Science Fiction Studies

#2 = Volume 1, Part 2 = Fall 1973



For the present, and probably for some time to come, the best introduction to the history of SF is Brian W. Aldiss, Billion Year Spree: The The History of Science Fiction (Doubleday, $7.95; in UK, Wedenfeld & Nicolson, "about four pounds," according to my source). Mr. Aldiss has been widely recognized for more than a decade as one of the best writers and editors in SF; in this book he demonstrates that his familiarity with general literature is wide enough and deep enough for him to see SF in its literary context. For those already well read in the history of the genre, the most provocative and valuable parts of the book will be those concerned with the relationships between SF narrowly defined and such writers as Milton, Erasmus, Darwin, Hardy, and Kafka. The fact that we can call the book an introduction-- Aldiss takes the SF canon as having been pretty well established, and finds SF scholarship of sufficient bulk and extent for summary, interpretation, and synthesis--makes it a kind of milestone in our field.--R.D. Mullen.


For his new book--Edward Page Mitchell, The Crystal Man: Landmark Science Fiction (Doubleday, $7.95)--Sam Moskowitz has collected thirty stories (published anonymously 1874-1886, all but one in the New York Sun) and written a 64-page introduction on Mitchell, his stories, and the history of American SF from the publication of Locke's "Moon Hoax" in 1835 to that of Looking Backward in 1888. Whereas Aldiss finds the context for SF in mainstream fiction, Moskowitz finds it in the world of commercial publishing (in magazines, newspapers, and dime novels more often than in books), especially in the rivalries of authors, of editors, and of publishers. He tells us that the Sun was unusual among newspapers in that it "fictionalized the news, literally wrote it like fiction with characters, dialogue, plot" (p. xxxi). The same might be said of his own approach to literary history: he plunges us into the middle of things, creates his heroes and villains, harks back to the beginning, and then proceeds to the end, with his scenes arranged for dramatic effect more than for chronological order. His own role is almost always that of the omniscient narrator: here, as in his previous essays, we are given a vast amount of presumably factual detail with no citation of sources; indeed, with two exceptions, we are not even allowed to know the basis on which these anonymous stories have been assigned to their supposed author.

"Landmark" status is claimed for these stories on the basis of their "including a number of firsts: the first time machine, the first electronic computer functioning within a human head, the first use of scientific means to make a man invisible, the first use of mechanical refrigeration to effect suspended animation, the first theory suitable for faster-than-light travel" (pp. ix-x). Whether or not these claims are valid, the stories are still interesting enough for us to grant that Moskowitz has performed a real service in bringing them to light. And the introduction is sufficiently provocative and informative to have its own value.

But I would differ with Moskowitz in suspecting that the value of the stories lies not in their being so unusual as to qualify as landmarks but rather in their being so typical of the time that they qualify as representative. The two exceptions to anonymity are "The Tachypomp" and "The Ablest Man in the World," which were reprinted under Mitchell's name in an 1884-85 anthology, the 10-volume Stories by American Authors. I would like to know more about this collection of 56 stories (they are listed in Lyle H. Wright, American Fiction 1876-1890 [1966]): how many of them can be counted as SF?, is there editorial comment in which Mitchell's stories are cited as strange or unusual?, etc. In sum, I would like to know the degree to which the editors and readers of the 1880s regarded the appearance of an SF story as simply a matter of course. --R.D. Mullen.


Long before most Americans took either space travel or science fiction seriously, there was a tremendous interest in both in the Soviet Union. The nine-volume work by Nikolai A. Rynin, Interplanetary Flight & Communication, originally published in Leningrad 1927-1932, is ample proof. During this period, before Stalin isolated the Soviet Union from the rest of the world, there was considerable communication among space-travel enthusiasts around the world. Rynin's volumes cover, not only the work of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, but also that of Hermann Oberth, Robert Goddard, Robert Esnault-Pelleterie, and others in great detail. Parallel to the interest in space flight is the interest in science fiction, especially in the first three volumes: Dreams, Legends, and Early Fantasies; Spacecraft in Science Fiction; and Radiant Energy: Science Fiction and Scientific Projects. Rynin is familiar with much of the German (Otto Willi Gail, Bruno H. Burgel, etc.) and American (Hugo Gernsback's Wonder Stories) science fiction of the period, and indicates that there was considerable international influence and interchange of ideas in the genre; indeed, "Gernsbackian" SF seems to have been an international movement. The nine volumes are now available in English, $30.00 for the complete set, from the US Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Va. 22151. The serial numbers for the nine volumes are NASA TT F-640 through 648. Each is $3.00, except the last, which is $6.00. -- John J. Pierce.


I have recently come across David Caute's The Illusion (1971), an essay on Marxism and modernism in contemporary writing, which discusses SF and anti-utopian fiction in the context of the "dialectical novel," and which says about Zamyatin the same kind of thing as I said in my essay in the first issue of SFS.-- Patrick Parrinder.


During the earlier sixties Mack Reynolds contributed to the SF magazines, especially Analog, a large number of stories based on socioeconomic extrapolation, stories that were almost entirely ignored by book-publishers (so far as I know, none of his serials or series has appeared in hardcover, and only a few in paperback). Now he has come forward with the most optimistic utopia that American SF has produced in many years: Looking Backward, From the Year 2000 (Ace paperback). Just as John Brunner produced his horrendous The Sheep Look Up (1972) by extrapolating all the negative features of American life, so Reynolds has retold the story of Julian West by extrapolating all the positive features. But whereas Brunner's book has had hardcover and book-club as well as paperback editions, Reynolds is still confined to the paperbacks. --R.D. Mullen.

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