Science Fiction Studies

#8 = Volume 3, Part 1 = March 1976




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 fiction.

--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. Liras 3200.

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.

--Carlo Pagetti

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 Freas.

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 all.

Brian Aldiss
. 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 de Camp.
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.

--R.D. Mullen

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