BOOKS IN REVIEW
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.
A NEW BOOK
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 ): 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.
MODERNISM, AND SF.
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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