Science Fiction Studies

#27 = Volume 9, Part 2 = July 1982


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

In Memory of Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick, age 53, died on March 2,1982, in Santa Ana, California. He had been in a coma for ten days after suffering a massive stroke. His death shocked his friends because he had been in excellent health. He published two new novels in 1981, Valis and The Divine Invasion, and a third novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, will be released in May. He had another work in progress. His novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has been made into the film Blade Runner, to be released in June. He had accepted an invitation to be the guest of honor at an SF convention in Metz, France in June.                

Phil's life in many ways seems as strange and bizarre as his fiction. In fact, he often said his fiction seemed to create his life. He wrote about something first and then afterward experienced it himself. The bizarre pattern continued into his death, as his friends will recognize when they read his final novel, Timothy Archer. He said of his fiction that he liked to begin a novel with a commonplace world and then have his characters fall through the floor of this normal world into a strange new reality. In his mystical experience of March, 1974, about which he commented so often, he also fell into a world strange to us. To him the experience was so powerful that he spent the remainder of his life trying to erect a logical system that would explain what had happened to him. Crazy? Perhaps. But he never lost control, he was always Phil Dick, the clearheaded writer, watching while he suffered through these strange experience, and he was always able to transform them into fiction. Valis, certainly the most unique of all his works, catches the essence of this split. There, a writer named Phil Dick watches skeptically while Horselover Fat wrestles with the meaning of a mystical experience and Phil concludes that Horselover is crazy.                

This ability to split himself off and laugh at himself was one of his endearing qualities. He was a serious man who never took himself too seriously. He was a withdrawn, almost shy person who shunned conventions and public attention. He preferred to stay at home reading and listening to music and thinking. And waiting. Waiting for a novel to strike. He said he always saw it whole, as Mozart did his musical compositions, and then he worked furiously to copy it down—writing for long hours day after day.                

He began his writing career with a blaze of short stories in the early 1950s—almost 100 of them, produced in just three years. In 1955 he wrote his first novel, Solar Lottery, and thereafter worked almost entirely in this longer form. The great period of his novels followed in the '60s, beginning with the Hugo winner, The Man in the HighCastle. His output in this period was prodigious—15 novels, including brilliant works like Martian Time Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Dr Bloodmoney, Ubik, and Do Androids Dream? Then in the '70's his writing essentially ceased as he experienced a very difficult and depressed time in his personal life. Some of those experiences with the drug culture are recorded in A Scanner Darkly (1977). By 1979 he felt he had begun a third phase of his fiction, one he labelled as his experimental period, when he moved beyond the conventions of the SF forms he had previously used. His last three novels were born of this period.                

Phil began his career with ambitions as a mainstream writer and produced a half dozen novels, none of which has been published except Confessions of a Crap Artist. At the end, his writing circled back to the beginning. Timothy Archer is mainstream, not SF. He loved the classics, both music and literature. His particular favorites were the Elizabethan dramatists and the Metaphysical poets. And all things German, especially the writers and musicians of the Romantic period.

Nurtured in the climate of Berkeley as a young man, he was deeply concerned about preserving political freedom and humanistic values. He was also an ardent pacifist whose greatest horror was of nuclear war. How strange also an ardent man—a classicist in intellectual inclination who was also deeply concerned about survival in the present—should have written SF about a future world lying on the far side of the holocaust.                

His vision beheld a reality pulsing with a light and a rhythm we cannot understand. But we are enriched by his fiction; it gives us allusive glimpses of his mystical universe. We will not see another like him in our time, and we will miss him deeply.
                                                                                                —Patricia Warrick

 

Another Death "in the Family"

We regret to report the sudden death of J.-P. Vernier on January 31, 1982, at the age of 49. Vernier was Professor of English at the Université de Rouen and author of H. G. Wells et son temps (Rouen, 1971 ) along with numerous essays illuminative of Wells the man and the writer. On the basis of our brief personal encounter and our intermittent correspondence, I can say that Vernier's example gave meaning to an otherwise trite phrase: he impressed me as being, in the true sense, both a gentleman and a scholar.—RMP

 

Death and the Denial of History: The Textural Shadow of the SF Author

Robert A. Heinlein's importance in the history of modern SF might lead one to reasonably suspect that any significant insight concerning his work would simultaneously illuminate the nature of the genre generally. Such indeed proves to be the case in George Slusser's fine article, "Heinlein's Perpetual Motion Fur Farm" (SFS No. 26, pp. 51-67). An analogy within Heinlein's fiction is discovered to be, in turn, analogous to a persistent feature of the American imagination. The various ways in which the often aging Heinlein hero recycles himself is related to Heinlein's version of Maxwell's demon, the "perpetual motion fur farm" described in "By His Bootstraps" (1941; in The Menace from Earth [NY: Signet. 1959]. The effect of such a process of recycling is to deny, circumvent, or in some way short circuit the linear, organic, and ultimately entropic process of history. Just as the future self is ideally envisaged as a self-perpetuating present self, so future history is ideally envisaged as a "self-perpetuating present" (Slusser, p. 65).                

Since the same kind of negation is endemic to much of American literature— Slusser offers Irving's Rip Van Winkle, Emerson's transcendental circles, and Whitman's "Facing West from California Shores" as examples—it might appear that Heinlein's SF arises directly out of a specifically American imaginative tradition. (For a good treatment of this phenomenon, see John F. Lynen, The Design of the Present: Essays on Time and Form in American Literature [New Haven, 1969].) And since Heinlein's SF is peculiarly representative of a general evasion or suppression of future history in American SF, that evasion or suppression reflects

not an innate quality of the genre or of the perpetual-motion pattern, but rather a valence or impulsion of cultural origin given to a set of shared structures. SF then, far from being the monolithic international genre it is sometimes claimed to be. is more correctly a series of distinct national modes within a larger generic framework that can only he defined in relation to their multiform nature. (Slusser, p.65)               

Certainly, there are national characteristics that distinguish the SF produced in one country from that produced in another, and Slusser goes on to describe how differently the perpetual motion structure is treated in a work by a German author. But it is also possible that at a more fundamental level the phenomenon which Heinlein's work exemplifies is a characteristic both of American literature and of SF as a genre or mode. What Slusser is talking about has affinities with what I have described as the "apocalyptic" structure of SF; repeatedly in works of SF and particularly towards their conclusions, a historical structure is subverted or eclipsed by a transcendental one. While my discussion was mainly confined to examples from American SF, my concern was with SF per se (see my New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature [NY & Bloomington, IN: 1974], esp. pp. 43-90).                

The fact that numerous writers of SF, Heinlein included, have written future histories has encouraged the sense that, by way of analogy at least, a concern with some notion of historical reality or process is part and parcel of the business of writing SF. (See, for example, Robert H. Canary, "Science Fiction as Fictive History," Extrapolation, 16 [December 1974]:81-94; and Robert Scholes, "Educating for Future Realism," Alternative Futures, 1 [Fall 1978]:91-95.) SF is to the future what the historical novel is to the past. SF might, then, be viewed as the historical novel of the future. Given this model, it is natural that some critics should be disappointed when SF writers variously circumvent the reality of historical time.               

Why do so many writers flagrantly ignore what might be deemed the proper sphere of the genre? Slusser, confining himself to American writers, puts the paradox this way: "For if in theory...writers of SF are strongly committed to the future, in practice their work seems devoted to preventing that future from existing, and the chosen form is actually the one whose structural possibilities offer the greatest capacity for doing so" (p. 64).                

There are, I believe, numerous explanations for the phenomenon which Slusser and I have described. If, for example, the dreams of reason produce monsters, the rational procedures of SF inevitably involve a brush with the irrational. In the present context, however, I wish to highlight one reason that has hitherto remained unnoted and undiscussed. It is generally agreed and empirically verifiable that most works of SF take place in the future; sometimes a year or two in the future, but usually hundreds or thousands of years. More often than not, then, the SF author is writing about a time when, given the normal historical process, he or she will be dead. That is to say, an undeniably realistic aspect of the world that the average SF writer describes is that he or she is not there. In one way or another, this fact is likely to leave a trace on the average SF text—what might be termed "the shadow of the author." The tendency for an author to allow for a situation or a reality whereby this circumstance would be obviated might be regarded, depending on one's point of view, as the inevitable cancerous or liberating "fantasy" embedded within the SF genre. Clearly Heinlein, in writing his future histories, has been forced to come to terms with, allow for, or in some way deal with the fact of his own mortality. Heinlein's solution, like that of most SF writers, has been, by a variety of strategies, to effectively deny the natural process of history. The themes of immortality, reincarnation, cloning, or transcendence are only the most obvious gambits. Robert Silverberg's concern with the theme of immortality, the anti-agathics in James Blish's Cities in Flight tetralogy, and the conclusion to Gregory Benford's Timescape spring to mind as examples.                

A writer might choose to take the rest of the world or universe with him—and hence one reason among others for the popularity of the end of the world theme, or the destructive apocalypse in SF. Again Blish comes to mind as a writer drawn towards depicting such scenes. The general shape of Blish's career, incidentally, beginning with SF (the tales of tectogenesis and pantropy and A Case of Conscience), moving back into history (the Spenglerian basis of Cities in Flight and Dr Mirabilis), and concluding, disappointingly perhaps, in the realm of supernatural "fantasy" (Black Easter and The Day After Judgement), has much to tell us about the self-destructive nature of SF as a genre. But here it should be emphasized that I am not speaking merely about American SF; the phenomenon that I am concerned with (which often takes some form of mysticism) applies to SF generally.                

Darko Suvin ("The Time Machine versus Utopia as Structural Models for SF" in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre [New Haven, 1979], pp. 222-42) has pointed to The Time Machine as a, if not the, structural paradigm for modern SF, a judgment with which there is little reason to quarrel. If it can be demonstrated that manifestations of "the shadow of the author" are discernable in this work, it might reasonably be concluded that what I am talking about and what Slusser is talking about should be viewed ultimately as a structural feature of the genre.               

The Time Machine is not (in any obvious sense) a perpetual motion machine, nor do there appear to be any analogous perpetual motion machines in the novel. But human history does come to a stop; it is supplanted or eclipsed by a totally inhuman order of time. The Time Machine is an apocalyptic story about the end of the world. Given that the end of the world is presented as historically inevitable, what lesson of conceivable use can be drawn from the process of Revolution which Wells describes? Perhaps, if l9th-century man were to change his exploitative ways, evolution might not take the polarized form of the Eloi and the Morlocks. But whatever the form of evolution or devolution, mankind is ultimately doomed. David J. Lake explains this apparent inconsistency by demonstrating that The Time Machine is fundamentally concerned with the theme of death ("The White Sphinx and the Whitened Lemur: Images of Death in The Time Machine," SFS No. 7, pp. 77-84). The Morlocks, whose name suggests the idea of being locked into death, and the references to a pallid whiteness and to ghosts, should be understood in psychological terms as expressing the Time Traveller's awareness and fear of death, his own death. In at least this regard, the Time Traveller is clearly a stand-in for H.G. Wells himself.    —David Ketterer

 

An Exchange on Campbell, Freud, and Wells

One does not know whether to laugh or cry when an academic critic (John Rieder, in "Embracing the Alien," SFS No. 26) calls upon Freud's theory of latency to explain "the virtual absence of sex in Golden Age SF." I am reminded of the scene in one of the Frankenstein sequels in which a scientist, peering through a microscope at a sample of the monster's blood and finding something funny about the red corpuscles, remarks, "Ah! That accounts for his great size!"—forgetting that the monster was stitched together from parts of corpses. Pulp magazines in the '40s avoided sex, not because their adolescent and preadolescent readers had no taste for it, but because the publishers knew that even a hint of heavy breathing might get their magazines banned. In the early '40s I saw a list of objectionable words submitted to a publisher by a federal agency: one of them was "hussy." Only a few years earlier, during a brief permissive period, the same pimply fans devoured Spicy Mystery, Spicy Western, etc., as well as Terror Tales and the other sadomasochistic horror pulps. John Campbell was of course aware of the threat of censorship, and he counted on his assistant, Kay Tarrant, to sanitize the pages of Astounding; but she was so innocent that when George O. Smith had a character refer to "the first ball-bearing mousetrap—a tomcat," she didn't get the point, and the line appeared as written.                

Campbell's great story "Who Goes There?" (selected, says Rieder, as the best novella written before 1966, by the members of the Science Fiction Writers Association—meaning, I suppose, Science Fiction Writers of America, which has the same initials) turns up whenever the film Alien is discussed, and is subjected to various Marxian and sociological analyses, some much more tortured than Rieder's, but nobody seems to be aware that the story derives, not from Wells, but from a comic novelette by Campbell, "The Brain Stealers of Mars," published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1936, or that Campbell's interest in the idea of a shape-changing alien can be traced to his early childhood, when his mother and her identical twin frequently put on each other's clothes in order to play a trick on him.                

And so forth. I don't mean to single out Rieder, who is one of your more intelligent and sensible contributors, but only to suggest (again) that it is futile to analyze a work of fiction without any knowledge of its context, and that it is really insulting to SF for its critics to approach it in a slapdash manner which would not be tolerated in any other field of scholarship.
                                                                                                                —Damon Knight

Psychoanalytic interpretation always assumes the intervention of a censor in the production of a text. When I used Freud's theory of latency in my analysis of "Who Goes There?" I was not trying to account for the fact of censorship but to describe the form it takes in this story and in a great deal of Golden Age SF. Perhaps I am guilty of imprecision. I should not have spoken of the virtual absence of sex, but rather of the virtual absence of those forms of character interaction which denote mature sexuality in the presence of that kind of censorship against its explicit portrayal which prevailed in American publishing at the time. A mere list of banned words, I would remind Mr Knight, does not suffice to explain the intense anxieties about privacy and the maintenance of identity in the story, nor does it help to explain the heroes' metallic bodies, nor can it illuminate the weaknesses of their "tough-minded" problem-solving. Mr Knight's "ball-bearing mousetrap," moreover, does not represent a counter-instance to the tendency I am describing; in fact, the pun's confusion of hardware with genitals seems to me to be a fine example of just the kind of displacement of sexuality I was interpreting in my essay.                

What really seems to be bothering Mr Knight is the assumption that a complex literature can be reduced to a case of psychic repression. But I have no intention of performing such a reduction. Rather, my essay is an attempt to integrate psychoanalytic interpretation into a broader social analysis.                

The derivation of "Who Goes There?" from "The Brain Stealers of Mars" hardly means that Wells's War of the Worlds is not a strong influence on the later story. Wells's influence on Campbell is pervasive, I think; and, given the drift of my essay, it seemed more important to point to this influence than to Campbell's derivation from Campbell. To deny Wells's influence, as Mr Knight apparently desires, would certainly obscure the literary context, not just of this story, but of Campbell's entire career.                

To any members of the Science Fiction Writers of America who were offended by my misnaming their organization, I offer my sincere apology.—John Rieder


                         

Some Authorial Notes on Alien Encounters

[ What follows is a substantial portion of the text of a personal letter from Mark Rose to me apropos of my review-article on Alien Encounters {in SFS No. 26). Though not originally intended for publication, Roses remarks are, I think, of interest to anyone who has read or will read his book; and in any event, he has kindly acceded to my request that they be reproduced here.—RMPI

There is an implication in your essay, Robert, that I find fascinating. You suggest that my proposition about the thematic paradigm behind SF—that SF is characteristically concerned with the human in relation to the non-human—"has the force of a self-evident truth." And then you go on to note the way the "immediate conviction" that the proposition elicits is related to the way it is congruent with so much of the last decade's theorizing about SF. Yes, this seems to me exactly right. And am I not therefore vulnerable to the charge of making myths? That is, of presenting as absolute, final, and "natural" an observation that is of course only provisional, transitional, and "cultural." I think that I am indeed vulnerable to some such charge. Further, I can see now that the appeal of the human/non-human opposition to me lay precisely in the way the proposition came to me with the force of the natural and absolute. I can recall exactly the moment in which the insight struck me and my feeling at the time that here was a proposition substantial enough on which to build a book. Was I not submitting to a form of self-mystification? Yes, and I must further acknowledge that the book presents the insight rhetorically as if it were indeed an unshakable proposition, a "natural" observation.         

A remark on Le Guin. I did indeed hope that my relative neglect of her would elicit sighs of relief. The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are genuine classics, but so much excellent criticism has been written on Le Guin that I felt it might be best to concentrate on other texts. In any case, the application of my ideas to Le Guin seems to me fairly obvious and I'm not sure that I have much else of any novelty to say about her work.

I had originally intended to write a substantial preface in which I would, among other things, explain my conspicuous neglect of Le Guin. But finally I decided that the book should speak for itself and that any introductory remarks from me would be supererogatory. I think now that this was a mistake, and I hope that if Harvard Press publishes a paperback edition they will allow me to include a new preface.

In such a preface I would want to say something more about the status of my "categories": Space, Time, Machine and Monster. These are, as I say, heuristic categories but I don't think they are arbitrary. I derived the categories as a set of logical permutations of the initial human/non-human insight. The first two represent the possible modalities of the non-human. The third, Machine, is a mediating category generated by the opposition itself: the non-human produced by the human. And the final category, Monster, is the only possible permutation of human. Moreover, Monster recapitulates all the preceding categories, for how may the hum¿m be come the non-human except through the activity of an agent conceived as spatial, temporal, or as itself a human product—that is, a machine. There might be any number of sub-categories proposed but the rough mapping of the themati,- ~:errain of the genre seems to me to be complete. (My original subtitle, by the way, divas 'A Map of Science Fiction." Harvard Press preferred '¡Anatomy." I would now vote for simply "An Essay on Science Fiction.")

I am a little disturbed by your sense that the book loses momentum towards the end. Perhaps I am disturbed because I fear you may be right? As you note, the Space and Time chapters are structured so that they move in a general way along the lines of the theory of generic development that I propose in the opening sections. I purposely avoided repeating this structure in the Machine chapter for fear of becoming predictable and boring. What the organization of the Machine chapter emphasizes is not so much the historical progression of texts in the category as the "soul" of the category—that is, the crucial problematic around which the category orbits, which in this case turns out to be the idea of consciousness.

I can readily see how the final chapter might seem particularly disappointing if one is expecting a detailed discussion of texts parallel to the textual analyses that I offer in the preceding three chapters. And without a preface to provide the reader with some cues I can see exactly why one would expect such analyses. Originally I planned to include three textual analyses in this chapter, exploring the transformation of the human into the non-human through the intervention of agents conceived in terms of each of the preceding categories: Space, Time, and Machine. But finally it seemed to me that this process of looking at the genre from, as it were, the other side of the coin would turn out to be merely repetitive. Hadn't I already made all the points that I could make in this way? Would more readings really have produced anything but the dottirig of i's and the crossing of t's? Therefore I chose to turn the last section into a kind of summary chapter in which I turned about to introduce a new notion—the idea of the grotesque—and finally made explicit the function of the notion of apocalypse in the system of the genre. Perhaps some explanation in a preface would help with this matter too. -- Mark Rose

 

Conference on Narcissism

"The World as Mirror," a conference focussing on the issue of narcissism in the fine arts and literatures, will be held at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, June 46, 1983. The selection committee welcomes papers approximately 30 minutes in length and employing an archetypal or psychoanalytical approach that treat not only the concept of narcissism in the arts and literatures but also other psychological issues raised by a text or work of art from any period or culture. Papers in psychology that deal with the etiology of narcissism or the transformative nature of the archetype are particularly welcome. Abstracts of approximately 500 words are due by January 1, 1983, and should be addressed to me, Dept. of English/Miami University/Oxford, OH 45056.—Donald W. Fritz

 

Orwell in Antwerp

The 14th convention of SFAN-PROGRESSEF, the Belgian SF and Fantasy Association, is scheduled for November 11-13, 1983, and will be devoted to George Orwell and 1984. Sessions will take place at Antwerp University, and the principal speakers will be Alexander Zinoviev and Anthony Burgess.

Information about hotels, conference fees, and so forth can be obtained by writing to Andre de Rycke/Eendenplasstraat, 70/B-9050 Everpem/Belgium.


moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home