Science Fiction Studies

#142 = Volume 47, Part 3 = November 2020


Time Machines: Science or Fiction?

Damien Broderick. The Time Machine Hypothesis: Extreme Science Meets Science Fiction. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2019. xiii+243 pp. €23,91 pbk, €18,18 ebk.

Time-travel fiction is perennially one of the most popular sf subgenres, offering audiences the excitement of endless possibilities and seemingly plausible science that perhaps is close to realization in the real world. The relationship between science and fiction in time-travel narratives remains muddled, however, due to the highly technical and speculative nature of time machines. Sf writers often get as much of the science wrong as they get right, but even physicists ardently debate how time machines might work or if they are even possible. In The Time Machine Hypothesis: Extreme Science Meets Science Fiction, Damien Broderick examines the relationship between science and some of the most celebrated time-travel sf. This is an enlightening look at some of the hard science behind time-travel hypotheses as well as a comprehensive catalogue of some of the most salient works of time-travel sf,  arranged chronologically. Despite some truly interesting sections about theoretical science and explications of beloved time-travel stories, the overall organization of the book is disjointed, and the stories selected for discussion are somewhat random and do not build upon each other the way one might expect of a chronological overview of a particular subgenre.

The work is divided into three major sections. The first, “Spacetime Time,” recounts scientific theory related to time travel. It contains four chapters that look at subjects such as black holes, tachyons, quantum theory, and other relevant phenomena related to the possibility of time travel. The second section, “Time Machine Time,” constitutes the main section of the volume and contains chapters divided roughly by decade. The final section, “A Thought Experiment Is Not a Theory,” contains a single chapter that discusses supposed instances of contact between twentieth- and twenty-first-century humans, and of alien or human time-travelers from the future, including a lengthy look at the 1917 “Miracle of the Sun” incident in Fátima, Portugal. The volume concludes with an entertaining time-travel short story by Broderick that serves as an appendix.

Part 1 serves as the basis for the volume by explaining the complicated science behind time travel. Broderick cogently reviews the findings of Albert Einstein, Richard Phillips Feynman, Stephen Hawking, and other notable scientists whose work at least supports the possibility of time travel, however unlikely it may be. As Broderick writes, “I present the Time Machine Hypothesis here as entertainment, as speculation, an exercise in following both current science and science fiction into the realm of the (barely) possible. If valid, though, it implies that future civilizations will one day master time travel” (14). While this first section is informative, the fiction that Broderick later discusses barely comes into consideration, and long passages of text throughout these opening chapters make no reference to sf at all.

When Broderick does turn his attention to fiction in Part 2, he leaves out a lot of the science that he discussed in Part 1. As a result, the two sections are too independent of each other to establish cohesion. It is difficult not to compare this work to Paul J. Nahin’s similar book, Time Machine Tales: The Science Fiction Adventures and Philosophical Puzzles of Time Travel, published by Springer in 2017, which deftly combines literary analysis with science.

In Part 2, Broderick offers a comprehensive survey of time-travel sf. This section takes a compelling look at the many different paradoxes, sub-subgenres, recurring motifs, and plotlines that make time-travel narratives so vibrant. The first chapter of this section focuses largely on the 1940s, though it does discuss a few other works going back to H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895). Each subsequent chapter focuses on a single decade from the 1950s through the 2010s and each decade has its own theme. For each work examined, Broderick offers a synopsis of the plot followed by some brief analysis. This section makes up the bulk of the volume and Broderick skillfully comments on many of the important concepts in time-travel fiction. But the 138 pages of synopsis after synopsis with no primary argument or main idea put forth makes for a plodding read. Furthermore, there seems to be no real connection among the stories chosen other than that they were written in the same decade.

Though the stories appear in chronological order, Broderick does not explain how they build upon one another or come together to form any sort of canon. The themes assigned to each decade also seem haphazard; at least, Broderick gives no explanation for why each decade should have its own particular theme. For instance, the chapter on the 1980s, “Highways to the End of Time,” focuses on time travel to the distant future, whereas the chapter on the 1990s, “Windows Into the Past,” explores the opposite direction of time travel. Why? Is there something that inherently links the 1980s to the far future and the 1990s to the past? Do these stories, taken together, signify something about their decade? Broderick does not say. Presumably all of the works Broderick chooses for commentary mark some significant progress for the genre, but this is not uniformly true. In his discussion of Highway of Eternity (1986) by Clifford Simak, for example, Broderick criticizes many aspects of the work and makes it clear that this novel, which he calls a “frustrating wander through the landscapes of eternity” (142), fails as time-travel fiction. If it is this bad and constitutes no significant advances in the genre, then why include it in this encyclopedic list of otherwise praiseworthy time-travel stories? The problem with this section of Broderick’s work is not that the synopses are bad, but that there is no identifiable structural organization.

The final section, “A Thought Experiment Is Not a Theory,” contains a single chapter, which for some reason itself has a different title, “In Search of Lost Time Machines.” In this chapter Broderick discusses several different alleged UFO sightings and abductions. The chapter reads like a paranoid conspiracy theory, and much of the research is drawn from highly questionable .com and .org websites. Broderick suggests that these encounters are the result of either time-traveling humans from the future or time-traveling aliens. Broderick writes a long-winded description of the “Miracle of the Sun” at Fátima in 1917, which he suggests is “undeniably a UFO” (207). Broderick asserts the veracity of the event by observing, “Needless to say, this erratic celestial object was not the sun.... or was it a contagious hallucination” (208). He then goes on to discuss the “Fátima UFOs” (209) as though his readers have accepted his argument without any additional evidence that they are time-travelling and/or extraterrestrial vessels. Granted, reading a book about time travel presented “as entertainment, as speculation” (14) should be undertaken with an open mind and with suspension of disbelief, but skeptical readers may find this assertion (among many others in this chapter) a bit hard to swallow. Furthermore, and once again, this section of the book has very little to do with the other two. All of the literature Broderick discusses in the second portion of the volume seems forgotten. Indeed, this final section on UFO sightings feels out of place as a conclusion to a book about time-travel sf.

Despite its structural problems, there are positives in this work. As mentioned above, the first section gives a readable explanation of the scientific theories behind time-travel narratives, making technical concepts accessible to lay readers; and the second section provides an enjoyable overview of many of the most thought-provoking and classic works in the subgenre. The anthology-like structure of the work should appeal both to seasoned readers of sf wanting to revisit some of their favorite stories as well as newcomers looking for suggestions of what to read. Most of all, The Time Machine Hypothesis captures the wonder that so many readers of sf feel when they first learn that scientists in the real world actually do study the possibility of time travel and that there may be something to these fantastic stories after all.—James Hamby, Middle Tennessee State University

Genre Nuances: “Finding the Right Tool for the Job” in Young Adult Literature.

Joseph W. Campbell. The Order and the Other: Young Adult Dystopian Literature and Science Fiction. Jackson, MI: UP of Mississippi, 2019. viii+191 pp. $30 pbk.

While the inclusion of sf texts in both secondary and tertiary curricula has increased since the emergence of sf into academia in the mid-twentieth century, the use of sf and other speculative genres in classrooms is still largely under-theorized. Even more neglected is focused work on young adult science fiction (YASF), as attention is more commonly given to texts written for adults but read by youth on the rare occasions that speculative genres are explored pedagogically. Compounding the problem, dystopian fiction for young adults has dominated the young adult (YA) market for the first two decades of this century, but still remains sorely under-explored in educational research. In light of this, Joseph W. Campbell’s study makes an important contribution both to YASF and YA dystopian literature, placing pedagogy at the center of a nuanced examination of YA fiction, genre, and the critical potential of YASF and YA dystopian literature as catalysts for social critique and change in educational spaces. Writing for critics, librarians, and educators alike, Campbell offers a framework for text selection when working with youth, including a thoughtful navigation of genre and a plethora of fictional and practice-based examples that help him to challenge common approaches to the teaching of YA fiction and to offer purposeful alternatives.

In his introduction, Campbell begins to unpack the conflated treatment of YASF and YA dystopian literature, asserting that part of the challenge with teaching these texts comes from the notion that dystopia is a subgenre of sf. He views genre as a tool towards social critique, and he argues that sf and dystopia do different things, in particular in terms of “othering” (sf) and  power (dystopia). To misclassify or merge texts in these genres undermines their critical potential, particularly as teaching tools for adolescents, given how these genres contribute to processes of subject formation. Attentive to the history of both genres, Campbell positions a thoughtful consideration of genre and the distinct contributions of these genres to adolescents’ understandings of the socially constructed self and o/Other; these concerns are at the core of his exploration.

In Chapter 1, “Interpolation, Identification, and the Boundary between Self and o/Other,” Campbell sets the theoretical stage for the rest of the book through the framework of subject formation, positioning YASF and YA dystopian literature as genres through which youth can engage in social critique, explore their relationships with myriad o/Others (YASF), and navigate power structures to examine their own agency within oppressive systems (YA dystopian literature). Beginning with theories underpinning his understanding of institutional power, the author lays the groundwork for thinking of dystopia as a genre engaged in structural and power-oriented critique through Louis Althusser’s concepts of ideological and repressive state apparatuses and Michel Foucault’s work on power and surveillance (among many other thinkers and concepts), and he makes a range of conceptual links across psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and critical theory. In contrast, Campbell conceives of sf as a genre that focuses less on power than on “the encounter with the other—exposing the act of othering ... and the role it plays in subjectivity” (31). The structure of sf is effectively described through “tools” of the genre—in particular Darko Suvin’s “cognitive estrangement” and Ernst Bloch’s “novum”—and Campbell highlights the important process of metaphorical coding as a part of readers’ critical engagement with the genre as they compare their own empirical environments to those of specific texts. The latter part of the chapter positions adolescent literature as a “socializing discourse” (33), further reinforcing the importance of examining YASF and YA dystopian literature as inherently critical genres oriented towards an age group that is often “socialized” through such literature. While the theoretical foundation Campbell provides in this first chapter does inform the rest of the book, it also serves as a kind of theoretical “info-dump.” He engages with a staggering range of theorists—Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault, Kenneth Burke, Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Slavoj Žižek, Giorgio Agamben, and Emmanuel Levinas, to name a few—before returning substantially to the central thesis of the text. It takes over thirty pages for Campbell to do this work, with only brief glimpses of his own central argument strewn throughout, making this chapter more difficult to access and mobilize as a resource for educators than it might be. Although the theoretical density of the first chapter poses barriers to engagement early on, however, it does allow Campbell to make space in subsequent chapters for more practice-based exploration, supported by a range of fictional and pedagogical examples with teaching and learning at the forefront of the text.

Chapter 2, “‘The Electric Boy Grows Up’: Science Fiction for a Young Adult Audience,” and Chapter 3, “‘The Treatment for Stirrings’: Dystopian Literature for Adolescents,” follow a similar structure, providing a detailed overview of the unique characteristics of each genre and ending with a rich range of both contemporary and foundational examples to reinforce the genre descriptions provided. In Chapter 2, Campbell provides a framework for understanding YASF as a distinct genre that helps YA readers “[deconstruct] the act of othering in their own subject formation by posing radical change” (44). Distinguishing sf from other speculative genres, the author carves out a space for YASF specifically as a genre that assists youth in asking critical sociological and existential questions, and as an opportunity to engage critically with difference. Campbell offers a history of children’s sf and YASF through the themes of technological change and familial structures, drawing in equal measure from early examples such as Robert Heinlein’s juveniles and contemporary examples such as Ned Vizzini’s Be More Chill (2004). This reinforces the argument that YASF is not simply escapist, as is often argued, but rather is an important fictional catalyst for youth’s interrogation of ideology and their own societal and interpersonal assumptions.

Taking a similar approach, Chapter 3 begins with a history of dystopia as a genre and then traces its interconnections with utopian thinking. Reframing utopian literature as a genre not of hope but of freedom, Campbell positions dystopian literature as a call to action in pursuit of freedom from oppressive ideological systems and structures. Dystopian literature in this view functions simultaneously as a warning and as a representation of human agency in the midst of oppression. For Campbell, the overt representations in dystopian fiction of Althusserian ideological and repressive state apparatuses and Foucauldian strategies of power and surveillance are integral to a text’s categorization as dystopia, uniquely distinct from both sf and genres such as post-apocalyptic fiction. He argues that a thoughtful and nuanced treatment of YA dystopia in education is crucial to maintaining its potential as a vehicle through which youth can push towards change. Beginning with examples of early adult dystopias centrally concerned with critiques of state power, such as George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), and moving to examples of YA dystopias that explore issues of power and social boundaries, such as Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993), Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember (2003), and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner (2009), Campbell uses a curated collection of examples to further clarify the parameters of dystopian literature. Ending the chapter by reinforcing the crucial differences between YASF and YA dystopian literature, the author asserts: “By understanding the difference between science fiction for adolescents and dystopian literature for young adults, we can more effectively use these texts to help them” (116). 

This mobilization of YASF and YA dystopian literature to empower students in various processes of subject formation builds toward what is arguably the heart of Campbell’s study. Chapter 4, “Teaching the Fantastic: Using Science Fiction and Dystopian Texts in the Classroom,” is expertly constructed, including a range of textual examples and once again reinforcing the argument that a more discerning definitional approach to genre increases the potential of YASF and YA dystopian literature as critical pedagogical tools. Campbell draws from his experiences juxtaposing sf and dystopian fiction in his own teaching, as well as from a wide variety of disparately situated texts about teaching sf and dystopia. Addressing the lack of focused work in this area, he also draws from educators’ experiences teaching YASF and YA dystopias in a range of contexts and through a variety of approaches. Framing these genres as catalysts for discussion, or as bridges to canonical works, or as a means of teaching science through sf, or as a way to build youths’ critical self-awareness, this chapter illustrates that, while the genre parameters that Campbell proposes are fixed, the pedagogical use of these genres is expansive, adaptable, and suited to unique teaching contexts. Building on his own and others’ teaching practices, he ultimately offers an orientation to teaching these genres that subverts traditional power structures and makes space for transgression, honors student voices through Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, and frames these genres as opportunities for emotional and collaborative self-formation against the backdrop of critical change.

In the final chapter, “Signs of Life’: Considerations for the Future of the Genres and Their Critique,” Campbell identifies opportunities for future work, notably critiquing the lack of diversity in popular YASF and YA dystopias, and the need for further representation in both fiction and pedagogical theorization. In keeping with this, he uses this last chapter to point to other voices that speak about race, gender, and sexuality through these genres. The author also problematizes potential reasons why youth might identify with dystopian narratives specifically, pointing both to the issue of climate change and to the oppressive and seemingly immovable nature of schools as institutions that exert socializing power over youth. In his final pages, Campbell reinforces the importance of studying YA specifically, given its role in socializing youth. By better understanding YA fiction and paying particular attention to critical genres and their nuances, educators can ensure texts written about and for youth are used not to foreclose their transgressive potential, but to make space for it in educational spaces.

Through The Order and the Other, Joseph W. Campbell makes an important contribution to a sparsely explored but important area of pedagogical discovery. While the main points of Campbell’s argument are repeated profusely throughout his study, which sometimes threatens the clarity of this important work, this also means that chapters stand alone as valuable resources for critics, librarians, and educators alike while also contributing meaningfully to the larger whole. Particularly as these genres maintain a significant position in popular culture, institutions of learning, and as modes through which contemporary life is critically examined, this work is invaluable and points to a growing need for more conversations regarding the critical potential of speculative fictions and pedagogies.—Brittany Tomin, York University

How We Feel About How We Feel.

Ria Cheyne. Disability, Literature, and Genre: Representation and Affect in Contemporary Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, Representations: Health, Disability, Culture and Society, 2019. 256 pp. $120.00 hc. 

We have all experienced it: reaching the end of a much-anticipated book only to find ourselves disappointed by an ending that does not fulfill our expectations. As readers, we bring certain expectations to any book as we consider what we want to read; it is safe to say, however, that many readers, unless they identify as such or advocate for, rarely consider how impairment and disability are represented in various genres. These expectations are exactly what Ria Cheyne addresses in Disability, Literature, and Genre, under the aegis of two main concepts: affect and reflexive representations. The book consists of an introduction, five chapters analyzing horror, crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and romance (from the 1960s onward), a conclusion, a works cited section, and an annotated bibliography replete with books that feature disability in some manner.

Drawing on disability studies, literary studies, and affect studies, Cheyne declares in her introduction, “Affective Encounters and Reflexive Representations,” that the purpose of her book is to “examin[e] the affective—and effective—power of disability representations in contemporary fiction” (1). This section is packed with definitions, concepts, and key points in both affect studies and disability studies. As Cheyne rightly points out, “Disability makes us feel” (1) and her book “examines how the most significant popular literary genres produce particular affective responses and the role of disability within these affective systems” (4). Notably, Cheyne insists that “affects,” much like sf, are “inherently unwieldy, intractable, and impure, resisting precise definition” (8). She determines that Margaret Price’s concept of the “bodymind” in trauma studies is “implicit within the notion of affect, and vice versa” (9), and she emphasizes that transformation is inherent in the idea of affect: “Affective and emotional factors are often much more powerful at changing minds and attitudes, and challenging prejudice, than arguments based on reason and logic” (9).

Engaging with the work of noted disability studies scholars such as Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Lennard Davis, Robert McRuer, Alison Kafer, and Tobin Siebers, Cheyne summarizes that disability is a “complex attribute arising from the intersection of bodyminds with the natural or built environment, social expectations, systemic barriers, and cultural norms”; current perceptions of disability position it as an “individual biological deficit [that] understands disabled people as worthy of pity, and assumes that cures or therapies should be utilised if available” (10). The field of disability studies, then, pushes back against these assumptions. Addressing its role in her research, Cheyne says of genre fiction that it is a rich source of representations of disability that “function[s] as part of a codified affective system”; it is a “reflexive fiction in that it always writes back, directly or indirectly, to the conventions of the genre as shaped by its history” (16-17). Using Garland-Thomson’s notion of misfits, Cheyne claims that “Misfits, with all their productive potentials, are much more likely to come into being where there is the expectation of fit” (20). She also utilizes the idea of “reflexive representations of disability,” defined as “representations which encourage the reader to reflect upon what they understand about disability and potentially to rethink it” (20; emphasis in original). Ultimately, Cheyne argues for the value of genre fiction because it “enables reflexive representations of disability precisely because it is conventional, because readers have a set of expectations about what genre texts should be like and what those texts should make them feel” (20).

In her first chapter, “Horror: Fearful Bodyminds,” Cheyne analyzes Stephen King’s Duma Key (2008) and Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter series (1981-2006), and positions horror as a genre that targets the body to react in a visceral waythat “aim[s] to produce a physiological response in readers” (29). As well as Price, Cheyne relies on David Bolt’s notion of “critical avoidance” (30) to explain why disability studies scholars and, conversely, horror studies scholars are hesitant to consider the other in their scholarship. Cheyne surmises that “In horror, people with nonnormative bodyminds have frequently been framed in particular ways in order to evoke feelings of fear, horror, and revulsion” (32). Ultimately, Cheyne concludes that the negative affects produced by horror have the potential to induce positive results through the use of reflexive representations (52).

In chapter two, “Character and Closure: Disability in Crime,” Cheyne emphasizes the convention of resolution in the crime genre (53). Specifically related to disability, Cheyne notes that “the central detective [must] be in some way exceptional ... and disability makes for a distinctive detective, creating the illusion of a unique protagonist” (56). Cheyne closely examines the “disabled detectives” (56) in Jeffrey Deaver’s The Bone Collector (1997) and Peter Robinson’s Friend of the Devil (2007). Several major topics from disability studies appear in this chapter: the concept of bodyminds, physician-assisted suicide, and the “supercrip,” which Cheyne defines earlier as “a disabled person whose extraordinary abilities or powers” are intimately connected to their disability (36). Cheyne then discusses the risk of an “unreflexive representation” that works to “reinforce dominant discourses within a disabling society” (66; emphasis in original). Lastly, a productive conversation using Ellen Samuels’s Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race (2014) reveals that by “asking ‘Whodunit?’ crime fictions aim to identify what a person is and to fix their identity accordingly” (74; emphasis in original). In the end, Cheyne posits that “Unlike disabled people in other character roles, disabled detectives are not sacrificed on the altar of closure; instead it is through their agency that closure is produced” (80).

Cheyne begins chapter three, “Wonderous Texts: Science Fiction,” with a short excerpt from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992), featuring Ng, a character who unapologetically identifies as disabled. Cheyne declares her intent to “relocate wonder at the heart of science fiction and offer a new framework for discussing the genre’s wonderous affects” (82). There is, however, a “critical ambivalence” among disability studies scholars who consider wonder in distinctly different ways (83). Addressing various concepts of wonder from Garland-Thomson, Sandra Gilbert, and Tanya Titchkosky, Cheyne then moves into an extrapolation of five sub-types of wonder (87-90), providing a plethora of sf texts that purportedly exemplify these various subcategories. Cheyne then touches on the role of wonder in one of sf’s key tropes—futurity—positing that absence or erasure of disability from any future serves as a “straightforward indicator of a more advanced society, one where the ‘problem’ of disability (conceived in biomedical terms) has been solved by techno-scientific progress” (92). Notably, while Alison Kafer interprets this absence as a discouraging sign, Cheyne claims that this type of cure may also produce a sense of wonder in readers. Through an examination of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (1986-) and Peter Watts’s Rifters trilogy (1999-2004), Cheyne somewhat disappointingly concludes that, like the other popular genres, sf “reveals that wonder [once again] can function as an important catalyst for reader reflection and [is] hence a crucial component of reflexive representations of disability” (107). Missing from Cheyne’s claims here is the resistance that some readers who identify as disabled feel toward sf’s tendency to see technology as a cure.

Chapter four, “Fantasy: Affirmation and Enchantment,” starts confusingly with a quick summary of another Bujold text, The Curse of Chalion (2001), perhaps nodding to the frequent crossover between sf and fantasy. As the title indicates, there are two genre conventions, affirmation and enchantment, that Cheyne applies to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (1996 - ) series and Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy (2006-2008), to argue that the “primary affective appeal” of fantasy fiction results from the “hopeful sense of affirmation, and an immersive enchantment related to, but distinct from, the wonderous affects evoked by science fiction texts” (110). Cheyne then posits that permanently disabled characters are sparse in fantasy; rather, heroes often acquire temporary disability that is later cured or resolved (113). Employing Bolt’s concept of the “metanarrative” that is “situated and context-specific” (117), Cheyne analyzes the myriad disabilities in Martin’s series that disrupt the contemporary metanarrative that casts persons identified as disabled as somehow lacking. In the Abercrombie section, Cheyne analyzes the series as a “grimdark fantasy” depicting “morally dubious ... characters, unheroic protagonists, and ambivalent outcomes” (124); she places it in Garland-Thomson’s misfits schema because they disrupt the “conventional quest fantasy patterns” (125). In this chapter, Cheyne seems to lose her focus on the affects in the genre and reverts simply to analyzing the texts at hand through a disability studies lens, concluding that Abercrombie’s trilogy “suggest[s] that some narratives ... are problematic or inaccessible, and depic[t] a world where narratives fail, go awry, or turn out in unexpected ways” (133).

Chapter five, “Desirable Futures: Romance,” is by far Cheyne’s strongest chapter. Here she explains that “Writers and readers of romance understand it as a particularly emotive genre whose texts—and particularly their endings—aim to generate feelings of happiness, joyfulness, and hope for the future” (135). A key concept in romance is securing the HEA (happily-ever-after) ending (136) for “worthy” protagonists (137) and, as such, novels that feature disabled protagonists require the reader to acknowledge that these characters are deserving of love and successfully obtain it (139). Relying heavily on Kafer’s work involving assumptions about the role of disability in our imagined futures, Cheyne examines Julia Quinn’s It’s in His Kiss (2005) and Barbara McMahon’s One Stubborn Cowboy (1995), as well as other romance novels, with an eye towards a “cure narrative” (143); she also examines Kafer’s notion of “the curative imaginary,” or the “understanding of disability that not only expects and assumes intervention but also cannot imagine or comprehend anything other than intervention” (147; emphasis in original). Cheyne concludes that romance as a genre can help readers imagine a transformative future that does not rely on curing or erasing disability.

In the conclusion, “Reading and Feeling,” Cheyne summarizes her main points and main reasons for taking up the intersections of genre fiction and disability studies. She explains that her decision to examine five genres together, rather than simply one genre, is “partly motivated by my frustration with existing work ... [that] frequently devalue[s] other genres ... in an attempt to secure legitimation though differentiation” (167). Cheyne also revisits the importance of disability representations in genres and the affects they create. The last section is particularly interesting in regard to earlier approaches to how representations of disability have been analyzed. Citing many disability studies scholars helps to support Cheyne’s claims; one wonders why this history is placed at the end of the book, however, and not the beginning, where it might further reader understanding.

Lastly, Cheyne offers an annotated bibliography as “an aid to future scholarship” (21). For each entry, Cheyne provides textual information and a brief mention of which disability is featured, along with a pithy description of which character is assigned that disability.While Cheyne’s overall intent here is good, lacking context and without further information there are a few troubling entries. For example, multiple characters are indiscriminately gathered under the heading of “deaf.” As many disability studies scholars and members of the D/deaf community remind us, the distinction between big D/Deaf and little d/deaf remains a contentious issue. I admit that this might not be Cheyne’s intent, but it is off-putting to see these very complex issues raised without further clarification. And, while Cheyne’s text is ultimately effective and enjoyable to read, there are two areas that may trouble a reader interested in disability studies. One is Cheyne’s decision not to consider impairment alongside disability, despite the recent turn in scholarship (Benjamin Fraser, Kafer) that encourages such an approach. Moreover, in her discussion about Kafer’s “curative imagination,” Cheyne misses an opportunity to discuss how readers might feel towards the lived experiences of those identified as disabled when it comes to dealing with chronic pain or choosing whether or not to undergo curative procedures.

Cheyne’s book is relevant to a wide variety of readers, including those interested in genre studies, literary studies, and cultural disability studies, be it critics or scholars. It is important to emphasize the cultural aspect of Cheyne’s approach because those interested in critical disability studies may be troubled by the areas mentioned in the previous paragraph. The book will also be well-received by instructors in both writing and literature classes, writers and teachers of creative writing, and those interested in the medical humanities.—Brenda Tyrrell, Miami University, OH 

Epistles from UMass.

Samuel R. Delany. Letters from Amherst: Five Narrative Letters. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2019. xvi+171 pp. $17.95 pbk.

Samuel R. Delany (as he is known on the title pages of his books, but Chip Delany in less formal contexts) is not only one of the best and most interesting writers of our time, but also an unusually versatile one. He has excelled in a number of varieties of fiction: most prominently sf, of course, but also historical fiction, sword-and-sorcery, and contemporary realism—not to mention several fictional texts whose genres Delany seems to have virtually invented, such as that remarkable “pornotopic fantasy” (his own term), The Mad Man (1994). He is nearly as distinguished as a writer of nonfiction. He is one of our great autobiographers and also an important scholar, critic, and theorist—of sf, but also of a great many other things, from Wagnerian opera to comic books.

The personal letter is yet another of the forms in which Delany has worked, though here his achievement is probably better appreciated by those fortunate enough to be among his correspondents than by the reading public at large. Delany’s letters are notable for their length (the first one I received, before I had ever met him, filled about 20 typed pages), their variety, and their combination of witty high spirits and intellectual rigor. Someday, I hope and expect, industrious scholars will produce a published edition of Delany’s collected correspondence. I cannot guess exactly how large in bulk it will be, but feel sure that it will run to many volumes. So far, however, only a small fraction of this material is available in print. A generation ago, Voyant Publishing brought out 1984: Selected Letters (2000), a fascinating volume that fills 350 closely printed pages and that represents only a selection of the letters Delany composed during or close to the Orwellian year (specifically, between June 1983 and January 1985). I reviewed 1984 in SFS 27.3 (Nov. 2000). Now Wesleyan (Delany’s principal publisher for many years) has brought out this much smaller book.

The main text of Letters from Amherst consists of five letters written between February 1989 and September 1991—that is, a few years after the period covered in 1984, and when Delany had taken up his first full-time and permanent academic position as a professor of comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (he would later go on to hold professorships at SUNY-Buffalo and then at Temple University). Each of the letters is the length of a substantial essay (the longest letter in 1984 is as long as a short book). Three are addressed to the late librarian and bibliographer Robert Bravard, one to the scholar and critic Kathleen Spencer, and one to the fiction writer Erin McGraw. The volume also contains an appendix titled  “Letters to Iva,” which includes ten much shorter letters that Delany wrote between July 1984 and August 1988 to his daughter Iva Hacker-Delany (born in 1974 to Delany and the distinguished poet Marilyn Hacker) while she was away at summer camp.

The five main letters are not quite so purely narrative as the subtitle of the volume might lead one to expect. But they do contain some interesting stories, told at considerable length, and the narrative dimension of the book will probably be its chief interest for most readers. Perhaps the most interesting of the stories—and certainly the story that has turned out to be most personally consequential for Delany—is the one about how he met Dennis Rickett, the man who became his life partner. We learn of it in one of the letters to Bravard, composed when the relationship had been ongoing for most of a year. One day in 1989, Delany was down from UMass and staying in his Manhattan apartment. Strolling along 72nd Street, he came upon Rickett, at that time a homeless street vendor who had been sleeping rough in New York City for six years, and who had a number of books that he was offering for sale spread out on a blanket: “a very dirty guy in an ever dirtier jumpsuit, fiddling with a fairly large radio” (29). Delany noticed a book that he wanted to read but found he had no cash on him. Dennis suggested that Chip could take the book and pay for it later, whenever he happened to pass that way again—though Dennis doubted that he would ever actually see the two dollars that he was asking for the volume. But Chip did return with the money, the two men got to talking, and gradually a friendship developed. After some conversation about their respective sexual tastes, Dennis and Chip decided to spend some time together in a motel room in order to gauge their compatibility as lovers. It was, evidently, the first occasion in six years on which Dennis had enjoyed access to a bath or a bed, and those who recall the element of gritty Joycean naturalism in Delany’s fiction will not be surprised by the frankness of some of the descriptions here: for instance, “I’ve seen people take baths where the water turned gray from the dirt. But five minutes after he went in, I looked in to see how he was doing. He might as well have been sitting in a tub of India ink. Gray suds floated around the clutch of his bone-white ribs” (33). Whether despite or (as Delany suggests) partly because of such things, the encounter goes well and before long the two men are living together—as they have been ever since. The story of how Chip and Dennis found each other will not, of course, be entirely new to Delany’s readers. It constitutes the narrative of Bread & Wine: An Erotic Tale of New York, the graphic memoir that Delany published in 1999, with drawings by the brilliant New York artist Mia Wolff. Indeed, much of the text of that volume is taken from this letter to Bravard. But the purely textual version of the story in Letters from Amherst has its own integrity and supplies interesting details not found in the earlier book.

Writing about 1984, I maintained that the letters revealed Delany to be that rarest of beings, a natural democrat who sincerely and unaffectedly finds many different sorts of people to be interesting and attractive: “He approaches his fellow creatures as equals,” as I put it 20 years ago, “without a trace of snobbery or inverted snobbery, glad to mix with college professors and with homeless hustlers, with society hostesses and with street junkies” (526). I was interested to find that Nalo Hopkinson (once a student of Delany’s) makes a similar point in her brief introduction to the current volume: “The strongest impression I came away with from reading it; Chip likes people” (xv). There is perhaps no better illustration of this point than the fact that this author and scholar (and voracious reader), who comes from an intellectually distinguished and comparatively prosperous African-American family, should have found the great love of his life with a homeless street merchant of working-class Irish-German background—who, before meeting Chip, had never read a book (even though he sold them).

The Delany family happens to be at the center of another of the volume’s most interesting narratives, found in another of the letters to Bravard. The founding patriarch of the modern Delany family was the writer’s grandfather, Henry B. Delany. Born into slavery, he lived to become a college adminis-trator and a suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Church (making him the first black bishop of any predominantly white denomination). One of Bishop Delany’s many children was Judge Hubert T. Delany, an early advocate for civil rights and for many years a justice in the Domestic Relations Court of New York City. A Republican, Judge Delany was known for strongly liberal views and, in 1955, was considered too left-wing even by the liberal Democratic Mayor Robert Wagner to warrant re-appointment to the bench. “From the age of eight through sixteen or so,” says our author, “for me to meet someone new was invariably to be asked, ‘Are you related to Hubert Delany, the Judge...?’” (60). Judge Delany’s funeral in 1990 provides the occasion for the impromptu family reunion that his nephew Chip Delany recounts at length. Family gatherings can be occasions for some awkwardness, since those attending may have little in common except bloodlines. Given Chip Delany’s unusually catholic taste for people of all sorts, this is presumably less of a problem for him than it might be for most; but even he, it seems, mixes more enthusiastically with some Delanys than with others. He is particularly delighted to see his maiden aunts Bessie and Sadie Delany, sisters of Judge Delany, who at that time had lived for 99 and 101 years, respectively: “like slender, benevolent hawks” (68), as he describes them. Both civil-rights pioneers and, respectively, a dentist and an educator, these are the famous “Delany sisters,” known mainly on account of their best-selling oral autobiography, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years (1993), which was adapted into a Broadway play and then into a television miniseries.

Given the interest and importance of the Delany family, it is perhaps a little surprising that families do not figure more prominently in Chip Delany’s writing. More common are quasi-familial groups of friends that are held together by bonds of personal choice rather than by actual kinship—such as  the people who gather around the Kid in Dhalgren (1975), or the members of Delany’s “urban commune” in Heavenly Breakfast (1979). The most notable exception, probably, is the family of the “industrial diplomat” Marc Dyeth, which is described at length in the novel that some of us believe to be Delany’s very finest, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984). In the letter to Bravard about Judge Delany’s funeral, we learn that the Dyeths are indeed at least partly modeled on the Delanys.

There are a number of other interesting things in Letters from Amherst. Sf aficionados may be particularly interested in the story (in yet another of the letters to Bravard) of a three-day visit that Judith Merril pays to Delany. She comes bearing a good deal of gossip about the sf world, mainly concerning her own eventful private life. She tells of an early affair with John Michel (described by Delany as “a Futurean who never really wrote any SF but who was the acknowledged genius of the bunch, the mentor of Pohl and Kornbluth and Asimov as well as of Judy” [11]), and of a more consequential one with Walter M. Miller, best known for A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960), whom Merril describes as the great passion of her life. Miller, carrying an (unloaded) firearm, figures prominently in a scene in which Frederik Pohl, Merril’s ex-husband, turns up and forcibly attempts to take custody of their daughter Ann.

Less sensational but more intellectually engaging is the story (told in the letter to McGraw) of Moonlight Films, a British crew that arrives in New York to shoot some footage of Delany for a BBC documentary on African-American sf (which, as Delany says, at that time pretty much meant Octavia Butler, Steven Barnes, and himself). Most of the crew are less than brilliant at their chosen tasks. As we watch them try to make a documentary through Delany’s patient, tolerant, amused eyes, the effect is a bit like watching the Keystone Kops trying to fight crime. What may surprise the reader—because Delany has written little film criticism over the years—is the extent of his own knowledge about filmmaking, although, as the letter to McGraw reminds us, he did once direct a film of his own (The Orchid 1971). Perhaps the most interesting parts of this letter are Delany’s extensive technical comments about setting up shots and shooting footage, matters about which he appears to know a good deal more than the hapless Moonlight director.

The letters to Iva are not only shorter than the five in the main text but also more personal and less narrative. Though Delany has written a vast amount about various aspects of his life in both his fiction and his nonfiction, he mentions his daughter more rarely than one might expect—perhaps, I should guess, out of respect for her privacy (after all, Iva never chose to be the daughter of two famous writers). In the appendix to this volume, then, Delany appears in the comparatively unfamiliar role of doting father. The pressure of work prevents him from visiting Iva at camp as often as he would like, but he takes care that plenty of letters and supplies are sent to her.

Letters from Amherst does not constitute one of the most important additions to the Delany oeuvre. But even minor Delany is a major publishing event, and no one with a serious interest in one of the most accomplished of all sf writers will want to miss this volume.—Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University

War of the Worldviews.

Richard Grigg. Science Fiction and the Imitation of the Sacred. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. viii+151 pp. £90.00/$120.00 hc, £28.99/$39.95 pbk., £31.30/$35.95 ebk.

Grigg’s approach to past scholarship on science fiction, theology, and religious studies is to appeal to the handful of thinkers he finds useful and ignore the rest. This style of scholarship gives him the freedom to advance his argument without critical resistance and with great creativity and efficiency; however, it simultaneously limits its use for other scholars. SFS readers may find its lack of engagement with sf scholarship frustrating, but a subset of scholars who teach courses on “religion and science fiction” could find Grigg’s work interesting and pedagogically useful. The primary value of this work lies in the classroom discussions it might enable, and it is written with the classroom in mind.

Unlike the trajectories that contemporary sf studies have taken (looking at global sf, queer sf, Afrofuturism, and so on), Grigg’s text assumes a normative liberal, Western perspective. Christianity is the prototypical traditional “world religion,” with light engagement with an idealized Buddhism, and the primary questions are those of a (post-Christian) theology actively engaged with the contemporary world. To be used responsibly as a foundational text for a class on “religion and science fiction,” one should encourage students to read this text critically, actively engaging with how categories such as the “sacred,” “secular,” and “world religions” have been constructed. Such a class would also do well to interrogate Grigg’s definition of “science fiction” in terms of technology (for an example of Grigg’s running up against his own definition, see 77-78).

One of the still-prominent approaches to the study of “religion” regards a certain kind of experience as distinctively characteristic of the phenomenon: a sui generis sense of the “sacred,” “numinous,” “transcendent,” “divine,” “incalculable,” “sublime,” “Other,” “eternal,” and so on. This experience is regarded by relevant members of the phenomenological, perennialist, or experiential school as temporally and geographically panhuman and innate, immediately given to consciousness as opposed to socially constructed and contingent, and lying at the heart of all the “world religions.” This is not the place to go into the details of the critical literature on this subject, but its existence is relevant because of Grigg’s extensive dependence on the category of the “sacred.” Experiences are generated in an interplay of bottom-up and top-down cognitive processes; with the neurotheological authors whom Grigg cites, one can acknowledge a substratum of relatively consistent bottom-up input accessible to at least most humans, while also noting that every experience will be constituted in culturally contingent ways using distinctive attributional systems.

Science Fiction and the Imitation of the Sacred assumes a robust metanarrative of secularization that prioritizes ideas of loss and nostalgia, and that assume secularization’s success and God’s nonexistence; in this context and given Grigg’s use of the concept of “imitation,” it would have been nice to see him engage with the literature on the relationship of concepts such as simulation, hyperreality, spectacle, and virtuality to conditions of secularity and postmodernity. That said, Grigg’s critical attitude toward the notion that the imaginative art of science fiction gives access to the sacred or transcendent, as reflected in his insistence on its being an “imitation,” is a refreshing, if only partial, turn away from the virtually universal romanticism under the influence of which most other studies of “religion and science fiction” are developed.

Grigg uses the concept of “imitation” to indicate the non-reality of the “sacred” supplied by science fiction; it is not “genuine” (3). His text assumes that past humans experienced a sacred or divine that was given to them without mediation, a sacred that possessed all the attributes described in their sacred texts. He does not seem to think of ancient peoples as engaging with their own experiences and narratives in imaginative, playful, and aspirational ways comparable to our own.

And yet his text depends throughout on such a comparison, finding that science fiction generally falls short of the sacred offered by traditional “world religions,” especially Christianity. Grigg’s text might be compared to Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy (1917) or Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane (1957), which define the “sacred” as Grigg understands it, tracing how science fiction imitates the sacred as “ultimate transformation,” “participation and self-transcendence,” “ultimate concern,” “a way of world-making,” and “apocalypse.” (The sixth chapter’s focus on the apocalyptic and abyssal character of the sacred, while happily taking note of the otherwise generally neglected dark aspects of religion, is in some disagreement with his prior characterization of the sacred as being the opposite of death and finitude [1].) And just as a critical reader of Otto, for example, might analyze how he discursively produces the phenomenological object he regards as given to consciousness, so too one can admire Grigg’s creativity as he selects and interprets texts—primarily mass-cultural film and tv texts such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977),and the various iterations of Star Trek (1966-), but also narratives such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Nine Lives” (1968) and Ben Bova’s Leviathans of Jupiter (2011)—in order to construct the “imitation of the sacred” that sf supposedly supplies to people suffering the condition of secular crisis, loss, and longing. One could easily use Grigg’s study to design a class around his survey of theologies and religious themes, but such a design would tend to indoctrinate students in a particular vision of what counts as “religion” and as religion’s constitutive “sacred.” It is for this reason that I would encourage a more critical use of the text if one were to adopt it for pedagogical purposes.

Grigg identifies five qualifiers that reduce the “sacred” offered by science fiction to the level of “imitation.” The first qualifier is a set of concepts that includes the ontological, epistemic, and temporal: science fiction, at least in the moment of a text’s composition, is known and presented as fictional— though potentially a future reality—in contrast to the religious sacred, which is and is known immediately to be real (here too, Grigg concedes that religions, like sf, often tantalize with promises of access to the fullness of the sacred in the future). While acknowledging the existence of sacred fictions in traditional religions, as well as various forms of postmodern textual play with categories such as “reality” and “fiction,” Grigg insists that real religions offer access to the sacred in the present (he simultaneously admits that the “sacred” encountered by ancients was always an imaginative projection [41, 45]), while science fiction, at best, defers the sacred to other times and places. Again, the imaginative and fantastical character of ancient religious engagement with the sacred is implicitly denied or at least neglected as part of a staged metanarrative of rupture between the past and the present.

His second qualifier is what he calls “the problem of the ontological ladder” (15; emphasis in original). That is, the traditional sacred is the abyssal ground of being that produces and sustains all particular beings whereas, in contrast, Grigg claims that science fiction “deals with technologies produced by beings within the universe” (15). This limited understanding of sf may be somewhat unsatisfying to some but, still, surely sf explorations of reality as a simulation, for example, confront the question of the ground of being; science fiction contains countless representations of possible foundations and background conditions to the universe. If the claim is that the only ground of being that would qualify as “sacred” is one that possesses the attributes of God or Dharma, then this seems simply to be a function of Grigg’s fidelity to a stipulated definition. Given the discursive, ideological, and political genealogy of the “sacred,” it is not an effective comparative category, and this problem vexes his entire project. The ontological ladder argument, with the “sacred” as the utterly altus source and horizon of Being, seems—for all Grigg’s post-Christian concessions—problematically to assume and privilege the Christian cosmology. If the point is that contemporary myths are often populated by different beings and organized by different concerns than ancient ones, okay, but then why engage in the comparative effort just to make this point using a category that weights things in favor of one side of the comparison?

Consider an example of Grigg’s way of making the point that sf’s simulations of the sacred cannot live up to the real thing. At one point, he argues as follows:

Think too of the Buddhist notion of the Bodhisattva of infinite compassion. Might it be possible successfully to imagine extraterrestrials characterized by moral perfection and infinite compassion? I think not, assuming that all of the living things that make up our universe have evolved via something akin to the process so famously described by Darwin. (44; emphasis in original)

But sf authors have explored this possibility. To take one example, Orson Scott Card’s The Worthing Saga (1990) both imagines “extraterrestrials characterized by moral perfection and infinite compassion” and attempts a theodicy that reconciles this with the permission of suffering, engaging throughout with the Christian tradition as a silent interlocutor, albeit through Card’s distinctively Mormon lens.

Grigg’s last three qualifiers are much more interesting and could no doubt stimulate great classroom discussions: the technology irony (that present technoscientific advances evacuate the world of the sacred, while imagined future advances supply an sf imitation of the sacred), the realization irony (that what is special and wondrous in imagination is normalized when ubiquitously actualized), and the perspective irony (that the worldviews of sf creators are limited and that these limitations undermine the potential of their creations to be “deemed unambiguously sacred” [18]). Regarding the realization irony, Grigg’s argument is somewhat fuzzy. Is it that something wonderous will cease to be so once actualized or that it will cease to be special once it is actualized and abundant? And the perspective irony, as Grigg himself notes, is present in traditional religions (43), so in this he again seems to be at variance with himself. He later introduces a final irony, the irony of assent (that “religion” produces assent by building up a self-evident plausibility structure due to the intersubjective confirmation of already-established and generalized belief, whereas sf possibilities, even when based on sound scientific theories and evidence, lack this persuasive power), which seems to suggest that the false-but-believed is more worthy of being regarded as “sacred” than the likely-but-discounted. The sacred truly is incredible!

Whatever one thinks of Grigg’s argument, he introduces students to a number of interesting questions and ideas along the way. His last chapter is a fascinating general reflection on how the background assumptions of science fiction are producing “a unique, post-secular deterministic spirituality” (131) and, in a footnote to his introduction and later in his main text, he rightly suggests that science fiction can be used as part of a philosophical anthropology through which one can engage in imaginative variations to explore what it means to be human (134; cf. 49 ff.). And he makes a solid argument along Heideggerian lines that apocalyptic sf texts, by confronting readers with finitude and nonbeing, may provide potent stimuli to engage in such anthropological reflection. Grigg also implicitly makes a delightful case for the comparative study of religions and other worldviews, observing that “the fullest form of participation will always be intersubjective participation, that is, participation in the thinking of other sentient beings” (67); from this perspective, Star Trek’s mission seems to offer a legitimate example of a secular “ultimate concern”: “Barring the existence of a real Supreme Being, ... surely the incorporation of as many different intelligent species into one’s consciousness and self-image as humanly possible is about the best one can expect to do when choosing an ultimate concern” (76). Grigg’s argument, in the familiar romantic fashion, essentializes alien species as possessing homogenous worldviews; it neglects still other orders of infinity, what might be called the “aleph-one” of individuals’ perspectives within such species and, one might add, the “aleph-two” of the incalculable potential for multiple worldviews, including those we have access to in fiction, that reside in each sentient being. Because Grigg is so interested in the really real and relatively dismissive of the merely fictional, the most worthwhile sf worlds and worldviews, in his view, are those of hard sf; drawing on the theory of an infinite multiverse, he argues that the speculative project of imagining worlds and worldviews consistent with present scientific knowledge may function as a kind of secular prophecy, that is, the discovery and experiential realization through the medium of fiction of actual extraterrestrial worlds (see 91, 96, 101-102). In his concern to establish reason for faith in the existence of such worlds, one can again see how powerfully he is influenced by the Christian worldview his project so mournfully knows to be fiction.—Nathan Fredrickson, University of California, Santa Barbara

Starring Joanna Russ.

Gwyneth Jones. Joanna Russ. Urbana: U of Illinois P, Modern Masters of Science Fiction, 2019. ix+218 pp. $99 hc, $22 pbk, $14.95 ebk.

This volume is one of fourteen so far in the University of Illinois Press series Modern Masters of Science Fiction edited by Gary K. Wolfe. The series is of reliably high quality and interest for sf scholars and readers, as one would expect from an editor of Wolfe’s caliber. He is also the editor of a number of the sf volumes in the Library of America series: they too are of uniformly high quality. Indeed, the only problem with the Illinois series is reflected in its name, in its use of the word “Masters.” The series has only three volumes about women and only two by women. Judging by my own experience in attempting to write for the series, the problem may be finding scholars who are willing to undertake the projects, rather than any bias on the part of the editor or publisher. I was approached to write about Sheri Tepper, who very much deserves a volume, but found I just could not do it and bowed out. Nevertheless, I hope eventually to find volumes on her, Ursula K. Le Guin, Eleanor Arnason, Suzy McKee Charnas, Joan Slonczewski, Carol Emshwiller, Connie Willis, Nancy Kress, and many others. Then perhaps the title of the series might change as well—“Stars,” maybe?

Meanwhile, along with the volumes on Lois McMaster (that word again) Bujold and Octavia Butler, here is one on the well-deserving Joanna Russ, a star of both fiction and criticism, who could hold her own in any list of “masters.” And the book is written by another writer deserving of a volume in the series, Gwyneth Jones, who also excels in both fiction and critical writing: see her Aleutian series (1991-1997), as well as her Deconstructing the Starships: Essays and Reviews (1999). The volume is thorough and accurate, with a strong thesis that all Russ’s work, both fiction and non-fiction, is at heart autobiographical. The writing is surprisingly plain, however, and the content strongly dominated by description over analysis.

Jones organizes her book in a roughly chronological manner, shaping each chapter around Russ’s engagement with aspects of feminism and experimentalism in fiction, as well as in reviewing and broader kinds of criticism. Each chapter also speculates on the ways in which Russ’s work reflects her childhood and adult experiences. The book ends with a very brief Afterword, two interviews, a primary bibliography, a secondary bibliography placed after the endnotes, and a useful index.

The first chapter, “Joanna Russ, Trans-Temp Agent,” sets up the autobiographical claim that after World War II, coinciding with her father becoming ill, he became a bully and her mother a “Squashed Woman” (Russ qtd. 2). Consequently, Joanna rebelled intellectually and became “one of those who spoke for a generation of angry young women, enfranchised but far from emancipated—first as one of twentieth-century sf’s greatest writers, critics, and apologists, later also as a radical feminist” (3). This is the core of the volume’s thesis, how Russ’s writing and worldview arose from her childhood experiences to become representative of a “female adolescent drama of disillusion ... unfolding all over America (and the whole Western world)” (3; emphasis in original). We learn of her precocious intellectual gifts, her time at Cornell where she studied under Nabokov, her graduate work at Yale in drama, and her gradual realization of the bias against female scholars and writers. The rest of the chapter describes her stories, including the Alyx stories through 1970 and Picnic on Paradise (1968). This section connects the stories to Russ’s life but is largely descriptive, as will be the pattern throughout.

Chapter two discusses “Joanna Russ and the New Wave,” including her reviews from 1966 to 1971, essays from 1966 to 1971, stories from 1967 to 1970, and her novel And Chaos Died (1970). That is to say, this chapter, as is so for all the chapters, is completist in its coverage. Describing the reviews, Jones says Russ “could be severe (or worse, wickedly funny) but always gave her reasons and examined her own opinions” (25), objecting to “more of the same” (26), including “the crime of leaving the gender roles of mid-century USA intact in the distant future” (25). The essays seem more considered, scholarly, and thoughtful. The section on the stories is primarily plot summary, but there is more analysis, along with quite a bit of plot, in the section on And Chaos Died. Jones writes that it embraces “domestic themes: nursing and nurturing; the coded-feminine ability to perceive and meet others’ needs. But this hot female core is safely buried in layers of New Wave style, bravura sf exposition, and dispatches from the turbulent, idealistic American culture wars” (32). Interestingly, she parallels Russ’s novel with Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren (1974), but does not develop the comparison.

Chapter three, “Year Zero Art: A Lost Generation Finds its Voice in The Female Man,” is my favorite. Again, Jones describes reviews, essays, and short stories, here from 1971 to 1975, but what follows is a very fine analysis of the great novel The Female Man (1975). She first discusses connected stories and then offers a general introduction on “Female-ordered Utopias” (55), which begins quite wonderfully with Margaret Cavendish. Jones goes on to describe the novel in detail but in a more illuminating way than in earlier (and later) chapters. She sees the novel as “both an authentic record of feminist awakening (as many readers have found) and Joanna’s own, raw, personal testament” (67). The novel is, Jones proclaims:

Year Zero art.... There is only one character, the writer, deconstructed. There is only one story: how she came to embrace radical feminism while retaining a feminine past, still living inside her, whose alter-ego is a fury of repressed rage, and a present identity as a battle-weary female academic and writer, goaded by incessant sexism, whose alter-ego lives in a future cleansed of gender-role dominance. (68)

This is, I think, a magnificent deployment of Jones’s autobiographical thesis.

Chapter four, “The Secret Feminist Cabal,” is the weakest. Its title refers to a special issue of the fanzine Khatru on “Women in Science Fiction” (1974), which included lots of heavy hitters: Suzy McKee Charnas, Samuel R. Delany, Virginia Kidd, Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntire, Raylyn Moore, James Tiptree, Jr., Luise White, Kate Wilhelm, and, of course, Joanna Russ (69). In addition to covering that event, the chapter describes essays between 1973 and 1975 and stories between 1971 and 1975. The material included in this chapter is historically invaluable but the organization and explanation seem somewhat muddled. The next chapter, “The Spook by Science Fiction’s Door,” explores Russ’s anger as manifested in her work from 1975 to 1977, including “We Who Are About To ...” (1977). The two remaining chapters follow the general pattern, detailing the works and relating them to Russ’s life: interesting, thorough, but with only a few analytical insights. Chapter seven, “Beyond Gender,” reminded me that I had given a speech for Russ’s 1988 Pilgrim Award, incorrectly claiming that she was the first woman to receive the award, when Marjorie Hope Nicolson had won in 1971. That was embarrassing! Jones makes the elegant point later in the chapter that “Joanna tries ... to ‘create the female reader’: to speak as if to a default female audience instead of to the default male” (139; emphasis in original). The body of the book ends with a very brief “Postscribble” that summarizes her importance and relates her death.

Two interviews follow: one from 2017-2018 between Jones and Kathryn Cramer, who had known Russ, and the other conducted by Quest, a feminist quarterly, in summer 1975. They are brief but intriguing. The primary and secondary bibliographies, along with the interviews and the thorough coverage of Russ’s work that Jones offers make this volume one that libraries public, academic, and personal should possess, especially if they have an interest in feminist literature and/or science fiction. While I wanted more of Jones’s own perceptive insights, this book is still a fine tool for continuing Joanna Russ’s legacy.—Joan Gordon, SFS

A Planetary Thing.

Robert Markley. Kim Stanley Robinson. Chicago: U of Illinois P, Modern Masters of Science Fiction, 2019. xii+236 pp. $25 pbk, $14.95 ebk.

Robert Markley’s Kim Stanley Robinson, a recent entry in the University of Illinois Press’s Modern Masters of Science Fiction series, occupies itself closely with Robinson’s sf, his interviews, and his shorter pieces of writing. Moreover, it thoroughly engages with criticism on Robinson’s catalogue of writing, featuring a highly useful timeline of Robinson’s major and minor publications to date. Following the set-up of most books in this series, Markley divides the book into six chapters, each focusing on a number of Robinson’s works that fit within a central theme. Markley forms these themes around the clusters of Robinson’s novels that make good intuitive sense. He arranges them in such a way that their principles form a kind of constellation or, to use a different metaphor, an ecosystem. Here, history, ecology, utopia, and social and spiritual life become synchronized dials: one cannot divulge anything about one in Robinson’s works without elaborating the others. In the first two chapters, readers can move from Robinson’s alternative histories to his variant generic twists on Orange County’s future. One of the strongest chapters in the book, “‘I Saw Through Time’: Falling into Other Histories,” works through several alternative-history stories, including “The Lucky Strike” (1984) and “A Sensitive Dependence on Internal Conditions” (1991), and two novels, The Years of Rice and Salt (2002) and Shaman (2013). Markley demonstrates the way that Robinson’s craft assesses the contingencies of historical change through the focal point of narrative. The next two chapters deal with Robinson’s core ecological trilogies, as Markley moves from a discussion of areoforming Mars in the Mars trilogy (1992-1996) to one about terraforming Earth in the Science in the Capital trilogy (2004-2007), since abridged as Green Earth (2015). The final set of chapters assesses Robinson’s more recent fiction. Markley considers Galileo (2009) and 2312 (2012) in light of humanity’s place in the solar system, and develops questions from Aurora (2015) and New York 2140 (2017) about future history and ongoing failure. In this final chapter, Markley repeats one of the most profound lines from Aurora. Freya’s friend Euan says that “Life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet.... It develops to live where it is. So it can only live there, because it evolved to live there” (qtd. 178).

If it is not already clear, let me say it directly: Markley gets Robinson’s work. I can see this understanding in Markley’s selection of precise, vivid quotations from each text. In many ways, reading Markley feels like reading Robinson. He presents what he sees in total. He processes the major events in each work, dialing in to focus on particular moments. Kim Stanley Robinson never feels formulaic and even readers highly familiar with Robinson’s work will find something of interest here. For myself, this something arrived in the form of experiencing a fellow traveler’s assessment of books that have had a profound impact on my own thinking about science fiction, utopia, politics, and ecology. Encountering the Three Californias triptych (1984-1990) or the Mars trilogy through Markley’s reading comforted me, because Markley tends to read Robinson’s work in the spirit in which it operates. I struggle with how to make this point because, though I am supportive of Markley’s narrative strategy, I may seem critical. The book does not offer an explicit interpretation of Robinson’s work; rather it strives to make Robinson’s implied sense of utopian struggles apprehensible. Let me put this observation in other terms. Markley’s research into the Californian author confirms a hunch of mine: Robinson writes his way through the limit to his thought; he struggles to write the thing that seems implausible in the present. For instance, in Icehenge (1984) a revolution happens on Mars. Later, in the Mars trilogy, Robinson writes his way, much more closely, through several revolutions. Rather than presenting utopia as a fait accompli, Robinson tries to show how people today might imagine and enact getting there.

Reading Markley reveals the way that Robinson has long worked through a kind of recursive elaboration. Markley discovers the germ of many of the later works in Robinson’s earliest output. This point makes sense in light of Robinson’s first trilogy, though one could elaborate it by turning elsewhere. The Three Californias triptych plays out three versions of the future of Orange County, California. In those novels, Robinson marries American literary tropes and modes with post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and ecotopian settings (respectively). In The Wild Shore (1984), a conflict emerges between techno-utopianism and the social good; in The Gold Coast (1988), a utopian spirit subsists amidst autopia’s stacked highways; in Pacific Edge (1990), a mission to Mars is made possible through a new communal, ecological economics. Across his career, Robinson struggles with the same problematics, yet he returns to them each time with greater empathy, focus, and understanding. What begins with two short stories—“Exploring Fossil Canyon” (1982) and “Green Mars” (1985)—has yet to end, as more of Robinson’s sf exists in the Mars trilogy storyworld or adjacent to it in alternate timelines: Icehenge, The Martians (1999), Galileo’s Dream (2009), 2312 (2012), and, well, one can get carried away here. Robinson keeps circling back, expanding the history or geography of his fiction in order to get closer to the workings of utopian practice. I detect a version of this recursive impulse in so many media franchises and storytelling ventures of the past forty years; yet Robinson’s return to ideas past always crucially brings along with it the spirit of the sf mode: a principle concern with what has changed in real world history and with how this change might need storyworld elaboration for a new set of sf readers.

Another way to show the recursive elaboration Robinson undertakes would be to show its fluctuation and deviations. For instance, in a paper delivered in Glasgow at Petrocultures 2018: Transitions (31 August 2019), titled “‘Guns under the Table’: Kim Stanley Robinson and the Transition to Eutopia,” Andrew Milner has argued that Robinson’s trilogies swing between two ends of a science-fiction/realism spectrum in time with the office of the president of the United States of America. When Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and George W. Bush (2001-2009) were in office, Robinson published Three Californias and Science in the Capital; meanwhile, the Mars trilogy, Galileo’s Dream (2009), 2312 (2012), Shaman (2013), and Aurora (2015) were published largely during the Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and Barack Obama (2009-2017) years; finally, with Donald Trump in office, Robinson has most recently published New York 2140 (2017) and Red Moon (2018), promising The Ministry for the Future later this year. Markley’s text demonstrates but does not make Milner’s periodizing argument. Instead, Markley shows readers Robinson’s career in order that they might make sense of it. Both critics might agree that the utopian imagination in late capitalism waxes and wanes with the leadership of the global hegemon and, importantly, that Robinson responds to the present as history by writing the kind of utopian sf that we need.

Looking back at Robinson’s catalogue, it is clear that he is far from finished as a writer. This fact cramps Markley’s proleptic style in the later chapters. This development in the book makes sense to me, especially as Markley opens Kim Stanley Robinson by acknowledging the particular frustration of writing about a living contemporary. With a consistent author such as Robinson, new books are respectively published, written, and conceived in the span of assessing the latest release. Markley several times repeats the phrase “crabbing sideways towards the good” (a point made by other reviewers as well) in increasing frequency toward the end of the book. It becomes one way to described the constellation of Robinson’s corpus, although as Markley points out, many more patterns can resolve when observing the light from that celestial body. I can accept Markley’s reliance on metaphor given the phantasmagoria of the present. Markley’s use of this phrase describes how Robinson steadily elaborates and deepens a mode of writing as conceptual experimentation that began in the early 1980s, even if I might have preferred some stylistic variation.

Kim Stanley Robinson leaves future scholars with a solid foundation in Robinson’s work to date. If Robinson’s past consistency is any indication, we have much to look forward to and even more to live up to in the core principle that humanity can begin to change in the face of an alienating and bewildering present. I have titled this review based on one of the most profound insights of Robinson’s work. To the techno-utopian who latches on to the terraforming achievements of the scientists and capitalists in the Mars trilogy, the phrase “Life is a planetary thing. It begins on a planet and is part of that planet …” may seem anti-utopian. To them, I would offer Markley’s words: “Utopia, in [Robinson’s fiction], isn’t for the faint hearted” (6). The premise that “Life is a planetary thing” resonates across Robinson’s work, and it is an abiding principal of any struggle to enact a just, humane, and responsible form of social life in our time.—Brent Ryan Bellamy, Trent University

All Your Games Are Belong to Science Fiction.

Colin Milburn. Respawn: Gamers, Hackers, and Technogenic Life. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2018. 312 pp. $26.95 pbk.

Respawn: Gamers, Hackers, and Technogenic Life came out merely three years after Mondo Nano: Fun and Games in the World of Digital Matter (2015), Colin Milburn’s previous monograph, but it had apparently been in the works for almost a decade. Ten years is a long time in digital culture, but Respawn reads as if it was finished yesterday. Its case studies are not very recent, but nothing in our current media landscape suggests that its observations and diagnoses will become outdated any time soon. Balancing detail and systemic overview, Milburn’s book is one of the most perceptive, incisive, and clear analyses of the dynamic imbrications of sf imaginaries, video games, and contemporary digital culture in a while.

At first, Respawn seems deceptively easy, reading quickly and without arcane theoretical apparatus. It invokes fandom jargon and leetspeak, an informal language of online communities combining creative spelling and vocabulary. It even sports a Nyan Cat on the cover, making it very likely the first Duke UP cover with an Internet meme. Respawn is also a furiously complex study that moves with assured grace across a number of disciplines: not only science fiction, game, fan, and digital culture studies, but also digital anthropology, sociology, and political philosophy. The depth of its research is awesome in the most basic sense of the word. One fifth of the entire page count is taken up by endnotes and bibliography, there is a fair share of academic theory, and Milburn namechecks all relevant works. Even more impressive, though, is the volume of primary texts: video games may seem, to non-gamers, trivial, but a single academic-grade playthrough of a game typically consumes upwards of 40 or 50 hours. For example, according to several websites measuring completion times, the average length of Final Fantasy VII (1997), one of Milburn’s case studies, is between 65 and 80 hours. Some titles can consume hundreds of hours of play. Further, Milburn enlists in his argument dozens of specific ad campaigns and their reception. Once embedded, promotional material lends a sense of lived experience to the described phenomena and provides excellent argumentative fuel, and finding and identifying this material is a Sisyphean task. Most importantly, however, the book relies on an ethnographic-depth study of a chaos of blogs, 4chan threads, forums, YouTube comments, wikis, Twitter accounts, Reddit posts, and the hopelessly anarchical meme-sphere. (On a related note, I have read very few academic books with more informative illustration captions, which do not replicate information but instead further extend the narrative.)

I have so far focused mostly on video games, but Respawn is centrally relevant for science-fiction studies. Certainly, all chapters are built around broadly speculative games (sf, fantasy, or superhero), but Milburn’s argument rests on a more fundamental assumption:

all video games inherently belong to science fiction, insofar as they present imaginary worlds whose existence is generated algorithmically, worlds whose operations depend on high-tech hardware, and whose representational conceits involve some admixture of technical realism and fictive irrealism, whether at the level of narrative or at the level of gameplay mechanics, physics simulation, and so forth. (27)

The “all” qualifier is particularly important here, echoing Brooks Landon’s proposal in “Dialectic or Digital? The Convergence of Science-Fiction Literature and Science-Fiction Film in Hypermedia” (1999) that most early films can be thought about productively as science fiction. That the game industry has consistently “promoted the future-ladenness of its own products” (Milburn 22) is a given, but for Milburn games are “science fiction to the core. They provide a grammar, a vocabulary, a regimen for dealing with rapid technoscientific change” (22). More than cognitive challenges (although they do provide those) and commercial objects (although corporate pressure is constantly invoked in the book), they are “models of engagement” (8) and “engines of experimentation” that “enable tacit knowledge of phenomena that extend above and below the everyday human scale” (9). They produce “an excess of high-tech vitality, a controlled overflow of technogenic life” (10). Finally, hacking, an activity as much as a mindset for Milburn, converges with sf in their shared reliance “on the commonplaces of post-Enlightenment scientific rationality, affirmed even in the mode of irony: the belief that rigorous analysis can expose truth, and that demonstrable facts and knowledge ought to make a difference in the operations of the social order” (43).

This combination of science fiction and games gives rise to what Milburn calls technogenic life, in which “the conditions for life as such—nature as much as nurture, lifeworld as much as lifestyle—emerge, evolve, and transmogrify in the era of advanced technoscience, especially in relation to pervasive computerization” and that fosters “the development of new forms and practices of life through digital media, and video games in particular” (7). Technogenic life manifests itself across a range of practices, including political interventions, direct action, affective productions and performances, collective mobilizations, memetic production, and subversive pranks known as the lulz; it also produces subjectivities, most of which are well known from the worlds of sf: “shockwave rider, hacker, geek feminist, pirate, troll, maker, modder, gamer” (7).

To demonstrate the convergence of games and sf in the forms of technogenic living, the seven core chapters offer case studies, each of which intertwines a central game text (or several), science-fictional modes of thinking, and forms of technologically inflected online and fan activities. Spacewar! (1962) becomes a key to understanding the rise of the 1960s hacking culture but also, much later, the contemporary guerilla tactics of Anonymous. Adventure (1977) opens up the discussion of counter-gaming and the pursuit of what Galloway and Thacker describe as exploits in The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (2007). Portal (2007) provides a stage for the discussion of “tactical media, hacktivism, culture jamming, and critical gizmology” (92). In subsequent chapters, the infamous PlayStation Network failure in 2011 offers insights into gamers’ communality but also into practices of surveillance—“an imperious form of artificial intelligence” (130), while a defunct MMO game, City of Heroes (2004-2012), sets the stage not only for the popularity of superhero narratives, fan protests, and their coordination but also for the reactionary “grassroots justice” of GamerGate. The chapter on “green gaming” and “the games of environmental responsibility” (186) surfs over several titles from Super Mario Sunshine (2002) to Rachet & Clank (2002) to Shadow of the Colossus (2005), but also delivers a scathing portrayal of the complicity of the game console industry in the brutal extraction of coltan. Finally, appropriately, the last chapter zeroes in on Final Fantasy VII (1997) and the ethos of “pwning,” which recognizes “that one cannot simply undo past wrongs, but instead discovers renovated potential precisely by playing through, learning from the blunder, and responding to such unexpected risks of goofing around with technology” (200). These chapters are bracketed by the introduction invoking the infamous Zero Wing (1989) and its cult line “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” and the conclusion, structured around Animal Crossing: Wild World (2005).

This listing gives a sense of a range of titles, concepts, and historical events invoked in the book, but it does not do justice to the smooth elegance with which Milburn braids them together both within individual chapters and between them. Each chapter has its own primary focus, but also builds upon the previous chapters, bringing back the actors who occupied center stage in earlier portions of the discussion. Respawn is already a tour de force as it charts the muddy waters of online politics, but, to my mind, Milburn’s project extends well beyond. While not denying games’ complicity in global hyper-capitalism and their centrality to the very essence of cognitive capitalism, he mobilizes the critical potential of science fiction to imagine a different view of culture in which, for theorists such as Nick Dyer-Witherford and Greig de Peuter in their Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games (2009) or Julian Kücklich in “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry” (2005), every single action entails performing immaterial labor benefitting the corporate overlords.

If all of this sounds like another version of video-game and sf evangelism, it most definitely is not. There is certainly a sector of contemporary culture that is, for instance, deeply invested in spreading the ludic word: Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken (2011) and Eric Zimmerman’s “Manifesto for a Ludic Century” (2013) optimistically propose that games restructure individual lives as well as social relations. There is some value in this positivism, but Milburn’s narrative is much more complicated. Regardless of his clear enthusiasm about the potential of science-fictional thinking and game-like subversion, he is also painfully aware that “the speculative energies of video-game culture frequently collapse back into conservatizing behaviors, reactionary measures that reinforce the status quo” (23), that in the “world of online heroes and villains, digital mutants and cybernetic warriors, the guidelines for defending ‘truth, justice, and the American way’ are not always clear” (156), and that the “distinction between the good guys and the bad guys, the superheroes and the supervillains, tends to get rather blurry”(171). The eponymous “respawn” is thus at once a statement of the seemingly unavoidable repetition of the corrosive signal and a vision of rebirth into a new state in which this signal is subverted. Early on, Milburn proposes that respawning is “a sign of the times, indexing the computerization of our biology, the vitality of our machines, and the convergence of video games with the molecular sciences” (10), the latter of which, incidentally, underwrites the entire argument of Mondo Nano. But other “re-” terms recur throughout the book: reload, reset, relaunch, replay, reboot, recode. The algorithmic repetitiveness of games alone may be stifling but luckily, as he reminds us, games are also science fictions.

Very late in the book, Milburn invokes a wonderful quotation from Wendy Chun’s Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (2016): “we need to forego the desire to reduce memory to storage, and we must develop a politics of fore-giving that realizes that to delete is not to forget, but to make possible other (less consensually hallucinatory) ways to remember” (Chun 19). Respawn demonstrates that very few of these ways are unequivocally good or armored against abuse, but also that lying—after a fashion, a domain of science fiction—is also a way of telling the truth about “the technical infrastructures, the material conditions, the platforms and systems that make the game possible in the first place” (101). So, there is hope. And all your games are belong to science fiction.—Paweł Frelik, University of Warsaw

Examining Alternate Histories.

Glyn Morgan and C. Palmer-Patel, eds. Sideways in Time: Critical Essays on Alternate History Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2019. 203 pp. $120 hc.

Glyn Morgan and C. Palmer-Patel’s new anthology Sideways in Time, which was nominated for a 2019 British Science Fiction Association Award in the non-fiction category, brings together an array of well-respected scholars in their examination of alternate-history fiction. The editors rightly highlight the pioneering quality of their work, following as it does several scholarly monographs on the topic; they may be the first to present a collection of different perspectives in an anthology form. While such books as Karen Hellekson’s The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time (2001), Kathleen Singles’s Alternate History: Playing with Contingency and Necessity (2013), Derek J. Thiess’s Relativism, Alternate History, and the Forgetful Reader: Reading Science Fiction and Historiography (2014), and Catherine Gallagher’s Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction (2018) are in-depth studies of alternate history narratives focused on specific issues, the present anthology addresses a wide range of topics and authors in this genre, providing the reader with a broader variety of subjects and perspectives. Consequently, this book nicely complements such previous scholarship.

Sideways in Time is organized into two parts of five chapters each, with an introduction, a foreword, and an afterword as well. The foreword by Stephen Baxter, an award-winning author of alternate history and science fiction and a judge of the Sidewise Award for alternate-history fiction, provides a general idea of the genre. Baxter traces the genre’s antiquity to 35 BCE in Roman historian Livy’s writing, but then mostly discusses examples from the twentieth century Anglo-American tradition (including his own novels). This laid-back foreword gives way to a more rigorous introduction by the editors. Morgan and Palmer-Patel explore the history of the genre in a more consistent manner from ancient Rome to nineteenth-century France; they see Louis Napoléon Geoffroy-Château’s Napoléon et la conquête du monde [Napoleon’s Conquest of the World, 1836] as the first modern instance of alternate history fiction. Their introduction further provides an interesting discussion about the relationship between non-fictional speculations regarding history and alternative-history fiction, and that between alternative history and sf. In addition, the editors conveniently lay out the basic characteristics of the genre and important terminologies to guide readers in the rest of the book.

The two main parts of the book are organized under the categories of “Points of Divergence” and “Manipulating the Genre.” The first category explores works of alternative fiction that utilize the major tropes of the genre, such as specific points of divergence that create alternative historical developments, the “great man” theory, and the Tolstoian vision of history; in part this establishes a discourse of an emerging canon. The second part questions the basic tenets of alternate-history fiction. Sideways in Time nicely balances its attention on conformity and subversion with dominant genre expectations and consequently exposes the developments of such genre qualities as functions of an oscillating historical process.

The first chapter by Adam Roberts, “Napoleon as Dynamite: Geoffroy’s Napoléon Apocryphe and Science Fiction as Alternate History,” foregrounds the two major trends of the genre’s points of departure—alternative historical outcomes as determined by the actions of a great person (or a few persons) and the dispersed collectivity of small actions creating parallel historical streams—and shows that the historical divergences in this type of fiction are an ideological representation of the author’s own sense of historicity. His examination of early works in this vein establishes the prominence of the “great man” approach. Roberts’s chapter, coming after the introduction, creates a comprehensive idea of the genre’s early development, which, in addition to providing a thorough analysis of the text in question, establishes the groundwork for approaching the later chapters.

Although the remainder of the chapters deal with much later works, similar historiographical concerns dominate the discussion. Chris Pak’s chapter, “‘It Is One Story’: Writing a Global Alternate History in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt,” highlights the global implications of alternate ways of thinking about history in Robinson’s 2002 novel. This chapter foregrounds the multiple forces of historical developments—a mix of the “great man” theory and the Tolstoian mode of grand narratives—that Robinson uses to trace an alternate development of the world in which, as a result of a fourteenth-century pandemic, Asian powers such as China and India emerge as global economic forces in the place of white European nations. Pak exposes the broadening of historical consciousness in Euro-American authors—a realization of history as an ideologically determined narrative.

This sense of the ideologically constructed nature of history can be seen in many of the other chapters. Jonathan Rayner analyzes the competing narratives of history in post-War Japan and Anna McFarlane examines the emotional effects and dominant historical perceptions of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks in Israeli author Lavie Tidhar’s Osama: A Novel (2011). Brian Baker discusses the patriarchal history of NASA’s Apollo missions reimagined in Ian Sales’s Apollo Quartet (2012-2016). Although not fully explored in this volume, these chapters indicate the strength of alternative-history fiction (and science fiction in general)—to debunk global hegemonic history by using radically different perspectives. The discourse of history itself has multiple competing alternative narrations. Thus, Rayner’s discussion on Japanese films and anime in “Being Yamato: Alternate Pacific War Histories in Japanese Film and Anime” provides a refreshing account of a non-western take on World War II cultural productions. The recurring appearance of the famed battleship Yamato and the allusions to World War II in Japanese alternate history and sf movies such as Men of the Yamato (2005) and anime series such as Zipang (2004-2005) highlight an approach to history that is different from the hegemonic (though in itself questionable) western positions, but is also alternative to Japan’s current pacifist posture. Rayner lays out this double connotation of “alternative” in these narratives very effectively, as does McFarlane’s chapter on Israeli author Lavie Tidhar. The book commendably attempts to go beyond just the Anglo-American worldview by including discussions on French, Japanese, Israeli, and Spanish works; it would have benefited, however, by including more chapters on non-Western modes of historiography and on topics and authors that show a more acute awareness of racial, ethnic, and sexual identities and the alternate worlds they create from such awareness.

Foregrounding the various ways that the dominant generic conventions of alternate history are challenged and transformed, the second part of Sideways in Time provides not only contrasts with the first, but also similarities. One big idea explored in this part is the overlap between secret history or apocrypha and alternate history. Derek J. Thiess’s chapter, “Between the Alternate and the Apocryphal: Religion and Historic Place in Aguilera’s La locura de Dios,” discussing Spanish author Juan Miguel Aguilera’s 1998 novel, presents a fine example of the intersections of history, religion, and fiction. Thiess shows that all these can seem alternative versions of the same reality to the perceiver and that secret or apocryphal versions of a narrative take on the dimension of a parallel reality in Aguilera’s novel.

A similar intersection is highlighted in Chloe Germaine Buckley’s “Weird History/Weird Knowledge: H.P. Lovecraft versus Sherlock Holmes in Shadows Over Baker Street,” but in a meta-textual context. Here “alternate” takes on multiple meanings as the anthology under consideration does not function in a world different from the one we know, but within the intersecting textual worlds of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft’s myths, i.e., “alternate” to the universe created by the original authors. This idea of “spin offs” and “adaptations” as alternate histories, or rather alternate realities, is further explored by Andrew M. Butler in “Quest for Love: A Cosy Uchronia?”

A third aspect discussed in this section is the role of the individual within the grand narrative of history—a reexamination of the two basic “points of divergence” in the genre. Molly Cobb’s “Subjective Nature of Time and the Individual’s (In)Ability to Inflict Social Change” indicates the satirical treatment of time and its effect on the individual in some of Alfred Bester’s short stories, such as “Adam and No Eve” (1941) and “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” (1958), which effectively show that individual actions may alter individual history, but have no impact on the grand narrative. Likewise, Karen Hellekson’s chapter, “Agency and Contingency in Televisual Alternate History Texts,” examines individual agency in Anglo-American alternate-history TV narratives, such as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (2015) and Showcase’s Continuum (2012-2015). By discerning the complex and interdependent relationship between “agency” that prioritizes the individual and “contingency” that emphasizes the overdetermined nature of history, Hellekson returns us to the main concerns of the genre.

Sideways in Time examines the major ideas in alternate-history fiction and highlights the genre’s intersections with science fiction, fantasy, religion, and history. A clear organization helps readers see the variations of generic conventions and the ways they are manipulated. The introduction and afterword provide a convenient overview of the tradition. The book perhaps lacks a comprehensive discussion of the concept of history, and of the multiple competing narratives jostling for hegemony. While some chapters address this topic in specific textual contexts, a more general discussion would have helped. On the whole, however, this collection is a welcome addition to scholarship on alternative histories.—Suparno Banerjee, Texas State University

Jules Verne and the Media.

Guillaume Pinson and Maxime Prévost, eds. Jules Verne et la culture médiatique [Jules Verne and Media Culture]. Québec, Canada: Presses de l’Université Laval, Collection Littérature et Imaginaire Contemporain, 2019. viii+256 pp. CAN$29.95 pbk and ebk.

In their introduction to this recent collection of essays on Verne, the editors make the observation that few authors of world literature were as deeply immersed in the media culture of their time as Jules Verne. They may be right. During his writing career Verne leaned heavily on newspapers, popular magazines, and scientific journals both for plot ideas and technical documentation for the 50+ novels of his Voyages Extraordinaires. As he explained during one of his many interviews:

I am a great reader, and ... I always read pencil in hand. I always carry a notebook about with me and immediately jot down ... anything that interests me or may appear to be of possible use in my books. To give you an idea of my reading, I come here every day after lunch and immediately set to work to read through fifteen different papers, always the same fifteen, and I can tell you that very little in any of them escapes my attention. When I see anything of interest, down it goes. Then I read the reviews, such as the Revue Bleue, the Revue Rose, the Revue des Deux Mondes, Cosmos, Tissandier’s La Nature, and Flammarion’s L’Astronomie. I also read through the bulletins of the scientific societies, especially those of the Geographical Society.... (R.H. Sherard, “Jules Verne at Home.” McClure’s Magazine 2.2 [Jan. 1894]: 120-21)

It is also important to remember that the majority of Verne’s novels first appeared in his publisher Hetzel’s semimonthly periodical, the Magasin d’éducation et de récréation [Magazine of Education and Recreation], before being reprinted as octavo books and translated into many languages. As a lucrative follow-up to his early work in the theater, Verne had a hand in adapting several of his more popular novels to the stage; Around the World in Eighty Days (1874), for example, played to sell-out crowds in over 3000 performances between the late 1870s and 1940 (see Jean-Michel Margot, “Jules Verne, Playwright” SFS 32.1 [2005]: 150-71). The nineteenth-century press is further represented by the many newspaper reporters and journalists who populate Verne’s narratives, including Gédéon Spilett in The Mysterious Island (1870), Alcide Jolivet and Harry Blount in Michael Strogoff (1876), Claudius Bombarnac in the novel of the same name (1892), and Harris Kymbale in The Will of an Eccentric (1899). In the American pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s, editors such as Hugo Gernsback popularized the notion of Verne as one of the inventors of “scientifiction” (a drawing of Verne’s tombstone even appeared on the title page of Amazing Stories). And Verne later became universally recognized as “the father of science fiction on screen” (Brian Taves, Hollywood Presents Jules Verne, 2015) with several blockbuster films such as 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1916, 1954), From the Earth to the Moon (1958), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959, 1999), Master of the World (1961) and Mysterious Island (1961, 2012). Finally, beginning in the late 1980s, Verne’s romans scientifiques and their many spin-offs are credited with having inspired the retrofuturistic neo-Victorian sf subgenre known as steampunk.

Much like steampunk—which owes its popularity more to its aesthetic (fashion, art objects, and architectural style) than its print narratives—Verne’s relationship to media culture goes much deeper than his literary production. As Jean-Michel Margot correctly observes, during his lifetime Verne “became an icon, an archetype separate from the man and his writings” (“Un Archétype populaire: Jules Verne,” Verniana 6 [2014]: 81). That is to say, the international media increasingly portrayed Verne not only as a best-selling author but also as a social phenomenon: a seer of tomorrow and a prophet of humanity’s technological future. In 1889-1890 Nelly Bly’s race around the globe in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg—including her brief stop in Amiens to pay her respects to Verne—became a widely acclaimed news event celebrating her circumnavigation of the world in 72 days (today the prize given for the fastest yacht sailing around the world is still called the Jules Verne Trophy). True to his reputation as prognosticator, Verne contributed a short essay to the American magazine Popular Mechanics (6 [June 1904]: 629-31) titled the “Future of the Submarine,” in which he predicted that its primary use in years to come would be as a weapon of war. And what name did the European Space Agency choose for its new Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), first launched in 2008 to resupply the International Space Station? The Jules Verne.

In the context of the above, it is not surprising that the essays featured in Jules Verne et la culture médiatique are wide-ranging both in topic and scope. (An interesting fact: according to Google’s Ngram, the French word “médiatique”—signifying “of the media” or “newsworthy”—did not exist in the nineteenth century and came into common parlance only in the 1980s.) The volume’s coverage is spelled out in the subtitle listed on the book’s cover and its title page, describing it as De la presse du XIXe siècle au steampunk [From the Press of the Nineteenth Century to Steampunk], suggesting an historical timeline of well over 100 years.

The introduction by Guillaume Pinson and Maxime Prévost entitled “Jules Verne avant et après Jules Verne” [Jules Verne Before and After Jules Verne] stands as the only fully diachronic essay in the book, tracing how the author made use of media in crafting his Voyages Extraordinaires and how the latter “constitue un point d’observation idéal pour cartographier certaines topiques de l’imaginaire social” [constitute an ideal lens for mapping certain aspects of the social imaginary] (8) after Verne’s oeuvre gained world-wide celebrity.

Pascal Durand’s essay, “La Ligne et la boucle: Michel Strogoff ou l’involution technologique” [The Line and the Buckle: Michael Strogoff or Technological Involution] discusses the narratological structure of this Verne novel, in particular how its many forms of linearity and circularity work together to express an ideologically mixed message about technology and human values.

Claire Barel-Moisan’s “Du Magasin à La Science illustrée: Hybridation du roman vernien dans l’écosystème de la revue” [From the Magasin to La Science illustrée: The Hybridization of the Vernian Novel in the Ecosystem of the Periodical Journal] seeks to demonstrate “comment le roman vernien s’inscrit dans l’économie globale de la revue mais aussi, réciproquement, comment son insertion transforme l’identité même du support qu’il investit” [how Verne’s novels fit in with the global economy of periodical journals and also, reciprocally, how they transform the very identity of the medium in which they appear] (41).

Gérard Fabre’s “Aux Sources médiatiques du Volcan d’or” [On the Media Sources for the Golden Volcano] does exactly what its title says: it examines the press coverage of the fin-de-siècle gold rush and those media sources that Verne consulted in 1899-1900 when writing his novel about the Klondike. The novel was published posthumously in 1906 and revised by his son, Michel.

Thomas Carrier-Lafleur’s essay “L’Extraordinaire en série: démesures verniennes chez Albert Robida et Gustave Le Rouge” [The Extraordinary in Serials: Pushing the Vernian Envelope in the Works of Albert Robida and Gustave Le Rouge] compares Verne’s romans scientifiques with the science fantasies of Robida and Le Rouge. (See my “Science fiction vs. Scientific Fiction in France: From Jules Verne to J-H. Rosny Aîné” in SFS 15.1 [1988]: 1-11 and “Gustave Le Rouge, Pioneer of French Science Fiction” in SFS 29.1 [2002]: 1-14.)

Jean Rime’s “De Jules Verne à Hergé: L’interface médiatique comme alternative au modèle de l’influence” [From Jules Verne to Hergé: Media Interface as an Alternative to the Model of Influence] discusses the well-known parallels between a number of Verne novels and several of Hergé’s popular Aventures de Tintin comic albums (1929-1983), especially notable because of Hergé’s repeated denials of plagiarism. Rime argues that the majority of these overlaps are not really examples of Hervé “borrowing” from Verne but, rather, the result of a kind of unavoidable metatextuality due to a modern media completely saturated with Vernian topoi.

]Maxime Prévost’s “Jules Verne à Hollywood, années 1950: Un état (partiel) de l’imaginaire social” [Jules Verne in Hollywood, the 1950s: A (Partial) State of the Social Imaginary] looks at three highly influential Verne films of the 1950s: 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), and Journey to Center of the Earth (1959). Prévost rightly concludes that “l’univers visuel qu’évoque l’imaginaire romanesque de Jules Verne doit énormément aux trois adaptations cinématographiques marquantes des année 1950” [the visual universe evoked by Jules Verne’s fictional imaginary owes a great deal to these three outstanding movie adaptations made during the 1950s] (159).

Bounthavy Suvilay’s “Adaptation transmédiatique: Le Tour du monde en série animée hispano-japonaise” [A Transmedia Adaptation: Around the World in an Animated Spanish-Japanese Serial] explores a 1983 Spanish-Japanese television series called La Vuelta al mundo de Willy Fog [Around the World with Willy Fog] by Nippon Animation and the Spanish production company BRB and Televisión Espagñola.

Nicolas Gautier’s “Romancier du passé, astronaute amateur, espion idéaliste: Le Jules Verne steampunk de La Lune seule le sait” [Novelist of the Past, Amateur Astronaut, Idealistic Spy: The Jules Verne Steampunk of Only the Moon Knows] is the only essay in this volume to deal in great detail with Verne and steampunk. Or, rather, with Verne in steampunk, since the story by Johan Heliot published in 2000—and described as the first francophone steampunk novel—features a fictional Jules Verne as one of its main protagonists, along with other historical figures such as Victor Hugo, Arthur Rimbaud, Gustave Flaubert, and Emile Zola. Despite the pulpish nature of its storyline and the tongue-in-cheek tone of the narration, the novel raises a host of interesting questions about Verne’s social identity as viewed through the steampunk perspective.

Mélodie Simard-Houde’s “L’Emprunteur emprunté: Réécrire les Voyages extraordinaires à l’ère du projet Gutenberg” [Borrowing from the Borrower: Rewriting the Extraordinary Voyages in the Age of Project Gutenberg] presents another example of Vernian intertextuality that appears in a 2015 novel by Québécois author by Nicolas Dickner entitled Six degrés de liberté [Six Degrees of Liberty]. The essay also argues that, today, Verne’s oeuvre is taking on a new life “par sa circulation sur la toile, en diverses langues, grâce au libre accès numérique” [through its circulation on the web, in many different languages, thanks to its cost-free digital availability] (240).

Jean-Christophe Valtat’s “Mon Nom est Nemo: Transfictions verniennes” [My Name is Nemo: Vernian Transfictions], the final essay of the volume, examines the presence of Verne in several contemporary works of francophone fiction: Héliot’s La Lune seule le sait (2001), Jean-David Morvan and Nesmo’s 2-issue comic book Univerne (2011), Guillaume Lapeyre and Rémi Guérin’s manga City Hall (2012), and the elaborately illustrated graphic novel Un An dans les airs [A Year in the Air] collectively authored by Raphaël Albert, Jeanne-A Debats, Raphaël Granier de Cassagnac, and Johan Héliot (2013). The essay contends that each of these works offers an homage to Verne while simultaneously replacing the real, historical Verne with a media-derived version that might be more accurately described as an “écrivain imaginaire” [imaginary writer] (242) rather than a writer of the imaginary.

In sum, for early sf scholars who can read French, Pinson and Prévost’s Jules Verne et la culture médiatique offers a selection of essays on Verne that are cutting-edge and very engaging. Highly recommended for all university libraries.—Arthur B. Evans, SFS

Euro Visions.

Aidan Power. Contemporary European Science Fiction Cinemas. London: Palgrave, 2018. 267pp. $59.99 pbk.

Aiden Power’s Contemporary European Science Fiction Cinemas has a strong mandate to cover a wide range of European sf films. Critical discussion of sf cinemas across Europe has more absences than presences and has so far been limited to rather unsystematic analyses of geo-temporal islands (e.g., Soviet sf cinema or post-1945 British productions) or individual masterpieces (e.g., Things to Come [1936] or Alphaville [1965]). On top of that, Power seems committed to ideological viewership, which, next to technological analyses, has produced some of the finest sf film scholarship. And indeed, his monograph engages head-on the European project at large as well as “some of the most pressing issues to assail Europe since the turn of the millennium” (4): a series of enlargements of the European Union as well as Brexit, the 2008 economic crisis and its reverberations, the rise of the far-right across many European countries, and, looming over all the previous transformations, climate crisis. In fact, these challenges are not only reflected in sf cinema but have also, Power proposes, been partly responsible for the resurgence of sf film production in the new millennium; he posits sf as one of the few cultural frameworks that can adequately narrate the current historical moment.

Although this is a work of filmic and cultural criticism, there is a recurring—and, from my perspective, admirable—sympathy for the “utopian ideals at the heart of European integration” (6) and “the European dream” (10). The European Union may have, in recent years, been showing cracks and making creaks, but Power very astutely identifies the painful grappling with history, including the return of the demons of the past and the ambitions of the post-1945 European order, as centrally informing the continent’s speculative thinking in any medium, including film. To that end, the volume presents a series of close readings of a wide array of post-2000 titles from a number of countries, readings that are fascinating and highly nuanced in their attention to European politics.

This brilliant formula falls short of its potential on several counts, however. To begin with, the title Contemporary European Science Fiction Cinemas is severely misleading. Certainly, it does not promise a history or a timeline of the titular cultural form, but the lack of qualifiers before any word of the title raises expectations of at least a degree of comprehensiveness. Power preempts some potential charges by explaining the limited use of “European” in the title, ascribing the exclusion of Russian productions, as well as films from the Balkan countries and former Soviet Republics, to word count constraints. And yet, even within the territory he includes in his discussion, there seem to be many arbitrary decisions. For instance, the chapter “SF in the EU’s Newest Member States” looks at sf productions from Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, and Lithuania, a selection that, first of all, includes two Balkan states, which he claims in the introduction to have excluded from the discussion. What is more, although beyond Great Britain and France there are very few national film industries with an internationally recognizable record of science-fiction production, among the beneficiaries of the post-2000 EU enlargements are countries with much longer traditions, however spotty they may be, of sf titles, such as the Czech Republic (and previously Czechoslovakia) and Poland. Practically absent from the discussions are productions from France and Germany (except for the Swiss-German Hell [2011]). France in particular has a rich line of highly idiosyncratic sf films, including a number of very interesting titles in the last two decades. Given the book’s political slant and the fact that these two countries are at the heart of anything European after 1945, their absence seems puzzling.

This is not to say that the films that have found their way into the monograph do not deserve inclusion—quite the opposite. For some of them, such as Italy’s L’ultimo terrestre [The Last Man on Earth, 2011], Portugal’s RPG [Real Playing Game, 2013], Spain’s Los últimos días [The Last Days, 2013], and the UK’s The Quiet Hour (2014), this may well be their first academic recognition, while others, more recognizable, such as Metropia (2009) and The Lobster (2015), still need more coverage. Nevertheless, the book seems less an overview, however cursory, of European sf cinematic production and more a collection of interrelated articles focusing on the representation of post-2000 European politics in a number of arbitrarily selected movies. Perhaps a more suitable title might be Europe at the Crossroads in Science Fiction Film.

The analyses of selected films are impeccably embedded in ongoing European politics, which is read with a nuanced sense of the complexity of inter- and intra-national tensions and conflicts. Many of the discussions invoke hard statistics, descriptions of specific rounds of negotiations, and accounts of frictions among various EU member states, as well as explorations of the circumstances of production industries from which the discussed titles emerged. Although at times some paragraphs may seem like dry recitations of devilishly tangled interests and conflicts, I find them extremely valuable in demonstrating precisely how European sf production resonates with both local and continental politics, often invisible to many North Americans who are arguably the principal audiences for European filmic sf outside Europe.

A similar degree of contextualization and historicization is, however, sorely missing in the discussions of science fiction at large and of the traditions of national cinemas represented by individual case studies. In the former area, Power acknowledges the multiple conceptions of sf in general and sf film in particular, but the section is barely two pages long, ritually name-checking Darko Suvin’s cognitive estrangement and referencing only one study specifically devoted to sf film: Christine Cornea’s Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality (2007), which is, incidentally, focused exclusively on American and (some) British productions. Such a selection of critical parameters is underwhelming, but it is also emblematic of a far graver omission: a complete failure even to acknowledge dramatically different roots and lines of development between the Anglo-American and continental traditions of the fantastic.

The monograph is equally cursory about foregrounding the selected titles in their national traditions. Naturally, the volume is not the place to discuss histories of Portuguese or Swedish fantastic, but in some chapters the disproportion between the frontloaded political context and the contextualization of the title is striking. To wit, the section devoted to Kornél Mundruczó’s Jupiter’s Moon (2017) makes no mention of any other Hungarian science fiction, whether literary or cinematic, and the subchapter about Tino Navarro and David Rebordão’s Real Playing Game (2013) randomly name-checks two Portuguese sf novels, one of which was published in 1997, prior to the self-appointed temporal caesura. It is true that many of the spotlighted countries do not have national sf industries but the discussed films certainly did not appear out of nowhere.

Last but not least, the monograph does not address, even in passing, the veritable explosion of short-form sf cinema in practically all European nation states that would have provided excellent material for the type of analysis the book aspires to provide. (On a different note, it is completely incomprehensible why, in a single-author monograph, each chapter has a separate bibliography and there is no cumulative list of sources at the end of the book, but that is, I assume, Palgrave’s decision, not the author’s.)

Nevertheless, Power’s Contemporary European Science Fiction Cinemas is certainly worthy of attention. It fails in scope but most of the individual discussions of the ways in which filmic sf navigates the complexities of European politics provide a very useful template for how to approach European sf films. In that, Power’s book charts new pathways of departure for other scholars.—Paweł Frelik, University of Warsaw

Reading Modernity.

Adam Roberts. Publishing and the Science Fiction Canon: The Case of Scientific Romance. iv+82 pp. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2019. $13.99 pbk, $11.00 ebk.

The impact of the material cultures of publishing and reading during the late nineteenth century is a vital subfield of Late Victorian and Belle Époque studies. Innovations in paper manufacture and printing technologies, the rise of major publishing houses and independent booksellers, the relaxing of press censorship laws and the subsequent flood of new periodicals, and the effects of dramatically increased literacy rates and an expanded reading public with greater disposable income and leisure time combined to transform reading landscapes in the latter half of the century. That these changes contributed to the popular success of science fiction is a given; how they may have determined the genre’s episteme remains an underdeveloped problem for sf literary history. Critical truisms on the subject circulate widely. That serialization in the periodicals exposed a general audience to the genre’s idioms before the retrenchments of the Gernsback and Campbell eras: the space constraints of newspapers and magazines and the rhythms of publishing in installments matched the kinetic, headlong modes of sf storytelling; the visual exuberance of illustrated fiction, made practicable by new techniques of image reproduction, helped to incubate sf’s deep reliance on visual imaginaries. But such descriptions of early sf’s entanglement with its production and reception have an air of faits accomplis about them. They implicitly assume that changes in publishing, sales, and reading habits during the long nineteenth century traveled with or helped to foster sf’s rise to cultural prominence; fundamentals of the genre had already been sparked in conceptual-cultural registers, for example in translating the extraordinary voyage into technoscientific vocabularies, in the aspirations of readers who envisaged their economic futures tied to industrial and consumerist urbanism, and in outfitting fantasies of empire with newly-imagined engines of war, communications, and commerce. Adam Roberts’s brief study of the publishing contexts of modern sf proposes that the genre’s development was substantially determined by what could be made and was made available to readers.

Publishing and the Science Fiction Canon is something of a deeper dive into Roberts’s earlier treatment of the nineteenth century in The History of Science Fiction (2006). That book posited an historically interrupted but conceptually consistent origin story for sf: beginning in Ancient Greek tales of interplanetary travel and resuming, after a 1200-year interlude while the genre’s secular impulses were frozen in the amber of Catholic mysticism, with Giordano Bruno’s advocacy of the Plurality of Worlds doctrine, Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1634), and the Protestant Reformation’s tolerance for scientific explanations of natural phenomena. Publishing also presumes this bifurcated beginning—which Roberts acknowledges remains “eccentric” (1) among sf historians—and then skips ahead and a little sideways to recount the genre’s adolescence. Early pages of the book are devoted to a “sketched-out [sf] canon,” including the usual nineteenth-century suspects, and an admission of the challenges of extending this list into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: “the river of textual production broadens and deepens into a swift-moving delta of interconnected sub-genres and styles” (7); “sf has become, by the 20-teens, a climate rather than a focused genre” (8). After this, canon formation remains the focus but the aim is less to be comprehensive, or to explain why a disproportionate number of texts from the nineteenth century are now canonical, than it is to bookend an historical period, roughly 1880–1920, when the popularity of two currents of the rising waters—the scientific romance (Great Britain and the US) and roman scientifique (France)—coincided almost exactly with “a series of underlying shifts in the material culture of book production, distribution and consumption” (71).

Roberts declines to give a generic definition of the “scientific romance,” noting that “as a piece of critical terminology it has, surprisingly perhaps, a rather wide range of applications” (13). He observes that the label was first used by critics in the mid-nineteenth century and then revived in the late twentieth century by Brian Stableford. (Stableford’s Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890–1950 [1985] is mentioned but is missing from the bibliography. Darko Suvin’s equally important Victorian Science Fiction in the UK [1983] and Stableford’s recent study of the roman scientifique, The Plurality of Imaginary Worlds [2016], are missing altogether.) This omission is both modest and strategic, in effect identifying the romance (“one iteration of sf’s protean variety” [8]) primarily with the novelty of its material-cultural situation. It is not that other definitions, for example those that would pin the romance to its distinctive props, style, or mood, might not be useful; the coincidence of the romance’s emergence and popularity with a number of apparently extrinsic elements is sufficient, he argues, to explain its importance for the subsequent history of sf. “The structuring novum of the scientific romance” he observes, “is modernity, not in any totalizing sense but much more specifically the modernity experienced by the new emergent middle classes” (57).

Roberts flags the century’s precipitous declines in publishing costs, growth in the number of books published, and the astonishing increase in the number of potential readers—by as much as ninety percent—following the introduction of compulsory primary education in England and France (19). These changes paralleled or provoked others in how readers acquired, or were prevented from acquiring, books in which they became interested. In the first half of the century, the lock of subscription-based circulating libraries on distribution had helped to keep books out of reach of middle– and working-class readers who could not afford subscriptions. The circulating libraries also functioned as de facto arbiters of taste, favoring titles that appealed to a “respectable bourgeois readership” (22). The libraries’ grip on the new reading public’s access to the flood of new texts was weakened considerably in the latter half of the century by, among other factors, the emergence of public circulating libraries, an industry shift toward publishing the former triple-decker novels in twelve- and twenty-installment issues, and the emergence of newspapers and magazines as a principal venue for publishing fiction (22).

The railway boom of the latter half of the century changed the sites of both purchase and consumption, as the appearance of kiosks in railway stations in England and France put periodicals and cheap novel reprints in the hands of the new commuting classes. Those readers were drawn to the railway literature, writes Roberts, because it “favoured a reading experience that could be parceled out into smaller segments: individual short stories or articles, or shorter books composed of shorter chapters” (42). This in turn influenced readers’ preference for short stories and novella-length works, to which formats the scientific romance quickly adapted. The “new age of literal mobility” (50) was also reflected in the content of the romance, via a shift that Roberts terms “the extraordinisation of ordinary voyages,” in which the conveyances of the (formerly) extraordinary voyage were “increasingly figured ... in terms of the sorts of convenience and comfort a commuter might expect” (43). He cites as an example Henri de Montaut’s illustration to Verne’s Autour de la Lune [Around the Moon, 1870] showing a future lunar voyage in a five-car space-locomotive, more comfy and bourgeois—and more like the commuter’s cabin—than the cramped obus in which Verne’s astronauts traveled. The outfitting of the Vernian machine-for-traveling à la baroque mobile home would leave its imprint, Roberts notes, as far forward as the Starship Enterprise and Doctor Who’s TARDIS. “Mobility, as a literal feature of the new logic of work and life of the 1880s and 1890s (railways and bicycles played linked roles here) is the correlative of the symbolic mobility of new fluidity of social hierarchies, and the nascent possibilities of liberation from constrictions of class, gender and race” (50).

New technologies of image reproduction made text illustrations more economical and visual exuberance a point of pride for editors and publishers and a strong draw for readers. This produced, Roberts asserts, a shift towards more varied and visually denser imagetexts (“a swarm of visual images” [55]), which became a normative mode of nineteenth-century biblioculture. This effect was particularly felt, he argues, in “non-mimetic” genres like sf, where artistic license and the power of the image to establish and sustain the mood of the text were strongly foregrounded. The 48 volumes of Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages include nearly 4700 illustrations. The whimsical, “manifestly non-mimetic cartoonery” (58) of Albert Robida’s novels is more memorable than his scattershot plots and undistinguished prose. Sf’s fixations on distant landscapes, tele– and microscopic views, and matryoshka-like nested spaces begins in this era. “To look again at those Henrique Alvim Corrêa’s 1906 illustrations for Wells’s The War of the Worlds”—Wells preferred Corrêa’s googly-eyed, biologically articulated Martian tripods over those of all other illustrators of the novel—“is to be struck [by] how forcefully they emphasize as well as embody the ocular” (71).

This foregrounding of visual imaginaries, Roberts concludes, proved decisive for the romance’s most direct descendant. Steampunk’s nostalgia for the trappings of the late nineteenth century, he writes, signals a yearning for a mood linked with the earlier genre’s imagetexts and a notionally correlate world “more elegant, more mannerly and—inevitably—more ideologically conservative” (17) than the present. Steampunk’s retro-futurism, in this sense, is a deeper expression of its cosplay sensibilities; it “offers a return to the base of which the superstructure of contemporary SF is an expression” (76): a material-cultural-visual primal scene that privileges visual expression and recursion over textual-literary games. The affection of contemporary sf fiction and film for the late Victorian and Edwardian periods signals a yearning for “that historical moment when the genre ... went from being a small-scale minority interest and began its expansion to its present-day status, as dominant world culture” (76). At least a portion of the affection we continue to feel for the romance is, to be sure, a remnant longing for the once-upon-a-time-and-again charms of its props, its stylistic wheels and pinions, and its moods. Another, under-appreciated portion, this engaging little book affirms, is aligned with the genre’s historical imagination and the novelty of the situations in which those charms were staged.—Terry Harpold, University of Florida

An Encyclopedia of Futurity.

Max Saunders. Imagined Futures: Writing, Science, and Modernity in the To-Day and To-Morrow Book Series, 1923-31. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2019. xiii+423pp. $80 hc.

On 4 February 1923, the biologist J.B.S. Haldane read a paper on “ectogenesis” (reproduction outside the body) to the Heretics Society in Cambridge, England. Haldane’s paper was published under the title Daedalus; or, Science and the Future and became the first of the “To-Day and To-Morrow” book series edited by the polymath C.K. Ogden, which eventually ran to 110 volumes. Six years after Haldane, another young scientist read a Cambridge paper which would become one of the most famous “To-Day and To-Morrow” volumes, J.D. Bernal’s The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1929) with its vision of the human race turning into posthuman cyborgs. The influence of these two books on mid-century British and American sf is well-known. Arthur C. Clarke, for example, became a close friend of Haldane and described The World, the Flesh and the Devil as “the most brilliant attempt at scientific prediction ever made” (qtd. Saunders 77).

In Imagined Futures, Max Saunders has produced what will surely be the definitive study of “To-Day and To-Morrow” (though his own claims for his book are rather more modest). Necessarily this is also a kind of manifesto, a demand for recognition of a series whose exceptional significance and impact has been very largely forgotten. Saunders writes from the standpoint of modernist literary studies, and he is probably best known as the biographer of Ford Madox Ford. He notes in his Preface that “bizarrely little trace” of the “To-Day and To-Morrow” series is to be found in the “received literary or cultural histories” of the early twentieth century (vii). Although he refers to two other works by Brian Stableford, it seems that his “received histories” do not include Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950 (1985), where the series occupies a prominent position in Stableford’s chapter on “Futuristic Speculation between the Wars.” Saunders perhaps unknowingly follows Stableford in classifying “To-Day and To-Morrow” as “speculative non-fiction,” a generic label that is both paradoxical and unstable since, as he says, “futurology can never be distinguished entirely from fiction” (44). This is particularly evident in Haldane’s Daedalus, one section of whichconsists of an essay on recent biological developments supposedly written by an undergraduate in 2073.

From a general cultural perspective, “To-Day and To-Morrow” reveals the intense preoccupation with futurity among the generation of intellectuals and artists who had survived the First World War. The very title of the series seems to have enjoyed a considerable vogue. Henry Ford, for example, used it for his 1926 autobiography—which, Saunders comments, “has little to say about tomorrow” (222)—and so did a short-lived journal originally launched in 1930 as the Magazine of Today. (Much later, Isaac Asimov would call one of his non-fiction volumes Today and Tomorrow and ... [1973].) The authors of this “encyclopedia of futurity” (171) include such well-known writers as Bertrand Russell, Robert Graves, Hugh MacDiarmid, Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, and J. Leslie Mitchell (later Lewis Grassic Gibbon). The range of the series, as Saunders observes, is both extraordinarily wide and sometimes eccentric: “from cosmology to cookery, juvenile delinquency to opera, politics to humour, sexuality to automation, genetics to craftsmanship, half-track vehicles to nonsense” (11). With significant exceptions such as the future President of India Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the authors were mainly British although the series was also published in the United States and three titles were restricted to the US market.

While Saunders warns us that his study is necessarily selective, “focusing on the best volumes” (7), perhaps the outstanding feature of Imagined Futures is the breadth of its coverage of the series and its implications. The introductory chapter is so wide-ranging that it is sometimes referred to as “Introductions” in the plural. While Haldane and Bernal take pride of place, virtually every “To-Day and To-Morrow” volume receives probing and erudite commentary in successive chapters devoted to the natural sciences, politics, the human sciences, technology, everyday life, and literature and the arts. It is true that (to quote a 1920s literary critic) Saunders may see it as his duty to read some of the volumes in order to declare that no one else need do so; but, in the vast majority of cases, he succeeds in arousing our curiosity and, perhaps, in persuading us to seek out the volumes for ourselves (the series was reprinted almost in its entirety by Routledge in 2008). Among lesser-known titles with a clearly science-fictional inflection are Bonamy Dobrée’s Timotheus; The Future of the Theatre (1925), where the author borrows a Wellsian time machine to experience a new form of immersive and hypnotic performance anticipating Aldous Huxley’s “feelies”; books such as Garet Garrett’s Ouroboros; or, The Mechanical Extension of Mankind (1926), which foreshadow Bernal’s interest in the possibilities of the cyborg; and several variants on Haldane’s “future history” device, including André Maurois’s The Next Chapter; The War Against the Moon (1927), and C.E.M. Joad’s Diogenes; or, the Future of Leisure (1928), which features a brief quotation from a Martian historian. Vera Brittain’s Halcyon; or, The Future of Monogamy (1929) begins with a dream-vision introducing four chapters from a work of future history. There are also satirical future histories in Lucullus; or, The Food of the Future (1926) by Hilda Leyel and Olga Hartley, and—most remarkably—in Robert Graves’s Lars Porsena; or, The Future of Swearing and Improper Language (1927). Douglas Woodruff’s Plato’s American Republic (1929) offers a different kind of speculative fiction, being a satirical account of a lecture tour of the United States as described by the Athenian Socrates.

As will be seen from these titles, Haldane’s Daedalus “not only inspired the idea of a series, but also invented the style,” in Saunders’s words (2). They are, as he points out in a meticulously detailed Appendix on publishing history, conspicuously short books averaging 12,000 to 15,000 words each. The impression is of a sequence of provocative pamphlets, with the authors’ scientific and intellectual expertise worn lightly and their disagreements with their fellow contributors often brought to the fore. The second volume, Bertrand Russell’s Icarus; or, The Future of Science (1924), was an explicit rejoinder to Haldane. Following Daedalus and Icarus the great majority have an often wittily appropriate classical title, implying a connection, however ironic, between the predicted future and the past. As Saunders argues, these titles attempt to reunite the “two cultures” of science and the humanities, and in some cases at least the classical allusion is carefully explained. Yet they also suggest the extent to which the series, with its usually very small print runs, was aimed at an elite audience conscious of a high level of cultural literacy. Among the illustrations to Imagined Futures is the cover of Amazing Stories for November 1927, featuring Francis Flagg’s “The Machine Man of Ardathia” which, Saunders argues, constitutes a significant precedent for Bernal’s cyborgs.There remains a huge gap, however, between “To-Day and To-Morrow’s” target readership and the potential market for magazine sf.

Chapter Six of Imagined Futures offers a series of rather speculative discussions about the influence of “To-Day and To-Morrow” on such literary authors as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and—the only one of major sf interest—Aldous Huxley. As Aline Ferreira has observed, Huxley had briefly mentioned ectogenesis in Crome Yellow (1921) (qtd. Saunders 308), two years before he could have read Daedalus. But Huxley had got to know Haldane and his sister Naomi Mitchison while still in his teens, and it is not at all surprising that Brave New World (1932) builds on various themes already familiar to “To-Day and To-Morrow” readers, including not just ectogenesis and cloning (the “Bokanovsky process”), but also chemical contraception (“Malthusian belts”), the feelies, and hypnopaedia. (Saunders reminds us that hypnopaedia was already found in Hugo Gernsback’s Ralph 124C 41+ [1911-1912], but how likely is it that Huxley had read that?) Haldane’s and Bernal’s contributions to “To-Day and To-Morrow” are also credited with influencing Olaf Stapledon, whose Last and First Men (1930) appeared while the series was still at its height. To trace the nature and details of this influence is a task for a future scholar.

In his Conclusion, Saunders notes that the “To-Day and To-Morrow” books often switch into what he calls the “science fiction mode” of predicting catastrophe: “The ocean turns purple. The Moon strikes back. The whole of north-west London is blown up.” Equally, however, the authors’ “resistance to science fiction” leads them to map out non-disastrous futures (348). This rather crude antithesis unfortunately belies the author’s earlier, much subtler analyses of what he calls the “rhetoric of imagined futures” (135). As for the success of “To-Day and To-Morrow” as an exercise in foresight, this is as variable as we might expect. (Haldane himself would later argue that the one general law applicable to the future of scientific research is that the unexpected always happens.) The contributors were unable to foresee computing, which would begin to be developed in the Second World War, and their ideas about the prosthetic extension of humanity were invariably mechanical rather than electronic. Some gaps in the series (notably in the fields of psychology and psychoanalysis) are attributed by Saunders to the complex interactions between “To-Day and To-Morrow” and two other major book series edited by C.K. Ogden. Yet there were also significant hits, such as J. Leslie Mitchell’s prediction in Hanno; or, The Future of Exploration (1928) that humanity would reach the Moon in the next half-century.

In offering an overall assessment of Imagined Futures, I ought to declare an interest since I am one of those mentioned in the author’s Acknowledgments. Anyone interested in the confluence of sf and futurology will want to read this book. Concentrating as he does on a single series spanning less than a decade, Saunders has made a deeply insightful and thought-provoking contribution to the field that is becoming known as “critical futurities” scholarship.—Patrick Parrinder, University of Reading

Science Fiction For Everyone.

Tarshia Stanley, ed. Approaches to Teaching the Works of Octavia E. Butler. New York: MLA, 2019. 176 pp. $65 hc, $29 pbk.

A productive tension frames the discussion of Octavia E. Butler and African American speculative fiction in Tarshia Stanley’s introduction to this collected volume. Of Butler’s works, an initial survey sent to academics across the US yielded the perhaps unsurprising result that Kindred (1979) is her “most popular text assigned” to largely undergraduate-level classes, with “Bloodchild” (1984) the “most assigned short story” (4). In her comprehensive overview of African American speculative fiction, Stanley rightly asserts that “social and political realism no longer [sets] the parameters of African American contemporary literature… [and] African American literature worthy of critique can lie outside social protest” (9). How, then, do teachers and pedagogues proceed beyond the familiar and recognizable neo-slave narrative trappings of a text such as Kindred, and acknowledge the strangeness, generic hybridity, and at times discomforting nature of Butler’s oeuvre?

Stanley, president of the Octavia E. Butler Society and Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences at St. Catherine University, brings her scholarly focus on speculative fiction, Black feminist studies, and African American literature to bear in curating an excellent selection of articles that carry out precisely this work. The contributors to the volume model an impressive range of critical and disciplinary approaches to teaching Butler both within and beyond the context of African American Studies. Organized for the newcomer as well as for the seasoned Butler scholar, the volume begins with a short informational section called “Materials”: this includes a chronological bibliography of Butler’s major works followed by listings of “Texts Taught in Conjunction with Butler’s Works,” “Courses and Contexts,” “Interviews,” and “Secondary Sources.” While not exhaustive, these sections are helpful for opening discussion. The second section, “Approaches,” is much more substantive, a number of scholarly essays showcasing the sheer disciplinary range that Butler’s works enable. “Approaches” is itself split into several subsections that move from literary readings to strategies for social justice before ending with Afrofuturism and a consideration of Butler as a prophetic author for future politics. Many of the chapters, however, assume an unfamiliar at best, resistant at worst, student attitude towards sf, an attitude that Butler’s multifaceted and thematically protean texts help to alter.

As a rule, the articles strike a satisfying balance among quite different thematic approaches, and the ordering of the chapters makes for often provocative and productive contrasts. The first subsection covers “Literary and Rhetorical Approaches.” Since Butler’s work is most often taught in literary disciplines, this is the logical way to begin. John Paul Riquelme’s framing of Dawn (1987)as a modernist work places the novel as the final text on a syllabus that includes Dracula (1897), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), A Passage to India (1924), and Sula (1973). He connects anthropological themes among the novels on this syllabus, but, somewhat problematically, he represents Dawn as implicitly easier (although not escapist, as Riquelme reports his students expressing in surprise) in comparison with the “difficulty of modernist writing” (19). Nonetheless, his approach is useful in teaching students “who normally would not read a work of science fiction” (20) and for constructing syllabi to include historically marginalized authors in a more conservative institutional context.

Moving from the thematic to the historically specific, the next chapter firmly situates Butler as “one of the most important pioneers of speculative fiction in the African American literary tradition” (24). Matthew Mullins stages a thoughtful discussion of the problems of representation of Black subjects in “African American art and history” (25); texts such as Parable of the Sower (1993), he argues, are both backward- and forward-looking in their acknowledging histories of oppression while imagining futures that offer alternatives. Mullins’s chapter, like many in the volume, includes concrete exercises and questions to open up discussion of Butler’s works, recognizing as a common theme of each chapter the difficult reactions Butler’s texts provoke in students, and the complex conversations they enable.

Later chapters in this first section lean in to this “level of contradiction and ambiguity” in Butler’s work (30). From a historical engagement with colonialism to womanist dynamics of “love and power” (34), the first subsection does an effective job in shifting between zoomed-in and broader-stroke examinations. Laurel Bollinger, in “Keeping the Science in Science Fiction,” does important and necessary work in acknowledging the deep scientific reading and interdisciplinary focus of Butler’s research practice. The section closes with an account of LaGuardia Community College professors Ximena Gallardo C. and Ann Matsuuchi’s innovative Octavia E. Butler Project on Wikipedia. Assuming student “comprehension and enjoyment” (48) of Butler’s fiction as a given, the authors identify the more pressing issues of linguistic and scholarly engagement with critical works in an academic context. By asking their students to research and compose authoritative wiki entries on many of Butler’s works, Gallardo C., Matsuuchi, and their collaborators at both LaGuardia Community College and Spelman College, promote digital literacy and foster a “broad and deep understanding of Butler’s fiction” while also teaching the “systemic” biases present in such widely accessed digital platforms as Wikipedia (46).

The second subsection, “Disciplinary Strategies and Innovations,” opens with Claire Curtis’s effective placement of the short story “Speech Sounds” (1983) within the context of a class called “Introduction to Political Thought,” showing how the story does not easily adhere to Rousseauian, Hobbesian, or Lockean models of human society. Thus, the collection moves beyond the literary reception of Butler’s work to her wider application and interpretation in related disciplines. It is particularly heartening to see Curtis’s pedagogical emphasis on the “persistent dread that the conditions of the story create,” above and beyond any prophetic qualities Butler’s writing might seem to offer (56). (Butler herself was careful to define her work as “hopeful, not fatalistic,” in contrast to straightforwardly determinist labels of prescience [Huntington Library, OEB 3078, Papers of Octavia E. Butler]).

Science fiction is seen as pedagogically problematic in Deborah Wood Holton’s “For Adults Only: A Competency-Based Approach to Teaching Butler’s Wild Seed,” in which she expresses concern that “students would find their first encounter with science fiction a challenge instead of a reward” (67). Accordingly, she encourages her students to “suspend … disbelief and judgement” when studying a text that is concerned with “events that are rooted in history” (67). This trend continues in the next chapter, where Bevin Roue and Laura Apol explain how “most of our students are unfamiliar with speculative literature” (71). Importantly, the authors recognize the critical need for overwhelmingly “white teacher-educators” (70) to use texts such as Butler’s in which “black voices and experiences are central” (71).

Flipping the critical approach, the author of the next chapter reads Butler’s Kindred in a canon of transnational, contemporary women’s fiction to help students “rearticulate whiteness as an invisible hegemony” (74). Offering exemplary comparative questions and essay prompts, Shreyashi Mukherjee models how to situate an author such as Octavia Butler both as an African American writer and as a writer in conversation with exigent transnational conversations on “oppression and resistance” (79). The subsection closes with a chapter on “Drawing the Oankali,” in which students visually render the nonhuman characters and gene traders from Butler’s Lilith’s Broodtrilogy (1987-89). Edmond Y. Chang (Vice President of the OEB Society) describes a drawing exercise to help students literally envision the radical definitions of personhood represented by alien Others. The approach—functioning as an example of “arts of the contact zone” (88) in which societal, cultural, and species differences meet and mingle—is commendable in its presentation of a unique interdisciplinary teaching praxis: it is one of the few approaches in the book that engages with the powerful visual appeal of the sf genre in inspiring the imagination.

Appropriately, Butler’s Parable duology (1993,1998) forms the critical focus of the chapters in the third section, “Social Justice and Social Change.” Beyond familiar discussions of social organization and environmental adaption in the wake of apocalypse, Sami Shalk’s “Teaching the Social Construction of Disability through the Parable series, Lilith’s Brood, and Seed to Harvest” is unique in the volume for its engagement with Butler’s biography in relation to her creative works. “Often students want to know how the identity of the author relates to the context of the texts,” she explains, “[and] I have found it helpful, therefore, to inform them that Butler indeed had the learning disability dyslexia” (97). Engaging the concept of “bodyminds” prevalent in contemporary disability studies, and applied to Black feminist speculative fiction in her recent monograph, Bodyminds Reimagined (2018), Shalk effectively uses Butler’s work to show the social construction of disability/ies in her short but theoretically dense chapter. Again, the discussion could only be strengthened by further examples of Butler’s writing about her own creative praxis.

Furthering Roue and Apol’s discussion of teaching Butler with an eye to racial disparities between pedagogues and students, Kendra Parker’s important discussion of “intergroup dialogue,” defined as a “facilitated, face-to-face encounter that aims to foster innovative levels of understanding between two or more identity groups” (109), uses Butler’s writing alongside other texts from contemporary popular culture in a rigorous, multiphase approach to classroom discussion. Indeed, Parker’s chapter offers the most pragmatic (and, arguably, radical) guide to teaching Butler’s science fiction; the appendix of exercises alone is absolutely true to the productive unsettlement generated by Butler’s work.

The volume concludes with a section on “The Aesthetics of Afrofuturism” that serves as a valuable recapitulation of a historical literary moment. Here we return to a more familiar interpretation of Butler, circling back to the more literary-critical reception of her work. From models of Black female leadership (as identified by Stanley) to the generic instabilities of a text such as “Bloodchild,” moving through science fiction and historicism to the “liberation politics coupled with critical race theory” (132) that inform Isaiah Lavender’s definition of Afrofuturism, the concept is rendered urgent, timely, and perhaps necessarily expansive in scope. Yet, despite the importance of students becoming cognizant of Afrofuturist aesthetics as they play out “across music, art, film, and other cultural practices” (147), it would have been desirable to see a little more nuance in positioning Octavia E. Butler as an Afrofuturist author. Marisa Parham, for instance, uses the term “astrofuturism” to define the more literary and text-based praxis of Butler, who, indeed, expressed bemusement at being grouped with other contemporary black artists such as Samuel R. Delany (let alone musicians such as George Clinton and Sun Ra).

Given that this final subsection is the shortest, containing only three chapters, it might have been more effective to incorporate them into the preceding sections. Stanley’s “Teaching Afrofuturistic Thought Leadership in Butler’s Fiction” would be a fine fit for the “Social Justice” section, for instance, whereas Lavender’s critical reading of Parable of the Sower would be entirely at home in the first subsection on literary approaches. Furthermore, all subsections would have benefited from drawing a little more upon the abundant archival materials held at the Huntington Library which houses Octavia E. Butler’s papers, as well as more fully using some of the interview materials cited in the excellent first section. Butler, in her papers and interviews, had much to say on issues of pedagogy and politics.

Nonetheless, this volume presents a wide-ranging and generous framework for teaching the works of Octavia E. Butler in a variety of contexts and educational levels, and I thoroughly recommend it.—Phoenix Alexander, University of Liverpool

Across the Ocean: Historicizing SF Studies in Japan and Beyond.

Takayuki Tatsumi, ed. Trans-Pacific Cultural Studies. Vol. III: Science Fiction and Cyber Culture. New Delhi: Sage, 2019. 289 pp. $1100 hc. (4-volume set, not sold individually)

[For the sake of consistency with Tatsumi’s series, Chinese and Japanese names appear as they would in English, with given name first and surname second. I would like to thank Baryon Tensor-Posadas at the University of Minnesota for his advice on the Japanese titles listed here.]

Takayuki Tatsumi’s introduction to this volume argues that “without the existence of Japan, postwar science fiction could not have developed the trans-pacific imagination. It is true that Japan played the leading role of trans-pacific science fiction” (vii-viii). Global popular culture since at least the 1960s would be vastly different were it not for the circulation of images, tropes, and topoi between and within the United States and Asia, and particularly without Japan’s successful internationalization of all manner of franchisable characters, from the cool to the cute (volume IV is devoted entirely to the topic of “Cool Asia” and is worth finding in your library). While the four-volume series in toto—which also includes “Trans-Pacific Americanism” (vol. I) and “Trans-Pacific Literary Studies” (vol. II)—features a more truly trans-Pacific focus, the introduction to this particular volume and its contents are focused more squarely on Japan and on the influences of the United States during the Cold-War era rather than the Pacific Rim more broadly.

It would of course be impossible to cover the entire trans-pacific region under almost any geographical rubric and Japan is known as a global center of sf production for good reason. It is disappointing, however, to see that for this particular volume, ten out of sixteen articles focus on Japan, while minor gestures are made to US imaginations of Asia in sf, and to the sf traditions of China and South Asia. Historically speaking, the volume is for the most part limited to scholarship on sf produced after the end of World War II, an unfortunate limitation. Tatsumi argues that “Japanese science fiction as a genre established itself in the 1960s” (viii), an assertion that has been questioned in scholarship such as Yasuo Nagayama’s Nihon sf seishinshi [A Spiritual History of Japanese SF, 2009] and Yokota Jun’ya’s “Kindai Nihon sf ryakuji nijiu seiki hajime no sf būmu wo chūshin ni?”[A Brief History of Modern Japanese SF: Centering the Boom of the Early Twentieth Century?, 2007]. (While these titles are unfortunately unavailable to English readers, this is in part dealt with in Hiromi Mizuno’s Science for the Empire [2010].) Miri Nakamura’s article in this volume likewise pushes back the inception date for the genre in the Japanese context, drawing connections between sf and other modes in noting that “‘irregular detective fiction’ [of the mid-1920s] is now treated as the forerunner of contemporary Japanese science fiction” (14).

To be overly critical of the geographic or historical specificity of the volume would be to ignore the fact that Japan-centered sf studies have a longer academic history than those dedicated to South Asia, China, or Korea, which have begun to take hold more recently. The volume presents a rich history of sf studies, especially Japanese sf studies, from roughly the 1960s to the present moment. Non-experts or less careful readers might not recognize this, as the volume leaves it to the reader to understand the editor’s criteria for inclusion. Tatsumi’s introduction does little to explain the rationale for including the texts that he has chosen, to theorize them as part of a discipline, or to historicize the monumental scholarship these individual contributions represent. Tatsumi is doubtlessly aware of this history, and I personally would have liked to avail myself of his wisdom in selecting the pieces that he did. Reading between the lines, one might piece together a fascinating history of the evolution of sf studies in the context of contemporary Asian Studies. 

Taken individually, the pieces are all top-notch. Translations of early Japanese-language theories of sf by Kobo Abe (an author perhaps better known for his avant-garde and existentialist works of fiction such as The Woman in the Dunes [1964]), Koichi Yamano, and Takumi Shibano bring the volume’s historical breadth to the 1960s. At the end of Shibano’s “Collective Reason: A Proposal,” (1971), he offers the following definition of sf: “Science fiction is the general term for a sphere of literature (and its related genres) that embraces the concept of a ‘collective reason’ that is autonomous and removed from individual control” (94). If collective reason can be understood as a synonym for cognition, then Shibano has arguably pre-figured at least one key aspect of Darko Suvin’s definition of the genre, first published in 1972 (see his Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre [1979]). Yamano’s criticism of Japanese sf as derivative of the US tradition, which he metaphorizes as having “started out in a prefabricated house,” is an interesting counterpoint to Tatsumi’s own essay, “Sakyu Komatsu’s Planetary Imagination: Reading Virus and The Day of Resurrection,” which notes that a Japanese film whose plot resembles that of The Andromeda Strain (1971) was actually based on a novel that preceded the source material for the Hollywood film. Mari Kotani’s and Rachel Dumas’ articles both address issues of gender and women’s authorship in science fiction. Thomas Schnellbächer’s “Has the Empire Sunk Yet?: The Pacific in Japanese Science Fiction,” seems to come closest to addressing a trans-Pacific imagination through its analysis of the Pacific Ocean as a topos in Japanese sf. Wu Yan’s article, “‘Great Wall Planet’: Introducing Chinese Science Fiction,” is an ironically self-Orientalizing introduction to an influential special issue of SFS, “On Chinese Science Fiction” (March 2013), re-inaugurating English-language study of Chinese sf. While earlier work by authors such as Wu Dingbo, David Der-wei Wang, and Rudolph Wagner had addressed the genre, it was this journal issue that really saw it firmly establish itself in American academia. To round out the volume, Paul Mountfort, Suparno Banerjee, and Christopher Fan all address Oriental motifs in Anglo-American sf.  

This group of texts would be an excellent resource for professors hoping to get a bird’s-eye view of the history of Asia-centered sf studies, PhD students assembling reading lists for qualifying examinations, and undergraduates looking for individual essays on the history of Japanese sf. The individual essays often represent cutting-edge contributions to the field at the time of their publication and, to give credit where it is due, the editors of SFS are to be lauded for having shepherded generations of scholarship into print, as the majority of the articles in this volume—thirteen of sixteen—originally appeared in this journal. You cannot spell science fiction studies without Science Fiction Studies.

We must address the elephant in the room—the exorbitant price of the volume under consideration. By my calculations, if it were possible to buy Volume III separately, at a total of $1100 for the full series that is still $250, far too much for this associate professor’s book budget. The publisher sells other books for reasonable prices, and it would seem that being destined for the reference section in a university library is what explains the price tag. I have accosted every colleague I could, and the best any of us could come up with for this pricing policy is something or other about university research libraries being willing to pay that much for reference works and presses being willing to charge. If a book is really important to me, it goes on the shelf in my office, where it is read and re-read, marked up and dog-eared. The fore-edges get smudged with dirt, and the spine begins to crumble. By the time that has happened, I have a decent grasp of what it is about. What is the fate of a book destined for the reference section, and who is its audience? —Nathaniel Isaacson, North Carolina State University

Metanarrative Tensions.

Gary Westfahl. The Rise and Fall of American Science Fiction, from the 1920s to the 1960s. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2019. x+301 pp. $45 pbk.

From Hugo Gernsback to Joseph W. Campbell, from the Golden Age to the rise of paperbacks, the New Wave, cyberpunk, and the dominance of film and TV, the established history of American sf has been told and retold several times now. This is how histories and canons are cemented: by the sustained repetition of a narrative that takes on—slowly, eventually, inexorably—the appearance of objectivity. 

A cynical approach to reading Gary Westfahl’s new book, a collection of eight previously published chapters, now updated, and six newly written chapters designed to create a “mosaic of my general argument about the genre’s development” (4), would be to summarize it as yet another retelling of the entrenched history of the genre in America, with all of the usual figures and texts that, while crucial to sf’s development, are now so well-known among critics and scholars as to be hardly worth dragging into the spotlight. It would be easy to conclude, rather dismissively, that this history has become a kind of metanarrative, to borrow Lyotard’s term, and that its recapitulation lacks critical and scholarly value.

A more generous or level-headed approach is to recognize that Westfahl, who has been a critic, teacher, and historian of sf since the 1990s, was a recipient of the Pilgrim Award in 2003, and played a key role in coordinating the Eaton conferences at the University of Riverside, California, as well as publishing volumes of their noteworthy presentations, has done more than enough here and in past work to justify returning to the canonical history of American sf. Westfahl certainly focuses on well-trodden territory in his mosaic: for instance, on my count discussions of Gernsback, his fiction, and his magazines occur on over ninety pages of the collection. But at the same time, the book displays a strong commitment to reading and exploring those aspects of American sf and its history that are too-often sidelined or ignored within critical circles.

Several examples stood out in my reading. In a chapter on sf art, updated from a piece published in 2002, Westfahl notes the existence of many books on the subject, but laments that none attempt a critical taxonomy of its forms—“Surely, one might argue, we need a more systematic framework for such discussions” (39), he insists, and then goes on to develop one. In a newly developed section dealing with early sf anthologies, he notes that sf historians recognize the importance of anthologies, citing works such as Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions collections (1967, 1972), but that the vast majority of anthologies, especially from the 1940s to the 1970s, “have virtually been erased from the history of science fiction” (125). He then spends twenty-six pages exhaustively mapping the contexts and contents of six anthologies, including little-known collections such as J. Berg Esenwein’s Adventures to Come (1937), which was “aimed at young readers with no particular attachment to the genre” (127-28). He explains that “Since publishers long believed that books of this kind would be purchased exclusively by parents and libraries, not the children who would actually be reading them, their major concern was the product’s packaging, not its quality” (128). And in the book’s final section, updated from a chapter that appeared in The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction (2014), Westfahl discusses the impact that market forces have had on American sf, which since the 1960s or so has been dominated by newer media such as comic books, video games, film, and television, and in the literary space by series and tie-in novels that “rigidly follow some standard conventions” (243): “the marketplace discovered what sorts of stories most people want to read,” he writes, “and it devised mechanisms to provide them with the products they desire” (245). For Westfahl, mass popularization played a critical role in the “fall” of American sf signaled in the book’s title, and in particular the demise of a community-oriented culture fueled by the kind of scientific and artistic integrity that was promulgated by Gernsback and Campbell in their pulp magazines.

These are notable omissions in a conventional and straightforward history of American sf, and Westfahl should be praised for slogging through some of the less appealing examples of the genre to address them. He declares that “literary historians tend to focus primarily or exclusively on the best writers and their best works, seizing upon perceived connections between them to invent an imagined and isolated tradition of literary excellence” (2), and much of this book can be interpreted as his career-long pursuit of “clear connections between innumerable authors, editors, and commentators that can be verified and studied, not merely invented” (1): “Much of the work of my scholarly career,” he writes, “can be interpreted as an effort to publicize and investigate these broader contexts from which both the masterpieces and the ephemera of science fiction have emerged” (2). Somewhat problematic, on the other hand, is Westfahl’s suggestion that “global science fiction,” which the “contemporary scholarly community seems more and more dedicated to the study of” (1), rests on nothing more than a fabricated or invented history, which is in stark contrast to the history of the pulp magazines that “actually occurred” (1). It is an insinuation that I find questionable, especially in light of work being done materially to trace the alternative and buried histories of sf in the US and abroad. The suggestion is also unusual, since Westfahl himself spends much time connecting texts and contexts that fall outside the accepted cannon, showing that there are ways to uncover histories that “actually occurred” that do not involve manufacturing them.   

The book is noteworthy and valuable as a history of popular sf in America, then, but as noted, it is also replete with discussions of already-established and canonized material. The result is a series of essays that are part revelatory and part reiterative to such a degree that a reader familiar with American sf is whiplashed between significance and tedium at a somewhat alarming rate. By redeploying the American sf metanarrative, Westfahl opens it up for scrutiny and analysis, but the redeployment can be wearisome nonetheless, not to mention its political and ideological role vis-à-vis canonization. This is perhaps a fundamental tension at the heart of such histories: the old is laid out as firm footing for the new, with a side-effect being the further solidification of an agreed-upon history—even as that history is simultaneously questioned and expanded.

Westfahl gestures towards this issue in his introduction, if only vaguely and from a methodological perspective, by claiming that he made efforts to “minimize repetitive language, through there were certain points and observations that needed to be made more than once, to serve different purposes in different contexts” (5). This may be the case, but repetition, especially of key figures, texts, and magazines, is still a central feature of this collection. In the final chapter, for example, he does indeed explore the mass popularization of sf in the US, but only after several pages that once again describe Gernsback and his writing, E.E. “Doc” Smith and his pulp space operas, Campbell and his editorial commitments in Astounding Science-Fiction, Arthur C. Clarke and Childhood’s End (1953), the effect of paperbacks on the pulps, and other subjects discussed thoroughly in previous chapters. Some of this is understandable, since in this article Westfahl makes the case that sf changed dramatically with the dominance of the marketplace, but in the context of this being a broader collection, the overlap of subject matter is onerous, especially for readers engaging with multiple chapters or—even worse—approaching the text from cover to cover. 

Much of this could have been solved if the articles were reconceptualized and rewritten as a full-length study. With this approach, Gernsback and the other usual suspects could have been dealt with more efficiently in an early chapter or two, providing solid footing for Westfahl’s more remarkable work that broadens our understanding of sf in America—writing on sf art, anthologies, pseudoscience, juvenile sf, novelizations, mass market series, and other subjects that deserve more attention from contemporary sf scholars. This is a larger and more demanding project, of course, and one should read a text for what it is, not for what it could be, but the fact remains that the material here would likely read better within a more linear construction. Westfahl’s proposed trajectory of American sf as a form that flourished and then fell, that transmogrified from individual brilliance to mass mediocrity over five or so decades, would also be better served through long-form analysis. As it stands, that history is still intact, even if Westfahl insists it is only a “helpful supplement to the many other histories of science fiction” (4), and it is an informative and expertly researched one. It is just that readers will have to trudge repeatedly through the familiar historical metanarrative of American sf to get there.—Chad Andrews, Independent Scholar

Back to Home