Science Fiction Studies


#91 = Volume 30, Part 3 = November 2003

Fearing Nothingness.

Teya Rosenberg, Martha P. Hixon, Sharon M. Scapple, and Donna R. White, eds. Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom. Studies in Children’s Literature, Vol 1. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. ix + 187 pp. $29.95 pbk.

As a writer, Diana Wynne Jones has existed in a peculiar state for many years. Her work is adored by her admirers, adult and child alike, and she has many fans all over the world. At the same time, a more general public awareness of her work has been noticeably absent, for reasons that are not at all clear to me, except perhaps that her novels have had a somewhat checkered history in paperback publication. The Rowling-fuelled explosion of interest in children’s fiction has changed this situation, however, and many of her older titles are at last back in print, alongside more recent novels.

Similarly, although many thoughtful reviews of her novels have appeared in various magazines, and a number of articles have been published about her work (many are now available through two websites, “The Official Diana Wynne Jones Website” at <> and “Chrestomanci Castle” at <>), up until now there seems, somewhat surprisingly, to be little in the way of published scholarly discussion of Jones’s work. What there is has been conveniently listed by the editors of Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom, the first volume in a new series on Children’s Literature from Peter Lang.

In attempting to redress the lack of scholarly attention to Jones’s oeuvre, the editors have tried to steer a sensible course through the potential wealth of subjects generated by a body of work which now includes more than twenty novels, several volumes of short stories, and a work of non-fiction. Inevitably, given the constraints of publication, they could do little more than scratch the surface of so large a body of writing. At times, I wished they had chosen fewer papers and covered fewer topics in greater depth, although I appreciate the need to give a reasonably broad view of Jones’s oeuvre.

Diana Wynne Jones belongs to that generation of British writers of children’s fiction -- including Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, and Penelope Lively -- for whom the Second World War was a shared experience, a catalyst for introducing elements of the fantastic into otherwise realist writing. This was a so-called Golden Age of children’s literature. No Golden Age is without its critics, however, and a number of commentators too easily dismiss these writers and their contemporaries as dealing in misguided nostalgia and producing work irrelevant to the modern world. However, Karen Sands-O’Connor’s perceptive analysis, “Nowhere To Go, No One To Be: Diana Wynne and the Concepts of Englishness and Self-Image,” places Jones’s work at a point where the nature of children’s fiction shifts from a wholehearted defense of traditional values (Sands-O’Connor here cites Lively and Philippa Pearce as defenders) toward, at least in some cases, a recognition that nostalgia can be a source of power, though not necessarily to the good.

Sands-O’Connor also opens up several other themes in Jones’s work, such as her deeply significant use of myth, and the way in which she moves from the use of the preservative (even nostalgic) patriarchal myth of rebirth and renewal toward a testing, or more often a dissolving, of the boundaries of myth. In the same way, as an avowed hater of genre distinctions, she effortlessly dissolves the so-called boundaries between science fiction and fantasy. Noting the way in which Jones shows that the past fails to inform the present, Sands-O’Connor further opens this out to examine the ways in which traditional myths often disenfranchise as much as they empower, marginalizing women, the non-English, and also, one might argue, children and adolescents in general. Later essays in the book touch frequently on the awareness experienced by children that their lives are controlled by unseen figures of authority, more-than-parental figures who dominate the children’s lives through their inexplicable, almost capricious, actions.

This brings us to another of Jones’s great themes, that of the power of overt parental figures. In “The Trials and Tribulations of Two Dogsbodies: A Jungian Reading of Diana Wynne Jones’s Dogsbody,” Alice Mills notes the recurring figure of the malevolent older woman in Jones’s fiction and quotes my own interview with Jones (available at the above-mentioned “Official Diana Wynne Jones Website”), in which she acknowledges the figure as her mother. While Mills’s essay explores the malevolent mother figure in Dogsbody (1975), however, it also inadvertently points up a more serious omission in the collection: there is no discussion of the family generally in Jones’s writing, despite its playing a large and significant role in terms not only of the nuclear family but also of blended families and “families of choice.” Likewise, alongside the malevolent mother figure stands the ineffectual or otherwise preoccupied father figure (Wilkins’ Tooth [1973], Archer’s Goon [1984]), as well as the fabulous, exotic male figure who stands in loco parentis (Chrestomanci of the eponymous series being one example). For that matter, a wider-ranging discussion of gender issues in Jones’s work (more ambivalent than they might at first appear to be) would also have been welcome. I hope other scholars will remedy this lack.

Perhaps the most central theme in Jones’s work is that of the relationship between language and magic. Deborah Kaplan and Charles Butler both explore this issue. Kaplan, in “Diana Wynne Jones and the World-Shaping Power of Language,” notes that those who can write or tell stories have immense power in Jones’s work (Nan Pilgrim in Witch Week [1982] is her particular example), while Butler’s “Magic as Metaphor and as Reality” notes how Jones acts on an observation of C.S. Lewis’s, that fictional woods have the power to enchant real ones, that fiction is a way to bring magic into reality. Butler explores the metaphoric and metonymic portrayals of magic in Jones’s work while Kaplan looks more closely at the way in which Jones portrays the magical properties of properly descriptive language. Maria Nikolajeva discusses the fluidity of language in “Heterotopia as a Reflection of Postmodern Consciousness in the Works of Diana Wynne Jones.”

In invoking the use of magic, we also inevitably invoke the now-ubiquitous spectre of Harry Potter. Commentators have speculated on whether J.K. Rowling has read Diana Wynne Jones’s work, and Jones herself has said she feels sure that Rowling must have done. Jones’s admirers have been outraged on her behalf that Rowling has drawn more attention, although it could be argued that interest in Rowling has brought unjustly neglected titles into print again. Sarah Fiona Waters’s “Good and Evil in the Works of Diana Wynne Jones and J.K. Rowling” offers a measured assessment of the two bodies of work, demonstrating that the two authors both draw on the traditional genres of children’s literature, while doing very different things with similar raw material and creating very different moral landscapes as a result. Harry Potter’s moral education is, as Winters notes, driven by learning which rules to break, which not, while the protagonists of the Chrestomanci series (1977-1988) have a very different, more subtle, education, which teaches them to see beyond the surface of situations and to interpret them accordingly. This distinction ties in with an earlier observation by Sands-O’Connor about Jones’s interest in the themes of adult fiction.

Despite the wide range of thought-provoking essays in this collection, there are disappointments. Donna R. White’s “Living in Limbo: The Homeward Bounders as a Metaphor for Military Childhood” seemed to me to be more about US military children than about Diana Wynne Jones’s novel, and I was at a loss to grasp fully the connections between the two. The argument that during World War II most British children were military brats does not, to my mind, ring true. The displacement experienced by British children was that of evacuation which was, for the most part, a removal from A to B, from home to not-home, followed by a return to the familiar rather than to the constant establishment of new homes. Most people who remember that time would, I submit, not see themselves as military brats but as the civilians they remained throughout.

Akiko Yamazaki’s linking of Fire and Hemlock (1985) to Adele Geras’s Watching the Roses (1991) in “Fire and Hemlock: A Text as a Spellcoat” remained tenuous, and the analysis of Fire and Hemlock serves only to reiterate comments made elsewhere. Karina Hill’s “Dragons and Quantum Foam: Mythic Archetypes and Modern Physics in Selected Works by Diana Wynne Jones” was for me undermined by Jones’s own comment in the excellent interview conducted by Charles Butler elsewhere in the volume, where she revealed that she had read about quantum mechanics only after she had established her multiverses. It is typical of Jones’s work that this should happen.

These are minor dissatisfactions, however, with what is, in the main, a useful set of essays, to be welcomed as the starting point for a larger body of critical publications on the work of Diana Wynne Jones.

-- Maureen Kincaid Speller, University of Kent at Canterbury

A Disappointing Analysis.

Rose Secrest. Glorificemus: A Study of the Fiction of Walter M. Miller, Jr. Lanham, MD: UP of America, 2002. ix + 143 pp. $48 hc.

A minor sf writer of the 1950s, Walter Miller wrote one classic novel and over forty short stories and novellas, one of which won a Hugo, and some of which have been anthologized for good reason. By default, I seem to be the “Dean” of Miller studies, but I put off writing a book after my proposal for a “critical edition” of A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) was rebuffed by two publishers over twenty years ago. The good news is that Rowman and Littlefield’s “university” imprint found the topic worth a book, but their publishing a book so poorly organized, researched, and written implies that virtually no standards are operable in sf criticism and scholarship. Perhaps this review can in some small measure disabuse the publisher of that assumption. Aside from the 1992 Roberson-Battenfield Bio-Bibliography, this is the first book on Miller. Having sent me a copy, Secrest could not know that I would review it in print, and I suspect I must look like a dog in the manger who bites the hand that fed him. My responsibility to SFS readers, however, requires me to warn them that there is little in Gloreficemus worth salvaging.

Given Secrest’s stated purpose of providing fans of Canticle with a “literary analysis” of her favorite sf novel, this book is woefully diffuse and undeveloped, with a disjointed and incomprehensible introduction, no conclusion, and no central argument. Out of fewer than 150 pages, twenty-two are blank or nearly blank (two lines of type). Forty contain appended material: an almost featureless map, a simplistic timeline, three pages of bibliography, ten pages glossing foreign and “unusual” words and phrases in Canticle, forty-one mostly lame plot summaries of short stories, and a two-page index. These ancillary materials do nothing to advance existing scholarship and there is little evidence that Secrest used Roberson-Batterfield though she lists it in her brief bibliography. She mentions Miller’s reticence about his private life and a few things critics agree or disagree on, and generalizes occasionally about sf in the 1950s, but claims that her “analysis is based only on what he has written” (vi), unlikely though that is.

The choice to avoid other resources is unfortunate, but fan writers often show more enthusiasm than expertise. Backing her assertions with little documentation, she includes a few footnotes that usually confuse more than they clarify. By her own admission, she knew nothing about sf scholarship when she began, and she has done little to correct that lack. She shows minimal awareness of Miller’s contemporaries, though that might have helped her see what was unique in his writing. Besides Canticle, he was not known for a great deal of originality or high competence, but he did show flashes of passion and authenticity. Secrest also demonstrates little knowledge of history, of Roman Catholicism, of nuclear weaponry, or of Freud, mentioned twice in her fairly long but confused section on “women.”

The untitled Part I discusses harmonization, style, plot, elements, character, setting, time, humor, and vocabulary. The sequence is not self-explanatory and “Harmonization” (artistic unity) gets only one page, unless it embraces the entire section. “Elements” (three pages) offers brief passages on “the flame of knowledge,” “the three [key] deaths,” and “the three endings.” “Humor” cites three explicit statements in the oeuvre, which she does not seem to apply to Miller’s work in general and the irony that pervades it. Separated from setting, “Time” offers two typically brief paragraphs on the European allegory and the 600-year gaps of Canticle, explaining neither.

Consisting of half the book, Part II, “Themes,” treats conscience, original sin, the Misborn, women, pain, intelligence, technology, light, space, and Eden. No more than a few paragraphs are devoted to any topic or its sometimes tenuously related subtopics. More often than in the first part, Secrest tries here to “harmonize” the novel with the short fiction, taking consistency to imply conviction, which is certainly plausible. I would especially consider it where his work stands out from his contemporaries or relates clearly to Catholic doctrine, about which he cultivated an attitude of studied ambivalence. She acts, however, as if any expression of opinion found in narration, dialogue, or action represents the author’s lasting belief, rather than a conventional contrivance, compromise for editorial whim, or ironic juxtaposition for aesthetic effect.

Points worth serious attention include a key character type named for Miller’s “The Reluctant Traitor,” whose conflict with authority may reflect a personal characteristic of the author. Secrest notes that he typically poses artificial light as bad and literally underground technology as good, a contradiction she does not explore, though it seems related to his overall ambivalence. She shows a very limited understanding of technology, which hardly began with twentieth-century machinery (curiously, moreover, she calls nitroglycerine a “machine”). Although she labels Miller’s fiction as anti-technological, she notes his regard for technicians as rebels and his treatment of artificial sentient creations as morally superior to human beings. A complex of meanings clustered around Original Sin might better be linked to the argument above. Miller does not use that term, but some of his fictions posit as hereditary a human need not just to conquer the unknown, but also to cause pain and suffering. Basing her analysis on the musings of Brother Joshua in the third book of Canticle, Secrest blames this failing on our inability to satisfy our longings for perfection. She develops none of these controversial observations, however, either to resolve contradictions or to uncover creative results proceeding from these tensions.

Her hit-and-run manner of argument raises more dubious suggestions about Canticle as well. She identifies all the old Jews with Leibowitz, calls Brother Fingo’s statue an “exact replica,” and generally shows herself blind to the novel’s deliberate ambiguities. She calls the Church “defeated” by “the bomb” (singular), although it dispatches the Leibowitzian Memorabilia to Alpha Centauri in the care of technologist-monks, to continue the struggle against irresponsible cruelty and pride. She anoints the Poet as “hero” of the second book, a role he would certainly disown. She flatly declares that the novel’s three books mark the respective ends of a new Middle Ages, a new Renaissance, and life on Earth. Ending the Middle Ages at two points, and declaring the Renaissance over when it has only begun, she also ignores the novel’s last line which implies another “season” for the shark, succeeding the vultures in the previous books. There is little reason in or outside the novel to see nuclear warfare destroying all life (think cockroaches), and reason today consigns Canticle to “alternate history,” since Church services have abandoned Latin, microfilm is outmoded, and our exhaustion of readily exploitable natural resources makes highly improbable the rise of a new technological civilization after we lay waste to this planet. I am still chewing on why the poor (e.g., Misborn and Simpletons) should have a special value outside Church doctrine, and how to view Miller’s variations on the sexism Secrest unequivocally declares endemic to 1950s sf (and apparently only to sf).

It is hard to agree or disagree substantively with ideas that are not developed or related to meaningful contexts. We disagree on the strength of his characterizations, which are stronger than those of most of his contemporaries, but limited by the scope and emphases of sf. Secrest sees them strictly as stereotypes or argumentative positions, which is true in his weaker stories, but I see subtleties and personalizing details in the best examples. I also challenge her reading the author out of the stories, then interpreting them as expressions of the man thus hypostatized. A man with some allegiance to both religion and technology, Miller often treated both with irony generated from their conflict, but Secrest’s treatment of his humor gives irony short shrift. Though she pays it lip service on occasion, she limits discussion of his use of language primarily to vocabulary, displaying a simplistic view of writing, especially in the following: “The ancient yet accurate definition of what written language is supposed to do is to communicate to the readers just what the author wants to say” (26). Like many fans, she treats style more as embroidery than as the fabric out of which fiction is composed. She isolates departures from convention, some of them eccentricities or typographical errors, which at most detract from the plot. Ultimately, however, she declares that he should be “at once reprieved for his experimentation for his own obscure reasons” (26), reasons she does not explore.

Secrest’s prose does not confer authority on her judgments. What she has to say is frequently banal or obvious. She uses unconventional expressions of her own (meticulosity, episodism, dubitable), quaint neo-Victorian formulations, and staccato flat assertions. Subheads in place of transitions are more accepted in technical writing than in literary analysis. A good (or bad) example of her tin ear is the paragraph starting “The Three Deaths” (10): “One notable parallel of all three sections of A Canticle for Leibowitz is that the leading characters die at the end. A neat conclusion that allows an entirely new section to appear since it symbolizes the end of an age, the three deaths are more than mere symbols” (10). Replete with a sentence fragment, this paragraph is typically short, and full of problems of grammar, logic, and communication. Should the parallel not be “between” the sections? Is the Poet in fact the “leading character” of the second book? Would the characters not die anyway over 600 years? Can three separate deaths be a single conclusion? Can a new section “symbolize the end of an age”? Finally, if these deaths are “more than mere symbols,” what are they? She does not say.

It is not enough to say that this paragraph needed proofreading. Inattention to communication, even on a simplistic level, is visible throughout the book, suggesting that editors at the University Press of America simply did not care. In fan criticism, which dwarfs by far what little bit of writing about sf is produced by academics or professional writers, self-expression usually comes first, but fan criticism can also be lively, challenging, well-written. Secrest’s book is none of the above, hardly living up to even her own limited credentials. A cursory Internet search of her name shows she has managed a fiction contest, self-published a small collection of her own writings, and in some small measure “co-edited” with Jeff VanderMeer a praiseworthy fan-published fiction anthology, Leviathan II (1998). I appreciate the enthusiasm that prompted Secrest to respond to Miller’s novel, but I cannot understand why the staff at even a minor or putative “university” press would see her thoughts on the subject as ready for prime time or hard covers.

-- David N. Samuelson, California State University at Long Beach

Holistically Approaching the Apologist.

Peter J. Schakel. Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds. Columbia, MO: U of Missouri P, 2002. xv + 214 pp. $32.50 hc.

Anyone familiar with Peter Schakel’s other works on C.S. Lewis will not be surprised to find in this study an approach that is sympathetic without being uncritical. Nominated for the 2003 Mythopoeic Award for Inkling Studies, this volume employs biographical, artistic, and critical materials in an examination of the importance of the imagination and imaginative works in Lewis’s life and writings. Lewis maintained that a well-nurtured imagination, acquired through receptive encounters with imaginative works, can produce an enriched life, an enlargement of being, a deepening of faith, and the development of understanding (2).

The opening chapter presents the reader with an analysis of Lewis’s conception of imagination both before and after his conversion to Catholicism in 1929, and how it was shaped by his faith, literary predecessors, and contemporaries. The near-centrality of imaginative experience in Lewis’s life is manifested in the complexity of his theories; for him, the imagination proper is the power of discerning relationships through non-rational processes, such as intuition, to form unified wholes, distinct from the image-making faculty, which he calls imaginatio. Imagination can operate at several levels, from daydream, through artistic invention, up to “Joy,” an ecstatic imaginative encounter akin to mystical experience (4-6). Schakel also discusses Lewis’s distinction between the “use” of art, a less imaginative, self-oriented response wherein familiar elements of the work are employed for independent creative activity, and the “reception” of art, a surrender to the work that allows it to engage one’s imagination fully, enriching one’s experience of life (13-14). Focusing on Lewis’s theoretical texts and autobiography, Schakel contextualizes Lewis’s ideas in terms of his position among contemporary critical theorists, and the ways in which his ideas partially anticipated reader-response theory.

The second chapter begins with a look at Lewis’s relationship with books as objects; biographical materials are employed in giving us a glimpse of the author as a reader, whose experience of literature involves not only the text itself, but all the conditions under which a text is encountered. Books and readers in his fiction are portrayed in ways that echo this understanding of the reading experience; and the publication history of the Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56) is examined in terms of variations among different editions and how they might influence readers’ experience of the tales. In the next chapter Schakel enters into the debate over the “correct” reading order for the Chronicles. His argument -- that the original order of publication is more dramatically effective, and thus better -- reflects Lewis’s primary interest in the reader’s imaginative experience.

Chapter Four explores Lewis’s contribution to literary theory in his treatment of fantasy and romance, narrative types frequently dismissed in literary criticism. Lewis examines this issue discursively in “On Stories,” and artistically in The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” (1952) when Eustace is turned into a dragon, and thus forced to endure in reality a fate he might have experienced imaginatively had he not limited his reading to purely expository material (54). Evocative suspensefulness, atmosphere, and mythopoeic elements are examined as aspects of romance and fantasy that contribute to their appeal; Schakel points to each of these in turn as vital features of Lewis’s fiction. This discussion is followed by a chapter on the use of narrators in Lewis’s Chronicles and Cosmic Trilogy (1938-45). In comparing these series, Schakel concludes that greater artistry is exhibited in the handling of the Chronicles’ narrator than in Lewis’s series for adults, which is “unusual … [and lacking] subtlety or sophistication” (72).

Chapters Six and Seven cover music and dance, respectively. While Lewis was deeply engaged by music, his appreciation of dance was more abstract; he found it appealing as an idea, but its practice did not interest him. In his fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, both music and dance appear in connection with the idea of an ordered, hierarchical, and harmonious universe, a notion derived from Western cultural traditions and consistent with his metaphysics. Chapter Eight provides an overview of the appearance of visual arts, architecture, and clothing in his works and what roles they played in his private life.

The final chapter examines the idea of “moral imagination” -- the means by which intellectually recognized ethical principles are internalized and made meaningful -- and Lewis’s belief that artistic imagination could, without resorting to overt moralizing, produce greater moral sensitivity in the audiences of the various arts (163-64). A defense of Lewis’s use of magic and witches in the Chronicles appears next, followed by a more lengthy defense of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. These last sections seem to be aimed at a more specific audience than the rest of the text, and the analysis of Rowling’s work, as an application of Lewis’s perspective, is not nearly as convincing as the arguments contained in the rest of the work, which are generally meticulous, well-supported, and sound.

-- Georgina Kennedy, Texas A&M University

Wells in Moving Pictures.

Don G. Smith. H.G. Wells on Film: The Utopian Nightmare. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002. 197 pp. $39.95 hc.

Unlike Thomas Renzi’s H.G. Wells: Six Scientific Romances Adapted to Film (1992), which examined only ten of the films based on Wells’s better-known scientific romances, Don G. Smith’s lucid, accessible book “examines every theatrically released film from 1909 to 1997 (both credited and uncredited) based on the writings of H.G. Wells” (2). Surprisingly, books on Wells’s works turned into films are few and uneven. Smith’s tidy yet complete book, a welcome addition to the field of Wellsian scholarship, appeals to both the scholar and the lay reader.

For the scholar, Smith’s book provides a useful index, an excellent annotated bibliography, and insightful readings of Wells’s texts, including the lesser known works. As an sf scholar himself, Smith rightly privileges Wells’s texts over the films based upon them. He also argues, however, that Wells’s legacy for sf fans will be his films (as uneven as they sometimes are).

The 19 chapters in Smith’s study include a brief but useful introduction, chapters focusing on individual works by Wells and the films they spawned, and an afterword. In each of the central chapters, we move from a review of a particular text, to a film synopsis, to adaptation, to production and marketing, to the film’s strengths and weaknesses, finally arriving at a rating of the film. Scholars will appreciate Smith’s thoroughness and attention to detail here. While Smith is frank about not having seen all the films based on Wells’s work, neverthless the overall impression is that he has done a thorough job.

In addition, Smith frequently uses lobby-card photos as an ingenious way to comment on films he couldn’t view. In “Wheels of Chance” (1922), for example, he suggests that, although this silent film is lost, the only existing still photo “suggests at least some adherence to the Wells novel” (57). For the scholar such a comment may prove useful. For a more popular audience, however, the lobby-card scenes are a real hoot. In chapter 5 on “The Invisible Man,” one photo features Virginia Bruce from the film The Invisible Woman (1940) posed seemingly naked in a sexually suggestive way, while another of the actors in the photo appears to be moving towards her with hands open and extended in her direction, his eyes bulging out of his head. The reproduced lobby-card scenes are part of the magic of this book.

Also noteworthy are Smith’s anecdotes on film production. We learn that John Barrymore, in the later part of his acting career, for example, had to cut up his script and place parts of it around the set of The Invisible Woman (1940) “on vases, behind phones, on the backs of other actors” (76), because he was too drunk to remember his lines.

Clearly at home in the sf genre, Smith, who wrote The Poe Cinema (1999) and Lon Chaney, Jr. (1996), understands his reading public. In commenting on the reception of one of the films inspired by The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), Smith allows that the best thing about the film was that it forced its audience to think. Alas, Smith is only too much on target, I fear, when he suggests that “in America most people don’t go to the movies to think. They go to buy popcorn and be entertained” (53). Smith knows too well that Wells’s philosophical side must be faced by readers in his printed texts. For average viewers, however, the popcorn movies of Wells’s works will have to suffice. With the help of Smith’s book, perhaps the careful reader may be able to bridge the gap between texts and films. Wells’s mother wished for him to apprentice as a draper (and some of Wells’ works both in print and in film make reference to this notion as Smith duly notes). However, the world has, no doubt, been better served with Wells as the dean of sf authors, as Smith asserts.

-- Michael J. Anzelone, Nassau Community College

Recombinant Post-genre Fiction.

Peter Straub, ed. Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists. Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Bard College, 2002. Available through Distributed Art Publishers, Inc. (155 Sixth Ave., New York, NY 10013). 436 pp. $15 pbk.

As we consider the present boom in British sf, this special issue of Conjunctions reminds us that Britain’s former North American colonies are booming as well. Conjunctions is the literary magazine of Bard College and its general editor is Bradford Morrow, but he handed guest-editorship to the accomplished horror writer -- and editor as well, judging by this volume -- Peter Straub. Straub turned issue #39 into something like a representation of the state of contemporary fantastic fiction. The issue is not meant to form a definition, certainly. Such a project would be not only impossible but antithetical to the present state of the field, as becomes apparent in the collection’s introduction by Straub, in its critical essays by Gary K. Wolfe and John Clute, in the eighteen short stories by a wide range of writers, and even in its illustrations by Gahan Wilson.

After years of scholarly struggle to define the field, most of us have recognized the frustrations of capturing definitively a body of literature that, though treated as genre writing in curricula and the marketplace, defies genre boundaries. In the March 2002 issue of SFS, the journal still stated its purpose as publishing “on all forms of science fiction, including utopian fiction, but not, except for purposes of comparison and contrast, mythological or supernatural fantasy.” After much discussion among the board of editors, the next issue, July 2002, reflected the journal’s coping mechanism for this boundary defiance: now it publishes “on science fiction, broadly defined.” The change recognizes the collapsing of science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres by both authors and publishers; the difficulty and futility of separating genre sf from the productions of mainstream writers such as Vonnegut and Atwood, who both enact and deny the protocols of sf; and a growing emphasis on permeability, transgression, liminality in a criticism that has long stopped limiting itself to the literary but has become more “broadly defined” as cultural studies.

In this ineffable new world, it is no wonder that Gardner Dozois, discussing Conjunctions 39 in his Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twentieth Annual Collection (St. Martin’s 2003), expresses exasperation along with admiration: “most of the stories fall somewhere on the line between fantasy and slipstream/surrealism/Magic Realism/whatever-we’re-calling-it-this-month” (xxi-xxii). Dozois complains that:

it’s hard for me to perceive that any coherent critical argument is being made here, or to discern why this particular group of authors are [sic] “New Wave Fabulists,” or what makes them so, or what that term means ... ; it seems instead like the partially random selection of authors you’d get assembling any original anthology, depending largely on the luck of the draw, rather than a list of authors collected with critical rigor or to demonstrate some particular mode or emerging school of fiction. (xxii)

Perhaps that random assemblage might be seen as a sample randomly selected to illustrate the range of work being done in sf, in speculative fiction rather than science fiction. Perhaps random sampling is more helpful than definition at this moment in sf. Of what, then, does this particular random sampling consist? And what, if any, emerging modes or schools of fiction does it demonstrate?

The table of contents embraces British, Canadian, and American writers; writers of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and graphic novels; established and newly successful writers. Of the fiction writers, one can say that they have all published fiction within the genres of sf, fantasy, and horror -- that they have acknowledged an allegiance to genre fiction. One can say also that they employ the protocols of the fantastic genres and benefit from readings that deploy those protocols. Finally, one can say that the contributors form a who’s who of writers’ writers, not necessarily the people everyone has heard of, but of the people insiders (other writers, scholars and critics, reading fans) admire. Indeed, I would imagine that many people reading this review would buy the volume based on its table of contents, without any other consideration being necessary. Specifically, the fiction writers in that table of contents are, in order of appearance: John Crowley, Kelly Link, M. John Harrison, Peter Straub, James Morrow, Nalo Hopkinson, Jonathan Letham, Joe Haldeman, China Miéville, Andy Duncan, Gene Wolfe, Patrick O’Leary, Jonathan Carroll, John Kessel, Karen Joy Fowler, Paul Park, Elizabeth Hand, and Neil Gaiman.

The quality of the stories is uniformly fine, as its table of contents would lead one to expect. Dozois, in spite of his complaints about the anthology’s coherence, says it may be, “in terms of literary quality, the line-by-line quality of the writing, the best anthology of the year” (xxi), although he doesn’t select any of the stories for his own anthology of the year’s best. It would be hard to imagine that there was a better genre anthology in 2002. I counted nine stories that I thought were exceptional: I would particularly commend Crowley’s “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,” Link’s “Lull,” Straub’s “Little Red’s Tango,” Morrow’s “The Wisdom of the Skin,” Haldeman’s excerpt from Guardian, Wolfe’s excerpt from Knight (both extremely effective as stand-alone pieces), Kessel’s “The Invisible Empire,” Fowler’s “The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man,” and Hand’s “The Least Trumps.”

Crowley’s story, “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,” has nothing fantastic in it, but its treatment of photography and drama, the polio epidemic, and the ages of man and woman, all are charged with a frisson that comes from the fantastic, much as his recent novel, The Translator (2002), was. Link’s “Lull” begins with men telling stories around a poker table and morphs like a dream into traveling backward in time, mysterious houses and recluses, stories within stories, and pod people, coalescing into a story about disaffection and loneliness. Straub’s “Little Red’s Tango” reads like a book of the New Testament, complete with beatitudes and an epistle, but Christ is a jazz collector named Little Red. Morrow’s “The Wisdom of the Skin” offers as its novum a new art form, sex art. Haldeman’s excerpt from Guardian follows an old woman’s intergalactic tour, à la Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930), guided by a raven. Wolfe’s excerpt from Knight is an atmospheric, allusive coming-of-age story set in a world in which pre-Christian mythic figures appear. Kessel’s “The Invisible Empire” imagines a female version of the Ku Klux Klan, fighting male abuse rather than racial mixing. Fowler’s “The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man” describes the agony of being bullied from the viewpoint of a young boy -- all the fantastic elements residing in the boy’s reading material. Hand’s “The Least Trumps” combines a tattoo artist, a tarot deck, and an imagined series of books called Five Windows One Door. One of the characters in Hand’s story attempts to explain what makes the series so wonderful: “They made me think how the world might be different than what it was; what we think it is” (383). That is what all these stories provide: a lens that both clarifies and dislocates. The other nine stories, though I slight them here, also provide such a lens, and one could fairly say that a further commonality of the collection is the uniform excellence of its selections.

Yet it remains true that the collection is not a demonstration of some emerging mode or school of fiction, as the volume’s title, New Wave Fabulists, might suggest. That title raises some difficulties. First, “New Wave” has specific reference to an earlier British boom in sf, associated with Michael Moorcock’s editorship of New Worlds (1964-70), and which caused an earlier definitional crisis with its de-emphasis of the hard sciences and its concern with literary style. Of the writers associated with that new wave, only M. John Harrison is present here, though both Gene Wolfe and Joe Haldeman represent the earlier wave on the American shore. “Fabulist” gestures back to Robert Scholes’s spin on sf, Structural Fabulation (U of Notre Dame 1975), which even then saw science fiction as “loosely” defined, and considered “varieties of modern SF” and “borderline or extreme cases” (ix). More than 25 years have passed since Scholes wrote his book, almost 40 since Moorcock began his term at New Worlds, so the problem of defining or of even pinning down a sensed commonality or trend into a coherent mode or school has been around for a long time. The title, as it turns out, was the suggestion of Conjunctions’s general editor Brad Morrow (email to author July 29, 2003).

Sometimes the urge to name gets us into trouble, but it, like the random sample, may allow us a better container for an ineffable entity than definition does. Gary Wolfe and John Clute, in their essays at the end of Conjunctions 39, offer some other names, less troublesome than “New Wave Fabulists.” Wolfe’s essay, “Malebolge, Or the Ordnance of Genre,” continues to develop his thesis that “the fantastic genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy have been unstable literary isotopes virtually since their evolution into identifiable modes” (405).1 In Conjunctions 39, Wolfe looks at nineteenth-century precursors, pulp fiction, and twentieth-century genre anthologies before arriving at a tempting name: “recombinant genre fiction: stories which effectively decompose and reconstitute genre materials and techniques from an eclectic variety of literary traditions” (415). As beautifully as this seems to describe what goes on in the present volume, it actually refers to the new wave of the last century which he sees as on a continuum with the present moment. Wolfe persuasively argues that none of the authors represented in the volume “can be read fully without an appreciation of their use of genre materials ... but none can be read with only an appreciation of those materials, either” (417). He concludes his essay with the idea that these writers “view the materials forged in genre as resources rather than as constraints” and he then offers a name for the fiction that this volume represents: “the postgenre fantastic” (419). That would make a good title.

John Clute’s essay, characteristically gnomic, offers several names that “might come in useful” in discussing fantastic fiction at this moment (421). There is the “Club Story,” a frame tale, a story “which enforce[s] witness” (421-22). There is “Equipose,” comprising “stories set in worlds which are impossible but which the story believes” (424). He also offers “Portal/Cloaca” for entries to and exits from fantastic worlds (425), and “Twins” which “represent a locus for some original part of our lives that remains in situ when the world turns so fast we leave something of ourselves behind” (426). All these terms help Clute describe the project of the fantastic since 1800, which he sees as “making storyable our profound anxieties about a world whose claws are Time” (428). He goes on to discuss stories from the collection using these terms and his names refer not to the body of works but to the devices they employ --  know them by their works. For him, all the stories are part of “a conversation with the Ocean of Story,” with each “an autonomous story that has not ever been told before, that is, at the same time, a conversation with siblings” (431-32).

We sense the family resemblance among the sibling creations here, whose conjunction has enacted a conversation about the present state of fantastic fiction/postgenre fiction/new wave fabulists/“whatever-we’re-calling-it-this-month.” That includes Gahan Wilson’s illustrations, simultaneously silly and serious, grotesque and graceful, like so much genre fiction, like this collection. And there’s one illustration for each story.

While Conjunctions 39 does not offer a cohesive unitary vision of a particular movement, it does offer a representation of an exciting moment in speculative fiction, a moment characterized by its tendency to push against unified cohesiveness, a liminal moment that might better be named the postmodern fantastic or recombinant genre fiction than new wave fabulist, or that might better remain unnamed. Named or not, coherent or not, it is a significant moment in a “conversation with siblings.” I suspect that Conjunctions 39 will become a momentous conversational gathering, like Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions was for the New Wave in 1967 and Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades was for cyberpunk in 1986. In other words, Conjunctions 39 promises to be a very important anthology indeed.

-- Joan Gordon

1. Wolfe explores this idea in more depth in his essay “Evaporating Genre: Strategies of Dissolution in the Postmodern Fantastic,” in Edging into the Future: Science Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation, ed. Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon (U of Pennsylvania P, 2002), 11-29.

In the Garden of Unearthly Delights.

Marina Warner. Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 264 pp. $29.95 hc.

Most experienced readers of speculative fiction can recognize the tropes that inform it but few have more than a fuzzy idea of how these tropes came to be. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein and his nameless monster did not leap unheralded from the brains of their creators but evolved out of a long history of fantastic characterization. Fantastic Metamorphoses by literary scholar Marina Warner is a book about these origins. In her introduction Warner writes that in her 2001 Clarendon Lectures in English she wanted to explore further and deeper the unstable, shape-shifting personae and plots I had come across in fairy tales, myths and their literary progeny, in order to uncover the contexts in which ideas of personal transformation emerged and flourished, and to offer some historical background to the current high incidence of the phenomena in poetry, fiction, films, video games. (2)

Warner, author of From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers (1995), a critically acclaimed book about the origins of fairy tales, and one of the most highly regarded contemporary historians of literary tradition, provides a literary timeline for fantastic transformation. Beginning with Ovid’s Metamorphoses and then examining fantastic visual images in the painting of Renaissance artists such as DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Hieronymous Bosch, she goes on to examine how cultural cross-pollination, colonization, and scientific discovery can inform the fantastic fiction and poetry of an era. In doing so she creates a taxonomy for looking at fantastic characterization: mutating, hatching, splitting, and doubling. These categories form the central four chapters of the book, surrounded by an introduction and an epilogue. The book also contains seven full-color plates and 38 black-and-white illustrations.

Mutating refers to the physical process of metamorphosis, shape changing, becoming other. It is a process marked by hybridity, the mixing of two things to get a third, certainly a hot topic in contemporary literary criticism. Metamorphosis by definition mixes the qualities of two distinct known identities. Ancient mythology provides many examples of hybrid creatures such as centaurs, griffins, satyrs, and green men. When Warner examines Bosch’s painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (1504), she finds a striking “cornucopia of metamorphoses” (34), people coupling and merging with fruit and flowers. Bosch’s surreal images of naked innocent youth engaged in “an orgy” “of weird acts with fruit” enters into “dangerous territory” (44), mind-boggling, bizarre, and profane, and yet there appears to be no punishment for such excess, no old age, no carnality, no death:

The fruits that the orgiasts are sampling are seeds, or clusters of seed: in the case of strawberries, they bear achenes, or small hard pips on their exteriors. Several pods are bursting and spilling seed; the largest husks and galls are hatching people, and some pupa-like casings in the foreground are splitting open, as if human beings belonged to a natural non-sexual food chain involving birds, insects and fruits. (57-58)

Considering the scientific exactness with which each fruit is depicted, the painting itself becomes science fictional: a vegetarian, prelapsarian, utopian vision that implies Bosch’s up-to-date understanding of the sexual life of plants. The other paintings of his triptych depict “trouble-to-come” within the Garden of Eden, and sinners gruesomely punished in a markedly carnal Hell (48). Thus, “The Garden of Earthly Delight” is a Golden Age to which we can never return. Warner suggests that “classical myths and the earliest reports of New World legends may have shaped [Bosch’s] fantasies of a false paradise” (113).

Hatching is a process of natural metamorphosis, as opposed to simply changing from one thing into another without an organic reason. Warner writes that in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, new knowledge about the life cycle of animals and insects profoundly affected how we viewed ourselves. Hatching was a potent image of change that was not fully understood by earlier artists and writers. Reginald Scott, for instance, was serious in The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) when he quoted Pliny the Elder on the importance of cracking “the shell after eating a boiled egg for breakfast in case witches will set sail in it” (76). Works by artists of the same period like Cornelius Bos and Da Vinci show the rape of Leda by Zeus who takes the form of a swan. Their offspring Helen, Clytemnestra, and the twins Castor and Pollux are shown hatching out of eggs. In early times many believed the legend to be literally true. “The temple of the Leucippidae in Sparta even displayed shards of a gigantic eggshell said to be the very one she laid” (99). While Maria Merian was making prints of a butterfly’s complete life cycle (Paris, 1726), others such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau were for the first time becoming interested in the lives and development of children (84). Warner suggests that people now saw the emergent butterfly as the vital essence (soul) that was inherent within the cocoon and in all the previous metamorphic stages (90). A paradigm shift had occurred in the human mindset that allowed creatures to change shape and still maintain an essence that had been there from the beginning. This made it possible for even stranger artistic visions. When, in Metamorphosis (1915), Kafka’s Gregor Samsa becomes a huge beetle, Samsa is simply exhibiting the outward appearance of an inner essence that had been there all along. Kafka implies that Samsa’s psyche had become that of a bug (115).

Splitting suggests a process by which an individual’s consciousness or volition can be split from his or her body. A zombie is a body that no longer operates under its own volition. The word “ zombie” entered the English language in Robert Southey’s History of Brazil, published between 1810 and 1819 (119). Zombi initially referred to a leader of escaped slaves who had been chosen for his leadership and valor. Nzambi was also the Angolan name for the Deity (120). Gradually, however, the word began to refer to someone totally controlled by another, the soulless, living dead, and began to occur in many stories that came out of Africa and the West Indies. Warner suggests that zombies have become a popular cultural icon because they exemplify some dehumanizing aspects of modern life: “work turns people into zombies; other people turn people into zombies; life does it (so do committees)” (123).

The diasporas of slavery, also discussed in the chapter on splitting, brought corresponding diasporas of stories about black magic, voodoo, and witchcraft that cross-pollinated in the Caribbean and combined into Creolité (132), a creolization of religious influences that “composted” in the region (141). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the intriguing aspects of spirit cults and dark religions were manifest in many stories, including Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Coleridge’s poetry, the seventeenth-century plays of John Dryden and William Davenant and, later, in Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea (141, 154). The popular classic Aladdin, with its enslaved genii of the lamp, appeared first in 1702 in Antoine Gallard’s A Thousand and One Nights (144). Genies could do anything. They were agents, channelers, of an immensely powerful Master, who never appeared but was, perhaps, the first dark lord of popular fiction, progenitor of Sauron and Voldemort (145). The Master Genii Enslaver lived inside the egg of the magic bird, the Roc, which, of course brings us back to hatching (144). Although some early versions of Aladdin had an anti-slavery undertext, by the late Victorian Age stage productions reflected a changed language of power, “Steam, Gas, Mechanical and Limelight Effects,” taking it one more step in the direction of what would eventually be called science fiction (148-49).

Doubling refers to hauntings by doubles or alter egos, as well as to dream journeys like that of Alice when she falls down the rabbit hole or enters the looking glass (162, 189). The term doppelgänger or “spirit double” entered the language about 1830 in a poem by Heinrich Heine and may have been a partial product of the new science of photography (161-62). Around 1863, in a poem that opens “One need not be a Chamber / To be haunted,” Emily Dickinson writes of “Ourself behind ourself, concealed” (164). Nineteenth-century novelists from Mary Shelley to Lewis Carroll and Robert Louis Stevenson were much affected by the young physical and social sciences of the time. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) demonstrates a semi-scientific process in which Jekyll is able to split off part of himself, his conscience, to create the lust-driven Mr. Hyde. Warner suggests that the writings of Freud on the unconscious popularized the awareness that behavior could be driven by concealed or unconscious desires (164). Emotionally conflicted people are of two minds: the inner person can drive behavior without the outer person being fully aware of it. Just as there is an inner person, there is an inner eye, a place where the Neoplatonists believed creativity took place (172). Freud himself was considerably influenced by F.W.H. Myers, who coined the word “telepathy” in 1882 (196). Myers’s mammoth work, Phantasms of the Living (1886), and his posthumous Survival of the Human Personality after Bodily Death (1915) were enormous compendiums of multicultural supernatural experiences, including those of the séance-loving Theosophist movement in North America (196). Warner suggests that today the science of cloning presents many possibilities for further pondering of personal identity (202).
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare writes:

But all the story of the night told over
And all their minds transfigur’d so together,
More witnesseth than fancy’s images,
And grows to something of great constancy.

Warner uses this epigraph for the book’s dedication page and she ably shows us that fantastic characters have achieved great constancy within our cultural and literary traditions. When she writes “figures of speech turn into figures of vitality,” Warner is describing how art comes to life (169). Fantastic literary characters like Pygmalion, Prospero, and Alice have taken on lives of their own and achieved astonishing longevity through time, but all does not remain the same. Where there is life there is change. Warner concludes that “metamorphosis embodies the shifting character of knowledge, of theories of self, and models of consciousness that postulate the brain as an endlessly generative producer of images and of thoughts, selected from and connected through fantasy, observation and memory” (202). The key word, of course, is shifting. Each generation filters fantastic characters through the lens of their own experience.

It is an enormously ambitious task to examine the history of fantastic metamorphosis. In her introduction Warner writes that she wants to examine ideas of “personal transformation” as well. Overall, Warner is better at demonstrating the character of fantastic “otherness” than that of personal transformation. One can argue that any artist’s image (however strange or fantastic) must begin in his or her own mind’s eye and that an act of creation enacts further change within the creator but this process is perhaps best left to philosophers and psychologists.

Marina Warner, with six honorary doctorates and countless other awards and kudos, is doing definitive work here. Her writing is accessible, brilliant, and insightful. Her taxonomy for classifying fantastic characters could prove to be very helpful in analyzing fantastic fiction. Even as I was awed by her grasp of history, however, I could not help but see that Warner neglects genre. Her timeline stops at the turn of the twentieth century. She excludes mention of early pulp writers such as A. Merritt (who was influenced by the Theosophists) as well as work from the many fine writers who are producing relevant contemporary speculative fiction: hybridity in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy (1987-89); mutation in Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio (1999), Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Mississippi Tetrology (1994-2003), and Carol Emschwiller’s Carmen Dog (1990); hatching in Amy Thompson’s Color of Distance (1995) and metaphorical hatching in any number of stories when space travelers awaken from cold sleep; splitting in Charles de Lint’s Onion Girl (2001) and Joan Slonczewski’s Brain Plague (2000); and doubling in Michael Swanwick’s Bones of the Earth (2002). Although The X-Files is mentioned and Phillip Pullman’s young-adult fantasy is discussed, Warner’s discussion of contemporary fantasy is primarily limited to slipstream fellow travelers like Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (1997) and Tony Morrison’s Beloved (1998). She mentions no science fiction later than Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). It would have been a much stronger book with another thirty-page chapter devoted to the above or comparable works. Without contemporary speculative references, Fantastic Metamorphoses, with its six chapters and 264 pages, becomes too slender a volume. Recommended for historians, serious fans, and teachers of speculative fiction.

-- Sandra Lindow, Kaleidoscope Magazine

Story Time.

Gary Westfahl, George Slusser, and David Leiby, eds. Worlds Enough and Time: Explorations of Time in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. vi + 198 pp. $59.95 hc.

Every now and then a teacher will drop a single line that stays with you forever. For me it was at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, when Vance Bourjaily, leaning up against the blackboard and carefully rolling a cigarette, said, “When we talk about structure in a novel, all we’re really talking about is the way the author handles time.”

I’ve come to think that that’s an incomplete statement, but nevertheless useful. And nowhere is it more useful than in consideration of narratives driven by time travel.

The anthology Worlds Enough and Time casts a net wide and long, considering movies and television as well as books, and writers from Dante to Terry Pratchett. A point that is made in different ways by many of the collection’s sixteen authors is Bourjaily’s assertion turned inside out: most time travel stories are about narrative structure -- whether the author is aware of that or not.

David Leiby addresses this directly in his chapter “The Jaws of the Intellect Grip the Flesh of Occurrence: Order in Time Travel,” arguing that “Time travel narratives have metafictional characteristics inasmuch as they encourage readers to think about the construction of narrative.... [T]he subject matter mirrors the experience of reading a narrative ... [and] may cause a reader to think about the process of making fiction” (38). He points out that, unlike the authors we normally associate with self-reflexive fiction, such as Gass, Barthelme, Coover, and Pynchon, sf writers do not use (or perhaps need) outrageous stylistic techniques to write about writing.

In his introduction, “The Quarries of Time,” Gary Westfahl ponders the popularity of time-travel stories with both readers and writers. He notes that while “the gaudy and magical effects of fantasy, and to an even greater extent the machinery and jargon of science fiction” (4) perforce are distant from a reader’s everyday experience, all people are aware of being locked in time, and are curious about its nature.

George Slusser and Robert Heath consider the state of modern science as regards the nature of time and time travel in “Arrows and Riddles of Time: Scientific Models of Time Travel.” They invoke Hawking’s three arrows of time -- thermodynamic, cosmological, and psychological -- and note that most time-travel stories occur at the “human interface,” where the thermodynamic and psychological arrows of time interact.

They identify three basic kinds of time-travel tale:
1. The [Wells] Time Machine model: “loop” tales that “reaffirm the fixity of events on the continuum” (14).
2. The Sound of Thunder model where “time progress is branched”: the traveler moves into another branch and cannot go home again. Often s/he doesn’t or can’t exist and the time machine hasn’t been invented, because of some “butterfly effect,” as in Bradbury’s eponymous story (18).
3. The Solipsism model: “Time progress is an individual protocol where events happen only for the individual traveler,” in stories such as Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” (1959) where a person appears to exist in a self-contained loop (21).

Richard Saint-Gelais, in “Impossible Times: Some Temporal Labyrinths in SF,” talks about the idea of “uchronia” (28), a future that’s not an extension of our present, but of an alternative timeline, such as in Gilliam’s Brazil (1985). The term is from Charles Renouvier’s Uchronie (1876), which is an “imaginary historiography” (29) rather than a novel -- what would history have been like if the Roman Empire hadn’t adopted Christianity? In novels like Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), the reader must reconstruct the novel’s “present” by an accumulation of hints, rather than a bald statement, which Saint-Gelais calls “novelistic uchronia” (29). The same author’s Ubik (1969) employs the mirror technique of “pseudo-anticipation” (31), where the reader’s ordinary world becomes strange to the characters in the near-future story -- “otherness does not only work in one direction” (32).

Two of the essays deal with cultures distant from science fiction’s Anglo-European baseline. Susan Kray considers “Jews in Time: Alternate Histories and Futures in Space,” and although it’s difficult to argue with her central thesis, that “Jewish characters, like other ethnic characters, are deracinated walk-ons, ethnic in name only and present merely for the sake of nominal diversity,” she seems a little too selective in her examples. She cites Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (1992) as a story typical in that it “distort[s] history and the aging process in bizarre ways” (87), for instance, but never mentions the same author’s better known time-travel tale, The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988), which seems almost tailor-made to counter her central thesis.

“The Desire to Control Time in Doraemon and Japanese Culture,” by Jefferson M. Peters, is an engaging survey and analysis of the Doraemon manga, a series of children’s tales that center on time travel as a mechanism for juvenile wish fulfillment, usually backfiring, many of which “rank with the best children’s literature, by being both comical and ethical and having rich thematic and stylistic textures” (104). These stories by Fujio F. Fujiki, in 45 volumes published between 1974 and 1996, are so all-pervasive in their home country that it’s fair to say they’re central to a Western understanding of modern Japanese culture.

My favorite contribution was “Temporal Compression, Fractious History: H.G. Wells, George Orwell, and the Mutiny of ‘Historical Narrative’,” by Larry W. Caldwell. It’s a fascinating recounting and analysis of Orwell’s long argument -- from The Road to Wigan Pier (1933) to 1984 (1949) -- with his literary foster-father’s utopian notions. Dense in both logic and language (“Orwell problematizes utopian causation, confronting us, and Wells, with a sort of cognitive estrangement from both syllogism and dialectic, that is, from tripartate logico-historical structures of prediction” [32]), Caldwell’s paper acknowledges that Orwell’s extended thesis requires an extremely selective reading of Wells’s huge and varied oeuvre, but nevertheless makes important points about the nature of utopian thought in general, and Wells’s in particular.

The book is rounded out with “Tall, Dark, and a Long Time Dead: Epistemology, Time Travel, and the Bodice-Ripper,” by Erica Obey. The article begins by quoting Derrida, in what seems to me an uncharacteristically lucid and concise statement -- “A text cannot belong to no genre; there is no genreless text; there is always a genre and genres, yet such participation never amounts to belonging” (157). The subject of the article is Diana Gabaldon’s series of time-travel romances, about 4500 pages of love and sex (beginning in 1991 and ongoing). I have to admit I’d never heard of her, even though she’s apparently among the ranks of New York Times best-sellers. Obey doesn’t claim that Gabaldon is a great writer:

Her modest claim that she knows nothing about plot is well borne out by her work. For, despite the endless succession of episodes, her narrative remains oddly static: a sword fight; a robbery; meeting Prince Charlie; sex; more swordfights; more robberies; a misstep with a wine importer; Jamie’s capture by the English; more sex; and then more sex.... [T]he plot simply sprawls from book to book, the ending of each volume seemingly determined by page count, rather than by any organic coherence” (164).

From this description, it’s not surprising that Gabaldon’s work is a gold mine for postmodernists, and Obey has written an amusing and enlightening piece about her signifiers and significance, which serves as a fitting end for the anthology. The book has a long and useful bibliography of works related to time and time travel, including fiction, nonfiction and criticism, and film and television. Recommended for anyone with a professional interest in time travel as a fictional device.

-- Joe Haldeman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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