BOOKS IN REVIEW
A Valuable Resource.
[History and Anthology of Spanish Science Fiction]. Madrid: Cátedra, 2014. 520 pp. €15 pbk.
Díez and Moreno’s Historia y antología de la ciencia ficción española consists of a substantial 108-page introduction, eleven well-chosen stories, and an extensive bibliography. It is a valuable resource not only for readers with an interest in the development of sf literature in Spain, but also for those who seek to learn more about Spanish sf within a broader international context.
In their introductory essay, the editors offer an international overview of science fiction, tracing its intellectual roots back to the Enlightenment’s eschewal of divine explanations for natural phenomena and, more substantially, to the nineteenth century’s embrace of empirically based science and technology. They next attempt a definition of the subject, considering what is and what is not science fiction. They dismiss the popular equation between sf and futuristic technological prophecy in favor of a more subtle understanding that stresses sf’s essential fusion of scientific vision with imaginative perspective, a fusion in which the former develops its speculative tendencies while the latter remains within the boundaries of what contemporary scientific theory suggests is possible. Such a synthesis, of course, lies at the heart of Darko Suvin’s definition of the “novum”—that event/situation which is the conditio sine qua non for all sf (15). This exploration of the label “science fiction” concludes with the distinction made between science fiction proper and related “projective” genres such as the fantastic, the marvelous, and the prospective (23).
In one of the most valuable segments of their introductory essay, the editors engage in a prescriptive but useful fragmentation of “monolithic sf” into thematic subgenres, listing representative works (filmic and textual) by both Spanish and international directors and authors. They also comment on how these works participate in major sf trends, and they offer suggestions for further reading for the various subgenres they identity. Thus the reader is provided with both an appreciation for the diversity of science fiction and a framework for the anthology’s short stories.
Díez and Moreno provide a broad survey of science-fiction production in Spain through which the reader can understand something of the specific nature of Spanish sf. Inspired primarily by scientific fantasy and utopia, the genre went through a “prototypical” stage that lasted from the mid-nineteenth century to the Civil War (1936-1939). This was followed by an intermediate period coinciding with the Francoist dictatorship (1939-1975) during which sf production diminished. The 1980s brought a renaissance that was marked by a deeper interest in plot coherence and scientific foundation (82). The editors conclude their introduction with a list of the main creative and critical voices in the field and an enumeration of the diverse and evolving venues where their works have appeared.
Díez and Moreno’s selection of short stories offers a sampling of relevant thematic subgenres, beginning with Nilo María Fabra’s alternate-history tale, “Cuatro siglos de buen gobierno” [Four Centuries of Good Government, 1883]. While not regarded as sf at the time of its composition, Fabra’s regenerationist story can retroactively be viewed as such through the lens of concepts such as the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics. Its inclusion in the volume is thus justified, and serves also to reinforce the editors’ decision to include early utopian Spanish sf. Other starting points, however, such as Aguimana de Veca’s Una temporada en el más bello de los planetas [A Season on the Most Beautiful of Planets, 1870-1871] or Ramón y Cajal’s “A secreto agravio, secreta venganza” [For a Secret Offense, Secret Revenge, 1885-1886], might have been chosen. Either would have more completely reflected the reality of early Spanish sf’s engagement with scientific currents while serving as points of contact with third-stage, “scientifically coherent” productions such as Juan Miguel Aguilera’s physics- and astronomy-driven narrative, “El bosque de hielo” [The Ice Forest, 1996], also included here.
Fabra’s “Cuatro siglos” is followed by Azorín’s “El fin de un mundo” [The End of a World, 1901], which demonstrates the potential of the genre through its simultaneous engagement with idealist philosophical, societal, and scientific themes. Azorín’s tale foreshadows later stories also included in the anthology, such as Domingo Santos’s dystopian take on ecology, “Gira, gira” [Turn, Turn, 1970] and César Mallorquí’s “soft” sf “La pared de hielo” [The Wall of Ice, 1992], a story inspired by genetics and neuroscience and by the Berkeleyean maxim “esse est percipi.” Besides Santos, the Francoist period is represented by Tomás Salvador’s space adventure, “Polizón a bordo” [Stowaway on Board, 1964]. This story makes brilliant use of sf’s potential for subversive humor, as well as establishing a link between Spanish sf and foreign authors such as Stanisław Lem.
Other entries include Gabriel Bermúdez’s subversive time-travel tale, “La última lección sobre Cisneros” [The Last Lesson on Cisneros, 1978], Enrique Lázaro’s Borgesian “La ciudad cuyo nombre era Lluevemuertos” [The City Called Deadsrain, 1979], José María Merino’s paleofictive “El viaje inexplicable” [The Inexplicable Journey, 2008], and J.J. Muñoz Rengel’s steampunk “London Gardens” (original English title, 2012).
Díez and Moreno’s anthology does have its limitations, not only in its somewhat patchy bibliographical coverage of North American critical work on Spanish sf, but also in its exclusion of 1980s-era sf and the near total absence of nineteenth-century work. Having noted this, though, it must also be stated that the editors’ bibliography is considerably more inclusive than others in prior compilations; additionally, if viewed as a companion piece to Díez’s Antología de la ciencia ficción española (1982-2002) [Anthology of Spanish Science Fiction (1982-2002), 2003], the lack of 1980s sf ceases to be an issue.
Díez and Moreno have provided an outstanding addition to Spanish sf scholarship in a volume that complements rather than duplicates the existing anthologies. To an even greater degree than Peter Haining and Miquel Barceló’s thematic anthology, Cronopaisajes [Timescapes, 2003] or Andrea Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán’s Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (2003)—Díez and Moreno’s collection demonstrates the significant contributions of Spanish sf authors to the genre of science fiction.
—Mike Gómez, College of Charleston
Is Virtual Reality?
[Pathologies of Virtual Reality: Cyberculture and Science Fiction]. Madrid: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2015. 279 pp. €15 pbk.
How has our relationship to our digital technology and devices affected our conception of reality? This is the question that Teresa López-Pellisa addresses in her recent study. As the title suggests, she identifies five “pathologies” in filmic, literary, and other “bodies” that reflect a distorted perception of digital environments, their possibilities, and their relationships to reality and to ourselves (69). At the end of each diagnosis, she suggests what healthy concepts of technological virtual reality (VR) and its possibilities might look like. Simply put, the study examines human fantasies (both fears and desires) regarding digital VR—although the author curiously avoids using those two terms.
López-Pellisa’s approach depends on Antonio Rodríguez de las Heras’s definition of virtual space as “generated by the cerebral activity of the human being,” and digital space as “a type of virtual space ... created by the technological activity of man” (20; all translations are mine). I cannot help but note that it is appropriate that a scholar from the land of Don Quixote defines VR thus, as the famous knight-errant effectively creates his own virtual reality based on novels of chivalry. Treating digital VR as existing on the same plane as every other representation produced by the human mind allows López-Pellisa to do some interesting things: locating its origins in cave drawings, for instance, and tracing it through contemporary digital devices, or providing a history of computational technologies from the abacus to today’s microprocessors. She analyzes representations of the virtual not only in the arts but in philosophy, mythology, religion, cultural theory, and futurology—a study of one type of simulation through others. For the author, then, digital VR is simply “a new type of fictionalization” (21) that possesses five fundamental characteristics: it is a human production, digitally simulated, interactive, polysensorial, and occuring in real time (20).
The first of the five pathologies, “nominal schizophrenia,” designates the semantic entropy that the terms “virtual,” “cyberspace,” and “virtual reality” have suffered through chronic misuse, to the point that they have become hyponymous for a multitude of unrelated concepts. The second, “metastasis of simulacra,” refers to the “propagation, proliferation, penetration, and invasion of simulacra into the ‘fabric’ of the real,” eating into reality itself (99-100). Following Baudrillard and Žižek, the author agrees that digital VR can and is being used to erase the “referent,” such as the real-space consequences associated with actions (e.g., soldiers carrying out an attack via computer, unable to observe the flesh-and-blood consequences). With respect to fears that digital VR is replacing real-space reality, she observes that the former also exists in real-space and thus cannot replace it. Neither, she asserts, should we “convert Reality into a fetish or something sacred,” concluding that VR (like literature or theater) offers the possibility “to reflect upon and incorporate them [virtual concepts] into everyday life” (123). Here the reader sees the author’s methodology for the rest of the study: the examination of two opposing attitudes toward representations of VR.
The author’s third pathology, “phantom body syndrome,” designates the notion that it is possible to do away with the body as one can with a limb, but without negative effects such as “phantom limb” pain. Engaging in the contemporary dialogue on the posthuman, she echoes Herminio Martín’s identification of a “Promethean” branch pursuing the improvement of homo sapiens through bionic augmentation, culminating in a “Faustian” transhumanist desire to transcend humanity by transferring the mind into a mechanical/digital device. In opposition to this techno-utopian fantasy are groups of bio-conservatives who see such possibilities not as human evolution but as the end of humanity. For López-Pellisa, the fundamental question is: “[d]o we have bodies, or are we bodies?” (164); her response is that “we are embodied subjectivities” (166). She dismisses the binary opposition between artificial and natural (and hence the opposition between transhumanist fantasies and bio-conservative fears) by invoking Rodríguez de la Hera’s observation that humans have been augmenting their natural capacities since they began using tools, that homo sapiens is also homo faber, and that technology is part of our nature (126).
The fourth pathology, “acute mysticism,” imagines humanity occupying cyberspace paradises through an emigration she calls “digital techno-metempsychosis” or “techno-reincarnation” (182), as seen for example in Frank Tipler’s “Omega Point” theories. Its critics warn that such a possibility would erase both the temporal and spatial coordinates of human existence (178) and, in addition, would lead to totalitarianism (177). The author rejects the combination of “gnosticism, science, alchemy, Aristotelian materialism, and Platonic and Pythagorean mysticism” (169) that she finds in the former, in particular in Tipler’s “religious-technological” attitudes (189).
López-Pellisa’s final pathology is the “Pandora syndrome” of male-created simulated females. She identifies three types: gynoids (female robots programmed as sexual slaves), maniquiféminas (“womannequins,” female mannequins or dolls), and virtual women. She posits that these representations are reactions to the changing role of women in society, and again notes two contrary trends. The predominant one envisions simulated women as onanistic sexual objects (betraying birth envy, a need for intimacy, a desire to possess the ideal woman or to substitute for a dead lover, or an expression of loneliness) (229-30). The other trend “utilize[s] [the artificial women] as a denunciation and metaphor of the social situation” (198).
López-Pellisa’s study truly shines when she discusses how concepts of digital VR are related to structures of power, as when she observes that acute mysticism is “a virus for which there is practically no antidote: can one fight against faith or the desire to be immortal?” (190) She calls for us to
separate objectives and possibilities of a technology such as VR from any religious ideology. The soul is an invention, a social creation, a tool of domination and control that has been instrumentalized by mechanisms of power for centuries, and we cannot allow them to put the prefix “cyber-” in front of it to continue indoctrinating the masses with falacious promises such as immortality or eternal youth. (190)
She complains that “[t]his hermeticism, digitalism, techno-hermeticism, millenarianism or regenesis has been mutating for centuries, reproducing the Vatican’s same hegemonic Judeo-Christian structures” (190).
As she does with the “Phantom Body” syndrome, López-Pellisa takes a middle path, rejecting both the utopian and dystopian visions of VR: humanity will continue to evolve in a miscegenation with its technology, but without utopia, dystopia, or a mystical union with the creator. She calls for taking advantage of new technologies “to innovate (invent) and not renovate (repeat and remake) the same models: we should abandon the old and distance ourselves from the Judeo-Christian and Platonic world view as the only way to contemplate the world” (191).
López-Pellisa’s study is well-written, scrupulously researched, and particularly rich in theoretical sources in Spanish, English, French, and Italian. The list of works discussed is equally impressive, making her bibliography and filmography excellent resources. Her textual analyses offer many fascinating insights that unfortunately cannot be detailed in this review. At approximately $18 US dollars, its price makes it accessible to individual scholars. For those who read Spanish, it will be a very useful text both for research and in the classroom.
—Dale Knickerbocker, East Carolina University
Mapping Spanish SF Short Fiction.
Prospectivas. Antología del cuento de ciencia ficción española actual [Prospectives: Anthology of Current Spanish Short Science Fiction]. Madrid: Salto de Página, 2012. 432 pp. €23 pbk.
Fernando Ángel Moreno’s Prospectivas. Antología del cuento de ciencia ficción española actual is currently the penultimate collection of Spanish science fiction to have appeared on the market during the past few years. Apart from the recent date of publication, there are other particularities that distinguish this book from earlier—and apparently similar—collections such as the two volumes edited by Julián Díez, Antología de la ciencia ficción española. 1982-2002 [Anthology of Spanish Science Fiction, 1982-2002] (Minotauro, 2003) and Antología 10. Relatos de ciencia ficción española [Anthology 10: SF Spanish Short Fiction] (Minotauro, 2004) as well as the more recent Historia y antología de la ciencia ficción española [History and Anthology of Spanish Science Fiction] (Cátedra, 2014), also edited by Moreno in collaboration with Díez (and reviewed in this issue of SFS). The most prominent difference is that rather than offer a historical retrospective of the fiction produced within the genre in Spain, the collection provides a snapshot of its present state. As a result, the authors featured in the book are, with barely any exceptions, authors very much active at the time of publication (even though some of them have recently abandoned the field of science fiction in favor of other narrative forms, as is the case with León Arsenal). The anthology is also unique in its focus on short fiction, excluding authors whose literary production consists fundamentally of novels: names such as Víctor Conde, José Antonio Cotrina, Javier Negrete, and José Carlos Somoza (authors of some of the most important novels in modern Spanish sf). Accordingly, the sf authors included in the volume tend to fall into certain groups: veterans comprising what we might call the classical corpus of the genre (César Mallorquí, Elia Barceló, and even Rafael Marín, who published his first novel in the early 1980s), the highly influential generation of the 1990s (León Arsenal, Rodolfo Martínez, Juan Miguel Aguilera, Joaquín Revuelta, Eduardo Vaquerizo), authors who have worked in the genre either directly or peripherally since the 2000s (Santiago Eximeno, Daniel Mares, Juan Antonio Fernández Madrigal, Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel), and, finally, authors whose literary careers have taken off recently (Matías Candeira, José Ramón Vázquez). Moreno’s collection also includes writers whose production within the field of science fiction is less prominent, yet still representative of many features of the genre in Spain, as it is the case with Julián Díez, Carlos Pavón, Manuel Vilas, and Roberto Bartual.
The collection opens with a prologue by editor Fernando Ángel Moreno, which follows three main thematic axes. First, Moreno offers a theoretical approach defining what he understands by science fiction—“fiction based on impossible, yet not supernatural elements as of today” (11). Moreno vindicates the position the genre occupies in literary culture and stresses the influence exerted by its most iconic tropes. Second, readers are presented with a brief look at the history of science fiction written in Spain, ranging from the country’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s to the current scene. Given the scarce room assigned to it (roughly five pages), this section pinpoints—rather than develops—some of the ideas later illustrated by the stories. (This segment can be supplemented with the much more developed introduction written by Moreno and Díez for the aforementioned volume published by Cátedra.) Last, a third axis delineates the objective toward which the book has been crafted: to offer readers the best science-fiction short stories written in Spain over the last four decades (the earliest story, “Mein Führer” by Rafael Marín, dates back to 1981).
There exists, nevertheless, a less overt aim, which is to collect not only stories of the highest quality but also that best illustrate the characteristics that, according to Moreno, define Spanish science fiction. These include the absence of female characters (and the limited depth they are granted), the scarcity of robots and aliens, the disinterest in utopian societies, the preoccupation with the classic literary Spanish tradition, the use of meta-referentiality, and an obsession with divinity from a quasi-religious angle. The selected stories indeed show an alarming deficit of female characters, a situation further exacerbated by the fact that there is only one female author in the collection (an imbalance representative of the scant number of Spanish women writers who have expressed interest in the genre). Perhaps only José Ramón Vázquez’s “Neo tokio blues” (2012) portrays a powerful female character yet, once again, she is relegated to a marginal position. It is to be expected, as Moreno suggests, that the recent emergence of women writers specializing in the genre will alleviate this deficit in the near future. It is also worth noting that humor runs through the anthology in greater measure than in its English counterparts. Short stories such as “Mein Führer,” Manuel Vilas’s “Arcan” (2012), Daniel Mares’s “Enseñando a un Marciano” [Teaching a Martian, 1995], and Matías Candeira’s “El extraño” [The Stranger, 2011] reference the tradition of the genre from a typically ironic Spanish perspective. Their meta-referentiality also permeates—in a much darker tone—several short stories such as Juan Manuel Aguilera’s “Todo lo que un hombre puede imaginar” [All That a Man Can Imagine, 2005], Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel’s “Brigada Diógenes” [Diogenes’s Squad, 2009], and the aforementioned “Neo tokio blues.” Last, we must mention the profound pessimism that pervades the collection even in its most ironic stories; a trait that, alongside the reflections of divine-religious character, may define Spanish science fiction and even link it to other local narrative forms such as fantasy or horror. In short, Prospectivas currently constitutes the most complete approach to the science fiction written in Spain in the last several decades, both from a qualitative perspective and in terms of its rich thematic representation.
—Rubén Sánchez Trigos, independent scholar, and José Esteban Viera Betancor, independent scholar
The Strange Case of Spanish Anticipatory Theory.
Teoría de la literatura de ciencia ficción [Theory of Science Fiction Literature]. Vitoria, Spain: Portal Editions, 2010. 546 pp. €22 pbk. / E-book: Sportula, 2013. €3.
Fernando Moreno’s voluminous study is as ambitious as it is necessary, especially in the Spanish language. It represents not only a very valid attempt to theorize an entire narrative category too often dismissed by the academic tradition—hence actively participating in the canonical debate that surrounds popular culture at large—but also, and perhaps more importantly, it is a major step in the Spanish cultural understanding of science fiction. Given the very peculiar status of science fiction in Spain, both historically and culturally, Moreno’s essay fills a theoretical void created by fossilized academic practices, and suggests a vast array of conceptual directions to follow in order better to apprehend and appreciate what he defines as “prospective literature.”
Apart from El libro de ciencia ficción [The Book of Science Fiction, 1972], Juan Ignacio Ferreras’s sociologically oriented and now venerable study of sf (composed and written in France, as if just thinking about science fiction in the decades of Franco’s regime implied political and cultural exile), sf in Spain has tended to be exposed rather than explained, described rather than interpreted. Anthologies, histories, and various cataloguing efforts by Spanish scholars—such as Miquel Barceló’s Ciencia Ficción: Guía de lectura [Science Fiction: Readers’ Guide, 1990] and his follow-up volume Ciencia Ficción: Nueva Guía de lectura [Science Fiction: New Reader’s Guide, 2015]—are doubtless useful; if nothing else they serve to familiarize the Spanish reader with the vast production of imaginary worlds that fall under the category of the fantastic or the prospective. But theoretically oriented approaches to the genre are glaringly absent from the considerable bibliography devoted to the subject in the Spanish language. The reasons for this regrettable absence are quite obvious: for purely political reasons, modern literary theory did not cross into Spain while it was blooming in France and in the United States; when it did finally arrive, it was simply too late. By then post-structuralism and its over-conceptualized rhetoric had invaded the field of literary studies, leaving little room for possible neo-structuralist approaches that attempted comprehensive semiotic readings. And besides, we are dealing with a narrative genre that is suspicious by definition, since it allows for political and ideological speculations of a type not exactly to the liking of Franco’s theo-fascistic rule. Quite the contrary, in fact: whereas Jules Verne was acceptable (with some reservations because of his French origin), Philip K. Dick was not tolerated. Moreno’s important book is therefore filling a gap by helping Spanish scholarship as well as Spanish readers catch up with both the modern conceptual apparatus of literary analysis and the not-so-minor narrative category of science fiction.
Moreno’s study attempts to be comprehensive and therein lies its strength as well as its vulnerability. In spite of displaying a remarkably extensive knowledge of his object of study, Moreno never claims to have the last word—what he has, however, is the first word. His intent is not taxonomic, as are so many of the studies devoted to the subject, but interpretative, which leads him to some very convincing conclusions concerning the cultural and epistemological importance that science fiction has acquired in our culture. One could argue the use of examples from narrative modes other than the anticipatory—such as the marvelous or the fantastic, and even realism—dilutes sf’s original intent; but this would be to ignore today’s generic ecumenicism in which science fiction and fantasy are so often confused and where the differences between Blade Runner (1982) and Star Wars (1977)—or between The Matrix (1999) and Avatar (2009) for that matter—are enthusiastically ignored. Moreno must necessarily oppose what he conceives as prospective literature to a much vaster corpus composed of implicitly or explicitly anti-realistic imaginary worlds in order to proceed towards a satisfactory definition. Furthermore, he resolves the generic question elegantly by distinguishing “science fiction” from “the prospective,” the latter exhibiting much closer ties to our reality and corresponding to what I understand as the anticipatory mode. Perhaps the most debatable point in Moreno’s final generic classification is his conception of the fantastic as including highly polysemic texts such as Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s short stories in Rimas [Rhymes, c.1871] or Luigi Pirandello’s highly metaphorical and metafictional drama, Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921). It would seem that the fantastic, like science fiction, still suffers from over-inclusive definitions.
Catalog-oriented critics have objected that Teoría de la literatura de ciencia ficción does not take into account the vast production of science-fiction short stories but rather concentrates only on novels. If indeed Moreno tends to privilege novels over short stories, he does not altogether ignore them, just as he does not ignore other narrative media such as cinema or comic books. The sheer abundance of texts, films, and comic books that can be gathered under the label “science fiction” is naturally beyond apprehension and it would be futile—not to say foolish—to attempt to include every single concrete manifestation of this narrative mode in a single study. Moreno’s approach is neither futile nor foolish, but rather highly informed and prudent, for his study opens rather than closes the debate regarding the anticipatory as a fundamental narrative mode.
There will always be collateral damage—one novel, one author we personally appreciate but who is forgotten in the pages of Moreno’s book, one generic concept that may not exactly satisfy our conception of sf—but this is to be expected when attempting such a major scholarly endeavor. It is what is there rather than what is missing that makes Moreno’s study an instant classic.
—Daniel Ferreras Savoye, West Virginia University
That Wonderful Year in Woking.
London: Bloomsbury, 2016. xx +383 pp. $29.95 pbk.
This substantial study describes itself as a comprehensive “biography” (18-20) of H.G. Wells’s 1898 scientific romance. Its premise is that The War of the Worlds is one of those literary works that has enjoyed cultural prominence over a long period—it is a classic, in other words. The “life history” of a masterwork appeals to our natural curiosity about how it came to be conceived and written, just as a biography of a famous person aims to satisfy our human need to know something about that celebrity’s origins and upbringing.
A biography of a classic also promises to offer insights, be they specific or general, into the mind of its writer at the time the work was conceived and during its gestation. Given that Wells wrote dozens of books that were far from masterpieces, what were the special circumstances that contributed to his production of this superior work? Moreover, as a classic is almost by definition older than ourselves, we are likely to be curious about how it was received on publication. Was it instantly hailed? Or was it so far ahead of its time that its status was not recognized until our own surely more sophisticated age? How acute or dull-witted were our forebears when the newly hatched masterpiece first tottered into view?
And then books, like writers, have an afterlife—in the case of a classic, one usually longer and often richer in incident than our mortal span. These days, the afterlife of great works of fiction is measured in adaptations and, in particular, those that involve costly remediation from a textual to an audiovisual medium. Such remediation involves multiplying the “tracks” whereby potential affect and meaning are engendered in the work’s audience. In the case of novel-to-feature-film adaptation, a lengthy written text is translated and condensed into the complex audiovisual language of film, which includes such non-textual elements as mise en scène, embodied performances, dialogue, soundtrack, and score. (In the near future, immersive technologies will surely enable us to experience virtual scenarios that stimulate our whole sensorium, not merely eye and ear.)
In the meantime, certain works of early sf, most notably Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and R.L. Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), have generated so many adaptations of so many kinds that they have attained the status of popular-cultural megatexts. These are so vast and complex that they almost defy analysis by any single person. And yet the very existence of these megatexts, not to mention their mythic resonances, demands that we try to understand, via the “biographical” method, what they signify about ourselves and our society.
Does The War of the Worlds merit this kind of study? Beck makes an extremely convincing case that it does. He lists 24 “multimedia formats” (185-86) in which The War of the Worlds has appeared since its first serialization in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897. Of these only nineteen are true adaptations, yet they occupy a very broad range of media and a few are major works in themselves. The highlights are Orson Welles’s notorious 1938 radio broadcast; George Pal’s 1953 feature film; Steven Spielberg’s 2005 blockbuster; Jeff Wayne’s various musical interventions between 1978 and 2012; and volume II of Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s 2002-2003 graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Nineteen adaptations may seem paltry compared to the dozens of adaptations of both Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde, but they constitute an intriguing list and one that is manageable in a book-length study. Beck manages the task extremely well.
His book is divided into five main parts. The first justifies the need for the study by affirming the classic status of The War of the Worlds and showing how the narrative is enhanced by Wells’s strong sense of time and place. There is an interesting paradox when it comes to place: the many references to the actual London metropolitan area that allowed Wells (in his own words) “to domesticate the impossible hypothesis” (Preface to Seven Famous Novels, [qtd. in Beck 26]) also conduces to the text’s high adaptability quotient, in that, as Beck puts it, its “alien invasion template ... could be set anywhere” (9). And so it has been, from New Jersey to Rio de Janeiro and from Lisbon to Los Angeles.
Part II, “Writing and Publishing The War of the Worlds,” has a particular strength, in that Beck knows Woking, the site of the first Martian landing as well as the town where Wells was living at the time of writing, like the back of his hand. (I can confirm this from personal experience, having recently been conducted by Professor Beck on an extensive guided tour of Horsell Common and other Martian landmarks in the Woking area.) Though Wells lived in Woking for only just over a year, from May 1895 through August 1896, it was perhaps the most important year in his creative life, a period of extraordinarily fertile production. Beck, an historian by training, has mined the local archives and has given us the definitive portrait of Wells in Woking, arguing convincingly why this brief residency is key to understanding how The War of the Worlds, probably Wells’s most enduring fictional achievement, came to be.
The third part of the study deals with the “multimedia afterlife” of The War of the Worlds. The most important elements here are the studies of the serialization of the novel in America before the novel was published there in book form by Harper, and a close scrutiny of the received idea that the Orson Welles radio adaptation caused mass panic in the US. Thus we learn that the New York Evening Journal and Boston Post, without Wells’s permission and to his chagrin, relocated the narrative to sites familiar to their local American readership—indigenized it, to use the terminology of adaptation theory. Thus Orson Welles’s use of a New Jersey Martian landing site forty years later was not quite as original as sometimes supposed.
And as for the mass panic, Beck makes it clear that there is very little evidence at all for this: it is likely to be a legend that Orson Welles himself nurtured as a form of self-promotion, bolstered by an academic study headed by Hadley Cantril published in 1940 entitled The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic. As its title suggests, this study’s aim was to investigate the psychology of mass panic; it was not at all interested in the question of whether one had actually taken place!
The two remaining parts are quite short. The title of Part IV, “The War of the Worlds’ Literary Heritage,” is a little misleading, as it is actually about how the tourist/heritage industry has adopted the novel, especially in the Woking area. It seems that, thanks to its being near the “London Necropolis” (Brookwood Cemetery) as well as the site of the UK’s first crematorium, Woking’s associations with death left the town with an image problem. This has, somewhat ironically, been remedied in recent years as Woking has learned to celebrate the fictional incineration of its inhabitants in The War of the Worlds. Woking’s most striking public artwork is a seven-meter-tall stainless-steel Martian war machine, which stands proudly in the town center. Beck’s concluding Part V is more directly about Wells’s literary achievement as the central figure in the evolving genre of science fiction and how his annus mirabilis in Woking laid that foundation.
Is this the definitive account of The War of the Worlds? It should certainly now be the first port of call for anyone wanting to understand the context of the novel’s creation. Beck’s is very much an historian’s analysis, the product of exhaustive and fruitful research into many abstruse archival sources far beyond the scope of the standard literary study. I found it extremely accurate when it comes to data: I am among several critics justly reprimanded for having got biographical facts wrong. It is somewhat hesitant in making aesthetic judgements, however, frequently relying on extensive quotation from an existing critical consensus.
As is sadly the case even with some of the most distinguished presses these days, the study has not always been meticulously copyedited. For example, there are occasional unnecessary repetitions (e.g., the I.F. Clarke quotation on pages 13 and 44; the reference to Annie Meredith on pages 41 and 55) and odd usages, such as factional for factual or based on historical fact (42, 44, 47, etc.) These small flaws aside, Professor Beck should be highly commended for this major, readable, and always interesting addition to Wellsian scholarship.
—Nicholas Ruddick, University of Regina
Instituting a Future for Race.
The Racial Horizon of Utopia: Unthinking the Future of Race in Late Twentieth-Century Utopian Novels. Oxford, UK: Peter Lang, Ralahine Utopian Studies 17, 2015. vii + 226 pp. $62.95.
What does a better world look like? When works in the utopian tradition pose this question, the answer often takes the form of speculative institutions—idealized governing systems, sexual and kinship systems, ways of organizing and distributing knowledge, wealth, and power—and the technologies that enable and sustain such institutions. Edward Chan, in his study The Racial Horizon of Utopia, focuses on the fate of a hitherto under-examined institution in utopian works: the institution of race. Generally speaking, when American utopian novels have imagined a better world, that world looks awfully white. Chan focuses on “a rebirth in the tradition of American utopian literature” (3) that brought utopian novels into the post-Civil-Rights, post-second-wave-feminist era. Barack Obama’s 2008 election serves as a framework for the book, marking a moment that encapsulates both “the problem of race and the compulsion to imagine something beyond it” (3), although the study proper restricts itself to novels from the last three decades of the twentieth century, addressing the way “these novels explicitly situate race within their ideal futures” (4). Chan’s conclusions are ultimately mixed: though these novels do represent an advance over earlier American utopian novels inasmuch as they directly and conscientiously engage with race, none manage to reconcile the competing impulses towards individuality and equality that are widely manifest in America—that is, in his judgment, none of them effectively portrays what we can call racial utopia, “a society in which racial difference is not structured in hierarchy” (4).
The first two chapters elaborate on the theoretical difficulties of “Utopia, America and Race” and “Race, Democracy and Corporeality.” Incorporating race into utopia is especially problematic in an American context, where race has for so long been synonymous with brutality and exploitation. For Chan, there is an irreducible tension between two highly valued aspects of American political idealism: aspirational equality on the one hand and the fundamental differences that make people individuals, on the other. While the rest of the book examines a range of attempted utopias, Chan’s conclusions are clear early on: these novels “focus on how the utopian Subjects are racially marked, and they attempt to erase racial inequality by erasing the history and the experience of bodies that are so marked. As a result, they re-inscribe the abstract Subject of liberal democracy and fail to envision a truly transformed Subject of Utopia” (16). Their value, then, lies in precisely defining where our imaginations fail. In doing so they offer a “map of the racial horizon” (188), thereby perhaps helping us (or future generations) to start to see beyond this horizon.
Though this book offers numerous solid readings, I found myself struck by two persistent problems: the first is a matter of scope, the second a matter of theory. In terms of scope, the bulk of Chan’s monograph pursues an exceedingly limited body of works, at least given the range of his ideas about race and democracy. The third, fourth, and fifth chapters are organized chronologically, examining racial utopian novels in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s respectively. This organization is a bit misleading, as none of the chapters aims for a comprehensive examination of the period in question. Rather, each chapter takes three novels as exemplars for each decade: Dorothy Bryant’s The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You (1971/75), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and Samuel Delany’s Triton (1976)make up the 1970s triptych; Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesistrilogy (1987-89, later repackaged as the Lilith’s Brood omnibus ) marks the 1980s; and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Marstrilogy (1993-1996) covers the 1990s. It is not clear why these texts, and only these texts, were chosen, except that they seem to fulfill the nominal requirements of being both utopian-ish and “about race” in some readily identifiable way. There is little attempt to put them in conversation with each other, for instance, or to establish the broader context from which their attempts at a racially sensitive utopia might have emerged.
The fourth and fifth chapters are especially problematic in this way. Butler’s trilogy is approached as a “haptic” and embodied portrayal of a racial utopia; in Chan’s reading, this emphasis pushes the reader to the point of acknowledging that “something’s missing” in our valorization of the liberal individual, that we should begin to embrace the dissolution of the singular self, that there “needs to be a ‘paradigm shift’ from the liberal humanist notion of the individual self” (148). I agree with this reading—strongly—but am left wanting more. How was this radical push received? Is this the only place Butler made this sort of move? What role does Butler’s own embodied life play in her fiction? (It is worth noting that the message Chan finds in Lilith’s Brood is coherent with the work that prominent black feminist scholars such as Hortense Spillers were publishing at around the same time.) The reading, in other words, is thin; it opens interesting questions but, because it is so focused on a single trilogy and related exegesis, does not follow through on its most interesting insights. Instead we move on to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Marstrilogy, understood here as a kind of simulation of multiculturalism. Though mostly concerned with political and ecological matters, Robinson’s trilogy does offer an interesting thought experiment in working through the long-term implications of the pre-millennial racial project. Again, however, Chan’s reading is confined to a narrow set of texts, to one author’s vision, without much sense of how Robinson fits into a broader racial discourse—be that discourse science-fictional, political, aesthetic, or utopian. Such limited vision diminishes the impact of Chan’s conclusion (following Jameson’s now-canonical claim that we can no longer imagine utopia itself) that “the reconciliation of such [racial] differences forever recedes just beyond the horizon of utopia” (172).
The third chapter, which was published previously as a journal article, is probably the strongest. It works partly as a survey, since the novels it examines are by different authors engaging with the sf tradition in different ways. In Chan’s reading, each makes use of the same approach to racial utopia: deconstructing the “racial semiotics” of our world, obviating racial prejudice by spreading phenotypical characteristics across populations with no obvious reference to their historical, real-world signification (87). The problem with this approach, Chan argues, is that it misses the importance of race as an embodied experience. In these novels, skin color, hair texture, and the rest become little more than aesthetic incidentals, when they should be understood as elements shaping one’s lived experience—an insight Chan draws from feminist critical writing, extended here to describe the point at which these novels fail to offer a workable racial critique.
Though I generally agree with Chan’s conclusions here (especially on the problems of blithely doing away with the history of race), this analysis points towards the deeper, theoretical problem I have with his argument as a whole. This monograph lacks a solid theory of race, coming at the issue sideways through feminist discussions of embodiment to develop a “phenomenology of race” rather than engaging in one of the many robust discourses around minority literature or critical race theory. A phenomenology of race, understood as “a lived experience that is inseparable from identity and society” (73), is important for understanding the varied effects of racialized life, but it raises the question of what race is in the first place. What is it that transforms phenotypical differences between individuals into categories of identity, and what makes these categories generalizable enough that they structure so many elements of modern society? More to the point, how do Delany, Butler, et al. engage with this thing—rather than the particular effects of this thing—on their way towards a utopian imagination of a future for race?
Put another way, it is not clear how the phenomenology of race fits in with the search for “a society in which racial difference is not structured in hierarchy” (4). Chan’s emphasis on racial difference ironically erases different racial experiences, eliding the specific and historically sensitive distinctions among racial formulations (black, white, Indigenous, Latino/a, Asian, etc.) while at the same time insisting on the primacy, or at least centrality, of these distinctions in the formation of any new utopian Subject. “I am not arguing that we must valorize difference, but rather that we do not have a choice about the fact that difference exists,” says Chan (38). Perhaps. People are different. But race is both more and less than the sum of differences between individuals—it is a system by which certain differences are elevated to the status of identity while others are not. This system is fundamentally attached to other systems that determine how, for instance, wealth is distributed, how police operate, where lead in water is a problem worth fixing, and where the problem is not worth the expense. As I see it, the project of racial utopia is not, as Chan argues, one of finding an appropriate utopian Subject who is also racial, but of imagining possible futures where institutions (social, political, judicial, cultural) no longer distribute health and harm, wealth and poverty, safety and fear along a strict binary of white and not-quite, all without erasing diversity (or difference, if you prefer) in the process. By this standard, at least some of the utopias Chan examines succeed in offering a workable model for the future—centering desire instead of possessive individualism in Delany, or a deliberate and embodied multiplicity instead of individuation in Butler, to speak only of those texts with which I am most familiar.
Nevertheless, Chan’s monograph is an important and necessary foray into the extremely complex problem of the future of race, one that effectively explores one strand of literary engagement with this problem. The epilogue, “After 2000 and Multiculturalism as Nightmare,” offers some hint of important areas for further study. Here, Chan surveys a variety of more recent utopias that engage with race as a central theme. These novels, most of which were self-published, suggest some of the present vitality of racial utopia in the twenty-first century, and though Chan does not try to analyze what that energy may be, his earlier chapters lay the groundwork for future studies. Perhaps the most interesting of the books surveyed in the epilogue—certainly the one Chan spends the most time on—is what we might call a Sad Puppy dystopia: Scott Wilson’s white supremacist novel Utopia X (2004). This self-published (and apparently self-edited) book imagines a future dystopian US where an ascendant multiculturalism oppresses the freedoms of its sympathetic white male protagonists. Based on Chan’s description, it sounds rather dreadful to read, but it also suggests something of the urgency with which we need to approach the problem of race in utopia, lest utopia’s all-too-white past prove all too prescient.
—Taylor Evans, University of California, Riverside
Not that Cthulhu.
. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2016. xv + 296 pp. $26.95 pbk.
Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble argues that instead of indirectly addressing ecological devastation by attempting to make an imagined future safe, the most effective response to urgent times is to “stay with” the trouble. In the brief introduction to her book, she explains that staying with the trouble is about ongoingness: “learning to truly be present” as “mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings” (1). Piquing the interests of speculative fiction and science-studies scholars alike, she introduces sf as a “ubiquitous figure” that permeates her argument, standing for science fiction, speculative fabulation, string figures, speculative feminism, science fact, and more (2).
This figuring of sf comes into play immediately in Chapter 1, where Haraway describes sf as a method of tracing connections between and among companion species. She introduces a new acronym for inclusion in the possible meanings of “sf” by describing “string figure” games—as in, making formations of string by knotting it between (not necessarily human) fingers. She identifies these figures as illustrative of the ongoing connections among species, a central concept that she demonstrates in multiple ways throughout the book.
For example, Haraway then examines a 2006 experiment, PigeonBlog, which used racing pigeons to gather continuous air pollution data in the city of San Jose. The data was streamed to the public in real time online, sparking collaboration not only among pigeons, their fanciers, and members of the community, but also among scientists, artists, and environmental activists. Though some readers may counterargue that the pigeons did not choose to participate, Haraway uses PETA’s objections as a springboard to discuss multispecies collaborative work that serves no teleological goal, but rather is part of a more playful process. Just as sf makes recuperation possible through the realm of play (14), the string-figure relays of PigeonBlog demonstrate how pigeons and humans can render each other capable of addressing ecological problems that affect them both.
In this way, Haraway leads readers into her second chapter, which explains “tentacular thinking” and introduces many key terms of her argument. She acknowledges the “Anthropocene,” the age in which human influence on Earth is visible in its physical strata, but challenges the term for several reasons. Namely, the Anthropocene is not ongoing, since it always ends in death, and it is a history told via human exceptionalism. Similarly, she discusses the “Capitalocene,” but argues that this era of Capitalism was relationally made by an array of factors, rather than being the result of any single factor such as Modernity or Progress. Thus, it can only be relationally unmade, and must be thought through in a more ongoing and relational way.
Consequently, Haraway proposes a “name for an elsewhere and elsewhen that was, still is, and might yet be: the Chthulucene” (31). She does not take this term from H.P. Lovecraft—note the extra “h”—but from the Greek chthonios, “of, in, or under the earth and the seas” (53). Contrasting the grounded “chthonic ones” with sky dwellers, she argues for the Chthulucene as a way of being in the world, wherein humans are not the only important actors. Rather than identifying humans as Homo the species or the toolmaker, the term “chthonic” allows humans to be humus, the soil or earth. This enables Haraway to introduce a critique that she repeats throughout the book: “we are compost, not posthuman” (55). Her play on words here invokes the importance of ongoing making and accumulation within her overall argument.
Haraway suggests that “myriad tentacles” will be needed to tell the story of the Chthulucene. She chooses the word “tentacle” for its Latin meanings of “feeler,” “to feel,” and “to try,” explaining that string figures are a useful theoretical trope for these tentacular connections. Like the network of pigeons and other inhabitants of Terra (her earthy word) in Chapter 1, the sprawling tendrils of the Chthulucene are string figures along lines, not at set points or in spheres (32). This chapter concludes that the Chthulucene is a necessary concept for thinking with, especially after the exceptionalist Anthropocene and exterministic Capitalocene, in order to imagine still-possible pasts, presents, and futures. Such a way of thinking is important because “it matters which stories tell stories, which concepts think concepts” (101). She repeats this refrain, with slight variations, throughout Staying with the Trouble.
Chapter 3, notably the longest in the book, focuses on Haraway’s use of the term “sympoiesis.” Nothing is autopoietic, or makes itself, she argues, but rather, critters establish each other and are thus sympoietic entities, “more like knots of intra-active relatings in dynamic complex systems” (60). There are many layers to these sympoietic practices, especially the way such entities understand each other and their relations. The chapter uses four critical zones to describe ways of relating among beings: making crocheted coral connects people to the Great Barrier Reef, telling lemur stories connects entities around the Republic of Madagascar, playing video games opens up the worlds of the Inupiat in Alaska, and weaving practices form unique relations in the Black Mesa and Navajo lands in Arizona. These projects, which are all deeply integrated within both local and worldwide environments, exemplify forms of continuous sympoiesis necessary for staying with the trouble.
Haraway’s fourth chapter picks up the controversial slogan “make kin, not babies.” She proposes how to address urgent times: by making kin, which is both about sympoietic “making” and rethinking the meaning of “kin” beyond genealogical relations. Though the chapter is short and seems somewhat like an overview, Haraway’s excellent explanatory notes enrich her argument by explaining her decolonial-feminist approach to reproduction more thoroughly. Her notes overall are so useful, in fact, that many of them could have been included in her main text. There are 60 pages of notes in total, and some individually last for multiple pages, engagingly tracing relevant threads of Haraway’s academic connections.
Chapters 5 to 7 explore the consequences of entanglements between humans and companion species, including woman and dog, ants and acacias, and scientists and birds. As companions, Haraway and her “research associate” Cayenne (well known to readers of The Companion Species Manifesto [Prickly Paradigm, 2003]) reveal relations between and among fetal calves, pregnant Canadian women, German zebras, Big Pharma, and more. Ants and acacias shed light on the way that critters both make and unmake together, since their interactions often involve the destruction of others. Lastly, Vinciane Despret’s reading of encounters between researchers and birds demonstrates how to practice a “virtue of politeness,” that is, working patiently with each other rather than on one another. These relays, Haraway concludes, “reinvent the conditions for multispecies flourishing” (130).
The last chapter brings all of her ideas together in a fascinating “speculative fabulation” that also bridges string figures and science fiction. Haraway explains that at a workshop called Narration Spéculative, she and her colleagues were asked to tell the story of an infant through five human generations. In response, she and her groupmates, Fabrizio Terranova and Vinciane Despret, called their child “Camille” and placed her in an sf world on a “pathway into what was not yet but might be” (136). Addressing the climbing “pressure of human numbers on earth,” Haraway’s team imagined an alternative to normative reproduction. Their child “came into being” at a moment when numerous small communities were migrating to ruined places to reshape terran life (137). Unlike members of other utopian stories, these Children of Compost “knew they could not … start from scratch,” and instead “responded to the question of how to live in the ruins that were still inhabited, with ghosts and with the living too” (138).
Thus, in a mindset of healing and ongoingness, these settlements require that “every new child must have at least three parents, who may or may not practice new or old genders” (138). These new children are rare, and can form kin relations at any time throughout their lives, which allows parents and relatives to be added as the child needs them. Having children is culturally a collective decision although, of course, no one can be punished or pressured to adhere to these expectations (139). The human carrying the child also has the right and obligation to choose an animal symbiont for the child, which is usually of a migratory species. In this way, Haraway’s speculative Children of Compost grow up living in ongoing connection.
Haraway offers this clear explanation of her fabulation, but also plays with its possibilities by including the story of “Camilles 1-5” at the end of her book. These vignettes trace the imagined child alongside connections to endangered animals, old and new beings, and many cultures, while also noting the resulting decline of human numbers on earth. Staying with the Trouble draws to a close after Camille 5’s story, suggesting that “[t]he Children of Compost would not cease the layered, curious practice of becoming-with others for a habitable, flourishing world” (168). The book ends, then, having not only explained Haraway’s practice of “staying with the trouble,” but also having performed it by blending science studies and theoretical terminology with creative writing, and the idea of string figures with original speculative fiction. As a result, individual chapters vary greatly in length and genre, but this is precisely Haraway’s method. Her newest work is a guaranteed conversation starter for sf scholars in any number of disciplinary fields.
—Miranda Butler, University of California, Riverside
Medieval/Science/Fiction: Close Encounters of the Medieval Kind.
Medieval Science Fiction. London: King’s College London Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, King’s College London Medieval Studies, 2016. xxvii + 304 pp. £60/$99 hc.
In their introduction to Medieval Science Fiction, Carl Kears and James Paz offer the provocative suggestion that medieval literature and science fiction—two genres that may seem wildly incongruous at first glance—might not only be brought into conversation but might also enrich our understanding of each individual genre as well as the ways in which genres more generally interact, mingle, and influence each other. Kears and Paz acknowledge that medieval literature remains most closely associated with fantasy fiction in the popular (and indeed scholarly) imagination, but they also assert that “an awareness of the interplay between ‘science’ and ‘fiction’ in medieval texts will not only enhance our understanding of how medieval authors drew on knowledge of the natural world to construct their literary creation—it may also open up new definitions of the science fiction genre” (17); they offer “a triangle of terms: medieval/science/fiction or fiction/science/medieval” that are actively engaged in “rotating and combining and recombining” (26). To this end, they requested that contributors “consider where, how, and why ‘science’ and ‘fiction’ intersect in the medieval period; explore the ways in which works of modern SF illuminate medieval counterparts; but also identify both the presence and the absence of the ‘medieval’ in science fiction history” (26). The resultant volume, despite some inconsistencies in tone and scholarly rigor across the fourteen chapters, presents an intriguing and thought-provoking discussion of the intersections of medieval/science/fiction that opens up new possibilities for scholarship at the meeting points of temporally distinct genres.
One of Medieval Science Fiction’s greatest strengths involves the bringing together of multiple voices, not merely in terms of genre but also in terms of contributor backgrounds. Chapters in this volume are authored not only by preeminent medieval and Old English scholars such as Patricia Clare Ingham and R.M. Liuzza but also by reputable science-fiction scholars such as Andy Sawyer, as well as scholar-authors who publish science fiction (Michael F. Flynn, Minsoo Kang), and the collection even includes a contribution from Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, who serves as Director of the Vatican Observatory and holds a PhD in planetary sciences. Essays are loosely categorized by theme—medieval science and fiction, time and space travel, the alien figure, technology and human-made marvels, distant planets and futures, and “making” medieval science fiction—but present a variety of approaches. Examples include Ingham’s elegant and detailed analysis of literary “things” (bells, books) as “fulcrums around which poignant multi-temporal attachments occur” (81) in Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book (1992) and Kang’s call for a new subgenre of medievalist sf (“catapunk,” as in catapult + steampunk, which may be potentially performative and experiential, as with steampunk). Flynn self-analyzes his own writing process when crafting a medievalist sf novel. Many of these essays, such as Paz’s own contribution placing “dying earth” narratives from the Old English and the sf traditions into dialogue, will be of interest. And they will also be sources of pleasure, as several essays unabashedly acknowledge their authors’ own evident enjoyment of this genre-crossing work, an enjoyment that translates to readers—to scholars of both the Middle Ages and the history of science fiction. R.M. Liuzza’s chapter on the medieval legend of the Seven Sleepers and temporal dislocation as time travel, and Andrew Scheil’s reclamation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom novels as neomedieval science-fictional popular romance, will also be useful to scholars interested in reassessing conventional narratives in genres such as medieval literature, pulp fiction, medievalism, and science fiction.
Medieval Science Fiction is an ambitious project and given the variety of contributor voices, some unevenness in tone is to be expected. The discrepancies are occasionally jarring, however; extremely academic analytical essays such as Liuzza’s and Ingham’s contrast with, for instance, Jeff Massey’s not unaffectionate but flippant comments during his discussion of Star Trek’sinconsequential medievalism that “we live in an age when the nerds … are now in charge” (98) and that “in other words, ‘amazing’ future technology trumps medieval pointy stick” (102). Michael F. Flynn’s essay also verges on the overly casual in places (“Serfs could get rich? Two women serfs could own a town house? Manors had written by-laws and held elections? Who knew?” ) but in this case, rather than raising tonal questions, Flynn’s self-aware commentary on his writer’s process of discovery (while researching his novel Eifelheim) suits the narrative he wishes to present: a reflective personal case study of an author engaged in crafting medievalist science fiction, rather than detailed scholarly examinations of the language and rhetoric of medieval sf texts. Mildly concerning as well are a few evident errors regarding, for instance, character names: in one case, Lord Vetinari from Terry Pratchett’s beloved Discworld series is (mis)spelled consistently throughout Andy Sawyer’s essay as “Vetenari,” which may call his credibility into question for Pratchett scholars and those working in related fields. More than occasional inconsistencies are also apparent across essays as far as the uses of em-dashes, hyphens, and ellipses, and the spacing between them, though these are relatively minor critiques addressing the volume’s presentation and formatting rather than content.
In terms of presentation, it must be noted that the hardcover edition (reviewed here) is overall a beautiful book-artifact, solidly bound and illustrated throughout with vibrant color reproductions from medieval manuscripts in the British Library and the Göttingen State and University Library. These illustrations have been carefully selected to reflect the theme of medieval/science/fiction in the medium of medieval art (perhaps suggesting yet another permeable border or meeting point of genre, media, and temporality?), including such examples as Alexander exploring the sea and sky in his “submarine” and “flying machine,” strange giant- and animal-hybrid bodies, and cosmological diagrams. The choice of images returns us to the topics around which the essays in this volume cluster: the alien figure, technology and man-made marvels, distant planets, and imagined futures. They also invite us to view medieval science-fictional imaginings as art and artistic endeavors and contribute to the overall attractiveness of Medieval Science Fiction as a collection that does not simply open up new avenues of scholarly inquiry but insists on the worth and desirability of the past, embodied in the object of the book.
Kears and Paz inquire in their Introduction whether “the medieval” and “science fiction” are truly two utterly distinct categories, and pose the question, “what happens if we put them into explosive contact?” (3). Throughout the fourteen chapters, they and their contributors construct a nuanced and multifaceted answer, one which proposes a narrative of genre(s) as active and constantly engaged in borrowing, referencing, working in conjunction with, and building upon fellow texts across time and space. Despite a few minor and conceivably distracting technical and tonal issues, Medieval Science Fiction demonstrates that this “first contact” between seemingly disparate genres can indeed explode into thought-provoking, insightful, and intriguing new ways of thinking about history, temporality, medieval literature, science fiction, medievalism, and acts of imagination.
—Kristin Noone, Irvine Valley College
Wells and the Short Story.
H.G. Wells: The Literary Traveller in His Fantastic Short Story Machine. Frankfurt am Maim: Peter Lang, 2016. 322 pp. $75.95 hc.
In a collected edition of his novels, H.G. Wells made two remarks related to the basic arguments of Halszka Leleń’s H.G. Wells: The Literary Traveller in His Fantastic Short Story Machine: that “for the writer of fantastic stories to help the reader to play the game properly, he must help him in every possible way to domesticate the [story’s] impossible hypothesis,” and that his own books always describe “life in the mass and life in general as distinguished from life in the individual experience” (Seven Famous Novels by H.G. Wells [New York: Knopf, 1934] viii, ix; emphasis in original). I do not believe Leleń cites those passages (see comments below on this volume’s index), but she cites related comments by or about Wells: he “described his compositional strategy as ‘the method of bringing some fantastically possible or impossible thing into a commonplace group of people, and working out their reactions with the greatest gravity and reasonableness’” (46), and “Scheik observes that ‘For Wells, characters ought to be like the average person: at once unique and typical’” (197). She also assembles a great deal of other evidence for her examination of the mechanics of Wells’s short stories. The stories involve what she calls “mimetic-fantastic world confrontations,” in which the mimetic world of ordinary reality is linked to the fantastic world through such literary conventions as dreams, space travel, or various other scientific inventions, including of course a time machine (18). In each case she explores the nature and sources of tension between parallel elements, a focus that can lead to interesting observations.
For my money, the best parts of this book are the ones in which Leleń examines a given story at length: for example, “Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland,” (1903), “A Dream of Armageddon” (1901), “A Vision of Judgment” (1899), “The Story of the Last Trump” (1915), and especially “The Country of the Blind” (1904). Less effective are the sequences in which she sets up a theme, convention, or another story element and runs through a series of examples, often without enough background or context to make the point clear. There are also times when she cites other scholars in ways that mainly demonstrate her knowledge of the scholarship, so that her own contribution is obscured. Take, for instance, the following complete paragraph which, apart from the first sentence, does little more than call attention to studies by Roslynn Haynes and J.R. Hammond:
An important element in Wells’s self-referential strategies is his tensional operating with levels of perception in the texts. Haynes draws attention to the verisimilitude-enhancing effect of the device of a sceptical narrator who voices his reservations (Discoverer of the Future 224-25). There are also Wellsian narrators who voice their fear of being mistrusted (226). Hammond considers the device of “narrator’s scepticism” in “Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland,” “The Crystal Egg” and “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes” as an element that deliberately highlights the “framing device,” and he compares Wells’s devices in the short stories to the techniques used in The Master of Ballantrae (1889) by Stevenson (Wells and Short Story 116). (249)
At other times the very point of a citation is unclear, as when Leleń writes that “Wells goes to the roots of parody when he implements plot parallelism oriented towards a further diminution of the grand Biblical concepts, and destabilizes them with light-hearted language (Dentith 10-11)” (110). I wondered whether she cited Simon Dentith’s Parody (2000) because of something he said about parody in connection with Wells or about the destabilization of Biblical concepts. When I checked, I found nothing about either Wells or the Bible, only a general discussion of ancient Greek tragedy from which I learned that parodia was “a specific literary form for which prizes were awarded at poetic contests” and that Aristophanes used “parodic quotations” of Euripides in his comedies. The reason for the quote from Dentith—the only reference to him in the book, according to the index—is mysterious.
The text of the book is cluttered with other citations that seem to me unnecessary and that make it difficult to distinguish between the truly relevant scholarly citations and these others. There is only one footnote in the book (on page 31 she credits a former professor for her “understanding of the term ‘tension’ in terms of a certain imbalance”), and there are no endnotes, so all of the documentation is inserted parenthetically in the text. If the documentation were confined to those sources that are essential at any point, the argument would be easier to follow. The reader’s progress is likely to be further slowed by the author’s practice of including publication dates for every literary work, by Wells or anyone else, when she first mentions it, and the birth and death years for every author when she or he is introduced. For example, she says that in stories that are or resemble dream visions, Wells “usually develops the character conflict into a commentary on their inability to live in the mimetic world. This is, in fact, a similar technique to that used in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) of the series The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956) by C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)” (98). That is the end of the aside: no development of the point, no further references to Lewis here or elsewhere, no indication why it was necessary to mention Lewis at all except that he did something roughly like what Wells did. There are far more extreme examples: over about two pages (77-79) we get three such sets of dates, first for medieval dream visions, then for nineteenth-century adaptations of the dream vision by writers from Washington Irving to Edward Bellamy and Wells, and finally “the use of the dream-vision device by Romantic poets … for example, in John Keats’s (1795-1821) ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ (1820), or in ‘Kubla Khan’ (1816) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).”
While the inclusion of this material in the main text rather than in footnotes poses one kind of challenge to the reader, the index poses another. There are two problems with the index, the less serious being that there is no entry for Jules Verne even though he is compared with Wells for about two pages (158-59). Since we are not given his birth and death dates on those pages I might have overlooked an earlier reference to Verne. The major problem, however, is that the index is strictly limited to the names of people: not only is there no index of themes, techniques, and so forth, but there are no entries for literary works, by Wells or by anyone else. Time and time again, as I read the book, I wished I had an easy way of finding where the author had discussed a particular story already. An index that included the titles of Wells’s stories, at least, would have been far more helpful than the many birth, death, and publication dates that I might easily have found elsewhere, had I felt the need.
—Patrick A. McCarthy, University of Miami
The Indigenous Future is Now.
vii + 250 pp. £21, available through Liverpool UP.
The essays in this special issue of Extrapolation each make use of the idea of Indigenous Futurism and the concept of survivance in their theoretical approach to discussing Indigenous sf. Each author in the issue utilizes similar but different threads of Indigenous Futurism and/or survivance, bringing a variety of related elements to the forefront depending on their particular analytical framework. This special issue emerges at a critical moment in which more and more works of Indigenous sf are being produced, and it offers a host of creative and diverse methods to interpret these works as examples of Indigenous Futurism.
Several of the essays contrast the reality in the work with that of the reader to explore how this contrast can provide lessons for understanding and changing our world. For example, Andrea Hairston’s article, “Ghost Dances on Silver Screens: Pumzi and Older Than America,” argues that on one level the ghosts in these films (by Yoruba and Cree filmmakers respectively), act as a means for the protagonists to connect with their ancestors and prevent further harm to their communities. She parallels these films to our own world in order to argue that these ghosts offer lessons not only for the films’ protagonists, but for the audience as well. For Hairston, as for others, Indigenous Futurism is not only a method utilized within these films and a means through which to approach them; it is also a framework for understanding the transferability of these lessons into our own world with the aim of halting environmental devastation and possible extinction by listening to and privileging traditional ways of knowing.
For Andrew Uzendoski, this connection between the Indigenous Futurism of the text and questions of Indigenous Futurity in our world is more explicit. In “Speculative States: Citizenship Criteria, Human Rights, and Decolonial Legal Norms in Gerald Vizenor’s The Heirs of Columbus,” Uzendoski analyzes the ways in which Vizenor critiques features of international legal norms, notions of citizenship, and ideas about human rights in his novel Heirs of Columbus (1991). Uzendoski then reads this fictional parallel to the global celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of America and legislative pieces such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to argue that Vizenor is strategically encouraging the reader to contrast both realities in order to consider the potential that Indigenous communities have to influence international legal norms. By reading these two realities alongside each other, Uzendoski is also establishing a reciprocal relationship between text and reality. Not only does Vizenor’s reality have an impact on the text that he is writing, but there is also an opportunity for the text to have an impact on our conceptions of Indigenous Futurity and legal norms.
In “Survivance in Indigenous Science Fictions,” David Higgins uses the idea of Indigenous Futurity as well as survivance to analyze how Vizenor’s “Custer on the Slipstream” (1978), Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977), and Diane Glancy’s “Aunt Parnetta’s Electric Blisters” (1990) reject the role of victim for Indigenous protagonists. Higgins argues that these texts also reject victimhood for non-Indigenous protagonists that would absolve them of their mistakes—a particularly interesting comparison that frames much of his analysis and reveals a rarely considered component of traditional sf. Higgins argues that the Indigenous protagonists in these stories reject “imperial victimry” and they also reject the bleak apocalyptic future offered by traditional sf. Higgins’s argument offers something compelling in terms of understanding Indigenous sf. Following the analysis of these works he concludes that he has been trying to establish Vizenor, Silko, and Glancy as outside of traditional understandings of sf because they reject these apocalyptic futures and the trope of victimry. Indigenous sf for Higgins imagines beyond what the colonial imaginary has offered Indigenous peoples both within and outside of these texts.
Conrad Scott analyzes Eden Robinson’s “Terminal Avenue” (1996) and Robert Van Camp’s “On the Wings of a Prayer” (2013) as works that contain “imminent crisis” as a literary device for the protagonists in the work. In his essay “(Indigenous) Place and Time as Formal Strategy: Healing Immanent Crisis in the Dystopias of Eden Robinson and Richard Van Camp,” Scott argues that in each of these stories spatial and temporal displacement from traditional lands is central to the impending crisis. Scott tracks the overlapping of time not only in each story, but also in the way time overlaps for the reader: while each story is set in a dystopian future, that future is meant to render a sense of the possible present for the reader. Ideas of trauma and healing are explored for the protagonists and as a means by which to think through impending crises in our own world, particularly environmental crisis, and to consider what a remedy to this spatial and temporal displacement might look like. In this essay, elements such as place, time, trauma, and healing become part and parcel of the broader analysis of Indigenous Futurity: all the parts are treated as inseparable throughout the analysis. Scott argues for the existence of this inseparability beyond the page, as he reads both Van Camp’s and Robinson’s texts as social and environmental critiques that offer a reconnection to space and time as a remedy.
Stina Attebery’s article, “Indigenous Posthumans: Cyberpunk Surgeries and Biotech Boarding Schools in File Under Miscellaneous and SyFy’s Helix,” is one of the more theoretically sophisticated articles in this issue, but it also reflects the possibility of survivance as a theoretical approach to be used in conjunction with other political theories. Attebery argues that Vizenor’s theory of survivance is closely related to the work of Achille Mbembe on biopolitics and colonization. For Attebery, however, survivance offers something beyond martyrdom for the characters in the film and the tv series that she examines. In mapping transhuman and posthuman theories onto each work, Attebery succeeds in explicating the racist underpinnings of transhumanism and moves the reader to see the agency of the posthuman rather than the transhuman. While Attebery does in some ways connect these works to the reality outside the text, particularly when considering the use of Indigenous populations as medical test subjects for the biopolitical improvement of “all,” her essay is more a close reading through a theoretical lens that focuses on the work rather than on a discussion of the potential of the work to provide a different means with which to approach our future. Her article is a compelling use of survivance and Indigenous Futurism as means through which to critique and engage with pop culture.
Kristina Baudemann profiles the work of several Indigenous artists in “Indigenous Futurisms in North America: The Transforming Visions of Singer, McCoy, Jones, Allison, and Yepa-Peppan.” Baudemann’s explores Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous futures and foregrounds the relationship of these stories to science, technology, space, and time travel, as well as to the broader genre of western sf. While each artist explains their work differently and uses different mediums and methods, there is a common theme throughout: each is pushing back against erasure and exclusion from traditional understandings of sf, and each is also pushing back against an artistic canon that would pigeonhole Indigenous art as authentic only when historical. Particularly to this last point, these pieces centralize Indigeneity without relying on the stereotypes circulated by white artists historically. Baudemann makes an explicit connection between Indigenous Futurism and decolonization. For her, this art enacts Indigenous Futurism in its return to traditional teachings to simultaneously envision a new future, and it also enacts this Futurity in its potential to participate in the decolonizing of structures, which can be understood not only as traditional western sf, but also the traditional western canon of art.
Lynette James’s “Children of Change, Not Doom: Indigenous Futurist Heroines in YA” is one of three essays in this issue that focus on YA dystopian fiction—a reflection of the increasing scholarship devoted to young- adult dystopian fiction as well as its rise in popularity and consumption outside of academia. James’s essay argues that within Indigenous YA dystopian fiction there is a greater sense of agency, a greater sense of community, and less bleak and devastating futures offered to its protagonists. For James, Indigenous Futurism is not only a framework for analyzing a text; it is also a choice made when creating a text. James divides the rest of her essay into subheadings that address individual components of each novel. While she does establish Indigenous YA dystopian fiction as a genre in its own right, much of this rests simply on distinguishing it from non-Indigenous YA dystopian fiction.
Turning to Australia, Graham J. Murphy analyzes the YA dystopian fiction of Indigenous writer Ambelin Kwaymullina in “For Love of Country: Apocalyptic Survivance in Ambelin Kwaymullina’s Tribe Series.” James’s essay also includes a discussion of one of these novels, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (2012), which creates a kind of conversation between these two essays. Murphy uses the idea of “Country” to signify a reality that encompasses landscape not only in terms of the material environment but also includes all life that exists within it as communal and intersectional. Throughout the essay, Country, survivance, and Indigenous Futurism are inseparable. Echoing the analytic methods of Uzendoski and Hairston, Murphy connects instances within his chosen texts with real experiences of colonialism in the legal, social, and political history of Australia. Murphy reads these realities onto one another to argue that the Tribe series reclaims an Indigenous lived experience and that these reclamations are an act of survivance for the protagonists in these novels, as well as for those who are seeking “a returning to ourselves” or biskaabiiyang (192) in our own reality.
Kelsey Amos’s “Hawaiian Futurism: Written in the Sky and Up Among the Stars” examines YA novels by Matthew Kaiopio, using theories such as Jodi Byrd’s notion of “transit of empire,” and Allen Chadwick’s “purposeful Indigenous juxtapositions” to develop her ideas. Amos uses the latter theoretical framework to conduct a comparison between Kaiopio’s novels and Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (1935) to analyze instances of home and “homestead” in two seemingly very different collections of work. While the comparison is intriguing and, once explained, quite illuminating, what is interesting about this essay in the context of Indigenous Futurism is Amos’s idea of a Hawaaian Futurism that reads Kaiopio’s work as examples of Kanaka Maoli tradition. This not only locates the work within Indigenous views of reality, literacy, and history but also opens up theoretical space for this work to be understood as part of a larger Hawaaiian literary tradition. While Hawaaiian Futurism becomes bound up in the larger project of Indigenous Futurism, Amos establishes this project as a distinct and localized method of literary resurgence.
The special issue concludes with a short essay by Nisi Shawl entitled “Ifa: Reverence, Science, and Social Technology.” In this essay, she explains from personal experience that her practice of Ifa and her writing of sf are not incongruent, and she proceeds to take the reader through the many ways in which Ifa has a strong connection to the realm of science despite what colonial interpretations of her religion might have to say. The essay offers an important conclusion to the special issue, reminding readers that Indigenous Futurism is not diametrically opposed to science and sf, but rather it speaks to its own traditions, ceremonies, and cultures, making visible the erasures and exclusions perpetuated by Western science and sf.
—Victoria Miceli, University of Western Ontario
Comprehensive but Subjective.
. Canterbury, UK: Gylphi, SF Storyworlds, 2016. xii + 366 pp. £18.99 pbk.
Nicholas Ruddick’s Science Fiction Adapted to Film, the fourth title in Gylphi’s SF Storyworlds series, will be welcomed not only by readers interested in science-fiction film but also by scholars and students interested in adaptation studies more broadly. Ruddick provides a sweeping and comprehensive discussion of most of the important films that have been based on sf novels and novellas. The book is divided into four parts: the first provides an overview of the opinions of sf writers on cinema and science fiction filmmakers on literature; Part II provides the basic concepts of Ruddick’s approach to adaptation; Part III surveys a group of milestone sf novels that have been adapted to film more than once; and in the fourth and final part Ruddick offers ten case studies of successful “adaptive relationships.” Ruddick has not included films adapted from sf-themed dramatic works such as Gore Vidal’s Visit to a Small Planet (1957), sensibly conceding that these require analysis by specialists in that field; otherwise his coverage is impressively wide.
He tells us up front that his approach is “unapologetically subjective,” then goes on to describe himself as a “professional book person with a devoted amateur’s love of film” (xi). When on the very first page of the book he refers to George Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902) as “one of the world’s first features” (1), this error makes us suspect Ruddick has not understated his position. (Later the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder is mistakenly identified as Rainer Maria Fassbinder.) Unsurprisingly, Ruddick views most science-fiction films adapted from literary sources as aesthetically inferior to their source texts, making clear the difference in his approach from that of most adaptation theorists: “For me, the literature will always come first” (xi). Such a position might strike one as odd given the open-mindedness that is often said to be characteristic of science fiction itself.
Ruddick claims that he is interested in exploring those works with a “high adaptability quotient”—that is, what makes, for example, Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1955; its original title before the release of Don Siegel’s film version in 1956, after which the title of the book was changed to Invasion of the Body Snatchers) “susceptible to frequent adaptation” (16). While some of the individual analyses are insightful, however, Ruddick never satisfyingly answers the broader question of what constitutes “high adaptability.”
For the most part, Ruddick avoids theoretical musing, so he seeks to avoid explicitly probing the categorical claim that one medium (literature) is aesthetically superior to the other (film). Such a claim would need theoretical support, even though he takes this position in practice. The boundaries of the field have been defined for him by the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-), as if they are not to be questioned or defended, and he writes, almost begrudgingly, that since many regard science fiction as a genre, he feels compelled to delineate some of its qualities. Thus, for Ruddick, sf is defined by an awareness of Darwinian evolutionary theory, broadly speaking. Going back to H.G. Wells, who studied with T.H. Huxley, Ruddick claims that it is evolutionary theory, an awareness that “we are no longer under a Divine thumb” (19), that distinguishes sf from other genres. Sometimes this definition, admittedly a useful one, seems forced: he even tries to fit Philip K. Dick into this framework, arguing that although the slippery nature of reality was Dick’s main theme, in his earlier work he was suitably “evolutionary and agnostic” (20).
More helpful is Ruddick’s notion of adaptation ethics, by which he means both the issue of an adapted text’s respect for its source and critics’ respect for the works they discuss. He offers the term “remediation” instead of adaptation “whenever it is necessary to emphasize that the movement from page to screen involves translation” (15). Of course, all adaptation involves translation, although as Ruddick notes, “remediation, if it is to be effective, is a process in which strict fidelity is frequently undesirable” (22). But as this section is entitled, after a comment by Montag in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), “Theory, hell. It’s poetry,” we should not expect anything like a general theory of adaptation. In any case, the idea of adaptation ethics extends to the critic as well: if an adaptation asks us to consider its source—as, for example, an adaptation that retains the same title—then it would be rude not to take up the invitation.
Ruddick happily accepts the invitation himself, but not until later. First he provides a useful overview of what science-fiction writers from Wells to Margaret Atwood have said about the relative aesthetic merits of the two media. Readers of SFS will find some of these comments familiar, others perhaps less so, but gathering them together should make it a valuable resource for other researchers. Rather than give the reader a clear sense of his own position, Ruddick instead concludes this section, somewhat underwhelmingly, by stating that it is not to the authors but to the texts we must look—a variation of D.H. Lawrence’s famous dictum, “never trust the artist. Trust the tale” (Studies in Classic American Literature, 1924).
Ruddick moves on to consider fifteen works that have been adapted more than once. The usual suspects are covered—Frankenstein (1818), the voyages extraordinaires of Jules Verne (1863-1905), Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886; along with Shelley’s novel, probably the most frequently adapted work of literature), and the scientific romances of H.G. Wells among them—and a couple more unusual, at least for film scholars—Edwin Abbott’s Flatland (1884) and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951)—with the last two sections devoted to the various adaptations of Dick’s fiction. In the final part of the book, Ruddick offers ten case studies of successful “adaptive relationships,” with each one designated as representative of a subcategory of science fiction such as “Technothriller” (The Andromeda Strain; 1969, adapted 1971), “Post-Apocalyptic SF” (The Road; 2006/2009), and “New Wave SF” (Crash 1973/1996). “The Graphic SF Novel” is covered with Enki Bilal’s La Foire aux immortels (1980/2004), and A Clockwork Orange (1962/1972) is discussed in the category of “socio-politico-linguistic” sf (!).
In these sections Ruddick sometimes declines to give the films the same attention he gives to their literary sources. In his discussion of Wells’s The War of the Worlds and its two adaptations, the 1953 film directed by Byron Haskin and the 2005 version by Steven Spielberg, for instance, much is said about Wells but little about Haskin or Spielberg. Both film versions involve what Ruddick calls “indigenization” (transposing the geographical setting from the original to one familiar to the culture that produces it) and “contemporization” (updating the temporal setting to the time of production); but Ruddick prefers Spielberg’s because it better preserves the evolutionary themes in Wells’s novel than does Haskin’s. Ruddick is not incorrect to note that Haskin’s film provides a literal deus ex machina at the climax where the Martians succumb to bacteria as they attack a church, thus radically altering the Darwinian rationalism of the book’s conclusion and replacing it with religious faith. But he does not discuss how, say, the ending of Spielberg’s film, in which Tom Cruise’s distanced father brings his children together with his estranged wife, satisfyingly combines Spielberg’s vision of family with the ending of Wells’s novel. Often Ruddick overlooks auteurist implications in the films (although he is perhaps singularly deferential to Andrei Tarkovsky in this regard); thus he might have noted that the faith invoked by the end of Haskin’s film, while certainly undermining and changing Wells’s source text, nevertheless might be understood within the context of the worldview of Haskins’s other films, including the sf films Conquest of Space (1955), From the Earth to the Moon (1958), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1958).
Ruddick does reach some conclusions, but they are not especially revelatory. One is that film adaptations have a tendency to simplify abstract concepts so as to reach as wide an audience as possible in order to recoup their costs. In this context Ruddick concedes the greatness of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) as virtually standing alone in its cinematic achievement. (Like many others, he describes how powerful an experience seeing it on the big screen was when it was first released: “At that time I’d ingested no psychotropic stronger than Woodpecker cider,” he confesses [xi].) In movies, concepts become embodied in monsters, and Ruddick points to Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned (1960), an adaptation of Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (1957), as paradigmatic of sf adaptations: “the quasi-theological frame of supernatural horror” replaces “the agnostic-rational frame of sf” (37). He concedes that it is a good horror film, “intensifying its affective content” (41) but simplifying the themes of its source.
Secondly, Ruddick notes the tendency for films to insert a romantic subplot. Showing where they are typically extraneous to the thematic concerns of the source text, he attributes this to the need for films to appeal to female viewers because most classic sf is so male-centered. While this is true, it also ignores the similar understanding of mainstream (Hollywood) cinema as an ideological institution for endorsing dominant ideology, including patriarchy and monogamous heterosexuality. Much work has been done discussing the common Oedipal arc of Hollywood movies in which, say, defeating the monster allows the hero to win the hand (and the rest of the body) of the woman in the narrative, successfully assuming his place within heterosexual masculine culture.
Ruddick claims that he is more interested in examining the phenomenon of adaptability rather than in asserting one medium’s superiority over the other, although his bias is clear from the start. He often omits consideration of the subtleties that visual analysis can offer, and instead offers aesthetic pronouncements about the quality of acting and special effects in the movies he discusses. While his judgments are mostly accurate, he does write, for example, that Harry Levin’s stolid Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) “is an absorbing adventure thanks to a cast who humanize the almost totally implausible events” (56), despite the singing presence of Pat Boone. More seriously, Ruddick bases his interpretation on images that are more ambiguous than he allows. So, for example, he sees the final shot of the star child in 2001 as showing a “hard stare” that expresses Kubrick’s vision of the inherent violence of human nature (Kubrick is another director to whom Ruddick grants auteur status). For me, the shot shows the star child as already seeing, hence already taking in the universe, open to its mysteries. The point is not which reading is “correct,” but that they both are possible given the complexities and ambiguities of the visual image.
One wonders why Ruddick does not discuss, for instance, George Roy Hill’s 1972 adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), a brilliant remediation of its source text that uses cinematic means (especially editing) to express the concept of existing in multiple moments of time simultaneously. In this, the film version of Slaughterhouse-Five invites comparison with Arrival (2016), Denis Villeneuve’s recent film adaptation of Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” (1998). Either film might be considered under Ruddick’s “socio-politico-linguistic” sf category. While in the end I cannot help but sympathize with Ruddick’s view that “theory in the humanities is a term too often used to give an [sic] spurious aura of objectivity to subjective analyses” (22), it seems to me that he too frequently underestimates the expressive power of cinema even as he is refreshingly sensitive to the changes wrought by the adaptation of sf texts from one medium to the other.
—Barry Keith Grant, Brock University
On Reproductive Futurism.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2016. ix + 238 pp. $25 pbk.
Rebekah Sheldon’s The Child to Come clears territory for further critical study. More than just a commentary on contemporary dystopian fiction, The Child to Come can also be accurately described as a work of critical theory, casting light on the future of contemporary social life. Children’s literature specialists, critics of the biopolitical, Anthroposcenesters, and science-fiction scholars will want to take notes as they read Sheldon’s compact and rich book.
The core ideas of the arguments are of two basic kinds—straightforward and complex—and in order to properly express one idea, its opposite might be adopted. It strikes me that Sheldon has done precisely this with The Child to Come. The overlapping territories of inquiry—including children’s literature, sf studies, gender studies, Foucauldian criticism, narrative theory, psychoanalysis, environmental humanities, and queer theory—form a complex theoretical lineage to the rather straightforward impasse that motivates the research on display in this text: the concept of the child is inextricably bound to the way human beings imagine the future. Unironically, Sheldon arrives at these fields and their recombinant shuffling through a kind of textual parentage. If Lee Edelman’s queered psychoanalysis has made its way into the study of children’s literature through the work of scholars such as Stephen Bruhm and Natasha Hurley, it makes its way into science fiction through Sheldon’s own work on Joanna Russ in her second chapter, “Life” (originally published in FemSpec 10.1 ). I would also like to note the work of two colleagues, Sarah Trimble and Heather Latimer, whom Sheldon also cites and who have done marvelous work at the intersections of sf studies, queer theory, and gender studies (see Bruhm and Hurley, Curiouser, On the Queerness of Children ; Latimer, Reproductive Acts: Sexual Politics in North American Fiction and Film ; and Trimble, “‘The Unreturning Army that Was Youth’: Social Reproduction and Apocalypse in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy,” Contemporary Women’s Writing 7.1  and “Maternal Back/grounds in Children of Men: Notes toward an Arendtian Biopolitics,” Science Fiction Film and Television 4.2 ).
In this review I aim to provide a synoptic introduction to The Child to Come with an eye toward the ways in which the book intersects with sf studies. Principal among these is Sheldon’s description of the great bait and switch of futurity. A question that she asks in her prologue clearly illustrates this impasse: why is it that whenever someone starts thinking of the future, be it in the form of the future of the planet or simply a more personal kind of speculation, they end up thinking about children? Science fiction becomes both culprit and symptom for Sheldon’s analysis. On her account, films such as Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) and novels such as Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (2003-2013) register the malaise of reproductive futurism that afflicts the critical imagination at present. Snowpiercer ends with the image of the African-American boy and the Inuit girl, implying they will spread the human race in a newly warming world. Children of Men features a crisis of infertility and follows the plight of the world’s only mother. Atwood’s trilogy begins by exploring cloning and ends with a birth. Yet Sheldon hesitates (and I myself right along with her) to dismiss these texts simply because of their more repugnant associations—heteronormative, patriarchal relations being at the fore. Indeed, these texts that cleave so tightly to the present conjuncture ought not to have their stories discounted simply because they are symptomatic of a neoliberalized biopolitics.
The hinge of Sheldon’s critical enterprise is not science fiction; rather, the weight of the book swings on the figure of the child—as metaphor and as character. The idea of the child always resonates in symbolic and ideological registers at one and the same time. The figure of the child allows Sheldon to first reveal and then elaborate other components of life under somatic capitalism. The child thus provides Sheldon a platform from which to launch critiques of green-washed environmentalism, cloning, and medical practices, right-wing assaults on reproductive rights, and the mode of production itself. In Sheldon’s book, kids are a concept, yet kids are, in the end, kids. At a certain point, they are neither symbolic nor ideological, and this could be taken as the ultimate aim of Sheldon’s critique: to disentangle the child from its tangled relations to futurity, happiness, narrative, politics, and life. The Child to Come manages to keep these modes of the child distinct, even as they build on one another.
Sheldon organizes the book around texts that illustrate the conceptual impasse of reproductive futurism, expanding the list of Snowpiercer, Children of Men, and Atwood’s trilogy. In her introduction “Face,” she engages the euphemism of “donations” for organ farming in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005). In chapter one “Future,” she explores the dynamics of futurity, containment, and contamination in J.G. Ballard’s “The Garden of Time” (1962) and Rachel Carson’s non-fiction Silent Spring (1962). Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975) and We who are about to… (1977) are the central focus in chapter two, called “Life,” making this the heart of the book’s science-fictional concerns. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) is the central text for chapter three,“Planet.” A clear instance of Sheldon’s outlook, and also her incisive, declarative prose, arrives in a pithy turn of phrase on McCarthy’s novel. Sheldon observes that “[f]or the Cannibals, farming is also fucking” (100). McCarthy creates a storyworld where nothing can live except the dregs of humanity. I like that Sheldon’s reading of the novel surpasses critical treatmentof The Road as a moral or ethical novel. The Road is so messed up because it lays bare the bind of reproductive futurism, crossing wires in reader’s minds that ought not to be crossed. It is not about a man and a boy struggling to do the right thing against all the odds; it is a novel about the absolute hollowness of the future in the absence of the woman’s gendered labor.
In chapter four, “Birth,” Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and the MaddAddam trilogy provide the ground for a periodization of capital in its capture of life. The Handmaid’s Tale and the trilogy plot a shift in the way that capital operates (a mode made difficult to track precisely because the ways of monitoring capital have changed in the past thirty years as well). I agree with Sheldon that the differences between The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake (2003) reflect a “cultural shift” from “a regulatory state” to “a neoliberal control society that has shucked off the carapace of nation entirely” (129). Here Sheldon suggestively implies that the pre-apocalyptic world of the Corps in Oryx and Crake is without nation, though not without the state—at least insofar as the state has become a vessel for biocapital. In chapter five, “Labor,” the aim of the book changes from the child as figure to the child itself, featuring Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film adaptation of P.D. James’s novel Children of Men (1992) and “The Farm” (2005), an episode of Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009). This chapter is made all the more timely in view of the masses of refugees seeking asylum across Europe and in North America today. Finally, the concluding chapter, “Child,” takes on the cosmic projections of decline in Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011) and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) to suggest that a setting aside of human stewardship and a humbling of humanity may be of central import for imagining what is to come.
Given the ways in which The Child to Come boldly traverses new territory, I would like briefly to apply Sheldon’s critical apparatus to a text that fits within the book’s critical purview. I would give a spoiler warning, yet, as Sheldon convincingly argues, narrative itself unerringly drives towards resolution vis-à-vis reproductive futurism. So, if I complain about one line in Denis Villeneuve and Eric Heisserer’s superb 2016 cinematic adaptation of Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (1998) and you have seen the film, you will not be surprised. If you have not seen the film or read the short story, I also doubt you will be surprised. Near the end of Arrival, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) asks Louise Banks (Amy Adams), “Do you want to make a baby?” Yes, the film ends with two of its central characters “making a baby.” This development in the film is so compelling because Banks is not surprised either.
As an effect of learning the Heptapod language, Banks already knows that she will have the child, indeed already knows the child will die. The signifiers of the Heptapod language appear as vast inky circles (recall the lexicography they provide to the humans) that conceptually loop the linear way humans understand time. Arrival grants its protagonist an experience of time that can only be rendered cinematically as strange dreams that might be images from the past or from the future. With Sheldon’s critical apparatus in mind, one might begin to appreciate the disjointed temporality of the film as one particular to motherhood—the hormonal and neurological changes of pregnancy alone can be disorienting and defamiliarizing. In the same way, the prospect of a human being growing inside of another human being, for someone who has not gone through such a process, might seem to be, ultimately, an alien experience. The film overlaps the effects of alien language and motherhood. They are inseparable. Banks’s future cannot not be one where she makes a baby. As with the texts of Sheldon’s analysis, Arrival presents the bind of reproductive futurity at one and the same time as it explores the temporal experience of motherhood.
The Child to Come breaks new ground by posing a political impasse and calling for alternative and, crucially, queer futures. In order for sf studies to take up this call, it must think the limit of reproductive futurism and beyond it to new horizons that are so much more than capitalist, so much more than human.
—Brent Ryan Bellamy, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Tinkering with History.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2016. xvi+ 359 pp. $35.00 pbk.
Over the past two decades, digital tools have opened the science-fiction archive: smartphone cameras allow researchers to capture large amounts of information quickly and efficiently during their often limited visits to genre collections; scanners enable librarians to share rare sf resources online with a wide range of audiences; and databases such as the US Copyright Office’s Catalog of Copyright Entries provide sf enthusiasts with a relatively easy way to determine who owns what artifacts. Not surprisingly, these tools have also engendered new histories of sf as a unique popular genre, including Justine Larbalestier’s The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (Wesleyan UP, 2002), John Cheng’s Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America (U of Pennsylvania P, 2012), and my own co-edited volume, Sisters of Tomorrow: The First Women of Science Fiction (Wesleyan UP, 2016). Now sf history buffs can add one more outstanding work to this list: Grant Wythoff’s The Perversity of Things, which explores the history of founding sf editor Hugo Gernsback himself.
As Wythoff notes, The Perversity of Things is designed to provide readers with a fresh perspective on the origins of sf as one of the most important modes of storytelling in technoscientific modernity. Like other genre historians, Wythoff locates those origins in the writings of Hugo Gernsback, who published the first dedicated sf magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926. Wythoff, however, does not treat the launch of Amazing as the starting point for modern sf. Instead, he proposes that
the project of science fiction as Gernsback understood it in fact had its origins in an earlier context: as a series of interlinking devices, debates, and visions shared by a community of tinkerers that formed around Gernsback’s electrical supply shop and technology magazines…. Before it was a particular kind of story or plot, science fiction was a way of thinking about and interacting with emerging media. (2-3)
Wythoff proves this claim admirably in the 50-plus information- and illustration-rich introductory pages that follow, restoring Gernsback to his rightful place in media history while illustrating how that history influenced the development of sf as a literary genre.
In doing so, Wythoff transforms some of the sf community’s oldest stories about its origins. For example, while it has long been a truth universally acknowledged that Gernsback started his sf magazines to boost the sales of his radio import business, Wythoff argues that this particular myth derives in large part from later authors and editors who took seriously H.P. Lovecraft’s “spectacularly racist” tendency to depict Gernsback as a “rat” and penny-pinching Jew (8). By way of contrast, a careful reading of the actual articles, editorials, and stories that Gernsback crafted for his technology magazines (and, later, his sf publications) illustrates that Gernsback was an energetic, likeable man who took seriously his role as a pioneer in the development of radio—and who was taken seriously by peers including Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison. He was also a natural teacher who adapted standard magazine formats to best suit the needs of his evolving audience and who saw the products of technoscientific invention as the happy “occasion for a material education in the way things worked” (7). What emerges in The Perversity of Things, then, is the image of a man who embodied Progressive Era optimism and who saw no contradiction between economic success and social progress.
Perhaps most importantly, while scholars have long dismissed Gernsback’s rules for good sf (which must teach readers something new about science and technology, use prophetic visions of the future to inspire technological innovation, and be presented in a story form that is 25% science and 75% romance) as “embarrassingly simplistic,” Wythoff explains that Gernsback’s preference for “writing that combined hard technical description with openness to the fantastic” first emerged in his technology magazines as a narrative means of coping with the reality that radio itself was still a prototypical phenomenon in the 1900s and 1910s (7). Indeed, the first fully assembled radio was not available for purchase until 1906 (significantly, Gernsback was the first person to sell such a device in the US), and radio was not even used to transmit voice until after World War I (64). Writing about radio for either advertising or instructional purposes blended seamlessly with future-oriented storytelling practices precisely because story filled the gap left by science, providing readers with a clear picture of this new communication technology’s possibilities while inspiring them to participate in processes of tinkering and innovation themselves. As Gernsback himself noted, this was a highly successful project—so much so that he had to found several fiction publications, including Amazing Stories, to deal with the vast backlog of literary submissions he received from readers of his technology magazines.
But perhaps what makes The Perversity of Things most special is its design, which facilitates exploration of Gernsback as both scientific and literary pioneer. Wythoff presents his introductory remarks in a standard scholarly format, but the majority of the book is devoted to reprinting key texts that Gernsback wrote between the debut of his first technology magazines in 1908 and the sale of Amazing Stories in 1930. True to the style of Gernsback’s own magazines, Wythoff includes many useful and informative illustrations throughout the book, while also providing readers with scientific, biographical, and critical commentary in large, easy-to-read footnotes that are printed alongside each of the original texts. Significantly, Gernsback himself directly addressed the value of a similar magazine layout in his essay, “The New Science and Invention” (included in this book). Furthermore, as Wythoff explains in the opening section on “How to Use this Book,” this design enables both chronological and thematic readings of Gernsback’s oeuvre and indeed, Wythoff provides tables of contents for both types of readings as well.
Readers interested in Gernsback’s literary career are most likely to enjoy reading the material collected here in chronological order. Wythoff makes browsing this way a pleasure, as he has carefully chosen an array of science articles, editorials, and stories from each of Gernsback’s magazines to demonstrate just how the narrative strategies developed to explain incomplete processes of scientific development and innovation evolved into the constellation of thematic concerns and aesthetic practices that we now call sf—and how sf itself would eventually inform Gernsback’s scientific speculation. For instance, the excerpt from Gernsback’s hybrid utopia-space opera, Ralph 124C 41+ (1911), first published serially in Modern Electrics, turns out to be heavily indebted to a series of editorials from that same magazine: the story’s hero embodies the traits of the natural tinkerer as described in the 1911 editorial “The Born and the Mechanical Inventor”; he engages a system of mass-media communication much like the one envisioned in Gernsback’s article “The Telephone and the Telephot” (1909); and the action of the section included here—in which Ralph uses wireless energy from his lab in New York to save a young Swiss woman from death by avalanche—is clearly a variation on a news incident that Gernsback relates in an unnamed editorial from that same year. Of course, ideas never travel in simple straight lines from science to fiction, and Ralph 124C 41+ is no exception. As Wythoff explains in one of his many excellent footnotes, the “monograph” or thought-recorder that Ralph uses to get his ideas on paper is another “example of the porous boundaries between fiction and … technological editorials,” and one that Gernsback would go on to explore in much greater depth in the May 1919 issue of Electrical Experimenter. Given how thoroughly fact and fiction were tied together for Gernsback, it is little wonder that in his own review of Wythoff’s book Bruce Sterling claims he will never look at his chosen genre the same way again—after all, it turns out to be a much more complex genre than it first appears.
Readers who want to learn more about Gernsback’s role in media history may prefer to work their way through The Perversity of Things thematically. As Wythoff notes in his introduction, one of the most difficult tasks for media historians “has been attempting to devise a conceptual language for an object that is collectively imagined before the conditions of its material possibility” (43). Yet Gernsback was successful at doing just that with radio and, later, television because he advocated hands-on experimentation as “a practice that provides us glimpses of the future” (44). Different thematic groupings of the essays allow readers to explore the various aspects of Gernsback’s media theory. For instance, essays in the “Wireless” grouping illustrate the editor’s pivotal role creating the first wireless communities; pieces in the “Tinkering” section reveal his ideas about the value of amateur experimentation; and writings featured in the “Scientifiction” section elaborate on one of the provocative ideas marking Gernsback’s career: that imagination is an important form of scientific tinkering that allows for innovation beyond the confines of the physical laboratory. While all these groupings were fascinating, my personal favorite was “Broadcast Regulation,” in which Gernsback calls for readers to lobby Congress about proposed radio regulations while advising them not to get upset before such proposals become law, because “we have noted in the past [when we wrote about radio regulation that] there was almost a panic among the amateurs,” and such panic undermines sensible political action (91, 108). Given that many of his ideas about amateur radio and radio regulation were indeed incorporated into bills such as the Radio Act of 1912, it seems we should add “public policy expert” to Gernsback’s list of scientific and social accomplishments.
While Wythoff encourages us to take one of two paths through The Perversity of Things, ambitious readers will find a number of other provocative ways to use his book. For instance, Wythoff’s extensive footnoted discussion of other scholars who have looked at Gernsback in terms of gender and genre might invite us to read the works featured here in a similar manner, noting how over time Gernsback shifts from addressing the “young men of this country” to addressing “the average man [and his] mother … wife [and] children,” to addressing “the average man and woman” (70, 275, 273); see also the accompanying illustrations to note a similar change in visual representations of those who engage new communication technologies. Other routes through The Perversity of Things might include an examination of Gernsback’s editorial persona in the context of the editorial practices of his time; Gernsback’s scientific journalism as it relates to the rise of modern reporting techniques; the impact of race and nationality on Gernsback’s thinking about science and futurity (both in terms of the racism leveled at him as a Jew and in terms of his own tendency to self-identify as a Luxembourgian -American rather than as an immigrant of German descent); and even the role of new media in disabled people’s lives (see the thematic grouping of essays about “Sound” for a particularly fascinating set of discussions about this issue).
If I have one complaint about The Perversity of Things, it is that I did not want it to end—or, at least, I wanted more. How did Gernsback’s thinking about media and sf continue to develop after 1930? Why could not a visionary like Gernsback profit from his own ideas? To what extent were members of the early sf community themselves aware of Gernsback’s role in media history? Given, as Whythoff persuasively demonstrates, that Gernsback anticipated both what we now call “maker communities” and the scientific and social issues that those communities grapple with today, why has his work not been more thoroughly acknowledged by digital and other media scholars who are in the process of constructing their own histories? Of course, it is impossible for one author and one book to do it all, and the fact that I am asking these questions leads me to suspect that Wythoff is every bit as clever an editor as the man he studies. Rather than simply telling us what to think, Wythoff provides just enough information about Hugo Gernsback that we do indeed learn quite a bit about him—and, in the process, realize that there is still much more work for all of us to do. In essence, then, Wythoff invites his audience members to become engaged critical readers who contribute to the development of sf and media history through our own intellectual tinkering and innovation. I cannot help but think that Gernsback would be proud. Highly recommended.
—Lisa Yaszek, Georgia Tech University
. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, Early Classics of Science Fiction, 2016. xxv + 393 pp. $90.00 hc, $29.95 pbk, $23.99 ebook.
Sisters of Tomorrow is co-winner of this year’s Susan Koppelman Award for the Best Anthology, Multi-Authored, or Edited Book in Feminist Studies given by the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association. It joins a distinguished if small list of anthologies that have aimed to preserve, celebrate, and cement women’s contributions to early sf. This period, from the late 1920s to the 1940s, is crucial not just because of its formative impact on the genre as it developed in the Anglophone world, but also because of the ephemerality of its primary sources—the crumbling and rare pages of the early pulp magazines themselves. As feminist sf critics and fans have noted, the early history of women’s writing in the genre is particularly vulnerable as, with a few exceptions such as C.L. Moore, they were much less likely than male authors to have their short fiction collected in the years following the decline of the magazine market and the rise of the paperback. Without access to special collections of sf archives, the majority of women’s writing from this period is, effectively, invisible. Such erasure of women’s work is what Sisters of Tomorrow aims to prevent through its careful selection and reprinting of fiction and non-fiction work by women involved in the classic sf era of the US pulp magazines.
Yaszek and Sharp situate the anthology as “part of the ongoing project to recover the history of women’s contributions to SF in all their forms” (xxii-xxiii). Recognizing the critical work of feminist sf scholars, as well as of anthologists such as Pamela Sargent and Justine Larbalestier, their project not only updates and expands previous work, but also does an excellent job of re-contextualizing this work for a new generation of scholars and readers. The anthology collects not just fiction but also other prose and non-fiction work that looks to a broader range of sources than professional magazines such as Amazing Stories, including amateur publications. It is separated into five sections, each dealing with a different role: Authors, Poets, Journalists, Editors, and Artists. Each of these “chapters” is prefaced by a critical commentary that introduces and contextualizes the following stories or excerpts in terms of their relation to the genre as a whole and also connects the work to historical and literary antecedents.
The constraints of space mean that anthologies such as these must make hard decisions regarding the balance between editorial comment and reprinted works. In this case the critical introductions and author biographies, although short, ably situate the texts and authors within their historical moments as well as a variety of literary and journalistic traditions. The editors also provide fascinating glimpses of these women’s personal, professional, and political motivations that suggest the richness of their engagement in and around the genre (such as, for example, the fact that author, poet, and editor Lilith Lorraine was probably the only person “to have an FBI file opened for the dissemination of seditious speculative poetry” [xviii]). The necessarily brief histories offered here nevertheless make clear connections between these “new women” of sf and the eventual development of feminist science fictions, including the motivations for engaging with sf, such as a love of science, a love of the genre itself, and a desire to engage with social and political change.
The longest section, “Authors,” contains nine stories originally published between 1929 and 1943. Apart from C.L. Moore, most names will only be familiar to those versed in sf history, including Leslie F. Stone, Lilith Lorraine, Leslie Perri, Amelia Reynolds Long, Dorothy Gertrude Quick, and Clare Winger Harris (the first woman to be published in the pulps). The remaining two, L. Taylor Hansen and Dorothy Louise Les Tina, were better known for their science writing and art. With the exception of Moore’s “Shambleau” (1933), most of these stories have rarely been anthologized; in fact, Lorraine’s “Into the 28th Century” (1930), Quick’s “Strange Orchids” (1937), and Tina’s “When You Think That … Smile!” (1943) appear here for the first time since their original publication.
The introduction to “Authors” summarizes some of the key scholarship scattered over numerous sf histories and feminist sf and literary studies to situate the stories within the genre expectations of the time. The editors note how the stories engage with themes such as space travel and telepathy while also incorporating ideas from earlier traditions of female gothic and feminist utopian writing, concluding that these women “helped create modern science fiction in its formative years,” and developed themes and techniques “that would remain central to later sf” (6). These stories are not necessarily the most radical examples of the time, but they certainly offer a representative snapshot of women’s sf and, ideally, can stimulate further investigation into other stories and authors.
Poetry has long been a part of speculative-fiction culture in both professional and amateur publications where women played a particularly visible and key part, recognized “as tastemakers in the field” (23). As Gwyneth Jones’s blurb notes, the poetry section is a particularly delightful and provocative read, especially for those who might not have been exposed to such work in other venues. The works of Lorraine and of lesbian journalist “Tigrina” are particularly powerful. On the other hand, the juvenile six-liner by Virginia Kidd seems rather unrepresentative of the work of this early fan who would go on to be such a key figure in sf publishing as agent, editor, and author in her own right.
For those already familiar with the histories encapsulated in the author, poetry, and art sections, the chapter on “Journalists” provides some of the most interesting primary source material in the anthology, as well as presenting a concise critical overview of an under-examined aspect of women’s involvement in sf. The opening essay briefly sketches a fascinating history of science journalism as it developed alongside and within the sf magazines, and gives an overview of the ways in which women contributed to this movement. As Yaszek and Sharp note, by the late 1940s a quarter of science writers for pro magazines such as Amazing were women, with two of the most prolific being Taylor Hansen and Lynn Standish. Their lively and informed writings “helped shape new understandings of women as scientific and technological experts” and “anticipated changes occurring in science writing today” (264). The historical context and reproduced texts in this section also strongly suggest clear links with contemporary feminist science studies. As the editors note, the works of Taylor Hansen are particularly notable, especially for her anthropologically informed attention to race and focus on unpacking “whiteness.”
The “Editors” section offers useful commentary on the contributions women made in editorial roles, highlighting the influence of Dorothy McIlwraith, editor of Weird Tales, and Mary Gnaedinger, editor of Famous Fantastic Mysteries. There were two clear pathways for women editors in this period: women could start out in secretarial or support roles and work their way up or, like Gnaedinger and McIlwraith, who already had experience in women’s magazines and were employed for their editorial experience rather than their genre knowledge. The chapter introduction clearly demonstrates how these editors quietly helped create and shape both a nascent sf community and their own notions of what constituted speculative fiction more broadly. This section features Lorraine for the third time, highlighting her editorial work for her own fanzines and independent poetry magazine, Different. Her piece on “Training for World Citizenship” sums up her progressive political views and remains compelling reading today.
The importance of sf art in representations of gender, sexuality, and aliens is a topic that has attracted significant academic attention. Thus it makes sense that “Artists” is the final substantial section. The editors present a small selection of cover art and internal illustrations by female artists, including the well-known Margaret Brundage, Les Tina (with a fascinating interior piece illustrating Carol Grey’s story “The Leapers” ), Olivette Bourgeois, Lucille Webster Holling, and Dolly Rackley Donnell. One of the key influences these artists brought to bear was their training in fashion illustration; it is this, the editors argue, that helped them “to literally paint women into stories” (331), producing the often active and certainly provocative and engaging female subjects of much sf pulp art.
Historical anthologies such as this tend to emphasize either continuity or exceptionalism in their selection and contextualization of texts. This anthology focuses more on the former, situating these texts as a bridge between earlier women’s writing traditions and contemporary women’s and feminist sf. Thus there are canonical implications to this curation as the editors wedge a foot in the door of sf’s past and demonstrate links from this most canonical of sf historiography to the work of women and feminist sf writers from the 1970s onwards.
Despite the many existing works of sf history that refer to some of the women featured here, the editorial commentary makes clear how much archival detective and restoration work is still to be done. One notable example is the apparently simple matter of exactly how many women were working in sf at the time; the editors briefly note that there were upwards of 450 women who published sf between 1926 and 1945 (xvii). An endnote explains that this figure was derived from original research based on The Locus index. This is an important fact and one deserving of more detail in terms of the methods used, and how this relates to other histories. One feature that the editors chose not to include is reproductions of fan letters—another crucial part of women’s history in sf in need of preservation and further study. Although the editors suggest such sources have been well covered in other histories, it would have rounded out the current collection to provide examples and full reproductions of such letters, especially those by women such as Leslie F. Stone who appear elsewhere in the collection as authors.
Any reservations I have about this anthology are probably those that could be leveled at any anthology: they could always be longer, include more or different texts, or have used different selection criteria. Such criticisms arise in this case because of the lack of a clear editorial statement about scope and intent: how and why were these authors and texts chosen over others? How many texts were read and from what sources? Why, for instance, choose to reprint the oft-anthologized “Shambleau” while emphasizing lesser-known texts by other authors, or why exclude other “names” such as Leigh Brackett? There are no doubt good reasons for these choices but they are not made apparent to the reader. Another anomaly is the finale of the book, which ends not with an editorial conclusion but a passionate essay by sf author Kathleen Ann Goonan defending women’s place in sf against the latest “forgetting” of their presence, the tone and subject of which sits somewhat oddly with the rest of the historical and scholarly material.
Overall this is a very valuable and useful resource that does much more than simply restore and preserve women’s voices as a central part of early sf history. It demonstrates that women in early sf were not an aberration, nor mere imitators attempting to reproduce a male approach, but instead saw the opportunities that the genre offered for their own desires and dreams: a way to engage in and indulge the same passionate inquiry as that of the male fans and writers they appeared alongside.
—Helen Merrick, Cygnet, Tasmania
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