Science Fiction Studies

# 13 = Volume 4, Part 3 = November 1977


BOOKS IN REVIEW

  Full reviews of some of the books listed below will appear in later issues of SFS (the first two, of course, could not be reviewed in SFS with any propriety), but for the moment, exigencies of time, space, and circumstance confine us to the following.

Darko Suvin, ed., with Robert M. Philmus H.G. Wells and Modern Science Fiction. Bucknell University Press, 1977, 279p, $15.00; also UK: Associated University Preses, 9.00. Contains four articles reprinted from SFS, Patrick Parrinder's "Imagining the Future: Wells and Zamyatin," Robert M. Philmus's "Borges and Wells and the Labyrinths of Time," David Y. Hughes and Robert M. Philmus's "A Selective Bibliography (with Abstracts) of H.G. Wells's Science Journalism, 1887-1901," and R.D. Mullen's "An Annotated Survey of Books and Pamphlets by H.G. Wells," and seven additional articles: Suvin's "Introduction" and "A Grammar of Form and Criticism of Fact: The Time Machine as a Structural Model for Science Fiction," Tatyana Chernysheva's "The Folktale, Wells, and Modern Science Fiction," David Y. Hughes's "The Garden in Wells's Early Science Fiction," J.P. Vernier's "Evolution as a Literary Theme in H.G. Wells's Science Fiction," Mullen's "'I Told You So': Wells's Last Decade, 1936-1945," and Howard Fink's "The Shadow of Men Like Gods: Orwell's Coming Up for Air as Parody."

Darko Suvin. Pour une poétique de la science-fiction: Etudes en théorie et en histoire d'un genre littéraire. Translated by Gilles Hénault. Les Presses de I'Université du Québec (C.P. 250, Succursale N. Montréal, Canada, H2X 3M4), 1977, x+228. Contains nine essays that have appeared in English in various scholarly journals.

Patrick Parrinder. H.G. Wells. Writers and Critics Series. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1977, vii+188, $2.95. The first US edition, with updated bibliography, of a book that first appeared in England in 1970 and that is widely regarded as the best overview of Wells's fiction. For a review see SFS 3(1976):169-71.

Damon Knight, ed. Turning, Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction. Harper and Row, 1977, xii+303, $12.50. Contains 23 essays, almost all by SF writers, and almost all reprinted from other books. If you have been collecting SF criticism for ten years or so, this will contain very little that you do not already have, but if you have not, it is an excellent place to start.

Damon Knight. The Futurians: The Story of the Science Fiction "Family" of the 30's That Produced Today's Top SF Writers and Editors. John Day, 1977, xi+276, $10.95. Himself when young, along with Asimov, Blish, Kornbluth, Merril, Pohl, Shaw, Wollheim, and a number of other SF fans and writers less well known, including especially John B. Michel, whose obscure later years and death Knight has made a special effort to trace.

Walter James Miller, ed. The Annotated Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976, 8x10, xxii+362, $16.95. Miller's thesis is that Verne's fiction would be much more highly regarded in the English- language world if it had been competently translated. The present volume gives us the most widely circulated English version, the one by "Mercier Lewis" (Lewis Page Mercier), with its blunders corrected and its excised passages restored, together with very extensive notes and numerous illustrations from the early editions.

Lee N. Falconer, compiler. A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan, including also the World of Kull, and an Ethnogeographical Dictionary of Principal Peoples of the Era, with Reference to the Starmont Map of the Hyborian World. Starmont House (Box E, West Linn, Oregon 97068), 1977, xiii+127, $5.95. The Hyborian World of Conan. A map, 28x4O, same publisher, $7.95 plus 75 for mailing.

Robert Weinberg, ed. The Weird Tales Story. Fax Collector's Editions (Box E, West Linn, Oregon 97068), 1977, 8 1/2x11, ix+134, $17.50. The 32-year history of the magazine (1920-1954), with photographs of editors and contributors, numerous illustrations from the magazine, and letters in reminiscence from a number of the contributors.

Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Isaac Asimov (247p) and Arthur C. Clarke (254p). Writers of the 21st Century Series. Taplinger Publishing Co., 1977, $10.95 each. Each of these books contains an editorial introduction, nine essays by various hands, and a bibliography; the first also has an afterword by Asimov. Nearly all the essays appear here for the first time, though three are reprinted from SFS and two from previously published books. Each is obviously required reading for students of the author concerned. The series also includes a book on Heinlein which should be out before this issue appears, and books in preparation on Dick, Bradbury, and Le Guin.

George Edgar Slusser. The Bradbury Chronicles and Harlan Ellison: Unrepentent Harlequin. The Milford Series. R. Reginald, The Borgo Press, 1977, each 64p, each $1.95. Slusser's first booklet in this series, the one on Heinlein, has been somewhat revised for a 2nd edn (same price, etc.). It was reviewed in SFS 3(1976):293-94. His booklet on Le Guin was reviewed in SFS 4(1977):86.

Horace Gold. What Will They Think of Last? Institute for the Development of the Harmonious Human Being (P.O. Drawer D, Crestline CA 92325), ix+154. Editorials from Galaxy in the 1950s, when Gold challenged Campbell for leadership in the SF world.

Monroe Berger. Real and Imagined Worlds: The Novel and Social Science. Harvard University Press, 1977, xi+303, $15.00. Although concerned with realistic fiction rather than SF, this book deals with matters central to the study of SF.

Strother B. Purdy. The Hole in the Fabric: Science, Contemporary Literature, and Henry James. University of Pittsburg Press, 1977, xi+288. Concerned with James as a forerunner of such "post-modern" authors as Vonnegut and Nabokov, this book has a chapter entitled "Science Fiction," in which SF, at least as it is written by mainstream writers, is seen as the essential fiction of the post-modern era.

Floyd Gibbons. The Red Napoleon. US 1929. Photographic reprint with title-page replaced and with Afterword by John Gardner, Southern Illinois University Press, 1976, hardback, vi+486, $9.85. Also Popular Library, 1977, paperback, 384p, $1.95. War correspondent Floyd Gibbons, with his black eyepatch, was one of the celebrities of the 1920s, having (in legend at least) interviewed all the great men of the world and scored many a scoop. In this 1929 book he pretends to be writing in 1941 about his adventures in the intervening years, during which he remained the greatest of reporters. Like many future-war stories, The Red Napoleon uses the names of real people (Al Smith is President, having defeated Hoover in a 1932 rematch), but it goes farther in this respect than most, Gibbons taking an impish delight in maiming or killing off his fellow celebrities: Flo Ziegfield, Al Jolson, Heywood Broun, Arthur "Bugs" Baer, Irvin S. Cobb, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and Will Rogers are disposed of in a single paragraph, not to mention O.O. McIntyre, Herbert Corey, and Grover Whalen, who continue to do their work in the ruins of New York (hb p 336; pb pp 261-62).

Evidently wholly unfamiliar with the future-war story and its yellow-peril subtype, John Gardner (the novelist and medievalist) treats The Red Napoleon as sui generis, a trashy popular novel which is at the same time a masterpiece of irony, in that its great villain (the Tatar leader of the USSR, which has absorbed China--or been absorbed by it) is idealistic about race relations while its good guys mouth the banalities of white supremacy:

As a popular writer--that is, more precisely, an idealist determined to reach and subtly sway the widest popular audience--Floyd Gibbons found himself in a curious position. Everything he believed most profoundly--and believed to be a matter of life and death--would be anathema to his readers. Not only would the vast majority of his readership find his visionary slogan ridiculous--"We recognize but one race, THE HUMAN RACE"--they would find it grossly evil, implying the impious horror of miscegenation, a crossing of completely separate breeds, analogous to crossing a horse and a donkey, so that the product must be a sub-human monster, nothing less than--God help us!--a mulatto, that is, literally, a "little mule." [hb pp 48-80; pb pp 378-79]

Which is simplistic nonsense. For if in 1929 we readers of popular fiction were treated to White Supremacy on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we were also treated to the Brotherhood of Man on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and sincerely believed in both. And this was not simply a matter of double-think, for the two attitudes were reconciled in the concept of the White Man's Burden (however ugly that concept may have been in its actual applications), which urged us to uplift our colored brother, civilize him, and prepare him for the glorious world of tomorrow. And if interracial love and marriage were often viewed with alarm, they were also frequently sentimentalized and idealized.

Gardner is accurate in saying that The Red Napoleon made no great impression on the readers of its day, but wrong in attributing its failure to its being years ahead of its time, for in simple truth it was just another future-war novel of the yellow-peril variety, albeit cleverer than most in its devices for verisimilitude.

David G. Hartwell, ed. The Gregg Press Science Fiction Series: Series Three. 25 volumes. Gregg Press, a Division of G.K. Hall & Co. (70 Lincoln Street, Boston MA 02111). The prices given below include a 50 handling charge; prices outside the US are 10% higher. The five oldest books in this new series antedate "Modern Science Fiction" and will be briefly considered here; the other twenty range from a Van Vogt (1948) to the latest Delany (1976) and will be discussed in our next issue.

#1. Louis-Sebastien Mercier. Memoirs of the Year 2500. Translated by W. Hooper [from Mémoires de l'An 2440, Amsterdam 1770]. [London 1772]; Philadelphia 1795. Introduction by Mary Elizabeth Bowen. xxv+xi+360, $22.50. As perhaps the most representative of the Enlightenment utopias, and as the first important tale of the future, this book is of course indispensable for the study of the history of SF. Though unclear on certain bibliographical matters (e.g., are all the footnotes Hooper's, or are some of them Mercier's?), Bowen's introduction is informative and generally satisfactory, but we still need a much fuller treatment of the various English-language versions and their influence on 19th-century SF in English.

#2. Edward Maitland. By and By: An Historical Romance of the Future. [UK 1873]; US 1873. Introduction by Ormond Seavey. xii+vi+460. $22.50. A contemporary review of this landmark in the history of the tale of the future appears elsewhere in this issue of SFS. The condescending and uninformative introduction bv Ormond Seavey (whose work we have praised in earlier SFS reviews) advises us to read the book from the standpoint of the moral, intellectual, and ideological superiority of the 20th century to the 19th, an attitude fatal to any understanding of the literature of our forebears, as well as to any understanding of ourselves.

#3. M.P. Shiel. The Purple Cloud. UK 1901. Introduction by David G. Hartwell. xviii+ iv+463. $20.50. The three novels that Shiel purportedly derived from the shorthand notebooks in which Dr Browne recorded the visions of Mary Wilson, were evidently all written at about the same time. The first two, The Lord of the Sea and the present book, were published in the same year, but the third, The Last Miracle, was delayed until 1906, and probably much revised in the interval. Dr Hartwell reads the three as "the first 'future history' series in science fiction" and as an "ambitious attempt by Shiel to yoke various traditions by force to produce a synthetic whole" --a reading which raises a number of problems that Hartwell acknowledges but does not deal with in any satisfactory way. It is more reasonable, especially when Shiel's mundane novels are taken into account, to see the three parts of the trilogy as presenting three different possibilities for the future, each consonant with a different religious view. The Lord of the Sea is Judeo-Christian and optimistic, concerned with the coming of the Messiah and the redemption of the world (see SFS 2[1975]:186-87 and 4[1977]:78-79). The Purple Cloud is Manichean and catastrophic, with the human race destroyed, except for a new Adam and Eve. The Last Miracle is rationalist-evolutionist, with God seen as simply the force that has driven the race down the pain-filled road from subman to man and is now driving it toward overman. Existential horror is Shiel's great theme, and The Purple Cloud, though based on a metaphysic soon to be rejected, is his most imaginative and vivid expression of that horror, as well as incomparably the best of all last-man novels.

The textual differences between the first and revised editions of The Purple Cloud are not so extensive as those for The Lord of the Sea, but are still extensive enough to make this reprint of the first edition highly welcome. Dr Hartwell does not think much of The Last Miracle and evidently has no intention of reprinting its first edition. I think he is wrong both in his reading of the book and in his estimate of its value, and hope that he will change his mind, so that all three of these masterpieces of science fiction will again be available in their original form.

#4. David Lindsay. A Voyage to Arcturus. UK 1920. Introduction by Van A. Mensing. xvii+v+303. $15.50. To the Icelandic and Gnostic interpretations of this eternally fascinating story, Mr Mensing has now added a persuasive Nietzchean reading. The next step in the ongoing study of Lindsay is surely a comparison with Shiel.

#5. Thea von Harbou. The Rocket to the Moon. Translated by Baroness van Hutten [from Die Frau im Mond, Berlin 1928]. US nd (c 1930). Introduction by Ivor A. Rogers and Deborah C. Rogers. xiii, 187. $12.50. For all the Rogerses have to say about romanticism, expressionism and the German literary tradition as opposed to the American pulp-magazine tradition, this story is a tissue of banalities that would have been quite at home in the American pulps of the 1920s. Since there are no stills from the Fritz Lang film of 1929, this volume does not have the interest of the Gregg Press Metropolis (see SFS 2[1975]:292); as a representative of German popular SF, it is of less interest than Otto Willi Gail's The Shot into Infinity (see SFS 2:282).

--R.D. Mullen  


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