Science Fiction Studies

#82 = Volume 27, Part 3 = November 2000

Verne Vindicated Again.

Edmund J. Smyth, ed. Jules Verne: Narratives of Modernity. Liverpool UP, 2000. viii + 160 pp. $47.95 hc.; $23.95 pbk.

Rightly if perhaps a little nervously, Smyth includes early in his Introduction a reminder that "The first issue of Hugo Gernsback’s landmark SF magazine Amazing Stories in 1926 had a drawing of Jules Verne’s tomb at Amiens on its title page" (1). Readers of this journal may recall in more detail that illustration conspicuously placed at the masthead on the far left: under a stone marker that slants over the grave at about a 45-degree angle to create the effect of an open rectangular clamshell, from the shroud that still drapes his lower body, Verne emerges as though flying rapidly upwards with white beard neatly trimmed, oddly androgynous breasts, eyes uplifted, and right hand outstretched in an up-up-and-away attitude while his open palm extends in a gesture of benediction toward both readers and the other side of the page on which, in large letters diminishing off toward the right, is the magazine’s title. Under this arresting image is the legend in capital letters "JULES VERNE’S TOMBSTONE AT AMIENS PORTRAYING HIS IMMORTALITY." Let’s not begrudge Gernsback credit for more subtlety here than first meets the eye and maybe therefore (what often amounts to the same thing in Smyth’s collection) modernity. Despite its wood-block crudity, the juxtaposition of image and words conveys a complex truth. Although the literal minded can take immortality in its religious sense, which doesn’t square very well with Verne’s oeuvre or with the genre to which Gernsback was playing godfather, literary immortality is a better reading and one that works two ways: Amazing Stories resurrects Verne by reprinting some of his works and encouraging new ones imbued with their spirit, while conversely Verne confers something of his immortality on the magazine and on the new genre that Gernsback pioneered. The drawing was soon dropped but the affiliation endured and Verne remains at large, eluding all attempts at reburial.

Smyth is quick to add that while "there has been as much debate concerning Verne’s status within SF, as there has about his inclusion in the French literary canon.... [I]t would be fair to state that in the popular imagination Verne and SF are seen as largely synonymous, even if modern science fiction has moved far beyond the narratives of travel and endeavour which are found in Voyage au centre de la terre (1864) and Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1869)" (1-2). Most of the essays in this volume reconsider from various angles what to make of the messy relationships linking Verne, old and new-model sf, the popular imagination, and canonical literature as viewed by its devotees and as attacked by its postmodern enemies. Smyth is also quick to state an engaging disclaimer: "It is not the aim of this book to provide a definitive answer to the question of Jules Verne’s status as a writer of science fiction, let alone to supply yet another ‘justification’ of his legitimacy as a serious writer" (8). Maybe not. But the essays rounded up by Smyth provide comprehensive and convincing if not definitive answers to the usual questions about Verne and sf as a basis for hammering home the variously reiterated point that now only frivolous or misinformed readers can fail to take Verne seriously. Among the contributors there is a notable consensus on these matters, although put in terms that dispel the depressing sense of déjà vu elicited by book titles that proclaim "modernity" (or worse, "postmodernity") for a writer from the distant past. Without much troubling to define the book’s keynote term, its essays argue for Verne’s modernity as an exemplar, though not always an advocate, of attitudes generated by nineteenth-century social and technological trends, and also for his modernity as a writer to whose works twenty-first-century readers can apply in gratifying ways their own mostly postmodern techniques of analysis.

The collection is firmly anchored in history by Arthur B. Evans’s magisterial survey of "Jules Verne and the French Literary Canon." Evans charts the initial fall and posthumous rise of Verne’s reputation among the stern guardians of French literature and education in his own country, dwelling to especially good effect on those "many social and historical forces" (27) that finally converged to rehabilitate Verne in the years between 1955 and 1978. Evans argues persuasively that Verne’s retrieval from "hallowed oblivion" (27) was due to synergism created by a confluence of developments: inventions from submarines to spaceships that validated Verne as a prophet while also evoking nostalgia for the reassuring machine-human relationships so often portrayed in his fiction; marketplace popularity of new sf that generated interest in its antecedents; proliferation of theories about literature that could be applied to or tested on Verne’s oeuvre; and even "the progressively non-mimetic and self-conscious tendencies in modern French fiction, creating a kind of backlash revival of more highly referential forms of literature" (27). An implied moral is that any popular sf writer’s ability to achieve an enduring reputation depends not only on skill but on the contingent vagaries of scientific developments, literary vogues, and modes of criticism.

Evans properly takes for granted that mimesis is a matter of degree: less versus "more highly referential forms." Other essays qualify and complicate the too-widely received notion that Verne’s works are completely or even primarily referential. Writing on "Myth, Inversion and Regression in Verne’s Underground Utopia," David Meakin shows that in Les Indes noires (1877), as so often elsewhere, "Verne’s text is less a systematically positivistic account of the present—let alone a scientific prediction of the future—than a cultural mine in which he reworks and dialogues with the world of myth and with the writings of his literary forebears" (107). Meakin also notes in passing how Verne’s text is in dialogue with representations not of the external world but of itself: "words are not everything in a Verne text: the illustrations ... are catalysts of desire, fuelling reader curiosity, placed always before the events they picture" (96). This interplay of textual desire deserves more attention from Verne’s acolytes. Timothy Unwin accepts and elaborates upon Michel Butor’s argument that (as Unwin summarizes it) "Verne’s descriptions are invested with an immense poetic power where the richness and strangeness of words themselves are underlined" (47). Unwin also argues that "Although the Voyages extraordinaires may seem to take us on an imaginary armchair tour of the continents and the seas, we are constantly returned to the book and to the bookish. Text is everywhere" (56).

Trevor Harris, writing on "Measurement and Mystery in Verne," suggests that, under the sway of Hetzel’s editorial policy, Verne’s writing creates an "essentially childlike vision, mixing fantasy with safety, removing the dangers and placing them in a virtual reality, reducing any ‘frisson’ to manageable proportions" so as "to bring to the reader new and exciting facts, but to soften the blow of this potentially disturbing paradigm shift, to feed the strange through the familiar, the unknown through the known" (111). In further apparent agreement with those who consign Verne to the lower depths of kiddie-lit, Harris goes on to affirm that a predilection for stories of circular movement over the globe is another technique designed "to deliver the narrative goodies to Verne’s expectant child readers" (112). Countering the pejorative implications of these conclusions, however, is the way Harris, perhaps despite himself, shows in persuasive detail how that "childlike vision" achieves an appealing complexity and mythic resonance that now fascinates sophisticated adult readers (such as Harris) no less and probably more often than children. Whether as virtue or vice or both, Verne’s hallmark in this account is vivid fantasy, not referential didacticism. In a lucid essay on the balance of "Realism, Utopianism and Science Fiction in the Novels of Jules Verne," Sarah Capitano concedes the "touches of modernity" created by those intertextual and self-reflexive elements that are at last attracting attention. But by way of useful caution against forgetting everything else, she argues that such features "in no way represent a wholesale debunking or undermining of the essentially serious enterprise of instruction and high-minded ‘divertissement’.... What emerges above all from the varying generic narrative strands ... is the interface between the historic (Realist), the a-chronic (utopian) and the futuristic (science fiction)" (72-73).

In "Jules Verne, Raymond Roussel, and Surrealism," Terry Hale and Andrew Hugill provide another measure of how strongly fantasy stands out in Verne’s oeuvre—and also, not incidentally, further testimony to his afterlife outside the Gernsbackian Valhalla of sf—by tracing his influence through Roussel to "numerous productions of the writers and artists generally associated with the French and Belgian Surrealist movements" and "even more strongly ... in the writings of the Greek Surrealists, particularly those of Andreas Embirikos" (122). David Platten takes up the question of how to square with received views of Verne his newly discovered and only recently published Paris au XXe siècle (1994). Platten puts the case against taking this as written entirely in 1863, basing his skepticism on internal evidence read in the light of scientific and social developments subsequent to that date, as well as in the light of Verne’s later fiction and questions about how far some of his works were posthumously revised by his son Michel. Although these are dubious grounds for dating, as Platten recognizes, the exercise is an expedient way of canvassing the most important themes of Verne’s career to substantiate the claim that "Paris is a fascinating document for two interconnected reasons: firstly, it jeopardizes most idées reçues concerning Verne and his work, and secondly it raises further questions of authorship and textual authenticity" (81). In "Mysterious Masterpiece," William Butcher directs such questions to "Edom," better known under the title "L’Eternal Adam" (1905). He takes as unanswerable, at least for now, the question of how far Michel and how far Jules can be credited with authorship of this story. Butcher turns the difficulty to good account, however, by taking this mystery as emblematic of the paradoxes posed by the story itself, and in turn taking those paradoxes as emblematic of how Verne’s entire oeuvre has elicited and rewarded a two-step reading process, a kind of critical double-take: "Verne’s grossly inappropriate public reputation has, from the beginning, been the symptom, and even the cause, of a limited first-level analysis; a deeper reading leads to the appreciation of a number of receding levels. The works produce complexity as if to spite the simplistic interpretation placed on them" (151).

Butcher’s insight is borne out by the essays in this excellent collection. If they remark complexities of various kinds as often as they do modernity (however defined), the result is to liberate their explications from the constraints of focusing too narrowly on features that conform to rigid and often transitory definitions of what is modern. Jules Verne: Narratives of Modernity is a cross-section of the best current Verne scholarship, offering models of how his fiction can and should be read at the outset of the twenty-first century. This is an indispensable book for those who want to see how far we have come along the path toward better understanding of Verne, and how we should go forward.

—Paul Alkon, University of Southern California

Sequels, Spectacles, and Disasters

Annette Kuhn, ed. Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science Fiction Cinema. Verso, 1999. 308 pp. $19 pbk.

Kim Newman. Apocalypse Movies: End of the World Cinema. St. Martin’s/Griffin, 2000. 272 pp. $16.95 pbk. Published in the UK as Millenium Movies in 1999 by Titan Books.

In 1990 Verso published Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, a collection that seemed to set up a canon of sf films in the way it privileged Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Ten years on, forests have been felled to print articles on the latter film, and to answer the field’s equivalent of "Is Hamlet mad?"—i.e., "Is Deckard a replicant?" But 1990 was a more innocent time, postmodernism was still a recent buzz word, and we hadn’t yet gotten bored with asking the question. Blade Runner was only available in its 1982 version—complete with hardboiled voiceover and happy-ever-after ending—and few people knew about the unicorn. (Recently, Ridley Scott has answered our tantalizing question in the affirmative, quite spoiling our fun and grounding a film that was fascinating in its ambiguity.) Yet Alien Zone is a book I still turn to, still recommend, for Barbara Creed on Alien and the monstrous-feminine, Scott Bukatman on Videodrome (1983), and Guliana Bruno on Blade Runner. All save three of the articles in the volume were reprints, dating mostly from the mid- to late 1980s, with a handful from earlier in the decade. But at least there was a page of acknowledgments, between the contents page and the introduction, allowing you to work this out.

Cut to 1999, and Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science Fiction Cinema. Sequels, of course, fall into a number of categories: those that give us more of the same, those that push ideas forward and seem quite different from the original, and those that give us much more of the same, on a larger budget, but less effectively. This volume, I fear, falls into the last category. Of that original impressive threesome, only Bukatman remains as a contributor, with a particularly enjoyable article on the sublime and the foregrounding of spectatorship in the special effects of Douglas Trumbull. But then I enjoyed hearing the chapter when he gave it as a conference paper five or six years ago—although I missed the version that was published in 1995.

Not that the book makes such dating of material easy to sort out; you look in vain for an acknowledgments page, which surely makes this a copyright minefield. Barry Keith Grant’s piece dates from 1986 ("substantially revised"), David Desser’s from 1991 (ditto), Janet Staiger’s from 1988 ("slightly shortened"—courtesy of footnote two), Vivian Sobchack from 1988 ("revised and expanded," from the same issue of East-West Film Journal as Staiger’s), parts of Linda Mizejewsli’s from 1993 (footnote three); Claudia Springer draws on pieces from 1995 and 1996, Garrett Stewart from 1998 ("a shortened version"). That leaves three apparently original pieces, from Brooks Landon, Will Brooker, and Catherine Constable. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with reprinting articles that are fourteen years old, but they risk looking awfully dated. H. Bruce Franklin got around a similar problem in Alien Zone by subtitling his original piece "1970-1982." Staiger’s "Future Noir: Contemporary Representations of Visionary Cities" simply stops in 1987, as if Dark City (1998), Judge Dredd (1995), Pi (1998), and half a dozen other movies don’t exist. By contrast, Vivian Sobchack, in "Cities on the Edge of Time: The Urban Science-Fiction Film" has updated her coverage to 1998 to sneak in Pleasantville (1998) and The Truman Show (1998)—although these are technically small-town settings.

Looking at the book as a whole, one might reasonably ask: what impact has the past decade had on film studies with regard to science fiction? Well, the canon of Blade Runner and Alien has apparently been expanded to include Blade Runner, Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997). Brooker looks at Internet fandom in relation to Alien, Blade Runner, and Star Wars (1977), a topic hardly possible ten years ago (and I will return to his chapter in due course). David Desser, in a piece reprinted from Judith Kerman’s anthology Retrofitting BLADE RUNNER (Bowling Green, 1991), examines that film in terms of its treatment of race, space, and class, as well as revisiting earlier films (there is a huge hole in the coverage between 1936 and 1960, which remains unexplained). Desser raises the interesting question of why the Nexus-6 androids are quite so feared, surmising that it might be "a fear of difference—notably, perhaps, the replicants’ alleged lack of emotions" (93). I would have thought that the problem was the undermining of difference, and the resultant inability to be certain who is human and who a replicant. Staiger discusses Blade Runner in relation to Max Headroom (1985-87) and the unjustly neglected Brazil (1985), under the heading of postmodern cities. Sobchack mercifully passes over Blade Runner in a page (and also mentions Brazil). Garrett Stewart, in "Body Snatching: Science Fiction’s Photographic Trace," mentions the photographs of Rachel and her mother in Blade Runner, but ignores Leon’s and Deckard’s snapshots as well as the celebrated scene of the computer-aided searching of a photo.

Catherine Constable clearly outlines the scope of her chapter—the four Alien films—and her theoretical model: Julia Kristeva via Barbara Creed. The chapter thus draws on and offers a corrective to one chapter from the original Alien Zone. Creed read Kane’s exploration of the alien craft as "positive images of a parthenogenetic mother figure" (177), but Constable notes the menace present in the scene, and offers an alternative reading of the space as tomb. Creed read the alien face-hugger attack as Freudian—a castration, a reabsorption into the womb; Constable prefers to emphasize the abject. Constable notes Ripley’s transformation into a symbolic mother through Aliens’ granting her a surrogate child; the fact that in the Director’s Cut of the film, released on DVD, we are told that Ripley’s biological child (previously unmentioned) died of old age adds to this move. The mother-child dyad, enriched by the genetics of the alien queen, is clearly central to Alien: Resurrection, and Constable argues persuasively that this film reverses the modified explorations of the abject in Alien and Aliens, given that Ripley is now mother to the queen rather than impregnated by the queen. Does the mere passing mention of Alien3 invalidate the argument? Constable notes Ripley’s role there as outsider threatening a male environment, but there is much more to be said on what is perhaps the most intriguing installment of the saga. After all, Alien3 starts with the killing off of characters Ripley had worked so hard to save in the last half hour of Aliens, and then procedes to dispense with any character with whom we get too close to identifying. As a part of the ALIEN sequence, it is least comfortable, but on its own terms and in relation to David Fincher’s directorial career, it requires some attention.

As I have noted, Will Brooker discusses fandom, but he can’t avoid that ever-so-slight tone of patronizing coyness academics often tend to adopt when talking about fans. He reveals that fans "even arrange their own social pub meets—I have myself travelled to Lincoln, London and Birmingham for such reunions" (56). "Lincoln" doesn’t quite have the dying fall it might if mentioned instead after the metropoli of London and Birmingham, but I fail to see what is so remarkable about people meeting in bars to discuss sf. After all, academics never adjourn to pubs and the SFRA conference isn’t anything like a reunion…. Clearly the points Brookner makes about Internet fandom have to be taken as typical of the ten websites (although his Works Cited ultimately lists just seven), and even then only on those few days he visited, but I have to say I don’t entirely recognize his portrait of the scene from the corners I hang out in. The missing piece is the whole raft of conversation—in pubs, at conventions, on discussion lists—which isn’t about sf. Some science-fiction fans, as opposed to fans of science fiction, take great pride in never allowing the subject to come up. But if he has problems with the structured anarchy of the broad church of fandom, in all its overlapping and schismatic factions, he comes a cropper on basic bibliographic matters. Alan Nourse’s novel The Bladerunner (1974) is misrepresented as a short story, and K.W. Jeter is transformed into William K Jeter. "Consensual hallucination" is described as "Gibson’s term for ‘cyberspace’" (71) rather than as one prominent definition of it in Neuromancer (1984). The endnotes slip between The Alien V Discussion Forum (note 19) and The Alien 5 Discussion Forum (notes 25-27).

Most of the essays feature, of course, not what academics think fans think, but what academics think. Reading Barry Keith Grant’s "‘Sensuous Elaboration’: Reason and the Visible in the Science-Fiction Film," you start to wonder if the piece contains an original idea. He begins firmly enough with the assertive phrase "I want to argue," yet his rhetoric quickly shifts to the obsessively allusive: "not to claim, as some critics have," "what Darko Suvin calls…," "As Robert Heinlein notes…," "according to Lester del Rey…," "As such critics as Robert Scholes and Bruce Kawin have argued…," "According to Robin Wood…," and (my favorite) "… Sam Moskowitz, quoting Rollo May…." I could actually go on: these quotations are just from pages 16 and 17. It’s one thing to ground your argument in the ongoing debate, but quite another to be unable to complete a paragraph without such a support. The authorities cited are from various disciplines: sf novelists, editors, theorists, and fan historians—but each piece of evidence seems to be granted the same relative weight. Grant also tends towards the list, skipping through titles that illustrate a given theme with barely a pause to explain how they do so, or even the significance of the theme itself. Given Grant’s placement at the outset of the book, his essay might be thought to be a cursory survey of the field, but it remains too breathless for even that.

Grant laments the shift from the traditional sense of wonder to the contemporary age of the spectacle, lamenting the infantilism of fans’ delight in special effects. Two essays, Landon’s and Bukatman’s, focus on just such effects. Like a number of the pieces in the book, Landon’s "Diegetic or Digital? The Convergence of Science-Fiction Literature and Science-Fiction Film in Hypermedia" begins with Méliès, perhaps as a means of returning to the origins of cinema to trace out a different tradition from classical Hollywood. Just as the trick shot was the point of many early one-reelers, so the narrative in a number of sf movies (and Landon too can rattle off the lists) becomes a structure to hang special effects on—a narrative that pauses whilst the effect takes place, rather like (although Landon does not say this) those musicals that put their narratives on hold for a song and dance number. In making his argument, Landon cites Bukatman (presumably material parallel to his chapter later in the book), Garrett Stewart (definitely material later in the book), and film genre theorist Stephen Neale. Neale offers the tremendously common-sense observation of how films build up to bigger and bigger effects throughout their narratives, as if gangster or Western movies don’t observe similar build-ups; Landon himself mentions Titanic (1997) in passing. Surely the most interesting thing about special effects is quite how far from sf they have spread: car crashes, landscapes, birds, explosions, all of these now routinely call upon computer-generated digital imagery. Scott’s Gladiator (2000) probably had more effects than did Blade Runner. An overarching, less genre-specific theory of special effects seems critically essential today.

Scott Bukatman goes some way towards offering precisely this in his grounding of FX in the history of the tromp l’oeil and the sublime in painting. Just as J.M.W. Turner’s paintings invite our gaze, or panoramas offer a substitute for tourism, so the effects of Douglas Trumbull take us on a journey; indeed, Trumbull invites us to wallow in the touristic display. Bukatman notes the cutaways to "an astronaut’s frozen features, Spielberg’s typically slack-jawed observers, the crew of the Enterprise, or the disembodied eye that holds the infernal city reflected in its gaze" (259), as we are invited to gaze upon gazing. Sometimes this doubled spectatorship can play against the realism of a sequence: Deckard seems at his most emotional when being flown across a city he must have seen a hundred times before. But the camera offers us a chance to see things we otherwise could not see, whether realistic or fantastic.

Taken as a whole, Alien Zone II is weaker than its predecessor: the structure seems awkward as the dialogue between the various authors cuts across the order of the book. Kuhn’s division of the book into a number of sections relating to space—cultural, urban, corporeal, and sensuous—seems arbitrary and is, frankly, a distraction. A number of inconsistencies occur: is it Clockwork Orange or A Clockwork Orange (1971), is H.G. Wells’s novel The Shape of Things to Come 1934 (Staiger, 108) or 1933 (Landon, 19)? Why does, say, Invisible Ray (1936) get a filmography entry when neither of the versions of The Thing (1951, 1982) do? And why am I left with the nagging sense that most of the contributors are more interesting on the contexts they explore—the history of architecture, theories of the sublime, and so on—than on sf film itself?

An anthology can never really offer a complete survey of the field without overlaps, and of course features a multitude of voices. Kim Newman’s Apocalypse Movies speaks with a single voice, surveys hundreds of films, and fits them into some sort of system, but sacrifices depth in the process. Originally published in 1999 in Britain as Millennium Movies, the retitling for the American edition (a tad inefficiently on the proof I saw) is clearly an attempt to jump off a now-obsolete bandwagon. Newman is a science-fiction novelist and a reviewer of some repute, especially in British film magazines such as Empire and Sight and Sound. In Britain genre reviews tend to fall either into the pointlessly positive fanboy school (particularly in genre publications) or the equally pointlessly negative (in the general market). Newman is a critic I trust, even if I don’t always agree with his judgments; above all, he does not treat a film as excellent or atrocious merely because of its genre status.

Newman wears his erudition lightly, as he examines dozens of films about alien invasion, disease scares, nuclear annihilation, and so on. At times he does little more than list; more often a sentence is sufficient to sum up a film’s worth (if there is a canon here, it is outlined by stealth). When he can relax and spend two or three pages on a film—for example, Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996), or The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)—the result is some of the clearest, most incisive criticism that one could hope for. There are faults: the index lists films but not directors, so an oeuvre cannot be efficiently examined; a date is missing from a couple of titles. But then, Newman’s book isn’t really scholarly, nor does it pretend to be. It would, however, give anyone with an interest in sf film a good grounding in a vast area of the field, a claim I’d be reluctant to make for Alien Zone II.

—Andrew M. Butler, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

Ingenious Feats of Sophistry

H.G. Wells. When the Sleeper Wakes: A Critical Text of the 1899 New York and London First Edition, with an Introduction and Appendices, ed. Leon Stover. McFarland, 1999. xii + 465 pp. $55 hc.

When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) was the fifth and last of H.G. Wells’s "scientific romances" to be published in the nineteenth century. Literary critics, including the author himself, have consistently rated it the poorest of the set. Interest endures, however, chiefly because it would appear to be one of the first full-fledged dystopian novels, the prototype of the classic texts of Yevgeny Zamyatin, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell. Leon Stover, as ever the iconoclast, seeks to prove in this immensely annotated edition that Sleeper is a work of considerable artistic merit and that (gasp!) it is actually a utopian novel. He correctly observes that a utopian fiction describes a place that its author thinks is desirable, not necessarily that its readers or critics would think is desirable. Since Wells was the adoring herald of the twentieth-century total state—as we learned earlier in The Prophetic Soul: A Reading of H.G. Wells’s THINGS TO COME (McFarland, 1987), Stover’s merciless unmasking of the fascism in Wells’s 1936 film—the world of A.D. 2100 depicted in Sleeper is therefore, for Wells, a utopia. Stover’s logic is impeccable. If A equals B and B equals C, then A clearly equals C. So far, so good. And yet ...

But for those who have not read When the Sleeper Wakes, let us begin with a brief outline of the yarn. The Sleeper is an Englishman known only as "Graham," who falls into a coma in A.D. 1897 and wakes up 203 years later to find that his investments have made him the nominal master of a plutocratic world order. He is soon manipulated by a dissident oligarch named Ostrog, who overthrows the regime in Graham’s name, only to become its all-powerful dictator himself. As the novel reaches its climax, Graham helps lead a proletarian revolution against Ostrog, but dies heroically in an air battle over London. Whether Ostrog or the proletariat will prevail is left uncertain as Graham plunges to his death. Throughout the novel, the workers are represented as exploited and oppressed underdogs, and Graham figures as a compassionate humanitarian resolved, once he learns their true plight, to liberate them. In Wells’s prescient description of twenty-second-century England under the heel of, first the plutocracy, and then the proto-fascist dictatorship of Ostrog, he anticipates much of the technology of behavioral engineering later perfected by Bolsheviks, Fascists, and Nazis alike.

Thus, Sleeper is a dystopia, Ostrog is the villain, and Graham is the hero. Right? Wrong, and dead wrong, argues Stover. Citing scores of quotations plucked out of context from Wells’s writings over a more than fifty-year span, he paints a picture of Wells as an unregenerate authoritarian state socialist in the image of the baleful father of all elitist and statist utopias, the early nineteenth-century French social philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon. Wells, like Edward Bellamy, Vladimir Lenin, and Benito Mussolini, was a confirmed "totalist" in the Saint-Simonian tradition, and an equally confirmed foe of the communitarian, proletarian socialism of Karl Marx. He loathed the common man and foresaw a future in which Platonic Guardians, an elite of technocratic experts, would tell common men what to believe and what to do. Or else. It follows that Graham was a pathetic, ineffectual anti-hero, a futile sentimentalist, and that Ostrog, after all, was just the sort of man who could set things straight.

To help document his contentions, Stover reprints, among his seven appendices, the texts of an 1899 interview with Wells and of Wells’s Preface to a 1921 reprint of Sleeper. Of course, both pieces flatly contradict Stover, but he indulges in some not so ingenious feats of sophistry to try to overcome the obvious. In the interview, for example, Wells remarks: "When he [Graham] wakes up, he finds the world as I hope it will never be, but I think as it might conceivably become, if [the] humanitarian instinct ... is really going to slumber for those two centuries" (388). What could be more plain? If one depicts a future world that he or she hopes "will never be," he or she is writing a dystopia. Stover wiggles around this by dwelling on an earlier part of the interview where Wells proclaims the democratic age at an end and the reign of "an aristocracy of organisers" imminent. He conveniently ignores Wells’s fear that these "organisers," these captains of industry and finance, will simply turn into "bosses and exploiters" (387). In context, Wells is not cheering on the bosses but simply forecasting the world of our own time, where the bosses and exploiters do in fact wield most of the power and do in fact use it to perpetuate their dominion.

Never mind. What Stover has done is to confuse intentions and hopes with the sordid realities of twentieth-century totalitarianism and multinational big business. Indeed, Wells did deeply distrust parliamentary democracy, as well as the wisdom of the common man and woman. He was surely an elitist, in the sense that he wanted men and women of exceptional intelligence, expertise, and humane vision to take charge of a faltering world, re-educate it, unify it, and manage it rationally and benevolently. But if the best of us betrayed our trust by becoming robber barons or self-serving demagogues, then the end in sight was the desperate, decadent world of The Time Machine (1895) and When the Sleeper Wakes.

Meanwhile, we have Stover’s critical edition to deal with. Except for some of the appendices and a stray thought here or there, it is all but useless. Anyone who wants to read Sleeper should look elsewhere. Stover’s 263 absurdly intrusive footnotes, many of them lengthy tirades designed to support his thesis, clog the text from start to finish, occasionally crowding the text right off the page. A particularly grim case is #221, which extends for more than three pages (329-32), two of which allow no space for Wells at all. The "Editor’s Introduction" rambles on for 63 pages. It does contain a plausible—although overinflated—argument for tracing some of the forming premises both of Wells’s worldview and of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century to early nineteenth-century positivism, as propounded by Saint-Simon and his erstwhile secretary, Auguste Comte. Stover is a clever and widely read scholar. But his fifteen-year crusade to defame H.G. Wells is a wonder for which I can contrive no explanation.

—W. Warren Wagar, SUNY Binghamton

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