Science Fiction Studies

 #33 = Volume 11, Part 2 = July 1984


  • Douglas Barbour. Crown's Classics of Modern Science Fiction (Philip José Farmer. The Classic Philip José Farmer. 1952-1964; James Gunn. The Joy Makers; Chad Oliver. The Shores of Another Sea; Eric Frank Russell. Men, Martians and Machine)

  • Fredric Jameson. Science Fiction and the German Democratic Republic (Horst Heidtmann. Utopisch-phantastische Literatur in der DDR: Untersuchungen zur Entwicklung eines unterhaltungsliterarischen Genres von 1945-1979)

  • Robert M. Philmus. New Possibilities for Research on Science Fiction (Hal W. Hall, comp. Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Index Volume 3; ----------, ed. Science/Fiction Collections: Fantasy, Supernatural & Weird Tales; ----------, comp. The Science Fiction Magazines. A Bibliographical Checklist of Titles and Issues; New England Science Fiction Association. The N.E.S.F.A. Index to the Science Fiction Magazines and Original Anthologies 1982)


  • Hollow on Clarke (John Hollow. Against the Night, the Stars: The Science Fiction of Arthur C. Clarke) (Eric Rabkin)

  • Clareson's Silverberg (Gary K. Wolfe)

  • Collings's Piers Anthony (Peter A. Brigg)

  • Pierce's A Literary Symbiosis (Brian Attebery)

  • Strangers to Fiction (Peter Nichols, ed. The Science in Science Fiction; Eugene M. Emme, ed. Science Fiction and Space Futures Past and Present; Rex Malik, ed. Future Imperfect. Science Fact and Science Fiction) (Richard Dwyer)

  • A Bibliographical Survey of "Conjectural Genres" (Henri Delmas & Alain Julian. Le rayon SF. Catalogue bibliographique de science-fiction, utopies, voyages extraordinaires) (Sophie Beaulé)

Douglas Barbour

Crown's Classics of Modern Science Fiction

Philip José Farmer. The Classic Philip José Farmer. 1952-1964. Edited & Introduced by Martin H. Greenberg. xii + 215pp.

James Gunn. The Joy Makers. xi + 213pp.

Chad Oliver. The Shores of Another Sea. xii + 214pp.

Eric Frank Russell. Men, Martians and Machines. x + 216pp.--All NY: Crown Publishers, 1984; the last three with Introductions by George Zebrowski. $7.95 each.

George Zebrowski is performing a useful and even necessary task with this new series of hardcover volumes of books which, as Isaac Asimov points out in his General Foreword, were originally published in a too ephemeral form (although it's probably only fair to point out that three of the four were published in hardcover in Britain; it's only in the US that they are now lost in secondhand paperback stores).

Zebrowski isn't the first to be involved in reprinting SF, of course. Lester Del Rey selected the Garland Library of Science Fiction and David Hartwell edited the Gregg Press Science Fiction Series, which also boasted some superb Introductions. But there is certainly room for more such work, and these four volumes are all in their ways worthy. The work they contain ranges from the '40s to 1971; they are, that is, recent lost "classics," and they are by writers who have known admiration but not, with the exception of Farmer in recent years, the vast popularity of Heinlein, Asimov, or Clarke. As the books are well printed, good looking volumes, libraries should snap them up, but so should interested readers: for their price they're bargains.

The first volume is Eric Frank Russell's Men, Martians and Machines, originally published in 1955 as a "fix-up" of stories from the '40s. I'm a great fan of what are probably Russell's two finest stories, "Late Night Final" and "And Then There Were None, " and I enjoy his irreverent and humane comedy in other stories as well, including those in this book. But Men, Martians and Machines has not aged well. The men (all men, or male Martians), their speech, and the conventions which govern their behavior are so time-bound to the pulps of the period that they seem quaint, now. Furthermore, although this all-too-Enterprising crew conducts explorations throughout the whole galaxy (thanks to the invention of an FTL drive) and although they had worked on a freighter which served the inhabited Solar System, technological development appears extremely fragmented in this future. What really brought home the age of these stories and their failure at genuine technological extrapolation (I wasn't expecting the social kind, not really) was the scene of young Wilson lugging his boxes of photographic plates on board the Marathon. The mix of "needleray" guns and pom-poms is also risible. Communications technology seems equally old-fashioned in the context of the starship. As someone (was it Asimov? Clarke?) once pointed out, SF predictions can never keep up with the actual rate of technological change; still, Russell's inability to reach for the kind of technology which Clarke said couldn't be differentiated from magic is an imaginative failure, I feel.

Nevertheless, Russell's basic broad humanity and love of individualism shines through all the clichés of these stories, including that of narrative style. And the various kinds of life he posits on the three planets the Marathon visits are all interesting, especially the symbiotic life encountered in "Symbiotica." The opening story, "Jay Score," suffers, like the others, from idiomatic problems; but as Anthony Boucher pointed out in his review of the book when it first appeared, there are "few surprise-ending stories in any category that are so rereadable and so absolutely fair--and what other trick short story ever had enough meat in it to serve as the foundation for a series?" Indeed, Jay Score and the Martians (with their obsessive love of chess) are two of the best aspects of this book, which, if approached with sufficient awareness of how time-bound it is, remains an entertaining example of "Golden Age" SF.

James Gunn's The Joy Makers first appeared as a Bantam paperback in 1961; I'm not sure when I read it--sometime later in the decade. Rereading it, I was struck by the way it mingles motifs from Brave New World and 1984 with conventions of pulp SF. Gunn's "science" of Hedonics is a nifty SF idea, and one which allows for a number of perspectives. By setting each succeeding part of this "fix-up" further in the future, he is able to "chart" the progress of Hedonics without giving too much "history. "

There is no way this book could be identified as anything but American SF, and most knowledgeable readers would be able to place the decade of its writing without too much trouble. It should have appeared in Galaxy, they might say, but only because it's such a clear example of Kingsley Amis's beloved sociological SF. But it's rough-edged; the overlay of pulp conventions possibly prevents it from achieving art, yet it also provides for traditional adventure narrative drive. Part One, for example, is similar to early Heinlein stories on the selling of new inventions, with an intriguing ironic twist. It establishes the power of the science which makes people happy, and so sets the stage for Part Two, the longest and in some ways most philosophical of the book.

Gunn tells another traditional tale here, of the noble scientist who knows his subject but not the politics surrounding it, and who therefore must be saved by--in this case--the young woman who loves him. But he also creates a well-described environment of pleasure (within the limits allowed in the magazines in 1954), and it is this context which brings a sense of urgency to the debate the story plays out between the pure Hedonist and his morally impoverished opponents.

In Part Three, a man from the Venus colony where the Hedonist refined his ideas into a valid social practice returns to an Earth which a god-like machine has turned into one huge mechanical womb for all humanity. Except for one lovely young woman; and with that, Gunn plunges into pulp conventions again. He handles them well, of course, and the whole book is an energetic as well as provocative entertainment. If the characters are essentially generalized, the concept upon which the tale is erected is full of enough ambiguities to make the reader think it through; furthermore, it is ethical in the best sense.

The Joy Makers is a flawed work, but in its ironic play with both the concepts of social engineering (science) and the needs of pulp adventure (fiction), it demonstrates that from the first Gunn was not just an aficionado but a true student of his chosen field. It seems I am one of the few who read Chad Oliver's The Shores of Another Sea in its Signet edition sometime in the early '70s, and I did so because I remembered some of his fine early stories (which appeared mostly in F&FS as I recall). Shores is a first-contact story with a difference, and it owes much to its author's anthropological studies. And yet--and here's the rub--when I picked it up to read for this review I could remember little of it. Even as I read, I could recall little of it--and I am one who can bore people to tears recounting whole novels which have charmed me. The problem could certainly be mine, but I find this book curiously flat despite its exploration of an almost mythical, and open horrific, theme.

Its protagonist, Royce Crawford, is working a Baboonery in the wilds of Kenya; he has his wife, two young daughters, and native workers with him, plus a safari guide who occasionally drops in. When Crawford realizes that aliens have landed nearby and are observing and perhaps even planning to experiment with him, he must fall back on his own resources because civilization and its contents-- the technology of 20th-century America--is far away. Baboons are released from their cages; a man is horribly killed; things begin to happen. . . . The tension builds, and the climax is both frightening and a testimony to the capacity of human beings to think with empathy and thus prove worthy of contact as equals with another civilization (not, in the clearly pointed analogy of the novel, as we encounter baboons).

All this is both thoughtful (science) and potentially exciting (fiction), yet the novel seldom comes alive. Perhaps it's because Oliver is too much like Royce, who "enjoyed hunting and fishing, which kept him outdoors, and . . . liked to write straightforward prose that bore some relationship to the English language. In both of these activities, he was terribly old-fashioned." Moreover, "the writing that was currently much admired seemed to deal exclusively with sex hang-ups and the feeble joys of drug addiction" (see, through an ironic glass, Gunn's novel, reviewed above). I have nothing against these ideals, but in this book they don't seem to translate into the kind of powerful narration or characterization the story seems to call for. Characterization, though it is presumably the core of the novel, seems especially weak: the aliens, for example, are more present in their nonappearance than otherwise. To be fair, Oliver generates real feeling in the final scenes leading up to the final confrontation. On the whole, however, Shores is provocative in its ideas but bland in what counts: the creation of characters whose actions involve our feelings. The book does not call me back to it, and even as I write, I am forgetting it again.

Given the fact that Philip José Farmer has recently been turning out fat and flabby novels, the trim and energetic short fictions in The Classic Philip José Farmer, 1952-1964 provide a welcome reminder of how good, how powerfully provocative, this writer could be when he pushed himself to the limit. I speak as someone who genuinely enjoys the games of the "Riverworld" books but agrees with those who say the recent ones have been far too self-indulgent.

At any rate, Martin H. Greenberg has selected a true group of "classic" Farmer fiction here, covering a wide range of themes and SF modes. There's the witty alternative universe of "Sail On! Sail On!," with its image of Columbus's ships sailing across the flat ocean, a monk aboard tapping out wireless messages in Latin. The famous "Mother" has lost little of its bite, though it's apparent now that Farmer's handling of the narrative explanations is occasionally awkward. And "The God Business" is a freewheeling fantasia on anarchic desires and the history of the continuing disappearance of gods and goddesses. Farmer has always been obsessed by power and immortality and the responsibilities that accompany them, as "The World of Tiers" and "Riverworld" series have shown. "The God Business" is a romantic/comic take on this theme, and is still a lot of fun.

Much darker are the next two stories, "The Alley Man" and "My Sister's Brother. " The first is a study of academia running head-on into an historical anomaly that it can't explain. The Old Man of the story is sure he's the last of the real people, the Neanderthals, and a young female sociologist begins to wonder if he isn't somehow telling the truth. Sexual and crude, Old Man is also a figure demanding compassion, as the story takes his position more and more for granted without ever quite fully accepting it, while building to an enigmatic death.

"My Sister's Brother" also has some problems in developing its narrative of communication between alien species, but these pale before its bitterly powerful exploration of a good man's failure to love the Other, even when he desires to. The story fervently attacks the self-satisfaction of those SF stories which see it as humanity's righteous crusade to conquer the galaxy. The two-page "The King of Beasts" is a savagely ironic postscript. All in all, this collection offers all the evidence needed to prove that Farmer at his best is a writer to be conjured with.

Zebrowski seems to have chosen the '50s as the period which requires rediscovery in this new series. Certainly there are some good books from that period which I would like to see brought back into circulation. He could move next to Wilson Tucker, for example: say The Long Loud Silence (either version) and The Time Masters. Then there's William Tenn and, oh yes, I would love a copy of James H. Schmitz's The Witches of Karres, please. I do believe Crown could be at this job for some time to come.

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