable range of subjects, but in the end, the volume is a title in search of a rationale.
The editor at least has his subject clearly in mind, and Seed’s introductory essay is excellent, making more relevant points than the rest of the book put together. I.F. Clarke’s quick sampling of a few representative themes in apocalyptic fiction is a useful introduction, but adds nothing much to our knowledge of the subject. Stephen R.L. Clark muses at excessive length on the arbitrariness of the way we divide up time before making some good points about apocalyptic thinking as a mode of escapist transcendence, though his essay is weakened by its failure to cite previous scholars—e.g., W. Warren Wagar’s excellent overview Terminal Visions: The Literature of Last Things (Indiana UP, 1982) and Gary K. Wolfe’s The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction (Kent State UP, 1989), with its discussion of wasteland imagery in sf. Edward James’s essay on recent Christian apocalyptic writing has an interesting final section on Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970). Patrick Parrinder reviews well-known apocalyptic aspects of H.G. Wells’s work while ignoring most of the vast scholarship on this topic.
Charles E. Gannon discusses nuclear film, drawing on Spencer R. Weart’s Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Harvard UP, 1988) but not Mick Broderick’s Nuclear Movies (McFarland, 1991); his most useful contribution is a comparison of American with British attitudes. George Slusser’s essay on American survivalist fiction is idiosyncratic and eclectic, covering works by Emerson, Hemingway, and Richard Matheson. Nick Davis’s piece on J.G. Ballard’s Crash (1973) doesn’t mention the author’s truly apocalyptic works at all, ignoring classic novels such as The Drowned World (1962) and The Crystal World (1966). Michael Hoey performs a close examination of narrative techniques in Michael Moorcock’s The Eternal Champion (1970) using computer-aided stylistic analysis. Val Gough explores the androgynous subcultural lifestyles reflected in Storm Constantine’s WRAETHTHU trilogy (1987-89).
There are a few outstanding essays in this volume that make it a recommended purchase for larger collections. Robert Crossley’s "Acts of God" provocatively ponders the way in which literature has contemplated the deity’s responsibility for disaster. Editor Seed contributes a strong analysis of the rhetoric of early reports on the bomb, drawing especially on the work of Spencer Weart. A. Robert Lee’s survey of African-American fiction with powerful protest themes is useful despite the fact that these works are apocalyptic only in a very loose sense; his discussion of some lesser-known texts is particularly welcome. The book ends strongly with Marleen Barr’s essay on the relationship between contemporary sexism and the imagery of Nazism and Veronica Hollinger’s postmodernist musings on the end of sf as we know it. Setting out to examine The End through fiction, the book concludes by examining the end of fiction itself, with Hollinger showing how sf’s "triumph"—its ongoing pervasion of popular culture—also spells its generic demise. The notion of the postmodern coexists uneasily with the idea of apocalypse, and I’m content to live in a time when self-reflection and irony seem more pressing matters than the imminent end of the world.—Paul Brians, Washington State University
Gregory Claeys, ed. Modern British Utopias 1700-1850.8 vols. Pickering and Chatto (fax: +44-0-171-405-6216), 1997. 4128 pp. £550 (approx. $880) cloth.
There is something disconcertingly ironic in the marketing of a multi-volume set of utopias that only the rich can afford—and especially when it comes from an academic publishing house whose logo features a laurel wreath encircling the words "Mundus Intellectualis." But, be that as it may, this very handsome set of British utopian works from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries must be seen as a major publishing breakthough. For the first time, to my knowledge, a wide variety of utopian and anti-utopian texts from this period—the famous, the infamous, and the virtually unknown—have been assembled into one series and made accessible to the (library-going) public. For the eighteenth-century literary scholar or historian, these tomes constitute a veritable treasure-trove of primary materials, including:
Annus Sophiae Jubilaeus. The Sophick Constitution: or, the Evil Customs of the World Reformed (1700)
[Ambrose Evans]. The Adventures and Surprising Deliverances of James Dubourdieu (1719)
[Ambrose Evans]. The Adventures of Alexander Vendchurch (1719)
Daniel Defoe. Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720)
Simon Berrington. The Memoirs of Sig. Gaudentio di Lucca (1737)
Pythagorlunister. A Journey to the Moon (?1740)
[John Kirkby]. The Capacity and Extent of the Human Understanding (1745)
[Robert Paltock]. The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (1751)
[Edmund Burke]. A Vindication of Natural Society (2nd ed., 1757)
The Voyages, Travels & Wonderful Discoveries of Capt. John Holmesby (1757)
Samuel Johnson. Rasselas (3rd. ed., 1760)
[Horace Walpole]. An Account of the Giants Lately Discovered (1766)
Private Letters from an American in England to His Friends in America (1769)
[Sarah Scott]. Millenium Hall (4th ed., 1778)
[John Elliott]. The Travels of Hildebrand Bowman (1778)
[Thomas Spence]. A Supplement to the History of Robinson Crusoe (1782)
[William Thomson]. The Man in the Moon; or, Travels into the Lunar Regions (1783)
A Journey Lately Performed Through the Air (1784)
The Modern Atlantis; or, the Devil in an Air Balloon (1784)
Aratus. A Voyage to the Moon Strongly Recommended to All Lovers of Real Freedom (1793)
Modern Gulliver’s Travels (1796)
A.E. Libellus: or, A Brief Sketch of the History of Gotham (1798)
James Lawrence. The Empire of the Nairs; or, the Rights of Women. A Utopian Romance (1811)
The Last Man, or Omegarus (1806)
[Thomas Erskine]. Armata. A Fragment (1817)
[G.A. Ellis]. New Britain (1820)
[John Minter Morgan]. The Revolt of the Bees (3rd. ed., 1839)
Benjamin Disraeli. The Voyage of Captain Popanilla (1828)
The History of Bullanabee and Clinkataboo (1828)
[John Trotter]. Travels to Phrenologasto (1829)
Lemuel Gulliver [author unknown]. Sequel to Gulliver’s Travels (1830)
Great Britain in 1841 (1831)
Lady Mary Fox. Account of an Expedition to the Interior of New Holland (1837)
John Francis Bray. A Voyage from Utopia (1842)
Douglas Jerrold. The Chronicles of Clovernook (1846)
The Island of Liberty and Equality (1848)
Charles Rowcroft. The Triumph of Woman. A Christmas Story (1848)
Henry Forrest. A Dream of Reform (1848)
The series is edited by the well-known utopian scholar Gregory Claeys of the University of London. He offers a concise but necessarily cursory 27-page introduction covering how the genre evolved within the British socio-historic milieu of 1700-1850, and he includes many brief annotations throughout the pages of the works themselves. The final volume of the series also features a quite useful "Consolidated Index."
But one might justifiably wonder: what is the purpose of such a massive compendium? The editor’s introduction, oddly enough, never addresses this fundamental question. When the collection first appeared in 1997, Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton observed:
Claeys reprints a few well-known (anti-) utopian pieces like Johnson’s Rasselas and Burke’s spoof A Vindication of Natural Society (1756), but most of his chosen texts are obscure, amateurish, and drearily written.... The 1840s, like the closing decades of the 18th century, were awash with utopias for obvious political reasons; but in common with the political journalism they covertly are, utopias are the most ephemeral of literary forms.... No form of fantasy could be more provincial and prosaic. By the end of the 19th century, after Morris’s mighty classic [News from Nowhere], the task of imagining otherness would pass to science fiction, which performed it with a good deal more panache. (London Review of Books [4 Sept. 1997]: 7)
So, apart from the publisher’s obvious (and perhaps misguided) desire to strike gold in the institutional marketplace, what is the real raison d’être of an elaborate, multi-volumed collection such as Modern British Utopias? To the scholar of literary history, the answer is clear: its purpose is primarily archival—to save many of these texts from not-so-hallowed oblivion and to make them available for future researchers. The resurrection and preservation of such literary artifacts is not without scholarly importance. After all, how many of us have ever heard of John Minter Morgan’s The Revolt of the Bees?—ABE