Science Fiction Studies

#41 = Volume 14, Part 1 = March 1987


Soren Baggesen

Utopian and Dystopian Pessimism: Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest and Tiptree's "We Who Stole the Dream"

Abstract.-- SF is basically a utopian mode of story-telling; but against a background of growing unease in Western culture generally about science and technology, it has taken the pronounced pessimistic turn evident in Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest and Tiptree's "We Who Stole the Dream. " Yet as these stand in relation to one another as statement and counter-statement, they together point up the need to distinguish different kinds of pessimism. One set of applicable terms is that in effect suggested by Ernst Bloch when he opposes an "already decided" to a "not yet decided" pessimism. The former, which might also be named dystopian pessimism, characterizes Tiptree's story as it contrasts with the "not yet decided," or utopian, pessimism of Le Guin's in respect to their representation of evil, figured in "The Dream" as a metaphysical necessity, but in The Word as a historical universal. This difference, in turn, clarifies the meaning of the Blochian terms which serve to identify it.

Fredric Jameson

Science Fiction as a Spatial Genre: Generic Discontinuities and the Problem of Figuration in Vonda Mclntyre's The Exile Waiting

Abstract.--The practice of "paraphrase" (largely stigmatized in high literary criticism) continues to have certain useful functions in the area of SF, by enabling systematic comparisons between its plots and those of other genres or media. Thus, certain affinities between Vonda Mclntyre's novel The Exile Waiting and the plots of daytime television (or the "soaps") seem evident. The experiment has negative value in the way in which it underscores the specificity and the structural significance of figuration in SF. An analysis of certain of these figures in the Mclntyre novel leads to the speculative conclusion that their element (and perhaps that of SF generally) is space; and that therefore SF is perhaps to be considered as a preeminently spatial genre, if not indeed the spatial genre par excellence.

Stanislaw Lem

On Stapledon's Star Maker

Abstract.--Stapledon's Star Maker is a monumental work of cosmogonic SF, at once defining the boundaries of SF and attempting a modern theodicy. It attempts to depict the "universal history of the cosmos" through the mental journey of the narrator, from the discovery of other life-forms in a panpsychozoic universe, all the way to a glimpse of the universe's creator, the Star Maker. Despite the unprecedented expansiveness of Stapledon's vision, the book is a great failure--for the author depicts a universe founded on an ambiguous ontology. Either the Star Maker created the universe freely, or it acted as a medium according to rules higher than Star Maker itself. In the former case, Star Maker's behavior toward its creatures reveals that it is governed by aesthetic-ludic criteria and not by an ethical interest in their happiness. In the latter case, it remains a mystery why the cosmos developed the way it did. Stapledon's theodicy breaks apart on a profound contradiction: that the glory of Star Maker's act of creation is somehow related to the willingness of its creatures to resign themselves to their own deaths, their inevitable destruction. Despite Stapledon's wish to create a fantastic explanatory myth, why the universe had to evolve in the Sisyphusian, indirect ways in Star Maker remains unexplained.

Florian F. Marzin

Science Fiction and Censorship in West Germany: A Literary Genre on the Index

Abstract.--Since February of 1982, the Bundesprufstelle, or BPS--a relic of Wilhelmian Germany--has once again become active. Mandated to "protect" German youth from bad moral influences, it seized upon Spinrad's The Iron Dream as one of the first literary victims to appear on its Index, and then on the same author's The Men in the Jungle. More ominous still has been the BPS's proscription of virtually the entire "Gor" series. The effect of all this has not simply been to make Spinrad and John Norman personae non gratae as far as their translation and publication in Germany goes; it has also meant that West German publishing houses have become extremely leery about contracting for any work that the BPS might consider controversial or offensive on "moral" (including certain political) grounds--meant, in practical terms, that many (SF) texts have either been denied publication or been bowdlerized beyond recognition.

Patrick D. Murphy

Dialogics and Didacticism: John Brunner's Narrative Blending

Abstract.--Brunner has faced and largely solved a dilemma confounding many SF authors: he has balanced the contradictory demands of entertainment and enlightenment by producing "dialogical," "polyphonic" novels (in Bakhtin's sense of those terms). The four Brunner novels that best exemplify this dialogical structure are Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, The Sheep Look Up, and The Shockwave Rider.

Rendering Stand polyphonic is its multiplicity of viewpoints as expressed through numerous narrative voices, the author's only one among them. Brunner dialogizes it further through "double-voicing," which involves a subversive meaning that either complements or contradicts the one heard on the surface. Orbit employs many of the same structural techniques, but has a more overtly identifiable authorial mouthpiece, and this gives greater weight to its authorial point of view than Stand's has.

Sheep works somewhat differently. As it offers a polyphony of conflicting and insufficient answers to the problem of ecological devastation, it models reality in two opposed ways: in the main narrative, as an orderly and chronological process; but in its jumpcut sections, as the random simultaneity of events. Sheep also enters into dialogue with Stand and Orbit with regard to the role of a prophetic, "coyote" figure in leading social change.

Shockwave demonstrates the least sophistication of plot structure and the most limited use of polyphony. Dealing with a protagonist who suffers from future shock, it displays that consciousness through shifting viewpoints internal to this single character.

Brunner's more recent work does not repeat the achievements of structural complexity and polyphonic sophistication of Stand, Orbit, and Sheep. He has, however, produced new dialogical structures, as in the case of The Crucible of Time and The Tides of Time. Even so, it seems likely that we have not seen the last of the dialogic and the polyphonic in Brunner, given their efficaciousness in melding entertainment and enlightenment into an aesthetic whole.

Charles Nicol

Nabokov and Science Fiction: "Lance"

Abstract.--On the surface, Vladimir Nabokov's attitude towards SF appears self-contradictory: he frequently disparaged the genre, but admired H. G. Wells and other SF authors; moreover, a number of his own works appear to be SF. "Lance" is typical: although including a harsh criticism of SF, this story of the first landing on Mars is itself demonstrably SF. However, it is also a retelling of a medieval romance and a description of mountain-climbing. The inspiration for the story appears to be Nabokov's son's actual mountaineering, which Nabokov regarded with admiration and fear. The conclusion which all of this points to is that Nabokov rejected SF as a genre but accepted it as a mode of seeing, a method of ostranenie (estrangement).

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