Science Fiction Studies

#77 = Volume 26, Part 1 = March 1999


Notes and Correspondences

Living with the Future, 1950-2000: In Memoriam, Dale Mullen. When I first met Dale Mullen some thirty years ago at the MLA meeting in Chicago (1968?), we soon discovered that we had nearly met in March of 1944. He was target observation officer with a US artillery regiment that had the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino within its fire-control zone; I was engaged not far away on decrypt work at 10th Corps headquarters. I had been seconded there from Signals Intelligence, Mediterranean Allied Air Forces headquarters (Ira C. Eaker commanding), then located at Caserta in the old royal palace of the Neapolitan Bourbons.

We went our different ways, however, not knowing what the future held for us. Looking back, I can see how decoding duties (five-figure ciphers and ULTRA decrypt) had their influence on my later research. For the constant succession of instructions from the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht to Field Marshal Kesselring amounted to a single message—today’s signals are tomorrow’s battles. This sense of future things somehow stayed embedded in the brain when, in 1946, I said goodbye to the British Army and returned to Liverpool University.

In 1947 I enrolled for the standard three-year Honours course in English Literature, and I have to tell youthful readers that it was a different world in those days. The now much-reduced port of Liverpool, for instance, was then the largest maritime passenger terminal in Europe—so busy that it was a weekend entertainment to watch the regular arrival of the great passenger liners from the USA and Canada. In like manner, the undergraduate English literature curriculum at Liverpool University belonged to an age that would soon come to an end. Instruction centered on the literary qualities of the texts and, where appropriate, the circumstances of the authors. Genre studies were unknown: the nearest one got to "Writers and their Times" was in an option like Victorian Authors, which had little to say about the dominant ideas of the age. There was occasional reference to Basil Willey (Eighteenth Century Background, for instance), but that kind of non-literary information had little bearing on the drift of the lectures. As for American literature—that was still an unknown, undiscovered area.

I graduated in 1951 and was fortunate enough in those days of near-zero departmental funding to be offered a University Fellowship that provided just enough money to live on and time to pursue research. I had always had a great interest in H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and future-thinking in general, and I took the opportunity of the fellowship to propose a thesis on "The Future in Fiction." In the subject specification I promised "to investigate the origins of future fiction from the beginnings." Word came back that I was boldly going where none had gone before: there was trouble. The Chairman thought that there would not be enough material; he feared that most of the research would deal with topics that were non-literary—a bad word in those days. I had the support of my tutor, Kenneth Allott, however: he had published the first (?) UK science-fiction study in his Jules Verne (1940). So I got the signal to begin, and then the real problems began.

The Arts research schools we know today did not exist in the UK during the 1950s. It was still the exception for graduates to find a post-graduate place. Researchers today do not know how fortunate they are. In the primeval past (circa 1950), there were no journals and very few books about terrestrial utopias, imaginary voyages, future wars, or planetary travel. The term Scientifiction was occasionally heard, but, despite the OED entries under Science Fiction, that term was not generally used in the UK until the 1960s—after Sidgwick and Jackson had spread the word with their Science Fiction Book Club. There were as yet no encyclopedias from Pierre Versins or John Clute and Peter Nicholls. And in the US there was no rush to follow the initiative of Sam Moskowitz, who offered the first-ever science fiction course in 1953 at the City College of New York Extension School.

So there I was, alone with a thesis that demanded the beginnings of a bibliography. J.O. Bailey’s Pilgrims Through Space and Time and Everett Bleiler’s Checklist were the only resources then available: the criticism of Basil Davenport, Richard Gerber, and Damon Knight appeared in the late 1950s. I relied on long-outdated reference books: best books, subject indexes, the ancient Mudie’s Library Catalogue and so on, looking for any entry that suggested a tale of the future. Verne and Wells were no problem, but who wrote what before and after them? That was a void in what could be a vast galaxy.

I began to establish a working check-list by looking for reviews of any title I discovered; on a good day, a kind reviewer would refer to other titles unknown to me. I still remember my astonishment when, quite early in my searching, I came upon Oman’s 1899 edition of The Reign of George VI (1763). That was long before Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826). Like Oman in his preface, I wondered "how far back the catena of this prophetical literature could be followed." In the meantime I had to earn my living: I could not go on forever as University Fellow. The department ever so politely said my time was up and I departed with my postgraduate degree to teach English in a Northumberland grammar school. Not a university, you ask? No, thank you: there were hundreds of candidates clamoring for three-year appointments and no tenure. Salaries in state schools were worth taking home, and I thought—still think—that teaching the 11-18 age-group is immensely rewarding work.

As day by day I instructed the youngest in the use of the comma and prepared the eldest for university entrance, however, I continued to indulge my obsession with "how far back." It was, it seemed to me, a question of method, and I came to the conclusion that if I hoped to establish a reasonable check-list of future fiction and write my history of future-think, I had to connect with the source of all information: The Catalogue of Printed Books of the British Museum (before it became the British Library). This decision was, I believe, a consequence of war service: the generation of 1939-45 acted on the mantra of Information-Intention-Method. Once we had decided on a method, we went for it full-steam. Fortunately I was dealing with the old BM Catalogue that ended before 1914, not the monster that occupies yards of space in libraries today. Again, I was fortunate in having to make a half-hour journey by bus to what the bureaucrats call the place of work. For months the regular commuters watched as I turned page after page in vast tomes, searching for titles that seemed to indicate a future text. On occasions I would rejoice when I came to Aquinas, Aristotle, Leibnitz, Plato, Rousseau, and others who could be ignored. On occasion, fellow-travelers (then an innocent term) would say: "How many books today, Doc?"

Off-and-on, it took me about two years of leisurely travel to come out at the far end of the BM Catalogue, and I still remember that the last volume only yielded one new find: "X.Y.Z.," author of The Vril Staff (1899). By that time my career went through a series of rapid moves and in 1958 I joined the faculty at the Royal College of Science and Technology in Glasgow (second oldest institution of its kind—the école Polytechnique was three years earlier), which became the University of Strathclyde in the 1960s. That change was the beginning of a new stage in my research, for I soon received a letter out of the blue from Wooster, Ohio. Wooster, I thought, it can’t be Bertie Wooster! But it wasn’t old Bertie. It was Tom Clareson, who opened up a new horizon of US research for me by keeping me informed about the first science-fiction conferences. Suddenly I knew I was not alone. Across the Atlantic there were many others who were hard at work.

Tom and I became good friends. He and Alice would spend part of their visits to the UK with us in Glasgow, later the Cotswolds. On these occasions, and in lengthy letters, Tom did my research a power of good by enlarging on the distinctive American contributions to pre-1914 future fiction. "The perceptions are different," he used to say—a polite way of telling me to stop being English and European when I read American fiction. That made me look more closely at French and German attitudes when I was working towards Voices Prophesying War.

Before that, however, I had reached the point when I had grown tired of receiving rejection slips: I published the first edition of The Tale of the Future in 1961. It was an act of quixotic folly I have only half-regretted ever since. Brian Aldiss was one of the few who wrote to congratulate me; the silent majority made free use of the contents and made the bibliography the "most unacknowledged source" in the field after the monumental encyclopedias of Pierre Versins and Clute/Nicholls. By 1961, however, I had realized the truth of what various editors had been telling me: the enormous variety of future fiction made it impossible to write a truly comprehensive one-volume account. Furthermore, it was clear that a definitive study of one area—future wars, for example—could not be limited to English publications, since the international reception of such tales as Chesney’s Battle of Dorking were part of the evolution of the form. The result of my redefinition of the project was Voices Prophesying War (Oxford UP, 1966).

Among many pleasant consequences of that publication was the happy occasion of becoming acquainted with Dale Mullen. He wrote to me then, and subsequently, mostly about Wells; we continued corresponding until last year, when I told him of my plans for a series of anthologies now inching forward towards completion. These will be the six volumes of British Future Fiction, 1700-1914—a succession of utopias, dystopias, and future wars. The last volume will present a selection of "end of the world" stories, with the closing entry by R.H. Benson: in Lord of the World (1907), the last words uttered on planet Earth come from the last Pope, who is also the last Englishman.

As I had learned from Tom Clareson, I learned from Dale. He taught me to see the trees in the wood. I was all for the general view, the field, the movement: Dale caused me to look more carefully at particular moments in the evolution of the future-war story, the future utopia. I have many happy memories of Dale Mullen and Tom Clareson: their energy, their dedication, and all they did to launch the SFRA. I shall remember in particular their gift to science fiction research: years and years of work in promoting and guiding Extrapolation and Science Fiction Studies.

Those journals are their memorials. They provided opportunities for all interested in sf to add their contributions to an ever-widening field of study. Looking back to my own starting point as a scholar of science fiction in 1950 is like seeing the head-waters of the Columbia River, from modest beginnings in British Columbia, become the mighty torrent that joins the Pacific off Astoria. A great distance has been traversed—almost half a century of constant growth and great changes. Here’s to you, Dale Mullen, a fine scholar who had a vision of the future and saw it realized.—I.F. Clarke

 

Wells Society Honors RDM. In September, the H.G. Wells Society held a weekend conference to celebrate the centenary of the publication of War of the Worlds. During a plenary session, all present asked that a message of condolence be sent to Science Fiction Studies in commemoration of Dale Mullen. Chairman Sylvia Hardy and Secretary John Hammond asked me to pass on to you the following message from the conference: "We, the members of the H.G. Wells Society and all assembled here today at the Centenary Conference send our sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of Dale Mullen and to his colleagues in the editorial board of Science Fiction Studies. We record with gratitude our debt to him for the enterprise and energy he displayed in founding Science Fiction Studies and for directing it so ably that it has become a major journal and source of reference for all interested in science fiction. 19 September 1998."—I.F. Clarke

 

ISU Tribute. Dale Mullen’s memory also was honored by a resolution passed in September 1998 by the Faculty Senate of Indiana State University: "Richard Dale Mullen accepted an appointment to the Department of English at Indiana State University in 1956, the year he received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. In 1968 he was promoted to the rank of Professor of English and in 1981 he retired as Professor Emeritus. During his tenure at ISU he served on his department’s graduate, undergraduate curriculum, publications, and personnel committees, and in the Fall of 1979 served as its Acting Chairperson. He chaired the College’s Curriculum and Academic Affairs committees and the ISU Chapter of the AAUP. He was an active member of MLA and SFRA, served on the Board of Editors of Extrapolation, and was a regular contributor to The Riverside Quarterly. A central focus of Dale’s academic interests was furthering the cause of science fiction as a genre of English and American literature worthy of formal scholarly analysis and inclusion in the undergraduate curriculum. In 1969 ISU granted his petition that Science Fiction be adopted as an undergraduate course offering. In 1972 he founded the journal Science Fiction Studies, which he published and co-edited until 1978 and again from 1991-1997. The journal distinguished Dale, his department, and the University. Often assumed at first impression to be a gruff, direct person, Dale was at heart a most considerate and solicitous colleague and friend. He lived his working and personal lives true to a quotation of Jonathan Swift, whose works he taught devotedly: "I hate nobody; I am in charity with the world." Therefore be it resolved that the Indiana State University Faculty Senate by this resolution expresses to his family its condolences and that it further be resolved that it expresses its gratitude and appreciation for the services he afforded the University. Be it further resolved that this resolution be placed in the minutes of the Faculty Senate of Indiana State University and a copy be duly executed and transmitted."—John Christie, English, ISU

 

Ethnic Sf: New Futures for Speculative Fiction. The Brazilian Science Fiction Book Club this year issued its Mostra de Ficção Científica in conjunction with two panels held at a college in Sao Paulo—a rare attempt to bring together the sf and academic communities in Brazil. The first panel addressed sf and the literary canon; the second was concerned with the "Magic World of the Brazilian Indian" and constituted the first discussion ever conducted in which Native Brazilian authors could share their ideas and publicize their writing. Among the writers present were Daniel Munduruku, Olivio Popygua, and Kaka Wera Jecupe; the panel’s moderator was Prof. Lynn Mario Trindade Menezes de Souza, a specialist in post-colonial literatures. Another participant in the panel was Orlando Villas-Boas, a famous sertanista—onewho knows the jungle ways and who has met a number of isolated or previously uncontacted tribes. The Natives’ affinity with fantastic literature was seen as a function of their perception of reality as shifting and multi-layered—as admitting and allowing for the supernatural. Such gatherings are harbingers of a new day for speculative fiction in Brazil. As I said in a recent letter to The New York Review of Science Fiction, from my point of view the future of the field lies in non-Anglophone sf that is trying in many places around the world to create new ways to translate multicultural reality. Multicultural means "from many cultures," and we are going to see the emergence of sf from many countries. Science fiction, as it faces the millennium, is far from being a dead literature.—Roberto de Sousa Causo (Rede Global Paraliteraria)

 

Wyndham Exhibition. The Return of the Triffids, a display from the John Wyndham archive (15 January-26 February 1999) marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris (better known as John Wyndham), author of The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos. The estate collection of manuscripts and papers was recently acquired by the University of Liverpool with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This important acquisition has further enriched the international standing of the Science Fiction Foundation Collection and other sf archives deposited in the Special Collections and Archives Department of the Sydney Jones Library. The exhibit emphasized biographical details, illuminating the development of the author and his work. There was also a display of supporting material from the Science Fiction Foundation Collection. For further information, write to Andy Sawyer, Librarian Administrator, Science Fiction Foundation Collection, Uni-versity of Liverpool Library, P.O. Box 123, Liverpool L69 3DA, UK. Web address: <http://www.liv.ac.uk/~asawyer/sffchome.html>.—Andy Sawyer

 

New Format for a Long-Running Magazine. Quarber Merkur, a critical magazine devoted to sf and fantasy that was founded in 1963, has shape-shifted from its original mimeographed format into a printed magazine complete with illustrations. It is still edited by Franz Rottensteiner, but is now published by the Erster Deutscher Fantasy Club E.V., P.O. Box 1371, D-94003 Passau, Germany. E-mail address: <edfc@passau.baynet.de>. Issues in the new format range between 160 to 190 pages; the publication schedule is irregular, but two issues usually appear each year. Single issues are now DM 15.00; a subscription (three issues) costs DM 40.00. Three issues in the new glossy format have been published; they included essays on Paul Scheerbart, the campus sf novel, Gustav Meyrink, Chinese fantasy, sources for Dracula, illustrators of Münchhausen, Joe R. Landsdale’s splatterpunk, gothic novels, and socialist realism in Stanislaw Lem.—Franz Rottensteiner

 

Lazarus Long Sighting. The science-fictionalization of real life continues, as may be seen in a recent National Enquirer article, "He’s So Sick of Red Tape and Taxes, He’s Building His Own Country!" The article touts New Utopia, a tax-free principality devised and zealously promoted by one Lazarus Long, identified by the Enquirer as an Oklahoma tycoon, not as Robert Heinlein’s immortal (at any rate recurrent) fictional character. Even beyond the grave, the "can-do" fables of the Puppet Master evidently continue to pull strings. New Utopia will not be egalitarian—it is proposed as a constitutional monarchy—nor is it envisioned as an ecotopia: Long’s proposal is to float his anything-goes tax haven above a coral reef, on concrete pillars driven deep into the sea bed. —CM

 

French, Francophone Sf. Web addresses of the major French sf servers are <http://sf.emse.fr/> and <http://www.integra.fr/XLII/SF42.html>. A list of magazines, fanzines, and prozines publishing sf stories in French may be found at <www.pratique.fr/~jpqueill/guide.html>. The address of the French sf discussion group is: <sffranco@physics.utoronto.ca>: many French-Canadian sf authors subscribe. A major anthology of science fiction in French (about 220,000 words—16 stories or novellas) was published early this year by Editions Fleuve Noir. The writers are among the best and some of the stories are excellent. But even that anthologist—Serge Lehman, one of our finest writers—is too concerned with pointing out links between the francophone writers and equivalent US authors: his comparisons seem forced and artificial. French sf has its own favorite themes, its idiosyncrasies, its way of telling a story. My colleagues and I save rejection letters from anglophone magazines that translate as "interesting but a little too weird/different/special."—J.C. Dunyach, Rede Global Paraliteraria

 

And a French Review. Le Visage Vert: Revue de Littérature published its fifth issue in October. The field is fantasy; the most recent issue ranges between an original, well-informed study of LeFanu by Gaïd Girard to Michel Meurger’s "Wells et les Tripodes," which traces the theme of extraterrestrial invasion back to the lunar invasion in Washington Irving’s History of New York (see Meurger’s article in Stéphane Nicot, ed., Les Univers de la Science-Fiction briefly reviewed earlier in this issue—Ed.): eight illustrations support Meurger’s remarks on Alvim-Correa and other illustrators. The next issue is scheduled for February 1999 and will contain studies of Ambrose Bierce, M. P. Shiel, Algernon Blackwood, Michel Meurger on "The Origins of Fantastic Literature," and other topics. Well-researched contributions, good bibliographies, and excellent book reviews.—I.F. Clarke

 

Attention: Contributors to SFS Vols. 3-17. I have four boxes of offprints of the issues specified above (1976-90). If you your article or review-article appeared in any of these issues and you have any use for additional offprints, I am willing to send them to you in return for reimbursement (or, preferably, "preimbursement") of the postal costs. Those interested should contract Robert Philmus, Concordia Univ., 7141 Sherbrooke St. W., Montréal, Canada, H4B 1R6, fax (514) 848-2831. If you wish, you may estimate the appropriate remittance yourself on the basis of US postal rates for 15 offprints (the number we have on average). Your remittance can take the form of whatever postage stamps are available at your local P.O. or a check or money order in US$ payable to SFS or in Can.$ payable to RMP. (International Reply Coupons are a ripoff; one for 80¢ US, say, though currently worth Can.$1.20+, is redeemable for only Can. 90¢ in postage.)—RMP

 

Where’s the Hyphen? Our readers will undoubtedly notice that, for the sake of simplicity and readability, we have removed the hyphen from the title of Science Fiction Studies. We have made this change for other reasons as well: to make our full title consistent with our preferred acronym (SFS), to lessen its resemblance to the popular but odious term "sci-fi," and to improve its overall chiastic elegance. When used as an adjective in the text, we will continue to use the abbreviation "sf" (e.g., "an sf film") unless the contributing author objects to this usage.—Eds.

 

Errata. We apologize for two proofreading errors in Neil Badmington’s review of The Cyborg Handbook (SFS 25.3: 539-543). On page 542, the date of The Terminator should be 1984; also on p. 542, the word "interpolated" should be "interpellated," as in Louis Althusser’s critical terminology.—Eds.

 


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