BOOKS IN REVIEW
Generations of SF.
Simone Caroti. The Generation Starship in Science Fiction: A Critical History, 1934-2001. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. vii + 267 pp. $38 pbk
This book gives us a thorough tour of the generation starship trope, and although it states no explicit thesis beyond the desire to examine the relevant texts in chronological order, a number of central ideas soon emerge, giving the book a clear structure. Caroti sees sf in evolutionary terms, the stories of the Gernsback era being innately inferior to those of Campbell’s day, with fiction from Astounding between 1937 and 1949 similarly inferior to more recent work. Part of this evolution is tied to narrative technique: Caroti dislikes third-person-omniscient narrators and is particularly annoyed by the traditional sf use of infodumps for background information. Part of it, however, is ideological, as will be discussed later in the review. He also explores what he calls the “forgetfulness pattern” and the “Galilean character” (15) in many of the works—that is, having the crew of the generation starship forget not just where they are going, but that they are even on a voyage, until one imaginative hero discovers the truth.
Following an introduction in which he discusses the various ways in which one might travel to the stars—FTL, hibernation, immortality, and, of course, generation starships—Caroti examines early works of fiction and nonfiction by Robert Goddard, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and J.D. Bernal, looking at both their scientific attitudes and the often utopian perspectives that energized them. The first two men, he suggests, “were space dreamers in the strictest sense of the word, intellectuals and scientists for whom the human venture into space represented a self-sustaining, self-justifying endeavor, the ultimate reason for our efforts here on Earth” (33). Bernal, however, was a more “practical” dreamer, seeing the venture into space as necessary to achieving “utter independence from the dangers of the world” (33). These two ideas, spacefaring for its own sake and for the protection of the human race, crop up again and again in various writers’ work. Turning to the Gernsback years, Caroti discusses two more generation-starship stories, Laurence Manning’s “The Living Galaxy” (1934) and Don Wilcox’s “The Voyage that Lasted 600 Years” (1940). Caroti is very clear on the weaknesses of the sf of this era, both from a literary perspective and an ideological one, especially its naïve belief that the genre could not only predict the future but in fact also construct a consensus future based on “the laws, customs and values of the United States of America, circa 1940” (72).
The Campbell era brought in higher literary standards but, Caroti insists, little ideological change: “Campbell did not make the dream of science fiction more real than Gernsback had; he made the act of storytelling this dream more persuasive and plausible” (81). Robert A. Heinlein was the primary exemplum of Campbell’s philosophy, of course, and his generation-starship tale “Universe” (1941) is the central focus of the chapter. The story for Caroti represents all that is good about Campbellian sf—a competent protagonist, a world that feels real, and mysteries that we must decode as we go—but its sequel, “Common Sense” (1941), and stories like it, revealing in their sociological and technological assumptions the weaknesses of the “Campbell/Heinlein generation[,] … became stuck inside their set of solutions, treating them as if they were the only set available or practical” (94).
Caroti is much more positive about fiction published between 1957 and 1979, analyzing such stories as John Brunner’s “Lungfish” (1957) and J.G. Ballard’s “Thirteen to Centaurus” (1962), and finding them largely free from the corrosive influence of earlier American sf’s technocratic mindset. Brian W. Aldiss’s Non-Stop (1958) is the main focus here, however, and receives Caroti’s highest praise. The book, “though inspired by Heinlein” (170), is clearly superior to its model in “its treatment of the complexities underlying social and interpersonal relations onboard the ship, as well as for its reflections on space flight, fate, desire, and the human quest for meaning” (172). Moving to the 1990s, Caroti writes about the influence that the information age has had on science fiction and its need for “writers who, shifting through the ashes of SF’s spent tropes, could inject new life into their subject matter” (197). His primary example here is Gene Wolfe’s four-volume Book of the Long Sun (1993-96), along with all of the other novels that make up that author’s complexly interrelated masterpiece, which Caroti rightly proclaims the greatest generation-starship tale ever written.
As a history of one of science fiction’s most enduring tropes, this is a solid book, though it seems a bit too dependent on earlier historians of the field, particularly Edward James. I also have some misgivings about the evolutionary structure Caroti superimposes on his texts. It tends to oversimplify, creating a system whereby stories may be over- or undervalued depending on how well they fit that structure. Caroti’s evolutionary rhetoric forces him to insist that tales still being written in the Heinleinian mode are “strangled, twisted narratives of dry regurgitation without much faith in their own brief” (242), a characterization that might annoy Larry Niven, Michael Flynn, and John Scalzi. Similarly, Ray Bradbury is listed as a Campbell writer (87) even though his connection with Astounding was minimal and his work often radically at odds with Campbell’s ideology. There are also a number of other errors in the text. For example, Caroti writes “The size of the cosmos is estimated at 13.7 billion light years” (7), but it is not; the visible universe extends for 13.7 billion light years in all directions, making it nearly 28 billion light years across. Caroti speaks of the inhabitants of Heinlein’s generation starship in terms of “devolution” and “loss of sentience” (106), which is silly. Finally, due to its use of time dilation, Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero (1970) simply is not a true generation-starship story. In short, there is much of value in this book, but due to the problems mentioned above, it must be read with care.
—Michael Levy, University of Wisconsin-Stout
Lost World Thoroughly Mapped.
James De Mille. A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder. 1888. Broadview Editions. Ed. Daniel Burgoyne. Buffalo, NY: Broadview, 2011. 352 pp. $22.95 pbk.
De Mille’s novel is a Strange Manuscript in more ways than one. As it was probably written between 1866 and 1868, it should have been long recognized as one of most original and important works of proto-sf, coming after Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) but before Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871), Butler’s Erewhon (1872), and Haggard’s best-known lost-world romances (from 1885). But it was not published until 1888, by which time its author, a Canadian academic who supplemented his salary by writing popular novels, was eight years dead. As the New York Times reviewer noted in 1888, Strange Manuscript’s belatedness made it “a quite hopeless task to persuade people that [De Mille] had not read and imitated She and King Solomon’s Mines” (337).
So, as Strange Manuscript has many affinities with contemporaneous romances, why did not De Mille publish it in his lifetime? The author’s brother gave a partial answer: De Mille “was never able to make a satisfactory denouement to the plot” (13). But this does not quite explain why De Mille ensured that the manuscript would be found among his effects after his death. Why bother to preserve it
In the frame narrative of Strange Manuscript, Lord Featherstone and three male guests are vacationing on a yacht near Tenerife in 1850. They fish the titular cylinder out of the Atlantic, finding inside a manuscript by a ship’s mate, Adam More, recounting his fantastic Antarctic adventures that began six years earlier. Each of the four men reads a section of More’s manuscript aloud, and they all discuss it, often with much disagreement. Their discussion, periodically interrupting the internal narrative, forms a running choric commentary on it. More’s tale reaches the threshold of closure as he unwittingly finds himself married to his beloved … but Featherstone abruptly announces that he is too tired to read any more, and the novel ends! Evidently De Mille wanted to leave the impression of a text abandoned rather than concluded.
Daniel Burgoyne’s impressive new Broadview Edition offers further clues as to why De Mille could not finish, but also could not discard, Strange Manuscript. It is not just that the denouement was unsatisfactory; there was a big problem from the novel’s conception: De Mille wanted to assail the scepticism and hypocrisy of his age so as to affirm eternal human values, but could never sufficiently identify what those values were. And he was aware of his problem—perhaps the most interesting part of the novel is the debate among Featherstone’s crew about the status of the narrative they have discovered. Seemingly De Mille himself was in four minds about what More’s tale signified. The suddenness of the ending suggests that he could not resolve the issue to his own satisfaction, while his preservation of the manuscript suggests that he hoped that the future would be more tolerant of a text self-consciously contradictory and indeterminate in meaning.
Brought up a Baptist, De Mille was highly educated and well read, especially in fields that were generating knowledge increasingly incompatible with his religious upbringing. He was excited by new evolutionary theory, but he could not subscribe fully to it. His Antarctic dinosaurs, like Verne’s subterranean mastodons, are animated by more than wish-fulfilment: they embody an authorial reluctance to accept the Darwinian premise that extinction has had a central role in shaping the biosphere. The pre-1859 settings of the two narratives in Strange Manuscript suggest a nostalgia for a world, now lost, before the Origin of Species complicated everything.
Via More’s revulsion at the “human vermin” (75) on the outer shore of Antarctica, De Mille affirmed the height to which his fellow Victorians had risen. At the same time, he disapproved of his contemporaries’ materialism and saw through their faith in progress. He placed his lost race, the Kosekin, at the bottom of the planet to emphasize his inversion of familiar social values, perhaps with the idea of exploring how odd progressionism might seem to someone from a culture differently elaborated. But he was at heart no cultural relativist and realized that loving darkness and death is not merely the inverse of loving light and life; it is “in opposition to nature itself” (129). He tried to show that the values the Kosekin unashamedly embraced were similar to those that Victorians pretended to aspire to—Christian poverty and humility, the self-sacrifice that marks true love (206); but to draw such parallels hardly made for effective satire. Few Victorians would have recognized anything of themselves in a people that embraced darkness, death, human sacrifice, and cannibalism.
Now, after Heart of Darkness (1899), we might read the Kosekin as projections of an unconscious death drive in nineteenth-century imperialist culture, and I suspect that De Mille glimpsed this interpretive possibility (see 254). But I also suspect that, in the 1860s, this Strange Manuscript threatened to take him to places he was not equipped to explore, so he cast it into the ocean of time in the hope it might eventually be found by readers who understood his ambivalence about the expansive, confident age from which he sprang.
This Broadview Edition supersedes two earlier ones. The New Canadian Library edition (Toronto: McClellan and Stewart, 1969) includes a short introduction in which the novel is too breezily described as one that “successfully combines the features of a satirical anti-utopian commentary on contemporary life with a swift paced narrative of travel, romance, and fantastic adventure” (vii). Much more substantial, Malcolm Parks’s scholarly edition for the Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts series (Ottawa: Carleton UP, 1986) provides a reliable text of a landmark of the North American fantastic: “No other Canadian novelist of the period ventured into such a fantastic realm or so boldly combined bizarre romance with satire” (xvii). Burgoyne builds on Parks’s firm textual foundations, offering a Strange Manuscript that is teachable in a twenty-first-century university classroom attuned to postmodernist and postcolonial theory. His lengthy introduction discusses how the frame narrative destabilizes Eurocentric discourse; how the text’s deliberate generic uncertainty, spawning subsequent critical disagreements, can be viewed as a source of its aesthetic strength; how “scientific romance” is probably Strange Manuscript’s most useful generic label as De Mille was influenced by contemporary Antarctic exploration, geology, and paleontology; and how De Mille’s ambivalence as a colonial subject emerges in the text’s orientalism.
Burgoyne’s copytext is the Harper’s Weekly serialization, and he includes the serial breaks and all the original illustrations. Appendices contextualizing the work are typically the most valuable feature of Broadview Editions. Burgoyne’s, sixty pages long, give an excellent idea of De Mille’s eclectic reading. Here we find extracts from accounts of Antarctic exploration, and readings on geology, paleontology, “savages,” cannibals, and troglodytes. The appendix headed “Scientific Romance and Lost Worlds” will be of particular value to those teaching early sf: it includes passages from Symzonia (1820), The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), The Coming Race, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Erewhon, and Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Burgoyne also provides a De Mille chronology, a Kosekin glossary, and a full bibliography. Henceforth this will be the preferred text of Strange Manuscript. De Mille’s mixed message to the future has finally washed up on a congenial shore.
—Nicholas Ruddick, University of Regina
SF and the Consciousness of Race.
Isiah Lavender III. Race in American Science Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2011. xiii + 269 pp. $55 hc; $24.95 pbk.
Isiah Lavender’s treatment of race and racism in science fiction is ambitious in scope but daring enough in method to make his arguments largely compelling. Lavender argues, with ample evidence from works by black and white authors, that “the proliferation of racial difference” (20) has been a central preoccupation of sf writing since the genre’s early days. This interpretation should inspire a broad range of readers to revisit the imagined worlds and colorful characters of familiar sf works with a critical eye. Lavender’s interest in race and racism does not constrain itself to psychological, biographical, or economic matters; bringing sf readers’ and writers’ racial grievances to light is not his concern. Rather, Race in American Science Fiction demonstrates how race thinking informs the tasks of reading and writing themselves. From the semantics through which we ascribe altered meanings to words under a given text’s modified conditions of referentiality—which Lavender cites under the rubric of Samuel Delany’s theory of “subjunctivity” in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (1977)—to the fabulations that establish new identities, places, and historical conditions inhabited by people both like and unlike the racialized constituents of the real world, Lavender composes, from exemplary texts and previous works of criticism, a multifaceted set of heuristics for conceptualizing the significance of race in science fiction.
By far, the area of the book that deserves the most elaboration is Lavender’s insistence that sf currently enjoys a reputation for confronting matters of race in constructive ways. Race in American Science Fiction revisits some of the arguments that critics have made for considering sf as a genre uniquely applicable to anti-racist cultural interventions; however, the book does not pursue evidence about reception that would indicate whether or not the effort to accrue an anti-racist reputation for the genre has in fact taken hold among a significant segment of the reading public. The expectation that sf tends to offer anti-racist visions of humanity undoubtedly exists, to a greater or lesser degree, but Lavender’s research does not establish that the field provides sufficient evidence to privilege this interpretation. Published interviews and reflections by some black sf writers, such as Steven Barnes and Octavia Butler, reveal that they once found themselves alienated from the field because its reputation was anything but inviting to people of color. The divergent responses engendered among different segments of readers may characterize the genre as more fundamentally ambivalent in its racial representations, rather than inherently benign or misguided. Scholars who share Lavender’s hypothesis might strengthen it by asking with whom the myth of a progressive tradition around race in sf holds sway—is it the preponderance of readers and authors or those largely unfamiliar with the genre that tend to assume it offers mostly benign contributions to racial discourse?
Lavender’s response to the question of whether sf on the whole deserves a reputation for positing constructive alternatives to the status quo in American race relations is more neutralizing than negative. He models generative ways of looking to sf as a repository of the complex attitudes about race that have shaped American society and might alter it in the future. The success of his work in illuminating how sf texts treat race derives from a set of analytical innovations outlined in the book’s introduction and developed throughout the successive chapters. Of the several neologisms Lavender invokes to consider speculative mediations of racial politics, the two most structurally central are “blackground” and “otherhood.” The admittedly clunky term “blackground” outlines the vast spectrum of precedent, sometimes inspiring and otherwise disconcerting, for dealing with blackness in sf, including the social contexts in which readers and writers live. This context links George Schuyler’s novel Black No More (1931) across time and ideology with Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966). “Otherhood” is Lavender’s term for the features in which “personhood (identity) and neighborhood (environment)” converge in a text to mark the position of the Other in racial and ethnic discourse (7). Lavender argues that “otherhood mapping,” an implicitly Jamesonian form of cognitive mapping concerned with subject formation, is a uniquely viable way to think about sf “because it attempts to change how racial difference is viewed by exposing the history and practice of discrimination operating inside and outside the genre simultaneously while also studying ways writers have used sf to expose and combat racism” (8). Lavender’s employment of the concepts above, as well as the corollary terms he invokes as part of his reading method, allows us to observe lessons about what race and sf mean to each other in works with divergent writing styles and thematic concerns. By maintaining a consistent analytical framework and incorporating questions of context into his strategy, he is also able to offer a level-headed assessment of how some interventions in the genre lend credence to the notion that it promulgates anti-racist tendencies while others cast doubt on that implication.
In the first chapter of the book, “Racing Science Fiction,” Lavender acknowledges Afrofuturism, astrofuturism, black militant near-future fiction, and Darwinist doctrines as perspectives that illuminate the blackground, the nature of which he characterizes with thoughtful reference to Sheree Thomas’s Dark Matter anthologies (2000, 2004). Chapters two and three of the text, “Meta-Slavery” and “Jim Crow Extrapolations,” achieve the book’s most incisive contributions to critical thinking about the social construction of race. By recognizing how black and white authors alike incorporate various allegorical and allusive representations of the African-American past into sf, Lavender preempts the notion that there is any daylight between the world in which the travesties of slavery and segregation determined the course of American history and the social milieu in which science fiction took shape. His most original readings in these chapters are of Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979) and Steven Barnes’s Lion’s Blood (2002), which offer fascinating ways of representing time travel and alternative histories in racially-conscious terms. The term “ethnoscape,” transformed in Lavender’s usage from a coinage that Arjun Appadurai made integral to understanding globalization into a cipher for translating the fictionalized forms of identification and affiliation in sf into their real-world analogues, is one of the ways Lavender addresses the possibility of interpretations of a text beyond the scope of its author’s intentions. His work on technologically-augmented and artificial forms of identity, on which he has previously published, further underscores the need to interrogate pluralism, and not only apparent homogeneity, in sf texts. Whereas some works omit representations of people of color, those that gesture to socially-constructed differences among people through the metaphor of human/machine difference still rely on race thinking, as well as gender ideologies and heteronormative anxieties about reproduction, to make sense of invented archetypes like the cyborg.
Lavender’s work on the extended metaphors that undergird sf treatments of identity and social relations could lend credence to critical work that focuses on the meaning of race at the level of the “universe” of an sf text. Terms such as “metatext” and “megatext,” coined to describe forms of intertextuality and implicit context in sf, are akin to Lavender’s inventive lexicon for notions of racial difference and his subsequent preoccupation with the appearance of “rules” in sf stories. The laws of robotics that govern Asimov’s mechanical slaves and various other confrontations with the black codes marring American legal history—such as a satirical “black president” sketch by Dave Chappelle that Lavender celebrates in his epilogue—are useful illustrations of how the social conditions in which writing takes place insert themselves into fiction. At times, this effect is too insistent; for instance, it seems counterproductive for Lavender to invoke an abstract taxonomy for characterizing robots, androids, and artificial intelligences across texts when the upshot of his analysis is a broader framework for discerning what these figures symbolize despite the presumption of color-blindness that would render them racially inscrutable.
Race in American Science Fiction is certain to dispel any illusions among its readers that sf is necessarily not about race. It is also likely to shift commentary about race in the genre away from the rhetoric of benign, color-blind exceptionalism, if Lavender’s suggestions about the scope of this problem are valid, to the kind of discussion that suits enduring paradigmatic questions in a literary tradition. One hopes that the ensuing conversations will welcome the growing ranks of sf writers of color to whom Lavender gives due consideration in this laudable book.
—André Carrington, New York University
Cultural History of Virtual Reality.
Svante Lovén. Also Make the Heavens: Virtual Reality in Science Fiction. Uppsala, Sweden: Section for Sociology of Literature at the Department of Literature, Uppsala University, 2010. 238 pp. $37.50 pbk. [Free PDF available online.]
Cyberspace may seem like another world, but it is simply an extension of the real world into the consensual hallucination of a new, networked frontier. Attempts by the entertainment industry to bring virtual reality to the masses in the 1990s, including techno-fetishistic films such as The Lawnmower Man (1992), awkward videogames such as Virtuality’s Dactyl Nightmare, or limited personal computer add-ons such as Forte Technologies’ VFX1 Headgear, demonstrated that for a variety of reasons—high cost, poor implementation, missing killer app—VR was not ready for widespread adoption. VR’s more recent developments are rooted in ontological and phenomenological debates, and it is this discourse and its expression in science fiction that Svante Lovén, a senior lecturer in comparative literature at Gävle University in Sweden, explores in his intriguing, albeit slightly unpolished book.
Lovén begins by stating that Also Make the Heavens “is not a genre study ... but ... a means to illuminate and bring into relief broader cultural perceptions and themes which are focused in the notions of ‘virtual reality’” (12). While a good portion of the book is devoted to analysis of sf texts, the theoretical first chapter securely anchors the readings in chapters two, three, and four. The author argues that “‘virtual reality’ acquires its cultural meaning by bluntly confronting us with what is surely one of mankind’s oldest questions: What is real and what is not?” (12). Unlike Scott Bukatman in Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (1993), whose focus is the technocultural expression of new forms of subjectivity, Lovén’s emphasis is on VR’s acquisition of cultural meaning through ideological conflicts expressed in works of fiction. He argues that, for his purposes, VR refers “to a technologically generated set of sensory stimuli which produce a subjective experience of a phenomenally complete physical reality, indistinguishable from ordinary reality, or constituting a reality in its own right” (22-23). This broad definition enables the author to study “works which describe virtual realities made up of mere physical props, engendered by hallucinogenic drugs, and dependent on psychological techniques such as auto-suggestion and behavioral conditioning…. [T]he narratives discussed all describe a calculated manipulation of the senses which originates from, or is dependant [sic] on, material causes outside the experiencing subject” (23). Not all scholars would agree with such a broadly construed definition of VR; however, Lovén’s inclusive approach produces new readings of stories that might not otherwise have been developed without this broad perspective. The challenge of course for Lovén is not to decrease the resolution of VR’s meaning to the point of unintelligibility.
Throughout the work, Lovén explores what he identifies as the two aspects of the VR dialectic: 1) a “concern or even alarm” that leads to VR being “dismissed on religious, ethical, sociomedical, or aesthetical grounds as exerting a negative influence on the human mind and body, by luring us away from what is perceived as sounder, more ennobling and ‘authentic’ pursuits,” and 2) “an enthusiastic fascination with virtual reality as an engineering and/or artistic triumph, which serves to expand the boundaries and possibilities of human experience, knowledge, and creativity” (16). This is hardly new, but he adds to our thinking about this dialectic by arguing that VR’s expression in the popular imagination is deeply informed by two intertwined historical circumstances: 1) Christian iconophobia from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and 2) Puritan Christianity, which establishes “a pervasive association between artificiality and femininity” (25). Furthermore, Lovén deploys Gnosticism—in its elucidation by Erik Davis, among others—as a means to unlock the deeply embedded relationship among religion, art, and technology, to the greatest effect in chapters three and four. To begin his trajectory of readings, he charts the influence of these ideological frameworks on Renaissance-era illusionist art and Romantic-era representations such as the panorama. He then applies this theory to close readings in the remaining three chapters. The second chapter includes critiques of anti-utopian works that rely on VR as a form of mindless escapism that helps to enforce hegemonic control over individual subjects: E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” (1909), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Chapter three considers the relationship between televisual and filmic technologies and the possibilities for VR as a technological means of control deployed by corporations or govern-ments against consumers and citizens. In this chapter, Lovén discusses Frederik Pohl’s “The Tunnel Under the World” (1955), Daniel F. Galouye’s Simulacron-3 (1964), and Philip K. Dick’s novels Time Out of Joint (1959) and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965). Finally, in chapter four, he investigates how the personal computer revolution influenced proto-cyberpunk and cyberpunk narratives: John Varley’s “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” (1976), Vernor Vinge’s “True Names” (1981), and William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).
I have two principal criticisms of Also Make the Heavens. The first, as evidenced by the list of writers above, is that Lovén focuses only on science fiction by male authors. In fact, the only female writer mentioned is Lisa Mason, and this is done in passing (212). I find this omission peculiar, especially given Lovén’s emphasis on the debts VR discourses owe to Puritan gender biases. Would the inclusion of VR-oriented stories such as James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973), Pat Cadigan’s “Rock On” (1984), or Candas Jane Dorsey’s “(Learning About) Machine Sex” (1988) confirm or complicate this thesis? Admittedly, Lovén argues for Neuromancer as the historical end point of his study, but Tiptree’s story and Cadigan’s too—not to mention other proto-VR texts such as Kate Wilhelm’s “Baby, You Were Great” (1967)—would readily have fit within the confines of his investigation. Additionally, I am troubled by his reductionist definition of cyberpunk: “a subgenre which emerged during the early to mid-1980s and discarded many of the genre’s more fantastic themes—e.g., aliens, time machines, space travel—and instead addressed culturally more acute technoscientific phenomena, especially those related to computers” (19). Computer and networking technologies play a large thematic role in cyberpunk fiction, to be sure, but it is incorrect to say that traditional sf themes were jettisoned with the emergence of the subgenre/movement.
While this book is a valuable contribution to the interrelated fields of science and technology studies, cyberculture studies, and sf studies, I find some of its problems with accuracy and editing needlessly distracting. Factual mistakes include claiming that Ridley Scott’s famous 1984 Apple commercial heralded the “Macintosh II” instead of the original Macintosh (168). Lovén implies that Al Gore is associated with the “electronic superhighway” instead of the “information superhighway” (169)—it was the artist Nam June Paik who in 1974 suggested the former term for emerging telecommunication technologies. And his assertion that “the only book-length study of Gibson” (195) is Lance Olsen’s William Gibson (1992) misses at least two competitors: Dani Cavallaro’s Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson (2000) and Tatiani G. Rapatzikou’s Gothic Motifs in the Fiction of William Gibson (2004). The book also contains a number of typos, duplicated words, mysteriously recurring colons, and outright misspellings.
Nevertheless, I found Also Make the Heavens an interesting book that I believe adds much to VR studies in particular and sf studies in general. The author has a lot to say not only about the deeper cultural development and meaning of VR but also about the literary works that feature VR-related plots. His readings of the selected sf texts are rigorous and insightful, providing many points of contact for future scholarly commentary as well as new research ideas for others interested in these topics.
—Jason W. Ellis, Kent State University
Modest Attempt at a Vast Topic.
James F. McGrath, ed. Religion and Science Fiction. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011. 195 pp. $22 pbk.
The title of this relatively slim book promises more than it can offer; fulfilling its promise would require a vast tome, if not a series of volumes. McGrath states that Religion and Science Fiction attempts to provide not a comprehensive but a representative survey of these two fields as they are seen in conjunction in select instances. Even granting this limitation, the book falls short. Of the “major religions,” only Christianity receives extensive treatment; Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are mentioned only in passing. The chapters are primarily interested in Christian metaphysics, Jesus Christ, and the God of Moses and Abraham. That said, the volume offers an interesting and helpful, if uneven, vantage point on these subjects.
Religion and Science Fiction is composed of an editorial introduction and seven essays ranging from fifteen to 35 pages. In the introduction, McGrath explains that sf and religion find common ground as they both attempt to establish (and promote?) the place of humankind in the universe through speculative narrative. Also, both religion and sf are products of their material and cultural conditions, and as such illuminate the time and place in which they were produced. Further, we can see in some sf how advances in science prompt and require a revision of religious beliefs. The subsequent chapters examine some of these interdisciplinary intersections and the considerations they inspire.
In chapter 1, “The Dark Dreamlife of Postmodern Theology,” Joyce Janca-Aji explores the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, specifically Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995), as well as the fourth installment in the Alien franchise, Alien Resurrection (1997), in search of Christian leitmotifs in narratives of post-apocalyptic society. In the end, the readings produce some parallels, but not many that operate at a level above clever allusion and rote symbolism. The chapter finally comes together when Janca-Aji moves to an explanation of how these films promote a Gaian ecological theory and a possible return to an alternative Eden, where the world is divine and the garden is itself God, with Gaia figured as the “natural theology of children” and a “theological birthright” (34). C.K. Robertson, in “Sorcerers and Supermen: Old Mythologies and New Guises,” traces the persistence of “transcendent and touchable” (33) heroes, from King Arthur and Beowulf to Superman, Spiderman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, through modern history. Robertson’s argument is that, though the media may change, the mythmakers’ aims stay consistent. That is to say, the theme of larger-than-life gods and superheroes persists through Western culture, but the specifics of narrative and characterization are altered as cultures change, and these modifications are reflected in part through the media that portray any given incarnation of a deity.
“Star Trekking in China: Science Fiction as Theodicy in Contemporary China” by Eriberto P. Lozada, Jr., one of the more interesting essays, is not really about Star Trek, which is only briefly discussed. Instead, the chapter is about how Chinese sf popularizes that nation’s scientific pursuits and validates its scientism, which has replaced religion as a source of national and personal meaning-production. The chapter’s highlight is Lozada’s comparison (aided by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay’s critical work on imperialism) of Chinese nationalistic sf to the West’s generally post-nationalistic sf, with the former seen as a means to unify a fragmented identity post-Mao. Alison Bright MacWilliams, in “Science Playing God,” rehashes a consideration of the roles of scientists in sf stories, centering on Frankenstein (1818), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1897), and the various spin-offs and adaptations of the two stories. The chapter asks what the proper ambition of science is and with what moral weight does this charge pioneering scientists. “Looking out for No. 1: Concepts of Good and Evil in Star Trek and The Prisoner” by Elizabeth Danna examines episodes of the aforementioned shows that depict doubled or split selves. Danna sets Gene Roddenberry’s humanism against the Roman Catholicism of The Prisoner’s director and star Patrick McGoohan to reveal how these backgrounds influence their relative depictions of human nature. This chapter, like the one by MacWilliams, deals with themes that are by this point in the critical discourse pretty well exhausted.
Along with Lozada’s chapter, “Robots, Rights, and Religion” by editor McGrath is one of the stronger pieces in the book. The first half is much less about androids than it is an exposition of the difficulty inherent in pinpointing a definition for abstract concepts of mind and soul, or capturing the shape of human consciousness. These issues arise whenever a development in artificial intelligence is pursued, raising such questions as: what is “human” about a human? and what is the threshold of humanity? The second half of the chapter hypothesizes how a robot would be received in Christian and Buddhist traditions based on the major and general tenets of these faiths; McGrath also muses on the case for android atheism. In chapter 7, “Angels, Echthroi, and Celestial Music in the Adolescent Science Fiction of Madeleine L’Engle,” Gregory Peptone extrapolates aesthetic philosopher Suzanne K. Langer’s claim that “[m]usic is our myth of inner life” to interpret the metaphysical beings in L’Engle’s sf, which literally express God’s plan for the universe as embodied music.
The last chapter, “Uncovering Embedded Theology in Science Fiction Films” by Teresa Blythe, is a skimpy reading of the film K-PAX (2001) as Christian allegory, an obvious connection as Blythe herself admits. Rather than offer an exhaustive reading, Blythe instead provides an “exegetical method” for unpacking the theological assumptions embedded in the text—that is to say, the chapter is largely a collection of leading questions aimed at helping students analyze a film for religious content. Religion and Science Fiction is a modest attempt to tackle an immense scholarly topic, but despite occasional frustration, I found it to be eminently readable and overall quite helpful. It is especially suited as a primer on the subject that would function well as a textbook in an undergraduate class.
—Matthew Bond, University of California, Riverside
A Study of “Transfictions.”
Richard Saint-Gelais. Fictions transfuges: la transfictionnalité et ses enjeux (Defector fictions: Transfictionality and its Stakes). Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2011. 605 pp. €32 pbk.
Eleven years after his L’Empire du pseudo: modernités de la science-fiction (The Empire of the Pseudo: Modernities of Science Fiction; see my review in SFS 27.2 [July 2000]: 319-21), Richard Saint-Gelais embarks on an exploration of a number of fictions that no theorist has ever grouped together or defined quite in this way—namely, “transfictions.” This new “genre” supposedly manifests itself whenever two or more texts reference the same fictional universe through their characters or plots. The basic premise is that there exist a number of stories that in various ways serve as sources to other stories, echoing Barthes’s observation that literature feeds literature; yet in their ingenious creativity, they go beyond mere “intertextuality.” This heterogeneous field encompasses not only texts that borrow characters from Balzac’s Human Comedy or Star Trek, or the multiple apocryphal adventures of Sherlock Holmes; it also includes several romantic storylines that intersect with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), such as the resentful gaze leveled upon her in Sylvère Monod’s Madame Homais (1988) or the consideration of her daughter’s fate in Maxine Benoît-Jeannin’s Mademoiselle Bovary (1991). Another example is found in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair (2002), in which we encounter Thursday Next, an investigator from the “real” world who is endowed with the power to enter the fictional universe of Charlotte Brönte’s novel. In the same vein, one might include such sequels to classic works as Brian W. Aldiss’s Frankenstein Unbound (1973) or Moreau’s Other Island (1980), or the Riverworld series (1971-83) by Philip José Farmer, wherein personages from all temporal eras coexist with fictional characters. An author might also recreate a plot and come to entirely different conclusions, as in Pierre Bayard’s Qui a tué Roger Ackroyd? (1998), a retelling of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926).
The number of works targeted by Saint-Gelais, although potentially inexhaustible, has some limits: pastiches and caricatures are excluded, as are story cycles by a single author, such as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (1942-93) or Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Included might be certain “prequels,” such as those for Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), written by other hands. This work is neither simply a survey nor a study in the typology of adaptation. Instead, the framework of transfictionality modifies our critical approach and raises new questions, such as: what is the status of a fictional character who appears in diverse texts? to what extent will the reader-text relationship be modified if the reader consumes texts derived from well-known works? As Umberto Eco suggests, readers are no longer asked to fill in the text’s blanks; instead, they are prompted to return to the original work with new eyes. This mode of reading can also give rise to philosophical reflections on the status of reality in fictional worlds; far from being monad-like, literary works find new life at the hands of the authors who recycle them.
Saint-Gelais’s Fictions transfuges is a dense, painstaking, and meticulously argued critical study that includes a rich and well-selected bibliography, as well as a 30-page index. One might have expected, based on the author’s previous volume on sf and modernity, that the present work would have drawn heavily on examples from the genre, but his approach is considerably more eclectic here. His methodology and his many investigative leads are enticing, and the field of sf scholarship will no doubt make good use of them to analyze the many innovative aspects of its fictional world(s).
—Roger Bozzetto, Université d’Aix-Marseille I (translated by Cheira Belguellaoui, DePauw University)
Out of the Margins.
Geetha B. and Amit Sarwal, eds. Exploring Science Fiction: Text and Pedagogy. New Delhi: SSS Publications, 2011. xvi + 193 pp. $20 pbk.
Andy Sawyer and Peter Wright, eds. Teaching Science Fiction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. xxvii + 266 pp. $33 pbk.
Academic publishing in the humanities tends to marginalize pedagogical studies to less prestigious venues, such as teaching journals, ephemeral conference sessions, and hallway conversations. Online resources for teaching science fiction (most notably the AboutSF site) have begun to provide venues for sharing syllabi, assignments, and other course materials, work that usefully supplements the existing body of introductory anthologies and critical introductions to sf. What the field still lacks, however, is an established canon of critical studies devoted to teaching science fiction, work that bridges the gap between criticism covering texts, authors, movements, and theory, and classroom-ready reading lists, handouts, and lesson plans. Without a robust, central scholarly discussion of evolving approaches to teaching sf in the undergraduate and graduate classroom, much published sf criticism goes undigested, never influencing the larger conversation. Given the need for an active engagement with the realities of teaching sf, it is encouraging to see the publication of two book-length anthologies concerned with the subject.
Exploring Science Fiction: Text and Pedagogy is, as its title suggests, a split volume, collecting five pieces of traditional research alongside five examinations of sf pedagogy. The volume’s editors describe a nascent academic interest in science fiction in India and identify the collection’s aim as “familiariz[ing] … readers with different ways of approaching SF, its basic tenets, and the resources available for studying SF” (xiii). The book’s first section, “Texts,” presents a varied handful of articles. Russell Blackford’s “How Science Fiction Represents Technoscience” provides a broad encapsulation of what he argues is sf’s “main thematic concern,” the exploration of “the consequences of scientific advance and technological change” (20). Covering a century and a half in just a few pages, Blackford’s overview charts a course through the genre’s history, providing some useful thoughts for newcomers to the study of sf. Dominic Alessio’s “Total Recall Pacific Style: Re-reading Aotearoa/New Zealand History through Indigenous Science Fiction” examines an area of sf most likely unfamiliar to most scholars, but it seems out of place as the second article in a collection designed to initiate Indian scholars into the field. Likewise, “‘Science Fiction was a Big Help’: Postmodernity, Historicity, and Utopia in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five” by Alexander Charles Oliver Hall offers an exploration of its subject novel, but little to help the burgeoning sf scholar or teacher to place the work within broader genre contexts. Rita Sinha’s “Asimov and the Indian Student” combines a narrative of a course on sf in India with criticism of Asimov’s sf, and Pragya Gupta’s “Science Fiction and Asimov’s Foundation” offers a broad examination of that series.
The book’s Pedagogy section collects five individually useful articles related to teaching sf. John Miller interrogates sf through theories of reading, showing “what makes the experience of reading science fiction different from the experience of reading other kinds of fiction” (78), while Farah Mendlesohn’s “‘Did You Ask Any Good Questions Today, Child?’—Science Fiction and the Argumentative Narrative” explores the rhetorical nature of sf literature. In a pair of extremely practical chapters, Andy Sawyer provides a wealth of essential resources for anyone interested in teaching science fiction, and Mark Gellis offers those same teachers a set of critical questions to ask in the process of constructing a course. The section ends with R. Gary Raham’s account of the experiences and lessons of a junior-high sf teacher.
As a volume, this collection suffers from a lack of coherence. While several chapters would be of interest to scholars in particular areas, those by Mendelsohn, Sawyer, and Gellis would be most useful to sf teachers. On the other hand, Sawyer and Wright’s anthology Teaching Science Fiction not only effectively explores what it means to teach sf but also actually teaches the genre to its readers. Featuring thirteen articles connected through arrangement and the editors’ introduction, the volume contains chapters “especially commissioned to support scholars and students in developing their knowledge and understanding of science fiction and the ways in which it might be taught, researched and analyzed” (18). The resulting range of voices provides a remarkably broad view of sf pedagogy.
The opening three chapters usefully contextualize the discussions of pedagogy that follow. Paul Kincaid’s “Through Time and Space: A Brief History of Science Fiction” acknowledges that its task is “to describe the course of something that remains vague and ever shifting” (21). Starting as early as the Hellenistic period, Kincaid traces sf tropes and themes across centuries, while in “Theorizing Science Fiction: The Question of Terminology,” Gary K. Wolfe offers a concise but thorough overview of the definitional questions that sf scholarship can never quite settle. Wolfe identifies the usefulness of this debate within a course on science fiction, proposing that asking students to begin by identifying their own definition of the genre “can be a useful and often enlightening exercise, both by way of introducing a discussion of problems of definition and as preparation for the students’ later encounters, in their own research, with the sometimes idiosyncratic critical vocabulary that has evolved in science fiction scholarship” (39). Chapter three, “Utopia, Anti-Utopia and Science Fiction” by Chris Ferns, helps to define the boundaries of sf in relation to the utopian literary tradition that is often conflated with it.
Chapters four through seven each take a sub-genre, period, or movement within science fiction and discuss how to focus all or part of a class on it. Adam Roberts, in “Teaching the Scientific Romance,” argues that covering this aspect of the genre, from Verne to Steampunk, provides “particularly good opportunities for students to read beyond simply the level of ‘content’, and to explore the formal, cultural and ideological vectors of literary signification” (80), while Gary Westfahl argues effectively for the value of studying pulp science fiction: “Why take students on a forced march through the collected works of, say, Philip K. Dick when one might better spend a semester acquainting them with some of the works that indelibly influenced Dick and countless other writers of his generation and later generations?” (101). In her chapter “Good SF: Teaching the Golden Age as Cultural History,” Lisa Yaszek sums up the three lessons she hopes that Golden Age sf will teach her students: “that it is a discrete mode of storytelling with distinct formal properties; that it is a unique window on the cultural moment in which it was written; and that authors use the formal characteristics of sf to actively participate in the most pressing cultural debates of their day” (103). Yaszek describes how she uses Golden Age sf to teach students that this can be said of any period in the genre’s history, outlining her approach in both an upper-level undergraduate course and a senior seminar. Rob Latham gives the New Wave a similar treatment in chapter seven, explaining how the movement can be examined “as a unit in a survey of science fiction, as a unit in a survey of postmodernist fiction and as a freestanding topics course” (118). Latham offers specific and helpful information for the would-be teacher of New Wave sf, including areas of exploration and discussion and an outline of the lessons he has learned from his experiences.
Naturally following the New Wave discussion, and providing a transition into a section of chapters focusing on critical lenses, Andrew M. Butler’s “Postmodernism, Postmodernity and the Postmodern: Telling Local Stories at the End of Time” demonstrates how postmodern critical lenses can be useful in teaching sf, arguing that Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Jameson can be employed to problematize a “notion of progressive development” (132) often inherent in histories of the genre. Brian Attebery’s “Teaching Gender and Science Fiction,” Uppinder Mehan’s “Teaching Postcolonial Science Fiction,” M. Elizabeth Ginway’s “Teaching Latin American Science Fiction and Fantasy in English: A Case Study,” and Mark Brake and Neil Hook’s “Teaching Science and Science Fiction: A Case Study” continue the shift in focus away from pedagogical constructions based on eras and movements. Attebery effectively makes the case that science fiction, “with its ability to defamiliarize many aspects of culture and biology, can take the ‘natural’ out of human nature, so that something as fundamental as gender can be brought to awareness and examined critically” (146). He suggests particular sf texts useful in teaching students to examine their assumptions about gender and shows how an instructor might productively frame such conversations. Mehan’s chapter simultaneously provides a brief primer on postcolonial approaches to sf while describing his experiences teaching it; his notes on course design, including suggested forms of assessment, are particularly useful as a starter kit for instructors. Ginway’s account of teaching sf from and about Latin America illustrates and expands upon some of Mehan’s points while providing one of the book’s two case studies, this one demonstrating how “the recasting of common sf icons, such as aliens, mutants, the Cold War, time travel, and even cyberspace, gives new resonances to these tropes in light of Latin America’s distinct socio-political reality” (179). In the book’s other case study, Mark Brake and Neil Hook describe how and why they created coursework intertwining science and sf; their stated goal is to “produce graduates who have a dynamic and pluralistic understanding of the nature and evolution of science and who can also critically develop and communicate ideas about science and its cultural context” (206). Brake and Hook describe in detail how their curriculum constructs a dialogue between science and science fiction to achieve particular educational outcomes.
The volume’s editors, Andy Sawyer and Peter Wright, close the volume with a chapter on the very practical matter of course construction. They lay out a detailed week-by-week plan for a model sf course and, more importantly, explain the context and rationale for the decisions made in constructing this course. The book is rounded out by a very useful section of “References, Resources and Further Reading” that nicely closes the brackets on the chapters opened by “A Chronology of Significant Works” from 1516 to 2010, which precedes the introduction. Teaching Science Fiction is an essential addition to the bookshelves of current or prospective teachers of sf. Its contributors provide the insight that can be found in a teaching narrative, while not losing sight of the critical role of context in making pedagogical decisions. They provide rationales for their course construction and explain the results achieved. Interestingly, the book is perhaps just as useful to beginning sf scholars, whether or not they intend to teach the genre, as the chapters provide succinct and readable introductions to many of the critical aspects of the contemporary study of science fiction.
—Craig B. Jacobsen, Mesa Community College
Recuperating Philip K. Dick.
D.E. Wittkower, ed. Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits? Popular Culture and Philosophy series 63. Chicago: Open Court, 2011. vii + 355 pp. $19.95 pbk.
Dick called himself a “fictionalizing philosopher.” While his work continually foregrounds ontological and epistemological dilemmas, it does so not through the erudite argumentation of academic philosophy but through the stories of ordinary people struggling with extraordinary circumstances. Dick’s fiction asks demanding questions not once, but over and over again: what is human nature? what is freedom? what is time? what is reality? And most importantly, how can we claim to know the nature of these things? Dick’s ability to invoke these questions while staying grounded in accessible language and quotidian experience is key to the influence he has had over generations of readers. This ability to explore profound issues within the language of popular genre fiction makes Dick a natural for inclusion in Open Court’s Popular Culture and Philosophy series. The 33 articles that editor Wittkower has assembled bring Dick’s work into conversation with major figures from the history of philosophy. The result is a readable, highly teachable book that does justice to the philosophical complexities in Dick’s work while remaining accessible to readers new to the author and/or philosophical discourse. Considering the breadth of Dick’s corpus, the fierceness of his fans, and the popularity of film adaptations of his work, this accessibility is a major accomplishment. My few criticisms of the volume revolve around the compromises Wittkower and his contributors made in balancing these various factors.
The balance struck between the desires of fans and the needs of newcomers is registered by the fact that the lion’s share of attention is given to works that inspired major films. The nine articles that deal only with Dick’s printed work are consistently excellent, particularly Jesse W. Butler’s discussion of A Scanner Darkly (1977) and VALIS (1981) in “Scan Thyself.” In comparison, the essays that engage the films along with the fiction account for the highest and lowest points in the collection, demonstrating the difficultyof interrogating the films’ engagement with Dick’s questions without losing sight of Dick’s own philosophical positions. To be clear, I am not criticizing Wittkower’s editorial request that contributors address the films in their essays. A text addressing Dick’s work as popular culture must deal with these adaptations; they are part of Dick’s legacy and important elements of his lasting influence. Not only are they adapted from some of his best work, but they are often the conduit through which people are introduced to Dick’s work and its themes. Yet while the films inspired by Dick’s fiction pose philosophical questions similar to those in his novels and stories, they tend to offer radically different answers.
Wittkower is clearly aware of this tension, because the first three essays in the collection address the issue directly. Ethan Mills’s excellent “Hollywood Doesn’t Know Dick” clearly enunciates the “Holly-worldview” that dictates the films’ answers to the ontological and epistemological questions Dick’s work raises: “According to the Holly-worldview … free will secures the triumph of the human spirit and our heroes discover knowledge of reality and virtue (all before the credits roll)” (4). As Mills points out, these are exactly the philosophical assumptions that Dick’s work calls into question: “[t]he Dickian worldview says that the universe is generally hostile to our Hollywood aspirations” (4). In his subsequent discussion of Blade Runner (1982), Minority Report (2002), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Mills uses the films’ departures from Dick’s fiction to highlight how that fiction “challenges [central] tenets of the Holly-worldview: free will and knowledge” (4). By directing reader’s attention to the films’ work of recuperation, Mills exposes the stakes as well as the substance of Dick’s challenge to dominant ideologies of selfhood, freedom, and knowledge.
Such parsing of differences between Dick’s texts and the films inspired by them underlies two other standout essays in the volume, John Sullins’s “Replicating Morality” and Paul Atkinson’s “I Know What You Did Next Summer.” Sullins focuses on the “the deep role that empathy plays in Dick’s philosophical thinking” (199), tracing this theme back to Dick’s first published work, “Beyond Lies the Wub” (1952); but the most interesting part of the piece is the discussion of the capacity for empathy of the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and the replicants in Blade Runner. Sullins notes that the replicants’ apparent achievement of empathy in the film is in some senses an imposition of the romantic optimism Mills ascribes to the “Holly-worldview.” Rejecting a simple opposition of perspectives, he goes on to discuss how, despite its differences, the film echoes the novel’s investment in empathy as the primary index of human being. Sullins’s analysis productively complicates any simple opposition between Dick’s thought and “conventional” assumptions about personhood, without losing sight of his specific positions. Atkinson’s essay does similar work, using the adaptations of “Minority Report” (1956) and “Paycheck” (1953) to explore issues of determinacy and free will.
Mills, Sullins, and Atkinson demonstrate the potential gains of careful engagement with film adaptations of Dick’s work. Other essays in the volume are much less attentive. George Tescher and Patrick Grace’s “Human or Machine, Does it Mind or Matter” overstates continuity of theme in Do Androids Dream and Blade Runner, acknowledging the divergent authorship and narrative continuity in book and film but never entertaining the possibility that these differences might lead to philosophical inconsistency or incompatibility. While novel and film remain equal and distinct in Tescher and Grace’s work, Louis Melançon’s “We Can Manipulate You Wholesale” and Gerard Casey’s “Things Are Not What They Seem” actively efface distinctions between original fiction and adapted film. It is often unclear in these essays when discussion has moved from events in print to events on film, or if Dick’s approach to the philosophical problems at hand differs at all from that in the movies. Perhaps the most unfortunate example of this kind of effacement can be found in Andrew M. Butler’s “If the Universe Isn’t Real, How Should We Treat Other People?” While the meat of Butler’s discussion is quite valuable, his introduction invokes the ending scenes of Blade Runner, Total Recall (1990), and Minority Report in a way that implies they are representative of Dick’s philosophical questioning, rather than how Hollywood attempts to contain the threats such questions pose. Finally, Dick simply fades out of some essays’ discussion of the films. Benjamin Huff’s “Total Recall’s Total Rethink” is a close reading of the film that eschews any mention of authorship; it could just as easily have appeared in a volume entitled Philosophy and Paul Verhoeven.
These criticisms about the relation of films and print texts apply only to a minority of chapters in an otherwise excellent volume, but they foreground a key challenge scholars face when assessing the pop-cultural legacy of influential figures such as Dick. The essays in this volume show that Dick’s work has defined a set of questions that made up philosophy for Philip K. Dick. It is when media poses this set of questions that we most easily recognize his influence today. Yet without attentiveness to the way Dick’s fiction portrayed the answers to those questions, we will lose the specific philosophy of Philip K. Dick.
—Joshua Pearson, University of California, Riverside