Science Fiction Studies

# 59 = Volume 20, Part 1 = March 1993


 

BOOKS IN REVIEW


Reinventing Stephen King

Tony Magistrale. Stephen King: The Second Decade, Danse Macabre to the Dark Half. New York: Twayne, 1992. xiii+ 188. $20.95.

Tony Magistrale, ed. The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King's Horrorscape.Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #48. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992. 248pp. $45.00. (Credit-card orders 800-225-5800 ID# 701).

In the interview with Stephen King that serves as the first chapter of Tony Magistrale's Stephen King: The Second Decade (the first decade was the subject of Joseph Reino's 1988 Twayne volume), King makes the interesting statement that "A lot of people have said I'm the guru of the ordinary, and I am, in the sense that someone like Charles Beaumont was" (2-3). Rather than respond to this curious hint about King's own conception of his literary context, Magistrale sends us to a footnote explaining that Beaumont was a "scriptwriter and short-story author" whose works King "most likely" encountered through episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (161). A few pages later, when King drops a reference to Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," Magistrale follows up immediately with citations of other Hawthorne stories which he feels are related to King's work. (It turns out that Magistrale has done an earlier essay on the sense of place in King and Hawthorne.) While no one would argue that Beaumont is a writer of comparable stature with Hawthorne, the treatment accorded the two writers in this interview seems symptomatic not only of the book as a whole, but of an increasingly familiar strategy among scholars working with popular authors, especially in the area of the fantastic.

King's connection to Hawthorne turns out to be an important part of Magistrale's second chapter, in which he attempts to establish some sort of literary heritage for King, using King's own Danse Macabre (1981) as a point of reference and taking particular note of the selective and highly personal list of books and films with which King concludes that volume. Magistrale brings in not only Hawthorne, but the Gothic novelists, Ira Levin, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and various fairy tales. He even gives us a diagram of the "Gothic Family Tree," which shows Walpole's Castle of Otranto generating strains of "masculine" and "feminine" Gothic, which reunite in the work of the Romantic Poets and Charles Brockden Brown, begetting Poe and Hawthorne and then splitting again into "19th-Century European Gothic" and "20th-Century Southern Gothic." Lovecraft floats somewhere between all this and "Contemporary American Gothic," which names as examples only five authors: King, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison, Peter Straub, and Thomas Harris.

If we go back to King's own list in Danse Macabre and look at the books which he's asterisked as "particularly important," we find a whole list of authors excluded from Magistrale's formulations--and indeed from anywhere in his book. This list includes not only Beaumont's The Hunger (which predates THE TWILIGHT ZONE), but works by Bloch, Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Jack Finney, Shirley Jackson, Fritz Leiber, Richard Matheson, Theodore Sturgeon, John Wyndham, and many others. In Danse Macabre and elsewhere, King has repeatedly shown himself to be knowledgeable about and appreciative of such writers, and aware of his debt to them. But neither Magistrale nor any of the contributors to his essay collection The Dark Descent seem aware of or interested in this aspect of King's heritage. Instead, we get views of King as either something spontaneously generated by American popular culture, or as the unmediated descendant of Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, and Faulkner.

In fairness, neither book sets as its aim the detailed tracing of King's literary lineage, although the use of the term "horrorscape" in the subtitle of The Dark Descent suggests more of this than we actually get. But what has prompted this little fit of nitpicking is that both books seem to reflect an approach to pop lit that virtually amounts to "depopularization." In general outline, this approach is as follows: a general defense of fantastic and/or popular literature is mounted to introduce a discussion of a favored author, and then in the discussion itself every attempt is made to isolate the author from those same genres whose defense rationalized the discussion in the first place. It has happened with Le Guin, it has happened with Dick, and now it seems to be happening with King. Magistrale opens Stephen King: The Second Decade with the assertion that King's work "belies the easy reductive characteristics condescending academics often ascribe to horror and popular fiction" (ix), but only a few chapters later Magistrale is arguing that King's "tales of science" ought to be excluded from discussions of SF because they don't "provide technological solutions for the technological problems raised" like "those who envision the future in terms of a technological panacea" (85). The "easy reductive characteristics" of which Magistrale complained have become part of his own arsenal, at least when it comes to liberating King from association with such a popular genre.

The effect of all this, of course, is to undercut one's own argument at its root. If fantasy and horror are worth discussing because an author such as King can putatively produce complex and rewarding works within these formulas, then the formulas themselves would seem to require some consideration. But to leap in a single bound back to Frank Norris or Thomas Hardy as sources for King (as Magistrale does in discussing the "Richard Bachman" novels) seems to imply that King's context really isn't worth our attention, and that King can be just as profitably treated as a pure product of the mainstream. A run-of-the-mill SF novel such as The Running Man thus gets compared to Kafka (58) not because it bears any more relationship to Kafka than a hundred similar novels, but because it's by Stephen King. King's apparent significance is thus inflated by marginalizing the immediate context of his work in order to search for more respectable antecedents.

Such a strategy probably does more good for the critic than for the author. Authors want respectability, but they only need markets. For a critic or academic, respectability virtually is the market, and one maintains it by discussing big issues and canonical writers. Magistrale on the whole does a fine job with the big issues. When King wants to get a message across, such as concern over nuclear power in The Tommyknockers, he gets it across pretty clearly and unsubtly, and Magistrale intelligently explores this theme in the novel. He also does a good job of showing how the King-Straub collaboration The Talisman functions as a kind of nightmare critique of Reagan's America--but the ambitious invocations of Twain, Dante, Milton, Ovid, and Tolkien in the discussion of the latter novel tend only to make it seem more ponderous--and pretentious--than it really is. When Magistrale focuses on issues of narrative technique and characterization, as he does in his chapters on Skeleton Crew, It, and Misery, he shows himself to be a sensitive reader and a capable critic. And his overall thesis--that King can be viewed as a novelist of social criticism in the grand American tradition-- seems defensible and is at times convincingly articulated. But at the end of his book, he returns to the basic ad populem argument with which he started, claiming that King's popularity is alone a measure of his importance, and that for young readers it provides "a clear alternative to video games and television" (158) and thus should be part of school curricula. Invoking Leslie Fiedler, Magistrale concludes with a ringing defense of the importance of popular art--even as he has just finished virtually denying the importance of such art in King's own oeuvre.

Not surprisingly, most of the essays Magistrale has collected in The Dark Descent reflect this general approach. Two of them are by Magistrale himself, and one of these, on The Talisman, is the same essay that appears in his Twayne study, with a few minor changes. Others explore King's works with varying degrees of insight, but almost always with an eye toward mainstreaming. Greg Weller finds a reference to Galatea in Carrie and hangs a whole goddess-archetype interpretation of the novel on it, although his account of how the narrative works is perfectly fine on its own terms. Much more telling is one of the best essays in the book, Mary Pharr's account of King's recurrent problems in creating sympathetic and independent women characters. Edwin Casebeer's account of the mixed genres of The Stand is also insightful, and is one of the few places in the book where we get a sense of King's commercial and generic context. Another innovative essay is Bernadette Bosky's awkwardly titled "Playing the Heavy: Weight, Appetite, and Embodiment in Three Novels by Stephen King." That sounds like some bizarre new form of nutritional criticism, but the essay makes salient points about King's near-obsession with body types. Another intriguing essay with a misleading title is Douglas Keesey's "'The Face of Mr. Flip': Homophobia in the Horror of Stephen King." Keesey doesn't find much evidence of homophobia on King's part, but sees homophobic attitudes frequently satirized in his fiction. The strongest theoretical approach to King is Jeanne Campbell Reesman's Bakhtinian exploration of his dialogic narrative structures.

Other essays include Ronald T. Curran's exploration of fairy-tale motifs in The Shining, Michael N. Stanton on The Dead Zone, Leonard Mustazza's argument (complete with references to Oedipus and Hawthorne) that Pet Sematary qualifies as a classical tragedy, Arthur Biddle's mythic treatment of "The Body," James F. Smith on the Bachman novels, Gene Doty on "The Monkey," Mary Jane Dickerson on King and Faulkner (arguing that It derives largely from Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury), and Lauri Berkencamp's account of how she read Misery one summer afternoon. Several of the essayists, like Berkencamp, make references to their own reactions while reading a King story, and one begins to get a sense that some of these reactions may simply be innocent responses to what more seasoned horror readers would immediately recognize as fairly standard conventions. Gen Doty's bland observations that "The Monkey" "presents a world in which evil constantly threatens human beings" (135) or that "there is a suggestion in the story that the monkey is more than a clockwork toy" (134) seem almost deliberately obtuse unless you conclude that Doty has little or no familiarity with Algernon Blackwood and a sizable number of other writers who've written "evil toy" stories.

The irony of all this is that, for all the traditional literary virtues and linkages that Magistrale and others find in the work of King, there is much in his work that is still unexplored, no persuasive synthesis (that I have seen, at any rate) which really defines King's "horrorscape" in terms of his recurring techniques, his miasma of pop culture sources, his skill at narrative button-pushing. Only on rare occasions do either of these books try to offer convincing explanations as to why King is such a success, or exactly what he's a success at, or who else has been successful at this sort of thing and why. It may very well serve our purposes as academics to find shadows of Yoknapatawpha County in King's Maine, but there are shadows of Lovecraft's Providence there, too, and plenty of other unexamined shadows as well. King is certainly worth studying, and on an exegetical level Magistrale and his contributors often excel at demonstrating how his texts yield to traditional critical approaches (and sometimes to more innovative approaches as well), but there must be a middle ground somewhere between exegesis and canonization, and that's what seems to be missing. There's still plenty of terra incognita in this horrorscape.

--Gary K. Wolfe Roosevelt University.


The Facts in the Case of Mr. Poe?

Kenneth Silverman. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991. xii+464. $27.50.

According to the dustjacket billing, Kenneth Silverman, the Pulitzer-and-Brancroft-Prize-winning author of The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (1984), has now produced "the first comprehensive Poe biography in English in half a century." The slightly hedging word "comprehensive" is well chosen. We are invited to compare Edgar A. Poe with Arthur Hobson Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941). Unlike Quinn, Silverman has not undertaken to recount every last known detail concerning his subject at the time of writing. Silverman's strength is his ability to create a smooth-flowing and engrossing narrative which brings Poe, the people with whom he was associated, and the places he lived, vividly to life. He had the advantage of being able to mine Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson's more truly exhaustive Poe Log (1987) and, given the existence of that compilation, a Poe biographer is now justified in skirting over some of the minutiae. Almost everything of significance that we have learned about Poe, before and since Quinn's biography, is in Silverman's account, but it is, I think, fair to point out, given the dustjacket comparison, that Silverman has no discoveries of his own to report that are in any way comparable to Quinn's about the damaging forgeries that Rufus Griswold introduced into his version of some of the letters Poe had written him.

Silverman's subtitle is taken from "The Philosophy of Composition," Poe's famous guide to the supposedly mechanistic creation of his poem "The Raven." The bird, Poe tells us, is emblematic of "Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance" (quoted 241). Silverman argues that the direction of Poe's life and his writing was determined by the traumatic early deaths of his mother and his brother, for whom he grieved and with whom he desired to be reunited his entire life. This thesis is not new. It goes back to Marie Bonaparte's Edgar Poe: Etude psychanalytique (1933) and, more recently, it provides the basis for three articles (1980, 1982, 1987) by Richard Kepley interpreting Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Silverman's particular contribution is to invoke "the modern [largely Freudian] understanding of childhood bereavement" (76) while stressing that "no attempt will be made to 'prove' that the psychoanalytic prototype of the bereaved child applies to [Poe], still less to examine by its light his every word and action" (78).

Silverman's main title reflects the way in which Poe commonly signed his name and the desire, presumably, to suppress the last name of his stepfather John Allan (a suppression more thoroughly effected by the French preference for "Edgar Poe"). It is generally supposed that Allan, standing in for a materialistic America, was unappreciative and unsupportive of his charge. One result of the prodigious research that went into this biography is a rather more favorable portrait of John Allan than we have become accustomed to. Correspondingly, Poe, the often whining manipulative human being, emerges less positively than in most biographical accounts. Indeed, Silverman does not appear to much like his subject.

Over and over again, as Silverman acutely observes, the suppressed "Allan" may be teased out of Poe's fictional names and titles: it "echoes in Al Aaraaf, Lalage, Phaall (with his 'Unparralleled' [sic] adventures) and other characters and places formed on the letters double-a, double-l" (126; Silverman's "sic"). Silverman later instances "Tsalal" and two characters named "Allen" who are put to death in Pym, "Lasalle" in "The Pit and the Pendulum," and "Lalande" in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." He is equally insightful in finding hidden "Leonard"s (Poe's brother was named William Henry Leonard): "E. Ronald" in Pym and "Leonore" (in the poem of that title and in "The Raven"), and not so hidden "William"s (and a "Henry").

Edgar A. Poe, is, in fact, replete with incidental insight and several of Poe's tales are more or less convincingly read in biographical terms. The "bibulous and controlling" Uncle Rumgudgeon in "A Succession of Sundays" "is a sharp caricature of John Allan" (169). "The Masque of the Red Death" is related to Virginia's hemorrhaging. "The Oblong Box" "reimagines" Poe's journey to New York "with Sissy [Virginia] by train and steamboat, while Muddy [his aunt and mother-in-law Maria Clemm] remained in Philadelphia" (228). "On his voyage to New York the morose artist [of "The Oblong Box"] had not only closed himself in his cabin with his wife's coffin, addressed to her mother, but as if he were some Rufus Griswold [the anthologist, journalist, and forger noted above], he had hammered open the lid to sob all night over her corpse, and in the end killed himself rather than give up his tie to the thing so easily mistaken for the treasure of his art" (229). The motif of vengeance in "The Cask of Amontillado" is related to the brouhaha over Poe's "Literati" sketches, and to Thomas Dunn English's novel, 1844, or, the Power of the S.F.[Startled Falcons] (1846), in which Poe is attacked as Marmaduke Hammerhead.

As I have suggested, it was not necessary that Silverman recount all the known facts about Poe and his work but there are at least a couple of salient facts that he overlooks, dubiously interprets, or suppresses for one reason or another. This is particularly unfortunate in a work which all along, in carefully setting aside the more legendary aspects of Poe's career, aims to be strictly guided by the "facts" of the case. Silverman's biographical reading of "The Oblong Box" should at least be qualified by a historical source that he fails to mention: the murder of Samuel Adams by John Colt on 17 September 1841 in New York.

Also much to be regretted is the omission of any reference to Jeremiah N. Reynolds whose Address on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and South Seas (1836) Poe favorably reviewed in the Southern Literary Messenger (January 1837). The matter is important because that address and Reynolds' novel, Voyage of the U.S. Frigate Potomac(1815), reviewed by Poe in the June 1835 Messenger, are among the sources of Pym; they should have been noted in Silverman's extended discussion of that novel.

In the first of his three notoriously unreliable accounts of Poe's death (a letter to Maria Clemm dated 15 November 1849), Dr. John Joseph Moran mentions Poe's repeatedly calling for one "Reynolds." Because Jeremiah Reynolds was a promoter of Antarctic exploration and because, in Pym, the Antarctic is associated with a realm beyond death, most of Poe's biographers since 1902 (when James A. Harrison published the speculation in the initial biographical volume of his edition The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe), have assumed (certainly with a degree of poetic license) that Jeremiah was the Reynolds whose aid Poe was seeking while dying. In his 1875 account Moran records that he sent for a Baltimore family named Reynolds (Jeremiah Reynolds lived in New York), and in his 1885 account that he sent for the Herring family (Henry Herring was Poe's uncle-in-law). Silverman indicates in his "Notes" that he follows W.T. Bandy ("Dr. Moran and the Poe-Reynolds Myth," in Myths and Reality: The Mysterious Mr. Poe, ed. Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV [Baltimore, 1987], 26-36) in supposing that Poe was calling for the Baltimore Reynolds "or, more likely,...Henry Herring" (435). In a review of Fisher's collection, Beverly R. Voloshin asks regarding Bandy's essay, "can we reverse the old privileging of Moran's first account and now accept his last?" (PSA [Poe Studies Association] Newsletter 17:8, Spring 1989). I have read Bandy's article and I second Voloshin's question. Moreover, Bandy's and Silverman's conclusion does make one wonder at Moran's extraordinary luck in imaginatively lighting (a few weeks after Poe's death) on a name with such mythopoetic appropriateness.

There is, in fact, much of interest to be dug out of Silverman's 70 close-packed pages of "Notes" (largely on sources of information). Apropos of the view that "Metzengerstein" be read satirically, occurs this loaded statement: "I cannot agree with this view, nor with the more general line of interpretation of Poe that inspires it, begun in G.R. Thompson's intelligent and influential Poe's Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales(Madison, Wis., 1973)" (467). In other words, Silverman is summarily dismissing what has been most original in the Poe criticism of the past twenty years: the satiric/ ironic/deconstructive approach. It is surely essential that any contemporary critical biography of Poe (Silverman analyzes the major works) engage at least to some degree with that "line of interpretation"--certainly before rejecting it in toto.

Edgar A. Poe is aimed at the general reader as much as the Poe scholar and it is presumably for the benefit of the general reader that Silverman included eight appendices summarizing five of Poe's more important works and offering notes on "The Raven" and Eureka. Both the scholar and the general reader are well served by the 30 carefully chosen illustrations embedded at the heart of the narrative. It is a pity, however, that the awkward reference in Silverman's text to Illustration 32 (428), one of Poe's last letters to Maria Clemm, will have readers mistakenly looking in the illustration for her statement that she was "entirely unable to make the least exertion" (quoted 428). The source of Clemm's words can only be found in the "Notes." This gaffe will confirm for the scholarly reader the wisdom of reading Silverman's lucid text in tandem with his clotted "Notes."

--David Ketterer Concordia University.


Gibson, Cyberpunk, Postmodernism.

Lance Olsen. William Gibson. SRG 58. Starmont House (P.O. Box 851, Mercer Island, WA 98040), 1992. vii+131. $20.00 cloth, $11.00 paper.

This lucid, solid overview will be especially helpful to teachers and students who find Gibson's style inaccessible, or who may have been dozing or rereading Trollope between 1985 and 1989, when the cyberpunk controversy raged. Olsen offers a concise and fair-minded summary not only of Gibson's fiction in itself--there are separate chapters on the short stories in Burning Chrome and on each of the trilogy novels--but also (in an excellent extended introduction, the best thing in the book) a reprise of the issues--critical and ideological--central to the debate surrounding Gibson and the Movement.

Olsen's critical stance is sympathetic but never fannish: he sees cyberpunk as "a cultural manifestation" of a larger movement--postmodernism. In a tidy summary characteristic of this work, Olsen lists traits common to postmodernism and Gibson's fiction, giving parenthetical reference to the critics who have defined them: "incredulity toward overarching belief systems (Lyotard); an inability to reflect and shape the world (Thiher), or self (Caramello); ontological instability (McHale); cultural schizophrenia (Baudrillard); the fusion and confusion of 'high' and 'low' culture (Huyssen)" (18). Olsen places cyberpunk's resistance to earlier SF in the context of postmodernism's equal resistance to cultural consensus, its tendency to idiosyncratic "reaccentuation." By including a discussion of the early century's technology-obsessed Futurist movement in the visual arts--a topic Csicsery-Ronay has also addressed--Olsen even locates a genealogy for the Movement within the 20th-century avant-garde. This is not the familiar strategy of establishing "respectable" pedigrees for SF in order to rationalize the critic's (otherwise presumably unaccountable) attraction to the field: Olsen chooses here a truly generative line of argument. For it allows him to refute the dismissive remarks of earlier critics--Gregory Benford in The Mississippi Review was one among many--who saw Gibson and other leaders of the Movement merely as opportunists and publicity-seekers (as though, incidentally, promoting the sales of one's own books is either in itself reprehensible, or an unheard-of development in the SF field). Olsen's link between Gibson and contemporary aesthetics effectively counters this dismissive view, establishing Gibson as a serious, risk-taking writer. Comments quoted from Gibson's early interviews take on the aura of simple truth: he turned to writing SF, said Gibson in 1988, because it was a short-story medium, something he could do while staying home with his children. He was not writing for a mass audience, and never foresaw his wide commercial success: "I thought I'd be addressing a very small audience. Writing science fiction seemed self-destructive, a willfully obscure thing to take up."

Within the broad context of postmodern aesthetics, Olsen includes a detailed discussion of plot and theme in Gibson's stories and novels. The chapters on individual works will be very helpful to teachers still working up "cyberpunk" units to update their SF courses, and will also be welcomed by students who are having difficulty with Gibson's pyrotechnic style. While Olsen's focus on themes is helpful and appropriate, a separate chapter going more deeply into matters of style would have made this book better still. The very few references to imagery and language--as opposed to thematic motifs--are not sufficient to convey Gibson's complexity, or to demonstrate his considerable contribution specifically as a stylist. At times, too, Olsen's focus on postmodernism obscures traits that Gibson shares with pulp and popular SF writers--a problem because it leads to overemphasis on Gibson's originality, an assignment of traits exclusively to Gibson that he actually derives from long-standing SF tradition. (Olsen's discussion, for instance, of extrapolation--quoting Gibson's assertion that he has never tried to predict the future but is, by contrast, intent on defamiliarizing the Now--overlooks the frequency of this same approach to extrapolation among soft SF writers: cf Ursula Le Guin's defensive introduction to the paperback editions of The Left Hand of Darkness.) In addition, a chapter on The Difference Engine (1991) should have been included, even if doing so meant keeping the book in press some months longer. As it stands, the analysis concludes with a gently negative assessment of Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), drawing conclusions belied by the later novel, which is neither sentimental nor safe. In general, more could have been said on such collaborative efforts as DE (collaboration is mentioned but not explored in discussing Gibson's co-written stories). Such further discussion of Gibson's writing-partnerships would have shed light on one of Gibson's central contradictions: a highly idiosyncratic writer, he is also responsive to, even dependent upon, friendly communal "backfeed" (as DE scrambles the word).

There are several editorial lapses. Was Gibson born in 1948 (4) or 1949 (chronology)? Is the author's last name Olsen (cover) or Olson (title page)? Gulliver Foyle is a character in Bester's The Stars My Destination, not The Demolished Man. Finally, there is too broad a stretch in some of the generalizations, especially in the strained allusions to Homer, Ovid, and Milton. But Olsen stands on the terra firma of his wide knowledge of modernism and postmodernism throughout most of this useful, clearly written guide to Gibson.

--Carol McGuirk Florida Atlantic University


The Latest SFFBRI.

Hal W. Hall, Comp. Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review Index. Bryan, TX: SFBRI, 1992. 73pp. $10.

This is the fourth number in the indefatigable Hal Hall's ongoing series of bibliographies of book reviews since that series' coverage was expanded along the lines indicated by the addition of "and Fantasy" to its title. Though its copyright page records Volume 20, 1989, the letter from Hall which came along with the 1988 SFFBRI at the beginning of July indicates that the next volume will not be out until May 1993. It is also worth noting that the lag time between the latest SFFBRI and its title-year is pretty much the same as for its three predecessors: 3-4 years. Like them, too, it divides into two parts: the bulk (60pp) consists of a list of fiction and non-fiction books (2192 by Hall's count) arranged alphabetically by author, with book reviews recorded for each title. The remaining pages are given over to an index by title.

Apart from a small price increase (of $1.50), the main difference between the 1988 SFFBRI and its predecessors lies with its omissions. Hall purports to survey 62 magazines and the like (all of them Anglophone, all but four North American); and SFS, of course, figures in that number. But for some unfathomable reason the 1988 SFFBRI does not record any of the book notices appearing in SFS in 1988 (whereas previous SFFBRIs overlooked only some of the reviews in SFS's pages). As a result, seven of the books reviewed that year in SFS go unrecorded in the SFFBRIs through (year-title) 1988: four of them 1988 imprints, the other three dating from 1985-87 (see the entries for Bessière, Draper, Holland-Cruz, Spehner, Thaon, Widdicombe, and Zaki on pp 406-07 of SFS #49). Presumably a future volume will rectify this. But it does somewhat impair the usefulness of Hall's noble effort when one has to consult any number of SFFBRIs, starting with the one corresponding to the publication date of the book one is seeking notices of, in order to get a complete list of reviews in the magazines Hall canvasses. For that same reason, prospective purchasers may well want to wait for the next cumulative SFFBRI, though I don't suppose that will be forthcoming presently.

--RMP.


History Without Scholarship.

Allienne R. Becker. The Lost Worlds Romance: From Dawn to Dusk. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #51. Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 1992. xvi+164. $42.95. Credit-card orders 800-225-5800.

The contributions in Marshall B. Tymn's Greenwood series have been of mixed value for the study of science fiction and fantasy, some of great value and others only so-so, but I never expected to see in it any book as utterly valueless as this. The "Works Cited" list for the introductory chapter consists of five studies in literary theory (none concerned directly with her subject), but for the remaining chapters the only works cited are the novels discussed. It seems that Professor Becker plunged into her research under the impression that she had no predecessors in the study of her subject and that her manuscript was sent to press unread by anyone with any knowledge in the field. To be sure, there is a laudatory foreword by a famous novelist and scholar, Andrew M. Greeley, but that foreword says nothing to indicate that Professor Greeley has any knowledge of lost-world romance other than that provided by memories of boyhood reading. Gratitude is expressed to a librarian for securing the books discussed, but no explanation is offered as to how her list of books to be read was compiled. Bleiler's massive 1990 bibliography was presumably too late for her purposes, but three works by Tom Clareson might and should have been consulted--the essay "Lost Lands, Lost Races: A Pagan Princess of Their Very Own" in Many Futures, Many Worlds (1977), the chapter "Journeys to Unknown Lands" in Some Kind of Paradise: The Emergence of American Science Fiction(1985; #16 in the Tymn series), and Science Fiction in America, 1870s-1930s: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary Sources(1984)--not to mention such book catalogues as Stuart A. Teitler's Eureka!: A Survey of Archeological Fantasies and Terrestrial Utopias (1975) and the Reginald-Menville Lost Race and Adult Fantasy Fiction (1978). In sum, a more thorough bibliographical investigation would have resulted in a much more representative list than the one on which she depends, just as a study of earlier criticism would have resulted in a less erroneous and more sophisticated history of the field.

--RDM.


A Canticle for Canticle.

William H. Robertson and Robert L. Battenfeld. Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Bio-Bibliography. Bio-Bibliographies in American Literature 3. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood Press. xix+149. $39.95. Credit-card orders 800-225-5800.

One day in November 1943, at an O.P. high in the Apennines, I looked down on the courtyard of a large building and spotted a number of German soldiers. When I called in the coordinates, I was told that we couldn't fire on the target, for it was a world-famous monastery and historical landmark. No great matter: our artillery could have had little effect other than to cause the Germans to take shelter. Three months later, Sgt Walter M. Miller was more fortunate, if that is the word, for he watched bombs fall from his plane on the same target, which (so the story goes) was not occupied by the Germans until after that bombing (perhaps the soldiers I saw were merely tourists). Some 15 years later, "while writing the first version of the scene [in A Canticle for Leibowitz] where Zerchi lies half buried in the rubble," Miller realized that he was remembering the bombing of the Monte Cassino abbey (1-2).

In the 1950s Miller published 41 stories in the SF magazines, winning a Hugo for "Darfstellar" (Astounding, Jan 1955). In the late 50s, he revised and expanded three novelettes first published in F&SF, developing them into A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), which won him a second Hugo and made him one of the most widely admired SF writers. He has published no fiction since, and only a little non-fiction. The mystery of what he has been doing in the last 35 years is not cleared up in this bio-bibliography: as for "the general public," he says, it is "none of [their] damn business" (7). The most important thing we know is that "250 pages" of a "parallel novel" to Canticle has been delivered to an editor at Bantam Books, who has "extended the deadline [for the complete manuscript] indefinitely" (8-9).

Being devoted to a rather small corpus, this bibliography can treat its listings in greater detail than bibliographies ordinarily supply. There are extensively annotated entries for each edition of the books (including photos of jackets, covers, and title pages), for each of the stories, and not only for each of the articles on Miller's work but also for numerous passing references to it. In addition there is, for Canticle, a glossary of names and terms and a three-page time line. One could hardly ask for more.

--RDM.


The Enlightened Asimov.

Donald M. Hassler. Isaac Asimov. SRG 40. Starmont House (P.O. Box 851, Mercer Island, WA 98040), 1992. iii+129. $19.95 cloth, $9.95 paper.

This guide will work best for the reader who has already read a good deal of Asimov as well as James Gunn's Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction (1982). Donald Hassler does not duplicate Gunn's systematic plot outlines and detailed readings; he is more interested in Asimov's "general ideas." According to Hassler, these ideas derive not only from the obvious sources (Edward Gibbon, John W. Campbell Jr) but also from the Enlightenment in general, William Godwin in particular, and the Old Testament. Hassler gives some attention to Asimov's "anti-literary" (more accurately, a-literary) style, but the book's most original passages concern Asimov as philosopher.

Hassler also offers insights into the psychology of Isaac Asimov. His comments on Asimov's personality and motives are usually brief: "His ego is tempered by his feeling of human community, and the two are not inconsistent since the rationality that drives his ego is a move toward shared knowledge" (8). "Asimov is a writer driven by parallel compulsions. He must always prove he is potent as a writer.... Clearly, this is insecurity, but in another sense it is a program of trying again and again and of gradually accumulating competence" (19-20). "For Asimov...the story [Fantastic Voyage II] represents both a return to the Soviet Union and a fascination with deep psychoanalytic notions, but grounded in the 'reality' of physics" (115). Hassler seems hesitant to pursue these psychological speculations, perhaps because his subject was still alive as he wrote them. They are worth further development.

The book's publication lag was rather long; coverage of Asimov's work ends in 1986, with a few notes on 1987. Asimov's post-1986 fiction rang no dramatic changes on his well-established themes. But in fairness, Starmont House should now give Hassler the opportunity to do a revised edition, covering the complete science-fictional career and the entire Foundation-Earth-Robot system of this compulsively systematic writer.

--Alan C. Elms University of California, Davis.


Two More Volumes of "Fantastic" Essays.

Donald E. Morse, Marshall B. Tymn, and Csilla Bertha, eds. The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth Anniversary International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #49. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992. xv+309. $49.95.

Nicholas Ruddick, ed. State of the Fantastic--Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film: Selected Essays from the Eleventh International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Same series #50. Same publisher, 1992. xvi+210. $49.95. Credit-card orders 800-225-5800.

These are the latest additions to the Greenwood Press series of selected essays from the annual Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (1989, 1990). The proceedings from the Ninth Conference held in 1988 were never published due to editorial problems. Although the papers appearing in these publications are generally of high caliber, this on-going series has been criticized for both its lack of focus and its overall eclecticism (v. SFS #46, 15:381-3, SFS #53, 18:140). These two new volumes offer more of the same: a wide-ranging and very heterogeneous collection of conference papers on SF, fantasy, horror, myth, fairy tales, legends, and the supernatural (i.e., all forms of non-mimetic narrative) in literature, painting, film, and television from around the world and viewed from a wide variety of methodological and ideological perspectives. Personally, I find nothing wrong with such all-inclusive conferences; the exposure to variety they promote and the creative energy they tend to generate are refreshing in an over-specialized academe. But published batches of critical papers from such conferences most often result in fifty-dollar "smorgasbord" reference books which, by attempting to span too wide a spectrum of interests, undermine their own critical purpose and are of questionable usefulness to most readers. To illustrate my point by way of a hypothetical analogy: who would purchase a collection of selected essays from the annual MLA convention?

In all fairness, however, it must be noted that the most recent volume in this series does exhibit (as its title suggests) somewhat more critical cohesiveness--and, incidentally, fewer proofreading oversights--than almost all of its predecessors. Does this signal a subtle change in direction for this well-intentioned but omnium-gatherum series? Is the series editor finally beginning to shape the contents of each volume toward a common theme? One can only hope. . . .

Among the twenty-six essays in the former volume, Celebration of the Fantastic, those which I found of particular value to SF scholars are H. Bruce Franklin's "The Greatest Fantasy on Earth: The Superweapon in Fiction and Fact," Robert A. Latham's "Some Thoughts on Modernism and Science Fiction," Judith B. Kerman's "Virtual Space and its Boundaries in Science Fiction Film and Television: Tron, 'Max Headroom,' and Wargames," Barbara Mabee's "The Fantastic in Recent German Democratic Republic Literature," Len Hatfield's "Character Structures and the Subject in Greg Bear's Sequel Novels," and Joan Gordon's "Joe Haldeman: Cyperpunk Before Cyperpunk was Cool?"

In the latter volume State of the Fantastic edited by Ruddick, some of the SF essays which I found interesting include Veronica Hollinger's "Specular SF" (29-39) which targets Ballard's Crash, Acker's Empire of the Senseless, and Wittig's Les Guérlillères (among other works) as "exercises in postmodern allegory" (29) where "SF tropes function as allegorical components in narratives that are not about the future" (30) and where "the imagery of SF...becomes a means of collapsing the future back onto the present in a way that removes the historical specificity and contingency of that present" (33). Peter Malekin's "Paradigms of Knowledge in the Postmodern Fantastic" (41-48) discusses the work of Borges, Lem, Dick, and Priest and concludes by suggesting that "Paradoxically, intellectual destabilization has itself become a current Western value" (46) and that "this destabilization parallels the extraliterary crisis in hermeneutical confidence that is afflicting literary criticism, theology, the human sciences, and to some extent history" (46). Reinhold Kramer examines Lessing's Briefing for a Descent into Hell, John Varley's Millennium, and Robert Anton Wilson's Schrödinger's Cat II: The Trick Top Hat as instances of what he terms "Gnostic SF" (49-57). Elisabeth Vonarburg's perceptively feminist "The Reproduction of the Body in Space" (59-72) compares the SF of male and female authors in their treatment of biological reproduction in outer space. Jianjiong Zhu analyzes Philip K. Dick from the perspective of wu and Zen Buddhism in his "Reality, Fiction, and Wu in The Man in the High Castle" (107-113). Len Hatfield looks at chaos theory in "Getting a Kick Out of Chaos: 'Fortunate Failure' in Greg Bear's Future Histories" (133-140) and argues that "Bear's strategies are the result of a postmodern working-through of the implications of historical change" (134). And Gary Wolfe in "The Dawn Patrol: Sex, Technology, and Irony in Farmer and Ballard" (159-167) conducts a fascinating investigation la Foucault on the question of "whether it is possible to construct a kind of pornography of the machine...in which the encounter with the machine on its own terms is eroticized in a manner usually reserved for descriptions of sexual encounters" (163).

--ABE.


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