Science Fiction Studies

#10 = Volume 3, Part 3 = November 1976

 

 

Notes, Reports, and Correspondence

Two Essays SFS Would Have Liked to Publish. Donald M. Hassler, in "Erasmus Darwin and Enlightenment Origins of Science Fiction," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century #153(1976):1045-56, suggests that Buffon, Hume, and the elder Darwin sought in the study of nature for clarity and order but found instead infinite fecundity and bewildering diversity and so adopted in defense a rhetorical stance similar to that advocated for SF by Gerald Heard in his essay in Reginald Bretnor's Modern Science Fiction (US 1953), a stance that gave their work "an ironic, comic tone that only recent science fiction has managed to recapture with its exuberant, sexy, camp presentations of the most daring speculation." This association of the emergence of SF (or one kind of SF) with attitudes developed during the Enlightenment is challenging and stimulating, but Professor Hassler has opened a door rather than made a case, for we would need to examine a number of earlier writers in this light as well as give some thought to just how important this "ironic, comic tone" actually is in modern SF.                

Working with concepts not dissimilar to those in Hassler's highly abstract essay, Roy Arthur Swanson, in "Love is the Function of Death: Forster, Lagerkvist, and Zamyatin," Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, Spring 1976, pp 197-211, gives us a richly detailed study of "the counterpoint of the idiomatic and the literal" in the fantasy and SF of his authors, mathematicized in terms of functions (relations between variables), leading up to an extensive examination of the mathematics of We, which abounds in relationships that can be formulated in such equations as L = f(D). He thus has a solid basis for concluding with such generalizations as "Forster, Lagerkvist, and Zamyatin, with the works they published in the first quarter of the twentieth century, have broken ground for much subsequent existentialist fiction, antiheroic literature, serious science fiction, 'dystopian literature,' and most importantly, literature which incorporates the other arts and sciences, not as embellishments but as inherent complements" and "When literature and science...are brought together in a literary work, such that each inherently complements the other, literature is the function of its complement." —RDM.

 

That Early Coinage of "Science Fiction." I read with interest the note by Brian Aldiss in SFS #9, p 213, "On the Age of the Term'Science Fiction."' I don't know when Aldiss made his "discovery," but now that you have published it, I think proper credit should go for first publication to John Eggeling, owner of Phantasmagoria Books, London, who quoted the sentence containing "Science-Fiction" in his listing of Wilson's book in his July 1975 catalogue, Phantasmagoria Books, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Catalogue 12. I own a copy of the book, and am including a review of its Chapter 10 in a work in progress, as follows:

While it is known that in the 20th century Hugo Gernsback coined the term "science fiction," tried to trademark it, and most certainly popularized it, it was in 1851, while Jules Verne was struggling to find himself, that the earliest use of the term so far uncovered appeared. In that year a little book with the long title A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject, written by William Wilson, was published in London by Darton & Co. The author was a poet whose verse had appeared in a number of British magazines and would eventually be collected in a volume called Gathering Together in 1860. He had previously gained modest notoriety for the publication in Hood's Magazine and in hardcover in 1848 of A House for Shakspeare, a Proposition for the Consideration of the Nation, followed in 1849 by A House for Shakspeare, the Second and Concluding Paper Containing a Review of the Reception of the First.                

In A Little Earnest Book he has a series of well-written essays on the role of the poet and his work, the contribution of the poet to civilization, and the relationship of poetry to philosophy, religion, and most particularly science. The title of Chapter 10 of the book is "Science-Fiction—R.M. Horne's Poor Artist—Notice of the Same (A Foot Note)—The Modern Discoveries and Application of Science—The Electric Telegraph—Phrenology." He leads off the chapter by saying: "Fiction has lately been chosen as a means of familiarizing science in one single case only, but writh great success. It is by the celebrated dramatic Poet, R.H. Horne, and is entitled 'The Poor Artist; or, Seven Eye-sights and One Object.' We hope it will not be long before we have other works of Science-Fiction, as we believe such books likely to fulfill a good purpose, and create an interest, where, unhappily, science alone might fail."              

Here he gives a definition of "science-fiction" that might apply today: "Campbell says, that 'Fiction in poetry is not the reverse of truth, but her soft and enchanting resemblance.' Now this applies especially to Science-Fiction, in which the revealed truths of Science may be given interwoven with a pleasing story which may itself be poetical and true—thus circulating a knowledge of the Poetry of Science clothed in a garb of the Poetry of Life."                

He then, in a long footnote, reviews The Poor Artist by Richard Henry Home (1882-1884). In that story six creatures—a bee, ant, spider, robin, and cat—have seen a strange object and describe it to the artist. Each description is so radically different from the others as to be almost unrecognizable. When the artist investigates, he discovers that they have all been giving their interpretation of a "shining golden sovereign, covered with bright dew drops." The moral is that each creature sees things in its own way; a sort of poetic anticipation of the study of semantics. The story is obviously a fable and not what we would today consider science fiction, except that the author has blended a "charming and naive mixture of poetic imagination and scientific fact," the science obtained mostly from the books of the biologist Professor Richard Owen, to whom the volume is dedicated.                

This early use of the word "science-fiction" (hyphenated) would not only have been a landmark but useful to Verne in later years had The Poor Artist been uncontestably such a work and had not Wilson further singularized it by calling it "the only book of its kind." However, that he was groping towards something like science fiction must be admitted when later in the chapter he states: "The Modern discoveries and applications of Science, throw deeply into the shade the old romances and fanciful legends of our boyhood. The Arabian Nights' Entertainments—The Child's Fairy Tales—Oberon and Titania—The Child's Own Book—are all robbed of their old wonder by the many marvels of modem science. The Magnetic Needle—which has grown into the almost Omnipresent Electric Telegraph—has more magic about its reality, than the wildest creations of child-fiction and legend have in their ideality."                

Before Jules Verne, the world would call what we today term "science fiction" what it would, whenever such stories appeared, since there were no specialists of merit consistently writing them. As Jules Verne moved into the approaches that would bring him unprecedented success, a name would have to be decided upon for these special stories, and despite William Wilson and A Little Earnest Book Upon a Great Old Subject, that initial term would not be "science fiction." —Sam Moskowitz.

 

That Little Earnest Book in Foundation. Even as we go to press, there arrives from England Foundation #10, which leads off with "William Wilson's Prospectus for Science Fiction: 1851," by Brian M. Stableford, who treats A Little Earnest Book at greater length and in more detail than does Sam Moskowitz above. Among other good things, the issue also contains responses at some length by Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, and James G. Ballard to an article in the previous issue by Peter Nicholls, "Jerry Cornelius at the Atrocity Exhibition: Anarchy and Entropy in New Worlds Science Fiction 1964-1974," so if you subscribe to Foundation on the basis of this note ($7.50 US or Canadian, to The Science Fiction Foundation, North East London Polytechnic, Longbridge Road, Essex RM8 2AS), I suggest that you ask for your subscription to begin with #9. —RDM.

 

SFS in Quarber Merkur. Also just arrived are two fat issues of Franz Rottensteiner's Quarber Merkur (ein Abonnement für 4 Nummern DM 12,—; H.J. Alpers, D-285 Bremerhaven 1, Weissenburger Str. 6, West Germany), which issue by issue makes me wish I had made a sufficient effort to retain my undergraduate German. But I can, with the aid of a dictionary, spell out a sentence or two, and so take as a compliment the last sentence of a note surveying the contents of SFS #9: "Trotz aller Gründlichkeit — Science-Fiction Studies is zur Zeit und wohl auf lange Sicht die bei weitem beste und vielseitigste Zeitschrift über SF, die es irgendwo in der Welt gibt—ist es keineswegs ein langweiliges, gelehrtes Journal, sondern eine lebendige, fesselnd geshriebene Lektüre." In addition to several reviews by Rottensteiner, QM #44 contains articles by two other SF critics well known in this country, Robert Plank and Stanislaw Lem, an interview with James G. Ballard, two other major articles, and other reviews. —RDM.

 

Three Special Issues on Utopian Fiction. The criticism of literary utopias and of Utopian thought has in these last years experienced a considerable flowering, which by the way (as Frank P. Bowman notes in the issues of Littérature (discussed below) contrasts with an almost negligible production of contemporary utopian fiction.              

The Revue des Sciences Humaines #155 (Sept 1974) is devoted to "utopia" understood as a literary fact as distinguished from "utopianism" as a mode of theoretical praxis and a fact pertaining to the history of ideas. R. Trousson—well known for his earlier work on the myth of Prometheus and the classical "conjectural" genres—in his interesting article, "Utopie et roman utopique" attempts to clarify the typology of this genre and its neighbors—robinsonade (desert-island story), arcadia (pastoral), Golden Age story, Cockayne story, imaginary voyage—affirming that one can speak of a utopia "when, within a narrative framework, there is presented a community functioning on the basis of certain political, economical, moral principles which reproduce the complexities of a social existence, whether in a far-off space or time, or inserted within an imaginary voyage" (p 373). It will be noted that this definition does not take into consideration the type of deviation from the author's empirical world, e.g. whether it is better or worse.                

The issue as a whole is oriented toward literary theory and narrative semiotics or toward (in the articles by A. Cioranescu and J. Gury) historical erudition, and the works discussed almost exclusively the "classical" utopias of the Renaissance and 18th century. Other articles deal with various genological points, the "contract of believability" for utopias, and the status of the utopian narrator (a subtle and penetrating study by G. Benrekassa). A number of the contributions participate in the tendency of one stream of French literary criticism to treat literature as specific linguistic practices that have to be examined primarily for their immanent characteristics: a utopia is a "language," the product of a semantic manipulation, and—in the words of C.G. Dubois—a "fixional architecture" (with a pun on fictional vs fixational in the psychoanalytic sense).              

Littérature #21 (Feb 1976), "Lieux de l'Utopie" (i.e. "Places of Utopia"), presents a more heterogeneous group of texts than those in RSH, dealing also with utopia as a literary fact, but from a more interdisciplinary point of view and with a stronger proclivity toward a display of hypothetical theorizing. In "Utopie et atopie" J.N. Vaurnet rushes into an often elliptic and risky typological overview of utopianisms; utopia, so much given to classifications, seems to be itself menaced by hasty taxonomies! Frank R. Bowman, in "Utopie, imagination, espérance [hope]," deals with the present state of research in the field, juxtaposing especially the reflections of Northrop Frye, Ernst Bloch, and Judith Schlanger, and suggesting that there is an interesting similarity between utopia and autobiography, two paraliterary genres that transmit a subjective imaginary world by means of a social discourse. Louis Marin, in "Les Corps utopiques rabelaisiens," attempts, in a rapid study of Gargantua, to reverse the general critical tendency toward stressing the systematic nature of utopian "quasi-systems." He pleads for "Laisser du jeu" (with a pun on loose vs play), and seeks to show how utopian narration profits from lacunae, incoherence, fortuitous fantasy, word-play, centrifugal deviations, etc. He concludes that a utopia is "a regression of discourse to the libidinal signifier, liberated from the signified." On the other hand , G. Benrekassa very usefully abandons the merely immanent or formal analysis of utopian discourse in order to integrate it into the system of meanings of its time. He confronts, e.g., the utopian fiction of the 18th century with the "positive" political discourse of the same century, including that by political writers on utopia itself, ambiguously conceived as a "useful chimaera." Some of the articles deal with particular works: Michel Horinman applies an interesting serniotic model to the Peregrinacâo of Fernâo Mendes Pinto, 1614; E. Kaufholz writes on Schnabel's Insel Felsenburg, 1731; Michèle Duchet on Rousseau; and Pierre Barberis on Chateaubriand. An obscure text of the Freudian theoretician Catherine Clement, presenting the psychoanalytic cure as an atopia, concludes the issue.             

The purpose of "Marxism and Utopia," a special section, ed. Fredric Jameson, of The Minnesota Review #6 (Spring 1976), is "to reconsider the relationship of Marxism to utopian thought." In the first article, "'Utopian' and 'Scientific': Two Attributes for Socialism from Engels," Darko Suvin makes a perspicacious critique of the usual interpretation of Engels' famous essay Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, i.e. of the idea that "scientific" vs "utopian" is to be taken as an exclusive opposition of the Type A vs -A. Discussing the concept of scientificalness (Wissenschaftlichleit) that Engels could have historically held, Suvin attempts to return to and revalorize the utopian component of Marxism. The same tendency appears in the essays by Mark Poster (on Fourier), Jost Hermand (on Brecht), and Stephen Bronner (on Ernst Bloch, who with Mannheim is behind most of the contributions to this issue). In contrast to the other special issues reviewed here, the MR issue deals with utopian thought in the larger sense, as a mode of theoretical praxis. Louis Marin presents three "Theses on Ideology and Utopia," a very condensed attempt to define this whole field, starting from an initial thesis in the manner of Mannheim: "Utopia is an ideological critique of ideology." Jean Pfaelzer and Paul Buhle study some utopian elements in US fiction, the first dealing with 19th-century texts, and the second with H.P. Lovecraft, whose crepuscular vision is seen as pre- or para-socialist, which seems to be a rather risky view. —Marc Angenot.

 

Department of Information that Might Sometime Be of Use. In Kipling's "As Easy as ABC" the character De Forest is usually identified with/attributed to (e.g. in Conklin's 17 x Infinity collection) some relation or rather descendent of the Lee De Forest well known as a pioneer of wireless (radio). But the commanding officer of the world's first Air Force was Capt. Charles de Forest Chandler (Shell Book of Firsts, p 13). I think this is where Kipling got it from. —John Brunner.

 

2001. A Space Odyssey. For those of us who still aren't quite sure what happened in Space Odyssey, a vivid, "official" interpretation of Stanley Kubrick's film—as opposed to Arthur C. Clarke's somewhat different novel—is now available. It is an oversize comic book from Marvel Comics (84 p., $1.50), drawn by Jack Kirby, perhaps the most venerable and venerated artist in the comic-book trade. Unlike regular comics, these oversized issues are available by mail after they are sold off the newsstands—although at a higher price. Any current Marvel comic should have this information

 

Speaking of Comics. Arlington House has sent SFS The Comic-Book Book, edited by Don Thompson and Dick Lupoff (360 p., $8.95), and The Adventurous Decade: Comic Strips in the Thirties, by Ron Goulart (224p., $8.95). While nostalgia buffs will welcome these books, the only relevance to science fiction in either book is a single chapter of The Adventurous Decade, "That Buck Rogers Stuff," devoted to Brick Bradford, Flash Gordon, and Buck himself.

 

Information Wanted on Ubrary Collections. The forthcoming Science Fiction Reference Book, edited by Marshall Tymn, will be the first handbook and guide to the field-at-large. It will contain an appendix listing Library SF Collections. The aim of this listing is to collect total information in a single appendix. Therefore, it will include small, medium, and large collections, of both specialized and general content. Researchers or general readers may then discover that by using two or three libraries in their geographic range, they will have the information they seek. The appendix must be completed by December 15. Please send information and questions to Elizabeth Cummings Cogell, Dept. of Humanities; University of Missouri—Rolla; Rolla, Missouri 65401.

 

The H.G. Wells Society, after some months or years of inactivity, is now reorganized and functioning. Its journal, The Wellsian, has begun a new series in a more attractive format, under the editorship of J.P. Vernier; #1 contains articles by J.R. Hammond, J.P. Vernier, Patrick Parrinder, and Darko Suvin, with notes and reviews of recent scholarship on Wells. Membership dues are $4.00 a year, and should be sent to the Hon. General Secretary, H.G. Wells Society, 24 Wellin Lane, Edwalton, Nottingham, England. Members receive a newsletter as well as The Wellsian and can buy certain publications at a discount.

 

The Noreascon Proceedings. Academics curious about what goes on at the annual World Science Fiction Convention could not do better than order a copy of The Noreascon Proceedings, which includes transcripts of a number of panel discussions and papers presented at the 1971 Boston convention, from New England Science Fiction Association, Box G, MIT Branch Post Office, Cambridge MA 02139, for $12.00. It is an attractive hard-bound book, 8½x11, with 192 pages. A number of well-known SF writers participated in the panels: Ben Bova, Lester Del Rey, Robert Silverberg, Hal Clement, Joe Haldeman, John Brunner, Katherine MacLean, Isaac Asimov, Clifford Simak, Larry Niven, Terry Carr, Alexei Panshin, James Gunn, Bob Shaw, Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, and others. Academe was represented by Ivor Rogers, Virginia Carew, and Tom Clareson of the SFRA, as well as by academics in the sciences who participated in some of the panels. NESFA has also announced that its 1966-1975 index to the SF magazines and "original" anthologies is in progress. An interim index for 1975 is available for $4.50 (nothing is said about the other indexes for years since 1965, which are perhaps out of print). Other publications are also available from NESFA: ask for a list.

 

A Science-Fiction Calendar. A 1977 calendar, 10x13 (when hung, 10x26) reproducing in full color 13 SF magazine covers (only one duplicating any in the recent SF picture books) has been published by Scribner's at $4.95. Preface and notes by Sam Moskowitz. The monthly pages have figures large enough to be seen from some distance, and space enough to note an appointment or two for each day. The 13 covers include one by Brown (the frequently reproduced "Ark of Space"), one by Kerberger, two by Emshwiller, three by Finlay, and six by Paul.

 

The Mervyn Peake Society. Dues for membership in the society, which includes subscription to The Mervyn Peake Review, are $6.00 a year. Address Marilyn Brooks, 35 Derwent Road, Ipswich, Suffolk IP3 OQR, England. The Review is edited by G. Peter Winnington, Les 3 Chasseurs, 1411 Orzens, Vaud, Switzerland.... The TLS for Aug 27 has a review of a new biography, Mervyn Peake, by John Watney, published by Michael Joseph.

 

Science Fiction Book Review Index. Copies of Volume 6, indexing 3101 reviews of 1474 books published in 1975, may be obtained for $4.00 each from the compiler, H.W. Hall, 3608 Meadows Oaks Lane, Bryan TX 77801.

 

Shadows of the Imagination: The Fantasies of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams, ed. Mark R. Hillegas, first published in 1969, is now available in paperback for $2.95 from Southern Illinois University Press (or from Feffer & Simmons, London and Amsterdam).

 

MLA Special Session: Sociology of Science Fiction will be held at the MLA Annual Meeting in New York City on December 29 from 11:00 am to 12:15 pm in room Madison A of the New York Hilton hotel. Discussion leader is Darko Suvin, McGill University, to whom requests for attendance and resumes should be addressed before December 9. Papers to be presented: Charles Elkins, "The Social Functions of American SF: Some Notes on Methodology"; Frederick Pohl, "The Economic Basis and Social Horizons of an SF Opus: Mine"; Albert I. Berger, "Reflections on the Socio-Economic Profile of SF Fans." First Discussant: H. Bruce Franklin.

 

Contributors new to SFS in this issue: WILLIAM B. FISCHER, Emory University; GEORGE LOCKE, proprietor of Ferret Fantasy, London; CHRISTIE V. MCDONALD, University of Montreal; SAM MOSKOWITZ, whose new book, Strange Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction, has just been published by Scribner's (if one may use the present perfect when writing in September for November of October); JOE SANDERS, Lakeland Community College, Ohio; LYMAN TOWER SARGENT, UM St. Louis; DAVID WINSTON, UC Berkeley.


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