Science Fiction Studies

#110 = Volume 37, Part 1 = March 2010


Vaster than Empires

W. Gilbert Adair. The American Epic Novel in the Late Twentieth Century: The Super-Genre of the Imperial State. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2008. viii + 285pp. $119.95 hc.

Imperial fiction is, we must assume (since it is a key term that is not amplified in this book), fiction that either establishes or criticizes the myth of history upon which the empire is established. In that case, it is analogous to epic fiction which, as the term is used here, draws upon the wellspring of history. But more than that, of course, epic fiction must be big. We would not speak of an epic short story; the size of the fiction must in some way replicate the size of the subject. So an imperial epic is a big book that takes as its subject some aspect of the mythical/historical underpinning of the empire.

Of course, America (by which we mean the USA) strenuously denies that it is an empire, despite its imperial conquest of the Native American nations and its colonialist activities in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico) and the Pacific (Hawaii, the Philippines). Similarly, I suspect that the authors of at least some of the four books under examination here would deny that they are epics. So the “super-genre” that Adair presents would seem to consist of non-epics about a non-empire.

This book at its heart consists of interesting (though not exemplary) close readings of four big American novels from the 1970s. Two of these, Dhalgren (1975) by Samuel R. Delany and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon, are of interest to the sf community; two, Centennial (1974) by James Michener and The Executioner’s Song (1979) by Norman Mailer, are not. These readings offer worthwhile approaches to the novels in question, but despite the protestations of the over-long title, nothing in this book effectively ties these four works together into any sort of “super-genre.” Even allowing for occasional, and at times strenuous, handwaving on the part of Adair, I came away from the book still convinced that the four novels were all doing very different things, with very different intent, very different affect and effect (Adair coins the untidy term “a/effect” to try to cover both things at once), and were united only in the nationality of the authors and the length.

Nor does Adair look outside this incongruous grouping. From this work we would not be able to tell if other big American novels were being published at the time. If there were not, that would be interesting in itself. The 1970s was a time when publishing economics were changing, the old insistence on the 190-page novel was a thing of the past, and publishers were starting to encourage their authors to produce longer books, a practical side of the question that is not mentioned by Adair. If there were other examples of big American novels, then surely we need to see why these particular books were singled out for attention.

And having singled them out, then some account needs to be given of why or how they are linked. We do get partial linkages. Adair interestingly finds vampiric undertones in both The Executioner’s Song and Gravity’s Rainbow (I confess, I do not remember noticing anything of the sort when I read the Pynchon, though the quotations he selects do seem to support such a reading). And the vampire, as Adair claims, has reneged on its deal with both life and death; in other words, it stands outside both and hence outside history. But finding congruence between any two books is not the same as establishing an overarching link among all four.

In Centennial, Michener explores the establishment of the empire of the West (to this extent it is the most overtly imperial of the four novels), which he presents as an exercise in corporate inevitability. Thus he can sympathize with the lot of the Native Americans, for instance, but in the long view of the novel simply accepts that they were in the way of the proper development of the land. Anything that did happen, in his reading of history, should have happened; this makes the whole story, wherever his sympathies might, from time to time, lie, stand as a celebration of the white man’s rise to rightful dominion over the land. This novel, therefore, fits most closely the nature of the traditional epic: it is a dramatic presentation of the myth of origin for the status quo. Of course, it does lack one essential ingredient of the epic: a hero. Centennial follows multiple generations of one family, but there is no one character who embodies the upward thrust of the story.

There is a hero of sorts in Mailer’s novel, in the person of the murderer Gary Gilmore, who demands the death penalty; though it would be difficult to see Gilmore as representative of any mythic virtues. (One is tempted, in Mailer’s bloated nonfiction novels, to see the author himself as the epic hero, but that is not Adair’s view.) Nor is there the historical perspective we might reasonably assume an epic to take; a state of the nation novel is very different from an epic. And if Centennial is clearly imperial in its subject and its approach, The Executioner’s Song is, if anything, anti-imperial.

What is interesting, however, is that Adair finds, almost in passing, a transcendent view of things, a religious underpinning that ties Mailer’s novel with Pynchon’s. Gravity’s Rainbow does at least have an historical perspective, but a very different one from Michener’s. Where in Michener’s work, all contingency is removed from the white man’s inevitable dominion over the land, in Pynchon’s work, history is nothing but contingency. This is history as corporate conspiracy, another anti-empire; but at least there is a sense that there is an empire to be opposed. And the notion of historical conspiracy has its roots in the Puritan notions that, Adair suggests, underpin the entire novel.

And then there is Dhalgren, which, other than its length, seems to offer no clear contextual link with any of the other novels. Rather than offering an historical perspective, it is deliberately set outside history. The progress of time, of affairs, has stopped within Bellona, and the cyclical structure of the novel denies the very notion of progress. Adair offers an excellent reading of the nesting of narrative within narrative in the novel, of the ways the story spirals back to its own beginnings; but he seems not to notice that this is a denial of everything he has elsewhere said about epic. And if Adair’s reading is very good on some points, it is weak on others. For instance, he suggests that “Dhalgren” is Kidd’s real name, though close attention to the text suggests that it is far more likely to be the name of the young reporter who interviews him at the party (though the way the name differs from its more usual spelling, Dahlgren, is instructive in the light of Kidd’s apparent dyslexia). Furthermore, in talking about the nature of time within the novel, Adair makes much of the plural in the newspaper title, Bellona Times, though any casual awareness of newspapers (The Times, The New York Times, The Times of India) would recognize that the plural is the common and therefore fairly insignificant form. At the same time he misses the fact that the arbitrary dating of the newspapers actually sets the calendar for the inhabitants of Bellona, which would support his broader arguments about the shaping of history within the novel.

After devoting a chapter each to these four works, Adair concludes with a chapter looking at four “epics” from the 1990s: Underworld (1997) by Don DeLillo, Perfect Murder, Perfect Town (1998) by Lawrence Schiller (who had been Mailer’s collaborator on The Executioner’s Song), Almanac of the Dead (1991) by Leslie Marmon Silko, Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace, and Day (2003) by Kenneth Goldsmith. (It must be noted that this last is not, by any definition, a novel; it is an artwork in which every word from an issue of The New York Times is reproduced in book form.) Although Schiller’s book obviously parallels Mailer’s, and it is easy to find links among Pynchon, DeLillo, and Wallace, this chapter does not really provide the generic glue that I think Adair assumes it does. He finds no equivalent of the Michener (despite the plethora of fat multi-generational sagas that now crowd the fiction shelves) or the Delany (though science fiction and fantasy have both spawned increasingly large books). If epic is a matter of scale alone, then they are increasing in number, if only as a result of publishing diktat. But Adair never quite finds a way of defining epic other than by length, never quite explains the relationship between the epic novels he has selected and the imperial state, and never quite defines what a super-genre might be and how these works would belong to it.—Paul Kincaid, Folkestone, Kent, UK

Feminism, Afrofuturism, and the Redefinition of Science Fiction.

Marleen Barr, ed. Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2008. xxiv + 257 pp. $44.95 hc; $9.95 CD-ROM.

Afro-Future Females is the third installment in Marleen S. Barr’s series that began in 1981 with Future Females. That anthology was one of the early contributions to the field of feminist sf criticism. Barr followed that volume with Future Females: The Next Generation in 2000. In the second volume, Barr begins the trajectory of currency and expansion. Rather than continuing to look at the key female sf writers of the 1970s, Barr looks to those who have followed the founding mothers of science fiction, even if not necessarily in their footsteps. This third volume continues the project by turning the lens on black female sf writers, including Octavia E. Butler, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, and Andrea Hairston.

Barr divides the book into four distinct parts: Introductions, Essays, Stories, and Commentaries. The three pieces in Introductions all help flesh out some of the claims made by Barr in the preceding Preface. For example, Hortense Spillers briefly situates Butler’s fiction in the generic history of familiarization and defamiliarizaton that defines science fiction, thereby setting the terms for the essays that examine individual works by the writers who follow. Mark Dery sets out some of the history and tenets of “afro-futurism,” and Barr’s own essay argues that television, and the representations of black characters on tv, paved the way for both the possibility and acceptance of the current explosion of black sf writers. Having made the argument for a broadened and more inclusive definition of science fiction, the Essays section then undertakes the reading of a number of texts that fall within the newly defined parameters, including works by Butler, Hopkinson, Due, Gayl Jones, Okorafor-Mbachu, Shawl, and Jarla Tangh.

Although Sheree R. Thomas has produced a series of anthologies that collect science fiction by African-American writers, Barr intends Afro-Future Females to be the first volume to include both fiction by and critical works on black women writers and their contributions to speculative fiction. Furthermore, she intends Afro-Future Females to initiate a dialog with the historically masculinist tradition of Afro-Futurism to illuminate how black women writers have contributed to African-American literature in general, and Afro-Futurism in particular. In order to do this, Barr must provide a definition of sf, and more importantly, define how the genre must be “reconceptualized.” She argues in the Preface that definitions of sf such as Darko Suvin’s relegate the “fantasy continuum” to the margins, the result of which is that women and people of color have tended to be marginalized within science fiction. Instead, Barr contends that “it is necessary to define the broad fantastic tendency in Afro-Futurist texts as science fiction” (xv)—a point that is supported by other essays in the collection. Indeed, Madhu Dubey argues that the critique of scientific rationalism is so prevalent and central to science fiction by black writers that it warrants the term “black anti-science fiction” (xvi, 34). Similarly, Jennifer Henton questions how sf canonization defines “true sf as that which enacts ‘exact’ science as the science (i.e., progressive, linear, logical) upon which the literature must be based” (102; emphasis in original). For Henton, expanding the definition makes a “joke” of the genre’s parameters. Consequently, the denaturalized genre can now accommodate previously excluded structures, themes, and authors.

The battle over terminology and territory is not an idle one. A great many of the examples that the writers in this anthology cite would not be considered science fiction if measured against many of the accepted definitions of the genre. In her first Dark Matter anthology (2000), Sheree Thomas avoids the battle via the subtitle A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora. In Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root (2000), Nalo Hopkinson subtitles her anthology of fiction Caribbean Fabulist Fiction. Dubey relates the story that Hopkinson asked for sf stories from Caribbean writers but received, instead, dream-based stories—clearly not science fiction according to traditional definitions. Furthermore, if writers from African cultural traditions, including the Caribbean (and others have made a similar argument about writers from Latin-American cultural backgrounds), are not fully implicated in the empirical, rationalist world-view, then the fictions they write are less likely to attempt to explain the world in those same rationalist terms that form the very origin of science fiction.

In a similar vein, Mark Dery, in “Black to the Future,” his primer on Afro-Futurism originally written for Flame Wars (1994), suggests that African Americans and African-American culture have appropriated “technology and SF imagery” (6). He also suggests that African Americans are, or should be, well-suited to science fiction since they have long been considered racial others or “the descendants of alien abductees” (8). Nevertheless, according to Dery, the tropes of sf have signaled that women and racial and ethnic minorities are not welcome, so Dery suggests that African-American speculations about the future, about culture and technology, will appear elsewhere, in other cultural forms. On the other hand, in her essay, Jennifer Henton cites Gwyneth Jones as arguing that sf “seems predisposed” toward “the natives” or alien others (101).

So, if writers from the African diaspora, writers from the Caribbean, and black writers from the US write fiction that does not conform to the criteria of science fiction, whence the desire to redefine the genre so that they fit? That desire is never fully explained here. Instead, the argument is made that Afro-Futurist fiction is engaged in a project of critique about “a whole set of gendered and racialized dichotomies that have helped to prop up modern science” (Dubey 35), much like the argument made about women’s writing. If Dubey’s statement is correct, and I would contend that it is, then another generic designator might be in order. In her Preface, Barr suggests that African-American writers of speculative fiction are engaged in a project of écriture noire, analogous to the écriture feminine posited by French feminists. Whether or not écriture noire is, ultimately, the term of choice, Barr at least begins to suggest that the Afro-Futurist writers and futurist women of color are doing something different that needs an appropriate designator.

Of the fiction gathered here, only one is a new piece (Shawl’s “Dynamo Hum”). The other short works—by Butler, Hairston, Thomas, and Hopkinson— are either previously published or excerpts from novels. While Thomas has collected a great many stories in her Dark Matter anthologies, here Barr collects stories that are specifically designed to illustrate the expanded definition of science fiction that is central to the entire volume. If the stories are included to illustrate the overall point of the book, they fulfill the task. If they are presented as a sort of pedagogical balance for a classroom setting, then I would suggest that the book includes too little of the fiction.

Overall, Afro-Future Females fulfills an urgent need. More and more women of color are contributing to the field of speculative fiction, and the cultural productions from these individuals need not only to be made visible, but also to be analyzed and understood within the larger social and cultural traditions of literature, national literature, and genre literature. Therefore, an anthology that collects both critical analyses and primary texts makes an excellent point of departure for anyone unfamiliar with the critical arguments and/or creative artists and works. As is the case with any introductory text, however, it runs the risk of including too little of any one of the four components of the project.—Ritch Calvin, SUNY Stony Brook

Multiple Perspectives on SF.

Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint, eds. The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. New York and London: Routledge, 2009. xxii + 554 pp. $150, £90 hc.

We live in an age of companions. There have never been so many volumes devoted to the transfer of information about literature, from the Greenwood Press cds to the Oxford online volumes. The Routledge Companion is the third to date on science fiction. It has 56 chapters and is divided into four sections: History, Theory, Issues and Challenges, and Subgenres. No review of this kind of volume can mention every essay and so let me say right from the start that all the chapters without exception are well-informed on their subjects and informative for the reader, the latter being the acid test for any companion.

Adam Roberts opens the historical section with a cogent argument that, in the long history of sf, its beginnings can be tied to the Copernican revolution in science. He wisely sidesteps the awkward and ultimately uninteresting question of which was the first sf novel and sets a keynote for the whole companion in relating the fiction to its scientific and cultural contexts. Arthur B. Evans follows with a judicious and detailed survey of how nineteenth-century sf engaged with the notion of progress; and John Rieder relates the fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the imperatives of empire. The first divergence from literary history is offered by Brooks Landon, whose “SF Tourism” adds to our understanding of sf spectacle by discussing the great industrial fairs and expositions as material embodiments of wonder. In that sense he argues for a close congruence between novels of the period and effects like that of the simulated airship. A series of survey chapters take us from the period of the pulps (Farah Mendlesohn), through the 1950s (Rob Latham), and up to the present. In tandem with these surveys, we are offered essays discussing the rise of the superhero in 1930s comics (Mark Wasielewski) and a number of chapters examining developments in sf cinema and television.

The latter give this volume a rather broader spread than my own companion (Blackwell, 2005), which tended to focus primarily on literary texts. In The Routledge Companion, sf is presented as a multi-media phenomenon, logically so because the great surge of sf output since the turn of the nineteenth century coincides with the invention and development of film. Cinema and television, however, are distinct visual media with their own histories, since, as Mark Jancovich and Derek Johnson show, tv developments in Britain did not at all match their evolution in the USA. Nevertheless, the changes from the 1960s onward show a complex interaction between US and British cultural forms (Peter Wright’s essay) and the increasing sophistication of film special effects since the 1980s radically affects the viewer’s sense of dimension, as pointed out by Sean Redmond. One other aspect of this first section deserves mention as further strengthening the global spread of this companion. A chapter on Japanese manga and anime by Sharalyn Orbaugh gives a history of these forms and then details their impact on Western culture after the Second World War.

The chapters in the theory section tend to follow a pattern of retrospective analysis of the ways in which early sf seemed often blithely unconscious of such issues as race, followed by explanations of how contemporary sf is redressing that imbalance. Thus Isiah Lavender III discusses the relevance of critical race theory, whereby presumptions of the neutrality of whiteness and of the legal system are questioned. On the one hand, this argument helps to display the racism hidden within the depiction of other peoples as exotic; on the other, through the movement of Afrofuturism, more and more African Americans are finding sf a more suitable medium for expressing their experience of US culture. In this and the essays that follow, sf emerges as a crucially important medium for examining and often questioning the assumed norms in our day-to-day living. Partly this involves the retrospective tracing out of different strands of sf history. Thus Jane Donawerth gives an account of “feminisms” that repeatedly questioned— especially in the 1970s—the limited social roles assigned to women, an approach developed later by Gwyneth Jones’s description of feminist sf from Frankenstein (1818) onwards.The main theme at such points in the companion is defamiliarization. Mark Bould, for instance, argues rightly that sf for far too long has presented culturally-specific language practice as if it were a universal truth. The Sapir-Whorf thesis of linguistic relativism comes into play here to explain cultural difference; otherwise sf novels frequently compromise their capacity to represent otherness, which should be one of the hallmarks of the mode.

The theory section sets up a number of approaches that will bear fruit when applied to sf. William J. Burling surveys Marxist criticism, arguing for a continuity between sf and fantasy, which is taken up again by China Miéville in the final chapter on weird fiction. Where Brian Aldiss has argued for seeing the gothic as a tandem tradition to sf, Miéville takes weird fiction to embody the “bad conscience” of the mainstream Gernsback/Campbell paradigm of sf. It is an unexpected inclusion to find Paul Williams’s essay on nuclear criticism, a branch of postmodern theory usually applied to fiction dealing with nuclear war. The main text discussed here is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980), with little reference to more recent fiction, which gives the essay an air of retrospection. Michelle Reid argues strenuously for the historical and cultural specificity of Indian sf in her essay on postcolonialism, and Veronica Hollinger elegantly summarizes the “ongoing debate,” in her words, “at the intersections of sf, critical studies of science and technology, and cultural theory” (267). Citing novels such as Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix (1985) and Greg Egan’s Schild’s Ladder (2001), she considers how traditional forms of embodiment have been left behind for new possibilities of virtuality and technological merging, where of course the cyborg becomes the classic instance. Thomas Foster returns to this subject in his essay on virtuality, which examines the social mediation in any notion of reality and offers new accounts of social space.

Postmodernism should be one of the focal areas in this section as an umbrella term covering a diversity of theoretical concerns and Darren Jorgensen helpfully summarizes some of the leading theoreticians in this connection, including Lyotard, Baudrillard, and N. Katherine Hayles. He covers similar ground to Andrew Butler’s essay on postmodernism in James’s and Mendlesohn’s Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003), which includes some of the same contributors to the present companion. Jorgensen’s essay cites comparatively few actual novels whereas it would have been helpful to hear about the Semiotext(e) publications in the field. The other pieces in this section address Freudian and post-Freudian interpretations, mainly of sf cinema (Andrew Butler), utopias (Alcena Rogan), and queer theory. In the latter, Wendy Pearson argues eloquently that “sexual difference is the question for our times” (300) and that sf can open up new possibilities of multiplicity.

Part III of The Routledge Companion is called “Issues and Challenges,” a rather miscellaneous label that covers methodological issues and also some aspects of sf production and consumption. In Part II Robin Anne Reid had already discussed the importance of fandom, the impact of the internet, and the proliferation of new media for sf criticism. Now Joe Sanders turns our attention to young adult sf, which also reflects the general preoccupation in this companion with the material production and reception of sf. It was a pity not to include some consideration here of the pressure from publishers on sf writers to conform to general marketing categories. Nevertheless, screen design in sf cinema is examined (Piers D. Britton), as well as digital games (Tanya Krzywinska and Esther MacCallum-Stewart). Otherwise we continue with a number of new subject areas, starting with Joan Gordon’s introduction to Animal Studies, which questions the stark species separation between humans and animals. Istvan Csiscsery-Ronay continues an ongoing argument that empire lies at the heart of sf; by this he means new global fusions of power in transnational complexes. Space only allows him to outline some of the general issues involved, such as the drive to escape physical containment and thus mortality. Roger Luckhurst sheds new light on the vexed question of science in sf, showing that the fiction evolves according to contemporary boundaries of speculation. By that logic the notion of “pseudoscience” virtually disappears into the historicity of the mode. Other essays question more binary oppositions through the interdisciplinary approach of science studies (Sherryl Vint); and James Kneale suggests that space should be reconceptualized as relational and not fixed. The cumulative effect of these chapters is to show sf as a mediating mode within an extended and diverse field of disciplines and areas of information.

In the final section, “Subgenres,” the diversity of sf fiction and film is addressed through specific forms and aspects, such as hard sf or space opera. Aris Mousoutzanis examines the role of apocalypse in sf, pointing out that its very presence, implying a major rupture to the culture, is a surprise given sf’s traditional emphasis. Here the great surge of apocalyptic narrative during the Cold War, triggered by the ever-present threat of nuclear war could have been highlighted more strongly. Dystopias and “eutopias” are also covered by Graham J. Murphy (compactly despite the sheer size of these topics), who sees World War II as a turning point after which the distinction between positive and negative utopias becomes difficult to sustain. By and large this is a plausible position, reflecting the pessimism about social change in the post-war period. As Andy Sawyer shows in his discussion of future history, sf coinages extend backwards as well as forwards, generating their own retrospective tradition. Thus, the phrase itself, coined around 1941, has become a useful label to apply to fiction dealing with imminent historical developments, but as a practice it dates back at least to the late nineteenth century when rapid change was fuelling speculations about the near future. This chapter extends and ties in nicely with Karen Hellekson’s survey of alternate histories, whose origins lie in the same period and grow out of similar preoccupations. While she rightly stresses the “nexus point” where these narratives branch off from recorded history, the term “counterfactual” becomes rather awkward in its application to texts such as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), where nineteenth-century technology is applied destructively to what Twain saw as an insidiously romanticized medievalism. Victoria de Zwaan’s discussion of slipstream fiction has a significant symbolism for the whole companion in that it designates a kind of fiction that crosses genres and modes, as exemplified by writers such as Pynchon, Acker, and Disch. Noting the ambiguity of the term, she rightly problematizes its relation to mainstream sf. The last essays to be noted here continue a general emphasis throughout the companion on the proximity between sf film and fiction. Stacey Abbott argues that “arthouse” sf films—i.e., those made outside mainstream Hollywood—have their own characteristic emphases on realism of location and on psychology, and also their own contemplative visual aesthetic. In that sense they contrast sharply with the subject of Abbott’s other essay in the volume on the blockbuster “event film.” Here the dominant feature of films such as The Matrixseries (1999-2003) is identified as their use of the latest technical innovations for special effects and therefore to maximize spectacle.

The Routledge Companion follows a grouping of topics similar to that of the Cambridge Companion to SF: history, approaches, subgenres. Inevitably, given the sheer size of this volume, it covers more ground, but it shares a common approach to locating sf within a diverse field of cultural debate, thereby arguing for its centrality. In the 1970s, Thomas Disch, Stanislaw Lem, and others complained about the parochial limitations of sf. The Routledge Companion stays refreshingly free from this charge by remaining resolutely outward-looking. —David Seed, University of Liverpool

Darkness and its Discontents.

Marilyn Brock, ed. From Wollstonecraft to Stoker: Essays on Gothic and Victorian Sensation Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 206 pp. $35.00 pbk.

Defining what we mean by Gothic has become an industry in itself, with many scholarly volumes devoted to trying to piece together an adequate set of parameters. Too often Gothic has come to be uncomplicatedly equated with the political, as if Gothic writers only use its tropes in order to critique oppressions of gender, sexuality, class, and race. (An example of this occurs when Brock writes of the “synthesis of the Gothic with feminism” in her introduction to this collection [3].) Scholars have become so politically responsible that they seem never to be able to do any other kind of analysis. Thus have we lost, in this culture where we all must plumb completely the obscure corners of the mind in therapy, a willingness to keep the dark core dark, an attraction and a critical interest in the magical, the dangerous, the impenetrable for their own sake. In a time when most of the current tv shows do precisely this—call up the Gothic (witches, ghosts, vampires, violent murder, occult science, etc.) in order to cherish it and not simply to cast out its demons—we would do well to find other critical stances.

In this slim collection of essays edited by Marilyn Brock, Gothic and sensation fiction from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century is read using these commonplace political rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class. So much has already been written about all of the works under discussion here using these critical paradigms that the contributors are hard pressed to find new things to say. Occasional moments of insight are to be found here and there, but the reader will find her patience tried by some clunky prose and a good deal of error (where were the copyeditors of this collection?). And at times these essays can feel like a review of other scholars who have done similar types of readings.

One of the strongest essays is Richard Fantina’s “‘The Maiden Felt Hot Pain’: Agency and Passivity in the Work of Letitia Elizabeth Landon,” in which he moves towards an argument that a certain agency can be found in passivity. Recuperating Landon’s poems for a more contemporary and broader understanding of feminism, Fantina points to the obsessive and sometimes masochistic heroines in her poems, seeing in them an “intensely carnal female passion for love and devotion” (33). He understands their “readiness to engage in physical acts of love without a second thought to propriety” (35) as a means to derive a certain kind of strength—a willingness to create active, individual selves caught up in desire for living. In Landon he finds creativity, linked with obsessive sexual passion, to be a powerful way to throw oneself into the world with a vigor that moves beyond gender roles.

Judith Sanders’s spirited and highly enjoyable “A Shock to the System, A System to the Shocks: The Horrors of the ‘Happy Ending’ in The Woman in White,” a whirlwind of forceful and imaginative writing, finds that some part of Wilkie Collins feels sad that his sexy, clever Marian must be turned into an insipid angel in the house. In order to fulfill the role of a wife (in reference to Laura), Sanders remarks, a woman is turned into an empty, flaccid puppet that must be propped up by her husband. “To establish the legitimate identity of wife,” Sanders argues,

the narrative consciousness seems to imagine, one must deprive the woman of her mobility, her freedom of thought, her association with the night and sex and dreams, the artless sexiness offset by her virginal bridal robe (or white nightgown), and above all, her knowledge, however vague and intuitive, of the illegitimacy of any man’s claim to all she possesses. (73)

So much excellent work has been done on Collins in this vein, though, that what Sanders has to say here is not entirely new. Because she is such a grand writer, however, her prose takes her to places not quite formulated by other writers on the topic. Collins fans would find this essay worth a read, I think.

Somewhat more germane to readers of this journal are two generally perceptive essays on Braddon and Stevenson. Saverio Tomaiuolo does a compelling job, in “Reading Between the (Blood)lines of Victorian Vampires: Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s ‘Good Lady Ducayne,’” of braiding the technology of blood transfusion with issues surrounding decaying female sexuality and class exploitation. In Braddon’s short story, an aging aristocrat of uncertain but foreign origin hires a young, sprightly girl in order, the reader and girl uncover towards the end of the story, to have her personal doctor steal her blood (while she is under the effects of chloroform) as a means to rejuvenate the fading old lady. Following Herbert Spencer, Tomaiuolo connects the circulation of blood and the circulation of commodities, “suggesting an implicit association between economic stagnation and female unproductitivity” (106). Jennifer Beauvais, in her “In the Company of Men: Masculinity Gone Wild in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” weds the “science” of the doctor’s identity-altering potion with a rethinking of the concept of masculinity in late nineteenth-century Britain. The bachelor—and Hyde especially—has the ability to cross gender borders, Beauvais explains, by redefining the domestic sphere as a place of homosocial, all-masculine intimacy. Hyde must be created in order for such gender fluidity to occur and for a new understanding of nineteenth-century masculinity to arise. Calling on the theories of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Beauvais argues that the science is much less important than these new spaces carved out, which “suggest an emphasis on the re-evaluation of masculinity” and the domestic (187).

In the final analysis, however, even the essays worth perusing in Brock’s collection feel somewhat stale, harkening back to Kristeva and Foucault rather than exploring more recent scholarship. And, regrettably, they chase down the Gothic shadows with their moral klieg lights, leaving us no obscurity to play in.—Deborah Lutz, Long Island University

Delightful Horrors. Jason Colavito, ed. “A Hideous Bit of Morbidity”: An Anthology of Horror Criticism from the Enlightenment to World War I. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. xi + 372 pp. $65 hc.

Jason Colavito has contributed a delightful reference work (is that an oxymoron?) to the field of horror studies with his compilation of horror criticism of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and very early twentieth centuries. His choice of title, a citation from a negative review of a turn-of-the-century horror story, reveals the editor’s sense of humor in his broad selection of texts, which variously applaud and revile the Gothic, Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian precursors to what some of us now call horror literature. Cleverly related illustrations further enhance the attractiveness of the volume. Although not without lacunae, the volume complements rather than duplicating existing resources on the field.

Nearly one hundred reviews, letters, and excerpts from books or essays span over two centuries of criticism, and range in length from less than one to as many as twenty pages, each with a biographical note on its author. The book is divided into seven sections organized in roughly chronological order: “Fear, Terror, and the Supernatural,” “The Gothics and Their Successors,” “Poe and His Successors,” “Monsters of the Gilded Age,” “Fin de Siècle Science, Detection, and Terror,” “Ghosts and Kindred Horrors,” and finally “Toward a Horror Genre.” Within each section, the logic of organization is not quite clear, as individual selections are not arranged chronologically. They are, however, often grouped around a particular author or work: for example, reviews of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) appear in sequence. Colavito also applies the term “criticism” rather generously, including not only texts that clearly evaluate specific works or horror forms in general, but also a number of literary historical documents, such as John Polidori’s then-anonymous preface to The Vampyre (1819) and Lord Byron’s denial of its authorship. Other miscellanea include a contemporary advertisement for Ambrose Bierce’s Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1892) and a satirical piece on the 1888 US Presidential election depicting Grover Cleveland as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These and other non-critical pieces often demonstrate the impact of horror’s tropes on general popular culture. An introduction that provides an historical overview of the development of the horror genre, an index, and an appendix, “Timeline of Major Works of Horror,” enhance the usefulness of this volume as a reference work. Colavito also provides helpful informational notes on some (but not all) of the names and works mentioned in selections that might not be familiar to readers today.

In addition to the expected reviews of major works and authors, a number of the longer essays and book excerpts collected here reach toward theory, or at least offer taxonomical discussions of the different kinds of literature that Colavito includes in the “horror” category. Ranging from the Gothic novel to the ghost story and the tale of terror, through what is frequently referred to as the “weird” toward the end of the nineteenth century, there is also overlap with the developing genres of detective fiction and science fiction. Colavito’s selections seem to favor an equation of the supernatural in literature with horror, but there are traces of the thesis Rebecca Janicker finds in Colavito’s earlier work Knowing Fear (2007; see her review in SFS #107), which links science to horror. For example, in his introduction to an excerpt from Andrew Lang, Colavito writes that “supernatural fiction—horror—is intimately tied to the rise of science” (337). Certainly, a number of texts pertaining to the genre’s early years will interest the sf scholar, including several reviews of H.G. Wells’s works (The Island of Dr. Moreau [1896], The Invisible Man [1897], and The War of the Worlds [1898]). An unsigned article on “Fictions from the Future” (1872) from The Dublin Review would have been highly useful for studies in early sf had Colavito reprinted it in its entirety. In other cases, I would have recommended cuts to some of the longer texts, for example the off-color Irish stereotypes in the 1798 portrait of penny-dreadful author “O’Riginal” painted by Walter Parke in The London Hermit (165-72).

Colavito makes clear that his goal is to privilege “out-of-print or rare pieces at the expense of frequently reprinted works” (8). For this reason, “A Hideous Bit of Morbidity” nicely complements the few anthologies of contemporary horror criticism that exist, such as E.J. Clery and Robert Miles’s deeply scholarly Gothic Documents: A Sourcebook, 1700-1820 (2000) or Harold Bloom’s Classic Horror Writers (1994) and Modern Horror Writers (1994). It is certainly unique in the breadth of the period it covers and it offers a good number of delightful surprises, many of which actually revile the genre. The volume’s title represents the opinion of a number of critics included within, revealing that horror forms have been attacked as unliterary, unhealthy, and even immoral since the genre’s beginnings. For example, Daniel Defoe’s misleadingly-titled “On the Pleasure of Writing Dismal Stories, Exciting Suprize and Horror” (1723) attacks the irresponsibility of spreading rumors of plague. Similarly, an anonymous review of Frankenstein from The London Magazine, describing “Mrs. Shelley’s grand incoherence of a novel” (97), contrasts greatly with Sir Walter Scott’s sincere praise of the work he still thought had been written by Percy Shelley. As a horror fan, Colavito understands that the description of Arthur Machen’s work as “too morbid to be the production of a healthy mind” (230) or Bierce’s as “sheer, unadulterated hideousness” (158) will be taken as a compliment.

Another source of pleasure derives from the volume’s fifty-some illustrations, many deriving from highly original sources, including the obvious choices of portraits or photographs of the various authors or illustrations from the primary texts, but also fascinating images of horror’s icongraphy at work in contemporary popular culture. The latter include, for example, an 1838 cartoon depicting Andrew Jackson using galvanization to control the corpse of a popular newspaper editor and the ghostly spectre of the “Enemy Alien Menace” hovering over New York in a World War I-era New York Herald illustration.

In spite of these obvious attractions, a few shortcomings mar the volume, including the lack of representation of women critics; only six of the entries are signed by recognizably female names. That said, while there were many women writers active during the Gothic and Victorian eras, the number of critics was not proportional. Only a tiny handful of excerpts discuss “foreign” texts, including George H. Danton’s “Later German Romanticism,” Andrew Lang’s “Some Japanese Bogie Books,” and Frederic Rowland Marvin’s “Maupassant and Poe.” I would have liked to see non-Anglophone horror represented more completely, including some key texts in translation (for example, Charles Nodier’s “Du fantastique en littérature”), but perhaps that is the task of another volume. The English-language canon is thoroughly covered, including contributions on or by Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Lafcadio Hearn, and others. Perhaps the biggest gap is the absence of a clear definition of what is meant by “horror,” but this walk through the form’s past certainly brings us nearer to an understanding of the diverse body of works that fall under that heading and how that heading has changed over time. I recommend “A Hideous Bit of Morbidity” to those interested in the history and development of the horror genre and I hope that a companion volume covering the more recent era will be forthcoming.—Amy J. Ransom, Central Michigan University

Of Gaze and Dolls. Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky. Lara Croft: Cyber Heroine. 2001. Foreword Sue-Ellen Case. Trans. Dominic J. Bonfiglio. Electronic Mediations Series 14. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 2005. xi + 109 pp. $17.95 pbk.

In 1975 Laura Mulvey published “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” an essay that was to shape much of film studies that followed. The power of Mulvey’s analysis was that she theorized the structures of Hollywood-style cinema rather than looking at the content of how particular films represented women. Mulvey argued that the pleasure of looking at women on the screen was homologous to the Freudian structures of the unconscious and the production of sexual difference in patriarchal society, a culture that requires the image of woman-as-lack (castrated) in order to ground the sufficiency of masculine identity. Cinematic pleasure is thus deeply tied to gendered difference and the pleasures of looking are related to our scopophilic and narcissistic desires; looking at the screen is an example of the Lacanian mirror stage in which we constitute ourselves, but only through misrecognition. Crucial to Mulvey’s analysis are the ways in which these pleasures of looking are asymmetrical based on gender difference, creating a theory of cinema that explores problems with sexist representation at the level of film’s form, not merely in relation to content.

Lara Croft: Cyber Heroine attempts to do for the emerging field of game studies what Mulvey’s essay did for cinema studies: to produce a theory of gender that engages with the medium of games themselves rather than with the specific content of certain game titles. Thus, the title of the book can be somewhat misleading and readers should not be put off by the implied narrowness: this is less a work on Lara Croft or on the Tomb Raider games (1996-) and more a work of interest to anyone thinking about technology, gender, and the medium of videogames. The book uses the figure of Lara Croft to launch a wider exploration of the gendered experience of interactive gaming. It is very brief, more an extended essay than a monograph, with 89 pages of argument organized into thirteen small chapters. Within this space, Deuber-Mankowsky presents a theoretically astute and culturally situated argument about the implications of the Lara Croft “phenomena” for theorizing the medium of interactive gaming.

The book makes two main arguments. First, it offers a variety of reasons for using Lara Croft as the focal point for its more comprehensive concerns about the unique position this character represents in videogame history. Lara Croft was one of the first protagonists to be created on the new 3D platform during her debut in 1996, and also has the distinction of being the “first virtual figure to make the transition from the game world into universal media reality” (2). Lara Croft can be seen to function as a sort of universal medium of exchange across a number of media—from game, to film, to advertising, and even to flesh in the beauty pageants held to choose Lara’s “real world” incarnation. Deuber-Mankowsky argues that Lara is “a medium of circulation erasing all qualitative difference, even sexual difference” (11). As Sue-Ellen Case points out in her foreword, one of the implications of this premise is that an analysis of Lara Croft is also a critique of the philosophy of mimesis, since the virtual model—Lara Croft—becomes that which the “real” woman must imitate rather than the reverse.

The technological advancements that were coincident with Lara’s first emergence meant that Tomb Raider was one of the first videogames that “truly appeared movielike” (19), and the similarity to the pleasures of looking that emerge from the cinema leads to the second, and in my view more important, of the book’s central arguments. In an argument that is indebted to Mulvey’s work, Deuber-Mankowsky contends that Lara’s gender and her presence in an interactive and “realistic” virtual world are interrelated in crucial ways. Drawing on Teresa de Lauretis’s work in Alice Doesn’t (1984), the book suggests that representation itself has been founded on (male) desire, literalized through representations of idealized female bodies. Thus, female figures are always to a degree anonymous, not in the sense that they disappear into the crowd, but in the sense that woman as ideal or idea always takes precedence over an individual woman. Lara, as the perfect woman created sui generis, without real-world model, is thus the perfect figuration of “woman being both the source of desire to represent something and the medium through which that desire is objectified” (26).

The critical point here, however, goes beyond merely observing that Lara is the perfect embodiment of male fantasies of woman, a fairly obvious insight for anyone who has seen the chesty heroine or read of Angelina Jolie’s need to wear a padded bra in order to play her (even after Lara’s proportions had been scaled down to more “realistic” size). Rather, what are essential to the book’s analysis of Lara Croft are the combined implications of her gender, the role of desire in representation, and the medium in which she is substantiated, the interactive movie: “Lara plays the part of the medium that inspired and made possible the realization of this message” (29). The book returns to Mulvey’s work and argues that rather than differentiating the voyeuristic pleasures of looking from the narcissistic pleasures of identification with the image, as does cinema, “the difference between the two objects [player/voyeurism and avatar/narcissism] collapses” (43). This is Deuber-Mankowsky’s most interesting and most consequential point. The very structure of the interactive experience means that Lara Croft blurs the lines between the pleasures of looking (present in stereotypes drawn from the cinema that clearly inform Lara’s appearance) and the pleasures of identification (which seem to erase gender difference and “transfor[m] all players into gender-neutral ‘users’” (9).

Even more important is the fact that Lara is an ideal woman produced in a virtual space rather than on a screen. The book provides an overview of Žižek’s notion of the virtual, drawing on Lacanian distinctions among the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. Using this background, we come to understand the degree to which what we take to be reality is dependent upon fantasy, thereby blurring the lines between the real and the virtual. What is unique in this instance is that

as a virtual figure, Lara Croft goes a decisive step further than the woman of the cinematic image. The identification process reaches beyond the imaginary subjugation of the multiplicity of women under an abstract ideal to the point where Lara Croft emerges from the imaginary space of the image and assumes ‘real’ form in the bodies of women. (57)

The degree to which Lara Croft is informed by the techniques of Hollywood’s cinematic gaze, techniques that generally erase the medium of representation and encourage identification with the figure represented, is further exaggerated by the interactive nature of the game world. Thus, such games, even more than Hollywood cinema, encourage passive viewing rather than active engagement with the content of representations as, paradoxically, the interactive mode functions only to further identification, not to promote distance and hence critical scrutiny. Lara Croft and the identificatory medium of videogame play, then, reinforce gender difference all the more strongly because their very form precludes the sort of reflection on the construction of virtual worlds that might allow us to rethink our assumptions about embodiment and identity in the ways promised by much posthuman theory.

One of the major limitations of this book is that its research is considerably out of date, given the rapid developments in the world of videogames since its original 2001 publication in German. Despite this limitation, however, an English translation of Lara Croft: Cyber Heroine is welcome given the release of the newly-incarnated Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: Legend (2006). It would be a mistake to dismiss this book because its examples are already out of date. The theoretical model that Deuber-Mankowsky develops via the example of Lara Croft should serve as a starting point rather than the final word on gender, interactivity, and the construction of subjectivity through the medium of gaming. New developments in both videogames and movies based on them since the original publication of these arguments provide much for other scholars to do in revising and expanding upon Deuber-Mankowky’s analyses. It would be interesting, for example, to think through the implications of games such as Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball (2003), whose gameplay seems largely reduced to the pleasures of women in bikinis and which includes the options of adjusting breast size as one of the parameters. More pertinent, perhaps, is a game such as Metroid Prime (2002), in which the player discovers that he or she has been playing a female avatar only at the very end of the game when the character removes her helmet (I thank Jonathan Boulter for these insights). Finally, it would also be extremely useful for someone to look more closely at the implications of the new version of Lara Croft for Deuber-Mankowsky’s arguments. This new Lara has been borne on the heels of another technological breakthrough which has improved graphics and provided more robust interactivity. The book ends with the anticipation of such developments and was originally published even before the penultimate game with the “old” Lara, Angels of Darkness (2003). In an article anticipating the release of Tomb Raider: Legend and the “new” Lara, published in the June 2005 Play magazine, Dave Halverson discusses some of the changes the avatar has undergone, including “slightly altered proportions resulting in a slinkier, sexier silhouette” (19), smaller breasts which are “hopefully gently animated’ (22), and a more “animated visage with reactive roving eyes and realistic expressions” (19). Overall, these changes have resulted in a Lara who is “more feminine and mysterious” (22), and it would be valuable to consider the desire for Lara to be such in light of Deuber-Mankowsky’s important observations about gender and visual representation.

The second and more serious limitation of the book is that it bases some of its arguments on aspects of Lara’s character or the Tomb Raider game that are not unique, and thus at times the gender aspect of the argument seems to flounder. Certain claims—such as that we are positioned to see Lara’s entire body while she fights but in Doom (1993) we see only the arms of the marine holding the gun—do not necessarily reveal an overall difference between games with female protagonists versus those with male protagonists as the book seems to imply. These limitations point to the need for more work to be done analyzing the prevalence of first-person versus third-person shooter games in terms of their protagonists, their scenarios, and other variables (including the increasingly available option to toggle between these alternatives).

Just as Mulvey’s essay has been critiqued, revised, reconsidered, and at times displaced by the film criticism that followed, Deuber-Mankowsky’s work may be challenged and undoubtedly will lead to new insights by those working with more recent examples or operating from different premises and theoretical frameworks. Nonetheless, this book is essential in that it rigorously maps out the questions to be asked and the terrain to be explored in studies of gaming, technoculture, gender, and subjectivity. Lara Croft: Cyber Heroine is likely to become a core text in this emerging area of scholarship.—Sherryl Vint, Brock University

Television Futures. Lincoln Geraghty, ed. Channeling the Future: Essays on Science Fiction and Fantasy Television. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2009. 254 pp. $45.00 hc.

Lincoln Geraghty’s anthology of essays is an interesting if mixed effort at expanding the current scope of sf television studies. The various contributions are mostly well written and well researched. They draw on a wide variety of sf and fantasy television, ranging from the original The Twilight Zone (1959-64) to perhaps the most popular of contemporary sf series, Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009). And they point—some more successfully than others—at a generally neglected aspect of sf television studies, the “look” or visual aesthetic that marks popular sf series and serials. There are, however, the almost inevitable weak essays that make one appreciate both the review process of university presses and the copyeditor’s contributions. The effort to cast the net widely here brings in a number of case studies that may be of questionable interest or use to those looking for a teaching text. Moreover, the book’s concern with television sf’s “look” often seems an issue at which the contributors nod rather than focus. Still, this anthology’s appearance in close proximity to other recent works focusing on sf and fantasy television, including Jan Johnson-Smith’s American Science-Fiction TV (2005), Keith Booker’s Science Fiction Television (2004), Catherine Johnson’s Telefantasy (2005), and my own The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader (2008), underscores the fact that sf—broadly construed—has become a staple of the contemporary media environment and is drawing some long-overdue and generally quite sophisticated critical attention.

A common pitfall of most anthologies is the unevenness that results from bringing together multiple authors and trying to focus the many perspectives that result. These issues are usually addressed through refereeing, editing, and a strong shaping principle. Geraghty has done an adequate job at these tasks, pulling together some pieces of varying sophistication and, save for a few entries, providing readable and critically informed contributions that suggest the richness of contemporary sf commentary. Yet in trying to give a broadly historical shape to his collection, Geraghty runs afoul of that unevenness, for the lead essay, on the earliest series discussed, is probably the book’s weakest entry. This discussion of The Twilight Zone is a rambling, awkwardly written piece about the series’ role in a cultural revisioning of the western. In unfelicitous style, it argues that among The Twilight Zone’s most noteworthy accomplishments is that it was the “first stage” in a “reordering of the symbology of the plains” (3), of the iconic western as envisioned by key filmmakers such as John Ford and Howard Hawks, whom the author cites as genre touchstones. While Rod Serling’s series certainly merits mention for many television “firsts,” this effort at identifying another of those wrongly assumes a monolithic vision of the western in this period. By the time The Twilight Zone began its run in 1959, even Ford was already involved in such a revisioning, and the western was a dominant genre on American television with a look that, thanks to the medium’s own narrative and budgetary imperatives, little resembled its cinematic ancestors of the 1930s and 1940s. Essentially, the author does not seem familiar enough with the western of this period to convince.

In sharp contrast is Geraghty’s own contribution on the animated series Futurama (1999-2003, 2008-), an effort that is nicely written and successfully traces out various permutations of the paradox at the heart of Matt Groening’s show, particularly its efforts at examining “new technologies and techniques in order to imagine the future by revisiting the past” (162). Pointing beyond the parodic elements that have sparked most comment and that the show shares with Groening’s more famous The Simpsons (1989-), Geraghty demonstrates how deeply embedded in the sf tradition Futurama is and how, through an awareness of that embeddedness, it explores the ways in which our “generic definitions and iconic representations” function within an intertextual media environment (151). Given the complications posed by both animation and sf’s own reflexive tendencies, this discussion could easily have become mired in its own welter of intertextual references, but Geraghty pulls it off in a rather straightforward manner, particularly as he concludes that the key to the series’ success was the way it “made the invisible visible” (162), disarming audiences with its often crude animation while constantly revealing the interrelationships of culture, genre, and media.

These two essays might also begin to suggest the scope of this volume, which brings to the table not only the usual suspects in sf discussion, but also some little expected and certainly deserving subjects. Among the more pleasant and seldom treated surprises here are Cynthia Walker’s discussion of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68) and the new sensibility it brought to American television, and Michael Duffy’s examination of the cult series Highlander (1992-98). While Walker’s argument that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was “the first postmodern dramatic television series in U.S. prime time” (44) is not really new (as she allows in a footnote), her suggestion that we see the show as “a metaphor ... suited to a world that, in 1964, did not yet exist” (53) seems an eloquent way of bringing together both the series’ sf thrust and its postmodern sense of the arbitrary nature of things—of a world wherein pens, cigarette cases, even coat hooks easily change both their function and meaning. While Duffy’s argument that Highlander: The Series owes its success to a grounding of fantasy “in identifiable human drama” (114) seems rather obvious, that point is ultimately overshadowed by a larger concern with fantasy’s place in contemporary television production. Focusing on what he terms the “interstitial moments in film and media production,” periods of marked “change” in the entertainment industries (115), Duffy demonstrates how those “moments” leave their imprint on the narratives of works such as Highlander. This point is often made about classical Hollywood film, but Duffy’s unpacking of it here profitably frames Highlander in a broad context—of ongoing genre transformation, international co-production, cable distribution, the advent of digital visual effects—that effectively demonstrates the need for more nuanced approaches to television and fantasy study.

Rather less satisfying are several other pieces, particularly Dave Allen’s discussion of a 1975 British production of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911) and a 1988-90 serialization of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (1949-54), and David Garland’s overview of Gerry Anderson’s various “Supermarionation” series. Certainly the former fills a gap in scholarship and helps flesh out the media lineage for today’s popular Harry Potter films (2001-). But it also meanders in trying to find a point for its examination of these little seen and less discussed efforts. Allen finally suggests that we need more texts like those discussed, ones that privilege the imagination over “scientific evidence, rational discourse, or political action” (108), and while that point may be justified, it also seems a weak one, as it avoids tackling the larger issue of how the imagination might best function in conjunction with scientific, rational, and political concerns, as it does in the best of our sf texts. The contribution on Anderson’s work also leaves something to be desired, although not because of its historical survey of the many series using his “Supermarionation” and, later, “Hypermarionation” techniques; in fact, the overview is a useful one for those unfamiliar with Anderson’s marriage of puppet animation and sf. Yet this history has been traced out in a number of other places, and the suggestion that Gerry Anderson was essentially a frustrated realist and live-action filmmaker seems an unsurprising conclusion.

As noted above, Channeling the Future sets itself the task of exploring a largely neglected aspect of sf television studies, the “look” of popular sf series. Given the common tendency to approach sf film from the vantage of visual spectacle, and the corresponding trend to differentiate sf film from television precisely on this ground, an examination of media aesthetics seems particularly appropriate. Yet while this emphasis clearly drives a number of the articles, most notably—and understandably—Geraghty’s piece on Futurama, Trudy Barber’s discussion of “kinky borgs and sexy robots” in Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001; 133), and Dylan Pank and John Caro’s illuminating examination of Battlestar Galactica’s “collage of styles, eras, and technologies” (207), for many of the contributors the issue of visual aesthetic is a less prominent concern. For example, in trying to map the feminine in Joss Whedon’s cult favorite Firefly (2002), Robert Lively’s essay becomes a rather conventional series of character analyses. And Laurel Forster’s discussion of the scientist figure in early British television sf largely surveys how that character disappears during the 1960s and 1970s and then tries to account for that disappearance. That this focus might prove problematic is perhaps signaled in Geraghty’s almost perfunctory introduction, which briefly notes the volume’s logic but stops short of suggesting how the following pieces contribute to this concern.

Still, an anthology that brings together intelligent discussions of such varied series as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Highlander: The Series, Futurama, and Battlestar Galactica has much to offer. And as I have suggested, its ostensible logic, to provide different takes on the shifting “look” of sf television, is itself a worthwhile project that should inspire other efforts in this vein. I do wish the editor—or press—could have been a bit more selective in the choice of essays and more insistent on their contribution to the overall scheme. But in spite of these reservations, I found Channeling the Future an interesting collection, one that contributes to the rapidly growing and well-justified body of recent commentary on sf television.—J.P. Telotte, Georgia Institute of Technology           

Science and Science Fiction. Margret Grebowicz, ed. SciFi in the Mind’s Eye: Reading Science through Science Fiction. Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2007. xx + 323 pp. $34.95 pbk.

I am the English-major daughter of two scientists, and our family discussions quickly reveal that while our disciplines do not always look at the world in the same ways, they have a lot to say to each other. In her introduction, Margret Grebowicz frames the collection as a conversation between science and technology-studies scholars and the sf community. With this goal in mind, the book contains articles by over a dozen scholars and several contributions from sf writers. Many of the selections consider questions intriguing to readers from a variety of backgrounds. Yet just as when I have attempted to explain postcolonial theory to my geologist father, some things are lost in translation.

This is most clearly the case with “Races,” the book’s first section. The three authors—Harvey Cormier, Naomi Zack, and Nancy McHugh—consider the role of race in Star Trek (1966-69), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), and the politics of ignorance respectively. The best of the three is Nancy McHugh’s “It’s in the Meat: Science, Fiction, and the Politics of Ignorance.” In her close reading of Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats (1999), McHugh discusses the public’s desire to remain ignorant of unpleasant realities. She praises science fiction’s ability to discuss issues that would otherwise be difficult for readers to even consider.

The next section, “Genders,” concerns itself with the portrayal of women in science fiction. Both Janet Vertesi’s “Pygmalion’s Legacy: Cyborg Women in Science Fiction” and Stephanie S. Turner’s “Clone Mothers and Others: Uncanny Families” discuss how sf explores the relationships among femininity, technology, and reproduction. Vertesi examines the portrayals of female cyborgs in twentieth-century science fiction and Turner argues that the uncanny nature of clones stems from their ability to bypass the “natural” order of generational succession and change. The disruptive nature of cloning is also considered by Tess Williams in her close reading of the Alien series (1979, 1986, 1992, 1997). Drawing on Bakhtin, she argues that the series reveals evolution as a fluid, carnivalesque process rather than as a simple competition. Rounding out the section is Edrie Sobstyl’s examination of feminist-separatist utopias, which she argues are frequently guilty of gender essentialism.

The “Technologies” section is the collection’s most successful blending of science fiction and science and technology studies and explores the influence of sf on the development of computer technologies. Jussi Parikka argues in “Fictitious Contagions: Computer Viruses in the Science Fiction of the 1970s” that technology is a concept long before it is a reality and examines fictional descriptions of computer viruses before such programs actually existed. Jeremy Bailenson et al. argue that science fiction has influenced the types of research questions computer scientists ask. They point to the virtual world of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) as an example of fiction shaping conceptions of what a virtual environment should be. Despite science fiction’s ability to imagine new possibilities, Andrew Pavelich points out in his article that sf writers frequently do not challenge the assumption that our current society and technology are inevitable. Despite the knowledge that history could have taken different paths, sf writers (and readers) tend to imagine other species following similar patterns of technological development.

SciFi in the Mind’s Eye next considers the science in science fiction in “SF as STS.” Helen Merrick considers the (non)role of feminist theory in science and argues that the masculinist basis of science remains largely unexamined. In “Cracking the Code: Genomics in Documented Fantasies and Fantastic Documentaries,” Marina Levina investigates how the mapping of the human genome changed our relationship with the body. Finally, Dennis Desroches examines the theories of science. He argues that reading science fiction enables the kind of thinking that leads to new scientific theories.

While grouped together under the title “At the Limits of the Imagination,” the articles in the final section are only loosely related. E. Thomas Lawson examines the role of cognition in the ability to conceive of radically novel ideas and concepts. Martin Parker’s “After the Space Age: Science, Fiction, and Possibility” explores the relationship between imagination and reality in how societies think about space exploration. In the final selection, Grebowicz’s close reading of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1977) posits that modern education does not teach children how to think of new ideas but how to conform to preexisting ways of thinking.

Placed between each of the sections are pieces by sf writers that explore a wide range of topics related to their craft. L. Timmel Duchamp discusses how sf writers develop ideas and the role of theory, especially feminist theory, in the genre. Nicola Griffith argues that both science and science fiction are narratives we tell to make sense of our world. Nancy Kress examines how sf writers handle and develop the ethical components of scientific developments. The last selection is an interview with Stanislaw Lem by the Polish poet Ewa Lipska. Their conversation ranges over a variety of topics including politics, music, and the purpose of poetry. Although not all created specifically for this collection, these are perhaps the most enjoyable sections of the book and provide intriguing glimpses into the minds of sf writers.

While individual selections are worthwhile, I found the collection as a whole not completely successful. In any work of this nature, some sections will be stronger than others, but it is unfortunate that one of the weaker ones, “Race,” opens the book. Additionally, one of the goals of the collection is to initiate a conversation between the sf community and science and technology studies scholars. The inclusion of sf writers is an important step in this direction. They are separated from the other sections, however, and labeled as “Interventions,” undercutting the conversational aspect. Despite these drawbacks, it is gratifying to see an attempt to bridge the divides between disciplines. As with any such project, some missteps (such as titling the collection “SciFi” instead of “Science Fiction”) are to be expected. SciFi in the Mind’s Eye highlights the need for more conversations between the humanities and the sciences and points to what can be gained from such collaborations.—Jennifer Kavetsky, University of California, Riverside

Resisting and Restating SF Orthodoxy. James Gunn, Marleen S. Barr, and Matthew Candelaria, eds. Reading Science Fiction. Houndmills, Eng: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. xv + 265 pp. $30 pbk.

This self-described textbook is aimed at the unschooled but not necessarily unsophisticated sf reader: that is, a reader who, despite devoted and copious (even fanatic) attention to the sf narrative, operates without the benefit of what editor James Gunn aptly calls a “critical apparatus,” thus standing at risk of prematurely imagining a certain mastery over the genre’s form, content, and myriad permutations. The intervention represented by Reading Science Fiction may seem long overdue in direct proportion to one’s exposure to heated, often protracted arguments about sf’s borders and exemplars that amount to little more than the automatic gainsaying of the opposite camp’s equally under-reasoned position. Reading Science Fiction seeks to help young fans and others anchor their opinions to more fruitful structures of thinking. In individual chapters and in the aggregate the book advances ideas that widen rather than restrict ways of reading sf. While not all chapters directly address sf’s generic boundaries, Sherryl Vint and Mark Bould’s “There is No Such Thing as Science Fiction,” and Gunn’s rebuttal to their essay, “Reading Science Fiction as Science Fiction,” summarize the book’s chief predicate, articulating the arguments against “the purifying tendency in discourse and practice of editors, critics and fans” (50) while simultaneously suggesting the complexity and capaciousness of the term “science fiction” and the profitable deployment of the concept of genre.

The first of the book’s five parts, “Mapping science fiction,” provides a metacritical and historical framework, helping students both to read primary sf texts and to scrutinize and evaluate the information in the textbook’s succeeding sections. Eric S. Rabkin’s “Defining Science Fiction,” the book’s first essay, explains the way definitional construction and subject position intersect to create meaningful categories. Observing that definition makers consider their subject from a perspective that may focus on the “characteristic, prototypical, operational [or] social” aspects of that subject, Rabkin notes that each of these perspectives “has been applied to science fiction and serves—consciously or not—the purposes of the time, place, and person doing the defining. Including me” (16). Other chapters in this first section, H. Bruce Franklin’s “What is Science Fiction—and How it Grew,” Brian Stableford’s “Narrative Strategies in Science Fiction,” and Vint and Bould’s “There is No Such Thing as Science Fiction,” operate to refine and complicate the scaffolding that Rabkin erects. For example, Franklin’s explication of sf antecedents presents what might be called a “black hole theory” of sf as a thing that cannot itself be grasped but that we yet know by its effects. Franklin’s orientation, like that of other essays that follow, simultaneously defies and reinforces the idea of structure and operates as an object lesson in the book’s central theme of decentralized (or more radically, absent) authority in sf discourse.

The section “Science Fiction and Popular Culture” begins with a clarification of the contributors’ shared agreement to read science fiction and popular culture as the marriage of sf and mass culture that is made possible by electricity and attendant technologies. Topics covered in this section include the limitations and limited triumphs of film as a medium for sf ideas, the history and influence of television’s serialized sf programs, computers’ depthless influence in the sf narrative, and the symbiosis between sf and videogames. Brooks Landon’s observations about the sublation of computers into our daily lives directs attention to “frequently intersecting explorations of new forms of digital consciousness, networking, and Singularity” (94). Landon considers examples of sf novels that represent the erasure of “distinctions between humans and software,” explore the “implications of direct brain/computer interface for mind, personality and gender,” and raise “the possibility of disembodied digital consciousness” (93). These themes are then unpacked by Orson Scott Card’s essay “Cross-fertilization or Coincidence? Science Fiction and Videogames,” which opens with a genuinely disturbing and evocative description of videogame addiction that compellingly suggests profound changes to brain function at a biological level. We are, Card explains, being rewired. “[G]ames were built around themes drawn from science fiction and fantasy” (98), and even where these themes are not featured, games tap into sf readers’ training in exploration of new realities with their own sets of rules. The essay invites investigation of “the virtual aspect of the effects of literature and games ... and whether games constitute powerful rehearsals of pro-and anti-social behavior” (104). This essay and Landon’s are examples of the ways this book successfully tilts toward twenty-first century paradigms and preoccupations.

Later sections return to the book’s initial concerns with pedagogical content knowledge. The editors have in mind the practical application of their text for teachers working at “widening discussions away from plot points to consider issues of social importance and material practices” (109). The sections “Theoretical Approaches to Science Fiction” and “Reading Science Fiction in the Classroom” set up a series of recursive inquiries around issues including gender, Marxist and postcolonial theories, and a hemispheric approach to sf that reads through a “Latin American lens.” Engagement with these topics deepens the dialogue around definition to include deliberate contemplation of “the political issues that surround [sf’s] production and consumption” (109)—and teleology. Jane Donawerth’s inquiry into whether sf is a “problem-solving genre that is especially appropriate to women,” or so steeped in regressive attitudes that it is more part of the problem than the solution, introduces a landscape of feminist critique (112). This aerial view is then followed a few chapters later by the tight shot—Jeanne Cortiel’s “Reading Joanna Russ in Context,” which posits that a contextualized reading of Russ is an exemplar of “the potential and workings of science fiction at large” (169). Other essays also offer bold, controversial theories that cannot help but generate keen intellectual excitement and useful controversy. Carl Freedman’s “Marxism and Science Fiction” argues that a “structural homology between [the Marxist call to praxis] and the transformative, anti-conservative thrust of SF” (124), regardless of an individual writer’s affirmed political leanings, is such that pairing the two modes is compulsory.

The last section, “Science Fiction and Diverse Disciplines,” considers the interface between sf and the fields of neuroscience, physics, biology, philosophy, and computer science. Gregory Benford’s advice in “Physics Through Science Fiction,” which suggests ways to “muster the fantastic in the cause of the real” (212), is a distillation of his experience that “solved problems in a fictional matrix motivate students to learn physics a lot better than the canonical introductory textbook course” (213). And speaking specifically about the philosophical underpinnings of speculative rather than adventure sf, James Gunn offers that “Science fiction is philosophy tested [and dramatized] in human scenarios” (234). Bruce Sterling, in his “Science Fiction and the Internet,” and Marleen Barr end the book by gesturing toward the technical convergences of images and ideas across all media forms—print, broadcast, film, and internet. Barr playfully boasts in the opening gambit of what might be called her “electronic-print” essay, “The Reading Science Fiction Blog,” that “What follows is the world’s first blog that has ever appeared in a textbook” (244). This last entry is very much in the style of a blog, breezy and conversational, featuring entries from a number of the book’s contributors about what motivated their investment in sf discourse. There is indeed, a cyberspace companion to this last chapter, a proper blog that can be found at <>.

Among the book’s chief strengths is the care with which its editors have woven separately authored texts into a single argument with multiple permutations. Short introductions at the start of each section do most of the heavy lifting. Another feature that will doubtless appeal to teachers and students using this text is the average essay’s brevity and density, a format that facilitates and rewards rereading. Small, in some cases picayune, misstatements such as an attribution of the neologism “truthiness” to the popular television “Daily Show” instead of to its actual source, the spin-off “The Colbert Report,” may be met with gimlet-eyed disdain by young readers, who are, in the experience of this teacher, ever alert to signs of inattention to the details of youth culture. More seriously, the absence of specific reflection on whether (and if so, how) the digital revolution has democratized relations between sf fans and producers and resulted in new participatory roles for sf consumers seems a missed opportunity.—Wanda Raiford, University of Iowa

Less Than Men. David Higgins. Frankenstein: Character Studies. London: Continuum, 2008. xi + 108 pp. $19.95 pbk.

Claiming to combat the long student tradition of either treating fictional characters as “real people” or reducing them to static symbols, Continuum’s Character Studies series, according to the editor, “aims to promote sophisticated literary analysis through the concept of character” (vii). David Higgins’s recent contribution focuses on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), devoting a chapter to each of the novel’s main characters: Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the Creature. Putting aside the value, or even the viability, of extricating a study of character from other elements of fiction, Higgins is presented with the daunting task of offering an analysis, accessible to undergraduates, of a novel that has generated an enormous amount of critical material. At a concise 100 pages, Higgins, overall, succeeds. Productively synthesizing the complex historical, literary and philosophical contexts of Shelley’s novel, Higgins poses thoughtful questions for students throughout. He cogently and succinctly frames ongoing debates about the novel’s depiction of Frankenstein (“lone genius” or “selfish antihero/villain”), our essential human nature (noble savages or just savage), and the value of scientific exploration (godlike or monstrous). Furthermore, Higgins provides a compelling example of close-reading and evidence-based argumentation that students and scholars would do well to emulate.

In his short but informative introduction, Higgins provides an excellent framework for reading the novel. He begins by addressing issues of genre (the gothic in particular) and the challenges and limitations of literary analysis (reader response, author’s intentions, etc.). A brief overview of Shelley’s life follows. Detailing some of the aspects particularly relevant to Frankenstein, he includes Shelley’s own complex family dynamics which, perhaps, inform the repressed incestuous and murderous desires evident in her novel, as well as the premature, often violent deaths, of family and friends that Shelley experienced (mother, half-sister, Percy Shelley’s first wife, her own infant daughter). He then focuses on the political scene, describing the impact of the French Revolution on British intellectuals and the conservative backlash in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. Writing in 1818, Shelley was able to address questions raised by the revolution that had long been repressed.

While some students might be familiar with the above-mentioned biographical and broad historical conditions that inform Frankenstein, less known and usefully presented here is the impact of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his notions of “essential” human nature—obviously a primary concern of the novel. This will be particularly useful later as Higgins builds substantially upon this groundwork in his chapter on the Creature, noting that “[b]y providing such a detailed, first person-account of how a ‘filthy mass’ of mismatched body parts becomes a character through experience, reflection, and the learning of language, Shelley is able to ask profound questions about identity” (61). After a short section on the scientific discoveries of the period, Higgins concludes this introduction with a thoughtful analysis of Frankenstein’s conception and composition. Commenting on the “speculative eye” that the Creature in Mary Shelley’s infamous dream casts upon his creator, he explores the significance of that particular adjective. This last insight is particularly astute and highlights a recurring tension in this book. Charged to present a neutral overview—Higgins claims that he does not wish to present an argument—the critic’s enthusiasm and erudition, particularly in the area of etymology, inevitably break free.

In the chapters examining Walton, Frankenstein, and the Creature, Higgins avoids definitive statements, but presents an argument nonetheless. He draws important connections among the three “main” characters, suggesting that they are all—the Creature included—seekers of knowledge and “godlike” in their aspirations. While Higgins readily acknowledges the self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, destructive nature of both Walton’s and Frankenstein’s thirst for knowledge and the inherent desire for “mastery” in their endeavors, he also makes a strong case for these characters to be read—at least in part—as “Romantic figures,” as passionate rebels, willing to sacrifice all for a cause. Higgins also notes the new role of science, and the figure of the scientist in particular, claiming that “Shelley’s characterization of Frankenstein is partly informed by the increasing profile and cultural entrenchment of science, and, given modern anxieties about nuclear proliferation, global warming, genetic modification and so on, it is hardly surprising that the novel is often read as a straightforward critique of scientific aspirations” (30). This reading is, however, according to Higgins, “overly simplistic and ignores the novel’s ambiguities and inconsistencies, partly with regard to Frankenstein’s character: these reflect an area of human endeavor that, then as now, was confusing and mysterious, producing excitement about its potential to improve human existence, alongside anxiety about its potential to cause harm” (30-31). Higgins provocatively notes that our own modern sensibilities skew our response to the text.

Higgins insists that we read the novel both closely and contextually. This point, that Shelley’s novel is not a straightforward “cautionary tale,” is supported, Higgins argues, by Frankenstein’s speech to the men on Walton’s ship at the end of the novel. Frankenstein exhorts the sailors to “be men, or be more than men,” rallying them to “[r]eturn as heroes who have fought and conquered, and who know not what it is to turn their backs on the foe” (qtd. 57). Meant to inspire the men to continue on their journey, this speech clearly illustrates that Frankenstein is unrepentant. The passage also, however, illustrates the ways in which Frankenstein—and, indeed, the novel itself—construes the pursuit of knowledge in particularly masculine and violent terms. Their quest is a battle, a bloody contest, which requires the subjugation of literal and figurative adversaries. While acknowledging this implicit (perhaps, subconscious) critique of masculine aggression, Higgins nevertheless makes a strong case for Shelley’s depiction of Frankenstein and Walton as deeply ambivalent.

In further support of his reading of Frankenstein and Walton as sympathetic characters, Higgins places the Creature on a continuum with them, arguing that the Creature is yet another “seeker” driven by the “natural” Promethean impulse to improve the human condition. According to Higgins, “the novel asks, is [Frankenstein’s] desire to prolong life and banish disease really different in kind from the Creature’s fanning of the fire to keep away the cold?” (66). Higgins claims that the novel “represents culture not as a choice but as an inevitable result of the human capacity to reflect. Individuals will seek to better their condition, they will conduct experiments, and they will reflect on the results” (65). The logic of the text, however, suggests that this trajectory inevitably leads to violation or exploitation, whether it is Victor’s aggressive appropriation of nature’s secrets or the colonizing subjugation of the Native Americans with whom the Creature and Safie sympathize.

Higgins’s most interesting claim is that Frankenstein portrays Shelley’s pessimism about engaging the “Other” (an interaction which preoccupies much sf):

[t]he issue here is not simply that there is a gap between what the Creature may be intending and how he is interpreted by others. Given his hideous and disgusting appearance, he is bound to be interpreted in a negative way, even by the man who created him. This is the bleak core of the novel, and a problem to which there is no easy solution. (71; emphasis in original)

The drive to connect and its repeated failure permeate the novel. In a short appendix, Higgins notes the changes Shelley made between the original publication in 1818 and the 1831 edition, particularly to the character of Clerval, Frankenstein’s childhood friend. Clerval describes his ambition to learn the language and customs of India in order to aid the colonial endeavor, aligning him to both Frankenstein and Walton in his desire to “turn his knowledge into power” (91). Clerval’s intentions also suggest yet another component of Frankenstein’s “bleak core.” As the Creature’s experience reveals, learning the language and the culture of the “Other” does not guarantee sympathy. I would add that it is finally the “men” in Shelley’s novel who are both driven and limited in these ways and furthermore that Elizabeth and the Creature are linked in their desire to live in a world apart, only with their chosen mates. On some level, it could be that Shelley is suggesting that we should strive to be less than men rather than more.—Elizabeth Corsun, Transylvania University

Redefining Reality. Lejla Kucukalic. Philip K. Dick: Canonical Writer of the Digital Age. New York: Routledge, 2009. xiv + 177 pp. $95 hc.

In his essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978), Philip K. Dick identified two questions that preoccupied him for most of his career: “what is reality?” and “what constitutes the authentic human being?” In her recent analysis of five Dick novels, Lejla Kucukalic focuses on Dick’s obsession with these two questions. “Deceptive in their simplicity,” Kucukalic claims, “these questions reach into the core of human culture and our self-examination” (2). According to Kucukalic, Dick often frames his answers as warnings. Hoping to “navigate [the] perplexing realms created by human-machine interaction” (23), Dick frantically speculates about philosophy and theology in an attempt to salvage the authenticity and reality of human experience. Kucukalic suggests that Dick’s speculations and concerns anticipate many of the problems facing us in the present digital age. This fact alone, Kucukalic proposes, makes Philip K. Dick one of the most important writers in the slowly emerging late-twentieth-century canon.

In Dick’s fiction, reality is never what it seems. Beginning with an examination of Martian Time-Slip (1964) and ending with an analysis of VALIS (1981), Kucukalic repeatedly interrogates Dick’s unstable and tenuous sense of the real. As she notes in her first chapter, “Dick’s view of reality is not fixed to a few immovable dichotomies, but shifts constantly in order to encompass the complexity of modern existence” (9). His “fiction and essays show that the construction of what passes for real is a serious cultural and ideological question that merits deep consideration, particularly the way the phenomenon has entered so many aspects of our lives” (8). A sense that everything is unreal, that reality has somehow been hidden, permeates every aspect of Dick’s work. The fake, including fake humans, or androids, features prominently in all of the novels Kucukalic discusses. For Dick, the difference between the fake and the real is as much a moral distinction as it as a metaphysical one. “The deceitful and unsupportive human being,” as Kucukalic points out, “qualifies as an android, which in Dick’s universe referred both to actual humanoid robots, and to human beings who lack affect” (11). Dick’s android is a “metaphor of the machine” (10), a false and inhuman(e) entity that, by masquerading as a genuine human, disrupts the very fabric of reality itself.

Inspired no doubt by N. Katherine Hayles’s analysis of Dick in How We Became Posthuman (1999), Kucukalic’s second chapter discusses the connections between Dick’s life and work, examining the often intimate link between Dick’s fiction and biography. Relying on Dick’s letters to friends and acquaintances, Kucukalic identifies a wide range of texts and cultural authorities that influenced Dick’s writing, from his relationship with editor Tony Boucher to his interest in existential psychoanalysis. Kucukalic’s painstaking archival research is impressive; her discussion of Dick’s life is certainly one of the most thorough in recent Dick scholarship. Kucukalic’s biography of Dick, though at times lacking critical distance, allows her to argue successfully that Dick’s work must be situated historically. This assumption, that fiction and life constitute what Dick would call a “homeostatic system,” is crucial to Kucukalic’s subsequent examination of the author’s novels.

Kucukalic’s discussion of Martian Time-Slip (1964) and A Maze of Death (1970), in chapters three and five respectively, focuses on Dick’s interest in psychology. The inclusive definitions of existential psychoanalysis in particular attracted Dick’s attention. Kucukalic suggests that, for Dick, “individuals with different mindsets … should be well within, not on the margins of, the human collective” (62). She argues that the case studies in Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology (1958), a popular collection of essays on existential psychoanalysis, inform Dick’s representation of the autistic point of view of Manfred Steiner, one of the two protagonists in Martian Time-Slip. Kucukalic observes that, by “transform[ing] the alien into the human,” Dick “invites the reader to re-examine her attitudes toward mental disabilities” (49). “The author’s portrayal of Manfred,” Kucukalic claims, “presents the reader with a graspable, identifiable human being, brought before us in all the complexity of the psyche’s workings” (62). According to Kucukalic, A Maze of Death extends Dick’s critique of mental illness by revealing the subjective viewpoints of every one of its “psychotic” characters. In A Maze of Death, Kucukalic notes, Dick forces the unwitting reader to participate in the narrative itself: “We have inadvertently shared the point of view of a computer simulation and the subjective views of the characters” (93). “Narrative reality and experiential reality,” she later suggests, “are both seen as constructed by the author, readers, and the person interpreting their world” (105). By encouraging his readers to empathize, or even identify, with mentally ill characters, Dick redefines the boundaries of human identity, making the human something one becomes rather than something one simply is.

Defining the human is at the heart of what is perhaps Dick’s most famous novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). In chapter 4, Kucukalic discusses the book in terms of what separates the humans in the novel from the androids. Following Hayles’s analysis of the novel, Kucukalic proposes a link between Dick’s ideas and those of mid-twentieth-century cybernetics. In particular, she argues that Dick’s understanding of entropy, resistance to which defines the human in Androids, is directly related to the work of Norbert Wiener, specifically his popular book for a general audience, The Human Use of Human Beings (1954). According to Kucukalic, Rick Deckard, the main character in the novel, embodies Wiener’s understanding of entropy as a form of “cosmic pessimism”: “Deckard’s position as the android hunter is correlated with the workings of the death force. He is both the sufferer and the carrier of annihilation.... Wiener’s cosmic pessimism, the acceptance of knowledge that death is inevitable, has been enacted in Deckard’s attempts to complete his job” (86). Deckard’s initial willingness to kill androids, or humans beings who might resemble them, almost robs him of his humanity. Kucukalic suggests that the “real” androids in the novel are “human beings who do not care what happens to their fellow human beings” (88). Kucukalic argues that Deckard only prevents himself from becoming one of the androids he hunts by refusing to kill anymore and by choosing to embrace life in all its forms, both artificial and organic. Deckard’s humanity is the result of his choice, not its cause.

The difference between human and android realities is central to Kucukalic’s understanding of the book she examines in chapter six, A Scanner Darkly (1977). Focusing on the fragmented reality of the novel, she discusses the split personality of Bob Arctor/Fred, a small-time junkie (Arctor) who is also an undercover narcotics agent (Fred). Fred and Arctor both begin to lose their identity when Fred is assigned to monitor his own illegal activities as Arctor. The scanners on which Fred watches himself as Arctor, Kucukalic claims, put into question the humanity of both personalities:

the scanners, like drugs, turn one into an android.… After following Arctor through hours of watching his own tapes in police headquarters, the reader, too, is no longer sure whether Arctor’s real life is merely an endless reel of tape, where people and events are put into motion by pressing the “play” button, or whether there is a truth behind it at all. (123)

In the world of Scanner, falsehood soon becomes indistinguishable from reality. “Dick seriously questions the authenticity of ‘objective’ reality by pointing to the fake elements in it and the systems that support fabrication” (128). By blurring the distinction between the real and the unreal, Dick is able to emphasize what he sees as a reality pervaded by fabrication.

In VALIS (1981), fabrication permeates the world to such a degree that all conventional understandings of reality are rendered meaningless. Kucukalic claims, in her last chapter, that Dick provides the reader with only one key to the reality of the world he presents—the language of the text itself. Dick’s emphasis on “textuality” within the novel “implies the cycle of mutual influence between the text and the subject-matter, the reader, and the author, it reflects the belief that language is arbitrary and consensual, but also that it is in the center of the authentic, rather than being misplaced by it” (133). The language of VALIS, and the readers’ interpretation of that language, determines at any given moment reality for the novel’s split-personality protagonist, Horselover Fat/Phil Dick. Questioning Christopher Palmer’s reading of the novel as a postmodern tour-de-force, Kucukalic argues that Dick’s privileging of language actually betrays his hostility toward the relativism of postmodernity: “Although he refrains from offering a definitive answer to the question of existential meaning for the human race, Dick earnestly advocates the ‘deeper meaning’ that stands in opposition to the postmodern reflexivity and infinite play of surfaces” (135). Dick’s Platonic suggestion, that a “deeper meaning” of reality exists within language itself, allows him to “express and articulate [his] existential and ontological inquiry in writing” (143), even if that inquiry only gestures toward “true” reality.

Kucukalic makes a strong case for the link between Philip K. Dick’s fictional representations of a fragmented reality and the various existential philosophies Dick explored throughout his life. Her extensive archival research confers authority on her analyses and allows her to critique knowledgeably Dick’s complicated metaphysics. At times, however, Kucukalic’s lack of critical distance from her subject compromises her otherwise thorough and persuasive argument. All the same, her book compares favorably to other recent studies of Dick’s work such as Christopher Palmer’s Philip K. Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern (2003) and Gabriel McKee’s Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dick (2004). She provides a new perspective, for instance, on novels such as Martian Time-Slip and A Maze of Death. Though occasionally too broad in its sweeping biographical claims, Lejla Kucukalic’s Philip K. Dick: Canonical Writer of the Digital Age is nevertheless a worthy contribution to the study of Dick’s writing.—Jason Bourget, Queen’s University

Traumaturgy. Roger Luckhurst. The Trauma Question. New York: Routledge, 2008. x + 240 pp. $120 hc. $35.95 pbk.

Roger Luckhurst’s The Trauma Question extends the work of his early important essay, “The Science-Fictionalization of Trauma: Remarks on Narratives of Alien Abduction” (SFS 25.1 [Mar. 1998]: 29-52). The book offers a comprehensive, accessible, and engaging introduction to the interdisciplinary field of trauma studies. Luckhurst’s exceptional overview provides historical background, foundational vocabulary, central figures, key texts, pressing questions, and ongoing debates, and explores the ways trauma discourse has informed thinking about identity and subjectivity in various discourses and historical contexts. The book is particularly impressive in its deft close readings of works in literature (fiction, memoir) and visual culture (film, television, photography) as a means to illustrate the resonance of trauma studies with the popular cultural imaginary. (Curiously, he does not incorporate into the book his previous incredibly provocative and rich discussion of abduction accounts.) Luckhurst cogently guides readers into conversations and unpacks terms, and his carefully grounded close readings foster sophisticated thinking about the scope of trauma studies. Because he so clearly maps the shifting critical terrain and evolving vocabulary, the book is essential reading for those new to the field as well as for scholars already working within it and searching for a definitive teaching text.

Luckhurst organizes his book into two sections. In Part I, “Aetiology,” offers a chronological account of psychical trauma since the 1860s, tracing the articulation of trauma in relationship to modernity and proceeding until the formal advent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 1980. His charting of the genealogy of the concept includes early historical accounts of trauma symptoms embedded within accident investigations of mass industry (especially the railway), legal cases and case law, early psychotherapeutic writings that detail the aftershock of traumatic events, and the work of a range of influential theorists, from Freud to Judith Butler, that directs thinking about the field. His overview frames the discussion of how the evolving category of trauma survivor becomes increasingly linked to identity politics, with memory and trauma now firmly embedded within present articulations of subjectivity, such that Luckhurst describes the contemporary moment as a “trauma sensitized present” (53). For him, the 1980s represent a sea change, as trauma evolves from medical discourse to cultural condition. The spectrum of trauma becomes “redrawn, with the Holocaust the worst imaginable collective trauma, sexual abuse the worst individual trauma” (65). He concludes the book’s first section by suggesting that, by the late 1980s, the concept of trauma was no longer confined to professional discourses; rather, it was informed by multiple knowledge systems with its complex history resonating through many cultural realms.

In Part II, “Cultural Symptoms,” Luckhurst offers close readings of literary and visual culture as a means to explore how writers, photographers, and filmmakers grapple with narrating trauma and working through its impact on conceptualizations of self, community, and nation. As he writes, “Trauma, in effect, issues a challenge to the capacities of narrative knowledge. In its shock impact trauma is anti-narrative, but it also generates the manic production of retrospective narratives that seek to explicate the trauma” (79). He clarifies the centrality of cultural production to trauma studies: “For me, the work done by cultural forms inheres in this contradiction: culture rehearses or restages narratives that attempt to animate and explicate trauma that has been formulated as something that exceeds the possibility of narrative knowledge” (79). His readings include: narrations of trauma in fiction (Toni Morrison, Stephen King, and W.G. Sebald) and in the recently resurgent genres of memoir and autobiography (Philip Roth, Hervé Guibert, and Kathryn Harrison); trauma narratives in visual culture (Christian Boltanski, Gerhard Richter, and Tracy Moffatt), including exhibit catalogues devoted to the subject of violence and trauma (Sabastião Salgado, Gilles Peress, Luc Delahaye), which he terms “beautiful books of atrocity” (164); and trauma and narrative cinema by “trauma auteurs,” filmmakers whose bodies of work engage with the thematics of trauma (Alain Resnais, Atom Egoyan, and David Lynch). Luckhurst reads film as a particularly instructive form for thinking about trauma because it provides a vehicle for exploring the reality that “no narrative of trauma can be told in a linear way: it has a time signature that must fracture causality” (9). Luckhurst’s readings include cinematic representations of the Vietnam veteran, which he credits as contributing to cultivating a wide-scale conversation about trauma. He concludes the latter half of the book with this incisive comment, which perhaps best explains his decision to concentrate his illustrative readings predominantly around film: “Cinematic narratives don’t just mimic but help organize popular conceptions of what trauma does to subjectivity” (208). His readings show the ways that popular culture reflects the complex process of how we publicly remember trauma, why certain traumatic events are collectively remembered and others resisted, ignored, or otherwise unarticulated, and what force traumatic memory has had, and continues to have, in the mapping and shaping of culture.

In his afterword to the book, Luckhurst ruminates about the legacy as well as the limitations of trauma theory. He writes, “Cultural theory too often demands that the impossible, aporetic or melancholic response is the only appropriately ethical condition for individuals and communities defined by their post-traumatic afterwardsness” (212-13). He emphasizes that there are limits to reading catastrophic events exclusively through the paradigm of trauma, something he sees indicated in the inability of certain images, such as those of torture at Abu Ghraib, to produce a universally shared sense of shock. While certainly for the subjects and select viewers these atrocity images bespeak trauma, for others they speak from “a Western aesthetic tradition of representing violent triumph over colonized and therefore dehumanized peoples” (212). Luckhurst asks readers to consider how fixed notions of cultural trauma might actually thwart political work and urges that we follow the path of what he considers to be some of the most interesting work in trauma studies, that which “acknowledges yet seeks to work through the traumatic past, promising communality not on preserving trauma but on transforming its legacy” (213; emphasis in original). We might think about trauma as opening questions more than prescribing answers.—Tiffany Ana López, University of California, Riverside

Childhood’s Ends. Farah Mendlesohn. The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction. Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy 14. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. ix + 273pp. $45.00 pbk.

There is so much to like about Farah Mendlesohn’s new book on science fiction for children and teens that it is hard to know where to begin: with her thesis (which is original and important), her research (which is well-informed and extensive), or her conclusions (which are timely and necessary). Best, perhaps, to proceed as the author herself does—by identifying a conundrum: not only is the vast majority of science fiction currently marketed to young people not particularly good, it is not even especially “science fictional,” at least not in any meaningful or significant sense of the term. Indeed, as she goes on to demonstrate convincingly, with only certain, rare exceptions, contemporary young adult (YA) sf consistently stands in opposition to the structures, values, and themes commonly associated with, and valorized by, the field (2-3). To the question raised at the outset of her work—“Is there any such thing as children’s science fiction?”—comes the disappointing (and disappointed) answer: “Yes, but nowhere near enough” (4). Why is this the case?

Mendlesohn sees a couple of clear culprits, and—after devoting a brief but pithy first chapter to defining her terms (“What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Science Fiction’?”)—quickly goes after them. By this I do not mean to suggest that her approach is either pugnacious or dyspeptic. Though occasionally dismayed by what she finds, Mendlesohn never stoops to clumsy academic sarcasm; she remains consistently even-handed and judicious. This scholarly virtue stands her in good stead, given that two of the primary malefactors turn out to be dominant (or, at least, widely accepted) pedagogical assumptions. The first is that of “literacy culture” as practiced in schools and beyond—an orthodoxy accepting as more or less given that children (especially boys) “don’t read,” that they “cannot handle narrative complexity,” that they “want books about people like them,” and that fiction should be “about character” (23). These assumptions dovetail with those of contemporary science pedagogy (for which the child or adolescent is taken to be either uninterested in science, incapable of dealing with information density, or both), and are linked to broader anti-intellectual trends in general and to adult anxieties about science in particular: “where many adults see science as difficult and needing to be framed ‘accessibly,’ most children … regard science and information about science as very exciting indeed” (50). The result of these two educational frameworks—both arising in the 1960s—is precisely the dismissal of the kind of best-practice (“juvenile”) sf represented by Robert A. Heinlein, Andre Norton, and others, and the establishment of a different (YA) tradition having little or nothing to do with what Mendlesohn sees as the core values of the genre. These include:

an outward-bound trajectory; information density; emotional development grounded in a reaction to the world rather than a boy-meets-girl romance…; encouragement to analytical thinking…; a questioning approach to the material of the text and the built world; a moral or ethical ruthlessness that argues with the world rather than tritely positing one stance as innately good, another innately bad; a sense at the end both that one has learned something, and that there is something more to learn. (183; emphasis in original)

Mendlesohn devotes her fourth chapter to charting the shift touched on above, and, in so doing, enriches the specifically historical dimensions of her work. Here, too, her approach is rewarding (she is a historian by trade), offering informed and insightful commentary on changing social, political, and pedagogical mores, as well as the way in which these fluctuations have altered the literary landscape. In her fifth chapter, she focuses on issues of gender and representation, concluding that the move from “juvenile” to YA models has done little to ameliorate longstanding literary shortcomings in this area (“Why is sf for children so socially conservative?” and, “With some honorable exceptions, many texts seem to demand a [traditionally] gendered reader” [112, 134]). Making her case in each of these areas, Mendlesohn draws on an impressive array of research materials, including key texts in educational theory, literacy expertise, science pedagogy, and sf studies. Her critical observations are consistently well informed.'Nowhere is this latter quality so much in evidence as in her discussions of the primary literature itself. Early on, Mendlesohn states that she has catalogued 700 sf texts marketed to children and teens, and that, of these books, she has read approximately 450. Reading The Inter-Galactic Playground, one finds this easy to believe: the author’s familiarity with Heinlein and Norton is matched only by her cognizance of more contemporary fare, be it praiseworthy (e.g., Ann Halam’s Siberia [2005], Janet McNaughton’s The Secret Under Her Skin [2000], Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother [2008]), or less so (Neil Arksey’s Playing on the Edge [2000], Garth Nix’s Shade’s Children [2003], Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember [2003]). As she concludes: “The most exhausting aspect of this book has been wading through misguided dross, written to ‘uplift’ (more often to depress) children or teens, or written to carry a message about appropriate emotional development” (175). Nevertheless, Mendlesohn closes her study on two positive notes, offering, first, a list of “best texts now,” and, second, the observation that a shift seems to be occurring: more and more authors, she asserts, are returning to traditional (progressive) sf values in their books for children and adolescents (176).

For all of these reasons, Mendlesohn’s work constitutes a valuable contribution to the field. More, though, it engages with a larger cultural concern of the utmost importance: to what extent are we able to see intelligent, questioning beings in our offspring and to what degree will we foster these traits as they grow and develop?—Kelly Meyer, The College of Saint Rose

Make Room for SFTV. J.P. Telotte, ed. The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2008. vii +368 pp. $45.00 hc.

While sf films have received serious critical attention for decades, sf television (SFTV) is often overlooked or even ridiculed due to its low production values, its simplistic and often derivative storylines, and the industry’s attempts to target a primarily juvenile audience. Since the 1990s, however, there have been dramatic improvements in both the quantity and quality of SFTV programming. Larger budgets, improved special effects, and expanded formats have led to the production of far more sophisticated and complex narratives. The crossover success of such programs as The X-Files (1993-2002), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007), Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), Lost (2004-), and Heroes (2006-), to name only a few, suggests that SFTV has achieved both a mainstream audience and a permanent home on prime time, and there is little indication that this will change anytime soon.

Several critical studies on SFTV have also appeared in recent years, such as M. Keith Booker’s Science Fiction Television (2004), Jan Johnson-Smith’s American Science Fiction TV (2005),John R. Cook’s British Science Fiction Television (2005), and Sherry Ginn’s Our Space, Our Place: Women in the Worlds of Science Fiction Television (2005). J.P. Telotte’s edited collection The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader is the latest addition to this growing body of scholarship. Like its predecessors, this collection does not simply capitalize on SFTV’s sudden popularity, but rather attempts to provide a broader historical context for understanding its origins and significance. In his introduction, Telotte explains that the book’s primary goal is to examine the ways in which SFTV has “helped television itself better address prevailing cultural concerns” (7). More specifically, Telotte claims that SFTV helps audiences to “confront an age in which history seems to have lost much of its relevance, the future is mysterious, and our humanity is often perceived as just a construct of various forces beyond our full understanding and control” (26). Telotte thus seems to suggest that the recent surge of interest in SFTV is largely due to the increased significance of sf themes in contemporary culture.

The book is divided into five sections. Part I, “Background: Lifting Off from the Cultural Pad,” focuses on the literary and filmic influences on early SFTV programs. Part II, “The Shape of the Ship: Narrative Vehicles and Science Fiction,” examines the narrative practices and forms of SFTV, including anthology series, space operas, and animation. Part III, “What Fuels These Flights: Some Key Concerns of Science Fiction Television,” addresses some of SFTV’s key themes, such as the representation of gender, technology, and alternate worlds. Part IV, “The Best Sights ‘Out There,’” focuses on some of the most influential contemporary SFTV programs, such as The X-Files, Babylon 5 (1994-1998), and Stargate SG-1.The final section, “The Landing Zone: Where Does Science Fiction Television Go from Here?,” examines the role that new technologies play in the formation of the SFTV fan community.

The individual chapters provide a tremendous and often dizzying array of topics and approaches, and as with many anthologies it is often difficult to find a connecting thread between the various contributions. The chapters in the first section, for example, address a wide range of issues, such as the representation of television in sf films, the difficulty of adapting sf films for television, and the difficulty of applying auteur theory to SFTV programs, as they are rarely guided by a single creative director. The first chapter in the second section, Wheeler Winston Dixon’s “Tomorrowland TV: The Space Opera and Early Science Fiction Television,” is the first contribution that clearly explores how SFTV addresses cultural concerns. Dixon argues that early SFTV space operas such as Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949-1955), Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950-1955), Space Patrol (1950-1955), Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954), Flash Gordon (1954-1955), and Captain Midnight (1954-1958) all promote the idea that “peace in the universe can be achieved only by dangerous efforts and the unilateral dominance of the Western powers” (100), and he concludes that “space operas by design inculcated cold war values into their young viewers” (93-94). M. Keith Booker’s chapter on “The Politics of Star Trek” in part IV similarly argues that this program represents “a thoroughly Americanized global culture” (199) that “remains saturated with the binary us-versus-them logic of the cold war” (200). Both Dixon and Booker thus address the ways in which American SFTV often reflects and reinforces a cold war ideology.

Rodney Hill’s chapter, “Anthology Drama: Mapping The Twilight Zone’s Cultural and Mythological Terrain,” similarly examines the ways in which SFTV addresses a wide range of cultural concerns, including “the threat of nuclear war, the red scare, and the ever present danger that suburban conformity might deteriorate into fascism” (115). Unlike Booker and Dixon, however, Hill argues that The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) employs sf themes and situations in order to mask an underlying critique of dominant ideologies: “Serling and his collaborators seem to have understood the power of science fiction [as] a tool for creating important, socially critical drama in a form that would not incur the wrath of network executives, advertising agencies, corporate sponsors, or congressional committees” (124). Susan A. George’s chapter, “Frakking Machines: Desire, Gender, and the (Post)Human Condition in Battlestar Galactica,” also describes SFTV as a forum for public debate concerning the impact of new technologies and the problem of scientific ethics. Rather than arguing that SFTV programs simply reflect and reinforce dominant values, in other words, many of the chapters in this collection also acknowledge SFTV’s function as a form of ideological critique.

While most of the chapters in the collection focus exclusively on American SFTV, two contributions examine the history of SFTV in a more global context. Dennis Redmond’s “Animation, Anime, and the Cultural Logic of Asianization” looks at how Japanese SFTV programs began to diverge from their American predecessors in the 1970s. Redmond also argues that recent Japanese SFTV programs, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999), Quack Experimental Anime Excel Saga (1999), and Paranoia Agent (2004), stage the rise of multinational capitalism in east Asia; Japanese SFTV thus represents “one of the most important public spaces, where the contradictions and possibilities of east Asian integration can be debated, narrated, and shaped” (136). Mark Bould’s “Science Fiction Television in the United Kingdom” similarly examines the unique aspects of British SFTV, which has differed radically from American SFTV since the 1950s. Unlike the pro-imperialist slant of early American SFTV, for example, the British Quatermass serials reflect “anxieties about the end of empire and the concomitant decentering of the United Kingdom within a globalized economy” (209). British SFTV programs thus express the conflicting desires of British viewers, who long for a return to “empire and the security of family and hierarchy,” yet who also want “something new, different, and other than the tradition that mires us, and the thrill of fluid, unanchored possibility” (225-26). These chapters are among the most useful, as they provide an overview of larger cultural shifts that the other chapters often overlook in favor of more detailed readings of individual texts.

The most surprising contribution to this collection is David Lavery’s “The Island’s Greatest Mystery: Is Lost Science Fiction?” in which he concludes that it is ultimately impossible to determine whether this program actually fulfills any of a number of available definitions of SFTV (293). While it may seem odd to include such an argument in a book that is ostensibly about the history of SFTV, Lavery’s chapter raises important questions about the difficulty of defining SFTV as a distinct genre. By constantly gesturing towards the gaps and fissures in our understanding of SFTV, therefore, contributions like this repeatedly demonstrate that there is still much work to be done on the topic. Indeed, perhaps the greatest strength of The Essential Science Fiction Television Reader is that it not only presents a wide range of approaches to the study of SFTV but also raises compelling questions that invite further discussion.—Anthony Enns, Dalhousie University

Culture Shock. Gary Westfahl and George Slusser, eds.  Science Fiction and The Two Cultures: Essays on Bridging the Gap Between the Sciences and the Humanities. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 282 pp. $35.00 pbk.

In 1959, C.P. Snow gave a famous, or notorious, lecture that described the emergence of two ways of thinking characterized by mutual incomprehension —those of science (with physicists at an extreme) and the humanities (with the extreme provided by literary academics). Snow’s lecture prompted a vitriolic debate in which Snow himself was attacked in personal, and rather unfair, terms by celebrated British literary critic F.R. Leavis. While Leavis no doubt perceived Snow’s contribution as a philistine dismissal of the humanities’ ongoing value, the total lack of understanding between the antagonists does rather underscore Snow’s original point.

Snow doubtless overestimated the political power of literary academics and others trained in the humanities. Even in the 1950s, the days were long gone when a sound education in literature and the classics could open many doors of power and influence. Nonetheless, he had a point about the growing gap between such an education and an education in the sciences, as the various academic disciplines became more specialized and self-absorbed. Nor have things improved half a century later; indeed, they are doubtless growing worse with every passing year.

Part of the problem is an ongoing explosion of scientific knowledge that has left even scientists struggling to keep up with advances outside their relatively narrow fields of research. How, then, can we expect anyone else to sustain a measure of scientific literacy? But surely there is more to it than that. In any event, how do we bridge the two cultures, or create a scientifically sophisticated society? Where do we even start?

The 1999 J. Lloyd Eaton Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature addressed the topic of “Science Fiction at the Crossroads of Two Cultures,” and the papers presented on that occasion have been revised and updated for the volume under review. This is a laudable effort, addressing an important contemporary issue that will not go away. Westfahl’s introduction is clear and insightful, while the book is well-structured: it divides neatly into two parts, one devoted to more general topics, including the background to the original Snow-Leavis debate, while the other contains articles that examine particular themes, authors, or texts. It concludes with Westfahl’s very personal and insiderly—but wonderfully lucid and passionate—tribute to the Eaton Conferences.

Overall, this is a nice package, its worst flaw being the poor quality of the book as a physical object: I am a (quite literally) gentle reader, not a savage bender of spines, but my copy came apart on first reading. Surely the publisher can do better than this.

The most valuable article in the book is arguably Slusser’s 34-page study of science fiction’s visions of human transformation: “Dimorphs and Doubles: J.D. Bernal’s ‘Two Cultures’ and the Transhuman Promise.” Slusser examines works by a variety of authors, including Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Donna Haraway, and the Strugatsky brothers. He argues that Bernal, writing in 1929, sketched a master plot for the subsequent development of the genre. Thereafter, science fiction commonly depicts a “dimorphic split” in the human species: at a crucial moment in history, forward-looking individuals evolve rapidly into something other than human, while others stay behind, retreating from the promise of transformation. This is a plot that lends itself to endless variations, subversions, and complications.

Slusser investigates the methods by which sf writers (and others) tell this master story in the face of obvious literary challenges, notably the opaque destiny of transformed humans whose capacities and possibilities greatly exceed our own. He offers examples where a sense of human continuity is retained, and the story remains tellable to merely human beings like us, even though posthuman entities emerge—beings that are altered beyond recognition and require no human assistance or social connection. In other cases, as in Heinlein’s depiction of the ageless and polymorphously curious Lazarus Long, the limits of humanity are severely tested, but the characters remain recognizably like us. Despite the bizarre, seemingly endless possibilities that he explores, Lazarus refuses any transformation into something truly posthuman.

Other highlights of the book include Carl Freedman’s careful parsing of the original Snow-Leavis controversy and Gregory Benford’s fascinating “A Creature of Double Vision.” The latter is a meditation on our dual nature as beings who value subjectivity and emotion, on the one hand, but also, on the other, increased understanding of the objective world and our place in it. Benford’s piece is complemented by Pekka Kuuisto’s “Gregory Benford’s Against Infinity and the Geometric Formation of the Encyclopedic Circle of Knowledge,” itself an encyclopedic effort that delves into many arcane and exotic fields to find its insights. Still other articles deal usefully with the work of Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and others.

Yet something seems to be missing. Part of the problem may be a common difficulty for such conferences and collections: that contributors are tempted to provide papers on the topics they were researching anyway, in some cases making only token efforts to adapt them to suit a nominal conference theme. There is certainly more than a whiff of this about Science Fiction and the Two Cultures. But my concern goes deeper. Even after reading the entire book once, and much of it twice, I felt that too many of the contributors failed to take the central problem with adequate seriousness. The problem that Snow defined—which has grown more complex and even more intractable, and should keep us awake at night, at least if we are thinking and writing about it—focused on its difficulty. But as I read Science Fiction and the Two Cultures, I had little sense of engagement with people who were getting edgy or losing sleep.

The problem we now face, hundreds of years after Galileo and others began the Scientific Revolution and long after Snow’s lecture, goes beyond the explosion in scientific knowledge or even the growing specialization of disciplines. Part of it, I think, is the massively unintuitive character of modern science, “unintuitive” in both its methods and its outcomes. Science tells us much about the very small, the very distant (and thus the very vast universe), and the very ancient. It locates us in the immensity of space and the incomprehensible depth of time. In doing so, it reveals endless wonders. Unfortunately, however, these wonders are seldom on a human scale. While the world revealed by science is, in many ways, more amazing than anything previously imagined by mythmakers, prophets, or storytellers, it is also far less intuitively meaningful or understandable. Worse, there is so much that we do not truly comprehend.

Here, then, are some questions to ask, fifty years after C.P. Snow began the two cultures debate. Can the scientific picture be made meaningful to ordinary people who live, work, love, and die in the middle-sized human world? What happens when scientific explanations defy our comprehension? It is one thing to be told—by Camus, say—that the universe does not suffer or yearn, that it is indifferent to us and alien to our emotions. Perhaps that is bad enough. But it is another to suspect that we cannot understand its ultimate workings at all. As is often said, there is a sense in which even quantum physicists do not truly understand quantum theory. What does science fiction have to say about all this? How does it illuminate the issues?

We know that science fiction has often filled the imaginary future, and sometimes an imaginary past or an alternative present, with exotic locations for tales of adventure and heroism. It has, however, also had much to say about the process of radical and irreversible social change brought about by new technologies. But how successful has it been in coming to terms with fundamental advances in human knowledge, and with science’s increasing strangeness and mystery? I would like to understand—or at least see some well-argued opinions—whether science fiction, or a sub-component of it, has been successful in making the emerging scientific picture of the world more accessible and comprehensible. Have stories with some fidelity to genuine science helped to build a bridge for their readers, or is that asking too much?

While the articles collected in Science Fiction and the Two Cultures are individually valuable, they seldom address questions such as these—at any rate, not explicitly or in adequate depth. That is not to deny the editors’ real achievement or the insights offered by the various authors. There is room, however, for more systematic efforts at understanding what the “two cultures” concept means today, relating this to science fiction and its distinctive contribution to culture as a whole.—Russell Blackford, Monash University

Diegetics of Mainstream Hollywood. James Walters. Alternative Worlds in Hollywood Cinema. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2008. 232 pp. ₤14.95 pbk.

Concentrating on both classical and contemporary Hollywood cinema, this rigorous study analyzes the role of diegetic narratives-within-narratives in select films, foregrounding scrupulous close readings over summary and interpretive gloss. The title of the book led me to believe that the films under scrutiny would fall squarely into the sf genre à la Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990), David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), or the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy (1999-2003). Most of them, however, are not thoroughbred sf, if they are sf at all. Walters’s thesis is premised on the notion that Hollywood films have historically pitted various “worlds” against one another, worlds that take the form of dreams and alternate zones of existence. “I am concerned with the ways in which alternative worlds impact upon characters that experience them,” he writes, “engaging with an investment in questions of individual self-awareness and fluctuating self-identity that all the films share. At its most basic level, therefore, this is a study of films that explore what happens to people when they move between worlds” (13). Such movements consistently revise desire and perception in the diegeses of Hollywood cinema as well as in the real world, implicated by representation and extrapolation. Alternative Worlds is an impressive examination of this dynamic.

Walters devises three categories for filmic worlds: Imagined Worlds (dreams or hallucinations), Potential Worlds (alternate realities analogous to characters’ primary realities), and Other Worlds (distant, unfamiliar regions and societies). Respectively, these comprise the book’s three parts and follow the first chapter, “Establishing Contexts.” As the title suggests, here Walters discusses works and critics that inform his argument, especially Stanley Cavell, whose ideas on Hollywood worlds form the basis of Alternative Worlds. Walters explains that his work aspires to develop and refine those ideas: “A central aim of this book ... is to attempt a more precise categorization of alternative worlds in Hollywood films that leaves us better placed to understand the contrasts and correlations that the films discussed wish to establish” (10). This chapter is by no means limited to Cavell, however; it cites and evaluates a wide array of world-theories on film.

Each of the three parts contains three chapters; in all cases, the first chapter erects scaffolding for the close readings that are performed in the subsequent two. The primary texts in “Part One: Imagined Worlds” are Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939), Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window (1944), and Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). In “Part Two: Potential Worlds,” they are Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day (1993); and in “Part Three: Other Worlds,” they are Vincent Minnelli’s Brigadoon (1954) and Gary Ross’s Pleasantville (1998). Analyses are extensive and meticulous, and pay attention as much to content as to form. They are also supplemented by shorter commentaries on many other films. Among the clearly identifiable sf films are Back to the Future (1985), eXistenz (1999), The Matrix (1999), and Vanilla Sky (2001), but Walters’s remarks on them are peripheral at best, and he is not concerned with the role of what I call “worldplay” within the framework of sf. Overall, this inattentiveness is justified; Walters is not an sf critic or theorist and does not purport to be. At the same time, given the longstanding seminal trope of worldplay in the sf genre, Alternative Worlds could be enhanced by a greater attentiveness not only to explicit sf themes but also to how Hollywood cinema has represented the increasing science-fictionalization of the real.

This, perhaps, is mere wishful thinking on the part of an sf-monger. While his prose is sometimes a little dry, Walters has written a valuable book that traverses a broad temporal span in cinematic history. Ultimately he offers a unique perspective on the relationships between fantasy and reality as promulgated by some of Hollywood’s most popular films. Ardent movie buffs may like Alternative Worlds, but primarily it will appeal to film studies scholars.—D. Harlan Wilson, Wright State University-Lake Campus

Scholarly Intersections. Kathryn J. Weese. Feminist Narrative and the Supernatural: The Function of Fantastic Devices in Seven Recent Novels. Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy 11. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008. xii +222 pp. $35 pbk.

The intersections, or the perceived lack of such connections, between scholarship on the fantastic as a genre, often with a primary focus on canonical male writers, and feminist scholarship, which has at times disdained the popular genres of science fiction and fantasy, are a rich locus for work. Kathryn Weese’s project is a strong attempt at mapping those intersections and applying the generated critical insights to texts within the academic context of competing postmodernisms. The project is a fascinating one, and Weese provides a number of compelling readings of her chosen novels; but her argument is difficult to follow because of overused discursive endnotes.

Weese situates her project at what she identifies as the intersection between two different schools of thought. On one side is scholarship on the fantastic, primarily structuralist in methodology, rooted in Tzvetan Todorov’s 1975 study The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. On the other lies scholarship on feminist narratology that contextualizes formal analysis in the ideological and socio-historical discussions of women’s lives in a patriarchal culture, including work by Margaret Homans, Molly Hite, Gayle Green, Rachel Blau Du Plessis, and Sally Robinson. A final context for this monograph is the ongoing academic literary debates about postmodernisms, including magical realism’s contested placement. Academic work on postmodernisms, including but not limited to magical realism, often ignores science fiction and fantasy, as well as the fantastic, even in texts that otherwise meet the criteria for postmodern writing.

Drawing together these different strands of theoretical work is an ambitious and possibly overly complex project, but Weese makes a convincing case for her argument that recent movements to identify some postmodern literature as “fantastic” operate by excluding contemporary women authors from consideration. Her selection of novels by women that exist in the borderlands of “the fantastic,” “women’s literature,” and “magical realism” requires the use of such a range of critical discourses.

The academic context in which Weese works consists of a culture that has excluded or marginalized some genres and classes of authors. In recent years, what might function as a more inclusive field (a fluid “postmodernism” as opposed to an artificially restricted “modernism”) has tended to foreground and valorize a single type of postmodern fiction. This new canon includes primarily metafiction by white men (Weese identifies John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and Thomas Pynchon) and focuses on a privileged exploration of language experimentation and the stance that “the only reality is that there is no reality” (22). The complexity of Weese’s theoretical and critical context is complicated on a textual level by the extensive—perhaps too extensive—use of discursive footnotes. Large parts of her engagement with secondary criticism and theories take place in lengthy endnotes, many of which contain information central to her argument and which perhaps should not have been relegated to the end of the book.

Focusing on the intersections between scholarship on the fantastic and on feminist narrative, Weese considers the extent to which the first school tends to work primarily with white male authors, to privilege experimentation with form merely for aesthetics’ sake, and to ignore work generated by feminist scholars and postcolonial scholars focusing on magical realism. Alternately, feminist narrative theorists and critics tend to ignore elements of the fantastic in works by women, focusing instead on the “realism” of the historical situatedness of women’s narratives and experiences. Weese draws on methods from both schools, which she argues have not engaged with one another sufficiently despite important overlaps, to explore seven novels published by women from the 1970s to the 1990s. The novels, Weese argues, are examples of an important and ignored trend by women writers of this time: “incorporating moments of the fantastic within otherwise realistic narratives concerned with patriarchal constructions of femininity” (3).

Drawing on the work of scholars of magical realism, especially Theo D’Haen, Weese identifies in women writers’ use of feminist narrative strategies and fantastic or magical-realist elements an alternate locus of multiple postmodernisms. The chosen texts show the constructedness of patriarchal ideologies in traditional narrative structures and create new stories, new ways of representing women’s plural, not essential, realities. The postmodernism in these women’s writing is a “social and political phenomenon in which marginalized groups question the hegemony of white male supremacy, while at the same time pointing to strategies of resistance and subversion” (Anne Koenen, qtd. 14).

Weese chooses to focus on seven novels in detail, rather than paying minimal attention to a large number of novels. Such a close focus is useful, allowing her to connect the works to complex theoretical and critical backgrounds, and those readings are some of the most successful parts of the book. The close reading allows her to consider narrative elements in detail, specifically the issue of closure—or more accurately, the lack of traditional narrative closure in works by women—as well as the narrative voice and narrative points of view. She argues that fantastic elements, present in the different texts in varying degrees, function to achieve feminist goals: by undercutting the post-Enlightenment view of the world, the novels challenge masculinist narratives of women’s experiences. Alternative feminist views of women’s experiences are created by the provision of realistic and historical details that revise traditional—i.e., patriarchal and masculinist—ideas of “realism” and history as well as the conventions of literary genres such as gothic, quest, autobiographical, and historical novels.

The book is divided into three parts, analyzing seven novels in chronological order: The Sea, The Sea (Iris Murdoch, 1978), Lady Oracle (Margaret Atwood, 1976), Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson, 1981), The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields, 1993), The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver, 1998), Beloved (Toni Morrison, 1988), and Paradise (Morrison, 1998).

Part I, “Gothic Fictions and the Fantastic,” includes two chapters—the first analyzing The Sea, The Sea and the second Lady Oracle—exploring challenges to the conventions of the gothic novel, each novel using first-person narrators and casting the narrators as writers. The use of a male narrator in Murdoch’s novel reconfigures gothic conventions of masculinity, and the extent to which the boundaries blur between the fantastic and natural is an early example of how the fantastic can be used for feminist goals. The female narrator in Atwood’s comic gothic novel is affected by the intrusion of the supernatural, which affects her writing choices, as also happens to Murdoch’s narrator-writer. This focuses attention on the constructedness of gender, revising the conventions of the gothic novel.

Part II, “Ghostly Narrators and Narrative Voices,” focuses on Housekeeping and The Stone Diaries, two novels that continue to use first-person narrators but that draw on the fantastic to challenge the conventions of the traditional autobiographical voice by suggesting that the narrators are dead. Arguing that the fantastic elements are less overt in these two books than in the others, Weese notes the extent to which “fantastic” characters and narrators are portrayed as having a reality beyond the living but conventional characters. The feminist postmodern movement of writing beyond the conventional ending also challenges conventional narratives about women.

Part III, “The Historical Novel and the Fantastic,” consists of three chapters analyzing novels that blend the historical and the fantastic: The Poisonwood Bible, Beloved, and Paradise. These novels draw upon postcolonial discourses to challenge accepted racist and sexist versions of history by means of magical-realist and fantastic elements, setting feminist and magical-realist discourses and realities against the traditional Christian discourses of missionaries and slaveowners.

Weese’s choice of novels, which ignores traditional boundaries of nationality and ethnicity, allows for a varied and rich range of readings that consider a spectrum of fantastic devices used to challenge the genre conventions of gothic, autobiographical, and historical novels—as well as the gospels. Such challenges vary in scope but have been largely ignored in the critical work on these novels. The strength of combining feminist narrative techniques with fantastic or magical-realistic devices to challenge dominant ideologies and to craft new ways of telling stories about realities is clear. While I could wish that more editorial attention had been paid to what parts of the argument ended up in notes and what part in the body of the text, Weese’s book is well worth reading.—Robin Anne Reid,Texas A&M University-Commerce

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