Science Fiction Studies

#52 = Volume 17, Part 3 = November 1990

An Editorial Farewell (Almost)

The present issue of SFS is the last for which I take chief editorial responsibility. I have been at this job for a dozen years now; and for all but the first two of them, the preponderance of the work involved in keeping SFS going has fallen to me. (My sometime fellow editors, and particularly Charles Elkins, helped as much as they could; but considerations of distance, deadline pressures, and other factors dictated that I be the person in charge of the journal's day-to-day operations.)               

My tenure has, I believe, been roughly double the "life expectancy" for editors of academic journals, even though my duties have entailed an expenditure of time and energy that very few, if any, of them would be so foolish or quixotic to invest in such a (largely anonymous) "project." That investment, however, has taken its toll. Not by reason of the 40-80 hours per week required over the last decade for seeing to the publication of approximately 3500 pages and for attending to other matters related to SFS's existence (including, at one time or another, just about everything short of the actual printing and binding of copies), but because of the stresses of the job— physical as well as mental—stresses against which various parts of my anatomy, and principally my back, have finally and definitively rebelled. In short, reasons of health have made it quite impossible for me to carry on as heretofore.                

Charles Elkins has come independently to a similar decision about his own role, albeit on different grounds. But while he will be resigning his editorial responsibilities altogether, I shall (perforce) continue to shoulder some, at least until next November               

Between now and then, SFS will continue to emanate from Montréal, but chiefly under the ægis of a new group of editors. Most or all of these new participants should already be known to you, if only through the pages of SFS (see the Cumulative Index at the end of this issue for bibliographical details). Dale Mullen, one of SFS's two founding editors, has agreed to step back in; and he will take charge, inter alia, of the word-processing of SFS's actual contents and of book-review assignments. Assisting him will be Istvan Csiscery-Ronay and Arthur B. Evans, both of DePauw University (which is about 35 miles from Dale's Terre Haute, Indiana, address), and Veronica Hollinger, who has just assumed a tenure-track position at Trent University (in Peterborough, Ontario). The four of them will deal with the gathering, vetting, and selecting of material for SFS, beginning (in part) with the March 1991 issue. (For the time being, would-be contributors may send typescripts or printouts—in duplicate, please—either to me or to any of the four new editors.)                

Naturally I have complete confidence in these new editors (or, in Dale's case, once and future editor). Nor do I anticipate any fundamental changes in SFS's policies under their direction. This means, inter alia, that SFS will continue to abide by the principles that Marc Angenot and Darko Suvin (re)affirmed in an editorial occasioned by the move from the US to Canada more than a decade ago—principles that Raimund Borgmeier rehearses in his account of the first 15 years of this journal's history.                

Particular emphasis will be given to enhancing what is perhaps SFS's most distinctive quality: what I would call its cosmopolitanism. SFS has eschewed from its outset the kind of parochial outlook all too common in criticism of SF (and not only in North America, to judge from certain of Dr Borgmeier's own preferential assertions)—not just because such narrow views violate the international character of SF itself while failing to take in significant foreign-language authors (often irrespective of whether or not any of their works have been translated), but also on the broadly moral grounds that the ignorance operative here proceeds, albeit in most cases unconsciously, from an ill-advised chauvinism. This we have tried to counter, for the most part tacitly, by publishing as many articles as we could get (or —more often—that serendipidously came our way) on the SF scene outside the English-speaking world and on non-Anglo-American writers worth special attention. Our coverage in these areas has, however, been rather spotty, and so has our representation of foreign-language criticism. In the hope of effecting improvement, the new editors plan to increase SFS's contacts worldwide, and particularly with Eastern Europe and the Far East.                

Another possible change concerns what Dr Borgmeier sees as a tendency in SFS towards promoting a literary canon. In theory we have been opposed to any such project, especially insofar as it would seek to "legitimate" SF by mimicking the very canonical notions underlying the genre's "ghettoization"—notions which accompanied the institutionalization of Literature in the latter half of the 19th century and continue to serve as a kind of class distinction between "high literature" and "low" (where the latter in effect denominates works deserving of oblivion). At the same time, however, we have fostered the reputation of certain authors—particularly Le Guin, Dick, Delany, Lem, and the Strugatskys (along with H.G. Wells) —while largely neglecting any number of others.                

This seeming discrepancy between principle and practice is in part accountable to our belief that repudiation of the canonizing impulse and of the Arnoldian concept(s) from which it proceeds does not preclude value judgments altogether, but only those which would, so to speak, put themselves beyond question. Hence, in giving special attention to certain writers (most of whom were not fashionable before we accorded them prominence in SFS's pages), we were not out to deify them or exalt selected titles of theirs to the Arnoldian status of "classics." Perhaps equally to the point, the amount of space they have gotten has been less a matter of deliberation than of accident. That consideration applies even more to certain other writers whom Dr. Borgmeier names as recipients of much critical notice in SFS; but it affects most of all those authors whom we have largely or totally ignored. Here (again) the decisive factor has been happenstance, not editorial intention. The fact some writers of SF have not figured as the subjects of an article in SFS never means that we have judged them to be unworthy of critical regard, but only that we have (as yet) had no essays about them come in—or at least none that our consultants deemed suitable for SFS. But four editors may have the time that I have not been able to find to solicit or seek out articles on many of the writers whom we have thus far inadvertently passed over in silence.                

We also trust that chance will play less of a role in the contents of SFS in at least one other respect. It may come as a surprise to many of our readers to learn that the majority of SFS's special issues in the last ten years have been the result of a fortuitous confluence of relatable essays rather than the premeditated product of editorial design. This will not commonly be the case with future special issues inasmuch as the new editors already have plans for putting together a number of them (on post-modernism, cyberpunk, Japanese SF, etc.). What will not change, however, is SFS's continuing openness to any and all submissions which qualify according to the (broad) criteria stipulated on our inside front cover—regardless of the status of the author-critic, academic or otherwise.)                

It is fitting to mark this moment of editorial transition with an issue that displays some of SFS's perennial concerns: with theory (as in Martha Bartter's article on Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand and the Quantum Paradigm), with the history of SF (here represented by Roger Bozzetto's discussion of Kepler's Somnium as the "missing link" between Lucian, say, and Verne and Wells), and with the socio-politics of the genre (a focal point of Bruce Franklin's survey of the interrelationship between American SF and the Vietnam War and a subject incidental to Carlo Pagetti's analysis of Katharine Burdekin's anti-utopian Swastika Night). I am also pleased to observe that the following pages include book reviews by (other) long-time —and indefatigable—friends of SFS: Gary Wolfe and David Ketterer.                

Two features of the present issue—both of which I have already touched upon—seem especially appropriate to this occasion. The first of these, Dr Borgmeier's summation of where SFS has been going, is no "inside job"; rather, it is a third-party account of the matter (as should be evident especially from an innuendo of his about feminism), and one which went through the usual adjudicatory process before being accepted for publication. The other, a Cumulative Index, records the contents of our last seven volumes and thus takes up where its predecessor (in SFS No. 31) left off. (It does not, however, entirely close the books on my editorship. There are still a number of essays I am dealing with that have yet to appear, among them at least one on a subject that I have been trying to get someone to write about for years now: the SF publishing scene in the US.)                

This, the only editorial I have ever signed, affords me an opportunity to express my thanks to a multitude of people for their help and encouragement. My gratitude must go first to my editorial assistants over the years, and notably to Georgia Ludgate, Alison Toms, Douglas Cariou, and Line Maurel (who continues to fashion résumés from abstracts), and (above all) to Donna McGee (for having put up with my irritable self the longest of any of them). I am also grateful to those of you who renewed your subscription promptly, thus saving my assistant(s) the chore of sending you a reminder, and particularly to those who in the process took the time to express your appreciation for SFS—a rare phenomenon, I should think, in the world of academic journals. (I might add here my hope for your patience: the logistics of having SFS word-processed in Indiana and printed in Montréal will likely jeopardize our record of getting your copy of SFS to you within the cover-date month.) My final "thank you" I reserve for the other sine quibus non of any publication such as this: for our various contributors (over 200 of them in the last seven volumes), who contrived to seem pleased about my editorial interventions; for SFS's Consultants, who displayed remarkably good grace in putting up with my importunities; and for my (sometime) fellow editors, Marc Angenot, Darko Suvin, and particularly Charles Elkins, who endeavored to keep things in perspective for me.—RMP

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