Science Fiction Studies

#34 = Volume 11, Part 3 = November 1984


Paul Brians

Nuclear War in Science Fiction, 1945-59

Abstract.--With few exceptions, early SF depictions of nuclear war were neither scientifically accurate nor literarily sophisticated. Expressing wild optimism, minimizing the probable consequences of a nuclear war, or exaggerating them to produce traditional apocalyptic effects were all common. Despite the fact that SF prided itself on its scientific orientation and its prediction of atomic warfare, it was principally mainstream writers who produced the best fiction on the subject during the 1940s and '50s. The success of several books and movies during the late '50s and early '60s, combined with the growing sophistication of literary technique within SF, changed this situation markedly.

Alan C. Elms

The Creation of Cordwainer Smith

Abstract.--A work of creative fantasy may be used defensively by the artist to control unacceptable impulses and unresolved intra-psychic conflicts, or it may function restitutively as the artist overcomes and moves beyond such conflicts. Paul M.A. Linebarger's fiction appears to have served the latter kind of function for him, assisted by psychotherapeutic treatment. Evidence for Linebarger's psychological development is examined in his life history, in his mainstream novels, and in several of the most important SF works he wrote under the pseudonym of Cordwainer Smith: "Scanners Live in Vain, " "The Game of Rat and Dragon, " and Norstrilia.

David Ketterer

James Blish's Welcome to Mars and the Haertel Complex

Abstract.--An analysis of Welcome to Mars (1966), which features one of Blish's master scientists, Adolph Haertel, as a boy, leads into a consideration of the cross-references in, and relationships between, those Blish stories which might collectively be designated the "Haertel Complex." Although for many years unaware of the Complex's symmetrical structure (rooted in Welcome to Mars) until an English correspondent, Paul Shackley, pointed it out to him in the early 1970s, Blish expanded "Beep " (1954) into The Quincunx of Time (1973) with that structure very much in mind.

Stanislaw Lem

Remarks Occasioned by Antoni Slonimski's The Torpedo of Time

Abstract.--A true "biography" of SF would read like the story of a fallen woman-- say, Dostoyevsky's Sonia. Born of learned and imaginative parents, the genre came into the world possessed of noble intelligence and wit. But it also had a fatal flaw: it was too attractive for its own good. It was its entertainment value which, in the context of the economic pressures and blandishments of modern book-marketing, led it into prostitution, demeaning to its rational inheritance and also to its genetic integrity (in all senses of the word).

Antoni Slonimski's The Torpedo of Time (1924) stands as a poignant reminder of SF's now-lost innocence. It exemplifies what SF used to be--and points to what it might have become had it not yielded to the seductions of the marketplace. What Slonimski's book offers is not a slick idea more or less loosely attached to an otherwise sensational (if not prurient) tale, but a thought profoundly embedded in the very substance of the fiction--a thought about the nature of history, about the futility of human historical ambition.

The Torpedo of Time is not a polished work by present-day standards. Yet even in the naively of Slonimski's literary technique there is something appealingly innocent. All in all, this book of his puts to shame most of the "sophisticated " stuff that nowadays walks the streets as SF.

Patrick A. McCarthy

Last and First Men as Miltonic Epic

Abstract.--Certain parallels between Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men and Milton's Paradise Lost suggest that Stapledon intended his novel to be read in the tradition of the Miltonic epic. Like Milton, Stapledon employs a muse (one of the Last Men) to lend irrefutable authority to the inspired vision of the narrative. Stapledon also resembles Milton in his achievement of a cosmic perspective, in his use of the metaphors of flight and music, in his emphasis on the education or awakening of the reader, and in his adaptation of biblical materials. Avoiding the emphasis on war found in the Homeric and Virgilian epic, Milton and Stalpedon both discover a higher subject in the struggle of the human spirit toward the fulfillment of its great potential.


Simonetta Salvestroni

The Ambiguous Miracle In Three Novels by the Strugatsky Brothers

Abstract.--Largely and undeservedly ignored in the West, the SF of the Strugatsky brothers deals admirably with the theme of "otherness " as a potentially positive force in human affairs. The "other" serves--miraculously--in such works as Hard to be a God (1963), The Ugly Swans (1967; pub. 1972), and Roadside Picnic (1972) for exploring the problematics of human self-determination.

Those problematics in God emerge out of the confrontation between two beings who are, by origin, literally worlds apart: the denizens of the medieval land of Arkanar and visitors from Earth of the future, from a vaguely utopian USSR. The spatio-temporal organization of the book makes the point of view of Anton (who during his stay in Arkanar goes under the name of Don Rumata) privileged. Coming from an advanced world, he should have a rational explanation for what he witnesses during his sojourn. Yet while relatively godlike in respect to his understanding of what is happening in Arkanar, Anton (as his exchanges with Budach and Arata make clear) is frustratedly powerless to control the course of history.

The place in God which could be the source of a miraculous transformation is Arkanar's Hiccup Forest. The Strugatskys, however, do not in this early work of theirs exploit its possibilities. The same cannot be said of the leprosarium in Swans or the Zone in Picnic. Both are the locus of an ambiguous miracle which might alter the world in the direction of human freedom and happiness. Both, that is, may offer a way out of a conflict-ridden world which in Picnic and in Swans is otherwise as suffocating to human aspirations as Arkanar is.

Whether or not there is a way out is a question which the Strugatskys leave tantalizingly open. In the process, however, they put our existence under a magnifying glass, estranging the familiar so as to enable us to discern what we had not hitherto seen.

Heinz Tschachler

Despotic Reason in Arcadia? Ernest Callenbach's Ecological Utopias

Abstract.--The return of utopian thought and writing during and after the radical questioning of the '60s is one of the most notable phenomena in contemporary American culture. Utopianism from these years puts the dystopian situation into a causal relationship with humanity's responsibilities. In the utopian fictions of Ernest Callenbach, environmental dangers are used as levels to promote social change. What he suggests, though, is not always very original. Rather, it follows the American propensity towards looking backward into the future. If, in Ecotopia, technological progress is carried to its extreme, social relations follow modes attributed to pre-patriarchal "organic " societies. The absolute priority of the community over the individual suggests an ideology of humanistic collectivism found in "gemeinschaft"-type social orders. The ensuing dilemma of happiness and freedom is made worse by Callenbach 's belief that the solution to environmental problems can be found only in the total social control of the "metabolism " between humanity and nature. Even so, the "stable state system" emerging is not a dystopia governed by despotic reason--there are simply too many inconsistencies in the utopian novum, which, in turn, reflects the syncretism of the counter-culture as well as the lack of consensus in society at large as to the values it wishes to prevail.

The at times conservative ideology governing the utopian novum has its equivalent in form. Callenbach, in Ecotopia, follows the model of classical utopias. Thus the utopian locus is described as an isolated and static entity, which is then identified with the utopian horizon. There is, however, a dynamic element in Ecotopia Emerging, where the emphasis is upon how an ecologically sensible society might come about. Hence, there is a multiplication of plot lines, symbolizing the unpredictability of the historical process.

What Callenbach suggests is that Ecotopia comes about through a process of self-organization, which is paralleled in disequilibrium physics by the concept of "dissipative structures." This adds a counter-entropic, hence affirmative, element to the historical process: amid the decline and (self-)destruction of the US there is new life. Thus the utopian locus can be presented to the reader with a view of obtaining his or her assent. The reader is then to be persuaded that Ecotopia can be built. In the allegorical tradition of Bunyan, the lines are clearly drawn between the path of the "virtuous " (determined by values traditionally attributed to women) and the path of the "wicked" (inevitably that of maleness--i.e., the aggressive regimentation by instrumental reason of others and nature.)

Ultimately, the identification of the utopian locus with the utopian horizon precludes possibilities beyond the locus described. In particular, Callenbach's messianic intensity, adding a millenarian flavor to the novel, and his excessive exaltation of woman preclude the reader's participating in the reconstruction of the utopian paradigm. They also may preclude what Ursula Le Guin has defined as the optimal case for utopian fiction: of permitting process to determine form.

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