Science Fiction Studies

# 15 = Volume 5, Part 2 = July 1978

Notes and Correspondence

On Alpers on Heroic Fantasy and Nazism. I've just read Hans Joachim Alpers' "Loincloth, Double Ax, and Magic" (SFS #14). I notice that Mr Alpers' paper was translated, apparently from the German. Perhaps he has never seen a copy of The Iron Dream, a novel about the relationship of heroic fantasy to the psychic pathology of Nazism that attempts to depict, among other things, the wish-fulfillment fantasy of the Nazi era in the mind of a heroic-fantasy writer named Adolf Hitler. I recommend it to him as the only other piece of writing I know of on the subject in question. Unfortunately he will have to read it in English or French or Japanese or Italian or Portuguese, since there has been no interest in publishing it in German on either side of the ideological border. Perhaps there is little interest in this subject in Germany; perhaps it is felt that it has no local relevance.

At any rate, except for the naive assumption that Nazism was simply a capitalist plot to break up the labor unions, I think Alpers is pretty dead on, and I also think much of his analysis can be extended to things like punk rock, superhero comics, and other media for mass mythmongering.

The fact that this is, I think, one of the first notices of Nazi psychosexuality of heroic fantasy to be taken in a publication of SF criticism is both interesting and a little frightening. In my paranoid way, I sense one of those proscribed mystical connections between the silence on the subject here, where most heroic fantasy is originally published, and the non-publication of The Iron Dream in German. There is a lot of this pathological stuff being pumped out, and a lot of people are lapping it up. I think you've done a service by publishing the Alpers piece and I hope it will generate some examination of this terre incognita of SF criticism. —Norman R. Spinrad.


A Clarification. In my letter about the "Lem Affair" (SFS 4[1977]:314-16), I made the statement that the Sargent-Zebrowski Chronology in the preceding issue did not reveal the fact that George had pressed for the honorary SFWA membership for Lem. George has pointed out to me that the statement is present as background for the first chronological entry, that Zebrowski had asked Anderson if Lem could be considered for the same honor that had been offered some time before to Tolkien. I hope you will find room in your earliest issue for the inclusion of this note making clear that I did not mean to suggest that the information was not available, only that I felt it did not carry the weight I thought it should. —James Gunn.


Work in Progress: A Suggestion. I wonder if Science-Fiction Studies could undertake a feature that I have rarely if ever seen in academic periodicals, presenting and building various scholars' "Work in Progress." I do not mean by that the traditional feuding between defenders of different points of view. Nor do I have in mind symposia like the SFS special issues on individual authors or topics. Even the exchange on Marxism in Volume 1 of SFS was too short, and more competitive than cooperative, from my standpoint.

A couple of years ago, the SFRA Newsletter printed a dissertation outline, and I was one of several readers who wrote the author, raising questions and suggesting avenues of approach. As a reader for publications and conferences, I have also tried to respond to substantive issues as well as problems in composition. And as a scholar, I sometimes entrust drafts of my own work to colleagues, making for comment and help.

None of these is quite the same thing as putting one's own "partly-baked" ideas in print in a prestigious periodical. Would the response be boredom? Derision? Hostility? Censure of the editor for wasting time, space, and money? If the piece were well-written, thoughtful and provocative, despite its incompleteness, the response might be helpful, supportive, even serendipitous, especially if the article touched a nerve, in areas where many scholars are working.

No one can know everything about science fiction, and no one can be equally competent in all areas of criticism touching science fiction, from new frontiers in science to the latest wave of critical jargon. Possibly, by exposing what we don't know at certain times, by means of notes and queries and hypotheses succinctly rendered, we can help each other learn.

What I have in mind I guess is embryonic work on relatively big projects, rather than the kind of safe study around which we can erect relatively secure defenses. One might be the continuing debate about "genre," another about media, another about SF and myth. Do you or other readers have any opinions about the value of such a feature? About how long such a printed colloquy should go on? How much should take place in SFS pages and how much behind the scenes? —David N. Samuelson.


The Maturing of the Genre. The review by David N. Samuelson in SFS #14 of the Olander-Greenburg Isaac Asimov invites briefly a further elaboration of what I meant to say in my essay, "Asimov's Golden Age: The Ordering of an Art." Samuelson begins by questioning the fact that this volume of essays focuses on Asimov's science fiction, which comprises less than 1/6 of his books; and at the same time Samuelson faults my "failure to follow the ground rules and stay with Asimov's science fiction." The point is not, I think, the confusion about what Asimov writes nor even the commercialism in his promotion of his own legend (we would all be legends and we would all be wealthy by our wits). Rather the point is that this fecundity, variety, and self-consciousness in what Asimov writes (marked vividly by his writing about his own juvenile reading in Before the Golden Age that Samuelson seems to find the most ludicrous or perhaps the most blatantly commercial) illustrates the maturing of a new genre, one of the significant new genres of our time.

My essay suggests some parallels to the development of new genres in the 18th century, most notably the genre of poetry in the vernacular; and what seems to be characteristic of these bursts of development is exactly the failure to follow ground rules. Thus I might complain that my own failure was a subconscious imitation of Asimov's failure to contain himself as the genre of science fiction grows. In any case, a favorite quotation of mine from a little known late 18th-century writer speaks about this need to burst out in many directions. Erasmus Darwin overstepped many ground rules and was seminal in seeding at least two stages in the development of our literature: romantic nature poetry and the move toward "science" in the gothic fiction of Mary Shelley. Darwin writes about speculating, though, in a way that Samuelson might take note of as he reconsiders Asimov's comic promethean attempts to make himself (and his genre) an encyclopedic legend: "Extravagant theories ... in those parts of philosophy, where our knowledge is yet imperfect, are not without their use; as they encourage the execution of laborious experiments, or the investigation of ingenious deductions, to confirm or refute them. And since natural objects are allied to each other by many affinities, every kind of theoretic distribution of them adds to our knowledge by developing some of their analogies" (The Botanic Garden, 1791). —Donald M. Hassler.


On Accidentals. My advice to the new editors, who will take over with #17 (March 1979), is that they simply not attempt to achieve any uniformity in arbitrary matters of style: let the contributors write footnotes any way they wish, and leave word division to the typesetter. With respect to the latter, my reading of books and literary periodicals has convinced me that no one worries about it any more, and that such divisions as "wat-ched," "disposses-sed," and "know-ledge" are so common that they must pass unnoticed. In this issue I have changed "LeGuin" to "Le Guin" any number of times, but I am not sure that my doing so served any real purpose. —RDM.

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