Science Fiction Studies

# 15 = Volume 5, Part 2 = July 1978


Genrikh Al'tov

Levels of Narrative Ideas: Colors on the SF Palette

Abstract.--In the evolution of any SF theme ("cosmic voyages," "contact with extraterrestrial civilizations," etc.), there are four distinct categories of SF ideas: 1. ideas based on a single object, with a certain fantastic result; 2. ideas based on several objects, which add up to a rather different fantastic result; 3. ideas leading to similar results, but obtained without an object; and 4. ideas based on a set of conditions that do not require these results. Any SF theme can be developed through these four levels of ideas. The higher levels are not "superior" to the lower: at issue is the underlying logic governing the development of ideas, and the literary potential of the idea does not depend on the level on which it is found. Stories by Ivan Efremov, H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Stanislaw Lem, Georgii Gurevich, Clifford Simak, Robert Sheckley, and others are used to illustrate this theory; the author's own story "The Port of Stone-Storms" is considered as an example of type 3.

Pamela J. Annas

New Worlds, New Words: Androgyny in Feminist Science Fiction

Abstract.--Feminist SF writers of the 1960s and 1970s share a surprising number of revolutionary assumptions: a politics of anarchism, a metaphysics of the organic, and a psychological and social vision of unity, wholeness, balance, and cooperation. The concept of androgyny often serves as a way of bringing all these assumptions together. In a society that defines people by sex, sex is a social and political issue, and as a utopian possibility transcending sexual dualism, androgyny is a political response. Following a survey of why male-dominated popular science fiction has failed to live up to its revolutionary promise, this essay surveys science fiction that incorporates references to androgyny: The Left Hand of Darkness and other novels by Ursula K. LeGuin, Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. Feminist writers of SF have created utopian visions that have emerged expressly from their own perspective as women artists, and that have begun to coalesce into a literary and political tradition of their own. 

[A response by Karen Mitchell appears in SFS 18 (July 1979).]

William Sims Bainbridge and Murray Dalziel

The Shape of Science Fiction as Perceived by the Fans

Abstract.--This article presents the chief results of a quantitative analysis of the relationships perceived by readers among twenty-seven authors and several types of literature. The research instrument was a questionnaire completed by 130 editors of American fanzines and their associates. So that our statistical findings will be intelligible, we have presented them in four charts that taken together define the shape of science fiction. We verify the suspicions of other critics that the field can be divided into three main realms: Hard-Science SF, New-Wave SF, and a cluster of types of Fantasy


Albert I. Berger

Science-Fiction Critiques of the American Space Program, 1945-1958

Abstract.--Popular science fiction from the end of World War II to the end of the International Geophysical Year (1957) displays a variety of viewpoints on the probability and practicality of rocket travel to other planets, often pondering the relationship between space technologies, militarism, and nationalism. In his earliest stories, John W. Campbell had publicized the rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard of Clark University; Astounding had also published Willy Ley after his departure from Nazi Germany in 1934. Early stories sold to Astounding by Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein also suggest Campbell's aggressive promotion of space technologies and his optimism about the eventual advent of rocket travel. In Prelude to Space, Arthur C. Clarke was equally optimistic about the eventual reliability of rockets but distrustful of the top-secret nature of rocket research: Clarke argued for a free exchange of information and an international, multicultural outer space. Cyril Kornbluth's first solo novel, Takeoff, shares Clarke's distrust of government monopoly of space technology but rejects his internationalism: in his novel, a privately conducted moon-launch bypasses bureaucracy and ensures US military control of the moon. Finally, James Blish, in They Shall Have Stars, draws on Spengler's Decline of the West to depict a dystopian US ruled by the hereditary director of the FBI: Blish's renegade scientist Wagoner sells his experimental space technology, a "bridge" to Jupiter, to a credulous populace as a military weapon: he pioneers interstellar travel but is executed for treason. Blish was able to transcend the Cold War and realize how closely the American security system resembled its own picture of a Soviet dictatorship.

Elizabeth Cummins Cogell

The Middle-Landscape Myth in Science Fiction

Abstract.--An apocalyptic novel, according to John R. May's Toward a New Earth (1972), must contain catastrophe and judgment; it may also dramatize renewal. The issue of change, although not necessarily apocalyptic, has always been associated with the literary middle landscape. Tracing its origin back to the pastoral, Leo Marx asserts that the "vital element" in the middle landscape is "the ordering of meaning and value around the contrast between two styles of life, one identified with a rural and the other with an urban setting." The middle landscape, Marx argues, has lost its significance in our contemporary culture of concrete, glass, steel, and machinery. But what if the advanced technology, the machine, ceases to exist? What if apocalypse shatters the pattern of technological progress? Neither May nor Marx consider science fiction in their studies of apocalypse and the literary middle-landscape myth, although the genre abounds with examples of both. The novels in this study illustrate three varieties of apocalypse described by May: the primitive, represented by George Stewart's Earth Abides, the Judeo-Christian, represented by Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins, and the secular, represented by Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. Percy's novel is especially significant, for it critiques the false middle landscape and depicts the physical, ethical, and psychological meaning of this myth.

Wojciech Jamroziak

The Historical SF of Teodor Parnicki

Abstract.--The Polish novelist Teodore Parnicki has for some time been publishing novels best defined as historical SF. These include Kill Cleopatra (1968), Cleopatra's Other Life (1969), The Muse of Distant Journeys (1970), Transformation (1973), We Became Like Unto Two Dreams (1973), and, most recently, I Shall Leave Defenseless (1977). The premise of this last novel is that the Emperor Julian did not die during his Persian campaign in 363; the novel is a game, a cognitive experiment that undermines historical "fact" by denying it and constructing an alternative story. Polish literary critics have shown little comprehension of Parnicki's importance, claiming his works for the literature of the absurd, a classification that the author himself opposes. In this short overview, I argue that Parnicki's novels belong to the genre of SF, that they have a significant inner consistency and logic that should eventually earn this author a rightful recognition, and that the idea of "historical SF" should be introduced into the theory and study of science fiction.

Rafail Nudelman

Conversation in a Railway Compartment

Abstract.--In a freeform imaginary dialogue, the author and his robot double Anti-I debate the role of science in science fiction, touching also upon the genre's modes of artistry, its significance in contemporary life. What is science to science fiction? Is it important in the work of such major writers as Bradbury or Lem? Perhaps an adequate definition of SF would insist only that the genre always portray the conflict created by humanity's encounters with the unknown. The purpose of science fiction is to give mankind another view of itself, a view from the side. Science contains within itself the latent possibility of such a view, and SF realizes this. What is revealed in SF's staged collisions between humanity and the Other depends on each author, however, for the potential impact of science and technology is always double-edged. The writers discussed range from Wells, Bradbury, Asimov, and Swift to Lem, the Strugatskys, Efremov, Belyaev, Alexei Tolstoy, Čapek, and Granin.

Victor Urbanowicz

Personal and Political in Le Guin's The Dispossessed

Abstract.--Ursula K. LeGuin has said that anarchism "is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories." The Dispossessed reveals its author's broad and sympathetic understanding of anarchist theory, particularly the writings of Herbert Read (1893-1968) and Paul Goodman (1911-1972), both of whom emphasized that the personal and political growth of the individual are intertwined. In 170 years of existence, the moon-based anarchist colony Anarres in the novel has lapsed in some ways from its founder Odo's ideals. Prolonged isolation has made Anarres xenophobic toward the home-planet Urras, contradicting anarchism's vision of solidarity across political boundaries. LeGuin, however, is not to be read as criticizing anarchist theory but rather as portraying its strengths. Her protagonist Shevek, aided as well as hindered by his libertarian upbringing, becomes aware of his society's defects and moves effectively to repair them. His political development as a constructive rebel against conservative forces in Anarresti society is (as in anarchist theory) organically linked to his development as a physicist and as a human being. In a libertarian communist society, Le Guin suggests, the spirit of freedom can easily lapse into one of conformity. When this happens, the first to suffer are likely to be those creative individuals (such as the physicist Shevek) whose work must be solitary. But it is to his society's credit that rebels still grow up in it and that rebellion is not very difficult. LeGuin has blended the utopian with the realistic in her portrayal of Anarres' libertarian communist society.

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