Science Fiction Studies

#2 = Volume 1, Part 2 = Fall 1973


NOTES BY SEVERAL HANDS

SF WRITERS, THE GREAT CONSENSUS, AND NON-ALIGNMENT. It is only fair to assume that any article printed in SFS has in the editors' opinion--even where they disagree with it--some significant redeeming aspects. Thus I personally think that Dr. Rottensteiner's robust polemics on Mr. Farmer's "Riverworld" cycle make a salutary point. But as was said in my little dialogue in our first issue, the critic should be for the creative writer, not against him. Since in this imperfect world very few writers are either totally creative or totally non-creative, but various shades of in-between, it seems to me that the most fruitful strategy is to condemn trashy and unhealthy writings, and very rarely the author. Mr. Farmer is after all the writer who extended the closed world of American SF thematics with such stories as his "Father," "My Sister's Brother," and above all "Riders of the Purple Wage," which even his sternest critic, Stanislaw Lem, has called "no mean piece of prose" (see Lem's very significant essay, "SF: A Hopeless Case--With Exceptions," SF Commentatry No. 35-37, 1973). Where Dr. Rottensteiner talks of "Farmer," therefore, I take the name to mean not the actual citizen of Peoria, but the authorial persona that has allowed economic and psychological pressures to turn him from "Riders" to the works that Dr. Rottensteiner criticizes, the persona that has allowed the ruling system--represented in SF by the publishing circuit, the fan-voters, and the whole mutual-admiration club--to become internalized as the norm for such "aligned" or gleichgeschaltet writing. Very little has actually been changed by the supposedly "dangerous" themes of sex and blasphemy that Mr. Farmer has pioneered in American SF, for in their actual use within conformist structures these "new" themes appear only as the obverse of the puritanism and agnosticism of the old SF. In other words, whatever the wishes of an SF writer may be, whatever his opinions as a private citizen may be, if his writings portray intelligent beings facing a new world as isolated individuals without significant new relationships to other intelligent beings and to the totality of their institutions, he is aligned with the powers-that-be.

In present power circumstances, a writer, as Ms. Le Guin says in this issue, can save his soul, whether in the USSR or the USA, only by refusing to become so aligned. The fact that US writers, such as Blish, Clement, Delaney, Dick, Disch, Knight, Le Guin, Leiber, Miller, Oliver, Pohl, Sheckley, Simak, etc., have to an important extent managed to escape such aligning proves that despite the pressures it is a matter of choice. But this choice determines the writer's aesthetics as well as his ethics. Most SF writers have fooled themselves for far too long that they are a vanguard educating the American people (and then all other peoples) for the space agee, for inner space, or what not. Sadly, the basic ideological pull seems to have drawn the other way: the price of success--such as it is--has been the educators' becoming educated into a subdivision of the great American consensus (see also Dr. Davis's contribution to this issue). So to my mind, writers like Mr. Farmer, capable of better work if given better financial support and better normative systems, should be regarded with sorrow at least as much as with anger: so many wasted opportunities, so much wasted talent! If villains need be, the anger should be directed at the writers' submitting to such publicity systems of reinforcement as the Hugo award, rapidfy becoming the measure of what is immature in SF.--DS.

 

THE ALDISS HISTORY. For the present, and probably for some time to come, the best introduction to the history of SF is Brian W. Aldiss, Billion Year Spree: The The History of Science Fiction (Doubleday, $7.95; in UK, Wedenfeld & Nicolson, "about four pounds," according to my source). Mr. Aldiss has been widely recognized for more than a decade as one of the best writers and editors in SF; in this book he demonstrates that his familiarity with general literature is wide enough and deep enough for him to see SF in its literary context. For those already well read in the history of the genre, the most provocative and valuable parts of the book will be those concerned with the relationships between SF narrowly defined and such writers as Milton, Erasmus Darwin, Hardy, Kafka. The fact that we can call the book an introduction--Aldiss takes the SF canon as having been pretty well established, and finds SF scholarship of sufficient liulk and extent for summary, interpretation, and synthesis--makes it a kind of milestone in our field.--RDM.

 

A NEW BOOK BY MOSKOWITZ. For his new book--Edward Page Mitchell, The Crystal Man: Landmark Science Fiction (Doubleday, $7.95)--Sam Moskowitz has collected thirty stories (published anonymously 1874-1886, all but one in the New York San) and written a 64-page introduction on Mitchell, his stories, and the history of American SF from the publication of Locke's "Moon Hoax" in 1835 to that of Looking Backward in 1888. Whereas Aldiss finds the context for SF in mainstream fiction, Moskowitz finds it in the world of commercial publishing (in magazines, newspapers, and dime novels more often than in books), especially in the rivalries of authors, of editors, and of publishers. He tells us that the Sun was unusual among newspapers in that it "fictionalized the news, literally wrote it like fiction with characters, dialogue, plot" (p. xxxi). The same might be said of his own approach to literary history: he plunges us into the middle of things, creates his heroes and villains, harks back to the beginning, and then proceeds to the end, with his scenes arranged for dramatic effect more than for chronological order. His own role is almost always that of the omniscient narrator: here, as in his previous essays, we are given a vast amount of presumably factual detail with no citation of sources; indeed, with two exceptions, we are not even allowed to know the basis on which these anonymous stories have been assigned to their supposed author.

"Landmark" status is claimed for these stories on the basis of their "including a number of firsts: the first time machine, the first electronic computer functioning within a human head, the first use of scientific means to make a man invisible, the first use of mechanical refrigeration to effect suspended animation, the first theory suitable for faster-than-light travel (pp. ix-x). Whether or not these claims are valid, the stories are still interesting enough for us to grant that Moskowitz has performed a real service in bringing them to light. And the introduction is sufficiently provocative and informative to have its own value.

But I would differ with Moskowitz in suspecting that the value of the stories lies not in their being so unusual as to qualify as landmarks but rather in their being so typical of the time that they qualify as representative. The two exceptions to anonymity are "The Tachypomp" and "The Ablest Man in the World," which were reprinted under Mitchell's name in an 1884-85 anthology, the 10-volume Stories by American Autlors. I would like to know more about this collection of 56 stories (they are listed in Lyle H. Wright, American Fiction 1876-1890 [1966]): how many of them can be counted as SF?, is there editorial comment in which Mitchell's stories are cited as strange or unusual?, etc. In sum, I would like to know the degree to which the editors and readers of the 1880s regarded the appearance of an SF story as simply a matter of course. --RDM.

 

RYNIN IN ENGLISH. Long before most Americans took either space travel or science fiction seriously, there was a tremendous interest in both in the Soviet Union. The nine-volume work by Nikolai A. Rynin, Imterplanetary Flight & Communication, originally published in Leningrad 1927-1932, is ample proof. During this period, before Stalin isolated the Soviet Union from the rest of the world, there was considerable communication among space-travel enthusiasts around the world. Rynin's volumes cover, not only the work of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, but also that of Hermann Oberth, Robert Goddard, Robert Esnault-Pelleterie, and others in great detail. Parallel to the interest in space flight is the interest in science fiction, especially in the first three volumes: Dreams, Legends, and Early Fantasies; Spacecraft in Science Fiction; and Radiant Energy: Science Fiction and Scientific Projects. Rynin is familiar with much of the German (Otto Willi Gail, Bruno H. Burgel, etc.) and American (Hugo Gernsback's Wonder Stories) science fiction of the period, and indicates that there was considerable international influence and interchange of ideas in the genre; indeed, "Gernsbackian" SF seems to have been an international movement. The nine volumes are now available in English, $30.00 for the complete set, from the US Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Va. 22151. The serial numbers for the nine volumes are NASA TT F-640 through 648. Each is $3.00, except the last, which is $6.00. --John J. Pierce.

 

MARXISM, MODERNISM, AND SF. I have recently come across David Caute's The Illusion (1971), an essay on Marxism and modernism in contemporary writing, which discusses SF and anti-utopian fiction in the context of the "dialectical novel," and which says about Zamyatin the same kind of thing as I said in my essay in the first issue of SFS.--Patrick Parrinder.

 

PANSPERMIA. Critics of SF have maintained for some time now that the genre has little actual value as a predictor of the direction scientific endeavor and discovery may take in the future. Nevertheless, it is probably the belief that SF can perform such a function which creates much of the popular interest in the genre and which has attracted its most inspired authorial practitioners. Thus when the true believer finds a point of intersection between SF and modern science, it is a happy day indeed. Finding a scientist of Francis Crick's stature supporting the fascinating contemporary SF theme of interplanetary visitation--the spaceship sent centuries ago from a distant, advanced civilization to seed the earth with life forms as we know them or to otherwise influence the course of human evolution--constitutes such a day. Crick, discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule, together with his coworker Leslie Orgel of California's Salk Institute, writes in Icarus 19(1973):341-46, of his new theory of the origin of life on earth: "directed panspermia" modeled on the panspermia hypothesis of the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, who in 1908 first proposed that cells traveling from outer space had brought life to distant planets. --Elaine L. Kleiner.

 

THOMAS M. DISCH AS POET. Thomas M. Disch is certainly one of the most promising of the younger SF writers and editors: in his 1973 anthology, Bad Moon Rising, the best story is his own "Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire." Those who wish to investigate him as a poet can obtain a copy of The Right Way to Figure Plumbing for $1.95 from the Basilisk Press, P.O. Box 71, Fredonia, N.Y. 14063. --RDM.

 

A BILINGUAL WELLS. Jean-Pierre Vernier, Universite de Rouen, author of H.G. Wells et son temps (Rouen 1971), has edited a facing-page edition of "A Story of the Days to Come" and "A Dream of Armageddon" as H. G. Wells, Deux nouvelles d'anticipation/Two scientific romances (Aubier-Flammarion 1973). --RDM.

 

SOME NEW CHECKLISTS. Copies of The NESFA Index: Science Fiction Magazines and Original Anthologies 1971-1972 may be obtained from NESFA, Box G, NFIT Branch P.O., Cambridge, Mass. 02139, for $3.00. The earlier volumes in this series are also available: for 1951-1965, $8.00; for 1966-1970, $5.00. Leslie Kay Swigart has produced an elaborately illustrated Harlan Ellison: A Bibliographical Checklist, $3.50 from the author, P.O. Box 8570, Long Beach, CA 90808. H. W. Hall is editing a series of SF book-review indexes: the volumes for 1971 and 1972 may be obtained from him, for $1.50 each, at 3608 Meadows Oak Lane, Bryan, Texas 77801; in addition, he offers to xerox a copy of the out-ofprint 1970 volume for $3.50. A volume supplementary to the Hall series, indexing reviews in the SF magazines 1949-1969, has been issued by SFRA and may be obtained from Ivor Rogers, P.O. Box 1968, Des Moines, Iowa 50311, for $2.95. --RDM.

 

BELLAMY REDIVIVUS. During the earlier sixties Mack Reynolds contributed to the SF magazines, especially Analog, a large number of stories based on socioeconomic extrapolation, stories that were almost entirely ignored by book-publishers (so far as I know, none of his serials or series has appeared in hardcover, and only a few in paperback). Now he has come forward with the most optimistic utopia that American SF has produced in many years: Looking Backward, From the Year 2000 (Ace paperback). Just as John Brunner produced his horrendous The Sheep Look Up (1972) by extrapolating all the negative features of American life, so Reynolds has retold the story of Julian West by extrapolating all the positive features. But whereas Brunner's book has had hardcover and book-club as well as paperback editions, Reynolds is still confined to the paperbacks. --RDM.

 

AN AWARD FOR LEM. In July Stanislaw Lem received the Literary Award of the Polish Ministry of Culture, for his whole opus, but especially for two books whose titles would translate into English as Hard Vacuum (an SF novel) and His Master's Voice (a collection of reviews of nonexistent SF books). --DS.


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