Science Fiction Studies

#89 = Volume 30, Part 1 = March 2003


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

Japanese and Russian SF. Sakyô KOMATSU-san’s interview (SFS 29.3: 323-339) is most interesting. He is typically modest about the International Symposium of Science Fiction held in 1970 in conjunction with Expo in Kyoto. It really was the first of its kind, and has led to a more international outlook of many writers and readers ever since.

However, while we should never underestimate our ignorance, it is not quite accurate to say that we few Westerners who attended that symposium were totally ignorant of Russian sf. Despite the petrifying effect of the Cold War, some Russian science fiction had reached the West—thanks in part to Moscow, which published English-language translations of several writers during the 1960s. More Soviet SF was published by Collier in the US in 1962 with an Introduction by Isaac Asimov. I do not have that volume with me now; but if recollection serves, it contained Ivan Yefremov’s remarkable story “Cor Serpentis,” translated as “The Heart of the Serpent” (1959), which was a response to Murray Leinster’s “First Contact” (1945), indicating that there was some sort of reciprocity among nations even then. And Yefremov’s thumping great Tumannost’ Andromedy (1957) was translated into English as Andromeda in 1959.            

By 1970 we had realized that sf was an international language. A photograph of the leading lights of the Symposium is included in my autobiography, Twinkling of an Eye (Little-Brown, 1998). While this is not an attempt to sell my book, I am sure that everyone will agree how terrific I look in a bow tie and starched shirt. Komatsu does not give the names of the Russians who attended that august event. They included a man I had met previously in London, the wonderfully sardonic Julius Kagarlitski, who wrote a book on the life and thought of H.G. Wells (1963; translated into English in 1966) and no less a personage than Vasili Zakharchenko, then editor of Tekhnika-molodezhi (Technology for Youth), a Russian sf magazine which—to our envy—sold two million copies per month. Zakharchenko was a popular idol in the Soviet Union. When we toured the Russian pavilion at the Expo, lissome young Russian ladies (another eye-opener for us!) rushed to his side to ask for autographs.            

Ask Fred Pohl about all this if you don’t believe me. Of course we all went shopping. The Western contingent bought little electronic goodies, cordless microphones, and all that. The Russian contingent bought kettles and blankets. Clearly, communism and capitalism were not, as often supposed, mirror images of one another. That was another thing we learnt at the 1970 Symposium.—Brian W. Aldiss, Oxford
  
Apologia pro Anthologia Sua.
I thank Paul Alkon for his kind and flattering review of my British Future Fiction (SFS 29.3 [2002]: 492-96). Although I accept without question his reproof for my failure to include Jane Webb’s The Mummy (1827) in the succession of selected titles,I cannot find it in myself to cry Mea Culpa! Indeed, I think he may forgive me when he learns how I came to pass by the lady he so gallantly champions. I write as one who has boldly ventured where others have never gone; and I have returned to tell the tale of how it was out there. I offer all that follows as a beginner’s guide to the hazards that face anyone rash enough to attempt a large-scale anthology.            

I was an innocent when I contracted with Pickering & Chatto (14 August 1998) to compile “a six-volume work, with a page count not to exceed 2,100 pages in total, at 500 words per page.” I did not know then, and could never have foreseen, that the word/page count of selected texts would prove the major factors in the final choice of titles. As I found that favored first-choices had to be stricken from the list of potential entries, experience soon taught me that the page-length of a book had to be weighed against the range of the entries. Get the balance wrong, and the wire-walker would end with more future wars or feminist projections than the anthology could support, and by default there would not be enough space for utopias or dystopias. In the early stages I had to say No with immense regret to vast three-deckers such as Edward Maitland’s By and By (1873), which ran to 1,034 pages, and to Andrew Blair’s Annals of the Twenty-Ninth Century (1874), which had a total of 758 pages. At this stage, however, the problems were manageable, since I was then committed to six volumes in a re-set edition. This had the great advantage of reducing the page-count of the numerous Victorian titles that were often printed in fourteen point or larger. Moreover, the uniform page-size promised advantageous economies in the length of most texts, especially in the largest Victorian volumes, which sometimes presented readers with pages as big as 5.9 x 8.25 inches.           

My recollection of that primal period, when the future still seemed to promise a serene progress, goes back to the early days of February 1999. The first two volumes had been completed—provisionally—and Jane Webb’s The Mummy was high on the list of prime candidates. And then everything was thrown into doubt. A letter from the publishers (17 February) told me that they had recoiled from “the high costs of resetting.” Stop all engines and go right-about! They would now aim to publish a facsimile edition in a set of eight volumes with a total of 5,000 pages. Readers may like to think that I chose to do my duty by the human race when I decided to soldier on.            

Words no longer mattered; the page-count of the original texts was the primary criterion. Many pages signaled mortal danger. So a long process of recalculation began. By the week and by the month, possible entries came to judgment and either passed or failed the severe requirements that worked against the longer texts. There were moments of grief, when only the leanest and the fittest could hope to survive. For better or for worse—I cannot tell—the inexorable logic of the new selection process caused me to strike out The Mummy, because Jane Webb’s chatty three volumes at 995 pages were far more than the nascent anthology could carry without serious losses in other areas.            

I trust this brief history will persuade Paul Alkon to forgive me for what I had to do. For him, for all readers, my last words are: anthologies are voyages into the unknown, encounters with the intractable that demand the cruelest choices. And yet there is still hope that Jane Webb, like a second Aphrodite, may rise again. Has Alkon considered a new edition of The Mummy? I cannot think of anyone better qualified to edit and comment on the new text. The fine work that went into Origins of Futuristic Fiction (U of Georgia P, 1987) is the guarantee of an outstanding work of resurrection. Incidentally, some additions to Paul Alkon’s list of locations for The Mummy: the 1827 edition can be found in the Bodleian Library, the British Library, and the Science Fiction Foundation Library. There is an engagingly defective copy in Trinity College Library in Dublin: pages 49-70 are bound in upside down.—I.F. Clarke

Reply to I.F. Clarke. All is forgiven. The anthologist’s lot is not a happy one. Clarke’s harrowing tale from the Pickering & Chatto crypt would melt a heart of stone. I was more right than I knew when in my review I called him intrepid as well as articulate and erudite. We must all be grateful that he has safely returned from doing battle with the monsters of inexorable logic set loose upon him by his penny-pinching publisher. I won’t presume to say whether Jane Webb looking down from heaven forgives him for calling her work “chatty” and dismissing it from the ranks of “the leanest and the fittest.” But certainly those of us who find the plumpness of her volumes pleasing will join Clarke in hoping that The Mummy will rise again in an edition of its own that may attract attention denied to anthologized works packed amid the most thin and taciturn specimens of their kind. I appreciate Clarke’s generous nomination of me for this task, but cannot undertake it now. Surely Pickering & Chatto owes Clarke one for his heroic compliance with their sudden change of course. They should be receptive to a stand-alone facsimile edition of The Mummy edited by their exemplary anthologist and likely to be bought by all those who purchased British Future Fiction, which has surely whetted readers’ appetites for more.            

In case (perish the thought) any readers of this journal overlooked my review of Clarke’s courageous anthology, let me here reiterate my conclusion: “Every university library ought to acquire British Future Fiction 1700-1914. Everyone seriously concerned with the history of sf and utopian literature ought to consult it and if possible buy a set” (496). I hope that what I said about The Mummy in the review, together with Clarke’s comments and mine in this exchange, will encourage those unfamiliar with Webb’s masterpiece to seek it out for themselves while awaiting the utopian day of its twenty-first century republication. (And it wouldn’t hurt to read or read again Chapter Six of my Origins of Futuristic Fiction.) Although I did note in my review that a complete text may be found in the British Library (as well as at the Boston Public Library, the Library of Congress, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Yale), there is no harm in Clarke’s including the British Library in his additions to my list of locations for the 1827 edition of The Mummy. I’ll add that a copy of its 1872 (second) edition is in the Eaton Collection at the University of California in Riverside. I’m happy to learn from Clarke about the  “engagingly defective copy in Trinity College Library (Dublin)” in which pages 49-70 are upside down. As penance for so blithely taking him to task for omitting The Mummy, I should no doubt travel to Dublin and read those pages while standing on my head.—Paul K. Alkon, University of Southern California
  
Non-Pilgrim? Many years ago, Tom Clareson told me that Professor Marjorie Hope Nicolson refused the Pilgrim Award (SFS 29.3: 534-35). If SFRA has an archive, it should be possible to determine if, as I interpreted Tom, she rejected it and thus should not be listed as a Pilgrim recipient at all, or whether she merely refused to attend or send a talk when the award was given. Her wishes should certainly be respected. It would also be better if SFS could spell her name correctly; it is wrong twice in no. 88.—Lyman Tower Sargent, University of Missouri-St. Louis
 
On the Errant “H.”
David Ketterer had the spelling exactly right: my mistake and my apologies.—CM
 
Cultures of Technology. SFS editor Rob Latham was on hand in November 2002 at the School of English and Humanities at Birkbeck College, University of London, to inaugurate a series of research seminars under the general title “Cultures of Technology.” This is in response to a thriving community of graduate students and scholars in London working at the conjuncture of techno-cultural study, science fiction, and contemporary literary theory. Latham spoke from his recent book, Consuming Youth (U of Chicago P, 2002), regarding the anxious cultural discourse around Internet Youth. He was followed by a panel of past and present Birkbeck graduates: Dr Stacey Abbott (now at the University of Surrey, Roehampton) from her study of the effects of digital technology on the representation of the vampire in Hollywood film; Gill Partington, on how the Internet is materially and epistemologically reformulating the good old conspiracy theory; and Aristeidis Mousoutzanis, with a reading of viral contagion in current techno-cultural fictions. The day concluded with papers from two other London scholars: Megan Stern, from the newly formed London Metropolitan University, examined the shifting medical definition of brain death in the light of advancing technologies; and Tim Armstrong (Royal Holloway) finished the day with an illuminating improvised set of comments on the themes of the day and on directions for future research in this area.            

Hopes that further seminars might emerge are already coming to fruition: Birkbeck will host another day in early summer 2003 around the theme of “Technologies of Death.” This is being organized by Aris Mousoutzanis and Polina Mackay, but anyone who wishes to enquire about the series may contact Roger Luckhurst at <R.Luckhurst@bbk.ac.uk>.—Roger Luckhurst, University of London
 
SF as American Icon. The 30th Annual Conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies will be held in Graz from November 7-9, 2003, with the general title “US Icons and Iconicity.” My colleague, Klaus Rieser, who is organizing the conference, chose a broad title so that film experts, historians, and literature people (including sf people) can find a niche.           

As Dr. Rieser’s general Call for Papers defines the topic of the conference, US cultural icons fall into three main groups: fictional as well as historical characters (Daisy Duck to Harvey Milk); sites, monuments, and natural elements (Ground Zero, the Vietnam War Memorial, buffalos); and logos, isotropes, and computer icons (pink triangle, dot-com, Windows, trash bin, etc.). How do these icons come into being? Who controls their shaping? How are icons appropriated by those on the margins? If icons are symbols of ruling ideas, what do they tell us about the relations between classes, ethnic groups, and genders? Above all, are they manifestations of hegemonic rule (Gramsci, Foucault, Laclau, and Mouffe) or rather manifestations of a shared body of norms and values and therefore democratic elements (Durkheim, Parsons)?            

Most social theories today would accept that icons are a central element in the manufacturing of consent. And yet they are, like any sign, readable in different ways, carrying endlessly different connotations. It may be particularly interesting to analyze cultural icons that are contested, ridiculed, appropriated, attacked, supplemented by counter-icons, or simply still in the making.
            I would like to organize a science fiction workshop for the conference if there is enough interest. Proposals for sf topics should be sent directly to my e-mail address: <elisabeth.kraus@kfunigraz.ac.at>—Dr. Elisabeth Kraus, Institut fuer Amerikanistik, Universitaet Graz
 
New Australian Radio Program. Speculation will debut on ArtSound FM 92.7 in Canberra, Australia, in early February of 2003. Its aim is to provide excellent radio coverage of sf, fantasy, magical realism, and horror through interviews, reviews, recordings, and news. Speculation was born from OzWrite, a weekly radio series about Australian writers and writing. Gradually, we’ve been including more from the speculative genres, leading to the idea of this new program, which aims to have a more international perspective than OzWrite, including writers and writing from all over the globe. Speculation will be available on cd at low cost for people outside the Canberra call-sign area. There is a small web site at:<www.ozwrite.org/Speculation/>, but I am happy to provide further information as needed. Please send inquiries to PO Box 1200, Belconnen, ACT 2616, Australia, or to me by email at: <speculation@ozwrite.org>. —Lilitu Babalon, Producer and Presenter, Speculation

SFRA Review Seeks Co-Editor. We are once again in need of a co-editor for the SFRA Review. Shelley Rodrigo Blanchard is retiring in order to devote more time to her dissertation, and the people we had lined up to replace her have had to withdraw. Amy Clarke will act as an interim replacement for Shelley for one issue. Christine Mains is our other co-editor (she’s in charge of putting together the newsletter’s content) and Ed McKnight and Phil Snyder remain as reviews editors, but we need someone to replace Shelley, whose job primarily involves handling the layout, printing, and mailing. Obviously, good computer skills and the ability to deal with printers and the post office are a must. If you’re interested, contact me at <levym@uwstout.edu>. —Mike Levy, President, Science Fiction Research Association

Letters from PMAL. A facsimile booklet of 54 pages reprinting eleven letters written by Paul M.A. Linebarger (“Cordwainer Smith”) between March 1933 and October 1962 has recently become available from <http://www. cordwainer-smith.com>, the website created and maintained by his daughter, Rosana Hart. The letters offer his responses to current events, from the rise of Hitler to the Cuban missile crisis. Several also provide revealing glimpses of the inner man—particularly a tentative self-analysis and meditation on “Permissible Wrong” that Linebarger composed for his infant daughter while stationed “somewhere in India, 1943.” Letters from Paul can be ordered from the website for $19.95 plus shipping. A two-cd set preserving a 1960s tape-recording of “Cordwainer Smith” dictating On the Sand Planet is also available from the website for $24.95 plus shipping. Serious Smith readers will want to have both: the letters provide an interesting supplement to the sf stories, and the recording preserves a version of the novelette On the Sand Planet (1965) that varies slightly from that reprinted in the standard collected works, The Rediscovery of Man (NESFA Press, 1993). Linebarger reads his own work with a charming brio and zest.—CM


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