Science Fiction Studies

 

#92 = Volume 31, Part 1 = March 2004


BOOKS IN REVIEW

Empowering Girls Who Read SF.

Joanne Brown and Nancy St. Clair. Declarations of Independence: Empowered Girls in Young Adult Literature, 1990-2001. Scarecrow Studies in Young Adult Literature 7. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002. xiii + 207 pp. $32.50 hc.

The latest in Scarecrow Press’s series on young adult literature features a chapter on girls in fantastic YA fiction, and it works very nicely as a summary of recent and important novels of the fantastic starring empowered young women. The book as a whole would be ideal for reference librarians at public libraries and other people interested in locating good reading material for young women. It could also serve as an accessible set of small essays for undergraduate students who are trying to think critically about the fantastic for the first time, so it could also be a good addition to a university library where these novels are taught. The binding is very solid, and I have a feeling that Scarecrow is pitching this book mainly to the library market.

The chapter gives a close reading of four recent novels as well as an annotated bibliography for further reading. Without referencing high theory or dense cultural criticism, the authors summarize the merits of the novels according to their very clear criteria: would these novels empower female readers, and do they portray young women who are themselves empowered? Brown and St. Clair largely skip any novels that don’t meet those criteria, so rather than producing a book that repeatedly points out the darkness, they make an important contribution by lighting some candles.

The chapter doesn’t address many fantasy novels, but the range is helpful: Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast (1986) and Deerskin (1994) by Robin McKinley, Blood and Chocolate (1997) by Annette Curtis Klause, and Parable of the Sower (1994) by Octavia E. Butler. The annotated bibliography lists another twenty-one recommended titles.

The chapter is not without its problems (there are some shaky offhand assertions made about the fantastic, and Butler’s novel isn’t reviewed in either Publisher’s Weekly or Voya as YA), but they are ancillary to the book’s purpose. This isn’t cutting-edge scholarship on the fantastic; it’s a guide for people who want to make sure that the fiction girls read helps them become strong, capable women, and in the end that’s also valuable.

Joe Sutliff Sanders, University of Kentucky


Books, Books, Books.

Michael Burgess and Lisa R. Bartle. Reference Guide to Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. 2nd ed. Reference Sources in the Humanities. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2002. xv + 562 pp. $75.00 hc.

Sometimes you come across a really useful book. This is one of those times.

Regardless of whether you are a librarian in a small public library or in a research university, no matter whether you have been a scholar since the dawn of science fiction criticism or just taking your first steps on the road of fantasy research, you will find something of use in the Reference Guide to Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. It provides guidance among the various kinds of reference volumes that are available to scholars of the fantastic. Its only drawback is the tacky cover that detracts attention from the solid scholarly work this volume performs.

This guide is part of the Reference Sources in the Humanities series, the purpose of which is “the identification, description, and organization of the reference literature of the humanities disciplines” (xi). The first part of the book consists of a preface by James Rettig, series editor, and a brief introduction, half of which explains the basis for the annotations in the rest of the guide. The other half contains the authors’ acknowledgments. A 100-word explanation on how to use the book and a list of seven abbreviations conclude this part. The main part of the guide is divided into thirty chapters of annotations, followed by lists of what the authors consider to be “Core Collections,” and finally three indices.

The main part of the book annotates a wide range of reference works. The authors’ intention is to include “all major (and most minor) SF reference volumes” (xiii) and they certainly give the impression of having reached that goal. The items range from those still in print to others virtually unobtainable, and they include author bibliographies on well-known writers, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, and more obscure ones, such as William F. Temple. “Fannish” and scholarly material is reviewed with equal attention, and they manage to cover an expansive range of reference works.
Exactly what lies behind the order of the chapters in the main part is not clear. The contents are: “Encyclopedias and Dictionaries,” “Atlases and Gazetteers,” “Cataloging Guides,” “Yearbooks, Annuals, and Almanacs,” “Annual Directories,” “Statistical Sources,” “Awards Lists,” “Pseudonym Lists,” “Biographical and Literary Directories,” “Readers’ and Critical Guides,” “Guides to Secondary Sources,” “Library Catalogs and Collection Guides,” “Magazine and Anthology Indexes,” “General Bibliographies,” “National Bibliographies,” “Subject Bibliographies,” “Publisher Bibliographies,” “Author Bibliographies,” “Artist Bibliographies,” “Character Dictionaries and Author Cyclopedias,” “Film and Television Catalogs,” “Printed Guides to the Internet,” “Calendars and Chronologies,” “Quotation Dictionaries,” “Collectors’ and Price Guides,” “Professional Writers’ Guides,” “Fan Guides,” “Major On-Line Resources,” “Core Periodicals,” and “Professional Organizations.” Some of these chapters are very short, containing only one or two entries, and almost half the book consists of the various bibliographies or “Core Collections.”

Each chapter is introduced by a scope note that clearly explains what the authors consider should be included in this particular chapter (i.e., “general dictionaries or directories of one or more authors’ works” [412]). For material that might belong in more than one chapter, references are made to the appropriate chapter (i.e., “[b]ooks whose primary intent is to provide a guide to the created place names in the author’s fictional world are included in the ‘Atlases and Gazetteers’ section” [412]). This feature greatly contributes to the notable clarity of the guide.

A typical entry includes: author, title (in boldface), place of publication, publisher, year of publication, pagination, part of series (if applicable), Library of Congress Control Number, and ISBN number. The work is then described in detail, including table of contents and general format, with a comment on its usability. Whenever necessary, there are extensive and interesting comparisons to similar works, including comments on which volume to prefer, and the entries are wrapped up with a recommendation or grade (possibly including suggestions for improvement), such as “now superseded by,” “recommended for all research collections,” “one fang on the vampire scale,” “a second, updated edition would definitely be warranted.” In the few cases (about 10) where the authors have not had access to the reference work in question, this is clearly indicated.

The 704 entries are numbered consecutively from 1 to 705 (entry #77 is missing), and there are copious “See” references. The descriptions are straightforward and knowledgeable, and the occasional “pithy comments” that have been thrown in do indeed “enliven the tour” (xiv). Positive and negative aspects are covered and, on the whole, the comments give an impression of fairness and impartiality. Unfortunately, the subjectivity of the individual reviewers shines through sometimes, for instance in the case of Harold Bloom’s volumes (#71-#76). In the comments on the first five volumes, it is mentioned that “[o]f interest is Bloom’s commentary, ‘The Life of the Author,’ which appears in all the books of the series” (69, 70, 71), whereas for the last volume (Science Fiction Writers of the Golden Age), that commentary is criticized in no uncertain terms (72). The discrepancy suggests enough variance in editorial opinion to undermine my confidence in the fairness of the comments, however slightly.

In each chapter or section, the volumes are listed alphabetically by author and then alphabetically by title. Personally, I would have preferred the works of each author to be listed chronologically instead, to avoid the slight hustle of finding out which publication is actually the most recent, but it is a moot point. The reader does well to look at all entries for a chapter or a relevant section, however, because of the haphazard way in which the authors include comparisons and descriptions. The “See” references take care of some of this problem, but there is no telling what determines in which entry an author, critic, or subject is introduced. Samuel R. Delany is briefly but differently introduced in the entries on the two bibliographies about him (#365-366). There is a description of the publishing company itself only in the second of three bibliographies on DAW Books (#287). In one of the two entries for bibliographies on Stephen King, the bibliographer is presented, in the other the author. Some sort of pattern would be useful.

Another problem is pointed out by the authors themselves in “Printed Guides to the Internet.” In the sole entry there (#662), they observe that “any directory that tries to pin down the Internet is going to have a short shelf life” (515), and, unfortunately, that is true about this guide as well. Of the 21 entries in the chapter “Major On-Line Resources,” I could not gain access to seven of them. For five of these, the URL differs from that given in the guide, and the other two seem to have been removed from the web. Another site, lauded by the authors, bombarded the user with pop-up windows and is impossible to use unless one disables java script for one’s browser or uses a pop-up blocker. When will writers and publishers realize that if they want to refer to URLs in print, they should give only the URL to their own pages, and then keep updated links there?

The Core Collection lists are a valuable bonus. Nearly all individual annotations for the reference works include recommendations regarding for whom a particular work is suitable, which is useful if you only want to know whether or not to invest in an item. If you are interested in knowing more generally what items to look for, however, the lists come in handy. There are separate lists for academic and public libraries of various sizes, as well as for private research libraries. The only possible problem I can see is an assumption that researches in sf, fantasy, and horror fiction all require the same references. On the other hand, the effort of going through the list and weeding out unnecessary items is small compared to having to go through the entire book.

The guide’s entries are indexed separately by author, title, and subject. On the whole, that is not a problem and provides easy access to all the material in the guide, but in some cases, the indices are slightly misleading. Looking up, for instance, the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts in the author index gives a reference to entry #39 in the chapter “Annual Directories.” In the subject index, there is a reference to another entry (#705) in the chapter “Professional Organizations.” These entries are not cross-referenced, nor is there any reference in either of them to IAFA’s publication Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, which is listed in entry #702 (in the chapter “Core Periodicals”), erroneously called Journal of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts.

These minor caveats aside, this is an excellent reference guide: comprehensive, easy to use, and clearly written by people with in-depth knowledge of their subject. It is something any researcher of the fantastic will find useful, and it belongs in all libraries that intend to have a reference section on sf, fantasy, or horror literature.

Stefan Ekman, Lund University


Of Apes and Various Types of Human.

Charles De Paolo. Human Prehistory in Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003. xii + 160 pp. $36 pbk.

Charles De Paolo notes my help in the Acknowledgments of Human Prehistory in Fiction; but my assistance was limited to the editing of an article for Foundation, the origin for the penultimate chapter of the book, on Wells’s ideas of the future evolution of humanity as found in The Time Machine (1895). Had I advised on this book, I might have suggested dropping that chapter (and probably the chapter on The Island of Doctor Moreau [1896], too), or, alternatively, changing the title of the book to make it reflect the content rather better. It is not, in fact, a study of prehistoric fiction. Only in the chapter on Wells’s ideas on the origins of human religion (in “The Lord of the Dynamos”) does De Paolo touch on later prehistory (although most of the discussion is about perceptions of “primitive” societies rather than prehistory as such). There is otherwise no mention of the Neolithic, and none of the numerous works of fiction set in the Bronze Age or Iron Age are present. The book is not really about prehistory as such; it is about paleoanthropology or, even more specifically, about human evolution, and that should have figured in the title.

Paleoanthropology, more of a biological science than any other aspect of prehistoric studies, is therefore more susceptible than, say, the Iron Age, to treatment by sf writers. Wells is here (chapters 1, 5, 9, and 12), as well as Pierre Boulle (chapter 2), Jules Verne (chapter 3), Edgar Rice Burroughs (chapter 4), Lester del Rey (chapter 6), Arthur C. Clarke (chapter 8), and J.-H. Rosny aîné (chapter 11); the other writers studied are William Golding and Jean Auel (chapters 7 and 10). In each chapter De Paolo assesses the relationship between the work discussed and contemporary scientific opinion. As can be seen from this listing of the chapters, he does not do this in chronological order of work discussed, and it took me a while to realize that the chronological order of setting within prehistory is what dictates the structure of the book. He discusses The Island of Doctor Moreau first, because it is (partly) about the nature of species change, and then moves on to Planet of the Apes (1963), in order to discuss the point at which humans branched off from the main primate line; Chapters 5, 6, and 7 all deal with the nature of Neanderthal “man” and his relationship with “modern” humans (although so does chapter 10). As each chapter places the work in its scientific context, this involves a good deal of zigzagging backwards and forwards among different decades (and indeed centuries), which is at times confusing. Having said that, the alternative procedure (discussing the works themselves in chronological order) would not have isolated the individual points of debate within palaeoanthropology so clearly.

If there are problems with structure, Human Prehistory in Fiction nevertheless offers a fascinating case-study of the relationship between individual works of fiction and their scientific context. Some texts argue against that context, while some accept it fairly uncritically; and others seem to be writing to engage in debate with other writers, as when Golding wrote The Inheritors (1955) in opposition to the ideas of Wells. All of the authors consciously engage in some sense with scientific opinion, even if it is sometimes opinion that may have become received knowledge by the public, though it is already outdated as far as the scientists are concerned. Only Edgar Rice Burroughs stands out on a limb: if he is engaging with scientific opinion, it is to condemn it. De Paolo shows how The Land that Time Forgot (1924) is totally at variance with any known scientific theories, and suggests how deliberate this was, revealing Burroughs’s deep worries about the whole secular concept of evolution. It is perhaps salutary to note that, in this discussion of a number of figures who rate as “fathers of science fiction,” it is the only female author in the book, Jean Auel, who alone is commended for the way in which she conscientiously reflects the best contemporary scientific opinion in The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980).

I learnt a good deal from this book, so I regret having to end on a negative note. There are only three works studied in this book that did not originally appear in English. J.-H. Rosny aîné’s (to be pedantic, that’s not normally cited as J.-H. Rosny-Aîné, as De Paolo has it) La Guerre du feu (1909), translated in 1911 as The Quest for Fire (not Quest for Fire, as De Paolo has it); Verne’s Le Village aérien (1901) (although this original title is not mentioned by De Paolo), translated as The Village in the Treetops by I.O. Evans in 1964 (not 1901 as De Paolo’s bibliography appears to state), and Pierre Boulle’s La Planète des singes (1963), translated in 1963 as Planet of the Apes (not The Planet of the Apes). De Paolo appears to use the English translations throughout, despite the fact that the Talbott translation of Rosny is abridged, and that Evans frequently abridged and changed the sense of Verne. The reader is left uncertain what any of these authors actually originally wrote; and when this reader came across “Rosny, in 1911 [my italics], anticipated.…” he winced. Talbott is not (necessarily) Rosny. De Paolo might have been better advised to drop discussion of works he could only apparently know at second hand. And his seeming unfamiliarity with French means that he ignored a splendid opportunity for his book. Franšois Bordes appears in it (116-17) as an expert on the palaeolithic. De Paolo appears not to know that Bordes was also (using the name of Francis Carsac) a prolific and popular writer of science fiction—to my knowledge the only professional prehistorian of whom that can be said.

Edward James, University of Reading, UK


Close Encounters, Near Miss.

Mark Featherstone. Knowledge and the Production of Nonknowledge: An Exploration of Alien Mythology in Post-War America. Creskill, NJ: Hampton, 2002. ix + 205 pp. $45 hc;$18.95 pbk.

Struggling to stay awake through the first episode of the Spielberg-produced mini-series Taken (2002)—an experience not so much like watching paint dry as watching dry paint—I found myself becoming irritated and then troubled. What got to me was not the tedious predictability of the goings-on, nor that someone (or something) had abducted Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and replaced him with a namesake untroubled by talent, but the historical inaccuracy of it all. One has grown used to Spielberg’s peculiar abuses of history—Jews escaping the Holocaust, slaves returning to Africa, the well-being of individual soldiers being an object of the military’s concern—and a series about aliens among us does require at least one very big historical inaccuracy. What irritated me was the anachronistic appearance of the grays in the 1940s and 1950s—a version of flying saucer aliens that did not really enter UFO lore and popular consciousness until the mid-1970s, courtesy of NBC’s The UFO Incident (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)—rather than Etherians or Aryan space Nazis from Venus or some other variety actually described in that period. What troubled me was that I knew and cared.

In an important sense, however, the error was not Taken’s but mine. Mark Featherstone’s explication of the myth of human-alien encounters in the US details eight submyths, subject to constant cycles of revision. The “conspiracy” submyth began in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and is associated with Donald Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers are Real (1950) and Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), the latter of which created the image of a shadowy US government in cahoots with extraterrestrials (other variants suggested the saucers were top secret US military craft, or Soviet or Nazi craft). The “contactee” submyth originated with George Adamski in the early- and mid-1950s, with books like Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953) and Inside the Space Ships (1955), recounting his meetings with messianic Venusians. The “men in black” submyth, charting the interventions of black-suited figures who sabotage or threaten UFO research, began with Gray Barker’s They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers (1956), in which “they” worked for a secret government agency; Albert Bender’s Flying Saucers and the Three Men (1963) identified the men in black as aliens. The “early abduction” submyth is exemplified by the 1961 Betty and Barney Hill case, filmed as The UFO Incident: an interrupted journey, missing time, bad dreams, and memories of abduction and “medical” experimentation recovered under hypnosis. These early abductions gave rise to the “cattle mutilation” myth, starting in 1967 (and with a horse called Snippy rather than a cow), in which apparently mutilated livestock are presumed to have been the subject of alien experimentation. The “late abduction” submyth began 14 years after the Hill case, but in the month following the broadcast of The UFO Incident (1976), with the five-day disappearance of Travis Walton, later filmed as Fire in the Sky (1993). Next came the rediscovery of the Roswell story in Charles Berlitz and William L Moore’s The Roswell Incident (1980), which launched the “crashed saucer” submyth. (For a useful analysis of the various versions of the Roswell story, and an account of the New York University Constant Level Balloon Group’s experiments with meteorological balloon clusters carrying corner-reflecting radar targets, such as the one which crashed at Roswell, see Benson Saler, Charles A. Ziegler, and Charles B. Moore, UFO Crash at Roswell: The Genesis of a Modern Myth [Washington: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1997].) The “underground base/Majestic-12” submyth, which Featherstone sees as reworking Richard Shaver’s “Dero mystery” (recounted in Amazing Stories in 1943), contends that the grays live in underground bases, constructed with government collusion, beneath the New Mexico desert. In exchange for new technologies, the government permits the aliens to conduct mutilations and abductions without interference. First proposed in the early 1980s, the “underground base myth” coincided with the supposed identification of Majestic-12 as the secret government agency collaborating with the aliens. As can be seen from this final submyth—and, indeed, Taken—UFO lore constantly reworks earlier myth-material (here, the Shaver precursor and the “conspiracy,” “men in black,” “mutilation,” “abduction,” and “crashed saucer” submyths) and forgets inconvenient elements (the “contactee” submyth); a more detailed analysis of this process than Featherstone offers can be found, with regard solely to the six major versions of Roswell, in UFO Crash at Roswell.

This broad-brush typology of the alien myth occupies the first of the two parts of Knowledge and the Production of Nonknowledge, and provides a useful framework for any analysis of what must be the only sf megatext to compete with Star Trek and Star Wars in terms of penetrating and colonizing popular consciousness and attracting devotees. The larger second half of the book is rather less successful in its attempts to contextualize the cycles of the alien myth within postwar US history. Featherstone argues, for example, “that the aliens described in the conspiracy ... and contactee ... submyths reflected America’s changing opinion of the atomic bomb” (5). The chapter in question is divided into “The Impact of the War on American Culture,” “The Cultural and Sociopolitical Dimensions of the Cold War,” and “The Sociocultural Implications of the Atomic Bomb,” with further subdivisions called “Gender During the War,” “Race During the War,” and “The Impact of the Cold War on Domestic Policy.” The problem with this is not that so much of the information it details is drawn from a standard undergraduate textbook (William Chafe’s The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II [1986]), but that so little is done to make any connections between this social, cultural, and political history and the UFO lore of the period. Subsequent chapters are little better, and this is exacerbated by the absence of a clearly articulated theoretical framework or methodology. Elements of Barthes, Baudrillard, Bauman, Bell, Boorstin, Boyer, De Landa, Deleuze, Derrida, and Girard rub shoulders with Heidegger, Jameson, Jung, Lévi-Strauss, Lyotard, Marx, Propp, Virilio, and Žižek, but this grab bag of references cannot really be said to constitute a coherent, theoretically-informed argument. Featherstone’s clumsy prose does not help, his precise meaning frequently a rewrite or two away from being clear (or precise). Moreover, he never reflects upon his use of the term “myth,” he is endearingly na´ve on the possibility of separating form and content, and he early on espouses the “pure methodological principle” (3) and political neutrality of Vladimir Propp’s morphology.

All of this is a great shame. Roger Luckhurst opened his review of Jodi Dean’s Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace (1998) by noting the sparsity of “intelligent commentary” on UFOlogy and alien abductions (SFS 25.3 [1998]: 534); and even UFO Crash at Roswell tails off sharply. A volume on the subject that was also concerned with “how different levels of knowledge are related to the vicissitudes of the economic sphere”—and the ways in which “the political sphere represents the dominant center’s ... attempt to impose order on the changeable economic system and secure hegemonic centrality in relation to peripheral groups,” with the alien myth constituting “a debased form of political articulation that describes the periphery’s attempt to articulate the nature of the antagonistic postindustrial system” (8)—should have been a welcome addition to the scant literature, even if one is wary of the rather outmoded center-periphery metaphor. Featherstone’s primary assertion—that “alien myths and their morphological movement represent the motion of capital de-scribed [sic?] at the level of popular mythology,” connecting “anxious Americans to the postindustrial machine” and humanizing “its technological violence through the transcendental beliefs they maintain” (14)—could have provided an important focus for future work on UFO lore, if he had succeeded in constructing an argument to support it. But as with Dean, Featherstone has been poorly served by his editors. The doubts raised by the lack of clarity, coherence, and, in the second part, purpose make the earlier, more useful part of Knowledge and the Production of Nonknowledge seem less authoritative than its invaluable spadework warrants.

Mark Bould, University of the West of England, Bristol


Classic Anthology Back in Print.

James Gunn, ed. The Road to Science Fiction, Vol. 1: From Gilgamesh to Wells. 1977. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002. 368 pp. $29.95 pbk.

─────, ed. The Road to Science Fiction, Vol. 2: From Wells to Heinlein. 1979. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002. 536 pp. $32.50 pbk.

─────, ed. The Road to Science Fiction, Vol. 3: From Heinlein to Here. 1979. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002. 600 pp. $32.50 pbk.

─────, ed. The Road to Science Fiction, Vol. 4: From Here to Forever. 1982. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002. 560 pp. $39.50 pbk.

In the early 1990s, when I took James Gunn’s science fiction class at the University of Kansas as part of the Institute for the Study of Science Fiction, The Road to Science Fiction, the anthology Gunn compiled to teach the course, was out of print. He obtained permission from the publisher to photocopy all four books, and so I have stapled-together bundles that comprise these volumes, four pages of text to a single photocopied page, all in incredibly tiny type. I still have them, even though they’re a little battered—I find that I need to refer to my marginal notes sometimes. It was only when I began to teach sf myself that I realized how common this scenario was. Consider the state of sf anthologies: they only stay in print for a heartbeat; they are organized according to some theme I don’t care about; they are a “year’s best” so recent as to provide no historical depth; or they are some weird combination of old and brand new.

Thus, Scarecrow Press’s resurrection of this series is timely and welcome. They have reprinted the four-volume set originally published in the 1970s and again in the 1980s by New American Library and White Wolf Publishing. (White Wolf reprinted the volumes in the 1990s, although my copies from that era don’t list the date of reprint.) This series is geared to teachers and students of sf and is organized, as the titles imply, according to a chronological principle that aims to sketch, in admittedly broad strokes, the emergence of sf as a genre. Volume 1, From Gilgamesh to Wells, which covers the years 2000 b.c. to a.d. 1900, sets the stage for the books that follow and introduces precursor texts to sf. Gunn’s introduction is particularly useful because he outlines his theory of sf (that it is a literature of change), which he revisits in later volumes. He argues that the primary texts in volume 1 contain “some of the same kind of qualities that later science fiction would possess” (xviii), but they are, he admits, not sf. The stories in volume 2, From Wells to Heinlein, which covers 1900 to 1940, clearly are: this volume contains classic and provocative stories by H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapleton, Stanley G. Weinbaum, and Isaac Asimov, among others. The introduction describes the pulps and market forces that permitted the creation of sf as a genre.

Volume 3, From Heinlein to Here, covers 1940 to 1975, and includes stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joe Haldeman, among others. The introduction discusses the Golden Age of sf, World War II, and the New Wave. In this volume, voracious readers will find that the texts, or at least the authors’ names, become more familiar—old favorites, perhaps. In his introduction to the fourth volume, Gunn notes that the primary criterion for a story’s inclusion in the first three volumes was “genre importance” (xvi). Volume 4, From Here to Forever (1950 to 1992, with each decade represented by a few stories, although the 1990s are represented only by a single Jorge Luis Borges story), focuses on the literary aspects of sf. It ranges more widely in time, and were a single one of these volumes to be adopted as a textbook for a general sf course, this one would be it.

In addition to lengthy introductions to each volume, Gunn provides cogent headnotes for each primary text. The headnotes contextualize the work, telling an anecdote about the story’s original publication, perhaps, or providing more information about the author’s or the story’s importance in the genre. I would have liked to see Gunn add a section to the end of each volume’s introduction, rather than simply reprinting them as they originally appeared; I’d like to see what he has to say about these same topics after twenty years’ reflection. Although the skewing of the first three volumes toward male writers is likely inevitable, volume 4, which includes work by James Tiptree Jr., Vonda N. McIntyre, and Joan D. Vinge, among others, nonetheless can’t make up for the lack of women writers in the other three volumes. Volume 3 includes work by only four women, all must-read authors: Judith Merril, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joanna Russ each have a story, as does “Lewis Padgett” (coauthors Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore). And the books are breathtakingly expensive for trade paperbacks, which may limit the adoption of any of them as textbooks.
This series of anthologies provides one of the most comprehensive views of the field and should be required reading for all students of sf. It has withstood the test of time, with classic stories that I turn to again and again. Gunn’s headnotes and introductions remain provocative, even years later. The Road to Science Fiction can be read as an historical document, one that says as much about Gunn, his mind, and his take on sf as it does about the state of sf from its roots to its full maturity as a genre.

Karen Hellekson, Jay, ME


Frankenstein: Symptom and Diagnosis.

Susan E. Lederer. Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2002. ix + 78 pp. $60 hc; $30 pbk.

Donald F. Glut. The Frankenstein Archive: Essays on the Monster, the Myth, the Movies, and More. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002. vii + 225 pp. $28.50 pbk.

Mary Shelley, in creating Frankenstein, created a monster—her image of the creature entered our consciousnesses in 1818 and has refused to leave, haunting us in every age, whether we identify with the creature or with those who fear him, but in every case morphing to fit contemporary anxieties. These two books illustrate the grip of her monstrous vision, one attempting some medical diagnosis, the other exhibiting symptoms. Neither addresses the book itself, except tangentially, so both are only tangentially relevant to literary scholarship. Lederer’s study, however, contributes some valuable observations about the science surrounding the book and its progeny. In contrast, Glut’s book is of interest more as an example of the grip of Shelley’s vision on one fan.

Lederer’s book is the catalogue for an exhibit of the same name that opened in October 1997 at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. In its purpose lie its strengths: it is lavishly illustrated and it explores scientific and medical implications of the images spawned by the novel and its many offspring. The exhibit and its catalogue are divided into three parts. The first part, “The Birth of Frankenstein,” emphasizes the images and scientific and medical contexts surrounding the novel itself. The second part, “The Celluloid Monster,” “focuses on the redefinition of the Frankenstein myth in popular culture,” and the third “examines the continuing power of the Frankenstein story to articulate concerns raised by new developments in bio-medicine” (1). Because of its medical angle, the catalogue offers information not found in the usual literary discussions, such as Shelley’s own medical history of miscarriages, including the fascinating details of her fifth miscarriage, when Percy “saved her by placing her in an ice bath in order to stop the bleeding” (10). The first section also discusses galvanizing, resuscitation, spontaneous generation, blood transfusion, and attitudes toward dissection. As the catalogue moves from the book to its place in popular culture, the discussion turns to eugenics, biological determinism, and attitudes toward science. The last section discusses cloning, xenografting, and bio-ethics. Throughout are illustrations of the novel, other artistic representations of the monstrous, political cartoons, scientific and medical illustrations, and, of course, movie stills. Although neither analytic nor literary, Lederer’s volume is nevertheless fascinating and useful for contextualizing Shelley’s text.

Glut’s book is not analytic either, and it has little to offer to our understanding of the novel, its context, or even the films upon which this book focuses. Instead, it offers us a demonstration of the power of Shelley’s images on a film fan. The book comprises a collection of essays “assembled and stitched together from ... individual ‘pieces’ (in the literary sense of that word)” (1), many of which first appeared in magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monsters of the Movies. As Glut himself says, “This volume is simply my musings on variations of the Frankenstein theme” (3). Some of these musings describe his own amateur films of Frankenstein, others his encounters with actors involved in the many films using the creature, and others, as the back cover blurb says, “the author’s longtime personal involvement with all things Frankenstein.” The essays reveal the minutiae beloved of fans but, alas, of little interest to the rest of us. Utterly representative of this sensibility is the collection’s first essay, “Frankenstein: the (Untold) True Story,” which facetiously yet meticulously attempts to reconcile all the discrepancies in plot, character, and setting among the many, many Frankenstein movies as if they were all part of some coherent documentary mega-story. The result is an ingenious if ultimately tedious exercise, of real interest only to “Frankenstein buffs” (6), but, of course, that is the constituency for whom this book was written.—JG


Liberation Into Fantasy.

Deborah O’Keefe. Readers in Wonderland: The Liberating Worlds of Fantasy Fiction from Dorothy to Harry Potter.New York: Continuum, 2003. 222 pp. $29.95 hc.

At first glance Deborah O’Keefe’s professed goal, “to introduce specific admirable works—with glimpses of plot, character, texture, and theme—and to discuss ideas about individual books, types of books, and the whole field of fantasy literature” (9), may seem wildly ambitious. Yet, almost from the first page, O’Keefe establishes that she is more than capable of doing just this and doing it in a manner that makes clear both her wide reading of fantasy literature for all ages and her ability to frame that literature in a variety of psychological and cultural contexts that bring new insights to these texts.

Fantasy fans, long burdened by the charge that their taste in this literature is escapist, will be heartened by O’Keefe’s contention that fantasy is “not so much an escape from something as a liberation into something, into openness and possibility and coherence” (11). In supporting this thesis, O’Keefe takes on such well-known figures as Bruno Bettelheim and his problematic yet iconic text, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1975). She rejects his notion that the primary function of fantasy is to help young readers psychologically by relieving “unconscious pressures” (18). Rather, she contends that, in a world that is increasingly complicated, even grim, fantasy shows children of all ages “[h]ow to deal with the weird and complicated world outside” the self (18). She stresses that fantasy at its best goes beyond merely helping children and young adults understand the world; it also suggests ways to make that world a better place by showing “how a community works” (64).

The discussion that follows these assertions is wide-ranging and astute. O’Keefe’s primary focus is on fiction written since 1950, though she does make some reference to L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (1900+), to Tolkien and E. Nesbit, and to various others who it would be difficult to ignore in any survey of the genre. The chapters following her introduction are arranged in a progression that allows her to examine “six increasingly complex categories of fantasy worlds” (24). In the first of these chapters, “A Child Goes into the World,” she brings fresh insight to children’s classics such as Dr. Seuss’s And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (1937), Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), and William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1970). The appeal or freshness of her discussion of these texts has two aspects. The first is that these books are seldom discussed as fantasy, so that when they are we see them in an entirely new light that makes clear the important psychological and cultural work they do. We see, for example, the eponymous Harold not only constructing a whole new world but negotiating the difficulties it presents. The second aspect is that O’Keefe draws on sources seldom used or applied to discussions of children’s or young adult literature, including Suzanne Langer’s theories of symbolization, L.S. Vygotsky’s theories of child development, and Dorothy and Jerome Singer’s work on the relationship between child development and imaginative play.

In later chapters, O’Keefe continues to couple her close readings of texts with theories of play and ritual that provide new insights not only to the individual texts but to the genre of children’s and young adult fantasy as whole. Her use of liminality or “thresholdness” (79), as discussed in Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process (1969) and Tom Driver’s more recent Liberating Rites (1998), provides the reader with new ways to read fantasies as varied as The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis 1950-56) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll 1865). Equally helpful in the later chapters is her understanding of the different ways in which cultural tensions and needs shape and construct both the fantasy and the reader’s expectations for the fantasy.

O’Keefe draws on her own experiences both as a child reading fantasy and as an adult reading fantasy to her own children. She has strong opinions and no compunction to keep them to herself. She tells us very firmly, for example, that Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910) “would be better company on a desert island than all the formulaic Brian Jacques’ Redwall books [1986+] about warring mice” (24). Considering the ongoing popularity of Roald Dahl’s books, she wryly notes: “[c]hildren adore bad taste. Maybe Dahl’s approach is liberating for them, but maybe it’s infantalizing: maybe the greatest authors are subtler and don’t write like angry six year olds” (43). Some readers might find her willingness to take on some of the sacred cows of children’s literature off-putting, though I found it part of the overall charm of this book. Not only does O’Keefe offer new insights into the function of fantasy literature for children, but she does so by drawing on a variety of sources seldom used in children’s or young adult literature. This book is highly recommended for all levels of readers interested in fantasy literature. O’Keefe infuses her study with wit and a luminous intelligence.

Nancy St. Clair, Simpson College


Existential Equanimity in PKD.

Christopher Palmer. Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool UP, 2003. xii + 259 pp. $62.95 hc; $29.95 pbk.

The title of Christopher Palmer’s collection of essays is perhaps misleading: Palmer’s detailed analysis of Dick’s oeuvre leans rather more toward “terror” than “exhilaration,” and “Postmodern” in the title seems slightly off the mark since one of Palmer’s working assumptions in the text is that, though Dick may have been a master at depicting postmodernity, he was not himself a “postmodernist.” But, as Marge Simpson points out in a recent Simpsons episode, “Titles are hard.”

Palmer’s treatment of Dick is impressively thorough. He considers in detail nearly every one of the sf novels, and many of the short stories, even devoting a chapter to the posthumously published and patently non-sf novels Dick wrote in the late 1950s. Throughout his book, Palmer explores a variety of critical themes and offers some interesting readings of Dick’s various works, offering a painstaking academic treatment of a purveyor of sf who happens now to be on the verge of more mainstream canonization (thanks in part to the immense success of such films as Blade Runner [1982] and Minority Report [2002]). Palmer’s book should appeal to both literature scholars and casual readers.

The book is loosely organized, and indeed seems more a compendium of scholarly articles than a book with a central focus or guiding thesis. Readers used to books that offer a final chapter of summary and recapitulation will be frustrated, though readers who prefer to digest the occasional essay might like the fact that many of these chapters have appeared previously as journal articles.

Readers will discern two general arguments in Palmer’s book, both of which seem to be at cross-purposes with his title. The first argument seems to be that, while “[Dick’s] fiction creates a particular blend of hysteria and entrapment, fragmentation and high anxiety” (6), it nevertheless offers a promise of redemption through isolated “incidents” in the fiction that suggest some kind of ethical challenge to the suffocating despair of postmodernity. Though Palmer never gives an unequivocal definition for “incidents,” the gist here seems to be that we need to look in Dick’s fiction for events or occasions where “exhilaration” balances out “terror.”

The other argument Palmer makes is that the specific tension in Dick’s work as a whole derives from its allegiance to humanism even as it depicts postmodernity (9). One of the tenets of postmodernism as popularly understood is of course a rejection of liberal humanism—it is no accident that Foucault ends Les Mots et les Choses (1969) by announcing what amounts to the death of “man.” Palmer argues that Dick may do a tremendous job of portraying in his novels “postmodernity” avant la lettre, but Dick is no postmodernist because of his persistent humanism. Palmer sees a central current in the flow of Dick’s voluminous output that values “the individual subject, especially as a vessel of ethical response” (8), which he admits is quite contrary to the tenets of postmodernism, such as they are. Later, however, Palmer writes that, “Among SF writers, [Dick] is the most thoroughgoing in his embrace of the Freudian notion that to define our innermost personhood is to define the way in which we are all, adults and children alike, at best neurotic” (162). Does this mean that authentic humanist responses to postmodernity can’t help but be neurotic? If so, what’s the point of looking toward them as some kind of relief from the dizzying, metastasizing slippage of postmodernity?

Palmer suggests that we may look to Dick for some refreshing indication of a way out of the political impotence and critical impasse to which postmodern theory often leads. Indeed, Palmer invokes “the politics of writing” (11) implicit in Dick’s often extreme fictional situations that should shock postmodern readers (and academics) out of a “complacency so dense that it cannot be upset and undermined sufficiently often” (11). Palmer discusses various episodes in Dick’s works that force readers to confront the ironic shift between verisimilitude (which good fiction is assumed to have) and simulacra (which postmodern hyperreality thrives on). To avoid the future Dick projects, Palmer suggests, we must cultivate the humanism that inheres in Dick’s stories.

Palmer is less successful in convincing us that any such confirmed humanism actually inhabits Dick’s fiction: according to Palmer, the “humanism” of Dick’s novels consists in his focus on ordinary, plebian individuals who find themselves forced to confront conspiracies of power or information. Whether or not such individuals are successful is a matter of interpretation, of course, and depends on whether you see “terror” or “exhilaration” as the preponderant force in Dick’s writing.

Neither of Palmer’s arguments is ultimately persuasive, though along the way he leads readers on a fascinating, proficient, and scholarly tour of Dick’s fiction. But any “humanism” we might identify in Dick remains hazy, and even our tour guide suggests that such a humanism would be more tragic than liberal: “The individual in Dick’s oppressive futures often assumes guilt for a situation that is not his responsibility” (24). And so far as the postmodern goes, Palmer suggests that Dick is more likely the epitome of late modernism: “A self-delighting postmodern circularity is not available to Dick; he is more likely to think in terms of a closed loop signifying sterile repetition” (29). Expecting readers to draw “exhilaration” from “sterile repetition,” however, seems an optimistic leap of faith.

Palmer doesn’t provide much textual evidence to support his claim that Dick’s works contain an aspect of “exhilaration” that adequately balances the grim and ubiquitous terror of Dick’s worlds. For example, he briefly claims (206) that the “anarchy” and “fakery” of The Simulacra (1964) is somehow “positively delirious,” though it’s unclear how this works. Toward the end of the book, Palmer tries to explain how Dick’s dystopian vision is redeemed into an uplifting, liberating promise of salvation from the bleak postmodern abyss (209). His attempt appeals to narratology, but the effort seems mostly superstitious. Palmer spends several pages toward the end of his book summarizing the essential quality of most of Dick’s sf novels as “entrapment coexisting with anarchy” (205), but then suggests that certain “incidents” in those novels allow for an interpretation of “ethical hope and the value of empathy or solidarity” (209). Most readers will have a difficult time understanding how “entrapment” and “anarchy” can be “positive” or “exhilarating.”

Palmer does offer the more palatable suggestion that one reason Dick’s fiction is worth considering is that Dick does not dismiss “human” out of hand and instead seems to hint that if any redemption is possible in this bleak “postmodern” world, it must derive from human responsibility. If so, a better title might have been Existential Equanimity in the Face of Postmodern Terror. Palmer perceives that “throughout his career Dick attempts to deepen the human—to affirm values such as solidarity and empathy and to endow his characters with the capacity to apprehend intense moral dilemmas, and to take responsibility” (33). While it remains arguable just how much responsibility humans take in Dick’s fictional worlds, Palmer’s view may certainly be applied to the world we actually live in. In other words, Palmer’s heart is in the right place as he attempts to find a meaningful solution to the jaded discourse and ethically ambivalent impasse of postmodernism by way of Dick’s fiction.

Palmer’s guided tour of Dick’s work is particularly compelling when he offers comparative criticism of Dick’s novels and stories by situating them in their larger literary context. His analysis, for example, of how A Scanner Darkly (1977) anticipates much of the theme of Pynchon’s Vineland (1990)—“that the counterculture, joyful and zany as it seemed, existed inside grim, totalitarian circuits of power”(178)—is insightful and interesting, and makes the reader yearn for more of such treatments.

While Palmer’s optimistic impulse is admirable, the evidence for such an “exhilarative” reading is simply thin. Nietzsche argued that the most pernicious of the evils Pandora unleashed was the last to fall out of the box—Hope—and it’s hard to see a different sentiment operating in Dick’s distinctively dystopic sf. If anything, what balances out the grim gravity of Dick’s worlds is his humor—the occasionally zany moments of interstellar satire, the characters’ sense of irony and self-deprecation, and the brilliant if sometimes goofy wordplay.

Aaron Parrett, University of Great Falls


From Psychohistorians to Sandworms.

Donald Palumbo. Chaos Theory, Asimov’s Foundations and Robots, and Herbert’s Dune: The Fractal Aesthetic of Epic Science Fiction. Contributions To The Study Of Science Fiction And Fantasy 100. Westport, CT: Greenwood. 2002. x + 240 pp. $67.95 hc.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) and Frank Herbert (1920-1986) were among the bestselling sf authors of their times. Both were intellectuals, and the pleasures they provided to countless readers were often intellectual ones. But their work has nonetheless been underexplored by academics. Asimov has inspired introductory studies such as those by Joseph Patrouch and James Gunn; the state of Herbert criticism is similar, with work by Tim O’Reilly and William Touponce, who has also written on Asimov. But Palumbo’s book takes the next step. He provides a specialized but accessible look at the two writers in light of a specific paradigm, that of chaos theory. After a brief theoretical introduction, roughly two thirds of the book is devoted to Asimov (divided between three chapters on Asimov’s FOUNDATION novels [1942+] and three chapters on his robot stories [1940+]), the other third to three chapters on Herbert’s DUNE series (1963-1985). Palumbo is a critic who uses conceptual structures to animate his overview of the “astonishing and previously unexplored depths” (1) of their achievements.

Literary chaos theory of the variety associated with the pivotal work of N. Katherine Hayles is appropriately mentioned. But Palumbo’s vision of chaos theory is largely scientific, not literary or philosophical. This is appropriate for his subjects who, in different ways, both saw themselves as scientists. Palumbo defines chaos theory as “the popularized term for dynamical systems analysis—the study of orderly patterns in turbulent, dynamical, or erratic systems” (2). As pioneered by the former IBM scientist Benoit Mandelbrot and others, chaos theory, by studying such complex systems as weather patterns, epidemiological surveys, and cognitive processes, has shown how order can end up being dynamic, not static. Yet chaos theory also demonstrates how purposiveness can underlie the seemingly arbitrary.

The first part of Palumbo’s study concerns Asimov’s FOUNDATION books. Palumbo’s discernment of chaos theory in Asimov’s later work (post-1982, when he began writing fiction extensively after a long hiatus), and by logical retro-focus, in his earlier production, is not a will o’ the wisp of critical imposition. Asimov was actively interested in recursive scientific theories such as fractal geometry and the anthropic cosmological principle. Asimov did actually meet Mandelbrot in Philadelphia in April 1986, a small detail that would have fortified Palumbo’s case. Palumbo is justified in extrapolating, from the overt citation of these theories in Asimov’s post-1982 novels, their applicability to the earlier (largely pre-1958) work. Psychohistory, the predictive science analyzing long-term collective human behavior pioneered by Asimov’s far-future thinker Hari Seldon, has been compared to rationalist, Enlightenment theories. Palumbo demonstrates the chaos in psychohistory (which Asimov himself implied was derived from Maxwell’s work on the kinetic theory of gases, learned by every elementary chemistry student). Palumbo’s major breakthrough is to understand the common motifs in Asimov’s oeuvre. These motifs continued even through gaps in setting (from the near future to 30,000 years from now), mode of production (from Astounding magazine stories to Doubleday hardcovers), and time of production (Asimov had two major periods in which he wrote fiction, from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s and in the 1980s). Following William Touponce in his 1991 study of Asimov, Palumbo does not isolate the initial FOUNDATION trilogy from the later sequels but explores Asimov’s entire fictional continuum as a “metaseries.”

Palumbo recognizes, for instance, that there is a thematic kinship between the Hober Mallow (last chapter of Foundation, 1951) and Bel Riose (first section of Foundation and Empire, 1952) parts of the trilogy. Both deal with the confrontation of the nascent Foundation with the dormant but still predominant Galactic Empire. This “self-similarity of parts to one another and to the whole” (17) is typical of the nonlinear systems of fractal geometry, “indispensable to chaos theory” (19). With Robots and Empire (1984), Asimov’s robot novels of the 1950s became linked to the Foundation universe despite the latter’s lack of robots. Many people hold it against Asimov that he combined the series. They see the later books as vulgarizations of the earlier. But Palumbo painstakingly points out how intertwined is all of Asimov’s work. Disguise and mystery are frequent motifs. So is a search for the “other” that turns out to have been there all along—as in the (multiple) revelations of the locale of the Second Foundation. “Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat” (44) is also a mainstay. Asimov’s resourceful protagonists learn how to solve problems in the face of seeming impossibility. The backup plan, guardianship, and disguise are motifs of Asimov’s work, as rabbits are pulled out of hats and deeper levels are revealed. Asimov always values mental ingenuity, which conceals itself only to spring out at the climax. Individuals also matter. The sweep of time can be irrevocably altered by one individual gesture. This has a cognate in the great importance of mental or emotional control in Asimov’s work. Often, the power of one mind does not just design the future, as in psychohistory, but actually manipulates people, as in the Mind Touch possessed in different “epochs” by robots, the mutant tyrant “The Mule,” the Second Foundation, and the planet-wide collective mentality Gaia.

Palumbo excels in getting interpretive mileage out of small details. As an example of how individual gestures can influence aggregate ones, in Asimov’s story “Spell My Name With an S” (1958), nuclear war is averted because an American physicist changes his name from Zebatinsky to Sebatinsky. Ironically, in the year Asimov’s story was published, a real-life Russian chemist named “Zhabotinsky” (sic) discovered an autocatalytic reaction that “is often mentioned in discussions of chaos theory” (86). Palumbo makes good use of Asimov’s memoirs and of his nonfiction in general. For instance, he deduces that the discomfort of the Solarians with face-to-face contact in The Naked Sun (1957) was inspired by the behavior of Horace Gold, the then-editor of Galaxy, a connection many readers of the memoirs no doubt made but that Palumbo is the first to point out in print. Palumbo praises Asimov’s emphasis on freedom from bias and prejudice, as shown by his many depictions of individuals from one planet, culture, or species overcoming antipathy towards another. He links this to Asimov’s own life. Asimov espoused an appreciative tolerance of diversity, despite recognizing the extent of anti-Semitism.

Asimov’s late interest in the Gaia hypothesis, as symbolized in the planet Gaia’s being a wholly interdependent unit, links him with the ecological concerns of Frank Herbert, explored in the latter part of Palumbo’s book. Herbert was one of the first imaginative writers to know what ecology was and to take it seriously. In having the protagonist of Dune be an entire planet, Herbert moved the focus, and scrutiny, of sf beyond individuals to systems. In making Arrakis a desert planet, he goes beyond conventional ideas of beauty (just as the pictures of Mandelbrot sets and fractal patterns Palumbo provides show how beauty can be whorled and multivariate). Herbert has the governance of the planet, from politics to religion to the crucial variable of irrigation itself, be vulnerable to both positive and negative feedback—that is to say, between responses that change an existing situation and others that ”maintain the status quo” (142). He makes his ecological system self-reflexive, a chaotic system.

The compelling dramatization of Children Of Dune on the Sci-Fi Channel in March 2003 may help return Herbert’s reputation to its late 1960s-early 1970s peak. As Palumbo notes, Herbert’s vision is not simply mantic and guru-like. It has a fractal to-and-fro quality. Even the planet Arrakis—”Dune” itself—has to be abandoned eventually, because holding onto it would perpetuate a sterile myth. Palumbo’s application of chaos theory to the Dune novels is more metaphysical and spiritual than is his treatment of similar motifs in Asimov’s work. He elucidates the “dynamic of things tending to become or to engender their opposites (through the operation of feedback loops in dynamical systems)” (215). This is sometimes hard to remember amid all the references to Muad’Dib and his son Leto II as prophetic or god-like. Yet Muad’Dib himself is uncomfortable with power. Leto II is so uncomfortable with power that he abandons his humanity, and with that an overweening human centrality in the ecosystem. Towards the end of his section on Herbert, especially in his deployment of Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth, Palumbo himself begins to go off into the empyrean. His prose becomes reminiscent of the far-out reveries of Leto II in Children of Dune as he combats/becomes the giant sandworm. In this respect, Palumbo can be said to have adhered to Pope’s dictum: “A perfect Judge will read each work of Wit/ With the same spirit that its author writ.” For the most part, though, Palumbo has provided an accurate, pleasingly complex, and sympathetic study of two of the greatest American sf writers of the twentieth century

Nicholas Birns, New School University


No Cure for the Present, Either.

Domna Pastourmatzi, ed. Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction. Thessaloniki, Greece: University Studio Press, 2002. 512 pp. By request from Domna Pastourmatzi, School of English, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki 541 24, Greece, pbk.

Gary Westfahl and George Slusser, eds. No Cure for the Future: Disease and Medicine in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. viii + 184 pp. $64.95 hc.

If, following Brian Aldiss, we take Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818) as the first work of science fiction, then images of medicine—of its potential and risks—are at the heart of the genre from its inception. Why isn’t there more sf with a medical theme or premise? Both of these new books attempt to address that question and to draw some common threads from the relatively limited body of medical sf, both in written form and on film and television.

Domna Pastourmatzi’s volume collects the proceedings of a conference held in Thessaloniki, Greece between October 18 and 21, 2001, though many authors have revised or expanded their original work. There are 32 papers in all, two of which are left in the original Greek. The absence of a theme index in a book of this scope is a serious problem, impeding the reader’s attempts to draw out common threads in such a wealth of material. (The Westfahl/Slusser book also lacks a theme index, but is somewhat easier to navigate.) Pastourmatzi’s introductory chapter sets out the terms of the debate that medical sf, and the papers discussing it, illustrate. There is a central tension between, on the one hand, the desire for “progress,” for improvements in both the baseline of health and the capacity to cure, and, on the other hand, a suspicion of technology or of interfering with nature. Though the status quo is problematic for some (as, for instance, with the objections of certain religious groups to blood transfusion), the main targets of this suspicion are future developments such as biotechnology, genetic manipulation, and cloning. Nor is it helpful for the patient that the institutions driving these changes are often corporations whose motives may be suspect, and that the scientific discourse behind these developments is necessarily couched in highly technical terms. In this context, it’s not overstated for Pastourmatzi to summarize: “The seeds of radical change are being sown as we speak. Forces beyond the common person’s control or awareness are paving the way to the future” (13). She quotes approvingly (18) the words of Nelkin and Lindee in The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon (1995) that sf stories are “narratives of meaning, helping their attentive listeners deal with social dilemmas, discover the boundaries of socially accepted behavior, and filter complex ideas.” She is therefore making a case for the usefulness of sf in understanding such issues—not precisely sf as prediction, warning, or roadmap, but as a combination of the three.

These priorities are evident in some of the most striking work here. A pair of papers, by Susan M. Squier and Zoe Detsi-Diamanti, on the topic of future developments in organ transplantation highlight some issues that are already in the news: in August 2002, the UK General Medical Council banned from practice a doctor who offered to sell a donor kidney to a patient’s father, and who indicated that the kidney could be obtained more cheaply from India than the UK. Detsi-Diamanti’s paper in particular, discussing Manjula Padmanabhan’s play Harvest (1997), seems eerily prescient. Harvest is set in a Bombay of 2010, and foresees an institutionalized trade in organs between the developing world and America. I’m not sure that such a trade could become an overground phenomenon as quickly as Padmanabhan suggests; and, as Detsi-Diamanti indicates, “The characters in Harvest are essentially stereotyped, thus perpetuating an artificial difference between ‘self’ and ‘other’” (112). Nonetheless, one could make the same assertion about many classics of polemical sf, and the paper is a clear analysis of what is evidently a compelling play.

One name that comes up repeatedly in discussions of near-future medical advances is Greg Egan, whose work is treated by several authors here. Nerina Kioseoglou provides an overview of the issues of identity raised in such stories as “Learning to be Me” (1990), “Eugene” (1990), and “Closer” (1992). Russell Blackford, in his overview of biotech themes in Australian sf, states that Egan “is unequivocally pro-science” (341). “Unequivocally” is probably a little strong, and there are certainly Egan stories (such as “The Infinite Assassin” [1991]) where science becomes a trap for those who use it. But it’s unarguable that Egan is at the more optimistic end of the spectrum.

Cloning is one obvious potential development that has become a well-used sf trope, and is frequently used with a cautionary slant; one of the sections of Pastourmatzi’s book is devoted to it. Janeen Webb provides a solid overview article that surveys the fictional uses to which it has been put, from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1914) onwards. (One puzzling omission, though: in her discussion of feminist works founded on cloning, she doesn’t discuss James Tiptree, Jr’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” [1977], surely one of the most famous and powerful tales of its kind.) Webb does mention Gene Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972), which is also treated in the preceding paper by Darko Suvin. Suvin’s position is that “scientific extrapolation is not and cannot be the function of sf as fiction” (131), and that sf stories should thus be taken as parables of our present condition. As applied to Wolfe, he argues that it “could without much problem be situated in a Gothic version of the Old South” (138), and so, since cloning is not indispensable to the story, he “cannot see that much cognitive gain results from [its] jury-rigged estrangement” (138). (Suvin and Webb both focus their discussions on the first third of that cunningly-wrought novel, whose other sections have less to do with cloning but a great deal to do with identity and colonialism, rendered in terms that arguably could not be translated into mimetic fiction.) Suvin’s standpoint more generally is one of deep suspicion of science, at least as it is currently practiced: “This supposedly ‘value-free’ technoscience is the central means for—and intimately shaped by use for—shooting war or the equally ruthless war for profit” (144). The second half of his paper is devoted to a critique of current scientific practice both from this political and from an epistemological point of view. Though not as radical as, say, Paul Feyerabend in this respect—Suvin does grant scientific practice a limited degree of objectivity (148)—his standpoint is certainly more radical than most practicing scientists (and many sf writers) would contemplate.

Other papers here concentrate on more far-future issues, those that are generally lumped under the heading of “posthuman” possibilities. Andrew Enstice provides a thoughtful take on David Zindell’s far-future novels, especially War in Heaven (1999). However, I can’t help feeling that his analysis is hampered by his lack of reference to Frank Herbert’s DUNE series (1963-85), for me an overpowering influence on Zindell’s books—and also a work closely engaged in hypothesizing future stages of evolution. (Enstice is one of several authors to acknowledge the influence of the then-recent September 11 terrorist attacks on the subjects they cover, in his case by focusing on Zindell’s discussions of the ethics of war.) Brigitte Scheer-Schńzler contributes a close reading of Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” (1984), arguing that the central encounter of that dark and complex story is neither a rape nor a representation of slavery; rather, it is a representation of “the cost of life” (321) or, in Butler’s words, “a love story”(317).

There is also a selection of papers on cinematic representations. Michalis Kokonis’s lengthy analysis of David Cronenberg’s films is one of the finest I’ve ever seen on this body of work: Kokonis has a superbly detailed knowledge of the films, and cites both them and the secondary literature extremely appositely. He steers away from interpreting them as just an attack on technology or capitalism (263-66), though clearly they contain elements of critique. Rather, he contends convincingly that the films extend and enrich the science fiction tradition, and that it’s reductive to focus, as other writers have, predominantly on their horrific aspects. Monika Messner’s discussion of cultural norms in Bryan Singer’s film version of X-Men (2000) is also helpful, though briefer.

It has to be said that Pastourmatzi’s book is a pretty loose gathering of work, perhaps inevitably for a set of proceedings from a large conference. Although she has divided it into thematic sections, I question the decision to drop some of her Greek contributors into a “Hellenic voices” section at the back, when their concerns and ability to discuss them are no different from those seen elsewhere in the book. There is much that I’ve not been able to touch on—for instance, a section on the implications of biotech advances for space travel. With some of the authors, one wishes that there had been a greater degree of editorial intervention to recast papers more fully and explain underlying assumptions. Some papers that doubtless worked fine as oral presentations do not come over so well on the page, such as Timothy J. Anderson’s “I Want to be your Sex Symbol,” whose repetition of its title throughout the text has diminishing returns. The general picture from this book—of which Suvin’s paper is the most prominent example—is one of strong distrust of the implications of medicine and biotechnology for the future. That necessarily implies disquiet about the present, about the now from which futures start. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the sobering days of late 2001 when the conference took place, but I don’t think it’s just that.

Merely looking at the page counts will explain the main difference between Pastourmatzi’s book and the Greenwood Press volume from Westfahl and Slusser; the former is almost twice as long. The tone of the latter is mostly calmer, the scope of papers more restricted, and there is more evidence of editorial intervention to reduce duplications and ensure a degree of comprehensiveness. After an introduction by Westfahl, No Cure for the Future is divided into two sections: “Population Studies” (general overviews) and “Case Histories” (examinations of specific works).

Westfahl’s introduction attempts to provide some explanations for the relative paucity of medical sf: that medicine was, relatively speaking, stagnating when the pulp magazines were getting off the ground, that the adolescent males who formed the main audience for the pulps were not much inclined to think about medical issues, or that stories involving doctors would simply be dull and un-science-fictional. I tend to find the last reason most plausible: medicine is centrally an endeavor of restoration, of returning patients to or keeping them at what has historically been their normal level of function. Sf is involved in precisely the opposite, speculating about situations that go beyond the normal, and their consequences for individuals and society. (It’s no surprise, therefore, that such a high proportion of medical sf tells the stories of characters involved in medical experiments of one kind or another.)

In the subsequent chapter, H. Bruce Franklin makes more explicit a linkage that Westfahl alludes to: “What is called ‘modern medicine’ or ‘Western medicine’ emerged in the nineteenth century as part of the same historical process that generated another characteristically ‘modern’ or ‘Western’ phenomenon: science fiction” (10). I have to disagree with arguing so strongly for this linkage, both in broad terms and on some detailed points. On the details, for instance, Franklin asserts that “A striking example of how the achievements of modern Western medicine can look overblown is the case of puerperal fever…. It was not until 1847 that any European physician did anything constructive about puerperal fever” (13). That ignores the work of Alexander Gordon (1752-99), who argued—correctly, as it turned out—in A Treatise on the Epidemic Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen (1795) that its incidence could be reduced by the midwife or doctor washing thoroughly before delivering babies. This is part of Franklin’s more general argument that university-rooted medicine between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries was largely static and unsuccessful, shutting out non-Western perspectives as well as the women who did the majority of obstetric work. It seems to me much more compelling to argue that the roots of Western medicine are in the Renaissance’s recovery of classical medicine (as in Erasmus’ Latin editions of Galen), and its subsequent revision by the modern scientific method. Pre-nineteenth century landmarks in medicine would include William Harvey’s 1628 discovery of the circulation of blood, the Dutch invention of the microscope (c. 1600), or van Leeuwenhoek’s resulting discovery of “animalcules” such as bacteria in water and spermatozoa in semen. (A recent sf story, Gregory Feeley’s “The Weighing of Ayre” [1996], makes interesting play on this last discovery.) There is much in Franklin’s argument that I’d agree with, particularly regarding the division between those aspects of medicine practiced by men and by women, and it is plainly correct that the nineteenth century saw a great improvement in and expansion of medical practice. But I don’t think it’s tenable to argue, as he does, that Western medicine originated in the nineteenth century in the same sense as science fiction.

Elsewhere, Franklin makes an argument for a particular apocalyptic strain in medical sf, running from Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) through Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1915), George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (1949), Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995), and Norman Spinrad’s Journals of the Plague Years (1995). He’s surely right to identify this line of descent, and it’s perhaps indicative of an underlying lack of faith in medicine that such works are as prevalent now as ever. Other papers in the “Population studies” section provide similarly stimulating perspectives. Frank McConnell’s “The Missionary Physician” is a fusillade of ideas, arguing for (among other things) the essentially Gnostic nature of sf, the falsity of the idea that all sf writers are ugly, William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) as the anti-Dante, and the tension in sf between the approaches of two Gospels, between “John’s transcendence [and] Luke’s immanence” (30). Kirk Hampton and Carol McKay’s paper, which gives its title to the book, more conventionally argues for the archetype of the entrapped but virtuous doctor in sf, an analysis continued in Joseph D. Miller’s paper on MD and PhD characters in the genre.

The “Case histories” section contains much that is interesting, in particular Westfahl’s own thoughtful and detailed contribution on James White’s Sector General stories. I am less certain of the justification for including David K. Danow’s essay on Heart of Darkness (1902): it illuminates themes of disease in Conrad’s book but has precious little to do with sf, and only a tangential connection with the fantastic. Elsewhere, Robert Van Cleave’s paper on “Big Brother as Doctor” brings out the stratum of medical imagery in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) with clarity and precision. Greg Bear contributes a fascinating discursive/autobiographical piece, reflecting on (among other issues) the impetus behind his novels Blood Music (1985) and Queen of Angels (1990). He remarks that he has only heard one wholly positive response to the transcendental conclusion of Blood Music, and that was Bruce Sterling saying, “I can’t wait for it to happen!” This speaks to one of the recurring themes in both books—that bodily change, whether medically induced or otherwise, is a deeply unsettling idea for many people.

Inevitably, given the scope of the subject and the lack of surveys on it to date, both volumes are patchwork collections with no guarantee of comprehensiveness; but there are things missing in both books that don’t, I think, just represent eccentric expectations on my part. There is, for example, an extensive range of medical sf focusing on intelligence enhancement that scarcely gets a mention here. To take just a few canonical examples, this would include Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon (1966), Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration (1968), and Ted Chiang’s “Understand” (1991). James Tiptree, Jr.’s work used doctors as protagonists almost obsessively, and it would be very useful to have a consideration of, say, “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” (1974), “A Momentary Taste of Being” (1975), “The Screwfly Solution” (1977), or Brightness Falls From the Air (1985) in light of the issues raised elsewhere in these books. Finally, I would have welcomed some thoughts on the fiction of Michael Blumlein, whose relatively small body of work comprises arguably the finest, and certainly the most radical, sf written by a practicing physician.

Most of the works mentioned in the last paragraph are at least listed in Westfahl and Slusser’s useful bibliography of medically-themed sf, covering fiction, non-fiction, and film/tv. This bibliography, and the more engaged editorial approach, make the Westfahl and Slusser book more useful as a first reference on this topic, but both volumes have papers of considerable value. Both also consistently draw out anxieties about what we are allowing to be done to our bodies in the name of medicine. If we’re worried about medicine of the future, it’s because we’re worried about its present as well.

Graham Sleight, London


Who Knew We Were Reading Ethics?

Michael Pinsky. Future Present: Ethics and/as Science Fiction. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2003. 215 pp. $43.50 hc.

When I began reading science fiction as a bored 12-year-old, I certainly never thought I was embarking upon a philosophical study of ethics. Michael Pinsky, however, points out in his new book that sf presents ethics in ways that are not as possible in other literatures. Because sf deals so much with the Other, and with particular others, it is able to embody ethics by creating a future and displaying the repercussions of the developments that led there. As Pinsky writes:

Science anticipates the future. Science fiction writes the future. And according to science fiction, our future apparently consists of both external encounters—technological marvels (and horrors), aliens, and outer space—and internal tensions—the mysteries of the human mind and body. (13)

Pinsky begins his exploration with a clear layout of the plan of his work, giving his readers a good roadmap and pointing out that his book does not necessarily need to be read from cover to cover in order to be useful. “Part I: Space and Time” is a review of the philosophical bases upon which he develops his own work. Here he reviews Heidegger and Derrida without overwhelming readers who might not be completely familiar with how their ideas are connected to our understandings of space and time.

First, he examines the concept of space, as described by Heidegger, and how it relates to our understandings of being and self. We recognize ourselves as beings, and, as we grow, we begin to differentiate that which is the self from that which is “outside” the self—that which is alien, foreign. In describing that-which-is-not-self, Pinsky makes an important delineation between the Other and the other:

the Other is an anticipatory system constructed by the subject and based on a range of potentialities. The Other is nonlocal, nonspatial, although it does exist in spacetime relative to the speaking subject. The other is the localized, spatial manifestation of alterity in the present. This other is confronted in the face-to-face encounter. (35-36)

In our efforts at assimilation, the human being (or Dasein) seeks to assimilate the other in order to understand it, and to make the other less Other than it had been. This can only be done over time, a fourth dimension that allows for movement closer to the other. Time is also a type of location, for we can ask where we are in time. We divide experience into past, present, and future, and we seek to control the future by predicting it—telling stories of the future as if they were the past. We tell ourselves science fiction stories in order to determine how we might react to an alien, to technological progress, to our own lives in the future.

“Part II: The Future in Focus” looks at some particular works of sf and how they support Pinsky’s assertion that these story-tellings are a presentation of ethics. As many do, Pinsky begins with Wells. He touches on three of the major novels and how each presents the subject, law, and the Other. Both The Time Machine (1895) and its unfinished predecessor The Chronic Argonauts (1888) dramatize how a subject is transformed by escaping the so-called natural progression of time. The villain of The Chronic Argonauts reappears as Griffin in The Invisible Man (1897), although now he has subverted law by becoming invisible, rather than by slipping through time. The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) presents the arbitrariness of law, showing how it is a product of thinking subjects, and not something eternal. As Pinsky considers The War of the Worlds (1898), he notes that the Martians of the future, although presented as Others, are really just other humans—a vision of our potential future reliance on technology. The true others here are, in fact, the germs.

The question of the future progression of time is examined not only in terms of Wells’s fiction, but also through the lenses provided by the architecture and attractions of Disney’s Tomorrowland and EPCOT Center. Tomorrowland was originally intended to be a showcase for future innovations, a vision of life in the future of our dreams. The “Rocket to the Moon” ride had to be revamped to become “Rocket to Mars” once Apollo 11 brought the moon within reach. Tomorrowland showcases the problem of how quickly technology becomes outdated, and eventually, Tomorrowland was redesigned to showcase the 1950’s view of the future. In contrast, EPCOT Center showcases possibilities and marvels that are not as precisely tied down as those of Tomorrowland. For instance, Spaceship Earth focuses on developments in the technology of communication, and it finishes in an area where corporate partners can display their latest high-tech gadgetry, keeping products up to date without having to revamp the entire construction. These two examples, Tomorrowland and EPCOT, serve to demonstrate the differences between trying to control the future and trying to predict it while still allowing for the operations of chance.

Pinsky approaches the question of aliens, of others and Otherness, through first examining the Don A. Stuart (a.k.a. John W. Campbell, Jr.) novella “Who Goes There?” (1938) and then its 1951 movie adaptation The Thing from Another World. Here Pinsky argues that we cannot always recognize the Other, since when it takes particular form, it has become enough like the viewing subject to be indistinguishable. Next, Pinsky moves to a 1953 issue of EC Comic’s Weird Fantasy, focusing particularly on a tale in which the other really is one of us, but one who has come back from further down the timeline. Finally, aliens are considered through the screen of Star Trek, particularly the Next Generation’s encounters with the Borg. Worth noting here is the fact that the Borg become increasingly less alien the more often they appear in the series, infected perhaps by subjectivity after their capture of Picard/Locutus.

Pinsky then turns to a discussion of the cyborg as a hybrid entity able to bridge Dasein and Other. The early part of this section looks at two examples of anime: Akira (1989) and Ghost in the Shell (1995). Both of these films, on some level, examine the interaction of humans and technology, with Ghost specifically looking at cyborgs and artificial intelligences. The discussion next moves to a rapid-fire consideration of David Cronenberg’s films. The result is something of a rush, but it serves the purpose of outlining how incredibly different characters and situations serve very similar purposes in showing how the subject, the other, and the Other interact.

The penultimate chapter uses the stories of Philip K. Dick as particular embodiments of the types of ethical presentation that sf can engender. VALIS (1981) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) provide specific examples. The discussion of VALIS is particularly intriguing, as the lines of subjectivity begin to blur as we realize that different characters are in fact sides of a single person, and as we wonder which parts of the text are discussing the character Phil as opposed to the author Philip K. Dick. Androids only seems to present a clearer sense of subject, but that too blurs as we question who is human. Pinsky’s final chapter returns to the structure laid out in his introduction. It looks back at the roadmap without being repetitious or redundant.

Pinsky’s style does not overburden itself with jargon, even when dealing with philosophical subjects. The book would be useful for scholars in a number of subfields of sf, particularly of the authors and films it covers as well as of the broader subjects of cyborg and alien fictions.

Regina Cross, University of Missouri


The Animal is Us.

Cary Wolfe. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Foreword by W.J.T. Mitchell. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003. xv + 237 pp. $49 hc; $18 pbk.

As the wordplay in the title suggests, Wolfe’s book is less about animals (and only incidentally about animal rights) but is instead about the uses to which animals have been and can be put by our culture. The book’s main concern is the way the figure of “the” animal as a singular category has been used to shore up the ruins of humanism in this posthuman age, returning stability and centrality to the humanist subject through the idea of a human essence discernable in species identity. Wolfe argues in his introduction that “there is no longer any good reason to take it for granted that the theoretical, ethical, and political question of the subject is automatically coterminous with the species distinction between Homo sapiens and everything else” (1), and further that the seeming outrageousness of such a claim only confirms how much we “remain humanists to the core, even as we claim for our work an epistemological break with humanism itself” (1). While Wolfe doesn’t engage with what I would call science fiction texts in his analysis (the marginal exception being Michael Crichton’s Congo [1980]), the value of his theoretical framework for sf scholars is quite substantial. Where better to explore philosophical implications of challenges to the boundary between Homo sapiens and “everything else” than in a genre that has long perceived this boundary to be permeable?

The book is organized into two sections that might be termed “theory” and “practice,” and approximately equal space is devoted to each. In his introduction, Wolfe develops his “discourse of species” and traces how the concept of the animal as Other has long been the foundation for our very definitions of what it means to be human, and how new developments in science have consistently eroded the criteria by which this boundary has been policed. As Wolfe notes, Haraway’s influential “Cyborg Manifesto” (1985) asks us to rethink our subjectivities based on ruptures in the boundary between humans and animals as well as due to fusions of humans with machines. Wolfe suggests, and I agree, that we must pay attention to the different ways the human/animal boundary signifies because “the figure of the ‘animal’ in the West (unlike, say, the robot or the cyborg) is part of a long cultural and literary history stretching back at least to Plato and the Old Testament” (6). The central theoretical claim of Animal Rites is that this discourse of speciesism has allowed our theories of the subject to retain a category of those who don’t fully count as subjects. Thus, Wolfe argues, “as long as this humanist and speciesist structure of subjectivization remains intact, and as long as it is institutionally taken for granted that it is all right to systematically exploit and kill nonhuman animals simply because of their species, then the humanist discourse of species will always be available for use by some humans against other humans as well, to countenance violence again the social other of whatever species—or gender, or race, or class, or sexual difference” (8).

This is a philosophical and theoretical rather than a literary book. Wolfe mainly engages in critiquing the concept of the subject and developing a theory of ethics consistent with taking seriously the contention that the category of the subject need not be limited to Homo sapiens. The first chapter examines Luc Ferry’s The New Ecological Order (1995), a work that critiques the totalitarianism inherent in radical ecology, and two ethical works on animal rights, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (1975) and Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights (1983). In each of these, Wolfe diagnoses a persistence of humanist values and a failure to acknowledge that the very defenses for animal rights or the environment that each puts forward is premised on the same Enlightenment values that require a distinction between the human and the animal in order to create the possibility of ethics.

In his second chapter, Wolfe outlines a tradition from Wittgenstein through Derrida that he argues creates a space for a truly postmodern or posthumanist concept of the subject and a ground for an ethical system that isn’t premised on a category of those to whom an ethical duty is not owed. Wolfe traces a philosophical tradition of defining ethics and “the” human through those criteria that exclude animals from both discourses. The question of the animal’s ability to use language, to respond in a way that signifies intelligence, is central to this tradition. Wolfe eventually arrives (through Kant, Heidegger, Levinas, Wittgenstein, Lyotard, and Derrida) at a call for us to disarticulate the concepts of language and species. Thus, we arrive at a new concept of what language is, one that “entails showing how the difference in kind between human and animal that humanism constitutes on the site of language may instead be thought of as a difference in degree on a continuum of signifying processes disseminated in a field of materiality, technicity, and contingency, of which ‘human’ ‘language’ is but a specific, albeit highly refined instance” (79). Turning next to Maturana and Varela’s work on autopoesis—familiar to sf scholars from N. Katherine Hayles’s cogent use of it in How We Became Posthuman (1999)—Wolfe then suggests that we need to extend our concept of what the speaking subject is from simply the biological organism to that organism’s situation within and interaction with its environment.

In the second section of the book, Wolfe uses his revised ideas about the relationships among the subject, language, and ethics to produce readings of the species discourse evident in three texts: Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden (1986), and Michael Crichton’s Congo. Throughout this section, the further development of the theory of the subject takes precedence over interpreting the text at hand. Although I don’t feel that this order of priorities diminishes the importance of Wolfe’s book, it is clearly a work in which readings of specific primary texts are at the service of the author’s theoretical concerns. Watching The Silence of the Lambs, he argues, teaches us that “the ostensibly ‘pure’ categories of ‘animalized animal’ and ‘humanized human’ are the merest ideological fictions” (101) because the character of Hannibal Lecter is able to occupy both sides of this supposed binary simultaneously. The film explores what Derrida has called—in his essay “Eating Well” (1991)—the “sacrificial structure” of our subjectivity. Derrida argues that animals are sacrificed in place of humans in order to reinforce the species boundary and allow us to express our murderous, yet denied, desire to destroy the Other. Lecter’s cannibalism refuses to respect this boundary, yet he doesn’t lose his humanity as measured via other markers, such as intelligence or aesthetic sensibilities.

Wolfe provides a similar analysis of Hemingway’s last—and unpublished at his death—novel, a novel that is about a young man’s struggle to become a “real man” by moving beyond his resentment of his father for the slaughter of an elephant on a hunting trip and beyond his desire to play games with gender in his romantic relationship. Wolfe argues that the novel’s linking of these two obstacles to David’s development demonstrates the degree to which speciesism is structurally and philosophically connected to other hierarchies of subjectivity. The protagonist David needs to learn to give up both his cross-species identification with the murdered elephant and his cross-gender identification with Catherine in order to become a “man.” In this chapter in particular, Wolfe’s analysis makes it clear that his primary focus is on what the cultural texts might tell us about the limitations of psychoanalytic theories of the subject rather than on what a revised theory of subjectivity might reveal about the text at hand. Wolfe argues that David’s experience of cross-category identifications reveals “the way the fantasy of such a truth [of the other] covers over the failure of the symbolic to confer consistency upon the subject” (158). A more useful theory of the subject, Wolfe suggests, might be found in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “becoming animal” in A Thousand Plateaus (1987), which recognizes that the subject is always-already multiple.

The final chapter on Crichton’s Congo continues to develop Wolfe’s framework for thinking about subjectivity in terms of multiplicity rather than identity. In Crichton’s novel, the degree to which the human/animal species distinction is intertwined with cultural and racial hierarchies is revealed by the confusion of categories. On the animal side, we have the “good” captive gorilla, Amy, and also the dangerous grey gorillas who guard Mount Mukenko. The human side technically includes the party of scientists and the “primitive” cannibalistic Kigani tribe. The narrative makes clear, however—through its parallel defeats of the grey gorillas by Amy using technology and of the Kigani by the scientists using technology—that the boundary has more to do with colonial divisions between the First and Third worlds than with species. Amy is more human than the Kigani precisely because she is able to act like the colonizer rather than the colonized.

Finally, Wolfe’s conclusion returns to his theoretical concern with ethics. He argues that “the operative theories and procedures we now have for articulating the social and legal relations between ethics and action are inadequate … for thinking about the ethics of the question of the human as well as the nonhuman animal” (192, emphasis in original). Wolfe calls for us to find a way to theorize ethics beyond the “bad-faith repressions and disavowals of humanism” (193) and posits Zygmunt Bauman’s Postmodern Ethics (1993) as a promising text because it moves beyond ethical models based in reciprocity or the idea of contracts.

The strength of this work clearly lies in its informed and extended engagement with postmodern theories of subjectivity. Its chief weakness, as I noted above, is that its readings of particular texts are concerned almost exclusively with how they illuminate problems of subjectivity rather than with features of the texts themselves. No rationale is offered, for example, about why a film, a canonical text, and a popular text are chosen for the project. Versions of each of the “practice” chapters were originally published as individual essays elsewhere, which may well have something to do with their lack of relation to one another except on the level of theoretical concerns. Readers of SFS may in particular be distressed by the lack of true sf texts in Wolfe’s analysis and his attendant failure to acknowledge the substantial history of sf scholarship and writing on the subject of nonhuman others and how they figure into our ethical systems.

Despite the book’s failure to position itself within the tradition of sf scholarship, I think that it has much to offer those of us who do work in the field. Sf writers have long struggled to recognize and convey sentience and other communicative capacities among those whom we do not recognize as subjects like ourselves, and with theorizing the possibilities for ethical relationships between “the” human and such others. There is a small but evident stream of sf that specifically figures this representation of alterity as an analogy for our relationship to animal others. Novels such as Anne McCaffery’s Decision at Doona (1969) or Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark (1984), for example, characterize their aliens as animals, but animals whom we must acknowledge as subjects. Other works, such as David Brin’s Uplift series (1980-98), ask us to imagine a future in which our relation to intelligent animal species on our planet exists within a continuum that includes other relationships among various alien species and between us and such aliens. Wolfe’s careful and thorough account of the philosophical grounding of our concept of “the” animal and the way in which rethinking it allows us to rethink “the” human provides an exciting theoretical framework through which to read these and other sf texts. While Animal Rites is a challenging read, it raises an important ethical question about alterity, a question already central to sf. Thus, it seems to me essential that sf critics rise to the challenge of Wolfe’s conclusion and show what sf has to contribute to the debate about subjectivity, language, ethics, and speciesism. While Animal Rites may not contribute to the study of sf, it provides the tools to do so.

Sherryl Vint, St. Francis Xavier University


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