BOOKS IN REVIEW
Parabolas of Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2013. xv + 312 pp. $28.95 pbk.
Many scholarly battles have been lost for want of a good metaphor. We need a sharp image to pin down the slipperiness of our subject matter. Nowhere is this slipperiness more obvious than in relation to sf. Rivers of ink have been spilled in debating definitions (is sf a genre? a mode? a subculture? a way of thinking?). But now a new collection, Brian Attebery and Veronica Hollinger’s Parabolas of Science Fiction, offers a way out of this critical stalemate by shifting from definition to trope.
The collection endeavors to re-map and re-conceptualize the exponentially growing field of sf through the master metaphor of the parabola. The term is explained in Attebery’s opening essay: parabola, in his view, mediates between the narratological concept of megatext or paratext (the totality of cultural discourses that inform a particular work) and the sf concept of a formula or an icon (a recurring thematic or structural motif, such as the generation starship, the time machine, the human-animal hybrid, and so on). Parabola is a dynamic function that emphasizes the actively self-conscious utilization of such icons by sf. It retains its basic shape but opens up into infinity. “If a formula is a closed circle, the sf scenario is an open curve, a swing toward the unknown: a parabola” (15). The metaphor of parabola thus reconciles sf’s dependence on the generic megatext with its pursuit of novelty and originality. Not only does parabola represent the salient characteristics of sf but it actually shares them. It is specific but open-ended, iconic but malleable, geometrically static but temporally dynamic. It is not a definition but an invitation.
The rest of the volume responds to this invitation, following the parabolas of sf along several divergent trajectories. It is divided into four parts: “Introducing Parabolas,” which elaborates on Attebery’s metaphor, with essays by Attebery himself, Terry Dowling, and Graham Sleight; “Parables of Politics and Power,” which analyzes sf’s engagement with issues of gender, colonialism, and ethnic struggle, with essays by Jane Donawerth, Rachel Haywood Ferreira, Amy J. Ransom, and Lisa Yaszek; “Parables of Remediation,” which focuses on boundaries: both the human/animal boundary (in essays by L. Timmel Duchamp and John Rieder) and the boundary between different forms of media (in essays by David M. Higgins and Nicholas Ruddick). The fourth part, “Parabolic Futures,” returns to the initial metaphor with essays on time and space in sf by Paweł Frelik, Gary K. Wolfe, and Veronica Hollinger.
The reader will have noticed that there is a slippage in the titles of these parts from parabola to parable. Indeed, the slippage is more than an expression of critical theory’s penchant for puns, which has blighted many a postmodern text while enlivening others. It also spotlights a conceptual problem in sf studies. As Attebery points out, sf can be—and often is—used as a vehicle for indirectly commenting upon the author’s cultural and social milieu. But this topical potential is often magnified by critical readings that pursue ideological agendas and, in doing so, turn sf into a species of allegory, reducing the complex polysemic interplay between sf and its cultural megatext to simple correspondence by closing the open curve of the parabola into the closed circle of the parable. Other readings, however, acknowledge the complexity of sf’s fictional ontologies, which are not mere ciphers for specific ideological positions. The essays in the collection roughly fall into two categories, depending on whether they read its master metaphor as parable (i.e., a kind of moral or ideological allegory) or as parabola (a dynamic approximation of the essential historicity of sf).
The first kind of approach can be illustrated by Donawerth’s essay “Katherine MacLean’s Short Science Fiction and Cytology: Science as Parabola” and by L. Timmel Duchamp’s “Mad Scientists, Chimps, and Mice with Human Brains: Collapsing Boundaries in Science Fiction.” Both are excellent examples of the kind of feminist critique that was instrumental in redressing the gender biases of older sf theory. The question, however, is where sf theory is to go after these biases have been corrected. Donawerth’s essay analyzes the oeuvre of an unjustly marginalized 1950s sf writer whose innovative use of biological themes foreshadowed the later “bio-sf” of Brian Stableford, Octavia Butler, Robert Charles Wilson, and others. As a woman writing about science (cytology) that was still considered a masculine domain in the 1950s, MacLean was indeed a revolutionary; however, Donawerth’s attempt to read MacLean’s oeuvre as an expression of a particularly “feminine” approach to science is rather unconvincing because it flattens out the author’s creative nova into an illustration of the problematic thesis that “women might view scientific phenomena differently” (69). If anything, MacLean’s knowledgeable use of cross-species breeding and genetic transfer indicates that she was more attuned to the scientific mainstream of bio-research than most of the male writers of her time.
L. Timmel Duchamp’s essay focuses on the concept of human-animal hybridity, reading it in terms reminiscent of Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” (1985): as an expression of the utopian hope for a more inclusive and heterogeneous world. “Perhaps, that is to say, if human culture were to find value in nonhuman cultures, species (‘race’), differences would not matter as much as they do” (131). The slippage in this sentence from “culture” to “race” to “species” indicates the danger in treating the exploration of ontological differences in sf as a mere allegory for the condemnation of ideological differences. Duchamp’s readings of several key texts of human-animal and human-alien hybridity tend to conflate their diverse cognitive and political agendas and even to overlook significant generic differences between, for example, Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy” (1917), which is indeed a parable, and Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), which is not. Her claim that Wells’s Beast-Folk conform to the rigid “Linnaean system” is peculiar in the light of Wells’s clear awareness of the Darwinian fluidity of the human-animal divide. Indeed, this fluidity is precisely the theme of both Moreau and The Time Machine (1895). The (d)evolution of the Beast-Folk models the dynamism and contingency of the historical process, which renders all utopias (including the utopia of inclusiveness) moot.
Other essays in the second and third parts of the collection, however, engage the political megatext of sf in more nuanced ways: eschewing allegorical reading, they nevertheless stress the genre’s ideological dimension. Haywood Ferreira’s “Second Contact”, for example, introduces non-Spanish-speaking readers, such as myself, to the unfamiliar body of Latin American sf, relating its depiction of alien contact to the unique historical experience of the continent. Rather than considering the texts she discusses in relation to a reified notion of “colonialism,” she shows how the very concept of the alien in Latin American sf is indelibly impacted by the fact that the “European-American historical first contact was very different in Latin America than in the North” (71). This difference has created a poetics of creative revision in which the familiar scenarios of alien contact borrowed from Anglo-American sf are being reshaped to incorporate the continent’s complex history and politics. Precisely by avoiding the static closure of a parable, both this essay and Ransom’s “Parabolas of SFQ: Canadian Science Fiction in French and the Making of a ‘National’ Subgenre,” open up their discussions to the historical dynamism of a parabola.
But it is in the fourth part that the collection fully lives up to the potential of its master metaphor. Containing three essays—Frelik’s “The Future of the Past: Science Fiction, Retro, and Retrofuturism,” Wolfe’s “Babylon Revisited: Alternate Cosmologies from Farmer to Chiang,” and Hollinger’s “Science Fiction as Archive Fever”—it shows how a multifaceted trope can generate a rigorous intellectual framework. All three essays, in different ways, unpack the implicit connection between structure and history in the metaphor of parabola. As the graph of the quadratic equation, a parabola can be seen as the path of a moving object, a trace of temporality. Similarly, the structural formulae of sf can be read as traces of history. Frelik’s essay discusses what he calls “retrofuturism”: deliberate pastiche of past images of the future. Epitomized by such films as Equilibrium (2000) and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004), retrofuturism, in Freilik’s interpretation, is “primarily aesthetic,” a modality of vision that reflects the postmodern preoccupation with memory and nostalgia (208). The essay, however, goes beyond Fredric Jameson’s oft-repeated description of postmodernity as the loss of temporality, the “depthless” accumulation of random simulacra. Instead, Freilik persuasively shows how retrofuturism evokes the sense of historicity by its playful evocation of discarded visions of the future. Retrofuturism “lays bare” the ideologies of the past and thus invites us to see the hidden ideologies of the present.
Wolfe’s essay discusses the construction of alternative cosmologies in sf. It is a significant contribution to the theory of fictional ontologies, which is one of the most fruitful directions in narratology. He considers fictional ontologies, which are not merely impossible or improbable in the sense of Thomas Pavel and Lubomír Doležel (i.e., containing impossible or improbable objects), but whose basic space-time configuration significantly deviates from our consensus reality. His examples include Ted Chiang’s “Tower of Babylon” (1990), whose fictional space-time is based on Sumerian cosmology; Philip Jose Farmer’s “Sail On! Sail On!” (1952), which is based on the medieval notion of the flat Earth; and several others. Wolfe emphasizes that these texts are underpinned by a consistent ontological poetics that cannot be reduced to the “alternative” worlds of fantasy and sf as theorized, for example, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Rather, by tinkering with the foundational categories of ontology—space, time, and topology—these texts interrogate our basic “intuitions,” as Kant would call them, and suggest that even space-time is historically constructed and contingent.
Finally, Hollinger’s illuminating essay situates the genre in the broader cultural problematic of the archive as a repository of cultural memory and an embodiment of history. She reads sf’s “temporal logic as a future-oriented genre” against the “logic of the archive” as described by Jacques Derrida and finds “a striking symmetry” between the two (242). Both are structured by a kind of reverse temporality, in which the past is constructed by the imaginary gaze of the future. The present is historicized by the very act of being memorized, delegated to the past by being recorded for posterity. “Science fiction, like the archive, looks forward to a future that looks back to its past” (243). Hollinger elaborates this pithy formulation by referencing a wide range of sf texts, from Walter Miller’s classic Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) to Robert Charles Wilson’s remarkable Darwinia (1998), in which the unimaginably vast archive becomes the arena for a battle to rewrite the past that is the characters’ present and future. Engaging several theoretical discourses, from Derrida’s and Mark Currie’s diagnoses of the postmodern condition to Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.’s generic analysis of sf, the essay is a model of “parabolic” scholarship, tracing the intellectual arc from a specific sf icon (the computer archive) to the infinite possibilities of the cultural and historical megatext.
Evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould once pointed out how the lack of a suitable metaphor often held back intellectual progress. Parabolas of Science Fiction goes a long way toward mitigating such a lack in sf scholarship.— Elana Gomel, Tel-Aviv University
We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2012. 206 pp. $75 hc; $25.95 pbk.
A strange but delightful example of the role of science fiction in the popular imagination of early Soviet society is Innokentiy Zhukov’s 1924 children’s novella Voyage of the Red Star Pioneer Troop to Wonderland. Zhukov, an astonishing figure, was an avant-garde painter and sculptor, education reformer, and writer of children’s books. He also had been a leader of the prewar Russian scouting movement and, after 1917, led a pro-Bolshevik schism that ultimately became the Young Pioneers, the mass organization of Soviet children that was emulated by communist parties (and later communist regimes) around the world. In his story, eight young Red Star Pioneers are hiking in the foothills when they discover a magic crystal that transports them into the distant future—1957 to be exact. In just two generations, the earth has been transformed into the Bolshevik version of the big rock candy mountain. Humanity basks in universal peace and friendship, enjoys an infinite supply of free energy supplied by glowworms, and gorges itself on an abundance of chocolate candy. Like the nineteenth-century French illustrator Grandville who envisioned the entire solar system as a man-made object, Zhukov symbolizes the total conquest of nature, time, and distance with such fantastic inventions as a thermal grid to melt the icecaps, great machines to control the weather, and, of course, the obligatory red zeppelins floating over crystal cities.
To accomplish all of this, the workers of the world in 1957 have achieved the same kind of planetary unity of purpose that the astronomer Percival Lowell argued had made the construction of the canals on Mars possible. (Lowell’s “discovery” of Martian civilization in 1895, if eventually discredited by scientists, continued to be credible in public opinion in Russia and elsewhere during the 1920s.) Not only have nation-states been abolished, but also national languages. As the Red Star boys joyfully discover, everyone now speaks Esperanto, the language of comrades. This is a particularly bittersweet element of Zhukov’s utopia since the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 had actually debated the adoption of Esperanto and the People’s Commissariat of Education had attempted to introduce it into Soviet schools. But in 1935 Stalin had the president of the Soviet Esperanto league shot and began a liquidation of “Esperantists and philatelists” because of their contacts abroad.
Anindita Banerjee’s new book chronologically stops short of Stalin’s massacres of dreams and their dreamers, but she sets the stage for understanding the brief golden age of Soviet science fiction during the 1920s when tales such as Zhukov’s flourished. Focusing on the volcanic period from the 1890s until the end of the Civil War, Banerjee claims that science fiction helped birth a uniquely Russian modernist sensibility: “a way of not just telling but also of making modernity in Russia” (3). To buttress her case she uses a wide-angle lens that captures contemporary opinions and news reports as well as the more familiar work of writers such as Yevgeny Zamyatin and Alexander Bogdanov that has long been recognized as part of the sf canon. After a rather jargon-dense introduction, with the traditional dissertation shout-outs to deities such as Jameson and Foucault, her argument unfolds in four essays whose respective themes are the imagined nation, the revolutionary transformation of time, the utopian cargo cult of electrification, and the vitalist critique of Darwinian modernism.
The first essay is a fascinating if wandering account of how radical science fiction—represented, for example, by Bogdanov’s novel Red Star (1908) and Alexei Tolstoy’s film Aelita (1922)—attempted to transcend the violent polarization of Russia’s slavophiles and zapadniki (westernizers), by seeking freedom in new dimensions of mobility. If her reading is correct (and I am dubious), Russia’s futurists were unique in finding the shape of things to come outside of the industrial metropolis and its discontents. Their modernism instead was conceived as an acceleration of movement in space rather than time: first the conquest of Siberia, then the defiance of gravity in airships, and finally the freedom of the cosmos.
Romantic escapism construed as alternative modernism? It is an awkward idea. Banerjee, on the other hand, is astute in emphasizing the tragic dimension of even the most outwardly optimistic Russian science fiction. Her Siberian pioneer, polar aviator, and even the accidental cosmonaut in Aelita are all ultimately destined for an “incarcerated utopia” where Esperanto is definitely not spoken (58). Banerjee’s careful reading of Red Star is especially revelatory. Specialists traditionally depict Bogdanov as the philosophical wild man of the early Bolshevik faction, a loose cannon on Iskra’s deck, but Banerjee reminds us why Lenin regarded him as a serious intellectual opponent. One of his characters in Red Star, for example, warns: “The individual advanced countries where socialism triumphs will be islands in a hostile sea, which will be perverted deeply and for a long time to come by years of encirclement, unavoidable terror and militarism, and the barbaric patriotism that is its consequence” (qtd. 58). Written in 1908, this passage shows an incredible gift of premonition.
In the second essay, Banerjee looks at Russian reactions to the “dehumanization of time” by urbanism and industrialization. She praises the Futurists, Velimir Khlebnikov in particular, for declaring war “on all established frameworks for anticipating the coming world.” The Futurist manifestoes, in her interpretation, created a “new cognitive matrix” (78)—an idiosyncratic synthesis of Bergson, Nietzsche, Einstein, and mysticism—that welcomed the electric age represented by Khlebnikov’s “Radio God” as an emancipation of the human spirit into a flux of plural temporalities and self-transformations. But Banerjee again uses voices from Bogdanov’s Red Star as a tragic chorus: are “private time” and personal freedom actually possible in a paradise of the ether? The question exactly anticipates our own struggle to understand whether the future of the Internet lies in anarchism or totalitarianism.
In her next essay she traces the genealogy of the famous Soviet slogan, usually attributed to Lenin, that “communism equaled soviet power plus electrification.” Although Lenin was pointing to a truism—electric power was the basis of modern industry—he was also speaking in a millenarian voice (a “magic incantation” ) that has been interpreted as “the unique Bolshevik idiom of technological utopia” (92) but which Banerjee argues was actually a well-established—although heavily gendered—dialect of Russian science fiction. “The synthesis of electricity’s material and metaphysical potentials was not the product of Soviet rhetoric alone. It was codified, popularized, and perpetuated well before the October Revolution” (92). For example, the conflict between the “physics and metaphysics of electric power” (93)—which Banerjee represents as the “male,” positivistic anode versus the “female,” non-rational cathode—is already a key theme in Prince Odoevsky’s prophetic sf novella “The Year 4338” written sometime before 1864. “‘In the highest state of magnetization,’ he contended, ‘pure instinct and pure reason come together’” (qtd. 100).
Banerjee’s fourth essay (“Creating the Human”) is in fact highly “magnetized,” bringing together earlier theses and ideas with exemplary clarity. In her view, an almost Blakean reconcilation of opposites—human versus human, human versus nature, reality versus representation, anode versus cathode—gives specificity to Russian science fiction as an “ethical modernity.” “Such an organicist ideal—which can be interpreted as a kind of ecological criticism avant la lettre—emerged as a predominant motif in Russian science fiction over the subsequent [to 1896] two decades” (122). (Bakhtin’s dialogism in this context might be an important synonym for organicism, and Banerjee acknowledges his influence in shaping her ideas.) Moreover, as she demonstrates repeatedly, the Red Star Pioneers probably had copies of Zamyatin’s We (1924) hidden in their knapsacks: Russian utopias always have a guilty dystopian conscience.
One can cavil at the promiscuous fact-checking in We Modern People: Frederick Taylor was not an “economist,” he was a mechanical engineer with a high-school diploma (64); Muybridge invented the photographic study of motion in 1872, not Marey in 1882 (63); Newton’s concept of time was certainly not “atomistic” and “made up of discrete units” (62); and so on. My only major criticism is Banerjee’s curious failure to situate Russian science fiction vis-à-vis fin-de-siècle Russian science. The reader gains the impression that Czardom was equally backward in science and technology, with science fiction as a magical attempt to redress their dual underdevelopment. In fact, however, Russian theoretical science was world-class: after 1860, Russia became one of the four great scientific cultures, far outpaced by England and the German-speaking states to be sure, but not far behind Third Republic France. The post-bellum US quickly surpassed England as the colossus of applied science and new technology, but it remained a scientific dwarf, famed for inventors and tinkerers, not for mathematicians and physicists. Russia, by contrast, could put a stellar team on almost any field: Mendeleev, Hafekin, and Kovalevshii, not to mention Lobarchevskii, Markov, Liapunov, Fersman, Mechnikov, Kovalev, Butlerov, Kropotkin, and a dozen others. Russians were leaders or pioneers in soil science, structural chemistry, mathematical crystallography, comparative embryology, non-Euclidean geometry, probability theory, aeronautic science, permafrost studies, and geo-chemistry. These achievements were extraordinary in face of the constant suspicion and episodic repression directed at intellectuals of all stripes: the University of St. Petersburg, for example, had its own campus prison. Attention to the excruciating predicament of Russian science—advanced theory in feudal chains, as it were—would only have strengthened and expanded Banerjee’s principal theses, as would have some exposition of its distinctive traits, especially the priority given in Russia to the integration of the geological and the biological—exemplified by Dokuchaev’s soil science or by Vernandsky’s concept of the biosphere.
But how can one complain about a study that is so rich in smart ideas and novel hypotheses? I particularly relish her splendid final sentence: “Registering possibilities rather than making predictions, Russian science fiction thus acquired as much power to unmake modernity as to create an inimitable national version of it” (162).—Mike Davis, UC Riverside
Utopia for Utopia’s Sake.
Artur Blaim. Gazing in Useless Wonder: English Utopian Fictions, 1516-1800. Pieterlen, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2013. Ralahine Utopian Studies, vol. 13. viii + 356 pp. $71.95 pbk.
If we are to believe the back-cover endorsements by two of the leading authorities in contemporary utopian studies, this book should become essential reading. Gregory Claeys describes it as “the most detailed, original and sophisticated study of early modern and eighteenth-century British utopias to be published in many years.” According to Lyman Tower Sargent, it is “the most systematic analysis available of the ways in which utopian narratives are structured and carry their message.” This praise is all the more striking since there is no shortage of recent studies of early modern utopias. Moreover, Blaim’s work, though certainly detailed and systematic, is frustrating in many respects. The methodological outline presented in the book’s introductory chapter, “Utopian Poetics and Politics,” is at once polemical, sweeping, and vague. The author’s scholarship is not worn lightly, yet he fails to explain a number of essential points, including the title Gazing in Useless Wonder. In what sense is our contemplation of the ideal state “useless”—and does this image not caricature, or even undermine, Blaim’s message?
Although he begins by acknowledging the contested nature of definitions of utopia, Blaim himself offers no formal definition. This omission may be understandable, but it is also symptomatic. For example, the key adjective that he uses to characterize utopian discourse is “self-referential,” but this term is never adequately explained. Utopian texts, he writes in the Introduction, are self-referential “in the sense that they literally have to constitute themselves as imaginary or intentional (sensu Ingarden) entities, before any other use can be made of them by readers, or critics” (2). Passing over the nonsensical use of “literally” (texts are not literally agents), and the lone reference to Polish philosopher Roman Ingarden (whose name is absent from both bibliography and index), what Blaim is trying to say is that in reading utopias, literary and rhetorical interpretation necessarily precedes ideological analysis and political pigeonholing. But is utopia’s “self-referentiality” a consequence of its fictional status, of the fact that it belongs to “estranged” rather than realistic fiction, or simply of its constitution as an object of discourse rather than a phenomenon in the real world? The authorities Blaim briefly cites—Louis Marin, Phillip E. Wegner, and Hayden White—do nothing to resolve the issue. For a clearer statement we must wait until the final sentence of the Conclusion, which describes the early modern utopia as not a political blueprint but a “self-referential aesthetic construct to be admired and contemplated for its own sake” (284). Here we seem to be back in the realm of New Criticism and the autonomy of the aesthetic object, but the term “self-referential” is no more than a meaningless intensifier—rather like “literally,” in fact.
It was Oscar Wilde who claimed that “[a]ll art is quite useless,” but Blaim’s form of aesthetic criticism is neoclassical rather than Wildean. Indeed, he writes at some length about the ways in which early modern utopias observe the canons of neoclassical aesthetics, including the principle of utility (dulce et utile). Their usefulness lies, he maintains, not in any possibility of political adoption but in their presentation of the ideal state as an object of contemplation. The characteristics of that state, according to Blaim—harmony, symmetry, perfection, and timelessness—correspond precisely to neoclassical aesthetic norms. What Blaim does not acknowledge, oddly enough, is that the idea of perfection as a defining quality of the utopian state has been rejected by many recent scholars, including—as it happens—both Claeys and Sargent (for Claeys, perfection is “essentially a theological concept” rather than one pertaining to literary utopias [Searching for Utopia: The History of An Idea (London: Thames & Hudson, 2011), 11-12], whereas Sargent has claimed that “[v]ery few actual utopias make any pretence to perfection” [Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010), 104]). My instincts are with Blaim here, but his failure to address this question, either in the main text or in one of his voluminous footnotes, is puzzling.
A non-specialist reader of early utopian texts is most likely to associate the qualities of symmetry, perfection, and a harmonious social order with Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1602), a work that is rather bafflingly included in this study since it was not apparently translated into English until the late nineteenth century. (Blaim gives its Latin title—Campanella originally wrote it in Italian—but remains silent about its qualifications as an “English” utopia.) The founding English text was, of course, another Latin work, Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), to which Blaim devotes his first chapter. Following current orthodoxy, he stresses the dialogic and polyphonic structure of More’s work, which nevertheless became the prototype for a number of simplified and monological utopian texts from the late sixteenth century onwards. This abandoning of polyphony, Blaim interestingly suggests, can already be detected in the 1551 English translation of Utopia.
At the beginning of Chapter Two, the author refers briefly to the historical evolution of utopian narratives from Platonic or Morean dialogue to travelogue, romance, and what he calls the “proto-novel” such as Simon Berington’s The Memoirs of Signor Guadentio di Lucca (1737). His concern, however, is to treat the period 1516-1800 as a “single more or less stable synchrony” (4) in which, he argues, virtually all utopian fictions followed the same basic pattern. Chapters Two to Four enumerate the set of rhetorical and narrative devices composing this characteristic structure, moving from the fictional “frame” (including narrative voice and the journey to utopia) to the appearance, topography, institutions, and people of the ideal state. The text is enlivened by generous quotations from many of the sixty-odd primary sources listed in the bibliography, although the quotations are there for illustrative purposes only. Even when the matter is obscure or convoluted, Blaim seldom pauses to elucidate, so that these chapters function mainly as a systematic catalog. Chapter Five considers “The Paradigm Reversed” in anti-utopian fictions such as Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Rasselas (1759), while an Appendix explains why the eighteenth-century Robinsonade should not be considered a species of utopia.
Certainly there are good things to be found here. Occasionally the author allows himself a witty aside, as in his observation that very few Robinsonades “would pass the ultimate utopian test, namely that of its founder not leaving the seemingly ideal desert island at the first opportunity” (294). His view of the early dystopias and anti-utopias as exhibiting “functions or uses” of the utopian text rather than constituting a separate genre is suggestive and will surely be taken up by others. The principal shortcoming of this work, however, is that the enumeration of the conventions and devices found in utopian fictions tells us little about their success or failure as “aesthetic constructs.” Indeed, Blaim’s discussion of such features of the ideal state as patriarchy, religion, legal systems, education, and government in Chapter Four hardly differs from the treatment of utopias as ideological vehicles that he is at pains to reject.
If there are forgotten texts among Blaim’s sixty primary sources that those of us who are not early-modern specialists ought to know about—rather than relying on this volume for our knowledge—one will not find them singled out here. Nor does Blaim cast any new light on such topics as the history of the Baconian “scientific utopia” or the relationship between the “timelessness” of the early modern utopia and its nineteenth-century repositioning in future time. We do learn, admittedly, that Thomas Northmore’s Memoirs of Planetes (1795) appears to be the first English example of an evolving rather than a static utopia. In other respects, for all the weight of its scholarship, Gazing in Useless Wonder begs as many questions as it answers.—Patrick Parrinder, University of Reading
New Directions in the European Fantastic. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2012. xiv + 215 pp. $68 hc.
Post-conference volumes are a notoriously difficult format, requiring from their editors a great deal of imagination, patience, and tightrope-walking social skills (in keeping satisfied those who had presented at the event but did not necessarily stay within the parameters of the original CFP). Sabine Coelsch-Foisner and Sarah Herbe’s New Directions in the European Fantastic is no exception to this stricture. Most immediately, it is an outcome of the second annual conference of Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung [Association for Research in the Fantastic], which was held in Salzburg in 2011. The event, in turn, was an outcome of a transdisciplinary research project code-named EUROFAN, involving scholars from Great Britain, Germany, and Finland. In the world of EU academia, catchy names are everything, but this one aptly reflects the primary focus of the group: “a multi-national research network ... to explore the political dimensions of the fantastic across Europe from the late 1980s until the present” (viii).
This description immediately addresses questions concerning the title of the resultant volume: does it refer to any work on the fantastic undertaken by European researchers? or work on the European fantastic pursued by any researchers? The quote above seems to neatly align itself with the former option but also revisits the delicate dance involved in the construction of such books. While I want to emphasize that they are fine examples of scholarship in their own right, I cannot really see how Marleen Barr’s “The Sound of Music Portrays an Alternative Universe Salzburg and Reflects Social Dialogue between an Unreal Austria and the United States” and Beatrix Hesse’s “A New Variation on the Alien Invasion Theme: Neill Blomkamp’s District 9” fit the formula at all, even if one takes into account Mark Bould’s challenge: “What Do We Mean By ‘Europe’?” (30). Elsewhere in the volume, two other papers mention European texts very tangentially. This thinning out of the nominal topic is understandable although one cannot help thinking that a tad more coherence would have helped to make this solid volume even stronger.
Nevertheless, there is enough here to satisfy even the most discerning reader. While none of the pieces are particularly long (a consequence of their conference origins), a number of them contain impressive amounts of analysis and factual information. After Coelsch-Foisner’s introduction, Roger Luckhurst opens the volume by bringing together the seemingly disparate strands of the now not-so-new New Weird and the question of the decidedly New Europe of rapidly changing domestic and inter-state allegiances. Edward James charts the twenty years of European contributions to New Space Opera, noting Europeans’ notably bigger political involvement in comparison to their American counterparts, while Bould’s essay is a veritable shopping list of sf films from Europe—most of which, the author argues, are invested in delineating, but also challenging, neoliberal space-time. This multinational focus is later extended in other essays, including Frans Mäyrä’s discussion of Finnish video-games, Frauke Bode’s transcontinental discussion of Marcelo Figueras’s Argentinian novel La batalia del calientamento [The Battle Heats Up, 2006] and Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish film El laberinto del fauno [Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006], and A.J. Drenda’s analysis of the titular hero in Andrzej Sapkowski’s Polish literary epic The Witcher (1994-2013), which, even in the absence of the English translation of the six-part novel series, has been adapted into a highly successful, international gaming franchise. Brian Stableford’s “The Misdiagnosis of Madness in Science and Science Fiction,” the final article in the book, seems to lack this international focus, developing its titular concerns on the basis of several texts from France, a country with an immense fantastic tradition largely unknown outside Francophone circles.
No volume on the European fantastic would be complete without an invocation of Doctor Who, here discussed by Inken Frost. Her essay is immediately proceeded by Stefan Rabitsch’s intriguing comparison of Star Trek’s exploratory fantasies and British maritime histories, most readily exemplified by C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels. Even more interestingly, the volume makes brief, albeit decisive, forays into extra-cinematic and extra-literary territories intersecting with the multiple worlds of the fantastic. Kathryn Rountree, an anthropologist with experience researching among Maltese Wiccans, contributes an article on the role of the fantastic in contemporary European paganisms; Sonja Klimek looks at storytelling role-playing games as interactive media practices; and Christian Knöppler examines global threats in the comics of the British author Warren Ellis. The final three essays—Joe Grixti’s “The Intrigue of the Liminal: Fantastic Explorations of the Shadow Self,” Stefanie Kreuzer’s brief “Constellations of a Postmodern Fantastic,” and Stefanie Giebert’s “Age and Aging in Fantasy and Science Fiction”—are either theoretical or thematic discussions with numerous non-European examples. Still, a careful reader can still discover in them individual texts that are little known outside their original countries, such as 2030: Aufstand der Alten [2030: Rise of the Old, 2007], a German TV show mentioned in Giebert’s essay that envisions a future in which the state-operated social security system collapses as a result of an aging society. (The premise was further developed in the 2010 television movie 2030: Aufstand der Jungen [2030: Rise of the Young], which is not mentioned in the article.)
The above array of essays may appear quite scattered, even bordering on the chaotic. In some ways, perhaps it is—which in itself would be a perfect reflection of the incredible variety of traditions, genres, and media collectively dubbed “the European fantastic.” This polyphony does not detract from the book’s importance as a contribution to fantastic scholarship, however, and it could—and should—become the starting point for an entire series. The old world’s variety of texts and groupings would warrant more than one thematic volume, but there is at least one more compelling reason why we should study European traditions of sf, fantasy, horror, and other genres, pure and borderline. Sf studies and allied fantastic disciplines have, in recent years, shifted their attention from the Anglophone and imperial tradition to the global discourses of the fantastic. Three big conferences with the word “global” and “sf” in their name have taken place in the last three years, recent special issues of SFS and of Paradoxa have focused on globalization and Africa respectively, and books such as Jessica Langer’s Postcolonialism and Science Fiction (2011) have clearly demonstrated this international and global turn. Implicit in this sea change has been an attenuation of attention to the European fantastic, presumably involved in the (neo)imperial projects narrated in so many texts from the United States. But of course the European fantastic has never been limited to the handful of countries that possessed colonial empires, and even among these, distinctions can be made between the dominant Anglo-American tradition and those of other former imperials. Consequently, there is a great deal that can still be learned from study of the French or German fantastic or the wildly diverse traditions of Southern, Central, and Eastern European fantastika, conveying a sense of the incredible variety of fantastic production on a relatively small continent, from late-nineteenth-century positivist Polish fantasies, to Swedish sf operas of the 1950s, to the local cinematic flavors of individual Soviet republics that didn’t necessarily follow the dominant Russian patterns. On the other hand, more concerted attention may help demonstrate that even colonial fictions were not as monolithic as it often seems and that French and Italian imperial fantasies were distinctly different from more commonly known British texts.
There is no return from the global forward gaze of recent fantastic criticism, but the backward and sideways glances at the multiple European traditions will prove that there is more to the continent’s fantasies than nostalgic imperial tales. New Directions in the European Fantastic is definitely a good start in these explorations, and its thematic scatter is an invitation to further critical interventions.—Paweł Frelik, Maria Curie-Skołdowska University
The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2013. x + 241pp. $84.95 hc; $23.95 pbk.
What makes Ian Condry’s ethnographic theory very different from canonical literary and cultural history is that he chronicles the emergence of “soul” from the collective production of anime. Visiting distinguished director Mamoru Hosoda’s anime studio in July 2008, the author noted that the “energy in the room was contagious, and this energy begins to give a sense of something larger than the media object itself, something emerging from a collective commitment among those who care.... Moreover, success itself depends not only on production inside studios, but also on many factors the creators cannot control” (13). As a relatively new form of visual representation, anime presupposes mass production as well as a mass audience, yet what Condry attempts to capture is not so much capitalist success as the rare moment when quantity generates quality.
The book contains seven chapters as well as an Introduction and Conclusion. Chapter 1 discusses collaborative creativity via Mamoru Hosoda’s works and speculates on the possible interactions between anime creators and their fans; Chapter 2 emphasizes the priority of characters and worlds over narratives; Chapter 3 constructs an artistic history of anime from the twelfth century through the twenty-first, with special attention to Walt Disney’s impact upon Osamu Tezuka, the great manga/anime pioneer; Chapter 4 offers a cultural history since the 1970s of the transactions between robot anime and science-fictional toys, chiefly accelerated by the rise of the company General Products, which was later reorganized as the anime studio Gainax; Chapter 5 reports the fruits of Condry’s fieldwork conducted at representative anime studios in Tokyo such as Gonzo, Studio Ghibli, and Aniplex; Chapter Six explores the act of “Fansubbing” as a challenge to copyright law and reconsiders the significance of the relationship between Japanese fans and American fans; and Chapter 7 analyzes the idiosyncratic aesthetics of “Moe”—“an affectionate longing for 2D characters” (187)—peculiar to the interpretive community of anime fans collectively designated as “Otaku.”
Condry sums up the Japanese significance of fandom as follows: “Although much scholarly research on anime emphasizes the interpretation of narratives within films or series, a wider variety of work is appearing to deal with varieties of fandom and cross-media synergy with things like science fiction writing and the character merchandise business” (27). It is true that the rise of Japanese sf fandom in the late 1950s served as the incubator for a diversity of “Otaku” communities such as manga fandom, anime fandom, and even “Comiket” (Comic Market) fandom, inaugurated in 1974 by Yoshihiro Yonezawa, a major manga critic who began his fan activities as a member of the Kyushu Science Fiction Club in the late 1960s. Belonging to the same generation as Yonezawa, I have witnessed in the past forty years the proliferation and dissemination of Japanese sf fandom and the rise of “Cool Japan” as another name for the global hegemony of Otaku culture. In this sense, Japanese sf fandom—which started in 1957 with the first fanzine Uchujin [Cosmic Dust], edited by Takumi Shibano, who also initiated the annual Japan Science Fiction Convention in 1962—could well be considered the matrix of Japanese subcultural dreams that were to come true in the twenty-first century.
I emphasize this point not because I want to say that Japanese science fiction has priority but because we cannot avoid the interactions between sf novels and manga and anime. For instance, we take it for granted that the figure of Gundam is the archetype of all robot anime works leading up to Neon Genesis Evengelion (1995-96), and Condry astutely explains the way that Gundam’s culture has been supported by avid fans: “Collaborated creativity in Gundam draws attention to the synergies among anime, the toy companies, and fans.... The eventual success of the Gundam series illustrates the power of fans as active participants in the production of the world around the series” (125-26). But we should not forget that the origin of Gundam-type robots could well be located in Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers (1959), which first introduced the concept of the “powered suit.” But Starship Troopers had another legacy: in 1977, Hayakawa publishers issued a paperback edition with a cover illustration of the powered suit drawn by Studio Nue, and this image would have a profound impact on the design of “mobile suits” in Japanese robot anime, starting with Gundam. What is more, I feel that Condry should have mentioned in his discussion of the “Moe” sensibility for 2D characters William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel Idoru (1996) as an important precursor. Certainly, I am deeply intrigued by Condry’s discussion of Taichi Takashita, who “set up an online petition to call for legal recognition of the right to marry an anime character” (186), and I fully understand the reason why the author wants to put stress on how “Otaku men as a symbol offer a means of seeing the variety of ways in which consumption of the ‘virtual’ has real-world substance” (203). Nonetheless, if he had compared Gibson’s prophetic book with what is going on in Japanese Otaku communities now (in short, if he had been more keenly aware of the dynamic interactions between science fiction and anime), I think his discussion would have been more persuasive.
The Soul of Anime is a good introduction to the discipline of fanthropology. What intrigued me most were the moments when the author could not keep his critical distance from his subject; for instance, noticing how little anime creators talked about overseas audiences, Condry frankly confesses: “They rarely talk about Japanese audiences, either. In general, I found that the professionals in the room viewed themselves as the audience that mattered. This makes sense, having seen it first hand, but I have to admit that as a fan I was disappointed. I liked the idea of media creators thinking about me (or people like me) when they made their works. Plus, it was supposed to be one of my research questions” (52-53). At such moments of emotional reaction, Condry transgresses the boundary between ethnographer and subject, ending up becoming part of the story himself. He thus not only deploys the theory of Collaborative Creativity but also performs its “Soul.”—Takayuki Tatsumi, Keio University
Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2013. vii + 207 pp. $40 pbk.
As noted by editor Croft, Lois McMaster Bujold is a prolific sf writer with a large readership and many awards, who has received—until the publication of this book—almost no critical attention. Croft claims that Bujold’s work is difficult to “pigeonhole” into any particular critical framework; while she notes that Bujold “resists classification as feminist or antifeminist, being unapologetically humanist” (2-3), however, most of the essays here draw on feminist or gender theory in their readings of Bujold’s fiction. Still, I agree that Bujold’s work may have been ignored by academics—feminist and otherwise—because of her “almost Golden Age writing style” (3) and its position squarely within the tradition of mainstream sf. Although the collection as a whole is somewhat uneven and a few pieces fall short of the “scholarly yet readable prose” Croft promises, the book opens up the discussion—and, particularly in relation to feminist and disability studies, initiates intriguing analyses of Bujold’s characters and worlds.
The anthology opens with an interview with Bujold by Sandra J. Lindow, followed by an essay that mostly catalogs Bujold’s relationship to the sf fan world by Amy H. Sturgis. Regina Yung Lee’s essay jumps headfirst into academic feminist theory, applying Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, and Donna Haraway to the two books in the Vorkosigan series (1986- ) that focus on Miles’s mother, Cordelia, in order to show how the “uterine replicator” almost invisibly infiltrates the patriarchal world of the Vorkosigans and affects definitions of personhood and the potential for female agency in this society. Unfortunately, academic jargon often gets in the way of her points. Lindow’s, Croft’s, and Andrew Hallam’s essays engage in an enlightening conversation about the series, a feat that is often difficult to achieve in a format such as this. Referencing Carol Gilligan, Lindow traces the moral development of Miles throughout the series, demonstrating how Miles vacillates between male-based and female-based theories of moral development, and eventually matures beyond the male heroic mode by adopting a female mode that involves connection with others. Lindow astutely suggests that, perhaps, “Bujold is quietly subverting her audience into becoming more accepting of their own interdependence” (57). Croft focuses on a similar contrast—as defined by Michael Ragussis—between the “male plot of finding or making a name for oneself and the female plot of losing one’s name” (63). Miles, Croft explains, spends his youth trying to make a name for himself—taking part in the male naming plot while his clone brother starts out with no name of his own—and is thus firmly placed in the female plot. Croft argues that as each character matures (similar to the maturation process Lindow describes), they free themselves from these restrictive naming plots. Hallam builds on these two essays to argue that the male gaze keeps the masculine Barrayar (the world of the Vorkosigans) from looking inward and seeing its own faults; the series, he claims, presents the inward-looking feminized gaze and feminized naming plot as the means to avoid the moral failings of Barrayar. The way these three essays play off of one another certainly deepened my appreciation of Bujold and the hidden complexities of her fiction.
Three essays analyze the physically disabled Miles through the lens of disability studies. Virginia Bemis’s piece follows Miles’s development as he works his way through disability narratives as defined by Arthur Frank: Miles must accept and move through the chaos narrative so he can embark on a quest narrative to form an identity that can unify his personality. Referencing both Judith Butler’s theory of gender performance and Thomas Gerschick and Adam Miller’s theory of masculinity and disability, Linda Wight’s essay examines another aspect of Miles’s development—his awareness that he will always have to perform Barrayan masculinity because his impaired body cannot fit its warrior ideal. While Miles, Wight cogently argues, does not completely reject Barrayan masculinity, his bonds with others allow him to “reformulate” the classic space-opera loner-hero. Somewhat less satisfying is Shannan Palma’s essay applying Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s concept of “misfitting” to the disabled Miles and other “misfits” in the series. Palma interestingly argues that these characters can achieve their potential, regardless of their disability, when characters such as Miles create a better fit or more accepting environment for them; however, Palma does not explore in sufficient depth the interaction between the misfitting bodies and their environments or adequately compare the different misfitting bodies in the series. Sylvia Kelso’s essay also focuses on misfitting—or, in her terms, “grotesque”—cyborg bodies. Kelso uses cyborg theory, as defined by Haraway and Chris Hables Gray, alongside Bakhtin’s concept of the positive grotesque body to look at Simon Illyan and Miles in the novel Memory (1996). While the concepts Kelso invokes are not simple, her analysis is adept, providing insight into how these characters can point to a “temporary liberative space” (156).
The final two essays focus on Bujold’s fantasies. David D. Oberhelman’s piece explores how Bujold reimagines the conflict between Catholic Spain and the Islamic Moorish states in the 1400s in her Chalion series (2001- ) to highlight how conflicting beliefs during cultural shifts can affect the inseparable “divine, political, and personal spiritual realms” (160). John Lennard explores Bujold’s “searching scrutiny” (189-90) of theology in all her fantasy novels; unfortunately, many of the finer points of the argument get lost in Lennard’s opaque prose, with its multiple parenthetical asides and often unexplained references. Overall, despite some unevenness, this anthology will be of great interest to Bujold’s readers and others interested in the interactions among feminist theory, disability studies, and Bujold’s somewhat traditional sf.—Rebecca Holden, University of Maryland
L’Automate: Modèle Métaphor Machine Merveille. Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2013. 505 pp. €29 pbk.
Before Isaac Asimov’s troubled robots, there was Frankenstein’s monster, and before Frankenstein’s monster, there were marvelous lifelike creatures fashioned by the greatest automaton maker of all times, Jacques de Vaucanson. Born in France in 1709, Vaucanson became fascinated by mechanics at an early age, growing up to become inspector of the royal silk manufactures of France, a Member of the Academy of Sciences, and the inventor of the first fully automated loom. His lasting fame, however, results from the complex automata that led philosophers from Diderot to Kant to raise questions about the nature of the human and the extent of human freedom.
Vaucanson’s masterpiece was without a doubt the automaton he showed in 1738, a young man playing the flute. What was particularly remarkable about this figure was the fact that the music resulted from the player’s actions rather than from a separate mechanism. For fifteen minutes, the player executed a series of minuets without a single false note. The flute player was followed by another phenomenal creature: “the digesting duck.” Vaucanson’s duck picked up food, assimilated it, and carefully deposited the “digested” amalgam on a platter.
L’Automate publishes the acts of an international colloquium celebrating the 300th anniversary of Vaucanson’s birthday that was held in Grenoble, France in 2009. Three of the papers included in the collection—Domenico Bertoloni Meli’s “Machines and the Body between Anatomy and Pathology,” Joan Landes’s “Tableaux quasi-vivants and Simulacra: Anatomy and Design in Vaucanson’s Automata,” and Elly R. Truit’s “The Incarnation of Time”—are in English, while the rest are in French. The organization of the volume follows the four categories mentioned in the subtitle. The first part focuses on anatomical knowledge, the influence of life-size models in medicine and the arts, and their role in Vaucanson’s creations; part two, on metaphors, reflects on literary automata as irony, with chapters on La Bruyère, Marivaux, and the image of the puppet in Diderot, Voltaire, and other Enlightenment writers; part three examines Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751-72) and its treatment of Vaucanson’s machine as well as Vaucanson’s dealings with silk workers’ rebellions; the last part of the book, and the longest, considers general questions raised by the disturbing performances of lifelike automata.
This volume is particularly interesting from the point of view of sf history in that it explores a key moment when mechanical devices and anatomical knowledge crossed paths, raising the possibility of creating machines that could be substituted for human beings. At the same time, materialist philosophers such as La Mettrie debated whether humans themselves were nothing but advanced machines. In her introduction to the volume, Sophie Roux sums up the scope of the debates by evoking two philosophical views on automata. In the Encyclopédie, two articles entitled “Androïde” and “Automate” express unreserved enthusiasm for the technical marvels produced by Vaucanson and for their possibilities. By contrast, Sophie Roux notes, some thirty years later Kant would use Vaucanson’s automaton as an image of what universal determinism would be if men did not have a superior form of freedom. Vaucanson’s creations thus provoked a wide range of emotions, from the horror that stems from the idea that human beings are nothing but advanced automata to a jubilatory enthusiasm for their marvelous lifelike mechanisms.
Some of the most ancient and popular mechanisms were associated with clocks and particularly with the timed appearance of automata striking the hours, such as we can still observe in the monumental clocks of Prague and Strasbourg. Elly R. Truitt’s contribution retraces this fascinating history from the ninth-century Islamic tradition that combined automata and water clocks to the astronomical clock of the Norwich cathedral priory (c.1321-25) that had “fifty-nine automata, including personifications of the days of the month and a procession of choir monks, in addition to an astronomical dial and models of the sun and the moon” (373). “The mechanical clock,” Truitt observes, “was a moving model of the world and the heavens, representing the micro and the macro of divine ingenuity.” By Vaucanson’s time, automata had gained a form of autonomy that no longer celebrated the divine but emulated the human.
L’Automate explores the many aspects of what we could call early robotics, when animated reproduction of the human body reached a precision that threatened to challenge human superiority. If there is a vast technological difference between Vaucanson’s creatures and the replicants of Blade Runner (1982), we discover that, from the beginning, the troubling nature of reproduction and the creation of lifelike mechanisms yielded the same unanswered queries about rationality, human nature, and its role in the larger scope of things. Rick Deckard summed it up with alarming simplicity: “Replicants are like any other machines. They’re a benefit or a hazard.”— Marie-Hélène Huet, Princeton University
Beyond the Cyborg: Adventures with Donna Haraway. New York: Columbia UP, 2013. viii + 206 pp. $84.50 hc; $27.50 pbk.
The New York Times recently published several articles addressing the rampant sexism in science and philosophy, making clear that objectivity and ethics are still knotty issues (see Eileen Pollack, “Can You Spot the Real Outlier,” New York Times Magazine [6 Oct. 2013]: 30-42, and Jennifer Schuessler, “A Star Philosopher Falls, and a Debate Over Sexism is Set Off,” New York Times [2 Aug. 2013. Online. 19 Nov. 2013]). No wonder Donna Haraway, who joins philosophy to science in her body of work, and who warns us against the “god-trick” of the white male gaze that masquerades as scientific neutrality, is both a hero and a gadfly to people in science, philosophy, and their hybrid child, science fiction. Beyond the Cyborg is an effort to clarify Haraway’s views, to connect them to those of other cultural critics, and to make them relevant to a wide range of readers. Grebowicz and Merrick argue that there is much more to Haraway than her “Cyborg Manifesto” (1985) and that sf in particular is crucial to her thinking, just as her thinking is crucial to sf. As the book’s title indicates, Grebowicz and Merrick want to show the value of Haraway’s many contributions besides her cyborg theorizations—and they do: twelve other works from 1978 to 2008 are discussed, although the generative “Cyborg” essay has a pretty high profile as well. They rebut the claim that Haraway’s writing can seem “incoherent” (13), although not quite convincingly. As important and lovable as Haraway is, her writing is often opaque when it need not be, and Grebowicz and Merrick are sometimes guilty of unnecessary opacity as well.
The book is short—six brief chapters and an essay by Haraway, plus an appendix, notes, bibliography, and index—but it packs in quite a bit of information, analysis, and enthusiasm. Make no mistake, Grebowicz and Merrick are fans of both Haraway and sf, and this is on the whole a good thing. The book is written for a non-sf audience, so some of its special pleading may seem unnecessary to readers of this journal. When I read articles on the intersection between sf and animal studies, the number of citations of Haraway is overwhelming to the point of being humorous; so it is something of a shock to hear the authors claim that in “the practices of citation and classification ... absolutely central” to academic writing, critics “constantly relate back to foundational (male) theorists” (12), rather than to Haraway herself—yet the claim has an appendix to back it up (147-64).
Like Haraway, Grebowicz and Merrick offer autobiographical moments to enliven their discussion, at least in the first chapter, “Adventures with Haraway.” Here the authors justify and outline their project before moving on to the second chapter, “Natures,” in which they look at how Haraway explodes binary thinking to acknowledge the importance of materialism—the body, the physical world—in disrupting the nature/culture dualism. The chapter begins by discussing Haraway’s resistance to received feminist views of the 1970s in her refusal “to credit either Nature or Woman as a political identity,” rejecting either “essentialism or an antibiologist antiessentialism” in order to explore “how to have, make, and talk about ethical relations with other beings” in broader terms (24). Next, the chapter shows the compatibility of Haraway’s ideas with ecofeminism, her engagement with various meanings of the word nature, and her balance of the material reality of scientific observation with the semiotic influence of science’s language and metaphors. The chapter also demonstrates Haraway’s destabilization of sex and gender, which queers sexuality by “showing the political value of unhinging animality” from the natural and reproductive through recognizing the agency of other animals (38). The discussion culminates in a knitting together of “The Two Butlers,” Octavia and Judith, to explore dynamic ongoing notions of kinship among species. This, and later brief analyses of Octavia Butler’s work, are solid, convincing, and useful.
The next three chapters seem to undercut the opening chapter’s criticism that academics feel a need to return to foundational (seminal?) male critics, since “Knowledges” and “Politics” “return” to Latour and Lyotard, and “Ethics” to Levinas and Derrida. But that is not all these chapters do, and the knitting together of ideas from these semen-arians with those of more generative critics allows the authors to make a number of valuable points about the depth and range of Haraway’s work. “Knowledges” uses feminist standpoint theory and feminist science studies, “Politics” works with Judith Butler (and another semen-arian, Agamben), and “Ethics” brings in Butler again and also Mary Louise Pratt. “Knowledges” looks at how primatology has served as a nexus for science and feminism, leading to a treatment of other animals as subjects with agency, and goes on to make the important claim that “FSS [feminist science studies] would be better served by work that offers robust critiques of modernity, not only the modern conception of science but also of democracy, freedom, history, and of the concept of philosophical lineage itself” (57). “Politics” deals with the need for dissensus in “a politics that includes nonhuman participants” (88), stressing destabil-ization and unpredictability. “Ethics” is particularly adept at weaving together its participant thinkers—Haraway, of course, but also Levinas and Pratt—to widen the application of the “contact zone.” As Grebowicz and Merrick conclude: “A Harawayan ethics of companionship, if such a thing may be said to exist, is grounded neither in difference nor in sameness, but in the impossibility of deciding between difference and sameness prior to the event of material, particular contact” (111). All three of these chapters are quite useful for contextualizing Haraway’s work with that of other thinkers, demonstrating how foundational (generative rather than seminal) it has been for critical work in science studies (feminist or not), postcolonial studies, animal studies, and science fiction studies.
Grebowicz and Merrick’s final chapter, “Stories,” confronts science fiction most directly. The chapter assumes an audience unfamiliar with and a bit hostile to the genre, so it begins with a brief survey of the upsurge in feminist sf during the 1970s. Nevertheless, the authors go on to offer a number of valuable insights both specific (in their discussion of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time  and several of Octavia Butler’s novels) and more general. Just as the other chapters intertwine the work of other critics with Haraway’s, this chapter uses the critical writings of Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. and Sherryl Vint, demonstrating in the process the authors’ solid knowledge and sympathetic perception of sf: they are as familiar with the field as their imagined audience is unfamiliar with it. For them, and for Haraway, sf is like science in that it can transform masculinist tools into liberating feminist ones. It is, as they cite Hilary Rose, a “dream laboratory” for feminist science studies. The authors point out how Haraway sees Octavia Butler’s work as disruptive of the totalizing tendencies and boundary policing prevalent in sociobiology. Interestingly, they also see in Haraway’s work the evolution of a set of reading protocols that they compare to Samuel R. Delany’s. Finally, they compare her use of story in understanding nature/culture to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Carrier-Bag Theory of Fiction” (1986), nicely setting up the final chapter of the book.
“Sowing Worlds: A Seed Bag for Terraforming with Earth Others” is Donna Haraway’s generous contribution to the volume, a tour de force in which she weaves together acacia seeds and ants with Le Guin’s story “The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” (1987), essentially rewriting the story to demonstrate symbiosis between nature and culture, story and science, so that, as she concludes, “sympoesis displaces autopoesis and all other self-forming and self-sustaining system fantasies. Sympoesis is a carrier bag for ongoingness, a yoke for becoming with, for staying with the trouble of inheriting the damages and achievements of colonial and postcolonial naturalcultural histories in telling the tale of still possible recuperation” (145-46). This rousing conclusion shows how—although she, like Le Guin, rejects the seminal story of the hero for the more generative one of the carrier bag—she is nevertheless a heroic figure for a great many sf scholars. Someone (or something) has to sow the seeds, and Margaret Grebowicz and Helen Merrick continue the propagation in this fine book.—Joan Gordon, Nassau Community College
Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Seattle: Aqueduct, 2013. iii + 314 pp. $20 pbk.
“The last Christmas card Octavia sent me had a photo of Mt. Rainier on the front. Not only did she love that mountain, she resembled it. She towered over everything ordinary; she made her own weather” (2), Nisi Shawl exults in the introduction to her co-edited anthology Strange Matings, a melding of poems, remembrances, interviews, leaked emails, and academic essays honoring the life and work of the late Octavia E. Butler. The sense of grief evinced by Shawl’s ecstatically mournful testimonial bears witness to Butler’s larger-than-life impact on both the field of science fiction and the lives of those with whom she was close; coming to press seven years after Butler’s unexpected death at the young age of 58, there is a sense that for the writers of Strange Matings—both for those who knew Butler personally and those who were touched by her only through her work—this loss still feels very raw, as if it somehow happened only yesterday. As a still-grieving devotee of Butler (though I never met her myself), I feel utterly unqualified to speculate how this book will come across to a more emotionally detached audience of casual fans or non-fans, if any such people would have reason to take up Strange Matings in the first place. I can only say that, for myself, the book’s bittersweet mix of joy and tears has the necessary and wonderfully cathartic quality of an Irish funeral. The book creates a space where fans of Butler’s work can grieve together with those who knew her well and with those who only wish they did; the acknowledgments page gestures towards this larger community of fans, scholars, and fan-scholars in its recognition of the contributions of WisCon and the Carl Brandon Society to the project, along with individual supporters including Nalo Hopkinson, Lisa Yaszek, and Catherine Prendergast.
This jagged charge of shared, collective grief makes Strange Matings unlike any other scholarly book I can think of. Even the more academic essays frequently find themselves slipping into the rhetoric of personal witnessing, as one can see simply from scanning the titles: “The Impact of Octavia Butler’s Early Work on Feminist Science Fiction as a Whole (and on One Feminist Science Fiction Scholar in Particular”); “How a Young Feminist Writer Found Alternatives to White Bourgeois Narrative Models in the Early Novels of Octavia Butler”; “Growing (Up) with Octavia E. Butler”; “Octavia Butler, ‘Speech Sounds,’ and Me.” As Holden herself admits in the introduction, she and other writers in the book find themselves unable to hold to the academic convention that would only call her “Butler” after the first use of her full name; instead, she is always “Octavia,” even to those who never actually met her. Here then the book, only half-academic, becomes another kind of strange mating that speaks to the difficulty of really caring about something, and someone, in a discursive field that pretends to an ideal objectivity and emotional detachment from one’s research material—where “love” is at best an embarrassment to be left unspoken and at worst a cause for suspicion or alarm.
This is not to say that the book is purely or uncomplicatedly hagiographic, or that its interest is limited entirely to the emotional sphere. Although—or perhaps because—it was written and edited by those who loved Butler, we get glimpses of her full personality throughout the book: her shyness, her loneliness, her dark moods, her abiding pessimism, her tendency towards brutal self-criticism and abandonment of cherished projects, and her frustration with the speed and quality of her writing, especially as her health began to decline. Of course such moments take nothing away from her legacy or importance; if anything, the complicating gestures turn her into even more of a heroic figure, humanizing a writer whom fans and students commonly encounter as a kind of holy person, almost a secular prophet. The overall mood of the text is not altogether unlike the aura surrounding Lauren Olamina in Butler’s own Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998), a character Butler sometimes thought of as her best self, even her super-self—except that, unlike in the novels, there is no one here who can find one bad word to say about her. “Yes, she could have founded a religion,” writes Steven Barnes in his remembrance, “and its followers would have been good, decent, aware human beings” (107). We see in Benjamin Rosenbaum’s “Goodbye My Hero” a sense of Butler as teacher through a recounting of his experiences at the Clarion Writers Workshop (where she herself got her start under the mentorship of Samuel R. Delany and Harlan Ellison); we see in other essays reflections on how Butler might help us to be better teachers to our own students; and we see in the memories of her friends a model for generosity, solidarity, and hope.
While both the remembrances and the academic essays are exemplary— particularly those by Thomas Foster and Steve Shaviro, which draw out connections between texts from disparate moments in her career—and the book as a whole a necessary reference for anyone working on Butler’s career or simply finding themselves missing her voice, for me as a fan-critic the most touching parts of the book were the short glimpses of Butler’s irreplaceable personality as seen through her own informal and casual utterances. In a previously unpublished interview with Shawl that is threaded through the volume, we find Butler gently teasing her friend, playing off the audience with an ease and confidence that belies the social anxiety that plagued her in other contexts; in informal emails to Nnedi Okorafor, we see Butler responding to 9/11 and the war on terror not as author or artist but as horrified citizen. In Shawl’s interview, we see Butler explaining why the novel she somewhat famously disavowed, Survivor (1978), went south, as well as a sardonic recognition that telling people not to read it only made them desperate to do so; in a letter included in the volume as a facsimile, we see her trying to return her publishing advance for Parable of the Talents, which she very regretfully concluded she would never complete. Still other contributions give us a glimpse at the texts we have lost, including tantalizing hints of the unfinished Parable of the Trickster (now available in fragments at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA), which Shawl suggests should itself be thought of as the Trickster of the Parables series, its haunting ghost always half-there and half-not. Tananarive Due, in her remembrance, similarly links Butler’s literary fictions to her life and death in a transcendent, quasi-religious register, one that encompasses the strange mating of joy and mourning and memory and discipleship that runs through the volume as a whole: “Thank you for sharing your spirit with us, Octavia. You left a great gift behind for us, but we were greedy. We wanted more. We thought we had more time. How could I have forgotten what you taught us? You tried to warn us all along. You distilled it into words in Parable of the Sower. The only last truth is Change” (236).—Gerry Canavan, Marquette University
Exploring the Limits of the Human through Science Fiction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. x + 238 pp. $85 hc.
Exploring the Limits of the Human through Science Fiction delves into sf as a form of critical theory ideally suited to exploring the “different characteristics that define humans (i.e., identity categories, such as gender), the forces that motivate them (desire), the social formations that dominate them (power structures such as discipline and control), the power of memory and narrative that serve as humankind’s primary means for ordering reality and generating discourse, and humanity’s potential to evolve beyond the human into the posthuman condition” (5). It is a tall order for a relatively slim volume, but Miller tackles his subject matter with conviction and aplomb, committing himself to sf’s cognitive estrangement while simultaneously deploying critical theorists as diverse as Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, Fredric Jameson, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari, to name a few. Nevertheless, there are notable omissions that limit the usefulness of what could (and should) have been a more thorough and thoughtful engagement of the “human” in science-fiction(al) critical theory.
The book is divided into an introduction, four chapters, and a conclusion. The main body of the text sorts sf into two categories: Science Fictions of Estrangement and Science Fictions of the Present. The former refers to sf that can function as a means of “heteropianizing critical discourses, of pushing them into realms of radical difference that allow the critic to examine the implications of these theoretical frameworks and of generating their own theoretical concepts within certain fields of critical discourse” (25). Miller thus includes a chapter on Samuel R. Delany’s Trouble on Triton (1976) and one on Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1988), Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995), and Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-96) as exemplars of this type of sf. By contrast, “Science Fictions of the Present” refers to sf texts that function as “heterotopian spaces by depicting how our reality itself has become a kind of science fiction, how estrangement has crept into our daily lives, or how our supposedly stable conceptualizations of our present world prove to be nothing more than utopian dreams” (25). This chapter includes a chapter on two-thirds of William Gibson’s Bigend Trilogy (Pattern Recognition ; Spook Country ) and one on Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) and Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004). Finally, the conclusion focuses on Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as a projection into what lies beyond the human. This dualistic approach is untenable when applied to sf as a whole, but it is temporarily successful in organizing the book into four equal chapters that integrate, albeit inconsistently, critical theory and sf.
Miller is clearly more comfortable with critical theory, offering deft, comprehensive, and compelling analyses of key works of sf through the lens of Judith Butler’s gender performativity, Jacques Lacan’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of desire, and Lyotard’s and Jameson’s conceptions of postmodernity. He clearly elucidates the finer points of the various arguments, providing erudite summaries of key details, and draws convincing parallels with the sf texts he has selected for analysis. On the other hand, the book is less impressive in its treatment of sf scholarship: there are passing references to Jameson, Brian McHale, and a heavy reliance on Carl Freedman, to name a few sources, but the book is woefully light when it comes to sf’s rich field of critical thinking. Another problem has to do with the rationale for the sf Miller chooses as exemplars of the specific critical theories. The chapter on gender performativity in Trouble on Triton, for example, is well-written and well-theorized, yet Miller looks at this theme only in Delany’s novel, which appeared nearly forty years ago. Has nothing been published since that is applicable to feminism, the body, and gender performativity? Miller is silent on this question.
The chapters on Japanese anime and manga and Gibson’s Bigend Trilogy exhibit somewhat greater breadth, and the arguments hold up well because Miller has a larger canvas upon which to work. For example, the chapter on Gibson links the author’s meditations on techno-urbanism to Foucault’s disciplinary society: “No aspect of life remains outside the society of control’s sphere of interest and influence—it extends the disciplinary society’s panoptic gaze across the entire terrain of the socius but in a supple manner that is almost imperceptible to the masses” (122). On the other hand, Miller does not advance discussion of postmodernism in Gibson’s recent fiction beyond terrain already mapped out by Neil Easterbrook, Veronica Hollinger, and Christopher Palmer in the SFS special section on Pattern Recognition (November 2006)—thus again exemplifying the book’s sketchy coverage of sf studies. Finally, Chapter Four—“The Spectacle of Memory: Realism, Narrative, and Time Travel Cinema”—is the weakest link. Interested in asking “what insights time travel films can offer about the filmic medium” (131), Miller classifies La Jetée and Primer as “documentary science fiction,” arguing that they “demonstrate how cinema can serve as a heterotopian mirror, a real space that reflects an unreal version of reality back to us” (132). As an autonomous article, this chapter might have offered a convincing and well-structured argument; however, it feels as if it has been shoehorned into this book—an insertion that disrupts whatever coherence the volume had developed.
Miller’s critical astigmatism is manifested in his conclusion, which focuses on Dave Bowman’s transformation into 2001’s Starchild as a figure existing beyond the limits of the human. Miller remarks that “science fiction has always been about the posthuman” (165), but up until this point, posthumanism has counted for rather little in the author’s analyses. The one-paragraph overview of some common trends in posthumanist theory hardly rectifies this neglect, offering a wholly unsatisfying and superficial gloss on a critical approach that would have benefited this book immensely.—Graham J. Murphy, Seneca College
John Brunner. Modern Masters of Science Fiction. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2012. 200 pp. $80 hc; $21.95 pbk.
Jad Smith’s John Brunner is the first volume in a new University of Illinois Press series, Modern Masters of Science Fiction. The purpose of this series, according to its press release, is to “survey the life and works of major writers of science fiction whose careers blossomed after World War II.” At 40,000 words, each book is meant to be a quick overview of an author’s life and work—not quite a full biography and not quite a critical study. Brunner scholarship is somewhat lacking, with the only competing book-length work being Joe W. De Bolt’s edited collection, The Happening Worlds of John Brunner: Critical Explorations in Science Fiction (1975). But whereas De Bolt’s collection offers in-depth scholarly analyses of Brunner’s works, Smith’s book is at once a biography, bibliography, and critical study of both Brunner’s main themes and their development. Smith is quite successful at getting the reader to care about a neglected writer, and his explication of Brunner’s works is blended nicely with a thorough examination of the author’s life, but at times Smith’s readings seem hurried, and it is fairly obvious that the 40,000 words were just enough to keep the reader captivated but not enough to tell the complete story.
The book proceeds chronologically, beginning with Brunner’s early attempts at writing sf and ending with a short analysis of the ways the reception to Brunner’s work has changed since the author’s death. In each section, Smith weaves biographical and bibliographical information into brief analyses of Brunner’s short fiction and novels. Smith’s contention is that Brunner spent the majority of his career being unfairly criticized for falling between American and British sf sensibilities and that this criticism, in part, positioned him as both an insider and an outsider to sf’s New Wave. Smith has done a tremendous job researching Brunner’s life and work, and the many rare quotes he uses from Brunner’s public appearances and fanzine articles help bring life to what could have been simply a staid recitation of facts.
The first section, “Raising the Noise Level, 1951-1966,” covers the biographical details of Brunner’s early life as an sf author and fan while noting a number of the themes that would follow Brunner throughout his career. This section does a good job of moving the reader from Brunner’s early and unappreciated work to his heyday as an sf visionary during the 1960s, but at times Smith seems to skim over seemingly important insights or to stop just short of the critical analysis he believes Brunner’s work deserves. Smith’s analysis of Brunner’s 1955 short story “Armistice,” for example, ends with the observation that the story “raises as many questions as it answers and highlights Brunner’s early view of social change as a messy and unpredictable process riddled with moral complexities” (24) but then simply drops the topic to move on to a discussion of Brunner’s fanzine. Smith outlines the plots and themes of over twenty short stories and novels in the chapter, but none of his observations last more than one or two paragraphs. In a work that needs to sum up fifteen years of a prolific author’s life in only twice as many pages, such brief treatments are to be expected, but Smith’s analyses leave the reader feeling as though he was capable of so much more.
In the second chapter, “Fierce Speculation, 1967-75,” Smith has a little more room, and he uses the extra space to create readings of Brunner’s more well-known works that help to shore up his positioning of the author as a canny visionary able to combine the best of American and British sf tropes. Exploring Brunner’s major works of the period—Quicksand (1967), Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Jagged Orbit (1969), The Sheep Look Up (1972), and The Shockwave Rider (1975)—Smith blends his readings with an analysis of the novels’ critical reception, Brunner’s position in the field, and his stance as neither a New Wave author nor a member of the “old school”—in the process creating a layered and fascinating look at Brunner’s most successful period of work. By identifying the myriad ways Brunner’s financial situation often dictated his writing output, and by using Brunner’s own words to describe his vision for sf, Smith is able to bring depth to a writer who seemed to struggle throughout his career to find a balance between what he wanted to produce and what he was forced to settle for.
In the third section, “The Wrong End of Time, 1976-95,” Smith outlines the later years of Brunner’s life, moving from his health problems—and their apparent effect on his writing—to the death of his wife Marjorie and his diminished output of work. Although Smith does his best to rehabilitate Brunner’s final few novels, including A Maze of Stars (1991) and the sf-horror novel Children of the Thunder (1989), the description of a forlorn author practically begging for proofreading work helps to paint his final days as tragic at best. The relatively short fourth section, “Foreign Constellations,” anatomizes Brunner’s legacy, lingering over the lack of respect paid by New Wave authors such as Brian W. Aldiss and Michael Moorcock. Here Smith returns to a common thread lying just under the surface of his biography—the apparent ill-will shown to Brunner by certain members of the British New Wave. But by only providing a few negative and petty remarks from the New Wave elite, Smith downplays or ignores some of the more contentious aspects of Brunner’s personality and the rather bizarre nature of his personal life. John Brunner finishes with a reprinted interview Brunner gave to Thrust Science Fiction in 1975 and a fairly complete bibliography of Brunner’s fiction and nonfiction works, but I was still left wanting more.—Jeffrey Hicks, UC Riverside
Travel Scholarships. 1903. Trans. Teri J. Hernández. Ed. Arthur B. Evans. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2013. xxxvi + 403 pp. $29.95 hc.
This version of Bourses de voyage is the last of Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires to appear in English. First published in 1903, Travel Scholarships is not sf. It will mainly interest readers of this journal because in it Verne manifests his later thoughts about colonialism and nationalism. He maintains his reputation as a herald of things to come, however, by writing a story that is perfect bad Hollywood before Hollywood existed. A pirate captain and his crew escape from prison, board an anchored schooner at night, murder all its sailors, and dump their bodies into the ocean. Becalmed and unable to sail away immediately, their captain discovers by examining documents aboard that the ship has been chartered to take nine teenage London schoolboys and their mentor/chaperone to the Antilles on a voyage that the students have won by achieving top marks in their class. They are all from wealthy Antillean families with various European nationalities who have mostly moved away from the islands and sent their sons to the same school in England. Neither the boys nor their mentor have ever met the schooner’s late captain and crew, who are impersonated by the evil pirate captain and his crew. These villains now plan to take the London group on their tour as planned, allow them to collect the £700 that each (and their mentor) will receive upon completion of their travels in the Caribbean, then slash their throats while they sleep, dump their bodies into the sea, and sail away with the cash and schooner to live wickedly ever after preying upon ships in the Pacific. Such suspense as the novel elicits revolves around the question of whether the clueless school group will somehow be saved in the nick of time and the pirates meet at last the dire fate they so richly deserve. Sorry, I must not tell.
But without violating the reviewer’s omerta, I can reveal that Verne uses that implausible and tedious plot as a framework upon which to hang brief accounts of the history and current economic situation of the Antillean islands visited during the scholarship voyage. The main stopovers are at Saint Thomas, Saint Croix, Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, and Barbados. Cursory descriptions of geography, weather patterns, and cities are supplemented by photographs presumably taken about the time Travel Scholarships was published in 1903, although its action, for no particular plot purpose, is set in 1877. There are also sketches of notable geographical vistas by the novel’s superb illustrator, Léon Benett. The history Verne provides is mainly a catalogue of colonial massacres, the establishment and abolition of slavery in several of the islands, and warfare over their ownership among European nations. The effect is of a travel guide that would not have been sufficiently detailed for a prospective tourist or anywhere near as helpful to a student in France as the geography book on the area by Elisée Reclus that was Verne’s major source.
As we have come to expect from Wesleyan’s “Early Classics of Science Fiction” series, this volume meets the highest scholarly standards. A preface by Arthur B. Evans explains the rationale for including Travel Scholarships in that series. The novel’s original black-and-white engravings are included together with their captions. These show beautifully how visual and verbal elements were integrated in many publications of Verne’s day—a feature too often unknown now to readers. Indeed, Léon Benett’s pictures steal the show. I find them far more interesting and gripping than the absurd tale they illustrate. They also highlight an important feature of Verne’s writing: the way, whether or not he had potential illustrators in mind, that his narrative proceeds as much from scene to scene (as though from stage set to stage set) as via causal, dialogic, and other modes of progression. An introduction by Volker Dehs (translated lucidly by Matthew Brauer) sets the novel in its context of Verne’s life and also of public concerns that made the Antilles an attractive topic. In 1902 there was a devastating eruption of Mount Pelé in Martinique that drew interest to the area. At the turn of the century, there were keen debates over nationalism versus international cooperation—both found aplenty in Carribean history. There was the failed Hague peace conference of 1899 and accelerating national rivalries and armament races that were soon to erupt in the horrors of World War I. Dehs also provides a deft argument that Verne slyly introduces utopian elements into his story by showing how the boys at their London school and while voyaging get along nicely with each other despite the strong patriotism each feels—especially the English and French boys—for his own country.
I have not compared the Wesleyan edition with Verne’s French text, but its translation by Teri J. Hernández reads very well. She supplies many helpful endnotes that record textual and manuscript variations, explain her choices, and also explain factual matters not now common knowledge. There are bibliographies of Verne’s works and relevant secondary sources. The book closes with a brief biography of the author adorned with an 1885 photo by Nadar. Richard Hendel’s design produces a pleasing physical presence: large, legible type; appropriately placed illustrations; deep blue and black cloth covers; and an attractive dust jacket, with on its front above the title a small copy of the Nadar picture between the words “Jules” and “Verne” while below the title, against an ominous dark red background, is an enlarged detail from Léon Benett’s sketch of two boys precariously perched high in a ship’s rigging. If Verne is your passion, get Travel Scholarships.—Paul Alkon, University of Southern California.