Science Fiction Studies

#11 = Volume 4, Part 1 = March 1977


BOOKS IN REVIEW


BOOKS IN REVIEW

Ursula K. Le Guin. A Review

TITLE:  The Best from the Rest of the World.
The rest of the world. Les restes. The leftovers. Yes. Oh yes, yes indeed! Well, what is the rest of the world? What are the lesser breeds without the Law? Who live beyond the pale? Africa; South America; Asia. Southeast Asia, China, Japan, the Near Eastern countries, yes—
No.
Oh. Well. Er. Australia? They speak English in Australia—
Maybe, But they speak it with this funny unamerican type accent.
Oh. Well then. I know! Russia!
No.
Oh. Er. Poland?
Hell No!!!
Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria—
Who?

SUBTITLE: European Science Fiction.
                Silly me. I didn't read the subtitle. I'm so sorry. Well then! Forget all those other continents and things. Now then! Hungary? Czechoslovakia? Poland? Yugoslavia—
NO.
Oh. Gee. I feel so stupid. It's like Twenty Questions. Er. Ah. Is, er, is, maybe France part of the rest of the world?
Yes! And the rest of the rest of the world is Holland, Italy, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, and Spain.
Gee Wow! Is, ah, is England?
No. England is not part of the rest of the world. That is because they speak English there, although they speak it with a funny unamerican type accent.
But you said that the Australians—
Never mind. The rest of the world is France, Holland, Italy, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, and Spain.
It is?
Yes. It is. Because, as the Introduction says, "there are limits to economic book publishing."
But this isn't an economic book, it's SF isn't it—
"Hence we have deliberately omitted the countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In those lands, science fiction is booming—there is a multiplicity of material—but this will have to wait for a second volume, if possible. Hence we must perforce concentrate on the lands of Western Europe."
Oh, yes, hence, perforce, absolutely. But then why did you call the anthology The Best frorn the Rest of the World, and not The Best from the West of the World?
Because I don't lisp. Besides, "the enrichment and further development of science fiction requires new blood, and it is going to come from Europe."
New blood? Don, love, either you're a vampire or you're trying to sell Geritol. Come on, next time you rope in a bunch of translations, give it a decent title, and leave out the blood, OK?

SUB-SUBTITLE: 14 fantastic tales from another shore.
Edited by Donald A. Wollheim
Doubleday Science Fiction, New York, 1976.


Michael Kandel V

Lem in Review (June 2238)

The recent B shortage notwithstanding, this quarter sees the publication of three new books about Lem: Harvin Virelli, A Critical History of Lem Scholarship in the Bio Years, 2140-2160 (Xerox: Sydney), 205 pp., $13.50; Hmubat Bwagwa, The New Lemianism: An Overview (Godfrey & Son: Nairobi), 352pp., $1.95; and Atusko Kobayashi, Lem the Writer (The Interworld University Press: Brasilia), 495 pp., $8.00.                

Virelli and Bwagwa, as their respective titles indicate, are not pretending to offer the reader anything that is original; their purpose rather is to take stock, sum up, digest the wealth of experience and thought that is the heritage, still disturbingly fresh, of our post-Cataclysm biorevolution, a movement in which an incredible succession of scientific breakthroughs coincided with the discovery—now nearly half a century ago—of the works of an obscure Polono-Slavic genius who lived in the mid-20th: Stanislaw Lem. But it would appear that we have not yet acquired the distance necessary to analyze impartially those events and assess Lem's posthumous participation in them. Virelli still follows the line of the Revitalists; his history is "critical," then, in the narrow sense only; not once does he rise above the controversies of the day and attempt to synthesize. Similarly, Bwagwa's "new Lemianism" is nothing but a rehash—a literate and entertaining rehash perhaps, but a rehash for all that—of the theories of the Biomen, King, Nash and Davidov in particular. In both cases, in both books, the tone is objective, the format and conceptions promise objectivity, and yet we find the same bickering that has dominated the intellectual arena since the Gridley Operation. The bickering that clouds the fundamental issue, to wit: Should Lem's automorph prophecies, which have so often served as self-realizing guideposts in the past, be followed in the future as well, or have we already progressed far enough along that road to strike out on our own, no longer needing to rely on authorities, regardless of how ably those authorities served us up to now? In either case, of course, Lem remains the Master, the Harbinger of the New Evolution who, in the pages of Summa technologiae, "Golern XIV," the 3rd and 21st Voyages of Ijon Tichy, and elsewhere, discussed with such uncanny accuracy events and problems that were to begin unfolding one hundred years later.                

Mrs. Kobayashi's book, on the other hand, represents a bold if not defiant departure in Lemian literature, for it looks at Lem's thought in the context of his fiction, thereby offering us a more human—and historical—insight into the man. We are reminded that Lem, though versed in science, was not himself a scientist (yet perhaps more a scientist than the "specialists" and "experts" of his age). His ideas were largely intuitive and, as Mrs. Kobayashi stresses, more ambiguous than is generally realized today.               

Lem the Writer is a study of vast scope and high goals, for it attempts nothing less than to bring together the writer's entire oeuvre into one, coherent pattern. The book contains three sections:
I THE WORLD OF THEME
II THE WORLD OF FICTION
III THE BIOGRAPHICAL FACTOR
In other words we have here a progression from universals to particulars, from the philosophy to the art to the life of the author. An unusual approach; one would normally expect the reverse, that is, an "inductive" presentation. Yet in the case of Lem such a plan may be appropriate, for readers of today have most familiarity with his ideas, less with his literary methods, and least of all with his life and times.               

Below is a synopsis of Mrs. Kobayashi's work. We will follow the chapter headings, and comment after each section.

I THE WORLD OF THEME
                a) Cybernetic Man. Life, individuality, Consciousness—all redefined in cybernetic terms. "Humanity" includes nonbiological intelligences and homeostatic entities, whether separately constructed or produced through alteration of the natural organism. The moral thesis that all "men," be they created naturally or artificially, are equal, for what makes "man" precious is his unique irreplaceability (irreducibility) in the Universe. The fullest exposition of this in Dialogues; treated with pathos in Tales of Pirx the Pilot and "The Mask," with humor in The Cyberiad.
                b) Creators and Their Creatures. Since the world is perceived as ugly and existence in it inevitably painful, any creation of a sentient being means to make it suffer, therefore the creative act is reprehensible. Hence the guilt felt by Lem's creators—see "Terminus" (Pirx), "The Seventh Sally" (Cyberiad), Solaris, "Non Serviam," etc. But the greatest guilt—for the greatest responsibility—belongs to the First Creator. Lem's mockery of God through the presentation of flawed deities (Solaris, "Dr. Diagoras," or even Trurl in "In Hot Pursuit of Happiness" [Kobyszcze]), and his invective against the imperfections of a personified Mother Nature. Lem's quarrel with Reality, that Reality we inherit by being born—cf Ie.
                c) The Religious Metaphor. The puzzling dominance of religious elements, despite the fact that the immaterial soul is refuted (in Ia) and "God" appears only in ironic contexts, never literally (Ib). The priests and monks throughout Lem's fiction—Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Tichy's 21st and 22nd Voyages, "The Mask." The preoccupation with traditionally religious themes: resurrection, immortality, omniscience, incorporeality (Lem's "Perfect machines," alluded to in Summa and appearing in Fables for Robots). However—the total absence of Christ figures.
                d) Utopias. The perfecting of society through science conceived as possible (Going into Orbit) and, due to man's innate perversity, impossible ("In Hot Pursuit of Happiness"). Lem's ambivalence as seen in Return from the Stars. His position, in this respect, is half-way between the Soviet and American-English science fictions of the period.
                e) The Epistemological Doubt. With the ineffable mystery of individual personality on the one hand (proven cybernetically in Ia, also cf. The High Castle), and the inherent limits of objective knowledge on the other (The Invincible), Reality itself is called into question. The possibility that subjective experience may be more real than objective, that in fact it may actually create the objective world, as if figment and illusion were shapers of reality. Tichy's 28th Voyage, "Les Robinsonades" (A Perfect Vacuum) and "A New Cosmogony." The significance therefore of dreams from which one cannot awake (the dream boxes in The Cyberiad, The Futurological Congress, a few of Pirx's ordeals, Return from the Stars). Perhaps this is a kind of revenge against an indifferent, cruel world (see IIIc). Epistemological doubt revealed by the symbol of the mask in Lem's work (first noted by R. Nudel'man).
                f) The Future. Taken both literally and as a comment on the present. The unknowability and differentness of the future (see discussion of Stapledon in Fantasy and Futurology), since our concepts are perforce limited by our time. Apocalyptic visions, also glimpses of the Golden Age (cf. Id). However the necessity for man to anticipate, else he will continue to be carried along with the rush of events blindly and not control them (Summa).
                g) Linguistics, Word Play and the Mind. Influence on Lem of modern linguistic theories. That language shapes our perceptions. The author's attempts to alter linguistic patterns seen as an effort to break through this barrier, to expand the mental horizons. Consequently, linguistics as a prognostic tool (see If, see The Futurological Congress). The connection between the system of language (semantics, semeiology) and the theory of codes (message vs. media, etc.)—"Golem XIV." Language closely related to Ie (the unknowable is the unnamable).
                h) The Interrelationship of Literature and Society. Discussion of The Philosophy of Accident. Literature as a useless anachronism in modem mass culture; literature also as potential prophecy, to save modem culture (cf. If). Science fiction an example of both the potential and the failure (Fantasy and Futurology).
                i) The Laws of Change. Application of modern statistics (stochastic processes, etc.) to evolutionary phenomena: biological evolution, cybernetic evolution (cf. Eden, The Invincible), and history—of politics, of social forms, of science, of ideas. Lem's frequent recapitulation of genesis (of the universe, of life) and the rise of man or other intelligent forms. Instances of this in almost every work of fiction. The observation that Lem himself is both past- and futureoriented, as if his attention were more on the process of time than on the present moment.

COMMENT: Mrs. Kobayashi's attempt is noble, but still she fails to integrate the material—note the many cross-references. Her categories have merit but in the final analysis are arbitrary and artificial. Lem does indeed devote certain cycles of stories to certain problems—for example, the Pirx tales are mainly concerned with the moral consequences of advanced technology (esp. "electronic brains"). But this is not characteristic of his overall work. "The Religious Metaphor" is unconvincing; one gets the impression that religion is of more interest to Mrs. Kobayashi than it was to Lem himself. Our first main criticism: the lack of interpretation and evaluation. For example, Mrs. Kobayashi does not say which of Lem's ideas were original, and which were commonplace. Also there is insufficient mention of the many European philosophers (like Russell) and writers (like Dostoevsky) who influenced Lem. Therefore we do not see Lem the thinker in the context of the thought of his day. Our second main criticism: this whole division between Ideas and Art seems suspect. We have no quarrel with Mrs. Kobayashi's assumption that ideas were the fundamental motivation of Lem's fiction. But is she then suggesting, by her schema, that fiction was in itself a motivation too? But—and here is the point—are these two motivations compatible? One would think, rather, that they are mutually exclusive. Nowhere in her book (it would probably belong in III) does Mrs. Kobayashi confront this issue.

II THE WORLD OF FICTION
      a) The Spectrum of Modes. The thesis that Lem usually tackles one same ideological problem in various literary ways, methodically changing parameters to produce different genres. The concept, for example, of a machine suffering the bondage of its program might be (is in fact) treated:
      —in the Cyberiad cycle (Trurl & Klapaucius),              with wild fantasy and farce;
      —in the Star Diaries cycle (Tichy),                                with fantasy and farce, but both
tempered by a more realistic setting and occasional notes of pathos;
      —in the Pirx cycle,                                                         with realism and pathos, muted by
           a subtle touch of humor and irony;
      —in "The Mask,"                                                           with stark realism and pathos to
           the point of full tragedy.
The implication, behind this diversity of approach, that for Lem the literary mode is not only an integral part of the "message," but actually contributes to it in a cognitive manner, and even furthers the philosophical investigation. It is as if a composer were to repeat the same melody over and over, only in different keys, for different musical instruments, or with different orchestrations, convinced that each new rendering provides some additional insight into his motif.
      b) The Escalation of Form. Lem's style grows more self-conscious, his experimentation with formal elements bolder, with each succeeding book. An analysis of his use of plot structure (parallelism, counterpoint, contrast), his manipulation of narrative tempo, prose rhythms (esp. evident in The Invincible, Solaris, Return from the Stars). Organic symbolism—that is, symbols whose referents exist only within the body of the work (and not outside it, i.e. the cross as a symbol of Christ). One example: mountains or mountainous terrain and the labor of climbing it usually signifies the process of self-realization, self-knowledge, a heightening of the individual's consciousness. Neologisms (cf. Ig), word play, puns; stylizations, esp. archaic; parodies—comic use of Slavic fairy-tale modes (The Cyberiad), of legalistic jargon, bureaucratese or officialese.
      c) Satire. The strategic use of detail, choice of proper names, and other techniques (see Ib). Lem's use of double-edged satire—two examples: in "The Dragons of Probability" (Cyberiad) both science and its negation (magic, fantasy) are satirized; in Memoirs Found in a Bathtub both American and Polish political paranoias are satirized. Which same two examples also illustrate that Lem's satire can be either universal or local—often both simultaneously.    
    d) Philosophical Fiction and Fictional Philosophy. Lem's attempts to create a new genre that combines both fiction and nonfiction (A Perfect Vacuum, Imaginary Magnitude, His Master's Voice). His device of the presentation of subsequent theories for the same phenomenon, in which the weaving of theories in itself assumes dominance over the point of departure (the fictional reason for the theorizing). In this connection, Lem as myth-maker (mythopoeist). The implication, then, that the quest for Truth is more valuable than the Truth itself, the seeking of more importance than the finding. Lem's belief that Man's greatest faculty—in short, what makes Man Man—lies in the exercise of the mind.

COMMENT: We congratulate Mrs. Kobayashi for her restraint in the use of computer analysis of linguistic data (in IIb), a practice which unfortunately is still too much in fashion. But again, there is insufficient evaluation of the subject: Is Lem's experimentation with form esthetically successful or not? Does "bolder" mean "better"? We think perhaps that Mrs. Kobayashi is overly awed by the genius of the Master—surely not all his writings were of equal literary merit. Also, it would be interesting to apply formal considerations to Id. What, for example, would be the technical aspects of this new fiction-nonfiction genre? In general, though, this is the strongest section of Mrs. Kobayashi's book. Many provocative ideas.

III THE BIOGRAPHICAL FACTOR
      a) Influences. The men who shaped Lem's views and craft, or with whom he had affinity, or against whom he rebelled. Thomas Aquinas, Bosch, Pascal, Dostoevsky, Mann, G.B. Shaw, H.G. Wells, Stapledon, Gombrowicz, Wiener, Turing, Einstein, Popper, etc., etc. The Polish literary heritage: the syndrome of Polish Romanticism and Anti-Romanticism, the Sienkiewicz myth of heroism and honor, the mad nihilism of Witkiewicz and Gombrowicz; Lem's work as characteristic of post-1956 Polish literature, Lem compared with contemporary satirist Mrozek.
      b) The Personal Impact of World War II and the Nazi Occupation of Poland. Discussion of the autobiographical Time Not Wasted, also parts of His Master's Voice. The thesis that much of Lem's moral position, as well as his complex (almost love-hate) relationship towards humanity, derives from his experiences during this period (when he was in his formative years)—for example, the witnessing of atrocities, executions, etc. His negative and positive views of society (respectively: the helplessness of the individual in a pathological social system, and the necessity for controlling social change—to avoid such evils in the future) also traced to this period.
      c) The Private Realm. The thesis that much of Lem's perception of the world as nightmare or a cruel joke stems from his relationship, as a child, to his parents (cf. the "Introduction" to His Master's Voice). Also from an early love affair that was the source of great guilt. In this connection, a Freudian analysis of Lem's recurrent images of death (skulls, skeletons—see his own illustrations to the 1971 Polish edition of The Star Diaries!), containing also a sexual element. Speculation that Lem's involvement with robots and non-biological intelligence as themes reveals deep feelings of inadequacy and fear in the face of human tragedy experienced first-hand. Science fiction and fantasy therefore as a "flight" from reality and from one's self (cf. Ie and Ii, other interpretations of Lem's rejections of reality and the present).

COMMENT: Clearly the weakest section of Mrs. Kobayashi's study, IIIc especially. True, the theoretical basis of Lem's existential Angst does not rule out personal (or even sordid) motivations. However Mrs. Kobayashi has let herself be carried away with all this Freudian nonsense. Which is entirely unsubstantiated; the bulk of her "evidence" she takes from Lem's fiction. Surely an elementary knowledge of literary criticism tells us that such evidence is, at best, highly unreliable. The facts of Lem's youth, of his private life, remain sketchy, but apparently Mrs. Kobayashi did not even bother to acquaint herself with the little information that is available. We hope that if her study sees a second edition, she will carefully rework this third section, which mars an otherwise sober and solid contribution to our understanding of the Master, the "Bio Prophet."


The Craft Is Not the Art

Reginald Bretnor, ed. The Craft of Science Fiction. Harper & Row. [1976], xi+321,$9.95.

This is what I call a "Yes, well, but..." book. It consists of an introduction and fifteen chapters by known SF writers, and is designed to instruct "people who want to start writing--or keep on writing--science fiction and science fantasy." Or so the blurb says. Myself, I believe that keeping on writing SF is a different kettle of fish from beginning to write, but we will let that one go.

Naturally, such a book is full of sweeping statements. The experienced writer or critic is going to catch himself nodding and saying, "Yes, well, but..." an uncomfortable number of times. A beginner should find chunks of it helpful; maybe a beginner should have reviewed it. Here is my report.

Reginald Bretnor is to be congratulated on his title: his book does attempt to define the craft, rather than the art. The intention is moderately work-a-day. All the same, one's heart sinks, and has every right to sink, when we find an editor trotting forth jaundiced and incorrect judgments against every form of fiction which does not conform to what he personally enjoys. Eclecticism is a virtue in editors; prejudice is never a virtue to anyone.

I have already spoken of the difference between the SF world of chance and the as-always world of mainstream fiction. Both, of course, differ from the world as currently accepted or acceptable scientific assumptions show it to be, the sf world because it allows more latitude, the world of mainstream fiction because it remains decades or even centuries behind today's realities.

This is not correct. Likewise, remarks about "the remnants of the New Wave, that attempt to inflict on science fiction the hysterical illogic characterizing so much of this century's 'intellectual' writing," can only make us shake our heads sympathetically. Not only is the statement in error, it is expressed in a form which indicates a withholding of any attempt to understand a movement which shows much in common with the difficulties experienced in all the arts this century.

So one approaches the body of the book in a jaundiced way, armed against similar belts of ignorance. However, all the contributors are successful writers and, perhaps for that reason, bring a greater liberality to their task than their editor. One doesn't always concur, but one respects their points of view.

For instance, Poul Anderson, in the first chapter, "Star-flights and Fantasies," would probably be in agreement with Bretnor's basic position; yet he merely remarks that "the opinion is dominant [in academe] that a protagonist's principal activity should be introspection... Of recent years, a certain amount of science fiction has been based on this theory." Yes, too much, I'd say. We can agree there. In a book on The Art of Science Fiction, one could go into the whys and wherefores of that preoccupation with introspection, and the answers would have to connect with the changed nature of our societies over the past half-century, as well as merely with the hysteria and illogic of New Wavers.

In the shadow of the introduction, Anderson seems a little pale. And that Verne enjoyed "exuberant optimism" is surely incorrect, a simplistic view of rather a complex man. But the English-speaking world has never come to grips with Verne, perhaps owing to a general belief that anyone who writes in another language cannot basically be for real. Anderson's discussion of SF sagas will interest many, and never more than when he turns to his own Tau Zero.

Hal Clement writes on "Hard Sciences and Tough Technologies." His tone is firm. He prefers SF to be scientific and is the ablest man to say how it should and should not be done; after all, this is the author of Mission of Gravity. Of course, the paradox is that the affection we feel for that novel (as opposed to the respect) does not rest on its admitted virtues of scientific exposition, but upon values not unknown in the rest of literature: an heroic quest, atmosphere, and the relationship between man and alien. All the same, this chapter would genuinely help a new writer; the remarks on "psionics" should particularly be taken to heart.

Clement depends rather heavily on truisms. Norman Spinrad is much more fresh and amusing; perhaps the subject of "Rubber Sciences" gives more scope for humor. At any rate, this was the point at which I began positively to enjoy the book. Spinrad is acute and funny on FTL drive, a prime and all-pervasive bit of rubber science, and many of his rules for writing are of the Shavian order of humour (i.e., the truth is unexpected, consequently witty), like his Rule Three of Rubber Sciences: "You are not Albert Einstein--know when to stop explaining." This rule could be carried a lot further. Many SF novels are themselves explanations which never stop, reducing all life to a diagram; instead of celebrating life in all its unkempt beauty, they transfix it.

In his zippy way, Spinrad questions much that SF takes for granted--a habit of thought beginner writers should acquire if they wish to make themselves unpopular. For instance, he condemns "future histories," and points out that hard SF suffers a built-in shortcoming: "characters in hard science fiction stories have mid-20th Century consciousness, no matter how far out their bodies are in space and time." Such comments could be much developed, but Spinrad sticks successfully to his Rule Three.

Alan Nourse talks about "Extrapolations and Quantum Jumps." He begins by stating that the construction of a science fiction story depends on certain factors that are common to any kind of fiction at all. That is too obvious to require stating, until one realises, wearily, that there may still be some who regard the remark as--is "challenging" the word? He goes on to say that an SF story must contain a premise, just like Romeo and Juliet, Ghosts, Who Goes There?, and Nightfall, to name but four World Masterpieces. Nourse labels the premises of these pieces, respectively, as "Great Love defies even death"; "the sins of the fathers are visited on the children"; "things are not always what they seem to be"; and "blind superstition can overcome reason and lead to disaster."

While Shakespeare's name is being dropped, it may be said that the last two of these premises apply with equal effect to, respectively, Othello, and Julius Caesar. So the premise is not the main raison d'etre of science fiction, and, supposing that we should be dim enough not to know from experience that "things are not always what they seem," then we should set about reading Othello rather than Who Goes There?, since Shakespeare got his version of the premise down in writing first.

On the whole, Nourse's is a nice solid expository piece, which says something of interest about Dune, Half-Past Human, and other novels. Nourse falls into an error several other contributors cannot resist, of using their own writings as examples. The result is generally a bit mawkish (Anderson shows it can be done well).

As usual, Theodore Sturgeon, who writes on "Future Writers in a Future World," is going his own way. Unlike all the other contributors, he believes that what a reader is most attuned to are those things closest to personal experience: love, pain, greed, laughter, hope, "and above all loneliness." I go along with that, but hands up those who thought that what the average SF reader was most attuned to was those soggy old pulp plots. The way in which Sturgeon adheres still to those tenets that made his fiction so vividly memorable--so nourishing among the thin diets of wonder--three decades ago is commendable indeed.

So many of the best things in the Sturgeon piece are implicit rather than explicit; after all, it is a shame to read his non-fiction when much of his fiction is so charged, loaded, in a way to which articles can never aspire. It goes without saying that this is still an enjoyable contribution. Note the marvelous little vision of Hannibal crossing the Alps by hang-glider. Sturgeon and Spinrad, alone of this august company, convey something of true creativity. Maybe you can't learn it or teach it.

Perhaps the best (most functional) article comes next: Jerry Pournelle on "The Construction of Believable Societies." It is a fine, positive article which deserves to be widely reprinted. Much of what Pournelle says is new; and often that which is not new has rarely been stated so succinctly. An example: "Characters in [historical fiction] act from one of two classes of motive: 1) motivations similar to those which work in our own society, and 2) those peculiar to those times. It will be as true for SF as for historicals." This rigour, by the way, is saved from excess by Pournelle's recognition that it takes all sorts to make a world, or even another world; while explaining in lucid detail how to construct a credible social order, he exempts the humourists and satirists, recognising that their purpose is different and meaningful. Writers are far more likely to be able to accept Pournelle's advice because he shows an implicit understanding of the (historically recent) many-sidedness of the science fiction genre. He understands also that some writers write to arouse emotions; they are also let off his hook (although it's true that his example here is Harlan Ellison, who does not so much arouse as give off in buckets emotions).

We cannot escape some questions even if their answers do not directly affect our plot, says Pournelle in a striking aside. He makes SF really seem the relevant literature we all, in drunken moments, hope it is. He instructs his audience to study. That must surely be correct. This essay is itself a notable product of careful study. (Well, yes, but, why didn't the man deal with utopias, for god's sake?)

Follow that Frank Herbert can't quite. His impressionistic piece on "Men on Other Planets" is not so searching, and here again is the embarrassment of a writer holding up his own writing for example. Being notoriously stupid, I found much here I could not learn from, since I could not understand. "Any reader of science fiction turning to page one of a new story has an implicit understanding that the function of what he is about to read will extend far beyond physical descriptions." That is beyond me. My simplicity is rammed home to me again on the following page, when Herbert asks "Were you really surprised when Charlton Heston discovered the remains of the Statue of Liberty on the Planet of the Apes?" Well, yes, I must admit I was very surprised, and moreover much admired the surrealist appearance of it in the sand, canted at an angle. I do not know what Herbert means when he claims that it would have been more interesting if Heston had discovered a toilet bowl or a Landon button. I don't even know what a Landon button is. What was needed in those final seconds of film was a universally accepted symbol which even the benighted foreigner could identify, and most people on the planet readily recognise both the Statue of Liberty and its significance (the same significance which, wrenched dramatically out of context, surely gives the film much more clout than Herbert allows).

Yes, well, but... I liked what Herbert told me about conjecture as a literary tool, but would have regarded the Statue of Liberty as a good example of same.

We are still less than half way through the book and this review grows longer than the volume as a whole perhaps deserves. Katherine MacLean has a spirited piece on "Alien Minds and Nonhuman Intelligences." As we would expect, it is stimulating, and delivers some sharp trotters of fact as well as being in itself imaginative--for instance when MacLean sees van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" as an ecology story published before ecology was known to intellectuals, or discusses the cold germ as a possible factor in human evolution. I should have thought beginners might pick up creative clues here, chiefly by the induction coil method. All the same, should not such an article include the obvious statement that, when pitching his scene in the Unknown, a writer perforce populates it to a great extent with creatures from his psyche, even if they play the rather hackneyed roles of nasty aliens, nice aliens, gods, monsters, or little green men? The whole book is apt to treat creation as a sort of Erector-builder set, as if all bits came out of encyclopaedias and none out of your head. Surely a greater proportion of SF than of ordinary literature does come "out of the head." If you compare those great modem masterpieces, Anthony Powell's twelve-volume Dance to the Music of Time with John Norman's Tarnsman of Gor series (okay, I know it's a fool thing to do), you can see that the former is built up from the activities of characters very similar to people Powell knows or knew "in real life." Perforce Norman drags much of his material from his psyche. I should add that I see nothing against either method in the correct place, though obviously the latter method depends heavily on one's having a fairly interesting psyche--whereas all Powell needed for raw material was a fairly interesting life.

To press on. James Gunn presents an innocuous discussion of "Heroes, Heroines, Villains: The Characters of Science Fiction." He perceives that SF often uses attitudes rather than characters, yet does not probe deeply enough into this interesting distinction. He skirts nervously round Ballard's work. (In most of the essays one senses a strong preference for the good ole home-cooking like Gersback and Campbell used to make it, a dread of garlic and spices; Gunn, for example, does not find it at all awful that stories are now "being written in the styles of" Burroughs, Asimov, or Heinlein. Similar emanations rise even more strongly from Larry Niven's "The Words of Science Fiction," a disconnected piece about gnurrs coming from the voodvork out (an esoteric but affectionate reference to the creative phase of the editor whom I do not otherwise treat lovingly here) and similar expressions. Niven does not give the impression of having read much SF or, beyond SF, anything but Dante and Mickey Spillane. All the same, his piece would be useful to a beginner in its corralling of a lot of titbits about things most of us do instinctively. Unfortunately, the constant references to the work of Niven are embarrassing.

Jack Williamson's piece has lots of good advice for cautious worthy little prigs of rookie writers, like "A good story idea must pass several tests. It should be original, but not too far out... It must interest the audience..." etc. It is chiefly notable for Williamson's poignant honesty in confessing that he prefers his novelette, With Folded Hands, to the novel, The Humanoids, which John Campbell made him write. What a slave mentality Campbell's authors showed! Williamson, incidentally, is one author, who, with Anderson, talks acceptably about his own writing. Which brings us to John Brunner who, in "The Science Fiction Novel," remarkably stays away from his own material and produces a clear, workmanlike piece which has been thoughtfully designed for the specified audience. "A short story is cast ... a novel is assembled..." I like it; it may not be one hundred percent true--what is?--but it hath pith and gives you something to think about.

Brunner has an ingenious piece of jugglery to the effect that there are only three plots; he then justifies the argument with some brio. These are his three plots: Boy Meets Girl, The Little Tailor, and Man Learns Lesson. (Someone else in the book--I've lost the reference-- says almost the same thing.) Well, yes, but...what about Man Fails to Learn Lesson? Is that not a favorite plot, from Frankenstein onwards? In any case, it is interesting to reflect that these three or four or twelve basic plots have little reference to the diversity of story. I mean, to which of these three basic plots does van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" aforementioned belong?

Perhaps the best advice for a beginner in the whole book is Brunner's: "Set down the events in the story in the order in which the reader benefits by learning of them." All this presupposes is a writer who can penetrate to the heart of this advice and use it.

"With the Eyes of a Demon" is the title of Harlan Ellison's advice on writing a TV script. Ellison thinks writers should "write in all forms, should not limit themselves, should constantly strive to enlarge the scope of their abilities." This dogmatism is confused. Some writers may take pride in not dropping their pants for the TV mammon, in not writing film criticism, in not catering to the preferences of editor A or B; and they may enlarge the scope of their abilities by so limiting themselves. To refuse to write of things in which he does not believe, like an all-white Earth or FTL travel or telepathy, a writer reasserts his own moral faith and brings that strength to bear on the things on which he can write with conviction. Ellison's piece is deeply confused. He quotes Cyril Connolly's heroic statement, "The true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece" (from Connolly, that dilettante!--he should bloody well talk!), yet most of Ellison's relentless energy is devoted to spelling out how ya gotta leave the hero in the most dreadful straits by the time of the commercial break, whether story-logic demands it or not, and engaging in other processes Ellison baldly calls artistically corrupt.

Having soldiered on through all the hectoring, it is a relief to come on Frederik Pohl's calm piece, "The Science Fiction Professional." I doubt if anyone can ever become as professional as Pohl, even with Pohl as instructor--and in his mouth, "professional" is a good word. Wit and commonsense make this a necessary piece for any tyro--or even for old hands who may get discouraged: "Any manuscript can be bounced a few times. Editors make mistakes. Maybe they're wrong and it's really good. Or maybe the ones who bounced it are right and it's awful; the next editor might make a mistake in your favor and buy it." Sound stuff.

Perhaps it is not more than sensible that a book calling itself carefully "The Craft" and not "The Art of Science Fiction" should exhibit little deep feeling about being a writer. Yet a few assumptions crop up several times which are inimical to the writer's function in society. Ellison seems to think it is a matter of putting one over on someone--the viewer, the producer; Williamson and others preach that you must please the editor; Spinrad says "All fiction is lies"; Brunner says "Telling the truth is forbidden to writers of fiction."

These careless attitudes are damaging to any serious author.

The writer's position is barely tenable. As Sturgeon hints, loneliness is his foe--and his ally. I cannot see how a writer can continue to exist for long as a creative writer unless he tries to tell the truth, and goes on digging through the lies of his own life until he throws up a bit of it, and then maybe a bit more, and a bit more. This must be what Yeats meant in that poem Willis McNelly is so fond of quoting:

Now that my ladder's gone,

I must lie down where all the ladders start,

In the foul rag-and-bone shop of my heart.

Any sort of writer must try to come to terms with what is in himself, for there he sees written the image of all men (women read women, etc.). It is a harrowing experience. Instead of waving the tattered old banners of fandom, the editor should have taken his job seriously and told would-be writers that writing is a terrifying job, because honest writers come face to face with pettiness as well as grandeur, because honest writers fail most of the time and know it, because honest writers secretly prefer suicide to another novel like the last one, and because dishonest writers are the rich ones with weekend places in the Bahamas and mistresses in Monte Carlo.

To be honest, our much-loved SF banners sometimes get in the way of the truth. "There is nothing intrinsic to SF that limits it either in its scope or potential literary quality," trumpets Bretnor. Yes, well, but...

--Brian W. Aldiss  


Irwin's Random Fantastic

W.R. Irwin, The Game of the Impossible: A Rhetoric of Fantasy. University of Illinois Press, 1976, xii+215, $9.95.

This book is so full of unsubstantiated and misleading generalizations that at best it will prove suggestive, rather than convincing, to serious critics of fantasy literature. Not enough of the argument is based upon close acquaintance with actual fantasy narratives, and overall the book leaves an impression of artificiality, vagueness, and superficiality. Typically, the best things in it are derived from other critics, and although Irwin is an accurate enough reporter of these earlier views he never manages to create a new critical synthesis out of them. Distinct approaches to literary scholarship--biographical, Theory of Fiction (Booth), Structuralism (Todorov), and others--are interwoven piecemeal with accounts of all sorts of literature--including "classics" like Shakespeare, Milton, Blake--without the author achieving any critical unity at all.

Irwin address himself specifically to the "long prose fiction fantasy" which first establishes and then develops an "anti-fact" or "counter-norm." The new counter-reality, of course, constitutes reality itself within the world of the literary narrative (the most cogent formulation of the idea appears on p 166, based on an earlier essay by Douglass Parker). This promising intuition about one kind of fantasy appears on the first page of the book, is repeated often enough throughout the text, but is never elaborated in detail--it remains an intuition.

Instead, we are introduced to five essentially unrelated chapters of hazy generalizations. Thus chapter 2 elaborates the "game" metaphor of the title through lengthy discussions of the philosophy of play in the writings of Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillois. None of this seems necessary since neither "game" nor "play" contribute much to Irwin's readings of actual fantasies--except to give him the misconception that the literature of the impossible must somehow also be "playful." (The same is true of the word "rhetoric" which appears in the subtitle and then is scattered throughout the essay without adding anything.) Predictably, Freud is brought into the discussion, only for us ultimately to be told that his theory of wit and humor has no bearing on the author's problem of the prose fantasy narrative.

Chapter 5 illustrates the author's habit of presuming that random negating of others' generalizations should somehow be construed as a positive contribution to the theoretical literature. In this chapter, for instance, we are told that fantasy is not pornography, beast fable, fairy tale, gothic romance, nor science fiction. (The same negative tactic is evident in chapter 4, in the artificial contrast established between romance and fantasy.) Irwin simply has not sampled enough actual narratives to contrast these types of fiction so confidently: as he does, e.g., by relying on Bradbury's F451 as his sole example of SF (pp 97-99) with no more sophisticated an idea of what makes it SF, as opposed to fantasy, than that everything in it might come true. Besides, none of these "genres" of imaginative literature which Irwin sets before us to illuminate fantasy by contrast is adequately defined, so such criticism seems to be a case of obscurum per obscurius.

Chapter 3, "Help from the Critics," works analogously. Irwin reports the views of H.G. Wells, Herbert Read, E.M. Forster, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis without any sort of focus. The first three in this group are literary artists whose criticism is best regarded as a literary polemic which defends specific artistic practices and ideologies, while the latter two are deeply indebted to Christian perspectives in their criticism. But all of the essays involved here also seem archaic and simple in light of recent developments in literary theory and practice, and belaboring them seems gratuitous on Irwin's part.

The second set of five chapters focuses on subclasses of fantasy according to their respective modes of impossibility: metamorphosis, impossible societies, reification of impossible innocence, parody and adaptation of other fictional narratives, and supernatural fantasy. None of these categories is particularly well justified by the author, they are not of the same semantic order, and unfortunately all are far too broad to be of any critical value. Limiting criticism (mainly) to works in English published between 1880 and 1957 would have been a permissible tactic if Irwin did not believe this schema had objective validity. As it stands, however, even his selections of works is just another unlikely Procrustes bed.

Some of the books Irwin mentions are truly fascinating and forgotten minor classics, worthy of renewed scrutiny by contemporary critics of imaginative literature: David Garnett's Lady Into Fox, Norman Douglas' South Wind, and Herbert Read's The Green Child, for examples. Yet this is exactly where Irwin's limits also show up: no more than a passing mention of William Morris, E.R. Eddison, and James Branch Cabell (Irwin also has the wild misconception, p 9, that "intellectual play" is not to be found in Cabell; I do not see how this could be true of Jurgen and The Silver Stallion); one or two pages on Dunsany, MacDonald, and Golding; and really not even an awareness of fantasies produced by the so-called "SF ghetto" writers of the thirties and forties (hence, nothing on Weird Tales or Unknown either), yet many of these would come off well by comparison with the books Irwin has selected (perhaps this explains the list of Suggested Readings appended to the book as a sort of afterthought). Then, again, Irwin includes many works which are not really narratives of the impossible and which would be taken most naturally as exceptionally facetious satires: for example, if Ronald Firbank's Flower Beneath the Foot and John Collier's His Monkey Wife are fantasies, then so are the works of Peacock, Waugh, and Burgess, and we are far from a revealing distinction between fantasy and satire. The implication is that Irwin often abandons his narrower view of fantasy as a strategic reaction to prevalent norms for an all-inclusive definition of fantasy to mean only the imaginary.

However, even though the works described are so potentially compelling, Irwin's own readings are conventional and uninteresting (as, e.g., in the case of Tolkien's Rings and White's Once and Future King). When focusing on either scholarship on fantasy or on fantasy fiction, in fact, Irwin never seems to get beyond the level of mere reportage, nor are his pronouncements about individual works and authors founded in an organized sensibility. Nevertheless, the fantasy stories he describes are certainly worth knowing about, and that much alone justifies a reading.

--S.C. Fredericks


Pioneers and All: Moskowitz, H.L. Berger, Brian Ash, and Rose's Critics

  • Sam Moskowitz. Strange Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction
  • Harold L. Berger. Science Fiction and the New Dark Age
  • Brian Ash. Who's Who in Science Fiction
  • Mark Rose, ed. Science Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays

Sam Moskowitz. Strange Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction. Charles Scribner's Sons, v+298, $8.95.

One thing that can and must be said for Sam Moskowitz is that his game is often the only game in town. When the articles that make up this book were first published, they dealt with subjects, or aspects of subjects, that simply had not been dealt with before-- and most of them, like many of those in his other books, still provide information on SF of a kind not readily available elsewhere. These articles were written, not for scholars, but for fans, and all but one were originally published in the SF pulps. Their greatest weakness lies not simply in the absence of footnotes but in Moskowitz's frequent failure to cite his sources in any way, which not only makes it difficult or impossible to judge the way he has used his evidence, but also deprives the scholar of leads that he might use for further study. Even so, eight of the eleven articles may be said to have some or great value as introductions to their subject. I will take up the articles, not in the order in which they appear in the book, but in that of their present importance, interest, relevance to the student of SF.

9. "War: Warriors of If" (from George Griffith, The Raid of "Le Vengeur" and Other Stories, UK 1974). The only survey known to me of the SF of George Griffith, this article also deals with future-war stories in popular UK magazines in the 1890s, and is a valuable-- indeed, necessary-- supplement to Clarke's Voices Prophesying War. For further comment, see SFS 2(1975):98.

5. "Birth Control: Better the World Below than the World Above" (1965). This is the only survey known to me of the SF of S. Fowler Wright. The original title, "S. Fowler Wright: The Devil's Disciple?," is a more accurate indication of its subject, for neither the article nor Wright has anything much to say about birth control, even though Wright in his fiction again and again mentions the practice as one of the great evils of modern civilization. I have not yet been able to come to any satisfactory understanding of Wright's SF, and while I don't at the moment find this article very illuminating, it is still the only article I know on this important SF writer.

7. "Crime: From Sherlock to Spaceships" (1966; rev). When Gernsback lost control of Amazing Stories in 1929, he responded not only with Science Wonder Stories but also with Air Wonder Stories and Scientific Detective Monthly. The former was evidently ahead of its time, for its failure after 11 issues was followed in a few years by a boom in air-war pulps featuring future-war stories (a phenomenon whose history is still to be written); the latter was too late, the scientific detective story having already passed its peak of popularity. Moskowitz's account of the rise and fall of the scientific detective and of the subsequent transformation of the earlier story-type into the future-world detective story, as practiced by Asimov and Bester, is again the only survey of the subject I know. But with respect to the scientific detective story proper, I remembers that there has been a certain amount of scholarship on the detective story, and so must note that Moskowitz's failure to "review the literature" in this area makes this article less valuable than it could have been.

8. "Teen-Agers: Tom Swift and the Syndicate" (1966; rev). The only account known to me of the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its various mass-produced series of SF juveniles.

11. "Art: Portraitist of Prescience" (1965; rev 1971). An account of the career of Virgil Finlay with some discussion of the world of pulp-magazine illustrators. Finlay enthusiasts may be interested in something I can add (if it is not already well known): Finlay's first appearance in a national magazine was probably the reproduction of his prize drawing, "My Mirror's Melody," in Scholastic Magazine, Apr 29, 1933, p 19.

6. "Psychiatry: The Invasion of the Incredible Head-Shrinkers" (1966). A survey of the stories of David H. Keller, together with some by Kuttner, Heinlein, Sturgeon, and others who have used psychiatric themes in SF.

10. "Unexplained Phenomena: Lo! the Poor Forteans" (1965; rev). This account of Charles Fort and the use made by SF writers of Fortean materials has been largely superseded by, but retains value as an anti-Fortean counterweight to, Damon Knight's pro-Fortean Charles Fort, Prophet of the Unexplained (Doubleday 1976). Through the Fantasy Amateur Press Association and specialist book dealers, Mr Moskowitz has also issued a pamphlet, Charles Fort: A Radical Corpuscle, which contains the eponymous SF short story by Fort, a number of magazine illustrations for Fort stories, and an examination of each of the 22 stories that Fort published 1905-07 "for elements that might have provided the genesis of his later non-fiction works that were to create his reputation, [and] for a basic appraisal of his early writing skills."

1. "Religion: Space, God, and Science Fiction" (1965; rev). The subject of this article has been much dealt with in recent years, so that it no longer has much value as an introduction to its subject.

2-3. "Anti-Semitism: The Day of the Messiah" (1966; rev); "Civil Rights: Rockets to Green Pastures" (1967; rev). Although there is more information in these two articles than in 1 that might be new to the SF scholar, much of it is erroneous or misleading, so that one may wish that they had been left in the obscurity of their original publication.

To read the romance and melodrama of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is to find support in dreary abundance for the possibility that the writers were more prejudiced than their readers, though it is more reasonable to conclude that they were simply "more adept at articulating the prejudices shared by most white, native Americans" (to use words applied to utopian reformers by Kenneth L. Roemer in The Obsolete Necessity [US 1976 xiv+239], p 70)--and shared by most English Protestants. But there is something more to be said on the subject. In English-language literature we have traditions of both anti-Semitism and philo-Semitism, of both the brutal savage and the noble savage, and of American Negroes both as hopelessly stupid and vicious and as good-hearted simple folk who would be fully equal to whites if only educated. Before World War II, the writer of popular fiction, who was likely to be white, gentile, and middle-class, with little interest in and less knowledge of the special problems of Jews and Blacks in our pluralistic society, would with very little thought draw on either of the opposed traditions, or on both in alternate chapters, to lend his romance or melodrama a certain strangeness, mystery, glamor. The reader of our day, when enlightenment on racial matters is as fashionable as prejudice was fifty years ago, is likely to read more than was meant into any unsympathetic treatment of characters identified as black or Jewish, and even to find evidence of prejudice in sympathetic treatment.

Mr. Moskowitz finds the "prejudices" of Ignatius Donnelly "shockingly revealed" in what he sees as the unstated moral of a novel concerned with an interchange of souls: "a white man in a Negro's body ennobles the race, but a Negro in a white man's body defiles it" (p 60). This is an interpretation that allows Donnelly no way to win in his effort to show that the most admirable of humans (our white hero) would be treated with contempt if taken for a Black, no matter how intelligent, well-educated, or well-behaved he showed himself to be, whereas the most despicable of humans (our black villain) would be treated with respect, even deference, if taken for a wealthy white man, no matter how stupid and obnoxious his behavior. As a matter of fact, in this rather silly melodrama, Dr Huguet (US 1891 309p), all but two or three of the good guys are black, and all but two or three of the bad guys white. It is also true that it is a story squarely in the simple-folk tradition:

There are three things that point to the inherent civilizability of the negro race: First, their desire for learning; second, their strong religious instincts; and third, their wish to be respectable and to imitate the best examples given them by the whites. It does not seem to me that the red men manifest any of these traits; hence I argue that the negro race will rise upon the breast of the great tide of civilization, while the Indian is very apt to be buried under it. [pp 213-14]

If this passage is racist in its assumption that racial groups can be judged as fit or unfit in "civilizability," it is still not anti-Negro in any sense--and is, indeed, part of a book-long argument for granting full civil rights to Negroes.

In 1:16 of The War of the Worlds (1898) a certain character appears as a symbol of avarice. To blame H.G. Wells (as Mr Moskowitz does with some vehemence, pp 30-31) for following tradition in the magazine version and making this character Jewish, rather than to give him credit for abandoning tradition in the book version and eliminating the Jewish reference, is to miss an opportunity for examining the development of enlightened attitudes in the consciousness of a great writer. Although in his early career Wells flirted a bit with the "scientific racism" of the day, he soon came round to a belief in the essential equality of all branches of humanity and to the advocacy of "a free social and economic intercourse, even to the point of marriage, between all racial types" (The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind [1932; rev edn 1934 xv+867], p 692). He was not anti-Semitic in a racial sense, and was no more anti-Judaic than he was anti-Anglican, anti-Catholic, or anti-Dissenter. That is, he was no more against your cultural heritage than he was against his own, and in asking you to give yours up he asked no more of you than he asked of himself, for what he campaigned for was a world in which all religious, philosophic, cultural, and national differences would be dissolved into a universal scientific humanism.

A future America in which, under the pressures of resistance to a foreign ruling class, all religious and cultural differences have dissolved into a common Americanism is depicted by Edgar Rice Burroughs in The Moon Men (Argosy 1925; Ace Books 1962; abridged version as Part II of The Moon Maid, 1926): "Among us were descendants of Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Jew that I knew of and how many more I did not know, nor did we care"; it doesn't matter, for the emblem of the God they worship in their secret religious services is neither cross nor star but the American flag (Ace version, 7). Among the members of the hero's congregation is a man called Samuels the Jew, who is depicted as heroic and so finds great favor in the eyes of Mr. Moskowitz, who does not pause to inquire how under such circumstances it would still be possible to regard this Samuels as a Jew. Nor does he inquire into the philosophy that makes the Moon Men an inherently inferior race (able to conquer us only because we had been so foolish as to disarm) because descended from the lower classes of a nation that has undergone a socialist revolution in which the upper classes were wiped out.

The most thoroughly excoriated of Mr. Moskowitz's racist villains is M.P. Shiel, who is said to have been "vituperatively opposed to religion and blinded by his faith in science" (p 100), to have been "anti-Negro, anti-Oriental, anti-Christian, and prowar," to have "Applaud[ed] all the persecutions against the Jews by the Continental nations," and to have "outlined in his novels" a superman philosophy that not only "foreshadowed Nazi dogma but quite obviously deals with 'a final solution to the Jewish problem,'" the "most vicious of his novels" being The Lord of the Sea (pp 31-32). I find all this very distressing, for I had hoped that in the years since Explorers of the Infinite (1963), Mr. Moskowitz would have found occasion to revise his views of Shiel. I can only conclude that on a bad day Mr. Moskowitz read half-way through The Lord of the Sea, misunderstood what he read, and was so upset that he closed the book and swore to high heaven never to read another line by that wickedest of men. Having recently read 29 of Shiel's 31 books, I can say that Shiel was not opposed to religion but was instead one of the most God-ridden of men, that one of his "yellow peril" novels sees the hope of the world in the Japanese, and another in a mixture of the races, that although he was influenced by "scientific racism," he did not advocate the destruction or even segregation of any race, that his one novel dealing with Blacks (Children of the Wind, 1923) is in the noble-savage tradition, and that he was not anti-Semitic but philo-Semitic, The Lord of the Sea being a celebration of Zionism in an account of the marvels that attend on the coming of the Messiah, the foundation of Israel, and Israel's redemption of the world:

And not Israel alone reaped the fruits of his own grandeurs; but his dew fell upon all. For it says: "They shall be as dew from the Lord"; and again: "They shall fill the face of the Earth with fruit"; and again: "All nations shall call them blessed."

And so it was: the example of Israel--all his suasive charm--proved irresistible as  sunlight to plants; and the great heart of Spinoza [Richard Hogarth, the Messiah, now judge of Israel] lived to rejoice at the spectacle of a whole world abandoning the bloodstained paths of Rome, to follow into these uplands of mildness and pleasaunce of that lily Jew of Bethlehem.

The mission of unbelieving Israel was to convert Christendom to Christianity: and this he did.

We see the Judge descending the Mount of Olives in the midst of a jubilant throng, all noisy with timbrels and instruments of music: for his exalted life was simple, and one with the life of his people. [UK 1901 vii+496, pp 493-94]

They took him for the Sent-one of Heaven: and certainly the results of his most glorious reign did not stamp this belief as superstition.... all our greatest are but One, who continually runs the cycle of incarnation after incarnation from hoar old ages until now --the Ancient of Days, his hair white like wool--quietly turning up again when the time calls, and Man is near to yield to the enemy: Proteus his name, and ever the shape he takes is unfamiliar, unexpected: yet ever bearing the same three divine traits of Insight, Rage, and Tenderness--The Slayer of the Giant--Arthur come back--the Messenger of the Covenant--the good Genius of this Earth--Jesus, the Oft-Born.[p 496]

It is indeed ironic that Mr. Moskowitz called this article "The Day of the Messiah" with reference to Henry Byatt's 1907 novel of a false messiah, The Flight of Icarus, and then failed to see that The Lord of the Sea tells of a true messiah.

Mr. Moskowitz has been the most important pioneer of SF scholarship, not only in having been one of the first, but also in always working at the frontiers of our knowledge of the history of SF, albeit with rather crude tools. One can hope that in the future he will pay more attention to scholarly methods and thus make his work of greater value to scholars as well as of continuing interest to fans. Unlike most of his previous books, this one is published by an old and prestigious house, Charles Scribner's Sons. Can one also hope that for any future volume of SF scholarship Scribner's will apply the standards of editing that one expects of a great house? Each of us has strange lacunae in his store of information, and each of us is liable to strange aberrations (so that I must cry mea culpa elsewhere in this issue). An author cannot be greatly blamed for such things as confusing the Virgin Birth with the Immaculate Conception (p 4), as robbing the title of Del Rey's famous story of all its meaning by getting the last word wrong, "For I am a Jealous God" (p 17; it should be "People"), or as confusing the United State of one translation of We with our own United States (p 105), but a publisher may be justly censured for not making use of the editorial consultants that would have caught such errors.

Harold L. Berger. Science Fiction and the New Dark Age. Bowling Green University Popular Press, nd [1976], ix+231, $4.95 softbound, $11.95 hardbound.

This book's chief claim to value, in comparison with the books on dystopian fiction by Amis, Walsh, and Hillegas, is that "it discusses more anti-utopian works and discusses them in more detail, treating of many that have never received notice in scholarship" (p xi). This claim may be allowed, with the reservation that the works discussed here but not by Amis, Walsh, and Hillegas are almost entirely books published since those scholars did their work. The failure of the book derives from the author's lack of any appreciable knowledge of the history of utopian/dystopian fiction, so that he is capable of writing the following in his Conclusion:

Anti-utopian science fiction, in a span of some forty years, has established itself as a literary genre.

The suddenness of its establishment, the speed of its growth, and the attraction it holds for writers of note and talent has made dystopian science fiction one of the literary phenomena of the century. That such a genre should emerge so soon after Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888) and the dozens of stories it inspired, so soon after Wells's A Modern Utopia (1905), The World Set Free (1914), and Men Like Gods (1923) is solidly founded in the events of history. [p 199]

Which is to say that our grandparents wrote utopias because they were stupid and naive, while we have been made wise and sophisticated by the events of history and so write dystopias. And this is the book's one and only thesis.

The book's bibliography does not include the most important work yet published in its field, Richard Gerber's Utopian Fantasy (1955), nor a single article from Extrapolation (established 1959) or Riverside Quarterly (established 1964). Although the bibliography does include Hillegas's The Future as Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians, Dr Berger still treats Wells as the naive optimist of anti-Wellsian legend, and so does not even mention When the Sleeper Wakes and "A Story of the Days to Come," the twin fountainheads of much if not most 20th-century dystopianism. With such glaring omissions, it is not surprising that Dr Berger should be unaware of the dystopian character of many of "the dozens of stories it [Looking Backward] inspired" or of the numerous dystopias stretching from The Coming Race (1871) down to his beginning of the dystopian genre "some forty years" ago.

Despite that "some forty years" ago, Dr Berger discusses only eight dystopian or anti-science stories published before 1950--"The Machine Stops," We, Brave New World, Ape and Essence, the C.S. Lewis trilogy, and Nineteen Eighty-Four -- and to what has already been said on these much-discussed works he has nothing important to add. The only book he discusses as a utopia is Walden II, and here he does a little better, giving us first a summary of its reception by critics (pp 51-65) and then a rundown of SF stories that may be said to be reactions to Skinner's concept of conditioned virtue, including Burgess's A Clockwork Orange but not Damon Knight's "The Country of the Kind," which he treats in another place as similar to Waugh's "Love Among the Ruins" in being a satire on the "softer penology" of our "permissive" society, failing to grasp the similarity between its narrator and Burgess's Alex, the significance of its title, or the fact that it depicts a Skinnerian utopia that works (pp 65-85, 186-88).

This failure with "The Country of the Kind" is symptomatic. Since Dr Berger's one purpose was to demonstrate the wisdom and sophistication of contemporary writers in seeing that the world is in bad shape and rapidly getting worse, since his reading beyond the nine classics included only books readily available on the newsstands in the late 60s and early 70s, since he did not confine himself to SF writers but also included (without distinction) popular novels by other writers trying their hand at fashionable SF themes, since he was searching for similarities rather than contrasts and he was evidently content when he had found nine or ten stories for each of his themes, since he did not review previous scholarship for interpretations different from his own--for all these reasons, his research lacked controls of the kind that would have enabled him to make valid generalizations on the science-fictional response to the present-day world. All he has given us is superficial plot summaries or idea-content summaries for a hundred or so stories, and for that sort of thing the Barron bibliography is a handier reference.

A work of literary scholarship is of value to the extent that it adds to our knowledge or understanding of the literary works discussed. To ignore previous scholarship on your subject is to work in ignorance of what you can add as new information, as correction of old error, or as reinterpretation. It is also to work without the controls that can keep you from drifting into absurd interpretations and generalizations. It is distressing to see published in 1976 a work of university scholarship written as if its author were as much a pioneer in dystopian fiction as Sam Moskowitz was in popular SF twelve years ago.

Brian Ash. Who's Who in Science Fiction. Taplinger Publishing Co., 1976, 220p, $8.95.

This catch-as-catch-can exercise in tertiary scholarship contains some 400 articles on writers, editors, and artists, mostly of from 40 to 100 words, but reaching up to 800 for the best-known writers, with Wells getting about 1200. The material on writers new in the 70s appears to have been taken from blurbs and magazine headnotes, but most of the hard information for the established writers has been lifted from Robert Reginald's Stella Nova (US 1970; rpt 1974 as Contemporary Science Fiction Authors), Donald H. Tuck's The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol. 1: Who's Who, A-L (US 1974), and the various books of Sam Moskowitz. To this hard information Mr Ash has added some comments on subject matter or opinions on quality for such books as he happens to have read. The articles do not have a standardized form: in each you will find a title or two (or a dozen or so for the best-known writers), and in each you may find the date of the subject's birth, the name of a school or two he attended, a list of the jobs he has held, etc--or you may not, for it all depends (apparently) on what was in the source.

One of the articles to which Mr. Ash has apparently contributed something of his own is the one on Victor Rousseau Emanuel, about whom I published an essay in 1967. Although I had read The Messiah of the Cylinder (pbd 1917 as by Victor Rousseau) and The Selmans (pbd 1925 as by V.R. Emanuel), and had found some factual information that seemed to suggest that The Selmans was in some degree autobiographical, I did not know where Emanuel was born, where he lived, or when or where he had died, and so wrote the following: "I would like to know something about the details of Emanuel's biography, but to this point they have eluded me. It seems evident, however, that he was born into an Anglo-Jewish family, that as a boy and young man he hated being a Jew, that he went to South Africa at the time of the Boer War, that he became a Christian, perhaps while in Africa, and that he came to America some time before 1917" (Extrapolation 8:55).

In 1970, in Under the Moons of Mars (US xiii+433), Sam Moskowitz, presumably on the basis of "an autobiographical sketch published in 1931" (p 396) and as if in answer to my plea, wrote than Emanuel was born in London "of a Jewish father and French mother," that "the thought of being half Jewish tormented him most of his life, and he converted to Catholicism after having spent several years in South Africa, where he received his first training in journalism," and that he "came to the United States and secured an editorial position on a magazine" (p 395). In 1974 the Tuck Encyclopedia supplied the date and place of death: "5 Apr 1960...almost unnoticed in New York." And now in 1976 Mr. Ash supplies a different date of death (1951), an additional fact (Emanuel "applied for [US] citizenship"), and the statement that Emanuel "spent most of his life, and much of his writing, obsessed with his half-Jewish parentage...(his surname was more easily discarded than his heritage)" (p 171).

Now Emanuel did not discard his surname but instead honored it by reserving it for his "serious" fiction (three mainstream novels). But what interests me in all this is the way in which the 1967 supposition that "as a boy and young man he hated being a Jew" becomes first the 1970 fact that "the thought of being half Jewish tormented him most of his life," and then the 1976 fact that "he spent most of his life, and much of his writing, obsessed with his half Jewish parentage." I take Mr. Moskowitz's "fact" to be simply a somewhat exaggerated but not unacceptable interpretation of my reading of The Selmans (though of course it might come from some other source), but since Mr. Ash gives us facts not to be found in my article, in Moskowitz, or in Tuck, I must assume that he has some source unknown to me. Does that source actually state than Emanuel "spent most of his life, and much of writing, obsessed with his half-Jewish parentage"? And if so, on the basis of what evidence? Or is it that Mr Ash has himself read not only Messiah but also all the realistic novels, western novels, SF novels, and numerous magazine stories published under the names V.R. Emanuel, Victor Rousseau, and H.M. Egbert, and thus feels qualified to make pronouncements on the obsessive content of "much" of Emanuel's writing?

A book of this general kind would be of real service to the student or scholar who cannot have a reasonably complete set of SF reference works on his own desk, if the compiler would only cite his sources, for then it could serve as a guide to works he could consult in a library, works that give full accounts from which the "guide" has selected the few biographical and bibliographical details that it has room to print. But many of the people working in SF scholarship (academic and non-academic alike) seem not to have grasped the principle that literary scholarship is a cooperative, ongoing endeavor that provides not final answers but materials for and leads to further study. Indeed, many seem to think that SF scholarship is a competitive business enterprise in which the sources one finds are a kind of capital asset, to be kept secret and mined for new material whenever the market is ripe. It is high time that everyone concerned (including publishers) realize that a work that does not cite its sources, no matter how extensive and careful the research behind it, is not scholarship at all.

Mark Rose, ed. Science Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall, nd [1976], xi+174, $2.95 softbound, $7.95 hardbound.

In each of the essays in this new volume of the Twentieth Century Views series we have a sharp mind focused on science fiction as literature (or, in one case, as film): Kingsley Amis, "Starting Points" (1963); Robert Conquest, "Science Fiction and Literature" (1963); Robert Scholes, "The Roots of Science Fiction" (1975); Darko Suvin, "On The Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre" (1972); Stanislaw Lem, "The Time Travel Story and Related Matters of SF Structuring" (1974); Eric S. Rabkin, "Genre Criticism: Science Fiction and the Fantastic" (1976); C.S. Lewis, "On Science Fiction" (written 1955); Susan Sontag, "The Imagination of Disaster" (1965); Michael Holquist, "How to Play Utopia: Some Brief Notes on the Distinctiveness of Utopian Fiction" (1968); David Ketterer, "The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature" (1974); John Huntington, "Science Fiction and the Future" (1975).

For anyone new or fairly new to the serious study of science fiction, this volume would be one of the best of all possible introductions. For anyone who has been in the field for some time, all but two or three of the essays will already be familiar, the two or three varying with the individual. The Conquest, the Holquist, and the Huntington are new to me.

C.S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Robert Conquest have in common the fact that each had made his mark in what anyone would regard as serious literature before turning his critical attention to science fiction, even though he had been a life-long addict. They were all pioneers (albeit with the sharpest of tools) in bringing SF to the attention of the literary world by distinguishing the ways in which it is like and unlike the fiction conventionally regarded as serious, and thus in fitting it into the overall literary scheme (something Robert Scholes was to do even more effectively, at least from a structuralist point of view, at a much later date). Like Amis (but unlike Lewis) Conquest seems to me to insist too much of the newness of SF as a genre, too much on the supposed absence of links between "modern SF" and such SF as was prior to or even contemporary with Verne and Wells. But since Conquest is primarily concerned with other things, this is a matter best discussed in another place.

Analogies such as the one Michael Holquist sets up in his essay--utopia is to society as chess is to war--have been made before for SF but never worked out in such exquisite detail, and I can't imagine any article that would serve better as a basis for discussion and argument, in the classroom or out. Although the argument overall is quite persuasive, I am worried by some of the details, and feel that there is a contradiction between, on the one hand, "This society is by definition perfect, so that any changes in it can result only in a falling away, a decline. Thus innovation is a crime in utopia, a sin against perfection" (p 139), and on the other hand, "the best examples of the genre are arranged in such a way that they may be played again as often as they are read. That is, most utopias have open endings," with More's Utopia cited as an example (pp 143-44). If the perfection of the society is so defined that innovation is a crime, then the game will be lost by the author whenever the reader decides that objectionable detail is either unnecessary to the structure of the society or so objectionable that if it is necessary the whole society must be rejected. But if the perfection of the society allows for such innovations as are made necessary by outside pressures like war, or such as simply become desirable because of growth in knowledge or wisdom, then the game in rereadings becomes one in which victory or defeat may alternate between author and reader. The citizens of More's republic recognize that their society has not been perfected beyond possible change for the better, especially in religious practices, and the "visitors" to Utopia (Hythloday, "More," and many readers) have found a number of the details questionable or even absurd, so that the perfection of the eponymic Utopia depends on there being an orderly process for change, which is allowed for in the governing bodies. Having said this, one hardly needs to mention Wells's A Modern Utopia, which is called "modern" because it expressly recognizes and makes provision for the inevitability of change.

John Huntington's essay provides the best answer I have yet seen to the contention that the function of SF is to prepare us for the future, arguing that SF holds its readers by "answer[ing] a craving...for a science which will mediate between a conviction of the necessity of events--that is, a strict determinism--and a belief in creative freedom" (p 159). Mr Huntington has published two essays in SFS; I wish he had sent this one to us instead of to College English.

I have singled out these three essays not as the best but only as the ones new to me. Many would say, and I would not disagree, that the most important essay in the book is the one by my co-editor, Darko Suvin, which was published in the December 1972 College English and has since set what is perhaps a record for frequency of citation by SF scholars.

--R.D. Mullen.


Bulwer-Lytton's Fiction of New Regions

Allan Conrad Christensen. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Fiction of New Regions. University of Georgia Press, nd [1977], xvii+268, $12.00.

As the author of The Coming Race, perhaps the most important SF novel in English between Frankenstein and The Time Machine, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Lord Lytton (but most of his life simply Edward Bulwer), should be of some interest to students of SF. This book, a model of its kind, should go far toward making Bulwer's fiction accessible to present-day readers. I call it a model of its kind, for even though it is primarily for scholars in 19th-century fiction, and even though in this field, except for a few SF novels, I know only the Great Novels of the Great Novelists, I was still able to follow its arguments with reasonable ease. Those arguments, without making any claims for Bulwer as a rival to the Great Novelists, pretty well demonstrate that he is worth our attention for having in his fiction "chart[ed] the territory of psychological myth" (p 215), the "new regions" of the subtitle, arid for having elaborated theories on the art of fiction in the critical essays which, together with the example of his highly innovative novels and stories, made him probably the strongest contemporary influence on 19th-century fiction, albeit an influence opposed to the dominant realism of the time.

The SF or what-if basis of The Coming Race may be said to be: if Darwin and Marx are right, the world depicted here is the kind of world our descendants will live in. Since this world is utopian in the more obvious ways, but still not a world that either author or reader would care to live in (if the reader has read at all well), The Coming Race is the first of the modern (i.e. Darwinist, Marxist) dystopias--or, at least, the first in English to make any important impact on the reading public. The part of the present book of most direct interest to students of SF is chapter 7, "Back to the Region of Pure Forms," which not only examines Bulwer's two SF novels, A Strange Story (1862) and The Coming Race (1871), but also reviews Bulwer's response to science and socialism in his earlier fiction, especially Zanoni (1842), which some people count as SF, and then deals with his last two novels, The Parisians and Kenelm Chillingly (both 1873, the year of his death), which are also concerned with science and socialism, though not in a science-fictional way. This chapter can be read by itself with profit, though I do not recommend doing so, for its full significance depends on concepts developed in the preceding chapters.

It must now be said that Professor Christensen gives no indication whatever of any interest in SF, or even knowledge of its existence, with one result being that on the influence of The Coming Race he can say only that it depicts "a social and political structure that prefigures those of many more recent utopian satires" (p 179) and that it "apparently did have a decided influence on George Bernard Shaw, and it is clearly relevant to the entire flurry of [utopian] satires at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries" (p 230). So that although this book is apparently a brilliant interpretation of Bulwer's fiction (the "apparently" coming from my unfamiliarity with most of that fiction), and although I would have been happy to have had its Chapter 7 in SFS, it remains true that a definitive or near-definitive article on Bulwer as an SF writer is still to be written.

--R.D. Mullen.


The Great Martian Controversy

William Graves Hoyt. Lowell and Mars. University of Arizona Press, nd [19761, xv+376, $13.95.

The Great Martian Controversy may be said to have begun in 1894-95 when Percival Lowell published a number of magazine articles and the book Mars; to have stirred no great interest in the general public until 1905, when Lowell announced that the canals had been photographed and the newspapers began to devote space to the subject; to have escalated with the publication in 1906 of Lowell's Mars and Its Canals; to have reached the proportions of a furor in 1907 as Mars neared, reached, and departed from opposition; to have begun to fade when the photographic evidence failed to win universal assent and no new evidence of a definitive kind resulted from observation during the 1907 opposition or found publication in Lowell's 1908 book, Mars as the Abode of Life; to have faded into the recesses of the public mind with Lowell's death in 1916 and with the continuing absence of new evidence (e.g. continued failure to receive radio signals from Mars), so that is was almost forgotten (albeit still alive) when in July 1965 the first Mars probe sent back the photographs that laid it finally to rest.

But it was still alive, with respect to the existence of the canali, in early 1965, despite such nonsense as C.S. Lewis's 1955 statement, "When I myself put canals on Mars I believe I already knew that better telescopes had dissipated that old optical illusion" (Of Other Worlds [US 1967 xi+148], p 69). For better telescopes had resolved nothing, and although the weight of scientific opinion had established the illusion theory as orthodox, there were still prominent authorities on the other side, e.g. the Britannica as late as its 1956 edition if not later, and E.C. Slipher's The Photographic Story of Mars, US 1962, perhaps the last major document in the controversy.

Mr. Hoyt's handsome and profusely illustrated book presents an entertaining and (so far as I can judge) generally accurate account of the whole affair, but is deficient in at least two ways important to students of the history of SF: first, in its sketchy account of our knowledge and pseudoknowledge of Mars before Lowell and hence in its assessment of what Lowell's contributions to that (pseudo)knowledge really were; second, in its sketchy and highly inaccurate account of the science-fictional response to descriptions of Mars by astronomers in general and Schiaparelli and Lowell in particular.

Before Schiaparelli the maps of Mars showed three major features: the polar caps, the dark areas or "seas," and the light areas or "continents," with some but far from all astronomers properly skeptical of taking the dark-light distinction as a sea-continent difference. Schiaparelli's 1877 reports had the effect of dividing the continents into islands. Although some astronomers were dubious about the canali because of their inability to see them (e.g. Richard A. Proctor, Old and New Astronomy [UK 1892 viii+816], pp 544-45), there seems to have been no great opposition to their existence and nothing more than amused skepticism on the theory that some of the canali might actually be canals built by the Martians for such purposes as the prevention of floods during the periodical inundations caused by the melting of the polar caps (see Wells' War of the Worlds 1:1). For if you accepted the idea that Mars was inhabited (and there was at that time no solid evidence to the contrary), there was no reason to believe the inhabitants incapable of great engineering works, especially since the Martian civilization would be older and hence more advanced than ours, the smaller planet having cooled more rapidly than Earth from a molten to a habitable state.

This then was the pre-Lowellian picture of Mars. But just before Lowell began to publish his own views, two of his associates made a "discovery" that drastically changed the traditional picture: there were lines running through the dark areas, and therefore no seas on Mars. In the following excerpt from a letter by Lowell I have italicized the words that express what is new in the Lowellian picture:

Roughly speaking the evidence seems to be that Mars has (1) some but not much atmosphere; (2) is an aged world but with no water to speak of other than in the polar caps; (3) is provided with an elaborate system of line markings which are best explained by artificial construction, cases of assisted nature...; (4) shows what seem to be artificially produced oases as the termini of the canals -- what we see and call canals being merely strips of vegetation watered by the canals, the canals themselves being too narrow to be seen. [p 70, ellipsis in Hoyt]

Thus the picture of a planet with many well-watered areas despite its shrunken seas and vast deserts, a planet with a great flood-control problem that had perhaps been solved by the building of a number of drainage canals, became in Lowell's hands the picture of a supremely and planet (three-fifths absolute desert, two-fifths steppe so dry that it would be regarded as desert on Earth), with many hundreds of thousand-mile-long irrigation canals to bring water from the polar caps to the oases in which was centered what remained of Martian life. There is a double irony here: what Lowell's associates saw in the dark areas was an illusion, but what it signified to them was true, and that truth (no seas on Mars), which should have been the death blow to the concept of Mars as habitable, was instead used as evidence that Mars was not only habitable but actually inhabited.

Schiaparelli's canali seem not to have been of any great importance to astronomers, science-fiction writers, or anyone before Lowell; that is, they were simply accepted as one more feature in the picture of Mars that had been developing gradually for a century or so. Richard A Proctor, taking them as real but as incorrectly interpreted in their discoverer's map (loc. cit.), worked them into his own map of Mars, one drawn on the basis of observations made by numerous observers. Writing not long after the famous twin events of 1877, Percy Greg devotes some space to Asaph Hall's moons (Across the Zodiac, 1880, 3), but does not even mention the canali. It seems to me evident that turn-of-the-century interest in Mars would have been much the same without Schiaparelli, though not without Lowell, whose public-relations work brought that interest to a fever pitch. But there is another irony here, for Lowell's drastic revision of the traditional picture seems to have had very little effect on the public's concept of Mars, perhaps because the newspapers played up the positive concept of Mars as inhabited by canal-builders and played down Lowell's depiction of a supremely arid planet. Although that is mere speculation (neither Mr. Hoyt nor I have investigated the ways in which the newspapers treated the details of Lowell's work), it can be said that the pre-Lowellian Mars continued to dominate in science fiction up to Burroughs. Burroughs changed our concept of Mars, not by any careful use of Lowellian detail but by constantly iterating that Mars is a dying world, and not immediately (for his books had little influence on adults) but gradually as his youthful enthusiasts grew up and themselves became writers of science fiction or popular science.

In 1964 a very sketchy article and bibliography by Thomas D. Clareson and William B. Johnson appeared in Extrapolation (5:37-48): "The Interplay of Science and Fiction: The Canals of Mars." For the past ten years I have been hoping that someone would follow up on this with a full treatment of the subject, but up to the present no one seems to have done so. If someone does take up the challenge now, Mr Hoyt's book will make the task immensely easier than it would otherwise have been.

--R.D. Mullen.


World SF for the Russian Common Reader

E.I. Parnov. Fantastika v viek NTR. Očerki sovriemiennoj naučnoj fantastiki. Moskva 1974, Izd. "Znaniue," s. 192.

The main aim of Parnov's collection of essays is to present the thematic profile of science fiction as it appears in various countries. The critical point of view is not that of an academic scholar; the author neither looks for definitions of genres, nor tries to achieve close analyses of texts, nor attempts broader historical perspectives of current tendencies or literary traditions. Parnov simply assumes the role of the common reader: grasping the main idea of a novel, understanding the course of action and the role of fantastic motifs in it are the ultimate aims in the discussion of particular titles. However, it is when Parnov attempts a synthesis that his journalistic methods are fully disclosed: he views fantastic literature against the broadest possible background of modem scientific, social, political and economic phenomena. Thus the study's title, "the fantastic literature in the century of scientific and technical revolution," becomes fully justified, at the same time suggesting the book's most evident feature, the discrepancy between its literary field of inquiry and its extraliterary viewpoint.

The results of the adopted critical method are to be expected. First, the subjects of the essays copy the examples of the critiques abundant both in Russia and abroad. Parnov discusses SF as a warning about contemporary tendencies in modern civilization (in essays entitled "The First Alarm" and "New Elements of the Brave New World"), presents texts concerned with the problem of intergalactic and interplanetary contact ("The Foreign Life"), comments upon the interest of scientists in SF ("The High Priests of Urania: Practice Range or Hobby"), and traces the evolution of the robot theme in fantastic literature ("The Stages of Roboevolution or the Lesson of Čapek").

Second, in pursuit of the most universal outlook, the author's theses and conclusions become almost platitudes. This happens, for instance, to the main thesis of the first essay (and the whole book!), the suggestion that science fiction grew on the border between science and art ("Urania and Euterpe"). Similarly, the conclusion of "The Wings of the Fairy-tale" seems neither to be the product of a creative critical insight nor to enrich much our knowledge about fantastic literature; we are already fairly well accustomed to the ideas that modern fantasy has some roots in the ancient myths and that it often fulfills the social functions of the fairy-tale.

But Parnov never boasts of any ambition to be a creative critic. He wants only to popularize the kind of literature he speaks of, to inform the general reader about its subjects and ideas--sometimes even risking an essay so full of information that it turns into a sort of annotated bibliography. Such is the case of the second essay of the volume ("The Children of the Two Revolutions"), devoted to the presentation of SF in France, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Cuba, Rumania... An attempt at evaluation that closes this essay is not the luckiest stroke of the critical pen either, since the evaluation is strongly influenced by political, social, and economic realities. In literary criteria it hardly ever matters how many revolutions created the country where the literature originated! The last essay, devoted to Russian fantastic literature, is also perhaps too much of a glorified and glorifying bibliographical guide.

Parnov's book may be of some interest, even to a literary theoretician, if treated as an example of certain tendencies in the critical awareness of our times. It is comforting to discover a journalist speaking of fantasy as a literary game (igra v elementy mira) instead of analyzing its "verisimilitude," "prophetic elements," and "scientific truth." It is a sort of consolation to have Parnov popularize the understanding of fantasy worlds as various types of literary convention, especially if one remembers how often literature is still envisaged as an immediate effect of an author's mental aberrations or as an inevitable result of economic and social conditions. And a literary historian might agree with Parnov when he sees the evolution of SF to be the history of the quest (p 7), notwithstanding some doubts whether such a history ranges only from the quest for technology to the quest for the humanistic picture of the world. What's more, though generally the reader is left unconvinced by the author's critical criteria (as in the case of "the lack of psychological depth in the protagonists" in the essay on F. Brown and W. Tenn entitled "The Demands of the Fantastic or Occam's Lesson"), sometimes he might even admire the author's understanding of the particular poetics (cf. remarks on Bradbury's fantastic motif of "the autumn people" in the essay "The First Alarm").

The reader's admiration is further strengthened by the respectable number of texts mentioned in the study, especially where less known literatures are concerned, as in the two essays "Free Commentaries on the Divine Comedy" and "The Year of the Sun Tower" which not only discuss the main issues of Italian and Japanese SF, but also compare their modern achievements to these chosen aspects in their literary traditions. It is a pity that the publishers have not done justice to the author's readings by providing a bibliographical list of the texts.

When reviewing a journalist's book on literature, one should perhaps attempt to see it with the eyes of its professed addressee, the reader who is little oriented in the field under discussion. It seems then, in spite of evident drawbacks, that Parnov's study may prove quite a valuable introduction to the vast vistas of the world's science fiction.

--Andrzej Zgorzelski (tr. Franz Rottensteiner)


Finding Le Guin's Right Hand

George Edgar Slusser. The Farthest Shores of Ursula K. Le Guin (Milford Series, Popular Writers of Today, Volume 3). Borgo Press, 1976, 60p, pb $1.95.

Slusser's main premise is clear, sturdy, and big enough to support any number of pages: "From the start, Le Guin's writing is a fiction of ideas--or rather, of one idea: change in permanence, the dynamics of equilibrium" (p 5). Analyzing nearly all of Le Guin's novels and novellas from this premise, Slusser notes the growing complexity of its applications and the increasing role of "the individual ... as maker and breaker of equilibrium" (p 4). However, one novel, The Lathe of Heaven, is simply labeled Le Guin's "worst" and dismissed without discussion (p 3).

Aside from six pages devoted to Introduction, Conclusion, and list of Le Guin first editions, Slusser's essay has four sections: the early Hainish novels; The Left Hand of Darkness; the Earthsea trilogy; The Dispossessed. With its survey approach that places each novel in its niche in Le Guin's Future History, and its formalistic major premise that allows for close analysis of each novel individually, Slusser's pamphlet is an excellent introduction to Le Guin--indeed, the best available. On the other hand, the more serious scholar may be irritated by the lack of footnotes or any other indication of sources, particularly in the discussions of the early novels and LHD. If Slusser's intention is to present a solid, consensus viewpoint, even an indirect assessment of previous scholarship would support his argument as well as direct the uninitiated toward further study. So these sections, while unexceptionable, could easily have been made more useful.

The other two sections are far more valuable. Not only is The Dispossessed such a recent work that any observations would be welcome, Slusser has laid the groundwork for some extensive investigations. For example, he notes that "each pair of chapters, from one to twelve, mirror the other," and goes on to provide an example of what this mirroring involves, using chapters five and six:

The chapter on Anarres ends with Shevek in Takver's arms; on Urras it ends with him dreaming of her. In both he gazes at the moon, dreams of a moon that is cold, a vision of death. The two chapters interlock here--going away is coming home--but the overriding factor is Takver and her love. [p 55]

Here, future studies will have to take Slusser into account.

In a sense, the section on the Earthsea trilogy is even more valuable. Slusser demonstrates, I think quite convincingly, that it "creates a universe which is parallel to that of the Hainish novels, one in which major themes are not simply mirrored or reflected, but carried forward and developed in new ways" (p 31). To think of the trilogy as somehow inferior because it has been designated children's literature is, as Slusser says, "silly." Anyone reading these books will not only recognize the same intelligence at work that produced the Hainish novels, but will observe it functioning at the same level of language and creativity. While the Earthsea novels are indeed fantasy rather than SF, they can hardly continue to be ignored by SF commentators. Slusser suggests that the Earthsea novels were written to escape from the demands of polemic, back to a less restricted form of creativity, since the SF Le Guin wrote during this period was strongly motivated by an urge to comment on the war in Vietnam. Whether or not this particular speculation is sound, Slusser's integration of the Earthsea trilogy into the Le Guin canon can only be applauded.

--Charles Nicol


A Bibliography and 49 Reprints (see SFS 3:294-304): Addendum

The book noticed here was "not available for this review" in SFS #10.

#18. Victor Rousseau [i.e. V.R. Emanuel]. The Sea Demons. UK 1924 [as by H.M. Egbert]. Hyperion Press, 254p, $3.95 pb, $12.50 hb, plus 35; service charge. Set in England during the Great War, this story tells of how a threat to mankind rose from beneath the North Sea, of how our hero saved the world, and of how the warring nations realized at last that humanity is one and thereupon made peace and put an end to war for all time. When serialized in All-Story in 1916, this could be considered a story of the near future or an alternate present, but when published as a book in 1924 it could only be the story of an alternate past.

--R.D. Mullen.  


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