BOOKS IN REVIEW
BOOKS IN REVIEW
A Collection of
Unreprinted Pieces by H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells. Early
Writings in Science and Science Fiction. Edited by Robert M. Philmus
and David Y. Hughes. Berkeley: University of California Press 1975. xiv+249. $12.00.
This collection of unreprinted writings of H.G. Wells, some science fiction (e.g. one
of the early versions of The Time Machine) but mostly science journalism, should
be of interest to serious students of Wells. It makes available material that could only
be found by searching through issues of such old periodicals as the Pall Mail Gazette,
the National Observer, and the nearly inaccessible Science Schools Journal (the
student publication of the South Kensington Normal School of Science, which Wells
attended). The editors of the book--it has useful introductions--do not agree with Wells's
own assessment in his Experiment in Autobiography that the material was
"good enough to print but not worth reprinting." The volume concludes with a
95-item "Selective Bibliography [with Abstracts] of H.G. Wells's Science journalism,
1887-1901," whose entries are annotated for any piece not reprinted in the anthology.
It is a book which many will find helpful in tracing the development of themes in Wells's
early science fiction. Put with W. Warren Wagar's H.G. Wells: Journalism and Prophecy,
1893-1946 (which ranges from "The Man of the Year One Million" to
"Mind at the End of Its Tether"), even a halfway decent college or university
library should now have available all the minor writings of Wells which anyone, except the
most hard-core Wellsians, could possibly be interested in reading. The latter will find
the Appendix extremely helpful in attacking the mountain of Wells material in periodicals
and the Wells Archive at the University of Illinois.
The writings in this volume may possibly open a new perspective for many familiar only
with Wells's best known science fiction. Such readers may conclude, after studying the
selections of science journalism, that though Wells was obviously a talented writer, he
was no profound thinker--a familiar criticism. One of the problems is that science
journalism dates so fast--Arthur Clarke's Profiles of the Future, which has
stayed in print for years and been taken seriously by professional prognosticators of the
future, will suffer such a fate. It also strikes me that Sir R.A. Gregory, a man of even
humbler origins than Wells and a lifelong admirer of Wells, probably did more--as editor
of Nature, of more than 200 scientific textbooks for Macmillan's, and of
education journals for science and science education --than Wells with his vast audience
for his many books. Gregory was, I think, justly made a Fellow of the Royal Society, a
distinction which Wells aspired to and never attained.
The Philmus and Hughes anthology also raises questions as to what, besides the
extraordinary influence Wells had on twentieth-century science fiction, he will finally be
remembered for. His lifelong propagandizing for a world state (so thoroughly documented in
Wagar's H.G. Wells and the World State) seems ultimately to have borne no
fruit--we seem further from its realization than ever before. His Outline of History,
once in every middle class home, is no longer read. Even his A Modern Utopia, one
of the classics in the tradition, seems in our age of the abuse of electronic surveillance
and data banks, a blueprint for something remarkably akin to fascism. Some of his
realistic fiction, though minor, stands a good chance of survival; and there is no
question as to the permanence of the best of his science fiction. The Early Writings
in Science and Science Fiction is an invaluable aid to understanding this science
--Mark R. Hillegas
An Italian Symposium on SF
Utopio e Fantascienza. Pubblicazioni dell'Istituto di Anglistica, Facolta di Magistero
dell'Universita di Torino, edizioni Giappichelli, Torino, 1975, 173p.
This is the first consistent effort made in an Italian university institution (the
English Studies of the Turin "Magistero") towards academically mature criticism
of SF, beyond the achievements of single scholars and the pioneering but too often rather
naive outbursts of the fanzine galaxy. With eight essays ranging from general theory to
particular themes, from Francis Godwin to Ray Bradbury, the book suggests the existence of
a "school" devoted to SF criticism. However, it is also a tangible proof of the
difficulties involved in such a task; in fact, the contributions are hugely uneven, and
the idea of a school remains pretty much only a good intention.
Only good intentions, indeed, can account for the contributions of two well-known
Italian scholars, Enzo Giachino and Nicoletta Neri: the former limits himself to broad
generalizations on SF as a literary medium, the latter surveys an interminable and I am
afraid rather boring list of novels in which the device of time travel is employed.
Other essays study the background and sources of modern SF. In Alessandro Monti's
ambitious "preliminary" work on Wells one feels the lack of a strong grasp an
the rather formidable subject. Dr. Monti's structural-ideological approach should have
been backed by the knowledge and use of the by now extensive and impressive list of works
on Wells's SF, say from Caudwell's arguable (to me, at least) demolition of Wellsian
utopianism in Studies in a Dying Culture to Suvin's essays. In the
bibliographical appendix, instead, we discover the extensive use of Extrapolation,
which I would not consider as the one oracular voice on SF. Indeed, some of the most
recent critical contributions, from Clareson's SF: The Other Side of Realism to
Ketterer's New Worlds for Old, are nowhere mentioned in Utopia e Fantascienza (Roland Barthes, though, is duly mentioned).
Dr. Gasparetto's essay about Godwin's The Man in the Moone seems more
satisfactory. In fact, some of the best contributions are only very peripherically
concerned with SF and utopia, as their authors try to find out the somewhat thin presence
of SF and utopian motives in the work of William Golding (which is quite reasonable) and
of Flann O'Brien (when shall we have--or did we have--essays on "Joyce and SF,"
"Hemingway and SF," etc.?).
The true pillars of the anthology are essays by Valerio Fissore and Ruggero Bianchi.
Dr. Fissore's consistent structural approach develops interesting points about the basic
elements of the SF novel: character, form, use of temporal levels. From his skillful
comparisons the stimulating idea emerges that SF can be competently discussed also in
terms of linguistic analysis, not only from the (often ineptly) sociological point of view
cherished by so many earlier critics. One expects Dr. Fissore will in the future dig
deeper into the fertile ground of periods and single authors, but I don't believe it
useful to stay forever in the heaven of general systems and theories.
Ruggero Bianchi is a case apart: among Italian scholars he is one of the very few who
have been producing remarkable work on SF for years. In his recent book on the American
novel La Dimensione Narrativa: Ipotesi sul Romanzo Americano (Ravenna: Longo,
1974), he has devoted a whole chapter to SF, pointing out, among other interesting things,
the breaking down of the "Faustian" tradition in the hands of honest craftsmen
like Isaac Asimov. In the present essay "Parameters of Anti-utopia," the
reactionary nature of the utopian tradition is emphasized by some rather amazing and
provocative quotations, evincing similarities between Bradbury's obsolete humanism in Fahrenheit
451 and the anti-humanism of the Italian neo-fascist leader, Mr. Giorgio Almirante.
Of course, the refusal of a machine civilization does not have to--though it certainly
can--be tinted with reactionary hopes for a pastoral-authoritarian regime. The real point
is, perhaps, not entirely a matter of overt ideology: rather, the Italian politician and
the American SF writer share an enormously simplified view of "tradition" and
"culture." Both of them believe that the world can be saved by the suppression
of a few mechanical gadgets and the revaluation of simple standards of life, strolls in
the woods, and books (Mein Kampf among them?) instead of crazy TV shows--but not,
for instance, free sexuality. In other words, the rebuttal of certain present values is
not reactionary in itself (see, e.g., Marcuse or Ivan Illich), the over-simplification of
the problem is. Professor Bianchi is subtly fascinating in the socio-cultural implications
of his particular brand of criticism, and his analysis of Brave New World, 1984 or
Fahrenheit 451 is stimulating indeed, despite the mass of critical work we
already have on them. He might have, though, acknowledged a few predecessors, such as the
contributors to the valuable The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social
Criticism edited by Basil Davenport (Chicago: Advent, 1959), especially C. M.
Kornbluth and Robert Bloch. Bloch's ironical conclusion seems to me still worth quoting:
"When a literature of imaginative speculation steadfastly adheres to the conventional
outlook of the community regarding heroes and standards of values, it is indeed offering
the most important kind of social criticism--unconscious social criticism" (p. 155).
In a sense, the limitations of Utopia e Fantascienza were unavoidable; it
should be seen as a pioneering attempt, breaking new paths in the Italian academic milieu.
Books Briefly Noted
Joe de Bolt, ed. The Happening Worlds of John Brunner: Critical Explorations in Science
Fiction Preface by James Blish. Response by John Brunner. Port
Washington NY: Kennikat Press 1975. viii+216. $12.95. This book contains eight articles on
Brunner by scholars at Central Michigan University, one (De Bolt) in sociology, one in
political science, one in physics, one in mathematics and computer science, and four in
English, together with a very full bibliogarphy of Brunner's stories, articles, and books.
We expect to have a review-article on this book in the next issue of SFS.
Jack London. Curious Fragments: Jack London's Tales of Fantasy Fiction.
Edited by Dale L. Walker, Preface by Philip José Farmer. Port Washington NY: Kennikat
Press 1975. x+223. $12.95. This reset volume must compete with the composite photographic
reprint issued earlier in 1975 by the Gregg Press, The Science Fiction of Jack London,
ed. Richard Gid Powers, $15.50 (see SFS 2:277). It contains nine of the stories that
appear in the Gregg volume (The Scarlet Plague, "The Red One," "A Relic of
the Pliocene," "The Shadow and the Flash," "A Curious Fragment,"
"Goliah," "The Unparalleled Invasion," "When the World Was
Young," and "The Strength of the Strong"), omits two ("The Minions of
Midas" and "The Dream of Debs"), and adds six ("Who Believes in
Ghosts!" "A Thousand Deaths," "The Rejuvenation of Major
Rathbone," "Even Unto Death," "The Enemy of All the World," and
"War"). Since the stories that appear in one volume but not the other are
comparatively minor, there is little to choose between the two on that basis, but whereas
Powers' introduction to the Gregg volume is a challenging interpretation of London's work,
the preface, introduction, and headnotes in the Kennikat volume do little more than tell
us over and over that these are very good stories that have been shamefully neglected by
students of literature, even students of SF.
Lester del Rey.
Fantastic Science-Fiction Art 1926-1954. NY: Ballantine Books 1975. 9x12. (16)+(80). $5.95. Aside from a brief and quite elementary
introduction, this book consists simply of forty color plates, each reproducing the front
or back cover of an SF magazine: eighteen by Paul, five by Bergey, and one, two, or three
each by Morey, Brown, Fuqua, Rogers, Malcolm Smith, Alejandro, Van Dongen, Schomburg, and
Anthony Frewin. One Hundred Years of Science Fiction Illustration 1840-1940.
[L: Jupiter Books 1974]. NY: Pyramid Books 1975. 8x12. 128 pages with 28 in full
color. $4.95. Frewin's book is most valuable for its first three chapters, which deal with
subjects that the other books ignore or consider only briefly: Isidore Grandville, who in
1844 published a picture book called
Un Autre Monde and whose work
"represents the culmination of many disparate elements of nineteenth century fantasy
and reverie" ; Albert Robida, who in the 1880s depicted the 20th century in hundreds of
drawings and who might well be called the Jules Verne of SF pictorial artists; and the
work of various other artists of the period 1880-1920, culminating in three magnificent
drawings from the old humor magazines, Life and Judge. The other chapters deal in
turn with the illustrations in Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories, the British
SF pulps, and the minor US pulps. The commentary suffers a bit, especially in the later
chapters, from a lack of focus, being concerned sometimes with the art of SF illustration,
sometimes with the stories illustrated, and sometimes with the social significance of it
Science Fiction Art: The Fantasies of SF. (Printed in Spain for the UK firm Trewin Copplestone Publishing Ltd). NY: Bounty Books.
10x15. 128 pages with 61 in full color. $9.95. As a work on the art of SF illustration,
Aldiss's book gives us a good deal more for our money than Sadoul (SFS 2:290), Del Rey, or
Frewin, with almost 300 illustrations reproduced from the SF magazines, 116 in full color.
It is also clearly superior to the others in its commentary, and has persuaded me of
something that I had not before imagined, that in SF illustration we have a field of
endeavor worthy of serious study. The book gives us first a parade of the artists (Paul,
Schneeman, Quinn, Malcolm Smith, Dold, Bergey, Fawcette, Timmins, Cartier, Binder, Brown,
Bok, Wesso, Morey, Vestal, Vidmer, Leydenfrost, Rogers, Emsh, Lewis, Schomburg, Jones,
Finlay, Bonestell, Naylor, Ruth, Orban, Sharp, Stark, Lawrence); second, a glance at the
comic strips (Buck Rogers, Jeff Hawke, Superman, Dan Dare, Flash Gordon); third, a survey
of themes (Delightful Doomsdays, Vacuum Busters, Beyond the Beyond, Here be Monsters,
Spires and Sewers, Interplanetary Pets, Hands Without Heads, Men of Metal, Cities in
Flight, Wells's Martians); and finally, a gallery of the magazines.
L. Sprague de Camp and Catherine Cook
Science Fiction Handbook,
Revised. Philadelphia: Owlswick Press 1975. viii+220. $8.50. As late
as ten or twelve years ago it could still be said that from the standpoint of factual
information, the two most valuable works in the field were Bailey's Pilgrims (1947)
and De Camp's Handbook (1953). Although both have been largely superseded, both
retain some value for scholars, especially the latter, with its detailed depiction of the
SF markets of the early 50s and its sketches of leading editors and authors, as well as
its survey of the history of SF, not as full as Bailey's, of course, but supplementary to
it in various ways. The present revision is a drastic abridgement and juvenilization of
the original, aimed at high school or college students in creative writing classes rather
than at practiced writers, with nothing equivalent to the 1953 chapters on markets,
editors, and authors, and of no value to scholars.
Frank Belknap Long.
The Early Long. NY: Doubleday 1975.
xxviii+211. $7.95. In my mind Long belongs so completely to the 20s, 30s, and 40s that I
am astonished to find that he is still with us. Checking in Reginald's Contemporary
Science Fiction Authors, I find that he did publish a number of books in the 60s, but
these were mostly issued by minor houses (Avalon, Belmont, Lancer) and attracted little if
any attention. Like its predecessors in the "Early" series (see SFS 2:278), this
book consists of an autobiographical introduction and a number of stories with intercalary
notes on how they came to be written. The present-day Long writes in a somewhat courtly
style and confines himself to pleasant memories: his boyhood in a comfortable New York
City home, his friendship with Lovecraft, his contributions to Weird Tales,
Astounding, and what was for him the best of magazines, Unknown. His
chronology is confused in at least two places, and he has John Campbell writing him a
letter of acceptance for "The Flame Midget"--"I was seriously tempted to
frame [the letter], because he could be very sparing of praise at times" (p. 90)--but
it must have been some other story, or some other editor, for "The Flame Midget"
appeared in the December 1936 issue of Astounding, a year or so before Campbell
joined its staff. I regret to say that I find Long's reminiscences too bland to be of any
interest and that even the best-known of his stories (e.g. "The Hounds of
Tindalos" and "The Flame Midget") seem to me not to hold up very well.
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