Science Fiction Studies

#49 = Volume 16, Part 3 = November 1989


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

News About the Strugatskys

I am in the process of completing a doctoral thesis which deals in significant part with the Strugatskys; and while sojourning in the USSR this Spring, I met with Boris (in Leningrad) and Arkady (in Moscow).                

Arkady, unfortunately, is rather ill. Some of heart trouble, I think. We talked mostly about Japanese poetry. I thought it inadvisable to mention my dissertation.                

Over a bottle of cognac, I was able to convince Boris to make a trip to America as soon as an official invitation—and grant—for his visit can be arranged. He claims that he hates to travel and categorically refuses to come for more than ten days; but I think his trip can be organized as part of a small symposium on SF— which might persuade him to stay a bit longer.                

Further details about the symposium will be available through the pages of SFS as soon as it appears likely to become a reality. -- Yvonne Howell, Dartmouth College

 

Disagreeing Over the Definitive Time Machine

David Lake is a strong contender for this year's dubious achievement award. He has hit an all-time low with his nitpicking non-review of my Definitive Time Machine. In four and half pages he has contrived: (a) to say nothing about the edition's Introduction other than that it contained three or four "errors" (one of which Lake himself describes as a "trifle" while the others are open to question or interpretation); (b) to exemplify the quality of my extensive annotations in a paragraph of quibbling over what Lake himself describes as yet another "minor error" (actually the error is his); (c) to give no indication whatsoever of the contents of all but one of Appendixes VIII to XII, which he offhandedly dismisses as "rather silly" and "unnecessary"; (d) to avoid mentioning the fact that the book he was supposedly reviewing is the pioneer volume in a new series of critical editions; (e) to use his review to advertise his own writings.                

Life isn't long enough to sort out all of Lake's reviewing "sins," so I'll limit myself to commenting on just a few of his specific indulgences. Let me begin with the nitpicking.                

I stated in my Introduction that Wells was 30 when The Time Machine (TTM) was published in 1895, and Lake has carefully corrected me: "Wells was 28 years and about 8 months old in May 1895." I thank him for that, but admit to being troubled by his imprecision indicated by his use of that word "about."               

In a 1979 article in SFS, Lake passes within a single sentence from the notion that the first syllable of "Morlock" "suggests" the Latin mors (death) to the assertion that that derivation "surely" is correct. About three pages later, his derivation has become an absolute certainty: "the first syllable of "Morlock" derives from mors."  Lake shows no awareness of the fact that the word "warlock" (a more obvious derivation) occurs in The Chronic Argonauts. As you can see, Lake isn't the only one who can play the nitpicking game; but most of us are not obsessive about it. When Lake corrected my "error" about Wells's age, he commented: "A trifle, indeed; but inaccuracy so early on does not inspire confidence.'' He may care to know that I don't find his inconsistencies inspirational either.               

One particularly significant inconsistency in his review concerns my copy-text of TTM. On one page Lake describes it as "good," but a few pages later it has become "unreliable." Lake takes me to task for assuming that the Atlantic Edition (1924) of TTM is Wells's final version. Yet in his 1979 article he himself repeatedly refers to the Atlantic as "the final text" and "the final version" and describes it in a footnote as "the present standard text (with minor verbal revisions, deleted headings, altered chaptering)." Since publishing that article Lake has come to the conclusion that "There are a few readings [italics mine] where Well's [sic] last word is not the Atlantic Edition but The Scientific Romances (London: Gollancz, 1933)." Patently, although Lake makes a big palaver about my "unreliable" copy text, he agrees with me that the basic copy-text should be—as it is in The Definitive Time Machine—the Atlantic. However, he prefers variants from the 1933 Scientific Romances text (SR)—whether sometimes or always and on what basis other than his own subjective judgment he fails to indicate—because they represent Wells's last word: and he considers me in error for not sharing his preferences.                

Let us see how this applies by scrutinizing the example he supplies in his review. My edition, following the Atlantic, provides in the penultimate sentence of chapter 5 of TTM: "these signs of human inheritance." Lake prefers the SR variant, "these signs of the human inheritance," and he insists: "the Atlantic Edition is clearly faulty, and Geduld of course reproduces the fault." Actually, the Atlantic is "clearly faulty" in Lake's judgment—which is by no means the same thing as in fact. One could mount a persuasive argument for or against each of those variant readings (e.g., the definite article in the SR variant could be a typo). However, in my judgment, the Atlantic reading is preferable and that is why I retained it. I think it is worth mentioning that—aside from Lake—I know of no one (including hundreds of students with whom I have read texts of TTM that follow the Atlantic Edition) who has expressed difficulty in understanding that particular passage in chapter 5, and no one other than Lake who considers that Atlantic reading to be "clearly faulty."               

In this particular instance, Lake has fallen into two traps of his own making. One is the assumption that last must be best; the other is his unfortunate habit of assuming that just because he believes something it must be correct. He's probably beyond help as far as the second problem is concerned. In connection with the first, I shall merely recount a brief anecdote. Many years ago T.S. Eliot was presented with a collection of photocopies of 32 published versions of his poem "Gerontion" and asked which of them was authoritative. He replied unhesitatingly, "The latest." Now it so happened that the latest version in that collection contained two typos which made complete nonsense of one line in the poem. Verb. sap.                

My edition of TTM contains 273 annotations to the text. Since Lake corrects only two of them, I am delighted to have his implicit approval of the remaining 271. Lake condemns my note 18 to chapter 7 as "seriously faulty" for its imprecise location of a quotation from Carlyle. Mea culpa: I admit to being "seriously" at fault. He also singles out what he himself calls a "minor error"—my explanation of "crossing" (chapter 2, note 13)—for a paragraph of detailed correction. Curiously, he ignores the fact that my explanation is supported with evidence from both the Oxford English Dictionary and Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Uncon- ventional English. At the crux of his correction he states: "Geduld will have it that `crossing' here means a `swindle.' This cannot be right: a swindler to inspire confidence [how Lake loves this phrase!] should be well-dressed...." I can only assume that Lake has lived a rather sheltered life. Swindlers are not invariably well-dressed. One of the most successful was Bernard Bergman, the charity nursing-hospital swindler, whose deliberately seedy, run-down appearance was essential to his techniques for chiseling people out of millions. I could fill up a piece longer than Lake's review with other relevant examples.               

Let me turn now to the question of the Appendixes. Lake refers to my Appendixes VIII-XII as "rather silly" and "unnecessary." However, with the exception of a very brief piece of y own (Appendix XI), about which I shall have something to say subsequently, he carefully avoids specifying what those "rather silly" and "unnecessary" Appendixes contain. I'll repair that deficiency here and now and let my readers judge for themselves whether those sections of the book are indeed irrelevant and trivial.                

Appendix VIII provides Professor Roger Shattuck's translation of Alfred Jarry's "How to Construct a Time Machine" (1899); it demonstrates a significant but little-known impact of the novella on the French literary scene. Now Alfred Jarry was a not insignificant French writer (whether or not Lake considers his work to be "rather silly"). Even as I write this letter a production of Jarry's celebrated play, Ubu Roi, is being prepared for a June 25th opening in New York City. Jarry's "How to Construct a Time Machine" reveals, among other things, the almost immediate influence of Wells's novella on a major precursor of Surrealism. Incidentally, Lake proclaims himself the author of a sequel to TTM and "a re-writing of it." In other words—like Jarry—he has written extrapolations of TTM. Presumably he must also consider those fictional efforts to be "rather silly" and "unnecessary." In that case, I can't understand why he is so concerned that I didn't mention those efforts in my edition. Appendix IX, Terry Ramsaye's "Robert Paul and The Time Machine," provides a detailed account of the collaboration between Wells and British inventor Robert Paul in conceiving and patenting a form of entertainment inspired by TTM. Appendix X contains key excerpts from (a) Charles H. Hinton's "What is the Fourth dimension?" (1884-85), which, via E.A. Hamilton-Gordon, probably helped shape the exposition of four-dimensional geometry in TTM, and (b) Simon Newcomb's address to the New York Mathematical Society to which there is a direct reference in the very first chapter of TTM. Appendix XI is my note on analogues entitled "Beowulf and The Time Machine." Lake quotes one sentence out of context in order to poke fun at it. (I could have a field day playing the same game with Lake's efforts.) He also speculates on whether the piece is "a joke, a satire on silly [obviously another of Lake's favorite words] parallel-hunting." I leave him to his conjectures and content myself with observing that although Lake knows absolutely nothing about my sense of humor, he has certainly revealed the caliber of his own by perpetrating a cheap jibe about my surname. I've not previously come across a review that has sunk to that juvenile level. Appendix XII (which concludes the book) is Louis Untermeyer's "The Heaven of the Time Machine," a piece from Untermeyer's celebrated Collected Parodies. In practice, while teaching, I have found parodies such as this one useful in discussing a writer's stylistic mannerisms.            

It's worth mentioning that so far—aside from Lake—every reviewer of the book has commented favorably on the Appendix section and some have welcomed the inclusion of the very pieces that Lake considers "silly" and "unnecessary."               

As I noted earlier, Lake uses his review to advertise some fiction he has published in Australia. Actually, he takes up a whole paragraph to bring this event to our attention. His "justification" for that indulgence is my omission of his fiction from one of the edition's bibliographical lists. In all fairness, Lake is kind enough to exonerate me (albeit somewhat dubiously) for that omission. As he so generously puts it: the "omission...is probably not the editor's fault." (I love that "probably.") Now if I had a suspicious mind, I would assume that the tenor of Lake's review had something to do with that omission and perhaps with the critical handling of his 1979 article in my annotations. Nevertheless, I would like to take this opportunity to inform Lake that the omission was indeed my "fault." His fictional efforts were deliberately omitted from a bibliography that is clearly titled—in block capitals yet!—"A SELECT CHRONOLOGICAL LIST." As editor it was my prerogative to exclude whatever items I considered of lesser importance. Anyway, since Lake evidently considers my edition to be unsatisfactory, he should be delighted that it omits any mention of his fiction.                

In conclusion, I would be remiss if I did not thank Lake for drawing my attention to a handful of typos and other minor errors. These will, of course, be corrected for the book's second edition. -- Harry M. Geduld, Indiana University

 

I am sorry that Harry M. Geduld has responded to my review of his Time Machine with anger. The review, of course, was commissioned by SFS; and in my particular remarks, I was simply doing my duty to Wells scholarship and to users of Geduld's book. I prefer to write favorable reviews, but if there are defects in an edition a reviewer must point them out.

I did not intend any insult by my little joke on Geduld's surname. If he thinks so, I hereby apologize.                

I am extremely glad to hear that Geduld will correct his textual inaccuracies in a new impression. The corruptions in his primary text are the most serious defect of his edition, and spoil an otherwise useful volume. It they are put right, his critical text will at least approach being "definitive."                

I don't feel any urge to defend my previous writings against Geduld's attacks. Their merits or demerits are mostly irrelevant to the present question. Yes, I was wrong in saying, years ago, that the Atlantic Edition was Wells's final text: I have found out my mistake since, through more recent textual studies. We all make mistakes—both Harry Geduld and myself. The important thing is to correct them.                

The field of Wells textual scholarship is too important to be messed up by vendettas. I hope Harry Geduld will now bury his hatchet—and preferably not in my neck. I wish him well for his next edition of Wells. -- David J. Lake,  The University of Queensland

 

Contributors Wanted

Articles are needed for a reference work I am editing for Greenwood Press that I've tentatively titled Science Fiction and the Young Reader. I am looking for critical essays on SF for children and adolescents, be it in the form of novels, short stories,
comic books, TV programs, movies, or whatever. Proposals or inquiries (but not completed articles) should be addressed to me, c/o the English Dept./East Carolina University/Greenville, NC 27834-4353, as soon as possible. -- C.W. Sullivan III

 

The 12th annual Eaton Conference will be held at the University of California, Riverside, April 20-22, 1990, and will focus on "SF and Market Realities: Conditions of Production and the Products They Condition." We are seeking papers, 10-15
pages and about 20 minutes long in their oral presentation time, on any aspect of that topic—e.g., on the difference between "fix-ups" and novels; on the effect of the target audience on the writing of SF; on the part that editors, publishers, and others besides the author play in the process of creation; and on the impact of censorship or critical attention.                

Completed essays or detailed proposals should be sent as soon as possible, but no later than December 15th, to me, c/o University Library/PO Box 5900/University of California/Riverside, CA 92517. -- George Slusser

 

I am organizing a session on "American 'Science Fiction' Before 1926" for the American Literature Association Conference at the Bahia Resort Hotel, San Diego, May 31-June 3,1990. Papers of 10-15 pages (20 minutes reading time) are solicited on relevant writers (notably Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, London, Bellamy, Twain, and neglected women), works, or topics. Papers should be mailed to me, c/o Dept. of English/Concordia University/1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West/Montreal, Quebec/Canada H3G IM8. The deadline is January 31, 1990. -- David Ketterer


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