#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—
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!
Oh. Er. Poland?
Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria—
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—
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
- Mark Rose, ed. Science Fiction: A
Collection of Critical Essays
Sam Moskowitz. Strange
Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction. Charles Scribner's Sons,
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
§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
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
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
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
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 , 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"
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
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
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
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 , 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
Bulwer-Lytton's Fiction of New Regions
Allan Conrad Christensen. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Fiction of New
Regions. University of Georgia Press, nd , 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.
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.
World SF for the Russian Common Reader
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
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.
A Bibliography and 49 Reprints (see SFS
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.
Back to Home