H.G. Wells. The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds: A Critical Edition. Ed.
Frank D. McConnell. Oxford University Press, 1977, viii+455, pb, $4.00.
McConnell botched it. This shabby book would not be worth reviewing if several notable
scholars and critics had not contributed to it; but fortunately several of their essays
are also available in Bernard Bergonzi's Twentieth Century Views H.G. Wells
(Prentice-Hall). Therefore if any teacher is tempted to McConnell by the essays of Bergonzi, J.P. Vernier, I.F. Clarke, Van Wyck Brooks, Jack Williamson, Mark Hillegas, V.S.
Pritchett, and Anthony West, or by the convenience of having the two SF classics in one
binding with "The Rediscovery of the Unique" thrown in, or by the sheaf of
eye-catching illustrations, or by the 365 textual notes supposedly so helpful to students,
or by the simple joy of possessing what must be the first of all SF critical editions,
then let that teacher be warned.
Has anybody ever seen a critical edition in which the copy-text is never specified?
Frank D. McConnell and the Oxford University Press do not specify their copy-text.
McConnell/Oxford do not know what their copy-text for The War of the Worlds was,
for if they had known they would not have used a bowdlerized edition. Sample
bowdlerization (§2:8): "At the sound of a cawing overhead I looked up at the huge
Fighting Machine, that would fight no more forever" (McConnell, p 289) versus
"At the sound of a cawing overhead I looked up at the huge fighting-machine that
would fight no more for ever, at the tattered red shreds of flesh that dripped down upon
the overturned seats on the summit of Primrose Hill" (Atlantic Edition, 3:437-38). It
would be simple but tedious to multiply examples. McConnell/Oxford were unlucky: they
unluckily picked the 1951 Heinemann edition that had been eviscerated for the schools
market. The text used for The Time Machine eludes me, but they were luckier here,
for they perpetuate merely minor slips like "patent readjustments" for
"patient readjustments" (p 78; AE 1:85) and "earthly crustacea" for
"earthy crustacea" (p 95; AE 1:107)--both of which occur in a number of other
editions. Even so, all they had to do to avoid virtually any chance for error was to
reproduce the text Wells intended them to, that of the Atlantic Edition.
McConnell has a map. On the map are shown the landing points of the Martian cylinders.
But when the student, after reading that Cylinder Three fell near Pyrford, between Woking
and Leatherhead, and that because of its position the hero decided to return to his wife
in Leatherhead by a roundabout rather than direct way (pp 163-65, 174)--when the student
then turns to the map that fails to locate Pyrford and places Cylinder Three ninety
degrees off course, the decision of the hero will be incomprehensible.
McConnell has illustrations. Some of these will be discussed later. Most of them are
film stills, one each from TM and WW, two from Things to Come,
and one each from films that McConnell perceives as related to Wells, such as Metropolis
and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Given this pop art outlook, it is a curious
fact that McConnell, who did a book on film and takes every excuse to relate Wells to
film, omits to mention Orson Wells's Mercury Theatre broadcast of WW. Could it
be that McConnell has never heard of "The Invasion from Mars"? or of Hadley
Cantril's study of the panic? or of TVs recent re-creation of the night of that broadcast
in a two-hour special?
McConnell has textual notes. Some explain difficult words like "trammel,"
"nil," "stile" (over a wall), and "dog-cart" (drawn by a horse).
Others identify places, events, and people, sometimes erroneously. Astronomical theories
put forward by George Darwin are attributed to Charles Darwin (p 57); Norman Lockyer is
said to have taught Wells (p 126). At the task of glossing meanings, McConnell is at his
worst; he cannot read plain English: "those old-fashioned tricycles with a small
front wheel"--i.e., two large, one small--is glossed as "the 'Coventry'
tricycle, with a much larger supporting wheel to one side" (p 198)--i.e. one large,
two small; "I sat tempering nuts with a cigarette" (p 151)--i.e. after a good
dinner the narrator sips wine, smokes a cigarette, and eats nuts--is explained as
"burning" or "roasting" nuts with a cigarette; and a misunderstanding
as to whether a pig or a dogcart is up for sale McConnell explains by stating that
"the landlord fears he may be selling (not buying) a 'pig in a poke'" (p 159).
But McConnell's bad readings also lead him into bizarre critical and aesthetic judgments.
The Time Traveler has "carnal cravings" (p 38) because the Eloi have no meat
and live off fruit; but McConnell finds "a mild joke" implying also "sexual
desire" and elaborates it by reproducing Aubrey Beardsley's "A Snare of
Vintage." The implication is that Weena is really a Beardsley androgyne. Meanwhile,
George Pal's film is labeled "a remarkably faithful and convincing version" (p
109), so that one concludes that to McConnell Yvette Mimieux's Weena looks like a
Beardsley. Another erratic judgment: the Time Traveler's "Carlyle-like scorn of this
wretched aristocracy in decay" (p 75) is the occasion for a note on Carlyle's
"romantic emphasis on the era-shaping influence of 'great men' in their opposition to
weak and outmoded traditions." But that is no help at all. Carlyle also speaks of weak
people in overwhelming situations, say, Louis XVI who went so foolishly to his (quite
inevitable) death: "The silliest hunted deer dies not so," says Carlyle (French
Revolution). Possibly the most fatuous note, though, glosses the bowdlerized passage
quoted earlier. The words "fight no more forever" were spoken by Chief Joseph of
the Nez Perce Indians in 1877. By applying the words of the doomed chief to the Martians,
says McConnell, Wells achieved "a striking reversal of emotion" whereby the
would-be conquerors are seen as the foredoomed losers of this war of planetary ecologies.
No evidence is given for this claim--a claim that requires Wells to be a dealer in veiled
historical ironies but requires from McConnell only a lazy reference to the now-popular
subject of the trials of the Indians. Besides, McConnell's text is so poetic compared to
McConnell is amazingly ignorant of Wells's work and even of the calendar of Wells's
work. He makes the statement that, with the publication of TM, "Wells was
celebrated enthusiastically as the new Dickens, the new Trollope" (p 7). TM?
Dickens? Trollope? What's going on? TM was Wells's first book and critics might
call the author a new Verne or a new Rider Haggard but not a new Dickens or Trollope. True
enough, Wells was later called so on account of Love and Mr. Lewisham, Kipps,
Tono-Bungay, Polly, but those novels are five to fifteen years later. McConnell never
mentions one of them. Can it be he has never heard of them? That would account for his
connecting Dickens and Trollope to TM. Or maybe he knows the titles but not the
calendar. That would account for his creating the impression that the famous quarrel
between Wells and Henry James was blown up over Wells's desertion of SF rather than over
Wells's (much later) desertion of the novel.
In an essay on "Parable and Possibility" in Wells, McConnell collaborates
with Samuel Hynes (author of The Edwardian Turn of Mind). This is a cut above the
rest of McConnell's stuff but still pretty bad. It is a rather pretentious development of
the Two Cultures heresy. The gist of it is that Darwin removed metaphor from the world of
his followers (of whom Wells was a devoted one) and replaced metaphor, which is human, by
laws that are inhuman. So the Time Traveler's voyage is said to be a Darwinian and Social
Darwinian vision of non-metaphor: of the world as not made for man. But the vision itself
is called a humane vision. On the other hand, WW is said to be an assertion that
the world is made for man because of his Darwinianly developed immunological
system that the invaders lack. Thus, Wells's triumph in WW is said to consist in
turning Darwin's non-metaphoric universe into a validation of man. But the vision itself
is felt to be less humane, in the belletristic sense, and more biased towards scientism
than that of TM and therefore a portent of Wells's desertion of imaginative
fiction and conversion to science journalism. Trouble is, it is a cheap stunt to assert
that Darwin is non-metaphoric just as if the Darwinian garden were not the central
metaphor of the nineteenth century, and it is obvious, within the terms of that garden
metaphor, both that man is enormously weak and precarious (as in TM) and that he
is enormously adapted and adaptive (as in WW).
To sum up, then, McConnell is irresponsible textually and untrustworthy in matters of
fact. That is the main point in judging this book as a schools text. Then, like most
people who fail to do their homework, he is erratic in his literary judgments. That this
book should be the first critical edition in the SF field is a disaster.
--David Y. Hughes
SF in Dimension and at Large and Its
Alexei and Cory Panshin. SF in Dimension: A Book Of Explorations.
Advent: Publishers, 1976, viii+342, $10.00.
Peter Nicholls, ed. Science
Fiction at Large. Harper and Row, 1977, 224p, $8.95 (also UK: Victor
Gollancz, 1976, £6.00)
Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin, Science Fiction: History--Science--Vision.
Oxford University Press, 1977, 258p, $12.95 hardback, $2.95 paperback.
In 1970 Alexei Panshin began following up his book Heinlein in Dimension with
a series of columns in Fantastic Stories, "SF in Dimension." These he
hoped would add up to a critical volume that looked behind the myths, clichés and
self-congratulation that passed for criticism among science-fiction writers and fans. For
various reasons, some of which he has explained elsewhere, that book has never been
published. The present "book of explorations" by Alexei and his wife, Cory, with
whom he has collaborated for several years, is a poor substitute, a discontinuous volume
of book reviews, shorter and longer essays, and catalogs of major SF books and writers.
The prose is racy, the ideas seem pregnant with great consequence, the authors'
convictions seem genuine, and some of the review assessments are quite insightful.
Continuity is implicit, in that subsequent pieces revisit concepts raised earlier in this
more or less chronological sequence, and the reviews can be seen emerging from the same
theoretical concerns as the essays. But some pieces might well have been left out, or at
least integrated into others. A short meditation on fantasy ineffectually repeats material
made clearer elsewhere. The second of two Heinlein articles, printed ahead of its
predecessor in time, repeats material from the original along with introductory material
written up elsewhere. And the reviews fit uncomfortably into this Procrustean bed. Where
they support the Panshins' theories, they seem redundant; where they do not, they appear
to be excrescences. The whole collection suffers from inconsistency, redundancy,
self-contradiction, but its shape mirrors the growth of the Panshins' thought, and out of
the essays some interesting if unproven observations emerge.
These pieces really are explorations, in that the Panshins are seen groping for the
right words with which to express their largely intuitive sense of what science fiction is
all about. Since the Panshins are themselves professional writers of science fiction and
fantasy, it may not be too surprising to find that their explorations are wrapped up in
their search for what they are all about, and that they have derived from this
their sense of what Western civilization is all about. These three levels are linked by
"human development," which the Panshins lay out programmatically, according to a
sequence of identity crises every person must surmount in order to advance to the next
stage of individuation and maturity.
The job of literature, in this formulation, is to embody these crisis situations, to
help readers as well as writers transcend their more limited, juvenile world-views. Every
writer does this, since "there is, in fact, only one eternal Story" (Campbell's
monomyth), but writers do it better writing fantasy or "non-mimetic" fiction.
Only there, freed from the tyrannical details of here and now, can Story transcend the
limitations that threaten to stunt our growth. Among the many kinds of non-mimetic
fiction, "speculative" (not "science") fiction is the tool that will
best equip us in the coming "post-mimetic" era.
Apparently, speculative fiction is that kind of fantasy which has incorporated some of
the rhetoric and imagery of science, in its now declining mechanistic stage, though their
sense of definition wavers and blurs. At first, they take great pains to demonstrate the
irrelevance of science to science fiction, reducing a straw man called Hugo Gernsback to a
smoldering ember. Later on, however, they claim that the science-fiction writers of the
first half century have developed a symbolic vocabulary based in part on science, however
misled they may have been, a vocabulary which writers of more recent years have
experimented with. Some have done rococo embroidery work with the established images, some
have followed the old myths into their decadence, some have attempted to transcend the old
categories. In their concluding essay, the Panshins recognize that there was in fact a
shift of non-mimetic fiction in the 1890s in the direction of mechanistic science.
However, as science itself has been changing, away from simple cause-and-effect
materialism, so non-mimetic fiction has also been shifting again, this time in the
direction of a transcendent kind of fantasy, magical and moralistic, which will either
mirror or usher in some kind of Golden Age.
As a research tool, the Panshins' developmental psychology is useful, illuminating some
apparent contradictions in Heinlein, whose work they know intimately. They give him credit
for facing life-crises stalwartly in his fiction, but they object, perhaps pointlessly,
that he refuses to complete their paradigm; time and again, his characters refuse to
transcend their egos, a step the Panshins insist he and Western culture must take to
achieve enlightenment. Their pique is that of the frustrated evangelist, not the literary
critic, who should be interested in how well Heinlein handles this personal material, and
how his handling sets him apart from other authors, who are also subject to this universal
principle of growth. But the Panshins do not subject any other author to this kind of
penetrating psychological criticism, or "subjective reading" in their
vocabulary, though they casually appropriate dozens of story-lines to buttress their
general statements about where science fiction as a whole is going. (They have done a
brief analysis of Van Vogt elsewhere, which is not reprinted here).
What might have been more enlightening, and honest, would be a piece on how the
Panshins, themselves, have embodied or arrived at their theory in their own development.
It is apparent that they are seeing the world in their own image, in the light of their
own sense of achievement, which their tone and attitude seem to say they are offering as
salvation to the world. Indeed, they seem to be trying to sell us old snake oil in new
bottles, namely the proposition that science fiction, under whatever label, is our only
appropriate guide through crises in our individual development, and that of our whole
That this testament of faith is at all workable, as a backdrop for short critiques and
comparisons of works of science fiction, is due in part to the universality of the theory,
which fits everything and makes no distinctions; in part to the variety of science
fiction, some of which is overtly, even formulaically developmental; and in part to the
widespread and long-standing evangelical spirit of science fiction. There were, of course,
science-fiction writers in the Sixties whose mission was to transcend their predecessors;
there were such missionaries in earlier decades, too, and some of them were just as
committed to "transcending," evading or escaping science and the bothersome
world of phenomena. We do not praise them for having that belief; if we remember them, it
is because of how well they embodied that belief in their tales. In the Panshins' zeal to
snatch away from science fiction the crown of science teaching, which never fit that well
anyway, they have substituted another kind of didacticism, a new (or age-old) Pretender to
the throne. And the kind of fiction they envision, moral, developmental, optimistic,
transcendental, which has always been a part of science fiction, is not by its having
those qualities automatically better or more memorable.
The holes in their arguments are big ones, which critics exposed to more literary
education outside science fiction should have been able to avoid. They allude to a number
of great works of literature, for instance, but mainly to pigeonhole them as simply
mimetic or non-mimetic, allotting to the mimetic only the job of helping the reader to
adjust to the limiting realities of the social world that is or has been. Their exposure
to literary criticism also seems to be thin, even if they have read more than they give
credit for. Scorning internal documentation, they list an even dozen seminal books as
sources for their ideas, but none of them can be blamed for the Panshins' myopia. Perhaps
if the Panshins achieve the stature of James Blish or Damon Knight, whose book reviews
have also been published by Advent, this book will stand as a good research tool for
"reading Panshin subjectively." As of now, however, it's mainly good for
stroking your prejudices, some of which it's bound to rub the wrong way.
Peter Nicholls, ed. Science
Fiction at Large. Harper and Row, 1977, 224p, $8.95 (also UK: Victor
Gollancz, 1976, £6.00). This collection of what were originally lectures at London's
Institute for Contemporary Arts in the Winter of 1975 is uneven but worth reading for some
scattered insights, a good balance of opinions and attitudes, and some honest revelations
of themselves by some of the writers.
Not every contributor was actually associated with science fiction. Psychologist Edward
De Bono discussed his specialty, "lateral thinking," with almost an afterthought
about analogous functions of science fiction. Mathematician John Taylor distinguished
between actual rigorous scientific research and less restrained speculation that passes
for "hard" science fiction; besides a certain amount of gullibility with regard
to psi practitioners, his essay is marred by a lame conclusion that SF helps accustom us
to change, the same unsubstantiated claim that Alvin Toffler made in the short snippet
excerpted from this particular version of one of his standard speeches.
Among the practicing writers, John Brunner, Harry Harrison and Robert Sheckley settled
for five-finger exercises. Brunner excoriated the crackpot fringe and sloppy scholarship,
in and out of science fiction, which he saw adding up to a disturbing package of
anti-scientism. Harrison on "parallel worlds" was reduced in print to some
background on the genesis of his pseudo-Victorian pastiche, A Transatlantic Tunnel,
Hurrah! Sheckley contributed an amusing piece on his inadequacy for the task; others
might convincingly generalize about the wonders of science and the psychology of the
marvelous, but he was limited to his own slice (and vision) of reality.
Philip K. Dick, Alan Garner, Ursula Le Guin and Thomas Disch took more seriously,
perhaps, the request that they write about something that mattered to them. Despite
Nicholls' caveat, I can't help but see the Dick piece as cranky, as he goes from
the bicameral brain to the reality of the unconscious, then on to the reality of
dream-universe people, who may come from outer space. Garner discussed more openly his
personal psychological problems with a rare kind of intensity, revealing connections
between written fantasies and disturbing memories.
More literary, in the traditional sense, is Le Guin's carefully crafted plea for
"character," in Virginia Woolf's sense, without which no literature to her is
worth reading or writing. Though her examples of science fiction in which there is room
for character--she identifies only Zamyatin's We and Wright's Islandia--may
seem bizarre, we may be looking through different ends of the telescope. Although many may
protest that she is effectively discarding what makes science fiction what it is, the
paradigm she would substitute does seem to spring from her own priorities.
Disch's piece is more sociological, concerned with the embarrassments of science
fiction in the eyes of mature, sophisticated readers. The intellectual and emotional
limitations of the commercial genre he relates to the audience for whom it has been
intended. Lower-middle class, resentful, daydreaming, latently fascist, this audience once
comprised almost the whole of the readership, he maintains. Though Disch suggests that
today SF and its readers are stratified (high, middle, and lowbrow audiences), unspoken is
the implication that the larger audience for lowbrow SF comes from the spread of class
characteristics to a greater proportion of the overall reading public.
Equally critical is editor Nicholls, who assails both writers and critics of science
fiction for not being demanding enough, who for whatever reasons--he itemizes habit,
money, malice, and ignorance--do not make proper use of their critical intelligence. A
proponent of Disch's point of view might well respond that the writers are indeed using
their critical intelligence to produce what the public wants and make economical use of
their own time and energy. But the Nicholls piece reflects in a way the hidden agenda of
the whole collection. As the editor says in his introduction, "this book constitutes
an indictment of the genre more sweeping, though by no means total, than any that has ever
appeared before, and very much better informed."
Almost every contributor was more favorably disposed to various potentials for science
fiction than to any actual manifestations; discussions of real stories, books and authors
were usually critical in the negative sense. Yet the contributors had been asked to locate
their lectures in the "area where science fiction meets real life." Thus, in a
way, their dissatisfactions seem to give point to an assertion the editor took pains to
discount: "If, as some adverse critics claim, it [science fiction] is purely a
literature of escapism, then there is no point in a lecture series in the first
place." Having sat through, and even arranged, vacuous talks by science-fiction
writers over the years, I find that half-truth tempting, if not as a conclusion, at least
as a challenge, which contributors to this journal should keep in mind. But I refer not
only to direct social relevance, rather also to the psychological relevance of our
attention's being so often directed to what we think science fiction might
be, that we may lose sight of what it is and has been, and may continually lose sight of
our own idealistic constructions which blind us to mundane realities.
Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin, Science Fiction: History--Science--Vision.
Oxford University Press, 1977, 258p, $12.95 hardback, $2.95 paperback.
The need for an adequate textbook survey of science fiction is obvious, with the number
of courses in science fiction still growing, and the number of prepared instructors still
relatively low. Given the price, the publisher's support, and the reputation of the
authors, this will probably be the best-selling text in the nation before very long. But
that prospect is a clouded one: like the girl in the nursery rhyme, when Scholes and
Rabkin are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they are horrid.
In science fiction, and in what passes for scholarship and criticism, we have always
had to accept half-measures, so perhaps I should be satisfied with a compact history just
short of excellent and a good set of critiques of novels for a survey course. But besides
this good beginning and end, the book has a middle, hardly worthy of publication, much
less foisting upon a student audience largely innocent of critical thought. To be sure,
science fiction is not just literature, and a definitive account must take into account
its relations with science and myth, and its manifestations outside the realm of narrative
prose. But existing scholarship on these points is rudimentary at best, and misinformation
of students is in some ways more reprehensible than no information at all. If the authors
couldn't do better on what they do badly, they should have expanded what they did well,
filling in some details regrettably absent and extending coverage to authors omitted or
too briefly discussed. For failing to edit more carefully, too, both they and the editor
must be held responsible.
The strength of this book lies in its first chapter, almost half of the text. Although
I do not know how much scholarship dealing with science fiction Scholes and Rabkin have
mastered, both are well-read in literature, including science fiction and fantasy, as
their previous books indicate. And both have proven themselves familiar with literary
theory, able to translate esoteric jargon into everyday English, willing to be provocative
without descending into sensationalism, and interested in the forms and techniques of
literature and popular culture, with which science fiction is inextricably entwined.
Largely because of their background in theory as a way of organizing and understanding
material, this history seems to leave far behind the cataloguing of Allen, Ash, Bailey and
Lundwall; the gossiping of Gunn, Moskowitz and Wollheim; and the parochialism of Aldiss,
Amis, Blish, Davenport, Hillegas, Ketterer, Knight, and Philmus, to name only those whose
historical surveys (loosely defined) are available in English (SFS readers may also be
familiar with scholarship in French, German, Italian and Polish, discussion of which has
appeared in these pages). But while superseding them, this volume has incorporated them
into the structural framework that the definitive history of science fiction eventually
will have to have.
After the obligatory canonizing of Mary Shelley, the authors bracket the 19th century
for four "strains" of science fiction represented by Poe (metaphysics), Verne
(hardware), Bellamy (futurism), and Burroughs (adventure). Burroughs' inclusion is
chronologically awry but temperamentally perfect. Thus the first "movement"
culminates with a well-rounded portrait of Wells: his biography, his quarrel with James,
his ambivalence toward the future and the perfectibility of man, his strengths as a
writer, and his far-reaching influence.
The second movement is the post-Wellsian split into high and pop culture, a division
more extreme in rhetoric than in critical assessment. Zamyatin,
Čapek, Stapledon, and
Huxley are "a few isolated giants," Gernsback and Campbell, "Doc"
Smith and Weinbaum representatives of "a horde of pygmies" functioning in the
mutually supportive ambience of the pulp magazines and fan community. London and Lovecraft
are barely mentioned, Merritt is not, but the analysis seems weakest in its ignoring the
factors of history and social class which drove European writers toward thoughtful
dystopia, Americans toward puerile technological utopianism. (I do not mean that
dystopia is by definition good, utopia bad.)
C.S. Lewis is the centerpiece of the next section, concluding the second movement in a
controversial manner. Suddenly we are introduced to the "genre" of
"religious fantasy" (Dante, Milton, David Lindsay), displaced by science, and
Lewis' works are invoked as the meeting ground between two value systems. In criticizing
the visions of both Stapledon and Gernsback (and of Wells and Haldane, unmentioned), Lewis
was by no means the first to criticize the potential in technological society for ethical
regress, though he seems to have been the first to do so in science fiction from a
conservative Christian viewpoint. The importance of this, however, is unproven, as is his
influence on Blish and Miller, brought forward out of chronological placement.
For the "Golden Age" of Astounding (the first theme of the third
movement), another balanced quartet of authors is presented: Van Vogt (dream-vision),
Heinlein (future history), Asimov (science education) and Sturgeon (style and feeling).
Coverage is adequate if not inspired: Van Vogt's incompetence is suggested but his
continuing popularity is unaccounted for; Sturgeon's section is arbitrarily interrupted by
a paragraph on Williamson on the incongruous grounds that The Humanoids may have
influenced More Than Human (shades of Sam Moskowitz). Without warning, Sturgeon
shades off into Bradbury, whose importance and popularity with the general public needs
dealing with. Clarke, Pohl and Bester round out the Fifties tentatively, with Clarke's
near-future extrapolations totally ignored.
The authors' sympathies are clearly with the Sixties, from which decade they have
selected five authors for extended consideration, all but one on the grounds of technical
"advance" as well as a measure of literateness. Why D.G. Compton I don't know (I
haven't read him), but their defense of his "old-fashioned" virtues rings
hollow. The others are more canonical: Dick for his blend of fantastic event with genuine
anguish; Le Guin for her poetic vision of the "universe as a dynamic, balanced
system"; Brunner for his rigorous "Naturalistic" extrapolation; and Lem for
"the alien" and its implications for technology, ethics and metaphysics.
The last chapter (fourth movement?) almost collapses from its temporal immediacy, held
barely in control by the motif of literary ferment, if not revolution. Beyond
name-dropping, the authors select for discussion from the still swirling maelstrom of
contemporary history Moorcock, Aldiss, Spinrad, Farmer, Ellison, Zelazny, Delany, Disch,
and Russ. Curiously, although Ballard and Vonnegut are considered very important, they
appear as vague revenants, whose works are not discussed. Finally, the New Wave comes
crashing onto the Mainstream beachhead of "Fabulation," represented by Barth,
Burgess, Coover, Golding, Lessing, Percy, and Pynchon, none of whom is more than a name,
unlike the "giants" of a half-century before.
In all of this, there are questionable omissions (and inclusions) and arguable
judgments, of course, if no absolute errors of fact. News from Nowhere does not emphasize
"labor-saving machinery"; the critic who exposed ERB's prurience is not
identified; Lewis and the ecology movement are dubiously yoked together as
"anti-science"; Heinlein's "Future History" is mistakenly held to be
missing from The Past Through Tomorrow (it's on pp 530-531); Asimov's
"psychohistory" is ludicrously overrated; Pohl's exemplary labors on behalf of
older science fiction are not specified; and the contemporary ill health of the magazines
and the incredible growth of fandom are ignored. But although this may not be the
definitive history, it prepares the way for that which is; the outline holds up well, the
readings of individual texts are sound, and the whole provides an excellent framework for
a survey course.
Its flaws, however--a sketchiness of argumentation and documentation, a too
uncritically approving tone, an occasionally condescending tone--are much more in evidence
in the middle sections of the book, which also suffer from errors in fact, occasional
incoherence and general fuzziness. None of this can be excused by the obviously
abbreviated nature of these chapters, though it is interesting to me to observe from the
uncorrected proofs that the book was once intended to be some 46 pages longer. Each
section has problems unique to it, but all three are unworthy of being in the same book
with the history.
Most deserving of vaudeville's Hook, perhaps, or television's Gong, is the section
entitled "Science Fiction in Other Media" (the second part of History) No one
could take care of movies, radio, TV and comics in less than ten pages. At best belaboring
the obvious in a banal style, the authors betray a lack of preparation and of organizing
theory, as well as a lack of space. Film, we are told, has a special relationship with
science fiction, but science-fiction film has a fuzzy definition and a history which in
some ways parallels science-fiction literature. At best, these are truisms, but here we
are expected to take them largely on faith from writers who call Planet of the Apes
"a further development" (in what they don't say) and conclude that "the
number of science-fiction films continues to increase." Discussing SF on TV, they
call Captain Video "an adventure series" (old Western movies were
serialized on it), credit Star Trek with hiring "accomplished science
fiction writers" (in 78 scripts, only 14 writers had any previous experience with
science fiction), and cite with apparent approbation the inane Far Out Space Nuts.
Their contention that radio is an essentially unfit medium for science fiction must be
challenged, as must the straightfaced observation that the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon
comic strips "created an enormous interest in the twenty-fifth century." And
they seem to be totally ignorant of the more bizarre science fiction comic books of the
Sixties and Seventies, while they deliberately disregard science fictional materials in
The longer (40 pp) chapter on "The Sciences of Science Fiction" is not bad,
but neither is its need apparent, at least in its present form. Better capsule histories
of science are available, and the tie-ins with science fiction seem almost accidental.
Notably absent from their survey is any coverage of the figure of the scientist, the
actual activity ("sciencing") of science, Kuhn's concepts of "normal"
and "revolutionary" science (though Kuhn is cited), or contemporary challenges
to the ruling "paradigms" of science and the sciences. These questions are
approached obliquely at best by fuzzy sections on "scientific method" (there is
none), "pseudoscience" and "science as fiction."
But their coverage of more or less specific sciences isn't all that good, either. They
ignore the primary functions of physics and astronomy in science fiction, to provide a
massive "landscape" or backdrop and a set of nominally rigid rules (which pose
"puzzles to solve" in "normal" science). They see little or no
connection between computers and robots, either humanoid or specialized. Relative to
thermodynamics, they ignore the significance of entropy as a literary metaphor, and
misrepresent Clerk Maxwell's position with respect to "Maxwell's Demon." Under
biology, they underestimate the age of the idea of genetic engineering, see
Marx's "scientifically deterministic history" as having received its "final
refinement" from Asimov (if this is irony, it isn't obvious), and deny the existence
of fiction about overpopulation prior to very recent years. And they omit consideration,
in the psychology section, of humanistic or Third Force psychology, psychochemistry,
psychobiology, or Freudian metapsychology (id, ego, superego, etc.).
They do give Freud (as interpreted by Plank) a passing glance in "Forms and
Themes" (the first part of Vision), a melange of whatever we didn't get before.
Unfortunately, we don't get it here, either. The section on Myth is sketchy and
incoherent; Fantasy represents a good précis of Rabkin's The Fantastic in Literature.
Utopias are far too briefly considered, omitting Skinner and Wells (whose A Modern
Utopia, though dull reading, does postulate a world-wide and dynamic utopia), and the
raft of "non-fictional" utopian writings of the past couple of decades. For
consideration of dystopias, the reader is referred back to the discussion of Huxley for
proof that "science fiction has excelled" in such visions. The section on
Imaginary Worlds seems incoherent to me, beginning as it does with teleportation, followed
by time travel, before we even get into the kinds of "alternate universes" that
branching paths in time might make possible, but that are only one kind of many
"imaginary worlds." Imaginary Beings gives us the beginnings of a typology, but
none of the types is treated adequately; indeed, in citing Lem's criticism of robots in
science fiction, they seem to think he was only interested in setting up a typology
himself. Finally, in their consideration of Sex and Race, they attack unconscious
stereotypes in science fiction, but do not address themselves to the social causes of
institutional prejudice, not only in the stories but also in the writing of science
After such ignorance, what forgiveness? At least the last chapter raises the level of
consciousness once more, on a more strictly "literary" basis. The authors'
choice of ten novels representative of themes and types and times from 1816 to 1976 is
fully defensible. Their critiques (averaging four pages) are readable, accurate, and
insightful, while leaving something to the imagination of the student (and the teacher).
Even here, however, I must cavil at the use of the Zilboorg rather than the Ginsburg
translation of We, at their leaving out any reference to the Christian morality
play in the background of Childhood's End, and at their apparent preference for
works that "transcend" science fiction in a volume which purports to show
science fiction itself off at its best.
Have I been too harsh on Scholes and Rabkin in what is arguably a pioneer effort? I
think not. I hope, however, that we will see a revised second edition, with the quality of
scholarship the authors have shown they are capable of at their best. But in order for
them to do a better job on Media, Science, and Forms/Themes, we as well as they will have
to contribute more to not only a chronicling of events, but also a theoretical
understanding of what is our subject, not just theirs, in its social and psychological
contexts. In the meantime, I can only hope that the authors will pay attention not only to
the standard measure of the popular culture marketplace, the jingling of cash registers,
but also to the need for quality standards in a field almost deliberately devoid of them.
Finally, I have adopted this book for my SF course next term.
--David N. Samuelson.
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