Science Fiction Studies

#64 = Volume 21, Part 3 = November 1994


Gary K. Wolfe

On Some Recent Scholarship

The following reviews were written for Locus and are printed here with the permission of its editor-publisher, Charles N. Brown. The purpose of this department is to provide prompt notices of scholarly/critical works on sf, some of which will treated at greater length in later issues by specialist scholars, or simply to provide SFS readers with a review in those cases where the publishers have failed to send SFS a review-copy.

John J. Pierce. Odd Genre: A Study in Imagination and Evolution. Contributions to the Study of SF&F 60. Greenwood Press (800-225-5800), 1994. x+222. $55.00.

John J. Pierce, formerly of Galaxy, is also the author of an ambitious three-volume historical analysis of sf which appeared from Greenwood Press in 1987-89. More comprehensive and balanced than James Gunn's history but less cosmopolitan and literary than Brian Aldiss's, Pierce's studies were knowledgeable, detailed—and almost fatally bland. His new book, Odd Genre, seems partly composed of outtakes from those earlier volumes, but is far livelier, more engaging, and likely to be of greater use to both scholars and readers. Pierce's focus here is on the question of how sf relates to other genres and to mainstream literature in general, and while he doesn't offer much that's persuasive in terms of literary theory and seldom analyzes anything at length, his extraordinarily wide reading and headlong coverage give the book an undeniable value as a reference: in 173 pages of text, Pierce manages to touch upon more than 600 separate works, and usually finds something useful to say about each one.

Theoretical questions occupy only the first two chapters, in which Pierce considers questions of genre and the "genrefication" of sf, and offers a rather conventional view of defamiliarization as a central sf technique. Misreading Darko Suvin's concept of "cognitive estrangement," he argues that sf is instead a literature of "cognitive engagement"—that sf presents strange new realities for their own sake, not as a new angle of vision on the "real world." I don't think this is at all convincing, but it sets the stage for Pierce's general approach to the fiction, which is that of an informed and intelligent old-line sf reader, convinced of sf's innate value and vaguely distrustful of newer, more metaphorical or ideological approaches. He doesn't seem to grasp feminism at all, for example, and thinks that charges of sexism leveled at del Rey's "Helen O'Loy" are answered by Thomas N. Scortia's equally sexist "Woman's Rib," because Scortia has an "aging and frumpish" woman clone a stud lover. Worse, he wisecracks that an A. Merritt priestess "may have swung the other way" because she won't go to bed with any of the stalwart explorers who meet her.

In subsequent chapters, Pierce explores various subgenres of sf that cross over to other genres: romances, detective stories, juveniles, family sagas, and problem-solving tales. His treatment of romance simply covers a number of sf love stories without really treating romance as a form; he does a better job later on when he discusses sf-based women's genre romances. Similarly, he makes little reference to the evolution or conventions of other mainstream genres in discussing detective stories, juveniles, or family sagas; instead he seems content to show how sf writers can make use of the resources of other pop forms. This is hardly news, but Pierce's examples will be of value to anyone interested in exploring such cross-genre fertilizations. A third section of the book, called "Borderlines," examines such marginal related genres as lost-race stories, superheroes (mainly Doc Savage), horror, satire, and various gender-directed specialties as men's adventure fiction, technothrillers, and women's romance. For me, these brief chapters are the most informative in the book. Even though Pierce touches upon Calvino and Lem mainly to show us that he isn't impressed with them, his coverage of such genuinely marginal works as Keith Williams's "Freedom's Rangers" novels or Tom Clancy's technothrillers helps us understand the relationship of these works to sf—and, not incidentally, saves us from having actually to read them.

A fourth section covers writers who have escaped the sf ghetto (Vonnegut, Ballard, Bradbury) and mainstream writers who have invaded it (Atwood, Burroughs, Lessing). This section is valuable for its discussions of rarely-treated writers such as Alfred Doblin and Cecelia Holland, and its open-minded treatment of Atwood and Marge Piercy, whom Pierce regards as having worked out their sf details with the competence of good genre writers. A final section touches upon problems of story construction, style, publishing constraints, and ideational content. Like the rest of the book, these chapters are more suggestive than definitive, serving to convince you that even though Pierce's readings tend to be crankily conservative, his knowledge of the genre is impressive. At times, he's in such a hurry to get to the next example that his critical vocabulary deserts him entirely—Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars, for example, gets dismissed in what may be the first serious use of "yucky" as a critical term—but in fact this rather loose and occasionally goofy style suits the material better than the more formal approach of his earlier works, and as a result—for all its limitations as serious criticism—Odd Genre is Pierce's most engaging and readable critical work so far.

David Alexander. Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry. Roc, 1994. 624p. $23.95. Joel Engel. Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind "Star Trek." Hyperion, 1994. 288p. $22.95. William Shatner with Chris Kreski. Star Trek Memories. HarperCollins, 1993. 306p. Yvonne Fern. Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation. University of California Press, 1994. 228p. $20.00. Dave Marinaccio. All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek. Crown, 1994. 128p. $14.00.

In 1969, only weeks before the moon landing, NBC-TV aired the final episode of Star Trek, which has ironically survived in much better shape than the space program itself. It's well-known that thanks to a sympathetic astronaut, Gene Roddenberry finally got his ashes hauled, posthumously, on a space-shuttle mission—but I'm having a hard time getting it through my skull that Roddenberry qualifies as a Heinlein hero, let alone one of the great cultural innovators of the 20th century, a spiritual guru, and the inventor of most sf concepts and ideas that I had previously thought had been around for generations. I realize that this may partly be due to my own obtuseness, but it seems to me that both David Alexander's massive "authorized" hagiography, Star Trek Creator, and Joel Engel's scandal-mongering demonization, Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind "Star Trek," lead pretty much to the same conclusions. Engel's shoddy book is actually more entertaining, if only because of its relentless mean-spiritedness, but it shares with Alexander's 600-page press release a kind of awe-struck naivete about the ways in which the TV and movie industries work. Engel wants to shock us with his portrayal of Roddenberry as an alcoholic, womanizing, attention-grabbing egomaniac with limited talent and a penchant for stealing other people's ideas—in other words, a TV producer. What else is new? Alexander wants us to swallow the myth of a war hero ex-cop who fought valiantly to bring to the screen a humanistic philosophy of a better tomorrow—even though all Star Trek showed us of this vision was a militaristic spaceship armed to the teeth with defensive shields and photon torpedos. (Even the much-vaunted "first interracial kiss on TV"—between Kirk and Uhura—was the result not of affection but of evil alien coercion.)

The Roddenberry myth, in its purest form, is expressed in the opening pages of William Shatner's Star Trek Memories—for the most part, a collection of amusing but trivial anecdotes about production and casting problems. Shatner sets his dramatic account of the origin of Star Trek in El Paso in the mid-1920s, where a sickly child escapes to a makeshift cardboard-box spaceship to read his copies of Astounding and dream of a better tomorrow. Never mind that, according to Alexander, Roddenberry left El Paso when he was nineteen months old, or that Astounding didn't appear until six years after that—what we're dealing with here is Hollywood bio, a peculiar genre whose main imperatives are to give the audience what it expects, to validate gossip and trivia as cultural history, and to make the offhand remarks of famous people sound like philosophy.

No better example of this attitude can be found than in Alexander's memorable sentence, "Nineteen thirty-nine was a good year for films and a bad year for Europe," which he follows with a list of a dozen hit movies and an almost offhand mention that "Adolph" Hitler invaded Poland. In the Hollywood mythos, new releases always get top billing. Almost as if to acknowledge this, Alexander offers explanatory footnotes and bonehead-history background on everything from who Greta Garbo and John W. Campbell were to what SNAFU meant; he seems to be targeting readers who can only get their historical bearings through mentions of actors and movies, and need explanations for everything else. (Is this the Star Trek generation?) Engel and Shatner aren't any better; for them the world of Star Trek might as well have existed in a social and cultural vacuum, the product solely of contract negotiations and studio politics.

None of these books offer much useful insight into how Star Trek evolved or what it represented; Alexander and Engel both note that someone loaned Roddenberry a copy of Last and First Men when he was trying to figure out what sf was, and both credit him with trying to get professional sf writers involved (including one whom Alexander repeatedly calls "Pohl Anderson"). The most famous Star Trek script story, concerning Roddenberry's rewrite of Harlan Ellison's "City on the Edge of Forever," is recounted in all three books; none of them note how Roddenberry introduced an ideological subtext critical of the then-budding antiwar movement. Alexander notes that Don Ingalls was similarly so outraged at Roddenberry's rewrite of an anti-Vietnam script that he invoked his Writer's Guild pseudonym—but fails to note that the rewrite, far from being antiwar, clearly supports the "balance-of-power" argument that was then official U.S. policy. (Both of these episodes are analyzed tellingly in Bruce Franklin's essay "Star Trek in the Vietnam Era" in last March's Science-Fiction Studies.) Alexander consistently argues that such rewrites preserved Roddenberry's pristine vision, while Engel argues that they reduced many episodes to a level of mediocrity or even incompetence. It's entirely possible they're both right. But both seen to miss the point that Star Trek may have had something to do with sf, and something to do with the 1960s. That book—one that simply looks at the actual Star Trek episodes in the context of its time and its antecedents—has yet to be written, which is pretty amazing when you consider that the publishing industry has begun to spew out Star Trek-related books with a degree of incontinence hitherto reserved for cats and celebrity workouts.

Shatner, for his part, cheerfully recounts one anecdote after another, and then professes astonishment when he comes to realize, at the end of the book, that some of the other cast members hated him for his arrogance and screen-hogging. In some ways, his book seems the most honest of the three, because it begins and ends with the classic Hollywood bio premise that history is made up of egos rather than events. Roddenberry's ego is what haunts all three books, but none of them are able to back off far enough to suggest any substantial new insights on what Roddenberry actually accomplished; instead of cultural history, what we get is marketing strategy; even as Roddenberry withdrew (or was pushed) from involvement in the later movies and successor TV series, the studios continued to be wary of him for fear that he somehow controlled a huge mass of fans crucial to the ongoing success of the franchise and committed to his personal "vision." (I doubt that the fans were ever that zombielike, but in a perverse way it must have been comforting for Hollywood to think so.)

Perhaps, in the end, marketing is the key to most of what Roddenberry actually did accomplish: he found a way of packaging familiar sf concepts for a brutally simple-minded TV environment, and he empowered fans in a manner beyond their wildest dreams. Star Trek may have only sporadically achieved coherence as dramatic art, but it achieved something even more seductive: the mass marketing of that most classically dull of ideologies, utopian humanism. Just how seductive this was is apparent in the ways in which Roddenberry was able to enlist figures such as Clarke, Asimov and Bradbury—and even Ellison, for a time—to his cause. Just how much it can destabilize your brain is apparent in John W. Campbell, Jr.'s lone contribution to the marketing blitz: in a letter to Roddenberry (quoted in Alexander), he enthusiastically offers up the idea of fuzzy Spock hats for kids, complete with pink felt Vulcan ears. (Why didn't he ever suggest that to Hubbard?)

We get a much clearer idea of how Roddenberry's mind worked in Yvonne Fern's Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation, an extremely odd book from the University of California Press, part of a series called "Portraits in American Genius" which, to give us some bearings, also includes a study of cartoonist Chuck Jones. What this book reveals is that, whether or not Roddenberry had a thoroughly thought-out Star Trek philosophy when he began, he certainly developed one once he realized how many people were listening to him. Fern spent several months with Roddenberry and his wife—as it turned out, the last months of Roddenberry's life—and the book is an account of the extended conversations that took place during that period. And it is indeed a conversation rather than an interview; Fern makes herself as much the center of attention as Roddenberry, leaping on every opportunity to show how delighted and amazed he was at her softball "philosophical" questions ("What is the difference between truth and integrity?" "What would you not want to lose?"). The main point of the book seems to be to chronicle the developing spiritual bond between Fern and Roddenberry—she seems to want to portray herself as Joy Davidman to Roddenberry's C.S. Lewis, and she isn't averse to grasping at mystical straws to find evidence of this. Since Fern was born near Pearl Harbor after the war, and since Roddenberry flew in the Pacific theater, Fern writes, "I am certain that my existence on this planet is related to his—that we shared a direct connection."

Fern's relentlessly enlightened New Age attitude permeates the book, but syrupy as it is, it may provide some of the clearest evidence yet of how Star Trek's appeal has transcended sf's traditionally rationalistic base to become a pop philosophy (Fern uses the term Star Trek—unitalicized—to distinguish this philosophy from the Star Trek shows and movies.) It may annoy some sf readers to see how she uncritically credits Roddenberry with ideas that predate Star Trek by decades—"first contact" is defined not as a traditional sf plot, but as the the Enterprise crew meeting up with aliens, and such familiar chestnuts as society-organisms, humanity as an adolescent species, and dumping minds into computers are all presented as startling Roddenberry insights. In fact, it's hard to find an original idea anywhere in the book, and many of those that do crop up seem confused. Both Fern and Roddenberry refer to androids as machines, and when she gets around to asking him what the difference between an android and a robot is, his response is "I don't know, exactly. I don't remember."

If Roddenberry's general grasp of sf seems slight, one book emerges as the most likely source for the Star Trek concept itself, and not surprisingly, it's a boys' book. Roddenberry describes Heinlein's Space Cadet as "one of the most significant books in my life," and indeed Heinlein's multinational crew and code of honor seems reflected in the Enterprise. But precious little other sf gets mentioned in the book, and even other Star Trek writers get little credit. "I am Star Trek," Roddenberry repeatedly insists—a claim that takes on a certain pathos when we realize that by now he had pretty much lost creative control of his franchise—and he also insists on his identity as a writer rather than a producer. "I couldn't write a bad script if I tried," he boasts. And if there's any doubt remaining about his emerging self-conscious guru-dom, note his response to Fern's question about whether others will remember him as a "pleasant person": "No. Some persons have been attracted to false paths." Not Fern, however: she comes away from her encounter with Roddenberry with a beatific glow, and her book is the testament of a disciple.

Another disciple is Dave Marinaccio, an ad executive whose All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek pushes the notion of Star Trek as philosophy right into the feelgood territory of such pop gurus as Robert Fulghum, whose bestselling title Marinaccio deliberately rips off. His book offers about as much substance as those Star Trek greeting cards and lapel buttons that have been around the past few years, and that's likely to be the secret of its success—taking already simplified ideas and simplifying them even further (I can see the same trendy computer-store managers who three years ago were xeroxing pages from Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun for their hapless employees doing the same with this paltry volume). At first, Marinaccio gets off some good, breezy lines ("I live in Washington, D.C. We have all your money"), and he openly admits his observations are simplistic ("These are lessons culled from a television show, not the library at Alexandria"), but it quickly becomes apparent that he's at least half serious, mixing throwaway jokes (Kirk shows us it's o.k. to have a potbelly) with familiar bromides (every organization should have a mission statement like the Enterprise's) and genuinely lame-brained epiphanies (a car is today's version of a transporter pad).

What is interesting about Marinaccio's book, other than the fact that its title is self-evidently wrong, is that it demonstrates two things about the Star Trek phenomenon that none of the other books quite make clear. The first is that Star Trek no longer has anything to do with sf; Marinaccio claims to be inspired and motivated by the provocative ideas on the show, but it seems never to have occurred to him to turn the set off and go find a book that might extend or deepen these ideas. The second is that, freed of references to anything but itself, Star Trek has gotten loose in the culture in a way far beyond its earlier cult status. Marinaccio makes it clear that he himself is not a Trekkie, and he's pretty sure there are many more like himself—people who don't go to conventions, don't know about the fanzines, don't read even Star Trek fiction, but who find their conversations and thoughts peppered with references to tribbles and transporter beams. At the end of the book, Marinaccio invites these people to send him examples of how Star Trek has changed their lives. (Clearly, he isn't done with us yet.) If this book and Gene Roddenberry: The Last Conversation are any indication, Star Trek may just turn out to be the first genuine TV-bred religion, and the producers may have missed the boat by not just going ahead and titling the sequel series Star Trek: The New Testament.

M. Keith Booker. The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism Contributions to the Study of SF&F 58. Greenwood Press (800-225-5800), 1984. vii+197. $49.95. M. Keith Booker. Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide.  Greenwood Press (800-225-5800), 1984. xiii+408. $75.00.

At one time, the utopian/dystopian axis was virtually the only aspect of speculative fiction visible in academic literary scholarship. Prior to what has variously been called the "academic awakening" or (less charitably) the "academic invasion," just about the only sf that seemed destined for classroom canonization was a handful of really depressing works by Wells, Huxley, and Orwell, with Zamiatin and maybe Burgess added a little later. It comes as something of a surprise, then, to see M. Keith Booker telling us that his The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature is the first full-length study of dystopian literature to appear since Mark Hillegas's 1967 H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians. I'm not sure that this is a justifiable claim, since many of the scores of utopian studies over the last few decades have given equal time to dystopias, but Booker's companion reference volume, Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide, does indeed seem to be the first of its kind. Essentially, what Booker offers us is two books not in one: a critical study treating dystopian fiction in terms of modern and postmodern critical theory, and a sourcebook offering brief discussions of important dystopian and utopian texts, together with summaries of the work of relevant cultural critics and theorists.

The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature is the essay, and it's an intelligent if not very imaginative treatment of dystopias as modes of social criticism. Booker views Zamiatin's We and Orwell's 1984 as, respectively, an anticipation and a response to the excesses of Stalinism; and he sees Huxley's Brave New World and various works by Skinner, Sinclair Lewis, Kurt Vonnegut, Gore Vidal, and Ray Bradbury as more or less parallel nightmares of the potential excesses of bourgeois society. Two final chapters deal with "postmodernist" dystopias in Russia (the Strugatskys, Sinyavsky, Aksyonov, Voinovich) and the west (William Gibson, Delany's Triton, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Pynchon's Vineland). Obviously, what is most interesting here is Booker's treatment of works set in recognizably contemporary societies as dystopian (Pynchon, Aksyonov's The Burn) and his pretty much wholesale treatment of the whole cyberpunk movement as dystopian. By relating these works to the social critiques of Foucault, Adorno, and even Freud, and focusing on such issues as sexuality, religion, culture, language, and science, he comes close to persuading us that we've already achieved dystopia whether we meant to or not.

For most readers (and libraries), Booker's companion volume Dystopian Literature will prove more useful. It reiterates many of the insights offered in his shorter book, but does so in a manner that makes it a useful reference tool as well. In eight short essays, Booker summarizes the ideas of major theorists whose work he regards as providing frameworks for discussing dystopian fiction: Theodor Adorno, Louis Althusser, Mihail Bakhtin, Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault (whose concept of the "carceral society" is central to many of Booker's arguments), Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche. This is followed by eight more essays on classic utopian works (Bacon, Bellamy, Campanella, Gilman, More, Morris, Plato, Wells), 65 essays on important modern dystopian works, and 11 essays each on dystopian drama and film. He does not strive for comprehensive coverage, and many readers will be ready to complain about glaring omissions (Katherine Burdekin's Swastika Night, Ellison's "Repent, Harlequin!," and Bernard Wolfe's Limbo are three of many that come immediately to mind). But on the whole Booker's selection is a provocative one; he includes some unexpected works not only by Pynchon and Gibson, but also by William Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Eugene Ionesco, and Peter Weiss (Marat/Sade). He offers a fair coverage of genre sf (three essays each on Dick, Gibson, Wells, and Disch, and others on Bradbury, Charnas, Delany, Elgin, Le Guin, Russ, Silverberg, and Vonnegut). And he locates some less familiar works by the Somalian Nuruddin Farah (Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship), Haruki Murakami (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), Georges Perec (W, or the Memory of a Childhood), and Andrei Platonov (Chevengur). His film list includes not only classics (Alphaville, Blade Runner, Brazil, Metropolis), but also commercial schlock (Logan's Run, The Running Man, Westworld) and even last year's TV miniseries Wild Palms. (He does not include any film versions of the novels he lists—Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, etc.—and has no entries for the literary sources of A Boy and His Dog, Metropolis, or The Running Man). Booker's discussions of these works tend to be highly theoretical, relating them to the cultural critiques of the major theorists he discusses and less concerned with literary or social contexts. This may limit the book's value for trivia-hunters and browsers, but as a guidebook and a selective annotated bibliography, Dystopian Literature substantially fills a significant gap in modern sf scholarship.

Scott McCloud. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. HarperPerennial, 1994. 216p. $20.00 paper.

The most remarkable critical/aesthetic work I've seen this year has nothing particular to do with sf, but ought to be required reading for anyone still unwilling to accept the considerable impact comics and graphic novels have had on the genre in the last couple of decades. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics does exactly what its title promises, and does it brilliantly—using the comic format to elucidate the narrative and graphic techniques that make this a genuinely original art form. Casting himself as a kind of Carl Sagan tour-guide surrounded by all the special effects that comics have to offer, McCloud begins with a compelling history of sequential pictorial art, crediting the 19th-century German Rudolphe Töpfer with introducing panels and word-picture combinations. He then analyzes various icons and the importance of levels of abstraction in comic art, arguing that stylized figures increase viewer identification (as in the popular Japanese technique of "masking," or placing cartoonish figures in realistically-drawn settings).

Central to his argument is a triangular diagram in which he locates comics along three axes—the abstract "picture plane," reality, and language. He explains principles of "closure," the role of the "gutter" between comic panels, the various kinds of narrative transitions in comics, the representation of time and motion, the representation of motion and sensation, the various ways words may relate to pictures, the uses of color, the importance of synaesthesia. Along the way, he offers a six-stage theory of artistic creation—idea to form to idiom to structure to craft to surface—which is hardly original in terms of classic aesthetic theory, but which takes on added meaning now that he's shown us how comics, as well as more traditional art forms, can sustain this kind of analysis. McCloud's cheerful advocacy doesn't seem to cloud his judgment, however; he recognizes that much comic art remains formulaic and juvenile. At the same time, he calls attention to the important innovations of artists such as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Art Spiegelman, as well as the Europeans and Japanese, and shows us exactly why they are important. Understanding Comics stands a good chance of becoming one of the standard works for understanding modern popular culture, and may itself become the first comic to make its way into classrooms as a text in communications theory.

Jack Seabrook. Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown. Bowling Green State University Popular Press (419-372-7865), 1993. 312p. $39.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.

Not counting books from specialty presses, there are apparently only two ways for sf writers to become the subjects of full-length critical biographies. One is to be Isaac Asimov. The other is to have established a sufficient reputation outside the sf field to catch the attention of a wider audience. Constance Reid's recent biography of Eric Temple Bell was essentially a biography of a mathematical historian who happened to write sf as John Taine. Similarly, Jack Seabrook's Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown would almost certainly never have been published on the strength of Brown's sf reputation alone, which rests on a few classic stories, a talent for humor rare in the genre before he arrived, and a brilliant facility for short-short stories. As a mystery writer, however, Brown has had the good fortune to be caught up in the rediscovery of 50s genre writers. His classic, tightly plotted mysteries—The Fabulous Clipjoint, The Screaming Mimi, Night of the Jabberwock—still get reprinted, and from 1984 to 1991 Dennis McMillan published an astonishing 19 volumes of Brown's detective pulp fiction in limited editions. These mysteries, along with Brown's almost-forgotten mainstream novel, The Office, are the main focus of Seabrook's study, which devotes only two chapters to Brown's sf.

Like many writers trying to make a living from the pulps, Brown tried his hand at different genres even while establishing a substantial reputation as a mystery writer. He wrote a handful of western stories, and began writing sf as early as 1938, producing some of his best-known stories ("Etaoin Shrdlu," "The Waveries," "Arena") by the early 1940s. After moving to Taos in 1949 and meeting Mack Reynolds, Brown responded to the boom in sf magazines by substantially increasing his output and trying his hand at sf novels, starting with What Mad Universe (based on a 1948 Startling Stories novelette). This, together with the later Martians, Go Home established Brown's reputation as an sf humorist, but Seabrook also calls attention to the surprisingly moving The Lights in the Sky are Stars, with its almost uniquely prescient view of a 1997 in which space travel is all but abandoned. Seabrook—whose book generally tends to depend a bit too mechanically on his sources, including Brown's own logbook—lacks the sense of context for Brown's sf that he provides for the mysteries, and without the aid of Philip Klass's introduction to a 1978 reprint of What Mad Universe, he'd be pretty much at sea untangling the fannish in-jokes of that novel. He's quite accurate, however, in noting that Brown's later sf novels are nothing to write home about, and his portrayal of the apparent burnout that affected Brown's last decade makes for a moving elegy to a whole generation of genre writers who very nearly wrote themselves to death. Even with its lack of critical depth and its tendency toward plot synopses, Martians and Misplaced Clues is a valuable source text, and is likely to be the most complete account of Brown's career that we'll ever see.

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