Science Fiction Studies

#20 = Volume 7, Part 1 = March 1980




Beatrice C. Fink

Narrative Techniques and Utopian Structures in Sade's Aline et Valcour

Abstract.--Traditional taboo and inaccessibility of the text have conspired to turn the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) and his works into legend. Justine (1791), La philosophic dans le boudoir (Philosophy in the Drawing Room, 1795) and Juliette (1797) have a longstanding reputation of being diabolical works, and were until recently relegated to the infernal regions of libraries. Today's critics, aided in their efforts by the painstaking biographical and manuscript research of Lély and guided by incisive analyses such as those of Blanchot and Barthes, has the task of separating legend from fact, and concentrating on the signs and structures inherent in the Sadian text. This endeavor is particularly compelling in the case of a lesser-known text such as Aline et Valcour (1795; IV: xxvii-373 and V: I-433). Sade's "philosophical novel" (its subtitle) is distinguishable within his fictional world on two counts. It is his only epistolary novel, one in which first, second, and third-person narrations coexist. It is also the only fictional work of the Marquis to propose a social alternative based on the notion of perfectibility rather than on a fantasmagoric projection of transgression. It does so in the form of the island-country Tamoé, a utopian construct responding to a Morean model: its code of ethics retains a conventional flavor, with virtue being its own reward. One of utopia's less explored functions may thus be that of structural signifier in the dialectical movement of the text. In the case of Aline et Valcour, this particular function reaches a peak. Within its category of inserted structures, Tamoé alone is fully developed along utopian lines, and the text it relates to is more diversified in its narrative techniques. Sade may be diabolical, but he is also devilishly adroit.

Robert Galbreath

Holism, Openness, and the Other: Le Guin's Use of the Occult

Abstract.-- The occult or the psychic may serve more significant aesthetic and integrative functions in Ursula Le Guin's work than commonly recognized. This supposition is borne out, I believe, by textual and conceptual analysis. This essay first compares Le Guin's professed but divided attitudes toward the occult to the cognitive levels and holistic implications of the occult as concept and as historical practice. Then it discusses textual examples of the occult as it is integrated by Le Guin into the characters, contexts, themes, and images of pivotal episodes in The Left Hand of Darkness and the short works "Vaster Than Empires, and More Slow" and "The New Atlantis." It then concludes with a more general analysis, drawing also on occasional examples from A Wizard of Earthsea, The Farthest Shore, and The Lathe of Heaven of the ironic and paradoxical uses to which Le Guin puts the occult, emphasizing in particular the interplay between "open" and "hidden" or "closed." Far from being evidence of authorial or generic immaturity (as is so often charged of the occult in SF), the occult is transformed by Le Guin into a remarkably supple expression, at once literal, metaphorical, and ironic, of her distinctive values of complex holism.

[A response by Charles Elkins, and Robert Galbreath's reply, appear in SFS 21 (July 1980).]

Susan Gubar

C.L. Moore and the Conventions of Women's Science Fiction

Abstract.--The short stories of C.L. Moore have contributed to the development of feminist SF. C.L. Moore identifies the female writer with the "other"--the mutant, the monster, the alien. This is especially visible in her description of "Shambleau." Moore also makes use of myth as a tool for analyzing the two cultures of the masculine and feminine; this can be seen in several works where her characterization of women evokes the myths of Lilith, the Siren, the Living Doll, or the Amazon, etc. In her call for more reflection on the origins of patriarchal society, Moore is an important precursor to the more contemporary feminist SF writers of today.

[Responses by Joanna Russ and Linda Leith appear in SFS 21 (July 1980).]

Nadia Khouri

The Dialectics of Power: Utopia in the Science Fiction of Le Guin, Jeury, and Piercy

Abstract.-- Utopian science fiction is discussed in this essay as an accumulative process of action and reaction within a dynamic of power relationships and tending to overcome historical contradictions. Three novels are examined: Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, Michael Jeury's Le Temps incertain, and Marge Piercy's The Woman on the Edge of Time. All three novels can be compared in how they dramatize the relationships between power and the utopian possibility. The Dispossessed and Le Temps incertain share an important common denominator: not, as has been argued, an authentic utopian dimension, but only a utopian desire which is incapable of actualizing itself as such. This paradox seems to be determined by a conceptual impotence regarding any utopian transcendence, correlative for Le Guin to a fixation on power structures, and for Jeury to their fetishization. The non-dialectical recognition of power in The Dispossessed and in Le Temps incertain corresponds to the authors' entanglements with historical contradictions which obstruct the utopian dynamic and incarnate utopia under regressive forms. In contrast, the authentically utopian and critical SF of Marge Piercy in Woman on the Edge of Time focuses on existing tyrannical power relations and depicts their inevitable dissolution and negation as a condition for utopia. The utopian potential registered in an SF text is not an epiphenomenal escape of consciousness outside of history, not a mere futuristic projection, but a material force inscribed in the here and now of history, notwithstanding its perplexities and frustrations.

Linda Leith

Marion Zimmer Bradley and Darkover

Abstract.--The basic opposition between Terran and Darkovan civilizations in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover fictions is the key to understanding her own evolving feminism and the place of her works in modern feminist SF. Bradley's concern with contraries, and her interest in bringing contraries together, may be fruitfully viewed as a transposition both of what has remained constant in the experience of an unusually capable and intelligent woman in American society and of what has changed in the 18 years since she published the first novels in what was to become the Darkover series.

Jean Pfaelzer

Parody and Satire in American Dystopian Fiction of the Nineteenth Century

Abstract.--Approximately 20 popular dystopias appeared in the US in the last two decades of the 19th century. Most were written in response to Bellamy's Looking Backward and were highly anti-socialist and reactionary in their ideological orientation. This essay will analyze three examples which demonstrate how dystopias function both satirically and parodically, projecting reality into a metaphoric elsewhere while internally referring to and commenting on the original analogy: Anna Bowman Dodd's The Republic of the Future: or, Socialism a Reality; Arthur Dudley Vinton's Looking Further Forward; and Charles Elliot Niswonger's The Isle of Feminine.

Joanna Russ

Amor Vincit Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction

Abstract.--One of the recurrent forms taken by sexism in American science fiction is a particular kind of "war of the sexes" narrative: the story of a bad and unnatural society where women dominate men. In the SF works discussed in this article, a handful of "normal" men manage to overthrow this social order, or one of them succeeds in conquering an exemplary woman of this society--not via military or intellectual superiority, but simply via the power of their phallus. The remarkable ease with which these women surrender to male domination raises questions about the origins of these female societies, questions which are conveniently left totally unelucidated. Political issues are thus avoided; it is the mysterious power of male biology itself which is portrayed as ultimately irresistable in these "Flasher" texts. This article then examines a number of more modern feminist utopias which, in stark contrast to the earlier works, are found to be much more explicit about economics and politics, sexually permissive, emphatic about the necessity for female bonding, concerned with children, non-urban, classless, communal, and serious about the emotional and physical consequences of violence. The Flasher books perceive conflict between the sexes as a private affair and opt for a magical solution via a mystified biology. The feminist utopias see such conflict as a public, class conflict; and the solutions advocated are primarily economic, social, and political in nature.

David N. Samuelson

Critical Mass: The Science Fiction of Frederik Pohl

Abstract.--The long and diverse career of Frederik Pohl in the field of science fiction is particularly representative of the genre's development within the community of readers of SFmagazines. A professional SF writer--and thereby sensitive to the contraints of commercialism and productivity--Pohl produced a great number of interesting and significant SF works during the 1950s and early 1960s. Since the late 1960s, as these constraints began to ease somewhat, Pohl's oeuvre has becomes progressively more dense, complex, and emotionally powerful. This article examines Pohl's work in four stages: (1) the "consumer cycle" of the 1950s, (2) the four novels published under Pohl's name alone between 1956-1969,(3) the static sketches of the 1960s, and (4) the "mature" stories and novels of the 1970s.

moonbut.gif (4466 bytes) Back to Home