Science Fiction Studies

#58 = Volume 19, Part 3 = November 1992


Lorenzo DiTommaso

History and Historical Effect in Frank Herbert's Dune

Abstract.--This essay examines the complex relationship between the many plots and themes of Dune and the history of the Imperium as created by Frank Herbert in the novel. Also, the "Vitality struggle'' is put forth as a major theme of the book, as it is an omnipresent and fundamental conflict which significantly shapes the actions and ideas of Dune, and is itself determined by the very Imperial history that created it. The Vitality struggle, which involves a difference in degree rather than in methodology, is the subtle contest between the philosophy of the Empire and that of Arrakis. Paul Muad'Dib is thus a historically spawned and highly influential catalyst who sparks the inertial forces of history into motion, and, as such, is completely intertwined with the existent Imperial structures which enable his rise to godhood.

Neil Easterbrook

The Arc of Our Destruction: Reversal and Erasure in Cyberpunk

Abstract.--Though cyberpunk's proponents embrace it as a subversion of corporate culture, its images suggest exactly the opposite. In the work of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, most particularly Neuromancer and The Artificial Kid, two specific sorts of tropes inform the narrative--a neat reversal of the natural/artificial opposition and an erasure implied by that reversal: advanced technology erases human morality. The rhetorical figures in each of the novels turn on an appropriation of theology; the moral and corporeal are replaced by the mordant and the corporate: Logos is replaced by logo, an affirmation of great corporate houses that ushers in the inconsequence of individual will. Despite otherwise brilliant innovations, cyberpunk is most notable for its tropological evasions of ethical questions, its ``virtual morality.'' If only it were parody.

Ellen Feehan

Frank Herbert and the Making of Myths: Irish History, Celtic Mythology, and IRA Ideology in The White Plague

Abstract.--The White Plague is usually regarded, especially in the critical arena, as one of the least significant of Frank Herbert's novels. This is an undeserved fate, given the quality of this superbly crafted thriller of revenge and genetic warfare. It may be that the novel has been overlooked because so much of its subtextual material is unfamiliar to many readers. I argue here that Herbert inserted numerous allusions to Irish history and Celtic mythology so as to distance readers from the Ireland he portrays, and particularly from the reactionary ideology of the IRA.

Herbert demonstrates the persistence of archaic icons and events in Irish nationalist politics in three ways: he makes frequent allusions to Irish military history; he shows his characters coping with their new world by reviving ancient Gaelic customs; and he comments on the traditional Celtic perception of time and history as cyclical through subtle covert and overt references to the collections of myths known as the Cycles. In choosing a mythological system unfamiliar to most readers, Herbert alienates us from the motives and ideals of the characters whose moral and cultural codes are founded upon it. Furthermore, by stressing the powerful influence of inherited myths upon personal and national psyches, and by demonstrating the unthinking ease with which human beings translate daily situations into events of mythic import. he warns us that ongoing political conflicts will not be resolved so long as the ideologues involved expect a mythical or magical climax to their struggles.

T.J. Matheson

Marcuse, Ellul, and the Science-Fiction Film: Negative Responses to Technology

Abstract. --In contrast to SF literature, most SF films have responded negatively to technology, seeing it as a force in contemporary society that has had a deleterious effect on the quality of human life. Herbert Marcuse and Jacques Ellul, two of the most pessimistic analysts, have expressed their criticisms of technology in ways that also find expression in some of these films, which are preoccupied with many of the same issues. Three in particular--Forbidden Planet (1956), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1969), and Alien (1979)--can be seen as responses to the theorists in question. In each case the films adopt positions that, while sympathetic with many aspects of Marcuse's indictment of technology, challenge his belief that this technology could ever be a vehicle for human liberation. In contrast, they assume positions closer to that of Ellul, who sees technology's effect on the quality of human life as thoroughly debilitating.

Salvator Proietti

Frederick Philip Grove's Version of Pastoral Utopianism

Abstract.--Despite critical neglect, Canadian SF has produced some interesting texts. Among these is F.P. Grove's Consider Her Ways (1947), which I analyze in conjunction with its main conceptual antecedent in Grove's opus, The Master of the Mill (1944). Grove in both quilts together pastoralism, utopianism, and Darwinism in a peculiar ideological synthesis conducing to an utterly bleak (albeit apparently ludic) vision.

In The Master a Naturalist framework sustains a meta-utopian morality play: Grove here reads Canadian history as the outcome of the failure of a whole series of utopian projects. This novel in effect denounces the possibility of human agency within history as inherently (self-)destructive: homo sapiens, as homo faber, has divorced itself from the processes of Nature. In consequence, no utopian enterprise is to be expected from within our species--not even from women, who to Grove's way of thinking are more "ahistorical,'' more "natural,'' than men.

The myrmecological utopia of Consider (which is logically as well as chronologically Grove's last work) anticipates the solution of much subsequent SF: the non-human society provides a secular escape from history. Utopia is at once affirmed and denied: founded on a literalization of the term "body politic,'' the pastoral ant society, with its telepathic mass-consciousness and its biological castes, is "naturally'' free from the pitfalls of "culture''; but its biological basis makes it--and, indeed, any utopian horizon--unachievable for humans. Ambivalently and disturbingly, utopianism and nihilism in Consider become two sides of the same coin, and Grove can conceive of a movement toward Otherness only as a movement away from History.

Nicholas Ruddick


Abstract.--J.G. Ballard's vehement general attack on postmodern criticism of science fiction in a recent issue of SFS seems curiously unmotivated. However, it might perhaps be explained by Ballard's anger at Jean Baudrillard's misreading of Ballard's novel Crash, mitigated by Ballard's admiration for Baudrillard's other writings. (NR)

Gary Westfahl

"The Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe Type of Story": Hugo Gernsback's History of Science Fiction

Abstract.--By means of editorial comments and reprints of older works in Amazing Stories and other magazines, Hugo Gernsback was the first to present something resembling a history of SF. The earlier works he chose supposedly fit his naïve formula: a narrative incorporating scientific explanations and describing an imaginary but scientifically logical new invention or breakthrough. Gernsback saw the time before 1800 as a long period of relative inactivity, when potential authors of SF (Leonardo da Vinci, Roger Bacon) were hampered by the lack of a supportive environment and appropriate medium. Next, in the 19th century, several prescient writers (Poe, Verne, Wells, and others) emerged who dealt imaginatively with science in their works. Third, in the 20th century, the increased impact of science and a growing awareness of SF--the latter in part inspired by Gernsback himself--greatly enlarged the field and would eventually lead to even greater achievements. In letters to Amazing Stories, readers responded enthusiastically to Gernsback's history of SF, adopted its parameters, and added new authors. Gernsback's version of SF history also may have influenced, and is somewhat parallel to, later academic histories, with some noteworthy differences. Unfortunately, Gernsback's unfair payment policies tended to alienate writers, contributing to the demise of his SF magazines, harming his reputation, and obscuring his own importance in the history of SF.

[A response by Everett Bleiler appears in SFS 59 (March 1993).]

moonbut.gif (4466 bytes) Back to Home