Science Fiction Studies

#88 = Volume 29, Part 3 = November 2002


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

Cordwainer Smith in Japan. The first translations of the stories of Paul M.A. Linebarger, who wrote sf under the name Cordwainer Smith, began to appear in Japanese magazines in 1966, the year of his death. The first full-length book of Smith’s stories in Japanese translation, published in 1982, is still in print. Nearly all the remainder of Smith’s sf, including the novel Norstrilia (1975), has since been translated in three additional volumes. A key term in the Smith stories, “the Instrumentality of Mankind,” became known to a much wider audience in Japan and elsewhere when, distinctively translated as Jinrui Hokan Kikô, it was directly incorporated into the popular television anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion (although the series’ Instrumentality Project played out rather differently from the original’s Rediscovery of Man).                

In 1986, Japanese admirers of Smith organized a fan club called The Instrumentality. Their more or less annual fanzine, titled Alpha Ralpha Boulevard after a classic Smith story of 1961, also began publication in 1986 with a print run of 300 per issue. Each issue includes a mixture of commentary on Smith with Japanese translations of work not previously published in Japan. Recent issues have featured translations of story fragments by Smith not yet published even in English. Alpha Ralpha Boulevard also translates scholarship on Smith, including a serialization of Tony Lewis’s Concordance, and graphic representations of one of Smith’s most famous characters, the cat-girl C’mell. These range from professional-quality paintings to manga-and-anime-style erotic drawings: C’mell is often drawn as nude or semi-nude, but the images always include cat-ears and sometimes a cat-tail.                

The “Tenth Anniversary Issue” of Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, dated August 1995, included invited articles both in English and in Japanese translation by John J. Pierce, Alan Elms, and Karen Hellekson. Following issue #11 in 1996, the fanzine entered an extended hiatus, but further issues are planned. The principal translator, Nomura Mahito (he translates under the pseudonym Sakaki Rei), has made three trips to the US to locate additional Smith material in archival collections and to talk with Smith scholars. Anyone interested in obtaining future issues of Alpha Ralpha Boulevardmay contact either Nomura (CI5M-NMR@asahi-net.or.jp) or the fanzine’s publisher, Nagano Takeshi (hokan@big.or.jp). Nagano, who has worked as a professional manga author under the name Nagano Gyow-Psy, contributes much of the zine’s artwork. My thanks to Nomura Mahito, who supplied most of the information for this item. On request, he can provide more detailed bibliographic information about Japanese translations of Cordwainer Smith.—Alan C. Elms, University of California, Davis

Man the Traveler. The latest issue (SFS 29.2 [July 2002]) holds much of interest—not unusually. Slusser and Chatelain are good on various types of narration. Even in a hard sf story, the author’s state of mind enters the picture. We all understand the relationship between sf—perhaps hard sf in particular—and journalism; but the opening words of the article, stating that sf often borrows from travel narrative, could have gone further.                

All Western fiction—and, for all I know, all Eastern fiction, too—owes much to the travel narrative. A convincing discussion of this matter is contained in Percy G. Adams’s Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel (UP of Kentucky, 1983). Proust may have stayed put in his cork-lined room, but most novelists, of which I am one, like to get out a bit. Inevitably, what we find filters into our narratives.                

Professor Adams has a striking quote from an old SFS favorite, Claude Lévi-Strauss, who defines “that crucial moment in modern thought when, thanks to the great voyages of discovery, a human community which had believed itself to be complete and in its final form suddenly learned ... that it was not alone, that it was part of a greater whole, and that, in order to achieve self-knowledge, it must first of all contemplate its unrecognisable image in this mirror.” Although this sounds almost like a prescription for science fiction itself, unfortunately Professor Adams, owing to a fit of mental oblivion to which in general we are well accustomed, does not speak of science fiction. Yet sf has carried on the tradition of which he talks by going farther in space and time than any other form of literature.                

This is where the “search for a definition of man,” mentioned in Gary Westfahl’s review of Michèle and Duncan Barrett’s book Star Trek: The Human Frontier, comes in. I know Gary Westfahl loves to get things wrong, at least where I am concerned, but this phrase is a part of my attempt (in Chapter One of Billion Year Spree) to define science fiction: as difficult to do as defining “a game” to include all games. It was no “belated discovery” (Westfahl 275)—only the very gullible could think it so—but a condensation of my history and my reading dating well back into the 1930s.                

Man as Traveler is a good phrase. There is a new theory about animal morality, which claims that morality is older than the human race. Many such traits have been with mankind for longer than we realize. Even with the Slusser duo’s guidance, it is a difficult theme on which to write!                

May I also venture the odd remark on Carl Freedman’s excellent round-up of books on Mary Shelley (SFS 29.2 (July 2002): 253-64)? Agreed, the Broadview editions of her two sf novels are brilliantly comprehensive. It is extraordinary that a complete edition of Mary Shelley’s works, excellently edited, elegantly printed, should be published by the William Pickering company in 1996, almost a century and a half after the author’s death. No, not merely extraordinary: phenomenal!—Brian W. Aldiss, Oxford

The Golden Age is Now. It is good to read Mark Bould’s piece on the current British sf boom (SFS 29.2 [2002]: 301-310): one more voice in the swelling chorus prophesying success rather than doom. A year or so back, Malcolm Edwards declared that the Golden Age of British science fiction is now. Then, at the “Celebration of British Science Fiction” conference at the University of Liverpool last year, there was the oft-quoted occasion when a publisher was overheard saying he’d been watching Australia for the next big thing, and missed that it was happening in Britain. An awful lot of people have taken up this idea of a British renaissance since then; I know I’ve written a couple of articles to this effect. One of the most remarkable things about this whole phenomenon is the optimism that is associated with it. Given that British sf is more usually equated with pessimism, it is a refreshing change to find writers, critics, academics, commentators, even the normally gloom-laden publishers, smiling upon the world.       

Which is why I would add another significant date to Mark’s time line: 1997, and the election of a new Labour government. The government may not have lived up to our dreams since then, but at least we remember those dreams and that sudden resurgent spring morning. I think we’ve all had a more positive attitude towards the future ever since, which has fed through into our fiction.                

And can I amplify a point Mark made about the Arthur C. Clarke Award? While it is true that the first four winners of the award were an Australian, an American, and two Canadians, it is worth pointing out that one of the Canadians was Geoff Ryman, a long-time British resident who has written all his published work while living in Britain and who, if asked, is more likely to say he is a British writer than a Canadian writer.                

But without wishing to put a damper on this scene of unalloyed joy, it has to be said that all is not as sunny as Mark implies. Brian Stableford has been writing some of the finest novels of his career, but he has no British publisher willing to bring them out over here—and he is not the only established British writer that I know to be having difficulties with British publishers. As for the newer writers, Jo Walton’s acclaimed fantasy novels are being published in North America, not in Britain. Liz Williams has now sold, I believe, four novels in America; one of them is at last going to be appearing from a British publisher, Big Engine, a small press whose schedule grows more erratic by the minute. Cherith Baldry had a fantasy novel published in the US before she found a British publisher for any of her adult novels. These are not isolated examples, and it is a familiar story: Ian McDonald had two books out in the US before anything appeared in Britain, Iain MacLeod’s two American books have yet to see British publication, and so on, and so on.                

I know, from my experience as the Arthur C. Clarke Award administrator over the last few years, that more British publishers are publishing more British sf authors—usually, it must be said, at the expense of American science fiction. But the pool of British publishers is growing smaller, and looking at the current economic climate, I suspect that advances will be falling, if they haven’t fallen already. And there are more than enough British writers already, even in these days of heightened excitement, who seem to be outside the purview of British publishers. I may well be wrong—I certainly hope I am—but in my moments of typically British pessimism I do wonder whether we have the infrastructure to support the renaissance we seem to be engendering.—Paul Kincaid, Administrator, Arthur C. Clarke Award

Alloyed Optimism—Mark Bould responds: I’d like to thank Paul Kincaid for his generous response to my letter. From his position as Clarke Award administrator, he is able to offer more substantial reasons for believing that the boom will be short-lived that nonetheless confirm my cynicism about its longevity. And, yes, I cheated a bit on Ryman; but despite such sf as The Unconquered Country (1986) and The Child Garden (1988), Ryman has always seemed to me more a part of the fantasy boom (the remarkable Was… [1992] and the bizarre Lust [2001]).                

While it is true that British sf has often been “equated with pessimism,” this is in itself a faulty judgment, as I’m sure Paul would agree, although not necessarily for the same reasons. If anything defines the distinct tone of British sf from Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) to Jones’s Bold as Love (2001), it is a sometimes painful, sometimes joyous dialectic of hope and irony. And that, rather than unalloyed optimism, is the tone I wanted to achieve.                

As for the 1997 election of New Labour, I was as surprised by the supposedly universal optimism that this engendered in Britain as I was by the supposedly universal grief at the death of Princess Diana. Even a cursory knowledge of postwar political history shows that the typical response of the Labour party to being elected is to become immediately more conservative, particularly on issues of public expenditure. The only hope anyone I knew had was that New Labour had been lying and that once they were in power they would at least return to their social-democrat if not their socialist roots.               

On a panel at “2001: A Celebration of British Science Fiction” at the University of Liverpool last year, China Miéville threw out the suggestion that the default position of British sf is left-wing, and certainly a significant number of British sf writers can be identified or identify themselves as politically left-of-center: e.g., Jones, Harrison, Miéville, Macleod, Roberts. If the New Labour government does have a significance to the current boom in British sf it is that their misrule has made it even more urgent to have imaginative alternatives.                

Incidentally, I trust that Jonathan Carroll will forgive my perverse and totally unwarranted assertion that he, an American, is British. I want to mention, too, that Gwyneth Jones’s novel previously listed by Amazon.com as Third of Three, the sequel to Bold as Love and Castles Made of Sand (2002), is now listed as The Burning of the Midnight Lamp (2003); Ann Halam’s The Inheritors has been re-titled Taylor Five (2002).—Mark Bould, Buckinghamshire Chilterns Univ. College

Star Trek in American Studies: An Alien Concept. Upon reading Gary Westfahl’s review of Michèle and Duncan Barrett’s STAR TREK: The Human Frontier (SFS 29[2002]: 272-76), I felt a heartening sense that I was not alone. As an American Studies PhD student in Britain studying Star Trek, I am the social pariah of my department: “Oh you’re the one doing Star Trek; that must be fun!” Westfahl’s assertion that there are “unduly harsh criticisms” (272) of Star Trek is confirmed by what I have faced. There are many scholars eager to demonize Star Trek, but, especially in Britain, there are few who acknowledge its broad importance. Indeed, besides The Human Frontier, Chris Gregory’s Star Trek: Parallel Narratives (2000) is the only otherfull-length study of the franchise written by a British scholar and published in the UK. Westfahl appreciates the Barretts’ book as a welcome addition to the existing literature; my main point in writing is simply to emphasize how surprising it is that the book comes out of Britain.

In the US, Star Trek thrives in schools and university departments. US graduate students follow the latest episodes and keep up on the academic debates printed in journals. Books and articles keep Star Trek alive, and not only as a cultural phenomenon. In the UK, by contrast, the franchise is seen mainly as an extraneous curiosity. Academics are happy to criticize Star Trek (and those who write about it), but the franchise has no real intellectual significance for them. Those who take Star Trek seriously encounter a barrier of stubborn academic snobbery. It is no surprise, then, that few choose Star Trek as a dissertation topic, since funding for such projects is non-existent. But even apart from funding, it is discouraging for students to see their topic being dismissed as unimportant, overdone, oversimplified. Rather than seeking to analyze its popularity and uncover why people watch Star Trek and what it means to them, British academics tend to concentrate on colonial and political interpretations. This dismisses Star Trek’s cultural importance and denigrates its academic significance.               

Unfortunately, discrediting Star Trek’s mass audience by accusing the show of being imperialist and gender-biased counts as scholarly debate in Britain, while trying to say anything positive or favorably analytic is tantamount to fandom and academically invalid. Star Trek is wrongly identified with its stereotyped fans; it cannot merit space alongside the more “important” subjects studied and funded in British American Studies departments. There is a myth that students cannot find anything original to say about the Star Trek phenomenon; this myth itself, of course, discourages new work.                

I suppose there will come a time when Star Trek and all that it represents in America will become a bona-fide subject within American Studies departments in Britain. For now it remains confined to a more general cultural studies domain. The reason for this demarcation may partly be owing to the present focus on literary texts and neo-colonialism. These topics represent the high art of American Studies, while Star Trek is low art, a part of popular American culture that has yet to make an impression in British academia, even though it has had over thirty-five years to get its foot in the door.                

Why the discrepancy between American and British academic notions of Star Trek in the classroom? I believe it is because British academics do not want to get too close to their transatlantic cousins. We can study them from afar, but to ascertain American identity by immersing oneself in the realm of the popular is just too American for some people’s taste. Star Trek’s popularity, for British academics, is a concept too alien to imagine.—Lincoln Geraghty, University of Nottingham

Reluctant Pilgrim? In her celebration of Pilgrims and Pioneers (SFS 29.2 [July 2002]: 282-285), Marleen Barr records that “I was profoundly disappointed to learn that ... no record ... exists” of Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s 1971 Pilgrim Award acceptance speech. She continues, “It would be wonderful to fill this absence with a commemorative presence. I propose establishing the Marjorie Hope Nicolson Award for the best essay on women and science fiction authored by a junior scholar” (283). I attended the 1971 Secondary Universe Conference in Toronto and recall being informed (by whom I cannot now remember) that Professor Nicolson was distinctly underwhelmed on learning about her Pilgrim Award. While she did not reject it, she did seem to have rather disdained it. She did not attend the 1971 conference (or any subsequent SFRA conference, to the best of my knowledge). It is my understanding that she never composed an acceptance speech. Unfortunately, most of the people who would know the facts, including members of the Award Committee, are now dead. Darko Suvin may remember.—David Ketterer, Concordia University

Ed. Response: It is regrettable that Nicholson never delivered a Pilgrim Award acceptance speech, because it most likely would have been memorable. In a speech given in 1937 at Smith College (where she was Dean), for instance, Nicolson asserted roundly that “the fundamental reason that women do not achieve so greatly in the professions as do men is that women have no wives” (qtd. by Janice Thaddeus in When Women Look at Men [Harper, 1963]; emphasis in original). First woman president of Phi Beta Kappa (1940), first woman graduate professor (and first woman chair of the English Department) at Columbia, President in 1963 of the Modern Language Association, Marjorie Hope Nicholson may well have been rather bemused by this recognition from the then-fledgling SFRA.—CM

Gibson Science Fiction Collection. The library at the University of Calgary has received a gift of 30,000-40,000 science fiction books and magazines from the family of a local collector who died in 2001. Although librarians have yet to unpack all the material, it’s clear from the collector’s indexes that the collection ranges from Jules Verne in the nineteenth century through cyberpunk in the late twentieth. Early indications are that it is strong in the pulp magazines of the 1920s–1950s, as well as in monographs on early twentieth-century sf. William Robert (Bob) Gibson, the collector, had a lifelong love affair with books and reading. During his 92 years he amassed a collection that filled the family attic, garage, and a separate storage shed. Shortly after his death, his son Andrew, a U of C alumnus, approached the university about donating the collection.                

Ultimately, the Gibson Collection will be made available through the Special Collections Reading Room at the MacKimmie Library. The Gibson collection immediately becomes one of the strongest resources anywhere for the study of science fiction. In North America, the Merril Collection at the Toronto Public Library has about 57,000 items, and the Eaton Collection at the University of California, Riverside has in excess of 65,000 items. Other universities with much smaller collections are still considered important resources for research, however. The library at Michigan State holds about 12,000 sf items and ranks itself in the top 20 research collections of its kind.       

It’s anticipated that the presence of the Gibson Collection will attract donations of other science fiction materials: the Merril Collection, for example, began in the 1970s with only a few thousand items. Library officials also hope that having the Gibson Collection here will attract the literary papers of important science fiction writers. Additional information is posted at  <www.fp.ucalgary.ca/unicomm/news/gibson>.—Christine Mains, University of Calgary

Not (Yet) the Droids We’re Looking For. According to a recent Associated Press story, an AI entity named GRACE (Graduate Robot Attending ConferencE) has been programmed to circulate at professional meetings—“sign in at the registration desk, find a conference room, give a speech, and answer questions.” (No word yet on such other essential conference skills as formulating hostile questions at the Business Meeting or coping with the sudden failure of audio-visual equipment.) Though she speaks with a woman’s voice, GRACE, unlike Lester Del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy” (1938), is not humanoid in form: her “barrel-shaped torso” sounds more reminiscent of Stanley G. Weinbaum’s Martians in “A Martian Odyssey”(1934) and is “sheathed with solar panels and black plastic bumper guards.” Software and hardware for GRACE were contributed from universities and laboratories across the country. Her handlers hope that eventually GRACE will learn to respond independently to new information; but as of July 25, date of the story, the robot could not yet answer spoken questions.—CM

SFRA Awards for 2002. At the annual meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association, which was held in New Lanark, Scotland last June, Joan Gordon, an editor of SFS, received the Thomas Clareson Award for outstanding service to the profession. The winner of the Pioneer Award for best essay on sf was Judith Berman’s “Science Fiction Without the Future,” published in The New York Review of Science Fiction. The Mary Kay Bray Award for the best article to appear in the SFRA Review went to Karen Hellekson for “Transforming the Subject: Humanity, The Body, and Posthumanism,” and the Student Paper Award was shared by Eric Drown and Sha La Bare. The Pilgrim Award for lifetime contributions to science fiction and fantasy scholarship went to Mike Ashley.—Michael Levy, President, SFRA

British Boom Special Issue. Mark Bould and Andrew M. Butler are editing a special issue of Science Fiction Studies on the current boom in British sf, which is scheduled to appear in November 2003. We are looking for articles of up to 8500 words on British sf writers who have come to prominence in the last decade, or on other aspects of the boom. We also seek shorter responses to the following questions, which can be edited together to provide a mosaic overview of the boom and responses to it. Is there a boom in British sf? If yes, how would you characterize it? Who are the main figures (authors, editors, agents, publishers, critics, fans)? When did it begin? Is it already over? How does it relate to the current boom in fantasy and fantastic children’s and young adult fiction? Deadline for submissions: July 1, 2003. Send submission to Dr Mark Bould (mark.bould@bcuc.ac.uk) or Dr Andrew M. Butler (ambutler@ enterprise.net) at Department of Arts and Media, BCUC, Queen Alexandra Road,HIGH WYCOMBE,HP11 2JZ, GB.—Andrew M. Butler

Call for Essays: SF and Everyday Life. Reconstruction is a cultural studies journal dedicated to contemporary interdisciplinary studies. A themed issue on “Science Fiction and Everyday Life” will be published July 21, 2003. For consideration, submissions should be received no later than May 19, 2003.  Articles may draw on geography, cultural studies, folklore, architecture, history, sociology, psychology, communications, music, political science, semiotics, theology, art history, queer theory, literature, criminology, urban planning, gender studies, or other fields. Theoretical and empirical approaches are equally welcome. All queries and submissions should be sent to <submissions@reconstruction.ws>. Large files, such as Flash movies or essays with many large pictures, should be sent on a zip disk or CD-R to: Submissions, Reconstruction, 104 East Hall, Bowling Green State U, Bowling Green, OH 43402. Please visit us at <http://www.reconstruction.ws>.—Davin Heckman and Matthew Wolf-Meyer, Eds.

Special Issue on SF and The Fantastic. The Fall 2003 issue of The Velvet Light Trap, A Critical Journal of Film & Television will showcase sf and fantasy. From Georges Méliès to The Matrix, The Twilight Zone to The X-Files, the closely related genres of sf and fantasy have had a significant impact on the histories of film and television. In recent years, the spectacular qualities of these genres, along with their capacity to appeal to both mass audiences and smaller fan cultures, have made them central to what has been called the “New Hollywood” and to syndicated and cable television. The iconography, language, and ideas of science fiction, filtered to us through the media, have been appropriated by fashion designers, politicians, tabloid talk-show guests, and scientists alike, while the culture and technology that science fiction has helped to shape is, in turn, constantly feeding the genre with new ideas and new images. The fantastic, magical, and unreal can be seen almost any time we turn on a television set or make the trip to the nearest multiplex, in forms familiar to genre aficionados (e.g. Fellowship of the Ring), in television comedies (as in Ally McBeal and Scrubs), and in documentaries on imaginary creatures. This forthcoming special issue of The Velvet Light Trap will explore cultural, industrial, textual, and audience-centered questions about sf and the fantastic in the media from both contemporary and historical perspectives.—Mobina Hasmi, University of Wisconsin

Ed Note: This item is based on a rather tardy call for submissions for the Fall 2003 special issue; it was posted on the SFRA Discussion group approximately 10 days before the final deadline for submitting articles. This suggests that input from the sf research community may be minimal, but it should still be an interesting issue.—CM

Call for Submissions. FEMSPEC, an interdisciplinary feminist journal dedicated to critical and creative works in sf, fantasy, magical realism, myth, folklore, and other supernatural genres, is accepting submissions for a special issue on black women’s speculative fiction. We expect that critical essays will either take a black feminist/womanist analysis or provide a strong gender critique. Possible topics include matriarchies and patriarchies of the future, black feminist (re)visions of the world, black witches (obeah women, root workers, and conjure women), gender dynamics, representations of black womanhood, rethinking (her)story through fantasy, and black women in Caribbean, African-American, or African folklore. Essays might question how black women speculate, (re)write, (re)visit, and (re)envision history in ways that connect them to black women’s legacy of struggle. While black women have always emphasized speculation in their creative works, why is there now a surge of interest in their works? Contributions focusing on the work of Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, Sandra Jackson-Opoku, Tina McElroy-Ansa, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Phyllis Alesia Perry, Jewelle Gomez, Julie Dash, and Kasi Lemmons are particularly welcome. We are seeking critical articles, book reviews, artwork, poetry, and fiction on this topic. Critical articles should be 15 pages (MLA format), and short fiction should be no longer than 15 pages. Book reviews should follow the FEMSPEC guidelines, which are available at <http://www.csuohio.edu/femspec>. For further information or queries, please contact Yolanda Hood <yhood@unca.edu>and/or Gwendolyn D. Pough <pough002@umn.edu>, the Guest Editors. Submissions marked “Speculative Black Women: Magic, Fantasy, and the Supernatural” should be sent to: FEMSPEC, Caddo Gap Press, 3145 Geary Boulevard, PMB 275, San Francisco, CA 94118.  Four copies should be submitted on which your name, address, and contact points do not appear; those should be provided on a separate title page. Submission deadline is July 30, 2003.—Yolanda Hood and Gwendolyn Pough

CFP: SFRA at Guelph. The thirty-fourth Science Fiction Research Association Conference will be held from June 26–29, 2003 at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. The focus is on the intersections between history and speculative fiction. Geoff Ryman will be Guest of Honor; other guests will include Candas Jane Dorsey, Phyllis Gotlieb, Nalo Hopkinson, Robert J. Sawyer, Karl Schroeder, and Peter Watts. Plenary speaker Farah Mendlesohn  will focus on children’s sf. We are also expecting Special Guest Cliff Gates to demonstrate Fakespace. Possible topics for papers include Cosmologies and Eschatologies, (D)Evolution in SF, Origins of the Genre, Forebears of SF, Ancestors and Descendants of Frankenstein’s Monster, the Golden Age of SF, Space Opera and American History, Pioneers in Space, SF and War, Films Look at SF, Generation Starships, Time Travel, Historical Fantasy/Fantastical History, Alternate Histories, Steampunk and Urban Fantasy, Futures Near and Far, The Decline and Fall of Galactic Empires, Intersecting Genres, Changing Paradigms of Race and Gender, and the History of SF Scholarship (including  the SFRA). Papers on any of the guest writers are especially welcome, as are papers on any other aspect of sf.                

Proposals to read a paper (20 minute reading time) or to organize a panel should be received by October 8, 2002. Electronic submissions are encouraged; please copy-and-paste the submission into the email rather than sending it as an attachment. Send a brief paragraph, including title of the paper and contact information for the presenter, to:<cemains@shaw.ca> Christine Mains, Department of English, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB Canada T2N 1N4 or to <doug.barbour@ualberta.ca> Douglas Barbour, Department of English, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB Canada T6G 0B9.—Christine Mains and Douglas Barbour


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