Science Fiction Studies

#38 = Volume 13, Part 1 = March 1986


Marleen Barr

"The Females do the Fathering!": James Tiptree's Male Matriarchs and Adult Human Gametes

Abstract.--Tiptree's first novel, Up the Walls of the World (1978), and two of her short stories, "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death" (1973) and "A Momentary Taste of Being" (1975), can be taken as representative of the particular feminist point of view of her fiction generally and of her manner of dramatizing it in terms of communal mergers and biological alterations. What especially merits attention in these regards are the adult human gametes and male matriarchs who figure in her stories as the outcome of fantastic anatomical changes. Considering these matters also provides an occasion for demonstrating how feminist SF can be illuminated by feminist criticism--in this case, through the encounter between Tiptree and Judith Fetterly. By reversing sex roles (in having "females do the Fathering," for example) while insisting that equality between men and women is impossible, Tiptree's fantastic worlds serve to clarify relationships between genders in the real world.

Nachman Ben-Yehuda

Sociological Reflections on the History of Science Fiction in Israel

Abstract.--The history of SF in Israel has been marked by "booms" (one in the late '50s and early '60s; another in 1978-81) followed by sharp declines. The how's and why's of the matter make for an interesting sociological puzzle. It might be supposed that the fortunes of SF in Israel correlate with periods of military adventurism or economic prosperity; but the first of these possibilities proves to be untenable, while the second is only a part-truth. Furthermore, neither of those hypotheses takes cognizance of the fact that the second, and much more pronounced, of Israel's two SF "booms" was accompanied by widespread organized fan activity--a fact which in turn suggests that beyond economics, socio-cultural factors have had a significant role on the Israeli SF scene. Here our inquiry reveals that SF and fandom, as they together comprise a subculture, are the twin products of a quest prompted by the disintegration of the Judeo-Christian world-view, by the secularization of that (Western) outlook (predicted by Weber). So regarded, SF is one among many subcultures which have arisen out of the search for a "privatized" belief-system by which the self might "recentralize" the--i.e., its "personal"--world.

Israel represents a confirmatory instance of that sociological hypothesis. By reason of its ethos and mythos, the country is resistant to the pluralizing tendency that subcultures as neo-religious phenomena necessarily carry with them, and hence SF has largely come there from abroad. This, however, has happened only when economic conditions have, rather indirectly, created a climate hospitable to its importation. Israel, then, represents a case which is instructive in its very peculiarity (if not uniqueness): by focusing on it, we can begin to understand the socio-cultural conditions favorable to SF at large.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

Towards the Last Fairy Tale: On the Fairy-Tale Paradigm in the Strugatskys' Science Fiction, 1963-72

Abstract--The Strugatsky brothers have modeled much of their SF on the fairy-tale paradigm, and the phases of their career are clearly articulated by the ways they adapt and deform their model. In their early works, culminating in Far Rainbow (1963), they adapt the socialist realist production novel's version of the paradigm to the technocratic utopianism of the scientific intelligentsia during the period of de-Stalinization. By "humanizing" the production novel and replacing class struggle with the adventure of space travel, they express the elation of the Soviet scientific establishment at the success of the space program. After 1964, with Hard to be a God, they write more problematic deformations of the fairy-tale paradigm, centering on the possibility that humanity may lack the utopian desire required by the fairy tale's cosmos. In the Strugatskys' fiction of the '60s, the paradigmatic elements of the fairy tale are increasingly inverted, and the happy end seems to recede further and further from humanity. In The Snail on the Slope (1966-68) and The Ugly Swans (1967), the happy ending specifically excludes humanity. The process of inversion culminates in the Strugatskys' dark masterpiece, Roadside Picnic (1972). The novella is more than a parodic fairy tale; it is an ambivalent or "meta" fairy tale. Red Schuhart's quest for the Golden Ball leads him through a completely alienated world, ultimately to make the desperate utopian wish-prayer that is the source of human ethical value. Although the tale is suspended at the moment of Red's world-redeeming wish, the happy ending persists as a trace and a possibility in that very wish.

Stephen M. Fjellman

Prescience and Power: God Emperor of Dune and the Intellectuals

Abstract.--Frank Herbert's God Emperor of Dune functions as a myth for Western intellectuals in assisting them to understand, both cognitively and emotionally, contradictions brought about by the disjunction between knowledge and power. Leto II enjoys both. Yet even with nearly absolute power and the ability to foresee the future, Leto's actions lead to unintended consequences. Through an understanding of Leto's use of the double-bind, Herbert leads the reader to a cognitive reprise of the risks of power. Reminiscent of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor and Orwell's O'Brien, Leto's explanation of the motives behind his actions and of his loneliness form a kind of seduction that touches the reader's emotions. Herbert's novel addresses hubris and helps make the intellectual's frustration bearable.

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