Science Fiction Studies

#135 = Volume 42, Part 2 = July 2018


What Mary Shelley Can Teach STEM Readers.

David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert, eds. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2017. 320 pp. $19.95 pbk.

Few books have proven as ubiquitous or enduring in popular culture as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Never out of print since its 1818 debut, in recent years this text has become a staple of high school and university reading lists. Unsurprisingly, to meet this pedagogical demand publishers have issued numerous editions of this text intended to engage a variety of students, and predominantly those in the humanities. Because the mythos surrounding Frankenstein exceeds the purview of literary scholars and historians alone, MIT press has recently published a welcome new critical edition of Shelley’s text as part of the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project written explicitly to appeal to “Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.” With the support of a National Science Foundation grant, this open-access edition is edited by Arizona State University professors David H. Guston, director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society; Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination; and Jason Scott Robert, director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. Speaking directly to fellow non-humanities readers, and in particular to STEM students, the editors argue that reading and discussing Shelley’s text “can help all of us make better decisions about how to shape and understand scientific research and technical innovation in ways that support our well-considered values and ambitions” (xi).

By engaging deeply with the question of what Shelley’s text can teach twenty-first-century STEM students about the relationship of scientific inquiry to morality and society, this new critical edition of Frankenstein is unequivocally didactic. Using the 1818 original manuscript edited by the late Charles E. Robinson, this edition foregrounds questions of elucidation and ethics for students. In fact, the annotations, introduction, and supplementary essays comprising this edition actively anticipate the needs of this subset of readers. Instead of prescribing significant ideas and key terms to which they should attend, Guston, Finn, and Robert distributed Shelley’s text to a sampling of STEM students and asked them to identify passages and words requiring explanation. This process has resulted in a resource that acts as a two-way conversation foregrounding engaged debate and discussion.

One of the greatest strengths of this edition is the talented and inter-disciplinary range of the contributors it showcases. The editors have thoughtfully assembled annotations and seven critical essays exploring ethics and technological innovation. Beginning with the introductory essay by Robinson, this edition immediately situates Frankenstein in terms of the history of science and technology. Here, Robinson includes an overview of the Industrial Revolution as well as a biography of Shelley’s relationship to the discipline of chemistry, the scientific Lunar Society, and the vitalist controversy. Following this largely historical introduction, Guston, Finn, and Robert include a lavishly annotated printing of Shelley’s text. Next appears Shelley’s 1831 Introduction to Frankenstein, a useful chronology ranging from 1745 to 1851 combining a history of science with Mary Shelley’s life, and finally the critical essays concerned with science, technology, and philosophy, about which I will devote the remainder of this review.

Josephine Johnston, a biomedical technologies ethicist at the Hastings Center, builds upon the portions of Robinson’s opening essay concerned with the relationship of Shelley’s text to ethics. By demonstrating how Frankenstein permits readers to understand the importance of responsibility to scientific inquiry, Johnston argues in “Traumatic Responsibility: Victor Frankenstein as Creator and Casualty” that scientific study must possess ethical ends, specifically in terms of the responsibility to and for our creations. Because Frankenstein fails his creature on both counts, Shelley’s text offers a valuable rubric for assessing and gauging scientific responsibility. The harm and horror that results from unchecked scientific enthusiasm in Frankenstein suggests that Shelley wanted readers to exercise “the virtues of humility and restraint” rather than mere unproductive curiosity (207).

Novelist, journalist, and activist Cory Doctorow’s wide-ranging “I’ve Created a Monster! (And So Can You)” is the most playful, if no less consequential, essay in this collection. Through a discussion interweaving ideas about social media, the US National Security Agency (NSA), and twentieth-century science fiction by authors Douglas Adams and Robert Heinlein, Doctorow highlights the significance of the “adjacent possible.” This theory of progress lies at the intersection of technological change and the genre of science fiction. Doctorow urges his STEM readers to consider creation in terms of ethics and justice: “[t]he world’s adjacent possibles will enable you to dream up many technologies throughout your life. But what you do with them can take away other people’s possibilities” (213). Doctrow’s celebrity, wit, and conversational tone will appeal particularly to STEM student readers resistant to more traditional and jargon-heavy literary criticism.

Jane Maienschein and Kate MacCord, both of whom work in the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University as director and project coordinator, respectively, situate Frankenstein in terms of Aristotelian ethics in their co-authored “Changing Conceptions of Human Nature.” In this essay—the collection’s most academically challenging and politically controversial—Maienschein and MacCord provide readers with a lesson on philosophy and history. Defining the term “monster” in relation to ideas of development, they offer a reading of Shelley’s text that goes beyond the Promethean premise that humans ought not create new beings because they must be monstrous. Rather, they suggest that “organisms, especially humans, require time and particular stimuli to realize fully the norms of their species” (218). Turning their discussion to the philosophically analogous but politically controversial issue of whether human fetuses ought to be categorized as human beings, they argue that just as Aristotle would never categorize Frankenstein’s creature as human because it fleetingly had the potential to develop into one, fetuses also cannot be humans on the basis of their potential one day to develop into human beings. Maienschein and MacCord use Shelley’s text to argue the socially charged premise that “potential is not actual” (221).

Alfred Nordmann’s “Undisturbed by Reality: Victor Frankenstein’s Technoscientific Dream of Reason” argues that the enthusiasm with which Shelley’s protagonist seeks to imbue the “spark of being into the lifeless thing” (40) resembles that exhibited by today’s materials scientists, information technologists, and biomedical researchers, among others. According to Nordmann, a professor of Philosophy and the History of Science and Technoscience at Darmstadt Technical University, rather than cutting-edge science, Frankenstein discovers the secret to endowing life upon nonliving material through premodern mystical and alchemical texts. It is this imaginative and non-scientific aspect of the creature’s construction that continues to resonate with contemporary technologists. An object’s plasticity—a word Nordmann looks to Roland Barthes’s magico-transmutationist framing to trouble—enables it to appear both lavishly useful and frighteningly uncanny. Today, rendering objects such as kitchen appliances and building materials “smart” has become a popular, magical,and decidedly non-scientific way of pushing the boundaries separating living from non-living.

“Frankenstein Reframed; or, The Trouble with Prometheus,” by speculative-fiction author Elizabeth Bear, does not mince words concerning her disdain for Shelley’s eponymous protagonist. Explaining that narcissism, hypocrisy, and “emo pique” (232) among other sins are ultimately responsible for the tragic death and destruction of Frankenstein and his family, Bear devotes this essay to enumerating the misdeeds of Shelley’s protagonist. Most reprehensible (as the root cause of this tragedy) is Frankenstein’s inability or unwillingness to think through his actions beforehand. Although the reasoning of “Frankenstein Reframed” is sometimes playfully anachronistic—“[o]ne does rather wonder how effective mummified testes are in producing viable creature germ cells” (235)—Bear offers a lucid and entertaining trouncing of Frankenstein: Shelley’s true monster.

Anne K. Mellor, professor of English Literature and Women's Studies at UCLA and author of Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (2012), investigates the connections tying philosophical ideas about sexuality and gender in Frankenstein to the author’s traumatic experiences with pregnancy and motherhood in “Frankenstein, Gender, and Mother Nature.” Labelling Frankenstein a “feminist novel” (243), Mellor examines the significant roles of gender, sexuality, and parenting to Shelley’s novel. In this text, female characters are passive and expendable, suggesting that, as a sort of male mother, Frankenstein advocates the “destruction of the female” (240). Shelley makes this misogynistic violence explicit when Frankenstein dramatically rips apart the creature’s mate. By using terminology that aligns this act of brutality with “violent rape” (243), Mellor argues that Frankenstein, in fact, seeks to upset the possibility of female desire and reproduction. It is in feminized Nature that Shelley articulates the necessity of women and mothers. Natural disasters such as rain, ice, and lightning actively chase and punish Frankenstein because, unlike his happier friend Henry Clerval, Shelley’s protagonist ignores the beauty and wonder of Mother Nature.

For the final essay in this collection, “The Bitter Aftertaste of Technical Sweetness,” philosopher Heather E. Douglas, chair in Science and Society at the University of Waterloo, offers an extended comparison of Frankenstein’s creature to Robert Oppenheimer’s atom bomb. Both are agents of destruction created by men more concerned with the “sweetness” realized by solving a difficult technological problem than considering the morality of their projects. Douglas’s assessment of Shelley’s text offers a compelling juxtaposition of two of the most famous—and ethically suspect—scientific achievements in the popular imagination. What makes Douglas’s comparison so trenchant is the wedding of death and life and the hyper-narrativization of both histories: one fictional, one all too real.

Guston, Finn, and Robert have approached Shelley’s book as a means for enhancing critical thinking and encouraging ethical reflection among aspiring scientists and engineers. With its interdisciplinary annotations and contextual essays, this edition provides an invaluable resource to these motivated and curious students. Because this edition minimizes, or eschews entirely, the more conventional humanities topics for Frankenstein studiesof literature, romanticism, and the Gothic, it is unlikely to appeal to experts. Novices to humanistic inquiry and especially readers with a background in STEM, however, are sure to find much in this scholarly edition worth admiring. Moreover, this critical edition will no doubt attract sf scholars interested in ideas of imagination and technology and curious about how Shelley’s text permits us to rethink some of today’s most cutting-edge and controversial scientific advances. Perhaps most importantly, educators seeking a critical edition of Shelley’s novel for high school and undergraduate level students that is accessible and affordable (open access), would do well to adopt this text. Above all, Guston, Finn, and Robert’s Frankenstein is demonstrably a teaching edition.

—Kate Holterhoff, Georgia Institute of Technology

Slavery, Trench War and the Holocaust: Historical Atrocity and the Gothic, 200 Years Later.

Marie Mulvey-Roberts. Dangerous Bodies: Historicising the Gothic Corporeal. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2016. 256 pp. £70 hc.

Dangerous Bodies differs from many studies of manifestations of the Gothic, with their focus on intertextuality and psychological interiors. Rather, living up to its subtitle, this study is a deeply historicized and thoroughly researched reading of several canonical Gothic texts and one film, spanning the period from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Mulvey-Roberts firmly demonstrates that the Gothic mode has offered a space in which to hash out the implications of “real life” historical events, as these events, directed by “the Church, the medical profession and state” (1), so often play out in the form of horrors and atrocities against the human body, and particularly bodies considered dangerous or destabilizing to familiar categories. The first few pages suffer a bit from jargon and oblique phrasing, but once Mulvey-Roberts turns to the specific texts, the book becomes at once hard to read—given the horrors it discusses—and impossible to put down, as she identifies new connections and explores acknowledged connections in fresh ways.

The array of topics brought together here is dizzying. While all of these fictional texts, and indeed most of their historic associations, have been studied before—and Mulvey-Roberts readily acknowledges her debts to other scholars—here the past scholarship and new insights are brought together to create a seamless account of how the Gothic recounts, parallels, anticipates, and unfortunately sometimes encourages historical atrocity. As the introduction notes, the settings for these Gothic horrors range in time and space across “the monastic community, slave plantation, operating theatre, Jewish ghetto and battlefield trench” (1). The canonical texts which organize the chapters (the novels Castle of Otranto [1764], Frankenstein [1818], and Dracula [1897], and the film Nosferatu [1922]) serve as jumping-off points for exploration of a range of topics. The first chapter, on Otranto, opens by discussing the classic Gothic theme of critique of Catholicism and the Inquisition and the long-debated eighteenth-century question of whether traditional English freedoms were safer in the hands of modernizing Whigs or entrusted to the so-called “Gothic legacy ... the continuation of a tradition of freedom pre-dating the Norman Conquest” (19).

The analysis then turns to slavery, first discussing the implications and contradictions inherent in Monk Lewis’s inheriting two Caribbean plantations. But of particularly compelling interest in this bicentennial year, also at a time when many Western nations are still attempting to come to grips with their slave-holding pasts, much of the second chapter examines whether Frankenstein expresses Mary Shelley’s advocacy of abolition or merely of immediate amelioration and gradual emancipation at a later time to be determined. As Dangerous Bodies notes, “[t]he novel reads as a textual patchwork of abolitionist writing and pro-slavery propaganda” (53), and Mary Shelley “may not have disapproved of the way it was used to oppose the immediate abolition of slavery” (5). She notes within the novel’s plot previously recognized analogies to the maritime slave trade, to rebellions and suppressions, and to the plight of women and child slaves in a world in which their marital and family bonds have no legal status:

Within this reading of Frankenstein as an allegory of slavery, the monster is considered as a demonised version of miscegenation and the fate of his female companion related to fears generated by rebel female slaves. (7)

As with each chapter of the book, the discussion of Frankenstein is deeply historicized, including a concise history of British abolitionist efforts and legal changes as well as a discussion of the tendency of nineteenth-century stage adaptations of the novel to make the “monster ... resemble a semi-naked African tribesman” (55).

But most intriguingly, Mulvey-Roberts analyzes an incident in which the leader of the Commons, George Canning, an abolitionist but in favor of the gradual approach, referred to the novel in Parliament in 1824 “as propaganda against the immediate emancipation of slaves” (54). While past critics have seen Canning’s speech as a severe misreading of Shelley’s intentions, the fact is that the novelist wrote in a letter to a friend that she found her book being mentioned in the House as “a compliment ... in a manner sufficiently pleasing to me” (57). Her only documented public statement on slavery is an argument against anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism, as opposed to plantation slavery. Obviously in a radical household such as Godwin’s, we can assume an overall detestation of slavery (although Mulvey-Roberts notes, incidentally, that Mary Wollstonecraft’s former lover Gilbert Imlay had been involved in the slave trade before “reinvent[ing] himself” as a champion of the oppressed [61]). Dangerous Bodies arrives at the uncomfortable conclusion that “[t]he likelihood is that [Shelley] was sympathetic to Canning’s ameliorist position” (58).

Mulvey-Roberts next discusses two diametrically opposed but competing nineteenth-century treatments for female “hysteria”: medical vaginal massage culminating in “paroxysm” (orgasm) and clitoridectomy. Her history of Victorian-era gynecological surgery, illustrated with diagrams from medical texts of the time, is the first to discuss Dracula in the context of extensive work done in the field of gynecology by Bram Stoker’s brother. The chapter provides a convincing reading that the scene in Lucy’s crypt, often considered as a rape, can also be figured as a forced clitoridectomy, designed to treat Lucy’s post-mortem hysteria (94).

“The world is a vampire,” the Smashing Pumpkins sang in 1995’s “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” and Mulvey-Roberts’ final chapter makes a good case that the metaphor is particularly apt for the twentieth-century world with its two landmark modern horrors: the Holocaust and mechanized total war. She explicates World War I’s rhetorical relationship with vampirism in detail, showing that the vampire was used as a metaphor for venereal disease and the danger it posed to troops, for the high-casualty war itself, and for the 1918 flu pandemic. Much of this chapter focuses on early twentieth-century visual rhetoric, including propaganda and training posters, and the book reproduces several stunning examples. 

The final chapter is somewhat overshadowed by the penultimate one, however; “Nazis, Jews and Nosferatu” is at once highly troubling and historically fascinating. “Revenant” is a recurring term in Dangerous Bodies,and the author cites Derrida’s hauntology, “that a revenant is always called upon to come and to come back,” and “the thinking of the specter, contrary to what good sense leads us to believe, signals toward the future” (8).  Similarly, not-so-hidden anti-Semitism and fascist tendencies seem to be once again haunting modern democracies; thus, it can be discouraging, yet useful, to see how Nosferatu, and more broadly Dracula and other vampire fictions in general, reified negative stereotypes of Jews and anticipated (may have even encouraged and furthered) direct Nazi propaganda films. The author provides a clear overview of the old identification of the vampire with the Wandering Jew as well as the pernicious effects of the blood libel and the medieval and Renaissance association of Jews with alchemy (considered evil for its association with dark and demonic arts, but also reinforcing the old slur, still occasionally invoked, of Jews as seeking to control gold and the world’s wealth [168]).

Dangerous Bodies then turns to Bram Stoker’s discussion of Henry Irving’s portrayal of Shylock, and how that discussion may reveal both some latent anti-Semitism on the part of Stoker (though not necessarily of Irving) as well as connections to the descriptions of Dracula (135). A detailed comparison of events and rhetoric from both Dracula and Nosferatu shows that both figure vampires in terms of common late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century slurs on Jews, such as their being bringers of disease or of primitivism and filth from the east. On a much lighter note, this chapter will also be of interest to both film scholars and amateur buffs, as it simultaneously examines Nosferatu itself and E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire (2000), a fictionalized take on a “making of” film.

One idea unifying this broad catalog of horrors is the long-noted Gothic theme of collapse of distinctions and opposites, inside and out, self and other, human and monster (4). As Dangerous Bodies proves over and over, just such a collapse occurs between art and history: did Mary Shelley disapprove “of the way [Frankenstein] was used to oppose the immediate abolition of slavery? Was Nosferatu viewed in Weimar Germany as an anti-Semitic film and did it influence Nazi propaganda film-making, thus paving the way for the Holocaust?” (5). In examining pairings such as Frankenstein’s creature and a slave, or Dracula and a Jew, Mulvey-Roberts and the writers she discusses must, she acknowledges, walk the careful line “between explicating the processes involved in the demonisation of a people, religion or race and reinscribing it” (134).

She frankly confronts in her introduction another risk: that her analysis will discomfort the reader. But at the same time she argues for the importance of her method, as to do otherwise is to set preemptive parameters on our understanding:

It is surely the stuff of unease to consider how well-loved writers might be reinforcing negative stereotypes relating to the body, in regard to race and gender, that run counter to the liberal and humanitarian sympathies of modern audiences. Such a heretical approach could lead to seeing Murnau [director of Nosferatu] tolerating anti-Semitic perspectives or Mary Shelley holding some questionable attitudes towards race which were not uncommon at that time. By not countenancing such unpalatable thoughts, is there not a danger of imposing critical limits on our reception of Gothic texts and their authors? (5)

Dangerous Bodies walks those lines, explicating prejudices without furthering them, and forming a valuable and unflinching analysis that reaches beyond our current critical limits.

—Kasee Laster, University of North Georgia

Frankenstein: Text and Mythos.

Andrew Smith, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2016. xx + 265 pp. £17.99 pbk.

On the cover of The Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein, the disembodied head of Boris Karloff as the creature in James Whale’s 1931 film adaptation pops out of a bleak photograph of an unpeopled expanse of the Arctic, translucent floes crumbling and sailing off on the bottle-green surface of the icy sea. This photocollage reveals an essential truth about Mary Shelley’s two-hundred-year-old novel Frankenstein and its legacy. Today, the most common image of the creature is Karloff’s bolt-skewered cylindrical visage, but the modern mythos to which that image belongs derives its durability and significance from the urgent questions that lurk cthulhu-like beneath the surface of Mary Shelley’s text. Sounding these depths, Smith and collaborators have created an indispensable introduction to the 1818 Frankenstein and a “cultural analysis” of its mythos (9).

The volume begins with a reproduction of the Mary Shelley chronology from Esther Schor’s Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley (2003). This chronology reports that in 1808, the future Mary Shelley “publishes [her] first story, ‘Mounseer Nongtongpaw’” (xvi). Jeanne Moskal has shown this work was not Shelley’s (Travel Writing, ed. Moskal [1996]: 397-98); but, overall, Schor’s chronology still helpfully grounds the neophyte in Shelley’s turbulent biographical and political contexts. So does Smith’s Introduction, which highlights Frankenstein’s exploration of the relationships among creativity, danger, and freedom. Shelley’s famous 1831 explanation of her 1816 brainstorming of Frankenstein’s basic premise“indicates how ideas about creativity shaped the genesis of the novel which in turn dwells upon the dangers” of Romantic constructions of creativity (2).

The Companion’s first set of essays, “Historical and Literary Contexts,” was composed by prominent Shelley experts and clearly reveal Shelley’s creative process. In the first one, the late Charles E. Robinson, unparalleled documentary editor of Frankenstein, charts the eleven-text sequence or “stemma of Frankenstein,” from Shelley’s lost 1816-17 “ur-text” through her 1831 revision for Colburn and Bentley. Robinson summarizes his previous work on the dating of various parts of Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s judicious use of her husband’s textual interventions and less judicious use of her father’s, but also provides vital new knowledge, particularly about the lost drafts. This is essential reading for anyone wishing to explore the Frankenstein manuscripts at the digital Shelley-Godwin Archive.

Reconstructing Frankenstein’s genesis by a different approach, Lisa Vargo argues that Frankenstein is a palimpsest of its author’s reading of “families” of texts that represents reading as an important “communal” practice and an ideal form of “sociability,” as it indeed was in the Shelley circle (26-28). As part of this practice,Mary Shelley mined “polar print culture” (26), sixteenth- century alchemical texts, and Humphrey Davy’s Discourse, Introductory to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry (1802) to create Frankenstein, as well as political-metaphysical ruminations by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Alastor, especially), Volney, Plutarch, and Goethe. That said, Milton’s Paradise Lost is the novel’s “most important source,” and Mary Shelley’s love-hate relationship with it fuels Frankenstein’s “feminist critique of patriarchy” (36-37). Frankenstein also defends the popular reading of Mary Shelley’s time. As Gothicist and Phantom of the Opera scholar Jerrold Hogle contends (in his Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction [2002]), Frankenstein “haunts Romanticism” with Gothic conventions that Romantic poets including Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Percy Shelley simultaneously borrowed and “sought to repress as low culture” (53).

The Companion shifts from Frankenstein’s borrowings to Frankenstein borrowed with Catherine Lanone’s study of the creature’s reinvention by the Victorians to articulate their own anxieties and terrors. Fruitfully complementing other recent analyses in this vein (pun intended), such as Donna Heiland’s unpacking of Frankenstein-style revivification in the 1840s “penny blood” Varney, the Vampire (in her 2008 study Gothic and Gender), Lanone shows that Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) reassembles the creature as Heathcliff and other Victorians deployed the growing Frankenstein myth to revile controversial phenomena such as Chartism and sensation fiction (58-59, 62). Lanone’s insights implicitly challenge the traditional separation of “Romantic” and “Victorian” literary studies, revealing these periods as parts of a body more holistic than the creature’s.

The contexts section is rounded out by Smith’s own contribution to the Companion—which  speculates on what kind of a scientist Victor Frankenstein is, considering the impact of anachronistic scientific controversies likely to be unknown to the undergraduate reader—and by Adriana Craciun’s examination of Frankenstein’s “kaleidoscopic political imaginary” (85). Focusing on the “political education” of the creature, Craciun finds that this process “generates the novel’s most radical provocations linking the oppression of gender, class, race, and empire” (88). Craciun also convincingly speculates that Frankenstein’s assemblage of female corpses, juxtaposed with the gender radical Safie’s gender-radical story, rejuvenates Mary Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft’s “radical case for the rights of women” (95). Craciun’s essay should put to rest the longstanding critical assumption that Mary Shelley was no vindicator of the rights of women.

The Companion’s second section, “Theories and Forms,” applies various theoretical lenses to Shelley’s novel, mostly in its 1818 edition. Angela Wright reads it as a “female Gothic,” specifically in the tradition of the 1790s literary phenomenon Ann Radcliffe. In “What is Queer About Frankenstein?” George E. Haggerty finds everythingabout Frankenstein queer, concluding with a reading of the creature’s confrontation by and murder of the child William Frankenstein as an anticipation of Lee Edelman’s identification of queerness in the conflict between the heteronormative “fetishization of the child” and the supposed “death drive of desire” (No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive [2004] 122). Pointing out that Edelman’s “queer” subject “undoes all sociability, and for that … must be isolated and expunged” (126), Haggerty persuasively identifies the creature as a queer icon. (I would add that this form of queerness is textbook Byronic heroism, which helps to explain its presence in Frankenstein.) Patrick Brantlinger’s “Race and Frankenstein” investigates “the race of Frankenstein’s monster” and the novel’s reaction to eighteenth-century ontologies of race (128). Brantlinger’s literature review covers readings that equate the creature with Lascars, West Indian slaves, Christian slaves in “Orientalist” fantasy, and other ethnic subalterns. Perhaps surprisingly, this list does not include the theory, promoted by Karen Linnea Piper (in her study “Inuit Diasporas: Frankenstein and the Inuit in England” [2007]) that European fantasies of Arctic indigeneity define the creature.

The section’s final two essays examine Frankenstein’s engagement with nature and with the humans’ relations to it. Leading ecocritical Romanticist Timothy Morton asks “why ecocriticism has not done much with Frankenstein” (143). His response accessibly historicizes ecocriticism and then uses it to explain Frankenstein’s emphasis on the problem of “confusing the difference between humans and non-humans, and between the natural and unnatural” (146). According to Morton, the novel’s organizing philosophical problems are staples of ecocriticism: “what [are] we … to care for, for whom … are [we] to care, what is care,” and, non-rhetorically, “who cares?” (150). In response to that last question, Mary Shelley deliberately makes it difficult to tell. The “pristine blankness” of the Arctic symbolizes the fictional Mrs. Saville’s position as a “blank” (151). Does she care? We cannot know. Ultimately, Shelley wants us to show “compassion and solidarity” to the “unnatural” and “monstrous” but does not explain “how” flawed humanity might make that leap (156). Further unveiling Shelley’s critique of our inhumanity to each other and to other life-forms, Andy Mousley’s essay argues that the nightmare of Frankenstein involves the “posthuman,” or the “passing of the human as we know it, or think we know it” (161).

Letting the novel drift into the distance, the Companion’s final section, “Adaptations,” examines an array of creative expressions that populate the Frankenstein mythos. This brief listing poses a challenge: had the entire page count of the anthology been devoted to adaptations, many important ones still would have been left out. Consequently, Smith and his collaborators must be commended for the diversity of the adaptations they survey in terms of era, medium, genre, and audience. The late Diane Long Hoeveler’s “Nineteenth-Century Dramatic Adaptations of Frankenstein” provides just enough text and plot synopsis from Richard Brinsley Peake’s Presumption: Or, the Fate of Frankenstein (1823) and other dramatizations to show how they popularized and eclipsed Shelley’s novel. Hoeveler’s essay suggests that we need an anthology of early stage Frankensteins. Like Hoeveler, David Punter concentrates on spinoffs explicitly based on Frankenstein: modern literary adaptations, mostly sf. Punter is frank about major examples’ failings. For instance, he finds it “remarkable” that in sf superstar Brian Aldiss’s Frankenstein Unbound (1973), Mary Shelley makes herself suddenly sexually available to spaceman hero Joe Bodenland. Reading this essay after the previous section’s feminist scholarship might explain why, as Punter notes, Aldiss robs Shelley of her creativity by making Frankenstein’s characters “not figments of Mary Shelley’s imagination” but real people sharing her world (206-207).

Equally underwhelming are Dean Koontz and Kevin J. Anderson’s Frankenstein series (2004-11) and Michael Bunker’s Brother, Frankenstein (2015). The former, an sf-police procedural mashup set in New Orleans, resolves clichéd questions about scientific ethics by recourse to Dan Brown-style “conspiracy fiction” (209-10); the latter involves a RoboCop-style military automaton created from the body of an Amish child (215-16). Punter finds a lesser-known sf adaptation, Susan Heyboer O’Keefe’s Frankenstein’s Monster (2010), more promising: O’Keefe explores “the rejections and struggles of adolescence” from the creature’s viewpoint as he struggles with a vengeful Robert Walton after Victor Frankenstein’s death—and desires Walton’s niece, Lily (213-14).

Touring other areas of Frankenstein’s transmedial afterlife, Mark Jancovich surveys the major film versions of the novel, rightly distrustful of bids for adaptive faithfulness that peter out into “exercise[s] in branding” (203) and Christopher Murray tours the world of Frankenstein comics, noting that the 1931 film catalyzed this phenomenon (220) and providing illuminating full-page reproductions of several examples.

Like Shelley’s novel, the Companion terminates in uncharted territory. The collaborative team of Karen Coats and Farran Norris Sands investigate why, in the twenty-first century, several Frankenstein spinoffs target the child or young adult (YA) reader. Like Shelley’s creature, these child and YA Frankensteins tend to acknowledge the “incongruity between the innocent child and the monstrous child” (243). These books show Frankenstein or his creature ultimately “master[ing] fears and redeem[ing] social relationships,” cancelling out their Romantic “isolation and despair” (245-46). Enticing examples include Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (2006)—in which creativity, far from being dangerous, is the misnamed creature’s redemptive response to bullying—and Samantha Berger’s tongue-in-cheek Crankenstein (2013), which equally empathizes both with cranky toddlers and with parents whose exhaustion and alienation exceed Victor Frankenstein’s. I imagine these variations would have appealed to the child LauretteTighe, for whom Mary Shelley wrote her tale Maurice, or the Fisher’s Cot (1820), and who later, as Laurette Neri, became a published writer. While Coats and Sands articulate why twenty-first century children deserve their own induction into the Frankenstein mythos, when those children reach university, the Companion will show them what makes the mythos perpetually mesmerizing.

—Rebecca Nesvet, University of Wisconsin Green Bay

Gothic Inspiration: Finding Creativity in the Graveyard.

Andrew Smith. Gothic Death 1740-1914: A Literary History. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2016. 224 pp. £70.00 hc.

As literary communities around the world gear up for the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), a number of books examining Shelley’s life, the novel’s historical context, and the cultural legacy of Frankenstein have emerged to tantalize fans. Andrew Smith’s Gothic Death: A Literary History is more than a study of Shelley’s iconic text, although Frankenstein is featured significantly in the second chapter; rather, it is instead a wide-ranging examination of death, dying, and resurrection through the medium of art, specifically writing and reading. Smith’s study is not only informative but theoretically dense as Smith remains in frequent conversation with other critics throughout the course of the text. Gothic Death provides an important knowledge base about the formation and evolution of the Gothic in literature about death, ultimately establishing convincing links among death, the Gothic, and creativity in mid-eighteenth, nineteenth, and early-twentieth century texts.

In Smith’s first chapter, graveyard poets and philosophers such as Edward Young, Nathan Drake, Adam Smith, and Robert Blair contemplate mortality and the afterlife in their respective works. These imaginative denizens of the “bone orchard” explored new ways of writing about the finiteness of life and the grief for those who had already died. Utilizing melancholy as a literary device, they resurrected the dead in their writing, mainly elegies and essays, revealing anxieties about death. In this way, literary forms allow communication with the dead: “Indeed, it could be argued that melancholy is generated out of that very communication breakdown” (35). Unlike twentieth- and early twenty-first-century works such as Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology (1915), Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), or Stephanie Gangi’s The Next (2016), which fall outside the timeline of Smith’s text, the graveyard poets neither allow the dead to have a voice nor create dead narrators; instead, their goal is to evoke fear and sympathy in the reader through living narrators encountering the dead. Throughout this chapter, Smith illuminates the evolution of sensibility, melancholy, fancy, the uncanny, science, and religion (Catholicism and Protestantism) in these nascent Gothic texts. He charts the shift from a “discourse of feeling” to a more secular “discourse of psychology” in graveyard poetry (39). And, perhaps most importantly, Smith shows that while death may seem inherently Gothic, it is not. Eighteenth-century poets used clichéd imagery of ghosts and tombstones that are indeed Gothic trappings, but it was their ideas of creation in death that truly led to the Gothic.

Chapter Two explores the connection between mourning and memory in Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets (1784) and a new “secular psychology” in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (44). Smith begins with an analysis of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), in which Emily believes Valancourt to be dead, although he is not, demonstrating how fears of death haunt the living. Smith then untangles distinctions among romanticism, the Gothic, and the Romantic Gothic, with memory becoming essential to each definition. Smith illustrates that memory is not always synonymous with narrative flashback. For example, Shelley’s new rendition of the Gothic is more about reflection and creation of self: “Memory thus offers an escape from the physical world, but it is not spiritual transcendence” (47). Furthermore, in the Gothic, memory is creative; it provides order, continuity, and even community. While Charlotte Smith links memory with mourning by dwelling on former happiness, Shelley uses memory for textual production in Frankenstein. Robert Walton’s letters to his sister, his early identity as a poet, Dr. Frankenstein’s narrative, and the creature’s construction of self (both from body parts and more importantly from the books he reads) emphasize the formation of self through reading and writing. In terms of craft, Smith argues that even though there is melancholy in Shelley’s text, the fictionalization of melancholy carries substantial emotional weight, unlike some earlier attempts to evoke feeling through quasi-Gothic imagery. Smith concludes with an investigation of James Boaden’s The Man of Two Lives (1828) as a contrast to Shelley’s Frankenstein since Boaden’s main character, Edward Sydenham, like Frankenstein’s creature, has a previous life, although Sydenham’s past life is the result of reincarnation, rather than a past he cannot recall. Working to correct the mistakes of his previous degenerate life, Sydenham’s character gives the novel a more religious, moralizing tone than Shelley’s masterpiece, which is mainly secular in nature and thus more in tune with the Gothic.

In Chapter Three, associations between creativity and representations of death and dying emerge strongly in Smith’s examination of Victorian texts, specifically works by Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), and George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil” (1859). As each author narrates death, the shift from writing to reading as a form of creation becomes more pronounced. The characters of Vankirk in Poe’s “Mesmeric Revelation” (1844) and Valdemar in “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845) both experience mesmeric trances that, for Valdemar, keep him in a liminal state between life and death. Here, trances are designed to give readers a sense of what the afterlife might entail, something similar to sleeping. In Smith’s extensive examination of Poe’s fiction and nonfiction, he applies Poe’s theory of the universe as finite, where humans live in a cosmic narrative and our acts of creativity mimic God’s creation and so bring us closer to our divinity. Smith writes: “[d]eath has a narrative force, but it is also an aspect of the divine and is related to creativity” (100-101). The Gothic in Poe’s narratives is infused with spirituality and science through his theory of cosmology that solidly associates writing with death. The scientific theme continues in George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil,” which brings together the ghostly or supernatural with the quasi-scientific, namely animal magnetism and, in Latimer’s case, the terrifying ability of foresight. Finally, Smith’s analysis of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, in which Cathy’s ghost appears both in the writing on the table and then in her books that act as a “symbolic haunting” (91), uncovers another layer of subtext by exploring Brontë’s use of dreams, which “offer a secular liminal space in the novel” (93). The discussion of dreams continues in the works of Charles Dickens.

Chapter Four focuses on depictions of Gothic death in the nonfiction and fiction of Dickens. Although this chapter is more historical and biographical in nature than previous chapters, it fits perfectly with the social and political motivations of its subject. Dickens’s views on capital punishment, his anxieties that viewing death as entertainment may awaken desires either to die or to kill, is powerfully expressed in his letters against public execution published in the Daily News from 1846-1849. Dickens witnessed public executions outside Newgate prison and found them morbid, cruel, and likely to inspire, not deter, crime. On the other side of the Atlantic, in American Notes (1842), Dickens observed the results of solitary confinement in American prisons. He determined that after a certain period of isolation, similar to the grave, the convict’s self would split and become “self-haunted” by a phantom of himself (124). In short, Dickens felt convicts were made spectral by cruelty and, as a result, became unfit to return to society.

Although readers of Gothic Death may already be aware of the popularity of attending public executions in the Victorian era, they may be surprised to discover the presence of celebrity executioners such as William Calcraft, who made jokes, did stunts, and generally hammed it up for the crowd while performing his customary “short-drop method” of hanging (110). Another fascinating historical thread occurs when Smith devotes a section to the opening paragraphs of Great Expectations (1861) that show Pip gazing at his family plot in the local cemetery. Smith writes, “The dead family is thus restored to life in the grave as their collective burial suggests the importance of family togetherness” (122). Smith parallels this idea of family reunion in death with Victorian scandals of overcrowded graveyards and unsanitary conditions, and how both relate to issues of class.

Smith returns at the end of the chapter to the theme of dreams. Dickens’s essay, “Dreams” (1851), debates our moral status in dream space, questioning whether we remain our true selves when we dream. Smith relates this to creation and writing: “Creativity occupies the same place as the dream for Dickens as it sits beyond any conscious control” (130). Once again, the loss of control, of life, leads to fits of creative output and empathetic reading. 

Chapters Five and Six revolve around death and creativity in works by H. Rider Haggard, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and Arthur Machen at the fin de siècle. In this section, romantic love serves as means of comprehending the Other, where the Other is not simply from a different culture, but also dead. For Smith, at its best, love leads to resurrection, followed by a deeper understanding of the Other, which is illustrated in Haggard’s She (1886-1887). Smith ties concepts of unrequited love and narrating death to Britain’s relations with Egypt, principally in terms of tomb excavation at the end of the nineteenth century. Smith includes analysis of Haggard’s sequel, Ayesha: The Return of She (1905), in contrast with Stoker’s Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), where Tera, another foreign queen like Ayesha, is resurrected using Egyptian artefacts, with disastrous results. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) closes the fifth chapter with art mirroring death and immortality, and occasionally eliciting empathy; it is one of Smith’s few forays into other art forms besides writing (visual art and theater), although, of course, Dorian Gray is a literary text.

Chapter Six is mainly dedicated to reading death in scientific terms in Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan (1894) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Here, communing with the dead or decoding their symbolic messages becomes essential in both literary texts and spirit messages; it also coincides with ventures into mysticism and the founding of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. Likened to scientific discovery, death at the fin de siècle is not so much written as it is decoded and interpreted by readers. Smith’s Gothic Death appropriately concludes with an opening, just as death has been an opening or an inspiration for creation throughout the text. Smith queries how Modernists might work with a Gothic aesthetic, or how they might narrate death in the aftermath of the First World War.

Gothic Death is like a web; it is complex and striking, blending with the landscape so it is difficult to see without being caught; however, once caught in the threads, the complexity becomes clear enough, and one realizes how little it matters, in the end, if you are the spider or the fly as death is inevitable for both and possibly not an end for either. For those scholars studying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Smith’s text provides literary and historic context for her personal losses through death and the creative way she expressed those losses in her most celebrated text.

—Shannon Scott, University of St. Thomas

Willy Ley: Romantic Scientist or the Man Responsible for the Space Age.

Jared S. Buss. Willy Ley: Prophet of the Space Age. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2017. xiii + 321 pp. $34.95 hc, $13.59 ebook.

Any one interested in the culture and ambitions of the Space Age will have read Willy Ley or heard of him. He was a German pioneer of modern rocketry who immigrated to the United States in the mid-1930s, became an American citizen, and embarked on a career as a prolific popular science writer and impresario. Jared S. Buss’s Willy Ley: Prophet of the Space Age is the first full biography of the writer. The author’s goal is to recover the central role Ley played in the burgeoning outer-space culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Thus Buss makes a persuasive intervention in a scholarly literature that has habitually cast his subject as a secondary player supporting more celebrated figures such as Wernher von Braun and Arthur C. Clarke. He succeeds not only in establishing Ley’s contribution to the general public’s understanding of astronautics but also in describing Ley’s very particular vision for a liberal democratic and internationalist conquest of space.

To tell his story Buss brings to bear a truly impressive program of archival and secondary research. His bibliography delights this reader with its indefatigable detective work and interdisciplinary range. It is the record of Buss’s intent to track Ley’s work through every discipline in which he wrote and to recover the relationships the writer cultivated as an active participant in both the invention of liquid-fueled rocketry and its promotion on film and television and in print. This means that we become privy to the engineering and publicity circuits in which he operated in Germany and the United States. While this story is familiar through the work of historians such as Frederick Ordway, Eugene M. Emme, and Michael Neufeld, Buss’s focus on Ley clarifies how he was influenced and whom he influenced as he communicated with other rocketry and space advocates in engineering, popular science, and science fiction. This means we get a more complete understanding of relationships that lasted his lifetime and transcended the formal barriers between science and popular culture.

For example, sf scholars will be interested in Ley’s friendship with Robert A. Heinlein, how it evolved, and how it became strained when he found it necessary to cultivate Wernher von Braun. As a result Ley became an informal publicist for von Braun (and, therefore, NASA), but it cost him Heinlein’s support for his ambition as a research engineer. Students of 1950s popular culture should be fascinated by Ley’s career as a consultant and designer of pro-space television (Tom Corbett, Space Cadet [1950-1955] and Disney’s Man in Space series [1955]), public exhibitions, touring lectures, plastic models (for Monogram), and Disney’s Tomorrowland. Buss also covers Ley’s science fiction in German and English. We learn that Ley co-wrote a novel, Die Starfield Company (1929) and sold short stories to John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction. Buss’s reading of this work argues for a consistent political vision of international cooperation against totalitarianism whether in communist or fascist guise. In each venue Ley prioritizes peaceful scientific exploration as best guarantor for a human future.

Ley is, however, best known as a popular science writer. Buss provides a comprehensive survey of this aspect of Ley’s career. We are introduced to the central texts of what we might call the Ley canon: The Conquest of Space (1949), Engineer’s Dreams (1951), Watchers of the Skies (1963), and the several editions of Rockets and Space Travel (1947-1968). Buss reminds us that the canon must include Ley’s essays into zoology, The Lungfish, the Dodo, and the Unicorn (1948) and Salamanders and Other Wonders (1955). Buss places this work within the gospel of democratic science preached by a broad spectrum of scientists and engineers active during the Cold War. This generation thought it imperative that a large audience be developed for science and that this was a necessary part of the educational structure needed to maintain a tolerant, diverse democracy against the attractions of “dictatorial civilization” (156). Whatever we may think of the nationalist, capitalist, and Eurocentric limits of this project, it is hard not to be sympathetic to it.

Buss spends much of Willy Ley describing and evaluating his subject’s work. We are informed that Ley was very clear about what his science writing was for: both to deliver accurate information and to steer the reader’s imagination in the right direction. In his long tenure as science editor for Galaxy Science Fiction, a position he held from 1952 until his death, Ley was well placed as a teacher who could ground the imaginations of its readers and writers. In this role he would evaluate the science of popular productions such as George Pal’s When Worlds Collide (1951), offering correction when need be. Popular scientists such as Neil de Grasse Tyson continue this tradition through tweets and the traditional avenues of mainstream media that occupied Ley’s attention.

Buss openly positions himself as a champion of Ley’s work and its lasting influence. He regrets, however, that the latter’s reputation as a popular historian of science is not as secure as it might be. Buss argues that as a historian Ley brought the public into the grand project of scientific discovery, inspiring the kind of understanding and commitment sought by his generation. He notes that while some foundational academic historians of science, such as George Sarton and I. Bernard Cohen, praised Ley’s efforts, others found it too sloppy and facile. Buss does give us reasons for why the division between popular and academic histories of science arose. It is hard to imagine, however, that there are no grounds on which to defend the difference between popular and scholarly accounts.

Buss is forthright in his advocacy of Ley as an energetic, prolific, and groundbreaking pioneer who both increased the public understanding of astronautics and created the cultural conditions that allowed Space-Age culture to flourish. He brings to this task an impressive erudition that corrects the impression that Ley is a secondary figure. Buss therefore convinces us that while Ley was often quite literally behind the curtain he was a crucial architect of the spaceflight consensus and the narratives that supported it. Willy Ley will, no doubt, be a crucial launch pad for further investigations of space history and the science fiction that is a part of it.

As much as I admire Buss’s achievement, I am also aware of Willy Ley’s flaws. There are moments when the text’s prose had this English professor reaching for his pencil. I imagine that the book’s editor shares the blame for these oversights. This is unfortunate, because it distracts attention from the smooth unfolding of the author’s otherwise excellent research. There are also times when Buss’s interpretive gestures are more impressionistic than substantive. This may be one result of the broad net cast by the biographer. He had a lot of ground to cover, and not every idea is developed to a satisfactory conclusion. But it may also be a function of biography as a genre. Doing justice to the life and craft of an individual that you admire challenges the virtue of critical distance. I was particularly taken aback by a moment when Buss mentions the difficulty of knowing what Ley would have thought about contemporary scholarship that positions his work against the politics and cultural understandings of his time, but then goes on to tell us what he would have thought.

These caveats, however, should not dissuade either the beginning or advanced reader in the field. Willy Ley is not the last word on its subject but should begin any conversation or investigation about him and his field from this time forward.

—De Witt Douglas Kilgore, Indiana University

A Choice of Nightmares.

Gregory Claeys. Dystopia: A Natural History. A Study of Modern Despotism, Its Antecedents, and Its Literary Diffractions. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2017. xi + 556 pp. $130 hc, $26.95 pbk.

Gregory Claeys is a professional historian as well as a renowned utopian scholar. His new book is, we are told on the back cover, “the first monograph devoted to the concept of dystopia;” the accent here is on the word “concept.” The term dystopia can be traced back to the 1740s, but it was not widely used until the late twentieth century, when it took over most of the functions that had previously been fulfilled by anti-utopia. Claeys, however, calls his study a “natural,” not a political or literary, history, because he sees dystopia as a central aspect of human experience and imagining since the earliest times. While its dialogue with utopia and utopianism remains paramount, dystopia did not begin with responses to Plato or Thomas More. The result is a very different approach from, for example, that of Krishan Kumar in Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times (1987), the last major survey of the literary canon that Dystopia: A Natural History covers. Where anti-utopia for Kumar was a distorted mirror-image, Claeys describes dystopia as “humanity’s starting point” (9), an embodiment, as it were, of our species’ seemingly bottomless capacity for psychological and political self-torture.

Part I of this densely-packed study (which is printed in smaller type than is customary for Oxford and other university presses) is devoted to the “Theory and Pre-History of Dystopia.” Claeys begins by invoking visions of apocalypse, the earliest known being dated to 1000 BC. Apocalyptic accounts of complete social breakdown are, we are told, merely “prototypes” of dystopia, not the real thing, because they incorporate the theological promise of a finally hopeful outcome. Dystopia, “wedded to secular pessimism” (4), came into its own as a result of the rise of technological rationalism and the decline of religious belief in modern Europe. Prophetic revelations gave way to political sf and futuristic fiction, while the age-old curse of tyranny and misrule was overshadowed by twentieth-century totalitarianism, genocide, and mass murder. There is, perhaps, some awkwardness in Claeys’s determination to insist on the universality of dystopian experience and yet to pass over all but the last two centuries of world history at lightning speed. Thus, among the “prototypes” of the political dystopia he devotes no more than a paragraph each to “militarized societies” (e.g., Sparta), “slavery,” “despotism,” “prisons,” and “diseased spaces” (leper colonies). Surely slavery, in particular, deserves a much more extensive treatment? Claeys repeatedly invokes slave labor in his later chapters on totalitarianism, but American and Caribbean plantation slavery is mentioned only once, despite his recognition of the “quasi-utopian” character of the idea of the New World (11, 70).

In the second chapter of Part I, Claeys moves from the political origins of dystopia to what he sees as their psychological counterpart: the phenomenon of the crowd, the elements of fear and suggestibility in group psychology, and the role of religious belief (in effect, Christianity) in deepening and disseminating mass anxiety. The Christian Hell is the “key prototype for the later concept of dystopia” (79)—so many prototypes!—and a religious life “haunted by the fear of sin and dominated by terror” defines dystopian psychology (95). (Claeys will later discuss the classification of Soviet Communism and other totalitarian ideologies as displaced or secular religions.) The fear of Satan has, we are told, pointlessly blighted “the lives of millions” (93) since the Reformation, while the principal dystopian institution before the French Revolution was the Catholic Inquisition, which was dedicated to reinforcing that fear. The devil, for Claeys, is Christianity’s arch embodiment of the monsters and evil spirits that have “define[d] the original dystopian space in which fear predominates” throughout human history (58).

Is there, perhaps, some exaggeration here? For example, James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) suggests that the fear of Satan is mainly a clerical tool to discipline the young. That was not a twentieth-century discovery. There is evidence that, for adults at least, Satan and “devils” most often served as metaphors for despotic human agencies—as they do, for example, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. And while Shakespeare portrays human monstrosity throughout his work, he depicts a non-human (or allegedly non-human) monster only once, in The Tempest. The latter is the only Shakespearean text that comes within the scope of Claeys’s “natural history.”

In Part II, “Totalitarianism and Dystopia,” the broad historical and psychological generalizations of Part I give way to highly detailed and heavily documented accounts of the various stages in the modern infliction and institutionalization of terror: the French Revolution, Soviet Russia and the Gulag, Nazi Germany, Communist China, and the Khmer Rouge tyranny in Cambodia. Claeys is unsparing in his account of the utopian pretensions of these regimes and of their rapid degeneration, in the face of internal and external pressures, into conspiracies for administering mass murder. Thus under Stalin, as he reminds us, every human being became “an enemy in a revolution made only for angels” (149). Although Auschwitz remains the “one true Hell that has ever been created on earth” (192), Nazi Germany was internally a less totalitarian state than the USSR since, according to the recent scholarship that Claeys cites, “[m]ost Germans did not live in fear” (183). Worst of all is Pol Pot’s Cambodia, “the first modern state to enslave virtually its entire population” (224). This 150-page section of Claeys’s book cannot have been easy to write, and it makes for very grim reading. It is, however, a necessary prelude to Part III, “The Literary Revolt against Collectivism,” in which, at long last, we reach the textual analyses that may be of primary interest to the readers of SFS.

Claeys emphasizes that he approaches dystopian literature as a historian, concentrating on themes and ideas rather than literary form. What soon becomes apparent is that his broadening of the concept of dystopia has not fundamentally changed his sense of the canon of dystopian literature. He does take into account a wider range of texts than literary critics usually acknowledge, but they are texts of much the same kind. The expected classics are prominently laid out—Brave New World (1932) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) get a chapter each—and the closing survey of the “Post-Totalitarian Dystopia” begins with B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two (1948) and ends (apart from a brief section on film) with Dave Eggers’s The Circle (2013). In his introduction to Part III, Claeys defines dystopian novels as “imaginary futures” (269). His aim, he says, is to investigate how the insights of dystopian literature “vary from, supplement, or fall short of the story we have examined so far” (268)—the story, that is, of twentieth-century totalitarianism. It comes as no surprise then that Claeys’s ideal dystopian novel was written by George Orwell. What is rather startling is that he overlooks several works that, while not “imaginary futures,” have been hugely influential in helping us to understand both the modern human experience of fear and anxiety and the conditions that have led to mass murder. I am referring, for example, to Kafka’s The Trial (1925; mentioned glancingly in a single sentence) and “In the Penal Settlement” (1919), and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). The latter uses the traditional utopian and dystopian framework of a journey into the “unknown” to portray what its narrator famously calls a choice of nightmares. Conrad’s presentation of power and corruption rivals Orwell’s, while his portrayal of the European colonists gives extraordinary insight into the perversions of group psychology. Claeys, in his opening survey of world history, briefly touched on the mass murder in King Leopold’s “private rubber-plantation slave fiefdom” in the Congo (11); but in his account of the “literary diffractions” of modern despotism, Joseph Conrad has evidently been forgotten.

Part III begins with a history of the criticism and theory of dystopian literature since 1950—a surprisingly academic discussion coming, as we have seen, immediately after Claeys’s inquiry into the nature and causes of totalitarian genocide. His observation that previous attempts to define the literary dystopia “contain little assessment of ideological trends or real despotisms” (284) was perhaps to be expected. He also convincingly argues (as against Darko Suvin and others) that dystopian fiction’s relationship to sf is one of overlap rather than generic subordination. The degree of overlap is now inescapable, since the literary dystopia has come ever closer to sf as society has grown more mechanized. Its origins, very briefly sketched, lie in satire from Aristophanes to Swift; but Claeys’s main literary-historical narrative begins with British and American writings from 1870 onwards, stressing such themes as Social Darwinism, eugenics, revolution and counter-revolution, empire, and feminism. His discussion of individual texts frequently offers little more than plot summary, which is valuable where, as is quite often the case, the texts themselves are little-known. But on the major writers before Huxley and Orwell, Claeys offers little that is new. H.G. Wells, judging by the size of his index entry in Dystopia: A Natural History, is by far the most significant of these writers, but the discussion of Wells is not merely cursory but marred by one extraordinary error. Claeys describes the Eloi in The Time Machine (1895)as the “master race” and the Morlocks as a “slave race” (300), which sounds like the impression of a reader who never reached the end of Wells’s masterpiece.

The treatment of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four is vastly more detailed. Aldous Huxley presents the “conundrum” of a hedonistic dystopia run by a benevolent dictatorship—a tyranny of infantilization rather than fear (357). Orwell’s masterpiece, by contrast, “entice[s] the reader into a world defined by paranoia, oppression, fear, and pain” (391), and thus serves, in some ways, as this book’s culmination. Orwell, for Claeys, is the first writer whose insights truly matched the dystopian times in which he lived. Claeys’s account of Nineteen Eighty-Four is distinguished, firstly, by his repeated citation of deleted passages from Orwell’s manuscript as evidence for his interpretation and, secondly, by a strong defence of Orwell against his various detractors from the 1940s to the present. The English novelist remained both a utopian and a socialist, Claeys stresses—here he is endorsing the views of Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick—and even those aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four which some readers found exaggerated and unconvincing have been borne out by subsequent history, in Cambodia and elsewhere. The ultimate validation of Orwell’s masterpiece is that most of what he describes with such “breathtaking clarity” (437) has actually happened. When we turn to Claeys’s final chapter on the post-totalitarian dystopia, we may wonder what more is possible.

The answer is that, if dystopian literature has largely moved on from Orwellian concerns, it remains faithful to his spirit. Nuclear warfare, overpopulation, environmental degradation and climate change may now be the overriding issues—and totalitarian despotism has been displaced by corporate dictatorship—but Claeys says of Margaret Atwood, for example, that she has “consistently produced gripping, relevant, alarming visions of the future for thirty years” (475). As for The Circle, “George Orwell would immediately recognize, and loathe, the world described by Dave Eggers” (495). These writers and their contemporaries signal that the natural history of dystopia is all too likely to end both with the death of “nature” and the rise (and subsequent fall) of artificial humankind.
                No reader of this book can be left in doubt of the prominence of dystopia in the modern imagination and the urgency of trying to understand that discipline fully. Claeys’s “natural history” is a major contribution to the discipline of utopian studies, and one that helps to move it toward the mainstream. At the same time, I find it disappointing that the reformulation of the concept of dystopia has not produced what may be a necessary recasting of the dystopian literary canon. Is this, at least to some extent, a result of Claeys’s avowed lack of interest in the analysis of literary form? Restricting dystopian fiction to “imaginary futures” and tracing its origins in literary satire might seem uncontroversial, since Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four are both future visions and heavily satirical works. But each novel ends with the death (in Orwell, the spiritual death) of a protagonist, which is the formal signature of tragedy, not satire. To bring the literary tradition of tragedy in relation to Claeys’s account of humanity’s long history of enslavement and despotism would lead to a very different kind of book—if, necessarily, one in which sf would feature rather less prominently.

—Patrick Parrinder, University of Reading

“‘I’ Comes After”: Critical Posthumanism and the Literary Imagination.

Bruce Clarke and Manuela Rossini, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman. New York: Cambridge UP, 2017. xxxiv + 231 pp. $89.99 hc, $27.99 pbk, $22.00 ebook.

The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman offers a timely and refreshingly non-redundant return to wide-ranging anticipations of the “posthuman” in literary culture. It is predicated on the resonances between literary configurations of the “posthuman” ranging from the twelfth to the twenty-first centuries and the re-evaluation of the ideological infrastructure of liberal humanism that continues to unfold under the “posthumanist” umbrella. Programmatic for this methodological approach is the paratextual inclusion of two chronologies—the first tracing literary representations of the figure of the posthuman, the second comprising key texts in philosophy and cultural theory that serve as nodal points for the discursive spine of posthumanism. With exceptional thematic and methodological breadth, this volume offers fifteen original discussions that perform a balancing act between insightful close readings of literary works outside of the usual repertoire of posthumanist analyses and explications of some of the prevalent tropes in contemporary posthumanist theory. All contributions approach posthumanism and the posthuman in the light of a “pervasive preoccupation with hybridity” (xiii) and, in the words of the editors, “question … how relations between humans and nonhumans operate within the environments where they are assembled. What forms of political agency, what codes of ethics, but also what aesthetic principles would be needed to arrive at a posthumanist world?” (xiv).

A key asset of The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman is its well-wrought and productive subdivision into “Literary Periods,” “Posthuman Literary Modes,” and “Posthuman Themes.” What emerges as a distinguishing feature that binds the forays into literary history, genres, and theory is an equal attention to content and form. The critical interrogation of the primacy, and ultimately the decentering, of the “human” is performed with attention to narrative techniques, poetic form, camera techniques (this volume subscribes to an understanding of literature that includes film), and image-text assemblages in hypertext fiction and electronic media. Articulations of the posthuman are found in Romantic poetry’s “nonhuman phenomenology of wonder beyond fact, reason, and mimetic description” (36) and revealed in the “intelligent-servant networks” of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (16). The posthuman is reflected in graphic narratives’ “assemblage as method” (96), and aligned with the Foucauldian reminder that “the body has a history and comes in diverse shapes and colors” (154); it heralds a new aesthetic that mirrors the “interactive friction” of e-literature (129) and intimates what it might imply to conceptualize “multiple worlds, multiple futures, and multiple lines of time” (205).

Despite their minimalist, almost generic titles (“Modern,” “Film,” “Bodies,” “Objects,” “Futures”), none of the chapters lingers on canonical literature. This book is less a compendium than it is a collection of insightful and original research snapshots of the literary posthuman that will undoubtedly leave its readers with a strong sense of thematic coherence and scholarly authority. I am inclined to read The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman as unfolding along the lines of an Aristotelian drama. The chapters “Medieval,” “Romantic,” “Modern,” and “Postmodern” set the scene for a rising tension that culminates in the triplet “Science Fiction,” “Autobiography,” and “Comics and Graphic Narratives,” and finds resolution in “The Nonhuman,” “Bodies,” “Technologies,” and Claire Colebrook’s evocative finale “Futures.” In Kari Weil’s “Autobiography,” all these threads seem to converge. Autobiographical writing problematizes precisely the predicament at the heart of posthumanism: “Who/what writes?” (84). It draws attention to the contingent construction of an “I,” the seat of a performative agency that, if recognized as posthuman, is always “in process” and “attempts to know or at least account for that in- or nonhuman out of and through which one comes to recognize and be recognized as a ‘human’ self” (86). It is precisely this “welcoming … of a necessary ‘hetero-affection’—the fact that I am moved to write by an other within me, an other whom I cannot fully know” (85)—that is enacted by this volume’s quest to bring to the fore the ontological and epistemological complications that lie at the heart of the liberal-humanist literary project. In many ways, Weil’s outstanding chapter is exemplary for what this collection achieves as a whole. She mines science fiction, the modern feminist novel, the disability memoir, and experimental video art for a critique of the monolithic self-referential human “I,” mobilizing a conceptual arsenal that includes Karen Barad’s “onto-epistemology,” Stacy Alaimo’s “trans-corporeality,” and Hélène Cixous’s “animots.” Postulating a self that is neither autonomous nor contained, but “hospitable” (89) and “of the world” (88), Weil excavates from Virginia Woolf a line that mirrors this volume’s deconstructive impetus and self-reflexive baseline: “‘I’ comes after” (92).

In its most convincing passages, this collection anchors its critique of humanism in representations of selves that feel vulnerable, fragmented, relational, and distributed. In doing so, it exposes canonical definitions of the “human” as not only ideologically biased but, more importantly, discriminatory against a multiplicity of non-normative forms of embodiment and identity. As Manuela Rossini reminds her readers in her chapter “Bodies,” “the discourse of humanism is supported by a speciesist logic of domination that allows for the treatment of gendered or racialized [or differently abled] others as ‘animals’ who are then, ultimately exploitable or killable” (155). Posthumanism, as understood in this volume, stands in stark contrast to a trans-, super-, or retro-humanism that celebrates the prosthetic transcendence, enhancement, or restoration of the human body: “Transhumanist prostheses are skeuomorphs of humanism” (xiv). For science-fiction scholars, this differentiation will be useful for mapping the ethical coordinates of established tropes such as the cyborg, the singularity, futurist utopias, and alternative life-forms.

I highly recommend this volume to a critical sf readership not primarily because of its numerous and wide-ranging references to sf literature and film, but because it identifies the posthuman as a genuinely science-fictional mode that anticipates and reflects some of the genre’s most pressing tropes in a multiplicity of works outside of its traditional historical, thematic, and formal boundaries. What distinguishes this volume from many other recent anthologies and monographs on the posthuman that have been well received in sf circles is its advancement of a critical posthumanism less invested in a phenomenology of the technological extension of the human than in a valorization of epistemo-logical and ontological hybridity in light of ecological and ethical concerns. Following this route, readers will encounter a consistent engagement with new-materialist considerations of felicitous complicities and entanglements between the human and the nonhuman that elicit strong resonances, especially with disability studies and discussions of the anthropocene that have already developed into vibrant companion fields of sf studies. Without doubt, The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman will become a lasting resource not only for advanced scholars familiar with the field and its convergences with literary and cultural theory but also for novices and undergraduate students looking for a well-structured and reliable introduction.

—Moritz Ingwersen, Trent University/University of Cologne

Eastern European Negotiations of Utopia.

Zsolt Czigányik, ed. Utopian Horizons: Ideology, Politics, Literature. New York: Central European UP, 2017. vii + 256 pp. $60, €57, £48 hc.

Utopian Horizons is a recent contribution to the ever-expanding field of utopian studies. It seeks to engage with utopianism specifically from a Central European perspective, rupturing the sometimes hegemonic view of utopian studies as a discipline dominated by the Anglo-American/Western European traditions. I am pleased that work such as this is being produced and I hope that there is more to come, because it is all too easy to fall victim to tunnel vision even as one is acutely aware that there is a world beyond one’s own.

The book itself is admirably ambitious, as editor Zsolt Czigányik’s introduction demonstrates. The project he has in mind is essentially three-fold. First, as he writes, utopia “has always been in the no man’s land between literature and the social sciences: literary works, including utopias, are often ignored by the social sciences, while works of imaginary literature are sometimes used as illustrations. This volume tries to look at utopian literature as a source of genuine political understanding” (1). Second, he argues that utopianism “involve[s] a number of disciplines.... The endeavor of this volume is precisely to bring together scholars of different fields who attempt to understand the literary, social, and political aspects of utopianism, forming (or rather revealing) links among each other’s disciplines and methods” (2). Third, insofar as utopia and dystopia represent the positive and negative manifestations of utopianism respectively, “this volume opts for emphasizing their common elements” (7), framed, as noted above, in a Central European context. Accordingly, I will structure my reading of Utopian Horizons around these three criteria.

To begin, this work delivers on its promise to bring together literary utopian studies and contributions from the social sciences. The social sciences, however, are kept pretty much within a historical-political and science-cultural studies frame; do not expect any qualitative/quantitative statistics or ethnographic studies. In this regard, the collection is not particularly novel. There seems to be an impasse among those in many so-called interdisciplinary fields when it comes to reaching over the chasm that separates those with a right-brain (pardon the outdated metaphor) and those with a left-brain orientation. To follow up on that note, I think that Czigányik overplays his hand regarding the volume’s interdisciplinary nature. While there is indeed an interdisciplinary mingling of specialists, this is shadowed by what I cannot help but perceive as institution building. For example, not counting the Introduction and Afterward (both written by Czigányik, and wonderfully, I might add), there are eleven essays in the volume. Three of these are from contributors so well received within the international field (Lyman Tower Sargent, Gregory Claeys, and Fátima Vieira) that I cannot say enough in praise of their inclusion in this work. Of the remaining eight essays, however, four are by faculty members from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where Czigányik is also based, making me wonder how diverse this interdisciplinary work really is. One may argue that the editor reserves the privilege to include the work of his colleagues, but for me the optics are rather problematic.

Elaborating upon the interdisciplinary or dialogic nature of the collection, I was also caught off guard by the fact that although the subtitle of the collection is Ideology, Politics, Literature, three of the eleven essays explicitly take up the topic of religion. These include Claeys’s “When Does Utopianism Produce Dystopia?,” Károly Pintér’s “Civil Religion as Utopian Ideology,” and Vera Benczik’s “The City in Ruins” (whose analysis of cinematic representations of post-9/11 New York relies heavily on an understanding of the Christian idea of apocalypse/post-apocalypse). This does not pose a problem if the intention is to discuss religion as an ideology, but I would argue that the topic of religion merits an address of its own here. The collection’s engagement with religion might be further expanded if one recognizes how András Bozóki and Miklós Sükösd’s essay, “Third-Way Utopianism,” considers the religious influences (including Tolstoy, Gnostic Christianity, and Buddhism) on certain nineteenth- and twentieth-century Central European political organizers; or the way that Eglantina Remport’s essay unpacks the “art, spiritualism, and theosophy” (134) that were such influences on the work of William Butler Yeats and the borderline chiliastic fervor that ignited the spirit of William Morris’s response to the Bloody Sunday massacre. All of which is to say that this collection should also be of interest to those who study the intersections of utopia and religious studies, especially insofar as those fields permeate the literary and social studies realms.

The collection’s attention to religion is emphasized by the thunderous authority of Claeys’s article that so decisively and surgically focuses on the religious structures that prop up utopian sentiments and that can end up hijacking utopianism. I found that I was, in a way, reading most of the other essays through the lens provided by Claeys, as well as by Sargent and Vieira. In fact, the strategic arrangement of the essays in this collection invites another criticism. It is divided conventionally enough into two sections, with the first covering key theoretical issues. The second section, however, while maintaining a literary focus, seems to lose track of the collection’s commitment to non-Anglo-American coverage. Case in point: almost all of the authors examined in this section—except Czigányik’s “Negative Utopia in Central Europe,” which provides a critical exegesis of Kazohinia by Sándor Szathmári, a Hungarian writer and mechanical engineer—are from the UK, including Morris, Yeats, Shaw, Wells, and Huxley. And while I concede that the significance of these authors justifies reading them in the context of another geopolitical situation, I would have appreciated the inclusion of more Central European authors (viz. Czigányik’s essay), and more elaboration on their contributions to the development of utopian studies in general.

The final essay of the collection, Zoltán Gábor Szücs’s “Realism and Utopianism Reconsidered,” offers a political-realist reading of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and will perhaps be of most interest to SFS readers. It is written with clarity and precision, offering an intervention into the discourse of the fantastic that approximates China Miéville’s contribution in his Epilogue to Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction (2009). Echoing Miéville’s Marxist-inspired claim that the best way to counteract the fantasy world precipitated by the society of the spectacle is to treat the fantastic as real, Gabor Szuücs argues that “[s]elf-contradictory as it may seem, a story of imagined lands, decade-long winters, zombies, magic, and dragons proves to be markedly realistic” (219). He goes on to argue that “in reality  there is much less distance between a fictional depiction of a world of political instability and a realist science of politics than is suggested by the political realists themselves. Thus, it would be unfair to exclude even a fantasy novel from the legitimate subjects of a theoretical discussion of political realism” (221). This chapter, I think, does the greatest justice to the collection’s mission to treat literature as a genuinely political object in the context of utopian discourse.

Gabor Szuücs’s chapter synthesizes the essays that make up the collection, bringing them together as a whole and negotiating the messy continuum between the dialogic opposites of utopia and dystopia or, in Gabor Szücs’s terms, the real and the fantastic. In his Afterword Czigányik writes “[t]hat the endeavor of this volume subscribes to the organic view of knowledge,” including “the cooperation of the various disciplines” (240; emphasis added). And indeed, it is this organic view that is most valuable. Although I was at times rather bored, occasionally frustrated, and sometimes estranged from some of the content, I was nonetheless energized, intrigued, and productively perplexed by many of these chapters. They are extremely well researched and many are eloquently written, which is not always the case with academic writing. That being said, some of the essays in the second section read as if they were in need of expansion, while some read more like encyclopedia or literary review articles. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful collection and will appeal not only to specialists, but also to readers interested in how to make the world a better place without letting it go to hell.

—Cameron Ellis, University of Toronto

Media Scholarship in the Age of Franchise.

Sean Guynes and Dan Hassler-Forest, eds. Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling. Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2017. 328pp. €39,95, $49.95, pbk.

Many of the essays and interviews included in Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling explicitly concern themselves with how and why the Star Wars franchise has changed over its forty-year history, and how such change has affected the various and varied groups of fans who continue to immerse themselves in a galaxy far, far away. The volume’s introduction tells us that Star Wars’s “multiple transformations make it not only a vivid case study of media-industrial history, but also constitute a unique, widely shared, and constantly evolving storyworld that has developed across every available media platform” (11). Indeed, these transformations serve both to maintain fan interest in the franchise and to divide fan loyalties with regard to this vast and heterogeneous storyworld and its mediated expressions in film, television, video games, novels, comics, toys, and live experiences. In the afterword to the volume, editor Dan Hassler-Forest asks Will Brooker, author of the BFI Film Classics volume on Star Wars (2009), about how Lucasfilm’s 2012 acquisition by Disney has affected his fandom, and whether it has increased or decreased his love for and engagement with the franchise. Hassler-Forest thus elicits a succinct statement of one of the problems this volume elucidates: “The meanings of ‘being a fan’ and of ‘Star Wars’ (and therefore of ‘being a Star Wars fan’) have changed so much during my lifetime that it’s hard to answer in terms of more or less” (289). In short, “Star Wars” is an endlessly shifting signifier, pointing simultaneously to innumerable individual narratives and objects, not to mention that vast storyworld in toto. Likewise, fandom apart from Star Wars (and very much because of Star Wars) can no longer be simply defined.

In his contribution to the volume, Gerry Canavan offers a Foucauldian reading of the ruptures and discontinuities within Star Wars and suggests how we, as consumers of this franchise, are transformed in their wake. In his consideration of Star Wars post-Disney and, especially, post-Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), Canavan writes that “[w]hile Star Wars remains Star Wars both before and after this moment, our relationship to it as a system of knowledge is entirely different; indeed, in this strange early moment of transition between one episteme and the next, we might even say the current Star Wars episteme finds itself in a period of civil war” (277). It is this civil war—whose conflicts manifest amongst fans of different generations, amongst fans loyal to one understanding of the larger storyworld or another, between creators within a single medium, between creators across media, amongst stakeholders in the cultural and economic capital that the franchise represents, and more—that this volume captures so well. As its title implies, Star Wars occupies a privileged space within the development of the franchise model of media production, serving both as a case study of a larger phenomenon and as one of the most significant points of origin for that larger phenomenon.

As such, perhaps it is not surprising that one of the most interesting aspects of the volume is its dramatization of the very complex history it seeks to examine and clarify. Although the volume will be officially released in North America in mid-2018 and although it carries a 2018 publication date, a PDF of the volume was made available in late 2017 (available for free via a Creative Commons license at the Amsterdam University Press website). Given the mechanics of academic publishing and the content of the essays included in this volume, one can easily see how the very object in question here shifted beneath the feet of the writers and editors even as they researched, wrote, and edited their individual contributions—as if they had landed in what appeared to be a stable cave within a normal asteroid and only then discovered the true nature of their environment. Few of the essays mention Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, USA 2017) and those that do mention it in the future tense. In his interview with Hassler-Forest, Brooker mentions the latest installment of the ongoing Star Wars saga, but winds up wrong about all of his speculations (Leia [Carrie Fisher] does not die, but Luke [Mark Hamill] does, for example). For some writers, Rogue One appears just over the horizon, while for others it is an established, if problematic, part of the storyworld—already seen and processed. One essay mentions Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in a way that understands their relationship to the forthcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story (Ron Howard, USA 2018) as ongoing, when in fact they were fired from the production in mid-2017. (Canavan, by contrast, knew of this development at the moment he wrote his essay.) More generally, some essays mention the seven extant Star Wars films, while others mention eight. Here is a simple difference between writing an essay before Rogue One and after Rogue One. The first Star Wars story may change our understanding of the franchise and how it works on a fundamental level, but it also challenges our abilities to count the films. Do we categorize them when we count? Do they all count the same? In any case, all of the counts in this book are wrong, of course, as there have been nine Star Wars films for more than three months. I am writing this review in March 2018 and The Last Jedi was released this past December. And this review will likewise be wrong by the time you read it. By that time, Solo will have become the tenth film in the franchise. None of this is to suggest any lack or mistake on the part of the writers or the editors. Rather, I wish to make clear, as this volume does explicitly and implicitly, that Star Wars remains an object in flux made up of smaller objects that are also in flux. Moreover, the changes this flux involves and implies are happening more quickly than ever before.

In this context, I am not surprised that the volume largely steers clear of the most caustic “debates” within Star Wars fandom, namely those over the franchise’s alleged turn toward issues of social justice as represented, for example, by the diversity of the casts in the Disney-era films. Keeping up with these arguments would surely be difficult, if not impossible, for the writers or the editors insofar as they largely take place in dark corners of the internet that most of us refrain from visiting. Only occasionally do they manifest on Twitter or Facebook in front of mainstream audiences (as when the reboot of Ghostbusters [Paul Feig, USA 2016] was criticized for its female cast or when The Force Awakens was similarly criticized for putting Rey [Daisy Ridley] front and center). Nonetheless, I am disappointed that this issue was not more fully addressed here. Such debates, in the near and long term, will certainly continue to shape cultural production and reception in the United States and Europe, at the very least. (Will Brooker references toxic fandom in his interview, but largely dismisses it as something particularly related to Star Wars, because it does not represent to him the attitudes of true Star Wars fans.) Moreover, by addressing this issue the volume would be in a better position to tie its consideration of the franchise and its fans more clearly to a socio-political history largely absent from the essays here. Megen de Bruin-Molé relates the franchise to shifting notions of popular feminism and Derek R. Sweet thinks through its relationship to the foreign policies of the American presidential administrations under which they were released. Their respective essays represent real engagements with Star Wars in the context of political and social history. Nonetheless, this sort of work does not take place in most of the essays included here. Given the established relationship between Gamergate activists and the rise of nationalism and populism in the US and Europe since 2015, and given the subsequent relationship between a more generalized toxic fandom and the Trump administration since its start, a sustained engagement with the contemporary political scene, and how it might affect Star Wars or be affected by it, would be a welcome addition to this volume. 

That said, the essays included here are thought-provoking and crucial. They cover a great deal of the Star Wars media universe, from its video games to its toys, from its fan experiences to its novelistic adaptations. Beyond the inherent interest these topics should have for fans and scholars, the overall volume does a very nice job of shifting the discussion of the Star Wars franchise away from an engagement with the films—one that tends to ignore how the vast bulk of Star Wars-related texts do not come from the big screen—to an engagement with the multiple media platforms that Lucasfilm and Disney use in constructing the storyworld and a deployment of diverse methodologies required of such a shift in object. As the media objects that make up this universe continue to proliferate, and scholarship on Star Wars struggles to keep up, this volume will surely represent an origin of sorts: a text that consciously inaugurated a new knowledge regime of the Star Wars universe and unconsciously signaled that this regime would be characterized by the impossibility of holding that universe together and addressing it all in one place.

Benjamin J. Robertson, University of Colorado, Boulder

Modestly Witnessing the Genome Age.

Everett Hamner. Editing the Soul: Science and Fiction in the Genome Age. University Park, PA: U of Pennsylvania P, AnthropoScene: The SLSA Book Series, 2017. xii + 264 pp. $94.95 hc, $27.95 pbk.

In his introduction to Editing the Soul: Science and Fiction in the Genome Age, Everett Hamner approvingly cites Susan Merrill Squire’s method of reading contemporary fictions about genetics as “crucial site(s) of permitted articulation for the desires driving these new biotechnologies” (Liminal Lives: Imagining the Human at the Frontier of Biomedicine [2004] 4). In his encounters with contemporary genetic fictions, however, Hamner is far less an intrepid decipherer of our collective anxieties and desires about the new life sciences and far more a modest witness to the visions of genetic futures gifted to us by acclaimed authors—their warnings, but also the beauty they perceive in and make out of even the grimmest of prospects. Picking up on Donna Haraway’s long practice of writing as witnessing and intimately tied to feminist science studies’ critique of universalism, Hamner’s critical modesty gives us a humble account that knows how to stay local, respect differences, and honor the acuity of its subjects of study, be they nucleotides or novelists.

Hamner’s critical modesty results in a book of surpassing subtlety and nuance. At base a genre study, Hamner’s book shies away from genealogical claims, posing questions such as “[h]ow did the gene become a synecdoche for the soul?” less to produce a single answer than to assay the variety of ways that acclaimed authors (including Kazou Ishiguro, Jeffrey Eugenides, Zadie Smith, Richard Powers, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Pamela Sargent, and Ursula Le Guin among others) have narrated the divergent but overlapping origin stories produced by these two different accounts of the self. Hamner’s purpose is not to prioritize one over the other, just as it is not to disparage or laud the gene as a new version of the soul. By holding them both in bifocal view, Hamner witnesses their complex interchanges and mutual inflections in contemporary genomic fictions.

His practice of seeing it both ways is not only characteristic of the method he employs; his refusal to accept binary oppositions also engenders one of his central insights about genome fictions from the 1960s to the present: that their ostensibly scientific subjects are in fact deeply infused with religious allusion and ethical inquiry. Science and religion together produce the three major modes of genetic fictions that Hamner maps: genetic fantasy, genetic realism, and genetic metafiction. He begins with what he terms genetic fantasies, though he is not creating a formal or historical hierarchy. Compared to the other modes he examines, the genetic fantasy is the least responsible in its scientific representations, engaging in unabashed allegories of genes and their effects. Yet for that reason, these fictions are also uniquely poised to capture human uniqueness behind fearful constructions such as the “carbon copy clone catastrophe” (61). As he will do at every moment in the book, Hamner turns away from reductive works of popular culture (such as the film Gattaca) and the paranoid readings that another critic might have found most telling. He chooses instead to see how writers use these popular forms toward intellectually, emotionally, and ethically rigorous ends. Rather than detailing the psychological horror of the genetically or biologically different, such genetic fantasies such as the comic series X-Men and Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy teach their readers the important role that difference plays in the capacity to experience wonder and to give and receive love.

Where genetic fantasies present as allegories, genetic realism wrestles with the very real ascendance of the power of biotechnology to determine the self, especially in the post-Human Genome Project moment. Against this historical background, the detective serials, sf thrillers, and immigration novels that Hamner details refuse to accede to either side of the nature/nurture binary. In “The Cultural Determinism of Genetic Realism,” for example, Hamner looks to the Canadian sf series Orphan Black (2013-2017) for its rebuttal of Gattaca-style genetic determinism, in which all life potential is already encoded in and readable from the genes. The conceit of Orphan Black is that a corporate biotechnology company called DYAD has secretly used a fertility clinic to implant unsuspecting women with human clone embryos. In tracking these clones (all played by Tatiana Maslany), the series deftly instructs its viewers in the important role of environmental and cultural influences on genome expression. At the same time, the clones’ illness dramatically illustrates the very real effects of genetic inheritance. Genes are real, the series teaches, but so are any number of other things, and their combination cannot be predicted from the outset.

The final category, genetic metafiction, tips the opposition on its side and transforms it into a spiral, witnessing as nature and nurture turn into each other while yet retaining something of their own domains. As in his chapter-long explanation of genetics and epigenetics, Hamner’s bifocal view demonstrates how thoroughly interwoven are nature and nurture, science and religion, data and story. Particularly in the novels of Richard Powers, genetic metafictions dramatize how broadly the work of narrative interpretation applies to science as well as storytelling. From fractals and Fibonacci sequences to musical compositions and the structure of novels, apparent chaos properly examined instead reveals the beauty of organization. Hamner calls this “a unified theory of making art and doing science” (195), as good a slogan for the book as any I could create.

Like the novels whose virtues he extols, Hamner is always aware that the difference between science and religion is far less relevant than that between conceit and humility and between virtue and vice, which do not map easily onto religion or science in general. Across his three categories, scientists turn into false messiahs and science’s ostensible monsters remind us of nature’s unanticipated beauty. Scientific objectivity produces great beauty and also acts as a blind for self-aggrandizement. Scientific method requires rigorous empiri-cism but is inseparable from intuition. Nature is no mute matter but a willful participant in experiments with living beings, and nothing is ever fully knowable from the outset.

It is in the excess of the unknowable that Hamner finds genetic fiction’s most urgent ethical appeal. To return to Orphan Black: the series proliferates scientific messiahs, all of whom wish to use the clones for their own ends. From the techno-transcendentalism of DYAD’s Dr. Leekie to the Proletheans, a religious sect dedicated to human perfectibility through assisted reproduction, the series’ several antagonists collapse scientific and divine modes of creation. As in the example of H.G. Wells’s Dr. Moreau, “scientists twisting the scientific method into an all-sufficient ideology” (45) have the effect of turning people into raw material and knowledge into mechanisms of control. One of “genetic fiction’s foundational lessons,” Hamner explains, is that “love is antithetical to use” (97). Leekie and his ilk “who use knowledge to enslave” (107) fail in their efforts at control because they do not fully anticipate the power of choice, especially the choice to love. As Hamner concludes, “[t]he show demonstrates a sober optimism about individual agency” (100). The clones may be the show’s example of controlled nature, but it is their wonderful and excessive individuality that allows them to find common ground. The clones themselves never appear as monsters; the monstrosity is all on the side of techno-capitalism.

A similar ethical vision informs Hamner’s reading of Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic MaddAddam trilogy (2003-2013). In one of the most powerful readings in Editing the Soul, Hamner carefully reconstructs the web of relations between apparently opposed groups in order to reveal the books’ “secret” (157). He describes Atwood’s purpose in the novels as conveying “a form of spirituality concentrated on action rather than doctrine, a love that offers mercy where it is underserved but refuses sentimentality or self-righteousness” (158). This comment best describes the God’s Gardeners, a pre-apocalyptic group dedicated to preparing for an imminent disaster they call the Waterless Flood. Many of their group survive the disaster and it is their efforts at rebuilding that enable the trilogy’s utopian ending. Yet their concentration on action takes a different coloration when considered in light of the novel’s secret: the disaster is not engineered by the scientist Crake after all and so cannot be laid at the feet of corporate techno-transcendentalism, even of a rebellious version. The actual mastermind behind the events of the novels is Adam One, pastoral father of the God’s Gardeners. Horror and joy, violence and vulnerability: the point for Hamner is not to attribute one to religion and one to science, one to control and the other to emergence, but rather to witness the places where they overlap and unexpectedly produce each other. As he writes of Adam One, his “fall … is ultimately very fortunate” (159). While we as readers might struggle with the implications of Adam One’s actions, Hamner reminds us that the actions and their consequences are two different things. We can love the effect while repudiating its cause.

For this reader, the greatest virtue of Editing the Soul has little to do with the science of genomics as such, but instead with Hamner’s calm certitude that knowing and feeling are coequal participants in the process of meaning-creation. His advocacy for “cultivat[ing] a perpetual state of wonder” (179) as a means toward epiphany applies broadly, beyond the scientific laboratories and theologians’ offices that concern him here—giving fresh vigor and new insights to the work of affect in, for example, the genre specifications of science fiction. As Hamner writes, “[a]t its best, science fiction (SF) fuses logical appeals to demonstrable, repeatable evidence and imaginative yearning for the unknown, even the unknowable” (7). I might quibble that Hamner errs on the side of too much modesty, giving insights like this one only the lightest of touches. Yet the achievement of this work is not in grandiloquence but in the warp and weft of his attention and delight, sustained over the course of many chapters, to what he calls (with reference to Richard Powers) “the imbrication of sequence and simultaneity” (195), of the remarkably new forms of life imaginable because of genetic technologies spiraling together with ancient cosmological awe.

—Rebekah Sheldon, Indiana University

Reshaping SF Film History.

Matthew Jones. Science Fiction Cinema and 1950s Britain: Recontextualizing Cultural Anxiety. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017. 240 pp. $120 hc.

Matthew Jones’s Science Fiction Cinema and 1950s Britain pursues a fairly commonplace notion, although in a very profitable way. Certainly, his book’s main premise, that different cultures read texts differently, is no surprise. This point is repeatedly borne out by the box office, as films that do well in their countries of origin fail to capture an appreciable audience elsewhere—and as films that flop at home almost inexplicably salvage their production costs and even turn a profit abroad. Globally, film studios have often tried to address such differences in cultural perception and response by careful dubbing and by editing for foreign release, at times eliminating characters and plot lines in the process. A less common but equally revealing approach, used especially during the transition to sound in the late 1920s and early 1930s, was the creation of multiple versions of films, using different casts, speaking in different languages, but employing the same sets and much of the same background footage. The German sf film F.P.1 Antwortet Nicht [F.P.1 Doesn’t Answer, 1932] is a case in point: the English-language-cast version omits most footage of the latest German aircraft, lest those images of a revived and advanced German aircraft industry disturb British viewers during the pre-war era. As we increasingly focus our attention on a global sf cinema, though, such practices should remind us that both audience responses to and critical readings of the same films differ depending on cultural circumstance, and they should challenge how we formulate our histories of that cinema.

In crafting a partial and relatively new history, Jones applies this critical assumption to two groups of films, salient American and British sf works from the 1950s, when the sf genre was firmly establishing itself as a key interpreter of cultural concerns, desires, and anxieties. Its point is to establish that there was—or could have been—a specifically British “reception history” for the sf cinema of this period, regardless of whether the films were American or British. To that end the book considers a variety of films, most of them fairly well known and often discussed, that it suggests—in a repeated phrasing that somewhat weakens the thesis—“might well have” (9) lent themselves to quite different, in some cases even opposite, readings. Thus Jones treats, usually in pairs, such efforts as: It Came from Outer Space (US 1953) and Quatermass II (UK 1957); Behemoth the Sea Monster (UK 1959) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (US 1955); It! The Terror from Beyond Space (US 1958) and The Trollenberg Terror (UK 1958); and Fiend without a Face (UK 1958) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). By comparing these, along with several other examples from that 1950s outpouring of sf, he demonstrates that while both cultures often fixed their cinematic attention on such similar concerns as Communist aggression, nuclear technology, racial tensions, and the place of these two countries in evolving global politics, their attitudes toward these issues at times diverged considerably. This divergence, he argues, probably allowed for equally divergent readings of films from each other’s culture.

The strength of this approach is that it allows Jones to lay out some highly relevant, if often overlooked, characteristics of life in 1950s Britain. While there was much anti-Communist sentiment in the country and while there were several high-profile cases of Soviet infiltration in British government and armed forces, working-class Britons were, he argues, much more tolerant of Communist ideas than their American counterparts, so that images of alien take-over and depersonalization, found in films such as It Came from Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), registered quite differently with them—as, for example, calls for otherness “to be better understood” (61) or, in the case of Quatermass II, even as interrogations of those official anti-Communist attitudes. Similarly, Jones suggests that the oft-cited “nuclear nightmare” of atomic research inevitably leading to nuclear destruction—given its most famous presentation in Susan Sontag’s discussion of sf cinema, “The Imagination of Disaster” (1965)—was not a monolithic attitude in England, where there was also a widespread public discourse on “the beneficial potential ... of the nation’s drive towards developing its nuclear expertise” (86). This double focus, he believes, helps to explain the success of films that “were capable of both supporting and challenging either side of Britain’s nuclear debate” (98), such as Behemoth and It Came from Beneath the Sea. While Jones’s argument about what constitutes a racialized other in sf often seems forced, the discussion of the impact of immigration on Britons’ attitudes in the 1950s adds a much-needed context to discussions of alien-invasion films of the period. The resulting arrival of new communities from across the former empire forced a public debate about racism that, he argues, made for a more sympathetic perception of the alien figure in both It! The Terror from Beyond Space and The Trollenberg Terror. In these and other cases, Jones suggests that while British and American sf films often reflected similar national debates, the audience reception of these films was invariably different in Britain, since it was shaped by unique cultural circumstances that have not previously been accommodated by the criticism.

While Jones pulls together a significant number of such cultural events and circumstances to frame his discussions, it is this emphasis on the shape of extant criticism that probably forms his book’s major contribution. Certainly, most of the historical accounts of 1950s sf cinema have taken their lead from main currents in American cultural history, in part because so much of that cinema originated in the US, but also because most of those writing this history (this writer included) have been American, and they have been writing with a predominantly American audience in mind. But the result, as Jones offers, is that the general discourse, especially for what was probably the most important decade of sf cinema, “has been relatively narrow in scope” (165), often limited to major issues that constellate around the Cold War and the anxieties it fostered. Writing from a non-American perspective, Jones accomplishes much by tying these films to a specifically British audience, one made up of “a complex and contradictory people whose fears, anxieties, hopes, and ambitions orbited around the tensions of the Cold War, but also many other issues besides” (167). By showing the way to considering some of those “other issues,” he lays a path towards other genre histories and even challenges us to think about how we might be able to write those histories.

And yet Jones’s effort at times runs afoul of its own method. For example, claiming that the many earlier histories of sf cinema, especially those of 1950s sf film, together constitute a kind of “cultural imperialism” that must be “resisted” (177) seems miscalculated, or at least a misappropriation of politically charged rhetoric. As he allows, most previous commentary on British sf of this period “has predominantly been concerned with contexts of production” rather than with film reception, thus resulting in historical accounts of a rather different sort (19), although it is a sort that itself reflects what he terms a “British specificity” (20). Critics, historians, and academics are no less prone to a “specificity” of vision or interest (particularly when government funding increasingly steers scholarship in particular directions) than is the movie-going audience of any period. A rhetoric of “imperialism” and “resistance”—with its implications of deliberate aggression and subversion—seems a bit naive and inconsistent with the larger premise here.

As noted above, we should hardly find it unusual that cultures read texts differently, based on their own traditions, contemporary concerns, and industrial practices, among other influences. Reader-response criticism of the late-1960s into the 1980s offered one path to address this issue, but it gained little traction in film studies, in part because of an issue Jones also encountered and to which he calls attention. This is the difficulty one encounters when doing the historical research of isolating “personal accounts of science fiction film viewing by British audiences” (170) of an era. As a result of that problem, Jones has researched a variety of extant texts and accounts—such as television documentaries, newsreels, newspaper reports, and radio programs, among others—all of which help to sketch a revealing picture of British culture as it sought to cope with its own concerns and seek out the shape of those concerns which might have surfaced in American cinema, while also considering those that more broadly troubled Western culture in the 1950s. In demonstrating how we might better understand those specific reception dynamics that conditioned the reading of these sf films, Science Fiction Cinema and 1950s Britain will probably prove most valuable.

J.P. Telotte, Georgia Institute of Technology

Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Alien.

Ulrike Küchler, Silja Maehl, and Graeme Stout, eds. Alien Imaginations: Science Fiction and Tales of Transnationalism. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. xvii + 249 pp. $39.95 pbk.

The essays collected in Alien Imaginations are remarkably diverse in their subject matter, ranging widely across examples of speculative fiction drawn from the 1880s to the present and from Russia to Mexico and points between. The essays tend to lay a heavy emphasis on cultural rather than literary theory, many of them reading the narrative texts as exemplars of a formulation about the global political economy or heteronormativity or some other large socio-historical topic advanced as a point of departure at the outset of the essay. The readings are then held, variously, to illustrate and develop the theoretical points (Graeme Stout’s readings of Michael Winterbottom’s films In this World [2002] and Code 46 [2006] in relation to Gilles Deleuze’s theory of the transition from disciplinary society to what Deleuze calls the society of control); to elaborate a set of social fantasies of which the author is unaware (John Mowitt’s reading of the tangled figures of immigration, empire, and the Malthusian couple in H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds [1898]); to indicate a set of broad cultural anxieties and concerns (Bianca Westermann’s readings of hybridity in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 [2009] and James Cameron’s Avatar [2009]); to parse the narrative’s cognitive estrangement of ideology (Emilie McCabe’s reading of the work that Eleanor Arnason’s Ring of Swords [1993] does on gender issues); and so on. But there is not one kind of theory or one school or group of theorists that dominates the discussion. Instead the volume serves its readers a mixed plate of conceptual frameworks and methodological strategies drawn from the writings of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Bertolt Brecht, Georg Simmel, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Stuart Hall, Fredric Jameson, Darko Suvin, Judith Butler, Homi Bhabha, Giorgio Agamben, Arjun Appadurai, Lauren Berlant, and others. The volume indeed provides a kind of snapshot of the contemporary canon of cultural-studies theory.

The coherence of the collection is based on the central organizing figure of migration, or as Dame Gillian Beer puts it in her preface, the patterns of “incursion and resistance” evident in “boundary transgression, border control, and alien anxiety” (xi). The essays trace the play of incursion and resistance in narrative representations of settled immigrants (e.g., Joela Jacobs’s essay on the figure of the Jew in Oskar Panizza’s The Operated Jew [1893] and Salomo Friedlander’s response to it, The Operated Goy [1922]); unsettled migrants (e.g., in Matthew Goodwin’s essay on the “concrete dystopia” of the US state migration system as re-imagined in recent Mexican fiction by José Luis Alverdi, Gabriel Trujillo Muñoz, and Cherrie Moraga); and invading extraterrestrials (e.g., in Andrew M. Butler’s carefully historicized essay on the construction of race and racism in District 9). At least half the essays in the volume appropriately dwell on problems of assimilation, hybridity, and translation. Among these I was particularly taken with Silja Maehl’s contri-bution, “Canned Foreign: Transnational Estrangement in Yoko Tawada,” about “the alienating encounter of a female Japanese narrator with the German culture and language” in Tawada’s bilingual writings (73). Tawada is a Japanese national who lives in Germany and publishes most of her writing simultaneously in Japanese and German. Maehl argues that “writing in two languages simultaneously evokes an alienated relationship with both languages and semiotic processes in general” that tends to “blur the boundaries” between genres as well as nations (74). The result is a curious cognitive unsettledness in her writing that Maehl brings into dialogue with the strategies of sf as theorized by Darko Suvin. The payoff is that ”just as Tawada’s narrators are situated at once outside and inside the foreign language and culture, so their naïveté and wonder are strategies that allow for foreignness to remain in between that which is known and that which remains unknown” (87).

Although science fiction features in the subtitle of the volume, its relevance to the essays is rather unevenly distributed. A few of them are straight-forwardly devoted to reading sf narratives, including Ulrike Küchler’s reading of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921), Andrew Opitz’s piece on Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Andrew M. Butler’s essay on District 9, Bianca Westermann’s contribution on District 9 and Avatar, Emilie McCabe’s essay on Arnason, and Célia Guimarães Helene’s treatment of Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” (1949). But John Mowitt’s reading of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, which opens the volume, spends zero effort on the novel’s generic affiliation with sf, and Jen Caruso’s piece on William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (2003) and Zero History (2010) similarly shows no interest in relating Gibson’s recent work to sf traditions or attempts to theorize the genre. This is not to disparage either essay. Both are sophisticated, smart readings with serious business on their agendas. It is just to say that if what you are looking for in this volume is a sustained contribution to sf studies, you are likely to be somewhat disappointed. If, on the other hand, you approach this volume in the spirit of challenging boundaries and looking for ways in which sf studies might connect with the larger fields of literary and cultural studies in unexpected and provocative ways, you will be richly rewarded. You may not end up being persuaded that Hamlet is a cyborg (as Gerrit K. Rößler argues in the volume’s final essay), but it is all about entertaining the possibility, is it not?

—John Rieder, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa

Dis-orient the Planet—Now!

Isiah Lavender III, ed. Dis-orienting Planets: Racial Representations of Asia in Science Fiction. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2017. x+267 pp. $65 hc.

A follow-up to Black and Brown Planets (2014), this collection dives directly into the racial politics of representing Asians in sf, both in work by Asians and by others. The volume has a large historical breadth, with discussions of little-known future histories from the early nineteenth century to the present decade. It also seeks to tackle an ambitious range of representation and reception histories, from the impact of the yellow peril narratives on the early history of the genre to the animated world of contemporary fan activism.

The volume builds upon the MELUS 33.4 (2008) issue on Asian sf, edited by Stephen Hong Sohn, especially Greta Aiyu Niu’s definition of the term “techno-Orientalism” in her article in that issue. The volume also extends some of the more recent issues and discussions of Asian sf, including the special issues in SFS dedicated to Chinese (40.1, 2013) and Indian sf (43.3, 2016). And while few in number, several studies also already exist for some of the Asias of the volume, especially Japanese and Chinese sf in Anglophone criticism: for instance, Robot Ghost and Wired Dreams (2007), edited by Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., and Takayuki Tatsumi; and the recent Celestial Empire: The Emergence of Chinese Science Fiction (2017) by Nathaniel Isaacson. While Japanese sf and fandom have been well known for a while outside Japan in translation (including the techno-Orientalism targeted in this volume), Chinese sf too is receiving a lot of attention, especially since the success of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem (2008; English translation 2014 by Ken Liu); its massive presence at the 2017 Helsinki Worldcon promising and offering translations of many other Chinese authors. While little is available in translation from South Asia, both writers from India and expat Indian writers have produced sf in English, especially in the last three decades, and these works are read in the region and outside, even if they are only now receiving critical attention in Anglophone criticism. Racial politics too has been a central concern in recent criticism, from Lavender’s own Race in American Science Fiction (2011) to Paul Williams’s Race, Ethnicity, and Nuclear War (2011), and Andre M. Carrington’s recent Speculative Blackness (2016).

The opening essays of the first section, “First Encounters,” link to these general trends and lay out broad theoretical observations for the Asias in the volume: China, India, Japan, and Korea. Veronica Hollinger’s opening essay builds upon the special issue on Chinese sf in SFS and other recent work to suggest five ways Chinese sf can estrange and disrupt the assumed globality of mainstream genre sf. She locates the tensions of the term “global sf” in the evolving relationship between the Anglo-American genre mainstream with its associated industry, and the wider global publishing industry with its own economic mechanisms. Takayuki Tatsumi’s essay builds on his other work on “planetarity” and literature, finding resonances between post-war nuclear fiction in Brian Aldiss’s “Another Little Boy” (1966) and the tradition of black humor in the transpacific imagination in Japanese science fiction, including Yasutaka Tsutsui’s “Everyone Other than Japan Sinks” (1973) and Karen Tei Yamashita’s “Siamese Twins and Mongoloids” (1997). Black humor serves as an antidote to the nationalist fantasies that plague sf, and it is as antidote that it seems to connect these planetary imaginings of the future.

Uppinder Mehan’s autobiographically inspired essay turns to India in the fiction of Clarke, Zelazny, and Ian McDonald, and compares these works to recent fiction in English by Indian authors Anuradha Marwah and Manjula Padmanabhan. For Mehan, insider-outsider perspectives on a culture are a means to understand techno-Orientalism as a “negation of modernity” for the East, and he shows how even writers sensitive to the cultural context such as McDonald may fall into the trap of universalizing the techno-fetishism of the genre mainstream while reducing the local to a mere locale. Finally, Stephen Hong Sohn identifies what he calls “militarized technogeometries” as a key feature of Korean sf, referring to how technologies of warfare subsume every aspect of social life. Sohn argues that the focus on militarized technogeometries comes from Korea’s location as a frequently invaded territory, casting its fiction as a reflection of the state of perpetual war. He reads Yoon Ha Lee’s short story “Wine” (2014) in terms of how its queer politics links to militarized technogeometries.

The second part of the volume, “Fear of a Yellow Planet,” uses techno-Orientalism as a key concept. Amy J. Ransom provides a contrapuntal reading of Shiel’s sf novels to show how his own mixed heritage affects his novels, where white racist ideology becomes entangled with progressive fantasies of miscegenation and a future of racial harmony. Timothy J. Yamamura’s essay on Percival Lowell also turns to early sf, convincingly showing how Lowell’s late interest in Mars and its aliens followed from his experiences in Korea and Japan as an Orientalist diplomat, finding a harmony in interplanetary co-existence that could reflect back on the Orientalized harmony of the West and its “aliens” to the East. The essays that follow, Stephanie Li’s essay on Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story (2010), and Malisa Kurtz’s on Linda Nagata’s Bohr Maker (1995) and Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl (2002), show how techno-Orientalism is displayed for critique in these works, moving from the “old world” of fantasy in which the Oriental is seen in the stereotypes of fetishized, sexualized, dehumanized, or mechanical terms, to a new world of differences where identities are hybrid rather than essentialist.

Haerin Shin’s essay criticizes the film Cloud Atlas (2012) for its presentation of New Seoul as a techno-Orientalist fantasy of the East, blending different stereotypes of the image of the East from the genre mega-text without a reference to local, grounded, historical differences. Building on the work of scholars such as Tatsumi, Baryon Tensor Posadas looks at how Japanese cyberpunk, especially Goro Masaki’s Venus City (1992), tries to imagine ways in which the genre might think past techno-Orientalism through satire, even though the genre’s technological toolkit is saturated with colonial history and its representations. Jeshua Enriquez’s closing essay on Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea (2014) looks at the notion of the “model minority,” and argues that the novel opens up a conversation about how certain forms of labor and exploitation take place when the dominant White groups maintain racial control by valorizing some minorities such as Asian-Americans over others such as Black and Latino minorities. The one essay that does not belong in this section, Bradford Lyau’s essay on Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem novels, instead presents interesting insights on the how the novels blend European, American, and Chinese literary traditions and genre literature, but it does not touch upon the central theme of the section, techno-Orientalism and racial politics, and is thus thematically not in conversation with the other essays.

The third part of the volume seems the freshest, and also bears the title of the book. Both Robin Anne Reid’s essay on and Cait Coker’s essay on the Mako Mori fan club show how fan activism presents new ways of dealing with racial politics. Reid traces the evolution of from its initial days protesting M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender (2010) to its present days as a forum for systematic campaigning against whitewashing in Hollywood production, forming formal and informal, academic and popular fronts for engaging with problematic racial politics. Cait Coker’s essay examines Pacific Rim (2013), especially fan appreciation of the character of Mako Mori, who is unlike the stereotype of the Japanese girl in the Hollywood media-complex: a strong Asian female character who is not “a prostitute, is not evil, and is not dead by the end” (213). Mori thus becomes an icon of representation for whole groups of fans even where critical appreciation otherwise seems muted. Suparno Banerjee’s essay looks at future- war fiction in English from India, offering original insight into its origins in the work of K.C. and S.C. Dutt in the early nineteenth century, before turning to contemporary fiction by British and Indian writers. Banerjee argues that the emergence of India as a major geopolitcal force means that in sf by both Indian and other authors, India becomes a counterweight to the specters of Islamic terrorism and Communism from the region, even while India itself increasingly becomes subject to Hindu fundamentalism and produces its own version of nationalist fantasies.

The last two essays offer new ways of thinking past the racial and nationalist substructures of sf via human-animal entanglements. In Graham Murphy’s study of Vandana Singh’s short fiction, especially “Entanglement” (2014) and “Are you Sannata 3159” (2010), the slaughterhouse becomes a marker of anti-biophilia, entangling human and animal relationships on a ruined dystopian world, and entangling as well relationships among humans marked by class and other differences. Situating his analysis within Singh’s ecocritical concerns, Murphy shows how, for Singh, entanglement, which is synonymous with biophilia, is constantly threatened by dis-entanglement, exploitation that is opposed to life, and the exploitation of animals and of humans that form a part of the same circle of violence that ultimately threatens the whole planet. The final essay in the collection, Joan Gordon’s study of Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman (2000) and Fudoki (2003), focuses on what she calls the “amborg gaze.” Gordon argues that Johnson’s speculative fiction of entanglement between humans and animals presents a scenario where different species, even if they never fully become other species, become “amborgs” or hybrid beings, offering both affinity and difference, and evolving a new gaze that partakes of both. Gordon’s concept is also useful as a means to differentiate between the use of culture as backdrop, as shown by Mehan earlier in the volume, and a more positive cultural interconnectedness with the recognition of difference that one finds in Johnson’s novels and, as discussed earlier by Coker, the character of Mako Mori. Both Murphy’s argument for entanglement and Gordon’s concept of the amborg move past the miasma of cultural exoticization and a techno-Orientalist lens to argue in favor of larger inter-cultural, inter-species, and planetary structures of exchange and communication, a way of thinking and feeling with the other, human and non-human that promotes the possibilities of the best speculative fiction.

Overall, then, this collection provides valuable insights into the politics of race that continue to affect the production, distribution, and reception of sf as a genre. As a scholar who also works with non-Anglophone literature, I would have appreciated more essays on untranslated sf. These would have provided useful indications of the status of such politics beyond Anglophone sf circles. Nevertheless, these essays will be invaluable in current discussions of global sf and will leave the reader with the expectation of further dis-orientation.

—Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay, University of Oslo

Marx in Time and Space.

Ewa Mazierska and Alfredo Suppia, eds. Red Alert: Marxist Approaches to Science Fiction Cinema. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2016. vi + 264 pp. $34.99 pbk.

This is an impressively researched, well-edited, and generally well-written collection that adds to the slim number of books devoted entirely to Marxist sf, such as Red Stars: Political Aspects of Soviet Science Fiction by Patrick L. McGuire (1985) and Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould and China Miéville (2009). As the first volume about the intersections of Marxism and sf cinema, it is particularly worthwhile. Another advantage of the collection is its international scope, since it deals not only with familiar Hollywood productions but also with films from Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, and South Africa, as well as from Czechoslovakia in the Soviet era and Poland in both the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. In fact, many of the films the volume studies are international co-productions, reflecting sf cinema as “a transnational genre” (15). Sf cinema and Marxism both have claims to universalism and the authors argue that “on the level of film texts they try to erase national particularities” (14). The collection introduced me to many little-known sf films from around the world that I now want to view. The essays are of uniformly high quality, and the distinguished contributors include Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint. My only qualification is that perhaps too much of the volume is contributed by the two editors: not only the introduction, but also a joint essay, as well as individual essays by each, totaling four of the nine chapters.

The useful introduction enumerates the links among Marxism, sf, and cinema. Both Marxism and sf imagine dynamic worlds in transformation, try to conceive of a future (whether utopian or dystopian), and try to show the impossible. And all three—Marxism, sf, and cinema—emerged with the rise of technology and deal with the consequences of that technology. Marx was as much “an analyst and critic of capitalism” as a prophet of communism, and his theories have survived the fall of the Soviet Union (5). “Post-industrial, late, or neoliberal capitalism has even led to a revival of Marxist thought” (6).

Sf cinema is one possible “tool in resisting the onslaught of capitalism and its ideology” (7). Of course, as the editors admit, sf cinema, at least in the Hollywood mode, usually focuses on a white male superhero who saves the world, and its selling point is displays of dazzling special effects that depend on the latest technology and massive infusions of cash, so that sf films could be considered characteristic products of late capitalism. Nevertheless, as the editors assert, “our purpose is not to prove that sf cinema is Marxist, but to use the tools of Marxism to examine different types of sf films” (8).

The editors briefly recapitulate the evolution of sf cinema in various parts of the world across the decades. Some of this history, of course, is familiar: American sf cinema in the 1950s and 1960s reflected American anxieties about invasion by alien forces—symbolically, by Communist ideology or Soviet military might. In the 1970s and 1980s, it speculated on “the outcomes of rampant neoliberalism, the police state, and ‘soft’ dictatorships” (9), while contemporary sf film in both the US and Europe is critical of the “social, political, and economic consequences of neoliberalism” (10).

Lesser known is how post-World-War-II Soviet and Eastern European sf film, although produced by the state, nevertheless often conveys “the most poignant criticism of the social reality” (11). While focusing on space travel to reflect post-war Soviet technological prowess, these films about aliens and time travel nevertheless express “the uneasiness of the citizens of Eastern Europe” about Soviet domination (11). The future world in Soviet and Eastern European sf cinema is often dystopian, destroyed by atomic bombs or lacking human emotion, suggesting the failures of socialist societies. Meanwhile, Latin American sf cinema is used to critique “colonialism, capitalist savagery, and militarism” (12), and has links to the Latin American tradition of magical realism.

The first essay, “First Contact or Primal Scene,” by Petra Hanáková, is well described by its subtitle: “Communism Meets Real Socialism Meets Capitalism in Early Czechoslovak Science Fiction Cinema.” “The loosening of political control over Czechoslovak cinema in the beginning of the 1960s” led to two important post-Sputnik films about space travel: Man from Outer Space (Oldřich Lipský, 1962) and Icarus XB 1 (Jindřich Polák, 1963) (25). Hanáková argues that first contact in these films is really a metaphor for the encounter with the West and with its own history. Man from Outer Space, on the surface “a rather conventional light comedy” (30), “enters into a critical dialogue with both the genre of socialist sci-fi and with the threat of dehumanization of the future man” (33). Icarus XB 1, based on a novel by Stanisław Lem, is a big-budget outer-space film about the journey of a twenty-second-century spaceship to the stars. The crew encounters a derelict spaceship from the twentieth century whose crew died long ago from poison gas. The ship is both a nostalgic museum of the revered cultural past and the tomb of humankind’s self-destructive impulses. This ambiguous message was lost when the film was re-edited for US release with the title Voyage to the End of the Universe (Jack Pollack, 1963); the encounter with the other spaceship was cut and the ending altered.

Eva Näripea’s “Soviet and Post-Soviet Images of Capitalism: Ideological Fissures in Marek Piestrak’s Polish-Estonian Coproductions” continues the analysis of subversive Eastern European sf cinema. Marek Piestrak is a Polish director who collaborated with Tallinnfilm in Estonia on three sf or fantastic films: The Test of Pilot Pirx (1979), Curse of Snakes Valley (1987), and Tear of the Prince of Darkness (1992). All reflect “the inherent paradoxes of the late Soviet and early post-Soviet eras” (48). As the Soviet system was falling apart, it “was riven by severe, and ultimately fatal, internal contradictions” (50) that come through in the films. The first two films were made under Soviet rule, yet “their critical commentaries on capitalism equally addressed the Soviet social practices and communist hegemony” (50). Näripea argues that all three highly popular films fit Umberto Eco’s definition of a cult film: “a movie that displays a number of contradictory ideas” and succeeds with audiences not despite but because of its incoherence (63). Näripea does an excellent job of tracing the numerous ideological fissures in these films, but a few errors in English could easily have been corrected by the editors.

Mark Bould’s “Paying Freedom Dues: Marxism, Black Radicalism, and Blaxploitation Science Fiction” is one of the best essays in the collection. Bould deftly summarizes both the influence of Marxism on black radicalism in the US and the history of blaxploitation sf. The so-called “blaxploitation” films emerged in the early 1970s, “the period of disillusionment after the successful struggle for major civil rights legislation failed to deliver broad and significant changes.... [T]his period also saw Black Power and overtly Marxist, Maoist, and anticolonial currents” (78). Although the blaxploitation films were condemned by some black leaders as dealing in racial stereotypes and glorifying drug dealers, the films were extremely popular with black audiences because they showed victorious black heroes. Nevertheless, blaxploitation films “could not escape masculinism or misogyny and thus were not radical enough, perhaps not radical at all” (92). But because of “the genre’s capacity to literalize metaphors, blaxploitation SF stands out from other blaxploitation ventures in its ability to address subjectivity, alterity, and alienation in complex ways.... These films provide some of the tools necessary to visualize and comprehend the alienations of race and class, and to imagine a time and space beyond them” (92).

Sherryl Vint’s penetrating analysis of Damien Lukacevic’s Transfer (2010) continues the concern with race and class by analyzing a film about a slave market in which people sell their bodies, a future “rapidly being created by neoliberalism” (117). Vint examines the new global biotechnology market and the sale of tissues and organs, arguing that “the market in organs simply continues the economics—and desperate human circumstances—of the Atlantic slave trade” (113). Transfer concerns a poor young black couple who allow their bodies to be rented out as hosts for a rich old white couple most of the day. When the young woman becomes pregnant, the old couple “give up the selfishness of preserving their own lives and instead work to save” the young couple. Despite the film’s melancholy ending, “witnessing the reality of biotech medicine in Transfer, we are obliged to be moved by it and question the innocence of modern medical life extension” (118).

“Capitalism and Wasted Lives in District 9 and Elysium” by Ewa Mazierska and Alfredo Suppia uses the concept of “humans-as-waste” to compare two sf films by the South African director Neill Blomkamp (121). Blomkamp constructs “cinematic parables about class struggle in an extrapolated post-industrial, capitalist context” (121) and shows the progressive “erosion of human rights” in such a society (121). In District 9 (2009), the unwanted extraterrestrial masses who have landed in Johannesburg in the near future correspond to the unwanted Zimbabwean refugees in contemporary South Africa. We grow to sympathize with these grotesque alien “prawns” because their woeful conditions—outcast, forced into ghettos, and subjected to hideous medical experiments—recall Nazi treatment of the Jews. When the corporate bureaucrat Wikus, in charge of the brutal resettlement of the prawns, is gradually transformed into an alien, he too is outcast from the human community: ironically, “he himself becomes a commodity” (137). In Elysium, “human beings play the role of waste in an ultra-neoliberal society that fiercely segregates the proletariat from the wealthy elite” (141). The workers dwell in squalor on the ruined earth, while the wealthy have fled to a luxurious satellite in orbit above the planet. In both films, Blomkamp shows that technological development under capitalism “leads to an increase in economic and social divisions and, by the same token, it deprives people of their rights, dehumanizing them” (143). Mazierska and Suppia wisely conclude that, despite its much lower budget, District 9 is the better movie, as the political message of Elysium is weakened by its white superhero and Hollywood happy ending.

In “Marxism vs. Postmodernism: The Case of The Matrix,” Tony Burns notes that while many books have been devoted to the Wachowskis’ film The Matrix (1999), it has been most often interpreted in terms of postmodernism because of the allusions to Baudrillard. Burns claims instead that “the film has much more in common with Marxism than it does with postmodernism” 154) in a methodical, detailed, well researched, and persuasive argument. First, the film makes a clear distinction between appearance and reality, which is part of “traditional metaphysics” from Plato onward and also “central to Marxism” but not to postmodernism (154-55). Second, Marx spoke of society as a machine and workers as slaves of the machine, and this is precisely the situation of human beings within the Matrix. Third, the inhabitants of the Matrix are happy slaves because they live in a consumer society, corresponding to Herbert Marcuse’s neo-Marxist critique in One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (1964). Fourth, Baudrillard is “explicitly nihilist” (161), whereas Marx is not. Fifth, the society of the Matrix corresponds to the neo-Marxist Guy Debord’s notion of modern alienation and passivity through mass media in The Society of the Spectacle (1967). Finally, The Matrix belongs to “the tradition of twentieth-century thought and literature,” such as the works of Zamyatin and Huxley, more than to the tradition of postmodernism (166). Like Marx, The Matrix advocates for collective struggle to free humanity.

Ewa Mazierksa’s “Representation of ‘Gaming Capitalism’ in Avalon and Gamer” deals with the films Avalon (Mamoru Oshii, 2001), a Japanese-Polish co-production with a Japanese director, and Gamer (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2009), an American film. Both show extreme and deadly games controlled by capitalists, a form of brutal entertainment for the masses in the future. These films extrapolate from current trends: the “precipitous erosion of industrial and manufacturing sectors in the American economy,” “the development of virtual reality,” and “the growth of biotechnology” (180). In both movies, the state takes advantage of virtual reality and biotechnology to develop all-involving games. The state, in our present and in the future in the films, is increasingly involved in gaming and gambling. In Avalon, work has disappeared and the masses live in poverty, spending their time in a brutal virtual reality war game called “Avalon” that, like Roman gladiatorial games, appeases and distracts the masses. In Gamer, again, much of the population “earn their living or spend their capital/surplus income by playing games” (191). But the players become pawns of outside masters. One game, Slayers, is “for convicts awaiting capital punishment” (193), who must kill or be killed as they fight to attain freedom. Like many of the sf films described in this volume, “producing human waste is in the interest of the capitalist class” (194). As in a concentration camp, or District 9, “everything there is permitted to those in positions of power, and those in their power have no rights” (195).  One problem with Gamer, however, as Mazierksa notes, is that it seems to pander visually to the tastes of computer gamers and consumers of “Nazisploitation films” (198). Both films demonstrate how advanced technology can serve capitalism and further privilege the rich, but they also imply that technology can be used to free people.

The last two essays in the volume deal with Latin American sf cinema. Alfredo Suppia’s “Remote Exploitations: Alex Rivera’s Materialist SF Cinema in the Age of Cognitive Capitalism” analyzes the Mexican-US co-production Sleep Dealer (Rivera, 2008). This film is an example of multicultural sf cinema, “post-NAFTA borderlands dystopias” (219). The story concerns “cybraceros,” Mexicans who remain in Mexico but remotely operate machinery on American soil, thus enabling Americans to exploit cheap Mexican labor without being bothered by the troubling presence of Mexican-American immigrants. Suppia aligns Sleep Dealer with Children of Men and District 9, for example, as contemporary sf cinema “with a strong realist, Marxist, and transcultural orientation” (216). The Mexican hero becomes a puppet of the machine until he realizes his alienated and exploited condition, develops class consciousness, and joins fellow exploited Mexican workers in an act of sabotage against the corporation. Like other films analyzed in this volume, such as Elysium, Sleep Dealer shows “a contradiction between form and content”: “Hollywood narrative rules and principles versus counter-hegemonic political discourse” (222).

The final essay, “Rags and Revolution: Visions of the Lumpenproletariat in Latin American Zombie Films” by Mariano Paz, also treats Latin American sf cinema while returning to the theme of the lumpenproletariat seen in the essay on District 9 and Elysium. Zombies “originated in Latin American folklore and myth” (228), were first recorded in Haiti, and then transferred to early Hollywood movies after the American military occupation of the island. But, until recently, zombie films were “almost completely absent from Latin American cinema” (229). The article focuses on a series of zombie films from Argentina, the three Plaga Zombie [Zombie Plague] films (Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez,1997, 2007, 2012) and a film from Cuba, Juan de los Muertos [Juan of the Dead; Alejandro Brugués, 2012]. It interprets zombies in these films as versions of the lumpenproletariat, refuse who exist “outside capitalist relations” (230). Although many critics see zombies in American cinema as representing the proletariat, in Latin American cinema they allude to the lumpenproletariat. In fact, the term “lumpenproletariat” comes from the German “lumpen,” for rags, and zombies are always dressed in rags. Marx was ambivalent toward them, seeing them as unproductive, dangerous, and rotten, but also as potentially joining the proletariat in revolution, like the zombies in these films.

The Plaga trilogy, like Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004) and Zombieland (Ruben Fleisher, 2009), parodies zombie films, but Plaga also parodies other American genre films shown on Argentine television, complete with actors deliberately speaking Spanish in poorly dubbed Mexican accents. The war on the zombies also mocks George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” The trilogy was released during a time of drastic economic reforms in the late 1990s in Argentina that hurt the poor and led to the creation of an army of the unemployed, beggars, and criminals—in other words, to the proliferation on the streets of the lumpenproletariat threatening both the bourgeoisie and the working class. In late capitalism, almost all workers become temporary workers, in constant danger of unemployment; and post-industrial capitalism produces not only commercial waste but also human waste. The ending of the Plaga series mocks happy endings but also suggests the triumph of low-budget, countercultural filmmaking that subverts Hollywood.

Juan of the Dead is also a comedy, “the first Cuban zombie film” (241), in which Juan evolves from stereotyped lazy Cuban worker to an exploiting capitalist killing zombies for profit and finally to a revolutionary leader of the people. The film seems to criticize aspects of Cuban society, and the zombies here “are clearly disrupting the social order and represent social change” (246). The zombies may, however, also “represent the outcome of global capitalism as it invades and spreads throughout the island” (247). The Plaga trilogy and Juan both address “the unequal relations of power between the US and the rest of the Americas” (248).

In sum, the book offers a rich selection of interpretations of sf cinema from many countries with an undisguised leftist agenda: “we give it the title Red Alert: we want to warn readers of the dangers of accepting capitalist economic structures and ways of life, and especially in its extreme versions of neoliberalism” (21). One could argue that heavy doses of Marxist dialectic limit the audience, so that the volume is simply preaching to the choir. But the book serves a useful purpose by revealing how widespread critiques of economic inequality and of the oppression and exploitation of labor are in sf cinema around the world. At the very least, the book will introduce many readers to worthwhile sf films from Eastern Europe and Latin America little known outside these regions.

—Andrew M. Gordon, University of Florida

The Open Conspiracy.

Michael R. Page.  Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher, Scholar. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy 56, 2017. 284+x pp. $35 pbk.

In this work, Michael R. Page offers, as he puts it, “the first full-length critical study of the science fiction of James Gunn” (13). Page’s motivations are both professional and personal: his study emerges not only from his academic desire to “highlight the significance of [Gunn’s] body of work to the history of science fiction,” but also from his close friendship with Gunn over a number of years, as outlined in the preface (15). The study therefore comprises a labor of love, one which, while it does not quite succeed in offering a robust critical analysis of Gunn’s work, gives a clear impression of Gunn’s significant influence on the recent history of the genre.

The work begins with a detailed overview of Gunn’s life. This first chapter is the strongest section of the study, demonstrating the exhaustive depth and range of Page’s research (including numerous interviews with Gunn himself). On the basis of this introduction alone, Page may be said to have fulfilled his aim of “expand[ing] readers’ understanding and appreciation of the life, career and work of James Gunn” (15). Using a wide variety of sources, Page reconstructs Gunn’s journey through sf, from his entry into the field as a writer in the 1940s and 1950s, to his earliest works appearing in Campbell’s Astounding and Gold’s Galaxy; through his entrance into university teaching in his native Kansas and the pivotal role he played in the 1970s in establishing sf studies as an academic discipline, all the way up to his induction in 2015 into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in recognition of his many contributions to the field.

The picture of Gunn that emerges from this chapter is of a figure at the very forefront of sf development: as one of his former students put it, “[Gunn’s] career represented, in some ways, the main thread of the development of science fiction” (72). Gunn’s lifelong attitude towards sf, Page argues, recalls the “Open Conspiracy” of H.G. Wells (whom Gunn met briefly as a young boy), emphasizing the importance of the genre as a means for critically examining, and indeed instigating, social change. He quotes a passage from Gunn’s 2015 acceptance speech that highlights Gunn’s views on the far-reaching and instructive role of sf: “It’s the job of science fiction to observe [social] changes and consider their implications for human lives, and maybe even make those lives better, more livable, more human—whatever ‘human’ turns out to be. Let’s save the world through science fiction” (76). As Page convincingly argues, there are few people more qualified to offer such an assessment of the genre than Gunn.

The rest of the book comprises a chronological overview of Gunn’s fiction, with a brief final section describing his academic work. The brevity of this latter section is surprising, given that, as Page himself notes, Gunn is better known as a teacher of sf than as a writer, and indeed was one of the foundational figures of sf studies. Given his close acquaintance with his subject, it is not surprising that the tone of Page’s work is laudatory: his admiration for Gunn is evident, and he is quick to highlight the latter’s many achievements as writer and scholar and defend any apparent shortcomings. Overall, Page’s approach to Gunn’s sf is summative rather than analytical: the bulk of the four chapters examining Gunn’s fiction is made up of summaries of his major works, some of which are lengthy indeed. “The Reluctant Witch” (Galaxy, May 1953), for example, one of Gunn’s best known short stories, receives six pages of coverage, the majority of which is given over to a detailed summary of the plot. To be sure, there is also a wealth of interesting contextual information provided for each work: Page’s summaries are peppered with information regarding the historical and biographical backgrounds of different works, the context in which they appeared, allusions to other works, editorial influences, publication histories, and so on.

Despite Page’s description of the work as a critical study, the work contains little sustained analysis of any aspect of Gunn’s fiction. A good example of this may be seen in Page’s many comments concerning the thematic or conceptual connections between Gunn’s works and those of other sf writers. The majority of such comments take the form of brief (if suggestive) observations rather than sustained analysis—Page notes, for example, that aspects of Gunn’s The Joy Makers (1961) prefigure Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966), while the armored cars of The Immortals (1962) “anticipate … the apocalyptic vision of such films as Mad Max, Death Race 2000, Escape from New York, and Brazil” (169). Elsewhere, during his summary of This Fortress World (1955), Page remarks that “Gunn’s coupling telepathic powers with a machine-interface, that in some ways anticipates advanced virtual reality technologies now under development, leaves much food for thought” (115). The rather noncommital nature of these observations is representative of much of the analysis contained in the study, with the result that most of Page’s analytical commentary remains frustratingly unsaid.

Where Page does elaborate on his observations, the results are generally stimulating, offering new insights into the evolution of the sf megatext, and into Gunn’s formative impact on some key sf works. For example, Page convincingly argues for the influence of Gunn’s “Breaking Point” (1953) on Theodore Sturgeon’s concept of ‘homo gestalt’ in “Baby Is Three” (1952), pointing to the conceptual overlap between the two works as well as the fact that Sturgeon had been asked by Horace Gold, then-editor of Galaxy, to make changes to Gunn’s story prior to publication. By bringing to light this little-known connection between these two works, Page makes clear the potential value, for anyone interested in Sturgeon’s story, in seeking out Gunn’s earlier work.

The value of Page’s work as a critical study, then, is debatable. As a reference work for those interested in learning more about the context of Gunn’s life and works, however, it is invaluable. Saving the World Through Science Fiction offers a testament to a “writer, teacher, and scholar” whose influence on sf, and particularly on sf scholarship, in the second half of the twentieth century has been significant. Page here takes the initial step towards what may ultimately result in a greater academic appreciation of an important yet critically neglected figure in our field.

—Thomas Connolly, Maynooth University

“All that You Touch, You Change.”

Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, eds. Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler. Yokine, WA, Australia: Twelfth Planet, 2017. i-xvii + 409 pp. Aus/NZ $29.95 pbk.

I will confess that I do not know what to say about this book. This is primarily because I do not know what its intended purpose is. According to the Introduction(s), the primary intended purpose seems to be as an outlet, as a way for individuals who have been affected by Butler (professionally or personally) an opportunity to express their gratitude and love, and sorrow and fear.

Let me begin with some descriptive details. It consists of 409 pages with additional prefatory material (i-xviii). Following the two short Introductions by the two editors, the book consists of eight titled sections, with a total of 57 contributions. That is an average of seven pages per entry, though the majority of them are three to four pages in length. While most entries are original to the collection, it also contains eight reprinted articles. These reprinted essays appeared in SFS, Black American Literature Forum, Strange Matings (2013), and Daughters of Earth (2006). The contributors live all over the world, including (either hailing from or currently residing in) Australia, Barbados, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Syria, the United States, and Wales; and they range in profession from high school teacher to college professor, from poet to playwright, and from blogger to podcaster. And, as in Letters to Tiptree (2015), also from Twelfth Planet, most contributions here (37 of them) take the form of a letter to Octavia Butler, though some of the others that are not in letter form are also quite intimate or confessional.

In their separate introductions, the two editors of Luminescent Threads confess to only a passing knowledge of Butler’s work prior to editing this book. Alexandra Pierce, who lives and works in Melbourne, was also an editor of the Letters to Tiptree collection. When the second editor withdrew from the new project, a new editor was added, Mimi Mondal, an editor from India who first came to the US to attend the Clarion West Writers’ Workshop in 2015. The Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship made her participation in that Workshop possible. So, although both editors hail from outside the US, although they had only a passing familiarity to Butler and her work, they had been touched and changed by Butler, as they note in their introductions. The title of this review comes, as you well know, from Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993), and it foregrounds one of the overriding sentiments expressed by the contributors to this paean to Butler. She changed everyone she touched.

Even so, the collection is haunted by two specters: Octavia Butler herself and Donald J. Trump. Perhaps coincidentally, the call for contributions went out and the entries were written (at least many of them) just as the 2016 US election took place. Consequently, many of the essays begin with a cri de coeur, a gut wrench following the election of the “misogynist,” “racist,” and “fascist” Trump. Further, these essays highlight the prescience of Butler’s representation of the rise of a dictator on a platform of racism, nationalism, and religion—all wrapped in the slogan of “Make America Great.” Too eerie.

With 57 entries and 8 sections, these love letters to Butler cover a wide range of issues in a wide range of styles. Several prominent themes emerge, however, including hope, political change, humanity, and inspiration.

Hope: A number of writers, including Hoda Zaki, Brenda Tyrrell, Sandra Govan, and Andrea Hairston, suggest that Butler may have written dystopic futures, but she always included the element of hope in those visions. Her protagonists never give up, even when things are bleak. Hairston notes that “[h]er hope is hard edged” (91). For her part, Butler might well suggest that hope is a kind of power. In the interview that concludes this book (from 1996), Butler notes that much of her work centers upon “social power,” and when things become difficult, when a malignant force arises, “[y]ou do what you have to do. You make the best use of whatever power you have” (378). In other words, the hope always remains that people can leverage whatever power they have in a positive way.

Political change (aka the rise of Trump): As I noted above, Trump lurks behind and within the pages of this book. More than a dozen authors (and one of the editors) directly address the election. Further, they cite Butler’s prescience—a term which Tyrrell says Butler would reject. Even so, the parallels between The Parable of the Talents (1998) and the 2016 election are uncanny. In the interview reprinted here, Butler says, “[w]hat you see today has happened before: a few powerful people take over with the approval of a class below them who has nothing to gain and even much to lose as a result” (380). The fact that this situation is not new, the fact that it has happened before and will happen again, offers little solace. The authors fervently wish Butler were here to guide them/us. I suspect that Butler would say, “Carry on, put your head down, do the work, use what power you have.” But never, to borrow another current phrase, let the bastards grind you down.

Humanity: For, you see, that is one of Butler’s lessons, one that several authors, including Alaya Dawn Johnson, Elizabeth Stephens, and Steven Barnes, note. In order to be human, we must find the human in others. Even when that other is a racist and misogynist who brutalized your ancestors (Kindred [1979]), or even when that other perpetrated a sexual assault on you (as Johnson reveals in her essay), or even when that racist and misogynist has become the president of the country. Addressing this, Paul Weimer writes that “Survival is an act of humanity” (177). We must survive. It’s what we humans do. Even so, Butler reminds us that we have a tendency to place our own tribe ahead of others (354). Instead, we must never lose sight of our shared humanity.

Inspiration: And this, among so many other things, is what inspired so many individuals. Butler lived through a past that marginalized her and dehumanized her, and yet she persisted. Butler gathered data from journals and books and newspapers regarding the atrocities visited upon us all daily, and yet she persisted. In her success and position as an established author, Butler reached out to other authors and fostered them and their craft. As so many here point out, Butler consciously reached back down the ladder to help others, especially those from poorer circumstances. According to these letters, none has forgotten the support, and none has remained unchanged.

In 2007, I wrote in an article for Utopian Studies (19.3, 2008) that a veritable cottage industry had emerged around the work of Butler. The output has only accelerated. Of course, when the quantity rises, the quality sometimes becomes uneven. The content here ranges from gushing love letters from former students at Clarion West Writers’ Workshop to academic analyses of Butler’s key themes, from heartfelt thanks to a writer who inspired many writers to angry cries at the current political state of the US. For an academic looking for analysis of Butler’s life and work, all but Rebecca Holden’s piece are available elsewhere. For an academic looking for new details of the author’s life and personality, the encounters with aspiring authors reveal the person behind the novels and stories. For a reader or a fan, these love letters to Butler offer a glimpse into the effect Butler had beyond the written page.

One thing is for certain, however: Octavia Estelle Butler changed all that she touched.

—Ritch Calvin, SUNY Stony Brook

Engineering the Liquid Posthuman.

Lars Schmeink. Biopunk Dystopias: Genetic Engineering, Society, and Science Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies, 2016. viii + 272 pp. £75 hc.

“What could be more of a human right than to be able to decide what genes create you?” asks the biohacker Josiah Zayner on his blog (http://www. On 13 October 2017, Zayner posted a video in which he injects himself with a plasmid designed to modify the gene for myostatin, a genetic alteration that has engendered freakishly muscular mice and dogs. Zayner’s public display is meant to “push the field of genetic engineering forward” by encouraging more people to experiment with genetic engineering in their homes and, if they follow Zayner’s lead, in their bodies. This spectacle might be taken as support for a key premise of Lars Schmeink’s Biopunk Dystopias: Genetic Engineering, Society, and Science Fiction: that the tropes and ideas first explored in the subgenre of science fiction labeled biopunk—in this case, the prospect of genetic self-experimentation framed as “biohacking”—have since diffused well beyond the confines of literary sf. Biopunk, Schmeink argues, is best understood as a “cultural formation” spanning fiction, film, video games, TV, and the social phenomena of DIYbio or biohacking of which Zayner is representative. Schmeink refers to a 2002 trend-spotting piece in Rolling Stone declaring that cyberpunk was giving way to biopunk as an early marker of this diffusion; the article refers to the novels of Octavia Butler, the television series Dark Angel (2000-2002), the work of the bio-artist Eduardo Kac, and the existence of an online shop selling biotech equipment (26). Since the late 1990s, Schmeink argues, references to genetic modification and other biological themes have become widespread in sf and mainstream culture.

Schmeink does not precisely delineate the bounds of the biopunk cultural formation, nor even how one might recognize a cultural formation more generally. (This term is never defined in the book, although in “Biopunk 101,” an article published in SFRA Review [#309, 31-36] in 2014, Schmeink attributes it to the cultural critic Lawrence Grossberg). Instead, he illustrates the phenomena of biopunk through analyses of a variety of recent cultural artifacts that deal with themes of biological manipulation. The book’s central claim is that

the rise of biology as one of the driving forces of scientific progress since the late 1970s, the mainstream attention given to genetic engineering in the wake of the Human Genome project (1989–2003), the changing sociological view of a liquid modernity, and the shifting discourses on the posthuman form a historical nexus that produces the cultural formation of biopunk—in terms of both a socio-political and scientific DIY biology movement and its artistic negotiation in the popular culture imagination. (28; see also 14)

While this phrasing would seem to suggest that the academic theories of liquid modernity and posthumanism helped to produce the cultural formation of biopunk, the book actually makes the case that biopunk reflects the social conditions that these theories describe. More generally, Schmeink argues that twenty-first-century sf shifts its focus away from the body implants and virtual realities of information and computing technologies toward biological technologies such as genetic engineering and xenotransplantation (7), and that these works display the hallmarks of critical dystopia. To my knowledge, Biopunk Dystopias is the first book-length monograph to focus exclusively on biotechnology in twenty-first-century science fiction and thus represents a valuable contribution for scholars interested in science fiction and cultural representations of biotechnologies. Moreover, it commendably reflects the generic diversity of cultural imaginings of biotechnology, analyzing represen-tative texts from film, television, and video games as well as literary fiction. The 2007 video game BioShock, for instance, to which Schmeink devotes a chapter, sold millions of units in addition to achieving critical acclaim, a reach that should pique the interest of anyone focused on the intersections of science, technology, and culture.

Schmeink’s primary theoretical touchstone is the sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman, who argues that the later twentieth century is marked by a transition from “solid” to “liquid” modernity. Bauman contends that whereas solid modernity sought to replace pre-modern traditions and institutions with new structures such as the nation-state, liquid modernity is characterized by the weakening of even those modern institutions, a condition in which change itself is the only constant (48). Bauman’s liquid modernity is further characterized by the increasing interdependence of communities around the globe—with a corresponding globalization of risk—and the dissolution of collective politics into individualized and market-mediated “life politics” (49). Of particular interest for sf scholarship is Bauman’s argument that utopia shifts from a fixed and distant place associated with the far future to the flux of the present moment, epitomized in the figure of the hunter who thrills to the chase of new opportunities (61-62). “Liquid modernity” thus bears similarities to a number of theorizations of postmodernity, post-Fordism, and neoliberalism, and I found myself wishing for more contextualization of Bauman’s liquid modernity in comparison with Fredric Jameson’s postmodernity, given Jameson’s longstanding interest in sf and his influence on sf scholarship.

Schmeink’s other theoretical touchstone is the body of literature on posthumanism that will be familiar to readers of SFS, exemplified by authors such as Donna Haraway, Cary Wolfe, N. Katherine Hayles, and Rosi Braidotti. In the broadest sense, this literature can be glossed as arguing against a figuration of the human as an autonomous, rational, self-producing subject and for a more embedded and embodied perspective that punctures human exceptionality in comparison to other life forms. In Schmeink’s reading, biopunk fictions demonstrate how liquid modern conditions produce this posthuman subject. He argues that biopunk fictions are often critical dystopias, in which the posthuman emerges out of the problems and contradictions of the present, but which nevertheless contains a latent utopian potential for new ways of being. To take one example, the proliferation of genetically engineered “bioforms,” including “pigoons”—pigs with human parts, including human brain tissue—in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (2003-2013) is linked to the “hypercapitalist” commodification of life (90). Not only do pigoons confuse the boundaries between human and animal, but these engineered life forms also exceed their intended use value, as do the engineered creatures in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009). Their uncontrollability challenges the “mechanized and utilitarian view of nature” (86) that serves as a foil to the autonomous and agential human subject.

While Schmeink contends that twenty-first-century sf moves away from a cyberpunk imaginary “embodied by Haraway’s cyborg” towards a biopunk imaginary characterized by the “splice” (7), one can question whether this thematic shift masks a deeper continuity. Biotechnology also figures in “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1984), in which Haraway argues that biotechnology and information technology are both underwritten by a common paradigm that views the world in terms of code. Should biopunk then be seen as a “paradigm shift” (5), or an extension of the cyberpunk logic of code to the stuff of life? Considering the boundaries of biopunk through the lens of genre and literary movements only adds further complications. Schmeink often refers to biopunk’s “heritage in cyberpunk” (71), briefly referring to Bruce Sterling and Greg Bear as cyberpunk-affiliated authors who foreground biological themes. Yet he also includes contemporaneous authors such as Octavia Butler and Nancy Kress who were never part of cyberpunk as part of the biopunk formation, leading him to remark that the term biopunk is actually a “misnomer” (25). Rather than conduct a genealogical analysis of biopunk that would tease apart these different threads, Schmeink limits his analysis to texts that were produced after 2000, in effect providing a survey of twenty-first-century biologically inflected fictions across media. A benefit of this approach is that it allows Schmeink to acknowledge diversity within the biopunk cultural formation. For example, he accurately observes that the social practices of DIY biology and biohacking contain more of a punk sensibility than do the critically dystopian cultural artifacts he analyzes.

The weakest aspect of the book, in my mind, is Schmeink’s uncritical adoption of some rather sweeping claims from Bauman’s theory as a basis for his readings of biopunk works. For example, Chapter 4, “Science, Progeny, and the Family,” argues that Vincenzo Natali’s film Splice (2009) reveals the ways in which liquid modernity has contaminated family bonds. Due to the “liquid modern horror of continuous commitment” (135) and the ways in which reproduction is increasingly mediated by technoscience and market processes, we are told that children are liable to be treated as commodities and “human bonds become frail and easily untied” (138). Equally hyperbolic generalizations appear in other chapters as well, in which Schmeink refers to a “radical change in the make-up of inter-human relations” in liquid modernity, in which “one needs to be able to cut any relation with speed and decisive-ness” (219). The mediation of reproduction by technoscientific capitalism unquestionably raises ethical issues, particularly along the axes of economic and racial inequality. To insinuate a general association between reproductive technologies and the decay of authentic human relations, however, seems dubious in light of the fact that the post-2000 period has witnessed a growing acceptance of a variety of family structures outside the heterosexual nuclear family, many enabled by reproductive technologies. If Splice is indeed a warning about the “interpersonal consequences of relegating procreation to science and extracting it from stable, secure social relations” (16), some skepticism—or at least, a greater degree of nuance—is called for when analyzing this fear. In Schmeink’s analyses, the fictional texts tend largely to illustrate the theories of liquid modernity and posthumanism rather than complicating or challenging them. I would have liked to see more follow-through in the later chapters of an intriguing suggestion that Schmeink floats in the introduction: that Bauman’s theory can itself be read as a kind of critical dystopia, and perhaps can be taken rather less literally.

Despite my skepticism of some of the ways in which theory is invoked and frustration with jargon-laden passages that could have benefitted from further editing, I found many of Schmeink’s textual analyses to be insightful. The chapter on BioShock convincingly demonstrates how the affordances of the video-game form structurally reproduce the limits of choice in a constrained environment. BioShock’s “procedural rhetoric,” in which one must upgrade one’s biology to progress in the game, suggests that “becoming posthuman” is “non-optional” (160). The game thus offers an important rejoinder to the celebration of self-creation as individual empowerment offered by biohackers such as Zayner. Schmeink’s side-by-side comparison of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl provides a nuanced reading of the different degrees to which each text challenges or upholds aspects of humanism by way of fictional worlds rife with genetically engineered humans and nonhuman animals. Other chapters treat the television show Heroes (2006-2010) and the zombie film series Resident Evil (2002-2012) and 28 Days Later (2002/2007). Each discussion engages thoroughly with relevant scholarship, from biopolitics to game studies to creature films and the horror genre. Together, they make a convincing case that biological themes are prominent in contemporary sf across media, appearing in works that are marked by a critically dystopian sensibility. Readers wanting a clearer definition of biopunk as a cultural formation, however, may wish to begin by consulting Schmeink’s SFRA article on the same topic.

—Rebecca Wilbanks, Johns Hopkins University

Steampunk Materiality for the Digital Humanities.

Roger Whitson. Steampunk and Nineteenth-Century Digital Humanities: Literary Retro-futurisms, Media Archaeologies, Alternate Histories. New York: Routledge, 2017. xiv + 229 pp. $140 hc.

In this follow-up to his William Blake and the Digital Humanities (2013), Whitson examines and theorizes the fandom practices of steampunk, a twenty-first-century phenomenon that encompasses aesthetics, media, and performance predominantly inspired by the Victorian era. Eschewing the common definition of steampunk as “just an aesthetic, a fandom, or literary genre,” he offers the intriguing definition of steampunk as a “digital media practice” (11) that provides a compelling model for performing art, retrocomputing, and public digital humanities as ways that open such practices to a greater diversity of participants. He argues that digital humanities are currently limited to a focus on archiving and preservation, when scholars could be engaging with these archives more actively through various material and narrational methods, exemplified in steampunk through the construction of gadgets, appropriation of older technological methodologies, and reconsideration of political protest through counter-historical imaginaries.

The first chapter explores the function of time-critical devices in relation to cultural history: on one hand, devices such as computers can signify human culture and ideology but on the other, their electric signals and micro-temporalities constitute a non-discursive aspect of cultural history. Whitson offers a reading of Bruce Sterling and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine (1990) to “understand how technology can assemble variations of human history” through the question that Sterling and Gibson ask in the novel, “what is the nineteenth century to a computer?” (46) The question is answered through the novel’s narration of events from the point of view of its titular AI. A close reading of the historical Charles Babbage’s writing offers different ways of conceptualizing time, especially in relation to capitalism, economy, labor, and the factory, leading directly into the next section on hobbyist engineers who, in trying to recreate difference engines, show “the diversity of various publics working with nineteenth-century digital humanities” (56). These projects demonstrate that things cannot be invented without the appropriate materials first being invented or mass-produced to make the invention viable, tying any attempt at the standardization of time to the temporality of the non-human. The chapter echoes common steampunk criticisms of industrialized labor, pitting mechanized mass production, here articulated as “temporal efficiency,” against individualized artisanship and privileging the latter.

The second chapter brings to the forefront a discussion of human culture in relation to the non-human elements of culture. Whitson remixes the concept of “cultural techniques” by Bernhard Siegert (Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real [2015] 68), the interaction of cultural mores with material items, one as the manifestation of the other and vice versa. “Multicultural techniques,” Whitson argues, reconstruct the meaning of steampunk while addressing the importance of counterfactual narratives for a technologically mediated understanding of cultural difference. He analyzes select pieces from Hong Kong-based James Ng’s digital painting series Imperial Steamworks (2008-), Chinese-American Ken Liu’s epic fantasy The Grace of Kings (2016), and British writer Isabella Bird’s travel-book Chinese Pictures (1900). The long narrative form of Liu’s work mounts a stronger argument regarding the non-human’s place in culture, given also that it is set in a secondary world and has clear genre antecedents in the wuxia and changyue genres of Chinese popular fiction. Whitson attempts to recuperate Bird’s travel-book by characterizing it as driven by “counterfactual questions” of Western anxieties. Speculating on the lack of industrialization in China is really contemplating the future ruination of Western empires. It seems a tidy way of explaining the Orientalism and racism of the work without really discussing the White Gaze operating within it. This weakness lies in the lack of definition of the term “multicultural” (and, later in the chapter, “intersectional”), and the term “multicultural” itself becomes a synecdoche for any non-Eurocentric influences.  

Whitson continues the thread of non-human elements in human life in the third chapter, reframing computing through an ecological frame to think through the long-term effects of climate change. He argues that steampunk methodology enables a reconceptualization of the Anthropocene as having different scales of time that can be measured by the presence of material non-human objects, thus creating ways of thinking about the future beyond the immediate present. He begins with the difficulty of conceiving time beyond human limitations as exemplified in James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth (1795), then turning to China Miéville’s Iron Council (2004). The golemetry in the novel is “a physical process that is also computational” (113) that breaks from the limitation of human-scale temporality. Digital humanities, Whitson reminds us, must address this limitation through alternatives to current technologies reliant on manufacturing processes that are not ecologically sustainable, and he finds examples of the efforts to find eco-friendly alternatives in Oakland-based art group Kinetic Steam Works. I find, however, that Whitson universalizes an anxiety about mortality—Lao-American poet Bryan Thao Worra, in his 2012 blogpost “Lovecraftian Laos: Aspects of Nyarlathotep,” has discussed a Buddhist perspective toward mortality that lacks this anxiety, having a different conceptual frame of the cosmos. Nonetheless, Whitson’s reflections on deep time beyond human lifetimes are poetic: deep time forces humans to think about mortality and to consider life beyond the

In the fourth chapter, Whitson proposes a “dialectical engine,” after the engine Friedrich Engels invents in Nick Mamatas’s short story “Arbeitskraft” (2012), as a steampunk approach to labor that is embedded within nature, social structures, and technologies (130), combining the theories of Marxist scholars Jason W. Moore and Steven J. Jackson. He provides a reading of Engels in which the human is a mechanism constituted from the non-human elements and ecologies of industrial production. The non-human undermines human agency, a concept also explored in The Diamond Age (1995) by Neal Stephenson. Whitson’s counterpoint in this dialectic are the projects of Maker artist Jake von Slatt that recuperate and repair objects from the junkyard, reconstituting them into new objects. Jake von Slatt’s work, Whitson claims, epitomizes the materiality of steampunk repair, and pushes back against the commodification of celebrity in Maker culture by focusing on “the interaction of non-human forces and objects” (154). The commodification of the human as celebrity, however, is different from the commodification of the human as anonymous laborer. Thus, it is unclear to me how this emphasis on non-human labor serves also to highlight the labor of the marginalized or how these non-human processes enable the conceptualization of marginalized workers as politically important.

The final chapter, appropriately titled “Queer Publics,” brings to bear the framework of non-human temporality to show how steampunk fandom uses anachronism to step out of linear “straight” history as a form of public scholarship. Using current examples of digital humanities in action, such as the bake-off series of the Journal of Victorian Culture Online, Whitson draws a connection between the visibility of individuals and identities as mediated through nineteenth-century photography and as captured through the social media of the twenty-first century. Much of the argument regarding steampunk as a space of possibility for “new uses of historical knowledge” (167) and its utopian impulse apply not only to queerness but also to other marginalized identities as well. In an offhand mention, however, Whitson confuses the concepts of “polycentric multiculturalism” and “radical multiculturalism” put forward by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam in Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (1992), underscoring the extent to which the work of race theorists has not figured into these discussions of the human versus the non-human.

This book is ultimately directed at the digital humanities, an exhortation to re-envision the discipline beyond its current limitations as archival project into an engagement with publics beyond the ivory tower. Steampunk is a medium, a method, a means, not an end, to this vision.

—Jaymee Goh Sook Yi, University of California, Riverside

Shifting Gears.

Jeremy Withers. The War of the Wheels: H.G. Wells and the Bicycle. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2017. 249 pp. $26.95 pbk.       

From its earliest origins, science fiction has demonstrated a fascination with technologically sophisticated modes of transport. Versions of Icarus and Daedalus escaping the labyrinth with two pairs of makeshift wings date back to Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the first century CE, with Lucian of Samosota doing Ovid one better in the second century CE, when the title character of his Icaromenippus uses the severed wings of birds to flap his way to the moon and, unlike Icarus, lives to tell the tale. With the development of science fiction as a self-aware literary genre, the passion for technological transport has only intensified, manifesting in a beautifully diverse array of possibilities: baroque behemoths that dot the horizons of steampunk landscapes, swollen dirigibles comprised of uncountable layers of technological accretion that still manage, somehow, to be airborne. From hovercrafts to jetpacks, skyhooks to slidewalks, space jauntes to D-hoppers, sf relishes the opportunity to imagine the technological evolution of mobility in the future.

Given this penchant, Jeremy Withers’s War of the Wheels: H.G. Wells and the Bicycle might seem to be looking in the wrong direction. After all, far from speculating about the future of transportation, it presents a well-written and meticulously researched history of Wells’s interest in what Withers dubs the “humble bicycle,” including how cycling figures into Wells’s literary oeuvre as a whole. But rather than providing a nostalgic investigation of the past, Withers’s study reminds us that the bicycle was at the time of Wells’s most productive period of writing a startling and cutting-edge technology, and Withers does a superb job of demonstrating how Wells’s own obsession with the then-futuristic bicycle shaped his creative output. Across its introduction, six chapters, and a brief conclusion, The War of the Wheels details how Wells’s interest in cycling contributed to his emerging sensibility about the natural world, provided him new literary techniques for resisting classist elitism, provoked his ire in relation to colonial warfare, renewed his commitment to socialism, and conflicted with—before succumbing to—the burgeoning ethos of “automobility.”

Chapter 1, “Nature,” begins with a discussion of Leo Marx’s description of the disruptive potential of “the machine in the garden” and provides an overview of how Wells’s engagement with cycling, especially in his early fiction, serves to invert Marx’s maxim. Rather than positing that machines necessarily disrupt one’s experience of the natural world, Withers argues that bicycles—at least in the case of Wells—are machines that “both assist (or at least, not completely interrupt) someone communing with the natural world” (26). To buttress this claim, Withers refers to Wells’s The Wheels of Chance (1896), The History of Mr. Polly (1910), and “A Perfect Gentleman on Wheels” (1897). One of the more striking examples that Withers provides is a study in contrast. After suggesting that The Wheels of Chance uses the bicycle in place of a horse, signaling its participation in an almost romantic Arthurian quest, Withers refers us to a climactic moment in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), in which an army of five hundred bicycle-riding knights surges in to save the king. In Twain’s case, the substitution of bicycles for horses becomes an absurd, comical metaphor for industrialization. In contrast, in Wells’s Wheels the bike enables an appreciation for the environment, functioning as “a powerful tool for putting people in closer contact with plants, animals, and ecosystems” (27).

The book’s second and fifth chapters, “Arrogance” and “Commodi-fication” respectively, demonstrate how Wells’s attention to cycling provided him with new literary techniques for expressing class-based oppression and re-invigorated his commitment to socialist ideals. In “Arrogance,” for example, Withers demonstrates that while the bicycle works to foster connections to the natural world in The Wheels of Chance, in The War of the Worlds the bicycle functions quite differently, as an expression of new technology’s inability to fight against the alien invasion and as a stand-in for human hubris. In chapter five, however, Withers presents Wells’s attitude in different terms. While bikes in the War of the Worlds speak to a much longer span of human evolution, in contrast to that of the more advanced alien invaders, the bicycles in Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1909), and The Wheels of Chance fulfill desire for mobility that had been heretofore denied to the poorer economic classes. Here bikes are more about the present state of affairs, even as Wells is increasingly critical of the emerging consumer culture that surrounded cycling at that time.

The book’s third and fourth chapters on “Warfare” and “Hypermobility” address the way that Wells depicts the bicycle as both a versatile instrument for modern militarism and the ideal means of transport in an age of increasing cultural conflict. In “Warfare,” Withers provides a summary of how the cyclists during the Second Boer War were employed to deliver messages and run errands. Although they were equipped with traditional weapons, they were never described as involved in active combat. In “The Land Ironclads” (1903), Withers suggests that Wells inverts this relationship so that the more dexterous cyclists are made more integral to military success. As Withers puts it, “[t]he tables, it seems, have turned: rather than bicycles supporting the tanks, Wells gives us the more unexpected scenario of the technologically advanced tanks providing passive support and cover for the now-active cyclists. The story renders the bicycles in a much more mobile, assertive role here” (87).

In chapter four, “Hypermobiliy,” Withers tempers the flexibility of the bicycle in a military environment by comparing it to its usage by average people as a means of transportation. Here Withers argues that “Wells never associates bicycles with an unhealthy mastery of space or a dangerous shrinking of distance.” Instead, the bike functions admirably for exploring local landscapes but “does not promote people of different nationalities and regions coming into excessive, dangerous contact with one another” (126). In the book’s final chapter, “Automobility,” Withers documents the shift that occurs in Wells’s later years. While in his youth Wells was an “avid cyclist,” in his later years he succumbs to the emerging car culture of the early twentieth century, to the subsequent naturalization of automobiles as the dominant mode of transport, and to the ideological underpinnings that make the car an inevitable feature of modernity.

The book ends with a brief conclusion that gestures outward, moving from Wells’s nineteenth- and early twentieth-century expressions of cycling to contemporary discourse about sustainability and the passion for technologically enabled modes of transport that read as if they were from the pages of science fiction, including the Hyperloop, elevated buslines, and self-driving cars.

The War of the Wheels is an engaging study that will no doubt be of interest to Wells scholars and students of early science fiction. Yet it should also pique the interest of anyone concerned about living in the age of the Anthropocene. In a time when environmental precarity dominates the news and fantasies about new technologically enabled means of transport abound, Withers’s book reminds us that at one time the bicycle was a shocking, future-leaning technology with a forward-thinking, even revolutionary, potential.

—Lisa Swanstrom, SFS

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