Science Fiction Studies

#84 = Volume 28, Part 2 = July 2001


Vonnegut’s Critics and Collaborators.

Marc Leeds and Peter J. Reed, eds. Kurt Vonnegut: Images and Representations. Greenwood, 2000. xi + 198 pp. $55 hc.

While Kurt Vonnegut’s status as a writer of science fiction—or not—has been in dispute for very nearly his entire career, the debate itself has in a way settled the question by ensuring discussion of the author and his work quite consistently in science fiction circles. That discussion continues in a mostly original vein here in a set of seventeen essays that reach back to one of the most important moments in the debate and forward to Vonnegut’s current work. In addition to the essays, the book prints a five-paragraph foreword by Vonnegut himself, accompanied by a small self-portrait. Contributors are both seasoned academic critics and artistic collaborators or reworkers of Vonnegut’s works. Editors Marc Leeds and Peter Reed also co-edited an earlier collection, The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays (Greenwood, 1996), and have both also edited or written other books on Vonnegut.

The present volume attempts to chart the changing representations of Vonnegut in media other than print—film and theater, for example. In most respects this attempt is successful, though picky readers might suggest that the wide range of responses to Vonnegut’s work presented here is also a very uneven sample. The first chapter takes us back to what may be the beginning of serious discussion of Vonnegut’s status as a science fiction writer by reprinting the important Leslie Fiedler essay, "The Divine Stupidity of Kurt Vonnegut: Portrait of the Novelist as Bridge over Troubled Water," which first appeared in the September 1970 issue of Esquire. Fiedler’s essay argues both for taking Vonnegut seriously and for celebrating the pornographic, science-fictional, original aspects of his work, those aspects that resist, confound, refigure, or otherwise run counter to what was then a clear distinction between high art and low culture. Whatever protests Vonnegut might have made about critics relegating him to the science fiction drawer, Fiedler made clear that, as of 1970 at least, Vonnegut as shaper of and shaped by science fiction was a legitimate way to read him. Fiedler’s essay, as the editors observe, is not widely available and, though now quite old, bears reading again.

The rest of the book is new material. Including the introduction, five of the chapters are written or co-written by the editors. Four of the chapters focus on Mother Night (1962) and the 1996 film of that novel. Most of the contributors have the standard academic affiliations, but several are from outside the academy, including playwrights Eric Simenson and Robert B. Weide, and Ollie Lyon, a contemporary of Vonnegut’s who worked with him at GE in Schenectady, New York, and was later a vice president at Young and Rubicam. Repeating a feature of the editors’ previous collaboration on Vonnegut, the book concludes with a short chapter by Lyon and John Dinsmore on "Kurt and Joe: the Artistic Collaboration of Kurt Vonnegut and Joe Petro III," after which the editors include an appendix, "More Graphics by Kurt Vonnegut," reprinting in black-and-white eight color paintings by Vonnegut that have been silk-screened by Petro. The images are far more interesting than the breezy accompanying article.

Specifically science-fictional themes dominate some, but not all, of the essays. Peter Reed’s "Hurting ‘Til It Laughs: The Painful-Comic Science Fiction Stories of Kurt Vonnegut" and "Kurt Vonnegut’s Bitter Fool: Kilgore Trout" cover Vonnegut’s uses of humor and science in his exploration of what we used to call the human condition, and, at somewhat greater length, the many narrative uses to which Vonnegut has put fictive sf author Trout in novels and stories. Both are useful surveys of Vonnegut’s work and would be excellent introductions for teaching Vonnegut to undergraduates. Somewhat more academic readings prevail in other essays, including Sharon Sieber’s "Unstuck in Time: Simultaneity as a Foundation for Vonnegut’s Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula and other Nonlinear Time Structures," Donald E. Morse’s "The Apotheosis of Philanthropy: Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," Michelle Persell’s "It’s All Play-Acting: Authorship and Identity in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut," and Loree Rackstraw’s "The Paradox of Awareness and Language in Vonnegut’s Fiction." In the last-named piece, Rackstraw proposes reading Vonnegut’s novels rather than contemporary theory in order to gain a sense of what serious thinkers have been doing with language in the "past decade or so" (51). It might have been interesting to have that conceit played out more rigorously in the essay, rather than used as a framing device for her survey of language-related themes in Vonnegut.

Readers less interested in close readings of Vonnegut’s work may be drawn to the more narrative essays that round out the volume. Eric Simenson’s "Pilgrim’s Progress" and Julie A. Hibbard’s "In Search of Slaughterhouse-Five" recount their experiences with that novel: Simenson tells a story of his stage adaptation of the book, and Hibbard relates her trip to Dresden and her search for the real ground behind the fiction. Finally, the highly accessible cluster of essays on the 1996 film of Mother Night may hold the most interest for non-scholarly readers, both for the expansion on a single theme and for the relatively recent vintage of the object under study. Marc Leeds’s "Mother Night: Who’s Pretending?" offers a straight reading of the novel, one of two Vonnegut wrote about Germany and World War II; Jerome Klinkowitz’s "Mother Night: Fiction into Film" finds in the film adaptation a work that might have been made by Vonnegut himself had he been a filmmaker (99); Jerry Holt’s "Vonnegut on Film" surveys the films of Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982), and Mother Night; Robert B. Weide’s "The Morning after Mother Night" presents a narrative about the making of the film by the writer who adapted the novel; and Nancy Kapitanoff’s "The Boys of Mother Night" tells through the correspondence of Weide and Vonnegut a tale of the tale.

Scholarly readers fond of broadly contextualizing work may not be very taken with this book. There is little secondary scholarship in most of the articles (those by Morse, Sieber, and Rackstraw being notable exceptions), and what there is manages to be expressed largely by a bibliography for the entire book that occupies barely more than two pages, including a handlist of works by Vonnegut himself. Given the large body of criticism devoted to Vonnegut (well over 300 items since 1963 in the MLA International Bibliography), more contextualizing might have been in order. Still, this is not an entirely fair criticism of the strand of chapters dealing with Mother Night, most not written by professional academics, which give rare glimpses into the working relationships of collaborating artists with Vonnegut, and the volume’s stated intent to "explore" Vonnegut as "the appropriate voice for an age of flux and transformation" (3) is admirably achieved by the book as a whole.

Peter Sands, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


The Creature Does Literary Theory: A Casebook Revised.

Mary Shelley. Frankenstein: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives, ed. Johanna M. Smith. 2nd ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. x + 470 pp. $39.95 hc.

This casebook starts with an introduction, followed by the generally used 1831 text. (The 1818 text is available in a Norton Critical Edition with its own apparatus.) The novel is followed by a section of "Contextual Documents" new to the second edition: brief excerpts from William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Paracelsus, etc.; the lecture by Humphry Davy that inspired young Frankenstein when Waldman delivered a portion of it; a drawing of Luigi Galvani’s electrical experiments with frogs that I have been passing around in class for many years; a short excerpt from Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774)—but nothing from Paradise Lost (1667); and stills from a few Frankenstein films.

The second half of this casebook is more idiosyncratic. As a volume in the Bedford/St. Martin Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism, it features general introductions to different critical theories/methods, each followed by an essay using that methodology. The criticism here is psychoanalytic, feminist, gender-based, Marxist, and cultural, with a final essay "combining perspectives." (The previous edition had a reader-response section instead of the gender section.)

The second half starts with a short but useful "Critical History of Frankenstein." Then come the theoretical approaches. The introductions to various critical theories seem uniformly good and valuable, but the actual essays are inconsistent. The Lacanian psychoanalytic essay by David Collings is excellent; the feminist essay by Johanna M. Smith (who edited the book) good. The "gender" essay by Frann Michel, "Lesbian Panic and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein," is well written and carries some valuable insights, but also seems to be desperately searching for a subject: Michel assserts that since close relationships between women in the novel are negligible, their very lack must have significance. Sure.

The introduction to Marxist criticism notes that many of the critics considered important today, including Bakhtin, Benjamin, Adorno, Althusser, Williams, Eagleton, and Jameson, have at least a tenuous (and usually a vigorous) relationship to Marxist thought, but none of these critics is cited in the essay by Warren Montag that follows it. Here too a lack of evidence constitutes evidence: "utterly absent from the narrative is any description or explanation of the process by which the monster was created" (392); this lack of a description of what is rather absurdly called "the process of production" is found to be significant. The proletariat is also missing, so Montag asserts that "a dense network of resemblances appears to allow us to identify Frankenstein’s monster with the emergent proletariat" (387); the resemblances that follow are very thin soup, but he does cite Franco Moretti’s "The Dialectic of Fear" (available in his book Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms [Verso, 1988]), which does a better job of making this case.

The cultural critique by Bouriana Zakharieva focuses on Kenneth Branagh’s ludicrously titled Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), comparing it with previous cinematic versions as well as the novel itself. But Branagh is so eccentric that few will bring his film into the classroom, so the essay seems instantly dated. A final essay by Fred Botting places a lot of weight and repetition on the word "monster," which I believe Mary Shelley uses less often than "creature," "fiend," and "demon." Still, Botting scores a few points, reminding us that Frankenstein is uneasily balanced between high and pop culture—but this is an insight that often occupies sf teachers.

My quibbles with particular essays may not be entirely to the point. Professors will most likely adopt or reject this as a classroom text on the basis of its general methodology (and/or its choice of the 1831 text) rather than its individual critiques.

Charles Nicol, Indiana State University


Brazilian Perspectives.

Marcello Simão Branco, ed. Prêmio Nova de Ficção Científica: Os Primeiros Dez Anos (The Nova Prize for Science Fiction: The First Ten Years). Brasópolis, Minas Gerais: Edgard Guimaraes, 1998. 156 pp. Biblioteca Essencial da Ficção Científica Brasileira, Vol. 3.

Roberto de Sousa Causo. O Crítico-Fã: Resenhas de Ficção Científica, Fan-tasia, Horror e Outras Formas Invisíveis de Literatura (The Critic-Fan: Reviews of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Other Invisible Forms of Lit-erature). Brasópolis, Minas Gerais: Edgard Guimaraes, 1999. 71 pp. Biblioteca Essencial da Ficção Científica Brasileira, Vol. 4.

These are two volumes in the ongoing series, "Essential Library of Brazilian Science Fiction," whose general editor is Roberto de Sousa Causo. Volume 3, Prêmio Nova de Ficção Científica: Os Primeiros dez Anos, is an anthology that offers the best of Brazilian sf from the first ten years of the "Nova" awards (1987-1996). The book contains fifteen stories because an extra category was added after 1990, based purely on selections by fans. Because of limited space, I will mention only each year’s winners, grouped thematically, summarizing them in order to give a general idea of their content.

After its inception, the award was won in both 1987 and 1988 by Ivan Carlos Regina. The 1987 story "Pela valorização da vida" (For the Valorization of Life) is a cautionary tale about cloned office workers who possess the minimum of body parts and mental capabilities needed to carry out their work (e.g., office couriers who are just feet, secretaries who are mere heads). In the end, these parts rebel, demanding wholeness. In the second story, "A derradeira publicidade de Hebefrênico Alfredo" (The Last Ad by Hebephrenic Alfred), an office courier rises to the top of the advertising world, only to have his neurosis cause him to "consume" or kill himself by the story’s end. These less sophisticated, satirical stories obviously struck a note with Brazilian fans who identified with worker alienation and the pressures of consumer society.

Braulio Tavares was the winner in both 1989 and 1990. Both stories belong to his A espinha dorsal da memória (The Spine of Memory), a collection that won the prize for the best sf in Portugal in 1989. The first story, "Sympathy for the Devil," is a sophisticated metafiction about a writer’s pact with the devil and his subsequent seduction and conversion to evil. Tavares’s other story, "Mestre de Armas" (Master of Arms), is told from the point of view of a soldier raised in a hierarchical space colony that wages constant war on mysterious and powerful aliens. Because of the ruthlessness he demonstrates in war games, the soldier rises through the ranks to become its top leader. Tavares’s themes generally deal with aliens and technology as temptations that dehumanize his characters. A different view of aliens comes across in the prize-winning 1991 story, "Patrulha para o desconhecido" (Patrol to the Unknown), by Roberto de Sousa Causo. The aliens in this story turn out to be agents of peace, who, by transforming the minds of the soldiers, allow a Brazilian patrol to escape slaughter by the larger German forces during WWII.

In 1994 and 1995, the sf community elected to recognize what is considered to be the more literary side of Brazilian sf. Ricardo Teixeira’s "A nuvem" (The Cloud) draws on the themes and style of two recognized Brazilian masters of the fantastic, José J. Veiga and Murilo Rubião. Written in the style of Veiga, it describes rapid evolutionary changes in the flora and fauna of a small town in the Brazilian interior. The 1995 prize went to the poet and sf author André Carneiro, for his 1963 story "Escuridão" (Darkness). When complete and utter darkness descends on the Earth for a matter of weeks, it is blind people, rather than science or technology, who save society from chaos.

The 1993 and 1996 winners deal explicitly with historical themes. The first is Roberto Schima’s story about the terraforming of Venus, "Os fantasmas de Vênus" (The Ghosts of Venus), which draws parallels between the human presence on that planet and the deforestation of the Amazon. It also explores the legacy of Brazil’s most recent dictatorship (1964-85), revealing concerns about neo-colonialism and American intervention. Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro’s winning novella of 1996, "O vampiro de Nova Holanda" (The Vampire of New Holland), is an alternate history set in a 17th-century Brazil in which the Portuguese, instead of expelling the Dutch and decimating the large runaway slave community of Palmares, are actually challenged by them for hegemony in the region. By rewriting colonial history, the novella offers a more multi-ethnic view of Brazil.

Judging from this volume, stories having to do with national themes, such as class differences, the legacy of the dictatorship and colonialism, or national styles of the fantastic, are popular in Brazil. Anti-technological attitudes, ecological themes, and tales of alien intervention are also typical of Brazilian sf as exemplified in this anthology.

The books that Roberto de Sousa Causo reviews in Volume 4, O Crítico-Fã: Resenhas de Ficção Científica, Fantasia, Horror e Outras Formas Invisíveis de Literatura, are, by academic standards, largely "invisible" in the Brazilian literary scene—that is to say, they are without prestige or recognition. The volume contains some 30 reviews of Portuguese translations of books originally published in English, thirteen reviews of books by Portuguese authors, plus a handful of reviews covering works of popular science. Appearing in Brazilian newspapers and magazines between 1990 and 1999, the reviews offer Brazilian readers insight into genres such as sf, fantasy, horror, and thrillers that are widely cultivated in the US, but not in Brazil.

Among the most interesting of the reviews are those that deal with sf authors who set their stories in the Third World, such as Orson Scott Card, a writer who actually lived in Brazil at one time. His Speaker for the Dead (1986), which includes a number of Brazilian characters, is praised by Causo for not treating Brazilians as exotic beings à la Carmen Miranda. Causo also comments on Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net (1988), whose main character is forced to immerse herself in Third World culture. While Causo praises Sterling’s attempts to move outside of his own culture, he finds the author’s views to be reflective of stereotyped notions of other societies.

Causo is equally at home reviewing cyberpunk works and STAR TREK series novels, such as Vonda McIntyre’s The Entropy Effect (1981). Causo praises the iconoclasm of Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice (English trans. 1983), yet does not hesitate to say that he finds Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997) disappointing. For him, Clarke’s book demonstrates a common belief in the First World that technology will solve human problems. In his review of Tim O’Brien’s mainstream novel In the Lake of the Woods (1994), Causo comments on the author’s constant reference to the war in Vietnam; similarly, he is struck by Tom Clancy’s "conservative world view" in Debt of Honor (1994). Of course, for many American readers, faith in technology, the trauma of Vietnam, and Clancy’s Cold War mentality are seen as natural and unquestioned touchstones of public life. Causo’s views on these authors decenter them, reminding us that American experience is not universal.

Causo’s reviews of works in these popular genres by his compatriots are equally interesting. While he praises such established sf authors as Jorge Luiz Calife and André Carneiro for their considerable contributions to the genre, he is not hesitant to criticize their more recent works. He recognizes the imperfect but praiseworthy efforts of Brazilian writers in various genres, including Márcia Kupstas who spins a tale of dark fantasy in O Demônio do Computador (The Computer Devil, 1997), Tabajara Ruas who writes in the gothic tradition in O fascínio (The Fascination, 1997), and Daniel Fresnot who creates a convincing post-nuclear holocaust novel set in Brazil, A terceira expedição (The Third Expedition, 1987). He also approves of efforts by mainstream writers like Antônio Olinto who writes a fantasy based on the disappearance of the Portuguese prince Dom Sebastião in the sixteenth century, Alcacer-Kibir (1997). In his view, however, the experimental nature of the text detracts from the strength of its themes. Noting that some critics have claimed that Braulio Tavares’s best work has been done outside of the sf genre, Causo cites examples from his 1989 work A Espinha Dorsal da Memória (The Spine of Memory) to belie this claim. According to Causo, Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome (1996) has much to teach Brazilian writers because of its post-colonial themes and multicultural content, but he finds Ghosh’s handling of sf material to be weak. Causo commends Brazilian author João Batista Melo for his reworking of the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in his novel Patagonia (1998), despite some structural problems towards the end.

While the original value of these reviews was to help Brazilian sf fans choose books to buy, in collected form they serve to provide a distinctly Brazilian perspective on sf as seen through the eyes of one of its most important critics.

Elizabeth Ginway, University of Florida


Utopian Errata.

Gregory Claeys, ed. Restoration and Augustan British Utopias. Syracuse UP, 2000. xxxvi + 271 pp. $45 pbk.

This volume reprints eight documents more or less utopian, including two works of sf interest: R.H.’s New Atlantis (1660) and the Duchess of Newcastle’s Blazing-World (1666), plus two marginal works. Sir Francis Bacon left New Atlantis unfinished, putting it aside to work on Sylva Sylvaram, or a Naturall Historie in Ten Centuries (1627). One R.H., possibly Richard Hawkins, set about completing Bacon’s work. While R.H.’s New Atlantis retains Bacon’s fictional strategy and emphasis on technical research, it develops a harsh bureaucratic society with an absolute, semi-sacred monarch. Adulterers are put to death. Female fornicators enjoy three years in prison; males suffer twelve days’ hard labor. Converted Jews may reside in Bensalem, but if they backslide are crucified.

The Duchess of Newcastle’s Blazing-World is reset from the second, 1668 edition, with elements from the first edition and a British library corrected copy. The Blazing-World, however, needs far more than a simple reprint. Kate Lilley’s 1992 Penguin edition emphasizes feminist aspects, but The Blazing-World should be studied in terms of contemporaneous fiction and especially the history of science, legitimate and eccentric. Newcastle, who hobnobbed with British and French savants in her French exile during the Commonwealth, believed she made contributions to knowledge.

The Isle of Pines (1668) by Henry Neville is a pleasant imaginary voyage about descendants of British castaways who regress to a food-gathering, clothing-less culture. A Discovery of Fonseca (1682) by J.S. briefly mentions a Welsh Amazon society on a Caribbean island. The remaining items, Francis Lee’s Antiquity Reviv’d (1693), John Beller’s Proposals for Raising a Colledge of Industry (1696), An Essay Concerning Adepts by a Philadept (1698), and The Free State of Noland (1701), are not of sf interest.

The problem with this edition is not the selection of texts or Claeys’s excellent introductory material, but the incredible annotations that befoul New Atlantis (fortunately the only text extensively annotated), the worst I have ever seen in a scholarly work. The footnotes are riddled with typos, wrong dates, misinterpretations, and outrageous factual errors, of which the following examples are a mere sampling. A wrong date is given for Sir Walter Raleigh (31). Wrong identifications are offered for Darius, the contemporary of Alexander the Great (139), and Mutius Scaevola (44), whom every schoolboy used to know. The entry for the Cid is broken into two people (44). R.H. in a list of Egyptian kings mentions Menes (the legendary unifier); the annotator refers it to Manu, a Hindu figure (8). R.H. lists "Spanish [military] Heroes" paralleling the Romans Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great; the annotator misidentifies heroes from the Moorish wars as obscure sculptors and physicians with different names (e.g., R.H.’s "Bernard del Carpio" is identified as Jacopo Berengario da Carpi, a physician [44], when the correct reference is Bernardo del Carpio, a figure in the Charlemagne cycle).

There are also a number of guesswork definitions. For example, a footnote defines the word "farcinet" (in the phrase "a tippet of scarlet farcinet around his neck" [17]) as "fashion"; but it is obviously a typo for "sarcinet," a silken fabric (the printer misread a long S as an F). "Limming" is defined as "rope-climbing" (47), following the Philosophical Research Society’s 1985 reprint of New Atlantis. Yet the clear meaning is limning, sketching military works. There are scores of other places where annotation is needed but not provided, though we are offered some amazing footnotes. In discussing emblems, the text awards a physician "if he excels in Physick, an Urinal"; a footnote glosses this remark as follows: "In heraldry, a urinant portrayed a dolphin or other fish with its head downwards and tail erect" (22). This strange irrelevancy is taken from the PRS edition. (Incidentally, there is also a bad typo here. R.H.: "We have a solid kind of heraldry..." Claeys: "We have a solid king of heraldry..." [21]. What with Norroy in British heraldry, this could be misleading.) Another footnote gives a curious chronology: R.H.’s "about the time of the Israelites departure out of Aegypt" is cited as "c. 538 B.C." (26)—only a generation before Themistocles!

The frequent Latin quotations contain typos, some bad, like "nutant" (they nod) for "mutant" (they change), and the footnote translations are not always above reproach, sometimes being inferior to those in the PRS edition. An example of points missed: "Ignem e caelo suffuratus est Prometheus/ Hic alter e pulvere nitrato, Sulphur"; footnote translation: "As Prometheus stole fire from heaven, so this man took lightening [sic] from sulphur" (35). Actually, the second line carries the formula for gunpowder: "This other man took from nitrated powder, sulphur." Sulphur, figuratively, may also indicate "lightning," so that the line can be read in two ways. One of the two Greek citations in the text is mangled (46).

What with bald, vague translations, opportunities are usually missed for making interesting points. About the compass: "Acum qui tetigit, & acus indicavit usum/ Terra di Lavoro oriundus, & natare te docens,/ ipse stat in caelis/ Septentrio,/ Flavius"; footnote translation: "The man who hit the nail on the head [paraphrasing Plautus] and showed how to use the needle, born in the land of Lavoro [Italianizing Pliny, for the Capua area], and teaching you to swim, he stands in the heavens, [as] Septentrio, Falvius" (35). "Septentrio" may indicate simply "north," or Ursa Minor, or, most likely, Polaris, the star used in early navigation. According to a popular belief at the time, the compass was invented in the early fourteenth century by Flavio Gioia, a native of Amalfi.

All this is strange, for Professor Claeys’s introductory essays are useful, sound, and beyond reproach. So who provided the incompetent annotations? One might ignore the nonsense at page bottoms, I suppose, but I find this impossible to do. Syracuse should either recall this spoiled edition or at least issue a thorough errata sheet.

Everett F. Bleiler, Interlaken, NY


Crafty Advice.  

James Gunn. The Science of Science-Fiction Writing. Scarecrow, 2000. x + 233 pp. $14.95 pbk.

The Science of Science-Fiction Writing is a course packet for a writing course in sf, except that it is bound, cheaper than most course packets, far better proofread, scrupulous in observing copyright—and it is by James Gunn. In the book, Gunn summarizes "forty years of reflections about the fiction-writing process and how to teach it, how to do it effectively[,] and how to get it published" (ix). The volume is divided into three sections—"Writing Fiction," "Writing Science Fiction," and "The Writers of Science Fiction"—with two appendices and an index of authors and titles; citations are handled in the text, with no bibliographic or other apparatus. The three main sections reprint various material Gunn has produced over a long career of work: three pieces for Writer’s Digest, an article on characterization in sf, essays on Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, and so on. There is also an essay new in this volume, "H.G. Wells: The Man Who Invented Tomorrow." The first Appendix gives Mary Sue Lobenstein’s notes from Gunn’s 1998 SF Writers Workshop; the second gives "A Syllabus for a Workshop" using Science-Fiction Writing.

The new essay on Wells is solid work. Gunn notes that Huxley’s idea of the conflict between the cosmic process of evolution and the ethical process in human society "lay at the heart of much that Wells was to write" (119). Getting to practical issues for writing students, Gunn asks why only Wells’s "science fiction continues to survive plus those propaganda novels that resemble science fiction," when so much of Wells’s other writing is no longer read, and when even the works of Henry James and Joseph Conrad mostly "go unread except in classrooms, and while the science fiction of other authors of the nineteenth century, including Jules Verne, have [sic] faded from the public view" (125), at least among speakers of English. A lesson to be drawn from Wells is that lasting sf develops large themes, works on basic fears, and tends toward speculation rather than extrapolation (125-27).

I would not recommend The Science of Science-Fiction Writing for a beginning writing class, which should instead consider Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft (Eighth Mountain, 1998). In that book, Le Guin discusses such nitty-gritty as punctuation, syntax, and point of view, and gives seventeen long excerpts for illustration. Gunn writes for writers who already know such basics and need other kinds of help. Gunn gives a rapid review of what might be called "advanced basics"—formulas, character development, scene writing, setting, word choice, suspense—and moves on to background in science fiction, including his contribution "Toward a Definition of Science Fiction" and his analysis of "The World View of Science Fiction." The text concludes with Gunn’s craft-based analyses of major writers of sf (Part 3).

If read straight through, The Science of Science-Fiction Writing is rather repetitious, but if one reads it bit by bit, student-fashion, it is usefully redundant. Gunn’s advice is classical, conservative, sensible, stressing character and emotional appeal. He pushes writers toward disciplined service to their audience, crafting fiction as "an emotional experience for the reader produced by inducing the reader to care about ‘interesting people in difficulty’ and then releasing that caring through the resolution of those difficulties by the characters," who should learn and change in the course of the narrative (6-7). Apprentice writers seeking affirmation of art as self-expression should look elsewhere than in Science-Fiction Writing. So should writers looking for art as cultural production under late capitalism, or writers a little unclear what they should be about now that the Author is dead.

Jim Gunn is alive and lively in the pages of The Science of Science Fiction Writing and, as always, thoroughly professional. He should be rebelled against by Romantics, Moderns, postmoderns, deconstructionists, and all non-Classicists. But first he should be learned from, and, if one can’t go to one of his workshops, The Science of Science Fiction Writing is a fine place to study what he has to teach.

Richard D. Erlich, Miami University (Ohio)


A Wealth of Anecdote.

Julius Schwartz (with Brian M. Thomsen). Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics. HarperEntertainment, 2000. xxi + 197 pp. $14 pbk.

Describing his recent experiences as a celebrity, Julius Schwartz mentions attending a fantasy convention at which H.P. Lovecraft was posthumous Guest of Honor; he also mentions being startled to realize that he was the only one there who actually had met HPL. And that’s why, despite its limitations, this is a valuable book. We know only indirectly the people who shaped sf. Schwartz knew most of them personally. Throughout most of his 85 years, he has been deeply involved in the commercial production of science fiction and comics. He was one of the first American sf fans, a teenaged sf literary agent, and a long-time editor at DC Comics. He has seen a lot: John W. Campbell, Jr., just after being named editor of Astounding, visiting the offices of Thrilling Wonder Stories for a crash course in running a magazine; Robert A. Heinlein snubbing Naval officer and sf writer Malcolm Jameson because the latter had come up through the ranks rather than attending Annapolis; Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore writing literally non-stop, Kuttner leaving a story at 4 a.m. and Moore starting to type a minute later. Schwartz has at least glimpsed many of the major creators of sf and comics, and he has a wealth of anecdotes to share.

That abundance of material may be a drawback for readers who want to know even more about the history Schwartz has lived through. To squeeze this much time, covering this many experiences, into a short book, Schwartz and Thomsen must select highlights, and those naturally are the stories that Schwartz has polished until they are concise and amusing. Some of us would prefer less charm and more messy detail. There are vivid glimpses of the people but not much discussion of what Schwartz thought about them. In the same way, Schwartz has fascinating things to say about the comics business, such as the DC editors’ discovery that comics sell better if there’s a gorilla on the cover. There’s not much detail about the evolution of the comics industry, however, despite the fact that Schwartz was at DC for decades. He must have seen changes in the editorial process, readers’ tastes, handling of difficult subject matter, etc. How, for example, did sf writers like Kuttner and Alfred Bester adapt from writing prose fiction to doing comic scripts? How did the Comics Code Authority affect the content of sf comics? Such subjects probably are too big for a book like this, and they would have strained its chatty tone. Consequently, Schwartz doesn’t choose to say much about them; curious readers will have to look hard and try to wring what they can out of the anecdotes.

To be fair, the book isn’t designed to probe any of its many subjects deeply. It lets readers spend some time with a likeable, intelligent guy who’s done a lot of interesting things. But, unlike casual convention-hall conversation, there’s no opportunity to interrupt the smooth stream of stories and ask for more information. Lacking that, Man of Two Worlds tantalizes as it fascinates, and is equally amusing and frustrating.

Joe Sanders, Lakeland Community College


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