Science Fiction Studies

#75 = Volume 25, Part 2 = July 1998


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

Re: David Ketterer, “The Editor’s Slant on The Time Machine.” In declaring that in my chapter on The Time Machine I have “decided that the Editor is mistaken” and that the floor of the museum of Green Porcelain does in fact slant, David Ketterer has unfortunately misunderstood me (SFS 25.1 [March 1998]: 156). In my interpretation I accepted the “editor's” reading of the situation as an illusion of vertical movement generated by a horizontal floor entering a hill. When I said the Time Traveller “wasn't even aware of the slope,” I was simply paraphrasing the text, just as Ketterer does for a para-graph, and my point in calling the “editor’s” footnote “curious” was not to doubt its interpretation but only to emphasize the strangeness of the correcting voice that is unaccounted for in the apparatus of the novel. The novel uses the remarkable device emphasizing the otherwise unremarkably horizontal floor of the museum to pose the important possibility that the absolute antithesis represented by up-down in the novel may be bridgeable. I find Ketterer’s play with the word “hill” a slightly distracting and arbitrary allegory (do all hills in Wells entail Darwinian themes? is an “anthill” important for its shape or for the density of its internal population?), but I can easily agree with his broad conclusion that the novel puts the direction of the evolutionary vector in doubt.                

The misunderstanding would not matter, were it not that Ketterer’s note seems to associate me with Leon Stover’s picture of Wells as a rabid imperialist and eugenicist. Stover’s Wells is said to believe in a “war to the knife” with no possibility of mediation; therefore, the “war to the knife” is said to prevail in the novels. The premise is false, and the logic circular. My book was an argument against such a reading based on an analysis of the texts from Wells’s first decade of publication. In a more recent essay “The Time Machine and Wells’s Social Trajectory” (Foundation, 65 [1995]: 6-15), I have started to extend the argument in a biographical direction and argue that if Wells occasionally exhibits lower-class anxiety and hostility toward the dominant classes, he also dearly wants to succeed economically, socially, and artistically. The complexity and energy of his art arise in part from these contradictory motives of anger and ambition and the ingenuity with which he mediates them.—John Huntington, UI, Chicago.

The Textual History of Hugo Gernsback’s Ralph 124C 41+: Addendum. After the publication of “Evolution of Modern Science Fiction: The Textual History of Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C 41+” (23.1 [March 1996]: 137-82), David Pringle asked me why I had not men­tioned the British edition of the book, published as a Cherry Tree Novel in 1952; my abashed response was that I had forgotten about, and had made no effort to obtain, that edition. Later, Edward James kindly made and mailed me a copy of the book, and finally, a few months ago, I was able to complete a line-by-line examination of the text.

Generally, the British Ralph 124C 41+ (with subtitle, A Romance of the Year 2660, dropped) is a faithful and accurate rendering of the 1950 Second Edition from Frederick Fell, Inc.; for once, Gernsback's prose received the respect it did not deserve. True, the Lee De Forest and Fletcher Pratt “Fore­words” were removed, as was the 1925 “Preface to the First Edition,” leaving only the 1950 “Preface to the Second Edition” as “Preface,” yet the main text was not meaningfully altered; only on rare occasions does one note the re­moval or addition of one small word. Signs of inattentiveness are equally infrequent, such as “no dirt or germs” (50:70) given as “no dirt or gems” (52:57) and “eating salon” (52:73) given as “eating saloon” (52:60). In addi­tion, one long but clear sentence with faulty parallelism is in evident haste recast as two confusing sentence fragments:

Ralph learned from him that the purchaser of the new machine, one of the very latest models, was Fernand, beyond any doubt, and when he was informed that the latter had plentifully supplied himself with spare parts as if for a long journey, and moreover, the most significant fact that the cabin had been fitted out as a lady's boudoir, then indeed were his worst suspicions confirmed. (50:150-541)

Ralph learned from him that the purchaser of the new machine, one of the very latest models, was Fernand, beyond any doubt, and when he was in­formed that the latter had plentifully supplied himself with spare parts as if for a long journey.
        Moreover, the most significant fact that the cabin had been fitted out as a lady’s boudoir, then indeed were his worst suspicions confirmed. (52:135-36)

 

Other than such infelicities, there are three major sorts of changes in the 1952 text.               

First, and demanding no comment, is the regular use of British instead of American spellings.                

Second, like T. O'Conor Sloane’s editing of the 1925 text in 1929, but with less energy, the 1952 editor attempted to expand and regularize Gernsback’s use of the comma. A few principles were unfailingly followed: the phrase “of course” was always enclosed in commas, and adverbs or phrases modifying a verb of speech were always set off with commas: “she gasped faintly” (50:122) becomes “she gasped, faintly” (52:107). Otherwise there are no consis­tent patterns: commas are sometimes added where they are clearly needed, sometimes added where they are not needed, and sometimes not added where they are clearly needed. However, since the added commas are not as numer­ous or as intrusive as Sloane’s, the flow of the prose is not significantly slowed down.                

Finally, the 1952 editor is bothered by, and frequently breaks up, long paragraphs, and even some not-so-long paragraphs. Since Gernsback’s detailed explanations often drone on at great length, one might defensibly break some long paragraphs in half, and that occurs; more strange is the habit of removing the first sentence, or the last sentence, of a paragraph while leaving it other­wise intact, which sometimes results in the separation of a topic sentence from its development. At times, this tendency to create short paragraphs arguably heightens the effect, as in one crucial moment of realization:                

Suddenly an electric thrill seemed to pass through his body and his clouded mental vision cleared. A picture flashed upon his mind. He saw himself in his laboratory on Earth, bending over a “dead” dog. And there came to him a memory of the words of that Dean of scientists:
                “What you have done with a dog, you can do with a human being.” (50:195-96)

       

Suddenly an electric thrill seemed to pass through his body and his clouded mental vision cleared. A picture flashed upon his mind.
        He saw himself in the laboratory on Earth, bending over a “dead” dog.
        And there came to him a memory of the words of that Dean of scientists:                         “What you have done with a dog, you can do with a human being.” (52:179)

 

In other cases, however, the splits into shorter paragraphs are pointless and serve only to make Gernsback’s prose seem even more juvenile than it is, as in his description of the “vacation city”:                

“There is one unique place, I am sure you will be interested in.” Ralph led the way to the elevator and they quickly shot up to the roof, where they boarded one of Ralph’s flyers and within a few minutes were heading north. The machine rose un­til they were up about 20,000 feet. The cold made it necessary to turn on the heat in the enclosed cab. In the distance, just ahead there shortly appeared a brilliant spot of light suspended in the dark sky, which quickly increased in size as they approached. From a distance it appeared like an enormous hemisphere with the flat side facing the earth below. As they drew close, they could see that it was a great city suspended in the air apparently cov­ered with a transparent substance, just as if a toy city had been built on a dinner plate and covered with a bell-shaped globe.
                They alighted on the rim, at a landing stage outside the transparent covering. They were soon walking along a warm, beau­ti­ful­ly laid out street. Here was neither bustle nor noise. The deepest calm prevailed. There were small houses of an old-fashioned design. There were shops in great profusion. There were playgrounds, neatly-laid-out parks, but without looking at the humans that were walking around, the visitors felt as if they had gone back many centuries.
                There were no power roller skates, no automatic vehicles. There were no aerofly­ers beneath the glass ceiling. Instead a serene calm prevailed, while people with happy expressions on their faces were leisurely walking to and fro. (50:131-32)

       

“There is one unique place, I am sure you will be interested in.”
        Ralph led the way to the elevator and they quickly shot up to the roof, where they boarded one of Ralph’s flyers and within a few minutes were heading north. The machine rose until they were up about 20,000 feet. The cold made it necessary to turn on the heat in the enclosed cab. In the distance, just ahead there shortly appeared a brilliant spot of light suspended in the dark sky, which quickly increased in size as they approached. From a distance it appeared like an enormous hemisphere with the flat side facing the earth below.
        As they drew close, they could see that it was a great city suspended in the air apparently covered with a transparent substance, just as if a toy city had been built on a dinner plate and covered with a bell-shaped globe.
        They alighted on the rim, at a landing stage outside the transparent covering. They were soon walking along a warm, beautifully laid out street. Here was neither bustle nor noise. The deepest calm prevailed.
        There were small houses of an old- fashioned design. There were shops in great profusion. There were playgrounds, neatly- laid-out parks, but without looking at the humans that were walking around, the visitors felt as if they had gone back many centuries.
        There were no power roller skates, no automatic vehicles. There were no aerofly­ers beneath the glass ceiling.
        Instead a serene calm prevailed, while people with happy expressions on their faces were leisurely walking to and fro. (52:116-17)

 

Still, if these are the only sorts of changes one can find to discuss, it is obvious that British readers of the Cherry Tree edition, unlike readers of the 1929 Amazing Stories Quarterly version or the 1958 Fawcett Crest version, may generally trust the book as a reasonably reliable transcription of what, for better or worse, Gernsback actually intended to write.

THE 1950 AND 1952 EDITIONS OF RALPH 124C 41+ BY HUGO GERNSBACK
Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660. Second edition. New York: Frederick Fell, Inc. 1950. 207 pp. The 1925 text, lightly edited by Gernsback, with the 1925 “Preface” (as “Preface to the First Edition”), a new “Preface to the Second Edi­tion” by Gernsback, two “Forewords” by Lee De Forest and Fletcher Pratt, and Paul’s illustrations omitted.
Ralph 124C 41+. Fantasy Books. A Cherry Tree Novel. Manchester, England: Kems­ley Newspapers Ltd., 1952. 190 pp. Basically an accurate version of the 1950 edition, with very minor changes and including only the “Preface to the Second Edition,” here entitled “Preface.” The cover has a subtitle, “Thrilling Adventures in the Year 2660,” not on the title page. —Gary Westfahl, University of California, Riverside

Surrealism and Sf. According to Roger Bozzetto and Arthur B. Evans, the oeuvre of Serge Brussolo “raises some interesting critical questions about the palpable links between surrealism and science fiction—questions which, at least to date, continue to be largely unexplored in sf scholarship” (“The Surrealistic Science Fiction of Serge Brussolo,” SFS 24.3 [November 1997]: 437). The endnote linked to this statement maintains that “To our knowledge, there currently exists no in-depth study of sf and surrealism” (438 n.l0). Twenty-two years ago I attempted to sketch the outlines of such a study in one segment of an article entitled “Science Fiction and Allied Literature”—the three paragraphs beginning with this sentence: “It is rather surprising that the considerable affinity which exists between surrealism and SF has not attracted more attention” (SFS 3.1 [March 1976]: 71). In this article, a coda to my book, New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature (1974), my concern was to elaborate on those literary forms and flavors (largely of European origin) which I envisaged as comprising that embracing category I dubbed the “apocalyptic” (as distinct from two other catch-all categories—the “mimetic” and the “fan­tastic”/“hermetic”). I paid particular attention to the sublime, metaphysical poetry, the literary hoax, Brechtian estrangement, and surrealism but I also gestured towards such things as the gothic novel and one work of postmodern fiction (Gravity’s Rainbow). A useful history of sf might be written which explains its development in terms of its annexing vitalizing aspects of these and other apocalyptic, or potentially apocalyptic, genres and modes. That development perhaps began with the imaginary voyage and has recently involved postmodernism. It could be argued that isolated amalgams of surrealism and sf predate the surrealist movement; given a Borgesian retrospective, the blend might be discerned, for example, in some descriptive passages in the fiction of Jules Verne. But to the extent that J.G. Ballard is representative of the New Wave in sf, he also represents that moment when the entire sf genre was revitalized by drawing significantly on the apocalyptic energies of surrealism.—David Ketterer, Concordia University.

 

Friends of Albert Robida.  The good news for John Pierce (“Plans for Robida in English,” SFS 25.1 [March 1998]: 555) is that Albert Robida goes from strength to strength in France. An association was founded recently, Les Amis d’Albert Robida. For more  information, write to: Le Secrétaire Général, 25, rue François Debargue, 78170 La Celle de Saint Cloud, France.                

Robida is a prophet more honored in his own country than elsewhere. The only English translation of La Guerre au vingtième siècle appears in I.F. Clarke, The Tale of the Next Great War (Liverpool University Press, 1995), pp. 95-122. There have been recent reprints of his illustrated travel books and of two of his livres futuristiques. These are Le Vingtième siècle (Paris: Tallandier, 1991; 404 pp., 275 illus.) and La Guerre au vingtième siècle (Paris: Tallandier, 1991; 64 pp, 62 illus.).—I.F. Clarke

 

M.A. in Sf. Information about the University of Reading’s 12-month Master of Arts program in “Science Fiction—Histories, Texts, Media,” may be ob-tained from: The Secretary for Postgraduate Courses, Department of English, University of Reading, P. O. Box 218, Reading RG6 6AA. The e-mail address is <english@reading.ac.uk>. Faculty include Patrick Parrinder (English) and Edward James (History).

 

SF Web Sites and Discussion Groups 
                France: Roger Bozzetto writes with news of an internet site in France devoted to university criticism of sf and the fantastic. Its web address is:
<http://www.up.univ-mrs.fr/~wcaruli/>.
                Brazil: Following a suggestion made by Bruce Sterling during a guest appearance last November at a convention in Brazil, the discussion list Rede Global Paraliteraria (Global Paraliterary Net) has been set up to discuss international sf, especially the interchange between Anglophone and non-Anglophone sf. According to its co-founder Roberto de Sousa Causo, the goal of the discussion group is to “devise strategies to deflect or diffuse the influence of Anglo-American sf upon the various science fictions of non-Anglophone origin, perhaps using the Internet as a base for translations and information-swapping. Among the strategies proposed by Sterling is the notion of a lateral import-export movement of sf from non-Anglophone countries to non-Anglophone countries, in order to break down, at least to some extent, the roles of ‘exporter countries’ (e.g., the United States, England) and ‘importer countries’ (the rest of the world).”  Currently there are 70 subscribers from 20 countries; the list has a companion sublist for commercial announcements. To subscribe send a message, without content, but with “subscribe” as topic, to <RGP@dks.com.br>. Messages are distributed in English. The list is managed by Roberto de Sousa Causo, <roberto.causo@dks.com.br>. 
                Global Paraliterary Net is also planning a website and a book about non-mainstream speculative fiction and its relationship to the Anglo-American tradition. The book will consider international sf and ethnic sf in English: Native American, African American, post-colonial, etc. Address for submissions to the book project: R.S. Causo, Rua Aimbere, 406/103 Sao Paulo-Sp 05018-010 Brazil.
                MLA: The welcome re-establishment of the Modern Language Association Discussion Group on Science Fiction, Utopian, and Fantastic Literature has generated a new unmoderated discussion list managed by Peter Sands of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,<sands@uwm.edu>. In order to sub-scribe, send a message to <listserv@csd.uwm.edu>. The address of the related website (still “nascent,” according to Sands) is:
                <http://www.uwm.edu/~sands/sfuf/home.htm>.
                Etc.: Addresses of some well-established sf websites and discussion groups:
Science Fiction Research Association:
                <http://www.uwm.edu./~sands/sfra/scifi.htm>
Society for Utopian Studies:
                <http://www.utoronto.ca/utopia/index.html>
International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts:
                <http://ebbs.english.vt.edu/iafa/iafa.home.html>
Science Fiction Foundation (Univ. of Liverpool):
                <http://www.liv.ac.uk/~asawyer/sffc1.html>

 

Call for Papers. The Twentieth J. Lloyd Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, to be held January 15-17, 1999, in Riverside, Cali-fornia. Topic: “Science Fiction at the Crossroads of Two Cultures.” Today, decades after C.P. Snow prominently decried the separation of the “two cultures,” the gap between the sciences and the humanities is commonly said to be wider than ever. The Twentieth J. Lloyd Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature proposes to examine and challenge this asser-tion, primarily through a look at the fortunes of science fiction and other “literatures of science” in the twentieth century, along with some consideration of the new forms these might take in the twenty-first century. Papers are welcome that focus on science fiction and other notable places and forms of intersection and interaction between science and the humanities, including scientific “thought experiments,” “mainstream” fiction, fantasy and horror literature, cinema and the visual arts, architecture and urban planning, belief systems, and other cultural manifestations. To what degree and in what ways have scientific theory and/or technological advancement impacted on these humanistic endeavors, and vice versa? And what might be their modes of interaction in the future? Presentations should be 20 to 25 minutes in length (10 to 14 pages). A volume of the most significant papers, revised as essays, will be published by a university press. Papers or proposals should be sent by Sept. 15, 1998, to George Slusser, Dept. of Comparative Literature, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521 (e-mail: <slus@ucrac1.ucr.edu>──the “1” is the number one), or to Gary Westfahl, The Learning Center 052, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521 (e-mail: <westfahl@pop.ucr.edu>).


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