Science Fiction Studies
#111 = Volume 37, Part 2 = July 2010
NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE
Crash: Homage to J.G. Ballard. The leading private gallery Gagosian held an impressive exhibition in memory of the author J.G. Ballard at their King’s Cross London space this spring (11 February - 1 April 2010). The show was organized with the full participation of Clare Walsh, Ballard’s surviving partner, and Fay and Bea Ballard, his daughters, and brought together the work of over fifty major artists. Ballard died in April 2009, and the speedy appearance of this exhibition shows both the depth of feeling in reaction to his death and the nimbleness of a powerful private gallery in opening up its space for this homage. Public galleries have to plan years ahead, and small private galleries in a recession have to think about profits: Gagosian is a big enough brand to give six weeks over to a non-commercial show.
A previous exhibition on Ballard and art, organized in 2008 at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and titled “Autopsy of the New Millennium,” has already established Ballard’s importance to the visual arts. In a crucial way, however, the Gagosian show has been the first to test how enduring Ballard’s reputation will be, how his extraordinary work will henceforth be framed, and how we will grasp the meanings of the adjective “Ballardian.”
The exhibition had its highs and lows, mixing the expected and inspired in equal parts. Press reviews in England were mixed. The entire space of Gagosian’s large gallery, located in an old industrial building near King’s Cross station, was given over to the exhibition, which filled a large lobby area and three substantial rooms. The sense of ambition was announced in the first found object encountered in the lobby, the life-size front undercarriage assembly of a Boeing 747, which forms part of Adam McEwen’s installation, Honda Team Facial. The first room was centered on Richard Prince’s Elvis, a shell of a car mounted on a pedestal; and it was possible to pass into the second room through Mike Nelson’s Triple Bluff Canyon installation, a constructed lobby space of studied and menacing banality, with a proliferation of false doors and fire exits. The third room was darkened to allow the video projection of the Wilson sisters’ video piece, Proton Launchpad, and to let Mike Kelley’s glorious table-top resin sculptures (each called City and inspired by readings of Ballard’s The Crystal World ) glow in the half-light. The catalogue listed another 170 individual paintings or photographs. These included major iconic pieces with a breathtaking range and depth: the Surrealists Hans Bellmer, Salvador Dali, and Paul Delvaux, the Pop Artists Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, and contemporary works by such international figures as Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst. It was impressive indeed to bring such major works together at such speed, many so patently and complexly in dialogue with Ballard’s work.
Without chronological sequencing or any discernable thematic organization (and with no wall-mounted labeling), viewers were forced into parsing this visual array with their own resources. One route through the rooms was to pick out those artists who strongly influenced Ballard. A perfectly chosen Giorgio de Chirico painting (Piazza d’Italia con Arianna), a late Delvaux (Le Canapé Bleu), a single Man Ray photograph, and small etchings by Dali and Bellmer neatly covered the array of Surrealist inspiration in Ballard’s early stories and disaster fictions from the 1960s. Similarly, Richard Hamilton’s proto-Pop Hers is a Lush Situation and Francis Bacon’s Still Life, Broken Statue and Shadow each hinted at some of the postwar English developments that Ballard sought out in the era when Modernist abstraction was being codified as approved taste. Another grouping features artists of the same generation as Ballard: sharing the same historical and aesthetic pressures, they can be seen as working in uncanny parallel with the distinctive vision of Ballard’s fiction. In the lobby were several prints by a friend of Ballard’s, the formative Pop Artist Eduardo Paolozzi. They look like blueprints for The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), a book Ballard sometimes dreamed of presenting on advertising hoardings. Both men shared the same collage aesthetic, using the same materials from American popular culture. Malcolm Morley’s The Age of Disaster has a similar Ballardian sensibility.
Scattered through the exhibition were samples of the American Pop Art that Ballard responded to so strongly: Ray Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha. The curators evidently hoped to convey thematic resonances in each piece, but with some selections the choices felt forced. Ruscha’s late Fountain of Crystal relies on a literal echo, where his earlier monumental celebrations of Los Angeles architectural landscapes are the more obvious point of parallel with Ballard. Warhol’s Death and Disaster series is another uncanny parallel project from the 1960s, although the showing of just one screen-print canvas, Green Disaster, fails to work on its own: serial repetition is the whole point of both Warhol’s project and Ballard’s found-fictions in The Atrocity Exhibition. Meanwhile, Helmut Newton’s nudes, three images from the mid-1970s of models in leg-casts or plastic neck-braces for spinal injuries, could just as well have been interleaved as illustrations to Crash. This does not mean that they are any good: one can be fairly sure Newton possessed none of the “terminal irony” that Ballard deployed in this arena.
A more complex group to assess was the contemporary art presented by Gagosian as registering the influence of Ballard. There are undoubtedly some contemporary artists who are steeped in Ballard, or in a hazier way share an interest in the Ballardian. Dan Holdsworth’s photographs of empty urban freeways, service zones, and shopping malls have always been inconceivable without Ballard. Douglas Gordon’s interests similarly overlap with Ballard’s: here, images of Jayne Mansfield and James Dean, their faces burnt out and replaced with silver, work through the matrix of Ballard’s fiction of the 1970s. Roger Hiorns has for the last few years been transmogrifying objects with fast-growing copper sulphate crystals. This exhibition included his car engine dipped in the solution, but it was really a stand-in for Seizure, his recent site-specific work in London, which transformed a whole abandoned public housing flat into an environment that got very close to imagining the wonderland of The Crystal World. Tacita Dean’s films and photographs of abandoned architectures or her mixed-media meditations on the life of Donald Crowhurst (a Ballardian figure if ever there was one, a fantasist who began faking his position in a round-the-world yacht race and eventually committed suicide with the last message, “It is the mercy”) are another instance of directly shared obsessions; sadly, there was space for only one photograph from a project Ballard had reviewed favorably. Jane and Louise Wilson, who mount complex split-screen video explorations of abandoned technological sites (such as nuclear facilities, Cold War bunkers, and rusting space-race technologies in America and Russia), choose locations emblematic of modern and future ruins, an important subset of the Ballardian sensibility.
Yet many of the works included in Crash did not fit quite so well and risked dispersing the focus of the exhibition. The problems began at the front door with McEwen’s Honda Team Facial, this brute chunk of a 747. The piece is crushingly obvious in every sense and revealed a painful literalism in running with the shock possibilities of the sex, death, and technological matrix of Ballard’s Crash (1973). More broadly, the exhibition need not have been organized around Ballard’s most notorious book, but the curators took the line of least resistance in going for controversy, prompting a strand of literal car-crash art and also bringing out the worst in superficial bad-boy celebrations of nihilism and visual pornography. Damien Hirst, having shown in this Gagosian space several times, gets two bites of the cherry: the juvenile When Logics Die installation (documentary photographs of catastrophic head injuries above an autopsy table) and the simply incompetent painting of Suicide Bomber (Aftermath), depicting a damaged car smeared with blood. Elsewhere, in the lobby, Jake and Dinos Chapman continued their exercise in taking major art and scrawling their minor graffiti over it by issuing a limited edition of the novel Crash, the text chewed up as if by a virus or terrible software transfer. The novel, thoroughly interfered with and re-functioned as art object, becomes BangWallop by J & D Ballard and is piled in a block of a thousand copies, your very own edition to take away for £20. Other works seemed lazily included because they were concerned with sex and prosthesis: among these were photographs by Cindy Sherman, John Hilliard, and Jemima Stehli. Some were vaguely science fictional, such as a vast painting by Glenn Brown and a conceptual installation by Cerith Wyn Evans. Brown’s elaborate pastiche of a Chris Foss sf cover from the 1970s had little to do with Ballard and much more to do with the fact that he has had successful shows at Gagosian in recent years. I developed a mildly bitter taste at this strategic placing of Gagosian clients in the exhibition.
A final group included works inserted mysteriously, without any obvious connection to the exhibition theme. I was not clear why paintings by Jenny Saville or George Shaw or photographs by Cyprien Gaillard were included. There could be fewer Carsten Höller sculptures in the world. That last untenable grouping left me thinking about what was missing. Ballard’s fictions of the 1960s have truly extraordinary affinities with the found-footage films of the San Francisco artist Bruce Conner, but these were absent—the moving image was almost entirely absent. There was a mutual exchange of influence between Ballard and Robert Smithson that deserves exploration. The Ballardian spaces of empty modernity have been captured by the New German Photography, but there was nothing from Bernd and Hilla Bechers or Andreas Gursky. There was also no acknowledgment of another very English line of visionary painters from William Blake to Stanley Spencer, vital influences on the lush imaginings of Ballard’s Unlimited Dream Company (1979).
The Short Career of Calvin M. Knox. Calvin M. Knox first appeared on the sf scene in 1958, writing book reviews for the British magazine Science Fiction Adventures and stories in such short-lived pulps as Original Science Fiction Stories and Super Science Fiction. In 1958, half of an Ace Double, Lest We Forget Thee Earth, which consisted of three novelettes, was Knox’s first book. This was followed a year later by The Plot Against Earth, also part of an Ace Double. Knox did not publish again until 1964—another Ace Double titled One of Our Asteroids is Missing. And then he disappeared—the name, at least, if not the writer. For Calvin M. Knox was one of Robert Silverberg’s many pen names.
Silverberg has explained to fans at conventions and on his Yahoo Group, “The Worlds of Robert Silverberg,” that the pseudonym was created when fellow sf writer Judith Merril told him that he would never sell to John Campbell at Astounding Science Fiction with a “Jewish-sounding” last name. This inspired Silverberg to come up with the most Protestant name he could conjure: Calvin M. Knox. Knox sold to Campbell.
From 1959 to 1965, the sf and crime pulp markets were in decline. Silverberg focused instead on softcore erotic novels written under the names Don Elliott, John Dexter, David Challon, Mark Ryan, and Loren Beauchamp; these were published by Nightstand, Bedtime, and Midwood Books. He also produced faux sexology studies writing as L.T. Woodward, M.D. (Belmont and Monarch Books), and as Walter Drummond he wrote a biography of the Marquis de Sade and a self-help guide on managing money. (Regency Books, edited by Harlan Ellison, was Drummond’s publisher.) Under his own name, Silverberg also wrote a series of archeology and history titles for young readers.
Like many sf authors, Silverberg would use a pen name to disguise his production of multiple stories for a single magazine. In such cases, Silverberg often used Ziff-Davis house-names such as Ivar Jorgensen. He utilized some half dozen pen names for Imagination SF, for which he often wrote entire issues because he had a $500-a-month contract to mass produce fiction.
Knox was not a completely secret faux-identity. Writing as Knox, Silverberg published a short story, “The Silent Invaders,” in the October 1958 issue of Infinity Science Fiction, but in 1963 he expanded the story into a novel for Ace under his real name. A year later, One of our Asteroids is Missing was Silverberg’s farewell publication under Knox, a pen name that had served him well.—Michael Hemmingson, University of California, San Diego
2010-11 Mullen Fellows Announced. The second annual R.D. Mullen Research Fellows have been selected. The fellowship is funded by SFS in honor of our late founding editor to support archival research in the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature at UC-Riverside. The committee— chaired by me and consisting of Andrea Bell, Neil Easterbrook, Brooks Landon, and Veronica Hollinger—reviewed a number of excellent applications.
Gerry Canavan is a PhD student in Literature at Duke University. His dissertation studies how science fiction over the course of the twentieth century has been implicated in the political discourses surrounding modernity and empire. He has published articles and reviews in journals such as Polygraph and Reviews in Cultural Theory and is currently coediting a special issue of American Literature on “SF, Fantasy, and Myth.” He plans to visit UC-Riverside for ten days to research the work of Philip K. Dick, Gregory Benford, and David Brin, examining the extensive collection of manuscripts by Benford and Brin held in the Eaton Collection.
David Higgins is a PhD student in English at Indiana University. His dissertation, “The Inward Urge: 1960s Science Fiction and Imperialism,” considers how New Wave SF responded to the waves of decolonization that marked the postwar period, in many cases recuperating imperial ideologies rather than critiquing them. He has published reviews in SFS, The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and Science Fiction Film and Television. He will spend one to two weeks exploring the Eaton’s run of Science-Fantasy magazine, published during the mid-1960s, to see how New Worlds’s erstwhile sibling publication developed its own “imaginary of Empire.”
Taryne Jade Taylor is a PhD student in English at the University of Iowa. Her research focuses on women’s sf, especially proto-feminist utopian writings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She has published an article in the journal Mythlore and has presented her work at numerous conferences, including the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, the Mythopoeic Conference, and WisCon. She will spend two weeks at UC-Riverside reading rare Victorian-Edwardian utopian novels by women, some of which are held in fewer than a half-dozen research libraries worldwide.
I want to thank my committee for their help in vetting the applications and am looking forward to meeting this year’s Mullen Fellows as they arrive on campus to explore the rich resources of the Eaton Collection.—Rob Latham, SFS
Science Fiction Research Association 2010 Awards. As always, this year’s SFRA award winners are a distinguished group. Eric Rabkin has received the Pilgrim Award for Lifetime Contributions to SF and Fantasy Studies. Allison de Fren’s article “The Anatomical Gaze in Tomorrow’s Eve” (SFS 36.2 [July 2009]: 235-65) has been named best essay of the year in sf/fantasy studies, receiving the Pioneer Award. Dave Mead has been recognized with the Clareson Award for his distinguished service to the sf/fantasy field, and the Mary Kay Bray Award for best contribution to the SFRA Review has been given to Ritch Calvin for “Mundane SF 101.” For “Such Delight in Bloody Slaughter: R.A. Lafferty and the Dismemberment of the Body Grotesque,” Andrew Ferguson has been honored with the Student Paper Award. Warmest congratulations to the excellent selection of winners this year!—Lisa Yaszek, President, SFRA
Staging Dhalgren. In April 2010, Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren (1975) was adapted by multimedia auteur Jay Scheib for a sold-out run at The Kitchen (April 1-3 and 8-10), an off-off Broadway venue in Manhattan’s Chelsea district.Titled Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, the work is part two of Scheib’s “Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems” trilogy. Featuring actors, dance, and live video, Bellona—in which the Kid (played by Sarita Choudhury) is recast as female—received a favorable review from Claudia La Rocco in the New York Times:
A review by Jo Walton posted on the Tor blog also was favorable, although highlighting some changes in focus that followed from casting a woman as the Kid. Another caveat involved the stage production’s suppression of science fictional elements: “All the things that make Dhalgren take place in the vague future—the holograms, the orchids, the chain with prisms and mirrors and lenses—were left out. Instead of science fiction’s promise of answers just out of sight, the play gave us magic realism, or maybe magic surrealism.” Nonetheless, said Walton, “It was Dhalgren, and I’m very glad I saw it” (<http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/04/review-lemgbellona-destroyer-of-citieslemg-the-play-of-samuel-delanys-lemgdhalgrenlemg>). Delany participated in a post-show discussion on April 3.—Carol McGuirk, SFS
Black Coat Press Launches “Best of French Science Fiction.” Black Coat Press is launching an extensive program of translations of classic and contemporary works of French sf and fantasy, spearheaded by award-winning writer and translator Brian Stableford under the editorship of Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier. Among the list of titles to be released in 2010 are a five-volume series of works by Maurice Renard and a six-volume series of works by J.-H. Rosny Aîné, best known to English-speaking audiences for The Hands of Orlac (1924) and Quest for Fire (1909), respectively. Additional classics by André Couvreur, Henri Falk, Jules Lermina, Gustave Le Rouge, José Moselli, Han Ryner, and Jacques Spitz are currently in the planning stage.
Contemporary authors to be translated include Kurt Steiner (a.k.a. André Ruellan), G.-J. Arnaud, Richard Bessière, André Caroff, and P.-J. Hérault. New editions of previously translated works by Gérard Klein and Michel Jeury are also planned. In total, over two dozen new translations will be released during 2010, an unprecedented effort in the history of genre publishing.
Among the proto- and golden-age French sf classics already released by Black Coat Press are such significant works as Félix Bodin’s The Novel of the Future (1834), Didier de Chousy’s Ignis (1883), C.I. Defontenay’s Star-Psi Cassiopeia (1854), Charles Derennes’s The People of the Pole (1907), Arthur Galopin’s Doctor Omega (1906), Octave Joncquel and Théo Varlet’s The Martian Epic (1921), Jean de La Hire’s Nyctalope novels (1911-21), Georges Le Faure and Henri de Graffigny’s The Extraordinary Adventures of a Russian Scientist across the Solar System (1888-96), Gustave Le Rouge’s The Vampires of Mars (1908), Jules Lermina’s Panic in Paris (1910), Henri de Parville’s An Inhabitant of the Planet Mars (1865), Gaston de Pawlowski’s Journey to the Land of the 4th Dimension (1912), and Albert Robida’s The Adventures of Saturnin Farandoul (1879) and Clock of the Centuries (1902). In addition, Black Coat has published two collections of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s stories, two collections of Sâr Dubnotal and Harry Dickson (based on the early twentieth-century pulp heroes), and two anthologies of ground-breaking proto-sf stories edited by Brian Stableford.
Contemporary works include two collections by Jean-Claude Dunyach, The Night Orchid (2004) and The Thieves of Silence (1992); a just published collection of stories by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier, Pacifica; Xavier Mauméjean’s award-winning novel The League of Heroes (2003); and Philippe Ward’s contemporary horror thriller, Artahe (1997).
Since its inception in the summer of 2003, Black Coat Press has been the foremost publisher of French sf and crime thrillers in the English language. A division of Hollywood Comics.com, Black Coat Press, named after Paul Féval’s nineteenth-century crime-thriller saga The Black Coats, is a small-press publisher based in Encino, CA, whose products are listed on the Bowker’s Books in Print index and Publishers Authority Database. Its books are produced by Lightning Source, a subsidiary of Ingram Industries. For further information see <http:// www.blackcoatpress.com>.—Jean Marc Lofficier, Encino, CA
Surrealism, Science Fiction, and Comic Books. In “Science Fiction and Allied Literature” (SFS 8.3 [Mar. 1976]: 71), David Ketterer wrote that “it is rather surprising that the considerable affinity which exists between Surrealism and sf has not attracted more attention.” Some years later, this observation was repeated by Roger Bozzetto and Arthur B. Evans, who lamented that the relations between Surrealism and science fiction “continue to be largely unexplored in sf scholarship,” and that “there currently exists no in-depth study of sf and Surrealism” (SFS 24.3 [Nov. 1997]: 438). The points of contact and areas of overlap, along with the influences, differences, and antagonisms among Surrealism, science fiction, and the related literature of the comic book will be explored in this conference, to be held Saturday, 22 January 2011 at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
Such observations take on extra force when we consider Surrealism’s historical context along with its literary and pictorial culture. Emerging in France between the two World Wars, it was well positioned to adapt the writings of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells that initiated and defined the genre boundaries of early sf; and also to reflect the popularization of the fourth dimension and the advent of the Theory of Relativity in sf of that era. At the same time, the writings of Alfred Jarry, Franz Kafka, and Raymond Roussel provided a related comic, absurd, or fantastic perspective on the machine and technology. Indeed, Roussel’s boundless admiration for Verne was equaled by the veneration felt for Roussel by Marcel Duchamp and Roberto Matta, expressed in their art between 1912 and the 1940s. Furthermore, one of the most important figures in early French sf, the almost forgotten Jacques Spitz, was close to the Surrealists during the 1930s; his books of the interwar years show a marked surrealist tendency. In the 1940s, Matta’s work was affected more specifically by the worlds described in science fiction and also by comic books, which were a significant discovery for André Breton and the surrealists in New York. Important to René Magritte’s art in the 1940s, comic books were also a key popular form for postwar Surrealism in Europe and America.
Because so little scholarship exists on how far the art and writings of Surrealists in the 1940s and since were affected by sf and comic books—for instance, the writings of Malcolm de Chazal were described by their English translator as “science fictions”—it is expected that postwar art and writings will form a significant strand of this conference, as will the investigation of how the project to expand reality (proposed by Surrealism) was extended by important sf writers such as Stanislaw Lem and J.G. Ballard as well as by such slipstream authors as Jorge Luis Borges, Alan Burns, and Thomas Pynchon.
Potential areas of exploration include the comic book as Surrealism’s subversive accomplice; physics, Surrealism, and fiction; the spaces of Surrealist painting and the sf imagination; legacies of Surrealism in contemporary comic books; the fourth dimension; Surrealist and science-fictional geographies; the gothic imagination; futurity in Surrealism and sf; and sf and Surrealism in the postmodern novel. Proposals of 300 words for papers lasting 30 minutes should be sent to <firstname.lastname@example.org> by 1 August 2010.—Gavin Parkinson, The Courtauld Institute
German Conference on the Fantastic. The deadline for paper proposals (10 May 2010) will have passed by the time this issue of SFS is in readers’ hands, but they will be interested to learn about a new conference based in Hamburg, Germany. The first annual meeting of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (Association for Research in the Fantastic, or GFF) will consider the topic of “Fremde Welten—Wege und Räume der Fantastik im 21. Jahrhundert” (Strange Worlds—Paths and Spaces of the Fantastic in the 21st Century). The host is the University of Hamburg and the dates are 30 September-3 October 2010. The Guest Scholar will be Darko Suvin and the Guest Author will be Paul Di Filippo.
The success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, the Wachowskis’ Matrix trilogy, and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films has put a worldwide spotlight on themes of the fantastic. In Anglo-American culture, this academic interest is guided by existing structures such as the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA) and the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA). In German culture, however, academics involved with the fantastic are without networks, organization, or affiliation. The Association for Research in the Fantastic (GFF) will link German-language scholarship in the fantastic with its international counterparts, reaching out to German-speaking scholars working in the field but also encouraging membership by international scholars working on the German-language fantastic. For further information, contact <email@example.com>.—Lars Schmeink, Universität Hamburg, Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
CFP: Jane Webb Loudon. This neglected figure is of interest to a range of research areas: speculative fiction, gardening, and the promotion of science and women’s education. Jane Webb Loudon (1807-1858) is best known for The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827) and Gardening for Ladies (1840). This conference, organized by the Association for Research in Popular Fictions, will focus on the life and work of Jane Webb Loudon. We seek papers from various disciplinary perspectives on fictional and nonfictional contributions by women to the formation of popular scientific awareness during the nineteenth century, and especially welcome proposals for contributions on women’s speculative and sf, Jane Webb Loudon’s circle, botany and horticulture, and children’s education. Readers of SFS may wish to address women’s positions and voices within late-Victorian sf (1850-1910), nineteenth-century sf, scientific writing, and the periodical press, representations of vivisection in women’s writing, and gender debates in sf. The conference will be held 27-28 June 2011; Trinity University, Leeds (UK) is the host. Keynote speakers will include Matthew Beaumont, Alan Rauch, Andy Sawyer, and Ann B. Shteir. Send 500-word abstracts to <firstname.lastname@example.org> with the subject line “Women and Science in the Nineteenth Century.” The deadline for abstracts is 1 August 2010. For further details see <www.arpf.org.uk> or follow us on <www.twitter.com/ arpfnews<.—Andy Sawyer, University of Liverpool
CFP: ICFA. The theme of the 32nd International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts will be “The Fantastic Ridiculous.” Guests of Honor will be Connie Willis and Terry Bisson; Andrea Hairston will be Guest Scholar. Along with papers on the conference theme, we welcome proposals on any aspect of the fantastic in any medium. The deadline for proposed papers is 31 October 2010. We encourage work from institutionally-affiliated scholars, independent scholars, international scholars who work in languages other than English, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Check for updates at the IAFA website <www.iafa.org>; submissions should be sent to Sherryl Vint <sherryl.vint @gmail. com>.—Crystal Black, Public Information Coordinator, IAFA
Special “International SF” Issue of World Literature Today. The May-June 2010 issue of World Literature Today, guest-edited by Chris McKitterick of the University of Kansas, is devoted to “International Science Fiction.” The debut of WLT in 1927, as editor-in-chief Daniel Simon points out, is coeval with the inauguration of sf as a pulp genre in the US, yet over the decades, WLT tended to marginalize and stigmatize sf, attending to it irregularly, “often with condescension.” Simon goes on to affirm that not only is sf a thriving global mode of writing today but “the eminence of [its] best ... authors is undisputed” (3). The conception of sf showcased here includes both genre-based authors and those aligned with forms of fabulation; “speculative fiction” is a better term, and Simon uses it and “science fiction” interchangeably. McKitterick, who contributes a guest editorial, focuses largely on the commercial US genre, providing an introduction geared for outsiders into its unique history. Supplementing this, James Gunn’s brief survey of “Science Fiction Around the World” condenses a tremendous amount of information into three double-columned pages. Showing how US-style sf has crossbred with “foreign” forms of fantastic writing over the past century, Gunn leaves us poised at a moment when “the American brand is shifting, as more writers from the mainstream pick up science-fiction tropes and as more writers from science fiction venture into the mainstream, often to considerable acclaim” (29).
This special issue suggests that the conventional dichotomy separating sf from “the mainstream” may need to be entirely rethought—what with China Miéville introducing (in a regular section focusing on “Emerging Authors”) an excerpt from a very strange book, Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (2008) by Iranian philosopher-novelist Reza Negarestani, and the inclusion of fiction by figures as diverse as Kij Johnson, George Zebrowski, Pamela Sargent, and Davor Slamnig (a Croatian writer whose eerie short story, “Meaning,” appears for the first time in English translation). As Lavie Tidhar, senior editor of the World SF News Blog, argues in “The Aliens Won: SF around the World and Back Again,” the Internet has broken down barriers to communication among scattered sf traditions, leading to a increased internationalization over the past decade. As he points out, the WLT special issue follows on the heels of “international sf” issues from both Words without Borders and Weird Tales—a list to which I would add the 2011 Eaton Conference, with its “Global SF” focus.
The issue includes other non-fiction pieces, ranging from essays by David Fowler on “Mathematics in Science Fiction” and Grady Hendrix on recent Japanese sf films to reviews of Neal Stephenson’s 2008 novel Anathem (by Tom Shippey), the 2009 movie Moon (by Tina-Louise Reid), and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.’s 2008 critical study The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (by Paul Kincaid). The last-named review is reprinted from The SF Site, and a number of the selections are reproduced or excerpted from other print and online sources, including an installment of Frederik Pohl’s portrait of Isaac Asimov from <http://www.thewaythefutureblogs.com/2010/01/isaac/>. Other items, such as Paul di Filippo’s survey of “The Best Speculative Fiction of 2009,” are abridged from longer versions featured on WLT’s website, which includes original content ranging from a podcast interview with Cory Doctorow to surveys of sf in Croatia and China. The website can be accessed at <http://www.ou.edu/worldlit/onlinemagazine/2010may/difilippo.html>.
Concluding sections include a “Notebook” profile of Russian fabulist Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, a column on “International Crime and Mystery” by J. Madison Davis comparing detective fiction with sf, “Outposts: Literary Landmarks & Events,” an item focusing on Sydney’s Galaxy Bookshop, and a review section covering literary works from around the world, not all spec-fic related and only a few currently available in English. The journal’s format is like The Atlantic’s: saddle-stapled on slick paper with full-color photos and illustrations. Subscription information can be found on the website.—Rob Latham, SFS
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