Science Fiction Studies

#25 = Volume 8, Part 3 = November 1981


On a Variety of SF Authors

Michael J. Tolley and Kirpal Singh, eds. The Stellar Gauge: Essays on Science Fiction Writers. Carlton, Australia: Nostrilia Press, 1981. 288p. S14.95

This is a disparate and not very interesting collection. The essays by 13 different critics, including five SF authors, on 12 authors--from Verne and Wells to Ballard and Dick--vary in length from 3500 to 12000 words. Two of the essays deal with a single work; the others attempt some form of overview, from a group of novels or the "major works" of an author to a more general account of his oeuvre (no women SF writers are dealt with). There is no central argument, no particular rationale for the choice of authors (two of the critics dislike the authors they were apparently allotted), and there is no consistent method or approach--except for an all too familiar reliance on thematic analysis. In their introduction the editors state that their book is "the first original collection of critical essays on a variety of science fiction writers" (p. 1), although we learn later that two of the essays have appeared elsewhere. And this is certainly not the first collection of essays on a variety of SF authors: Thomas Clareson's 1976 collection Voices for the Future and Dick Riley's 1978 Critical Encounters come to mind, and I suspect that there are others. I mention all of these details to try and explain my reservations about the need or purpose of such a book. As Donald Lawler wrote in these pages in his review of the Riley collection (see SFS No. 23), few of the essays have anything original or inspiring to offer either fan or general reader...but for the sake of two good and one superior essay Critical Encounters could be dismissed as another in that growing line of forgettable collections of criticism piously offered to convert the already converted" (p. 108). And I'm afraid that none of the essays in The Stellar Gauge merits a "superior" rating....

For the record, here is a brief listing and description of the 12 essays. The most "academic" is David Ketterer's essay on Verne`s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which begins as an application of Michel Butor's archetypal approach to Verne and becomes a sustained critique of English mistranslations of Verne. David Lake, in "Images of Death in the Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells," takes up some of the themes and images he studied in his essay on the Time Machine published in SFS No. 17 to pursue an argument similar to that of his piece on Wells in SFS No. 23. And in the other essay limited to a single work, Kirpal Singh looks at "Technology in George Orwell's 1984."

The other nine essays present more general readings of nine contemporary white male Anglo-American SF authors: for Jane Hipolito and Willis McNelly a Jungian reading of Alfred Bester offers "the best explanation of why The Demolished Man and Tiger! Tiger! are great novels" (p. 90): for David Sless the importance of Arthur C. Clarke lies not only in the humor and mysticism to which his critics usually call attention, but also in the plausibility and optimism with which he portrays future technology; and for Frederick Yuan, in an essay on the "immortality novels'' of Robert Silverberg, "the treatment of death [does] not break sharply from the prevailing attitudes towards death" (p. 255). In his essay on Frederick Pohl, George Turner, stressing the importance of plausibility and a definition of SF as "the fiction of change and the effects of change on human society" (p. 112), demonstrates that Pohl's SF is overrated; he then goes on to attack as equally overrated a number of recent works, from The Mote in God's Eye to the "projections" of John Brunner. Turner concludes by scolding academic critics for placing too much emphasis on "literary" qualities: "Closer inspection of logic and content, with perhaps a little help from specialists in the scientific departments, might give science fiction the shaking up its complacency sadly needs" (pp. 132-33)

Given Brian Aldiss' critical abilities (e.g., The Billion Year Spree), I found his essay, "Blish and the Mathematics of Knowledge" disappointing as it wandered among Blish's novels and themes. Similarly, the Bruce Gillespie of SF Commentary seemed little in evidence in Gillespie's survey of Brian Aldiss, "England's finest science fiction writer." But my biggest disappointment came with Michael Tolley's "Beyond the Enigma: Dick's Questors." It's not that I disagreed with anything Tolley says, but I had hoped for some new insights in this lengthy reading of my own "favorite" SF writer. Christopher Priest's offering, perhaps because of its brevity, is a tantalizing appreciation of Ballard in the form of an already published review of Goddard and Pringle's J.G. Ballard: The First Twenty Years. I also liked the final essay, John Sladek's "Four Reasons for Reading Thomas M. Disch," particularly for the combination of humor and insight in the "reasons" themselves: "To learn why Minnesota needs pyramids," "To learn why your country needs you," "To learn why the squirrel needs to keep running," and "To learn why New Yorkers and others need to dress up nice." After references to Shakespeare and the Bible in some of the essays, it was refreshing to meet with a little irreverence.

I'm sorry I don't have anything nice to say about The Stellar Gauge. I don't understand the need or value of such a collection and, in terms of the individual essays, I think it's time SF criticism moved beyond the repeated elaboration of an author's "themes and ideas" to attempt to understand the mechanisms and functions of individual works as well as the larger question of the liberatory potential of SF.

--Peter Fitting

Ecriture or Knowledge

Martin H. Greenberg, ed. Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1981. 215p. $15.00

Charles Platt. Dream Makers: Interviews. NY: Berkley Books, 1980. 284p. $2.75 paper

Somewhere out in front of literary theory now are the questions of whether we need authors at all, what is an author, whether the presence of the author is bad for the text. The other large question of what is a book and what are its uses has been with us longer. SF's answer to the first set of structuralist questions apparently is not what we might expect. In spite of the ghetto origins of the genre and in spite of its well-developed sense of community and conventional context, SF is becoming a literature of very self-conscious authors. Martin H. Greenberg and Charles Platt have produced books that are part of a growing tradition of books about SF writers in the process of exploring their role as authors. Perhaps later, with this self- consciousness out of its system, SF can return to a sense of classic community out of which generic products may speak to the interfaces between the world out there and human concerns. In any case, we like to know all we can about our authors because we believe in the community and have hope for the genre. The other question--about what kind of books these two books about authors are--is harder to answer.

Greenberg's collection of autobiographical essays by SF writers is the first book in a new series from Southern Illinois intended to serve what that press calls "the growing critical audience of science fiction." I take that to mean the growing number of critics who want to write about the genre; and in the introduction Greenberg refers specifically to his belief that several of the authors he collects deserve more attention from academic critics. So what we have are essays by nine authors selected by Greenberg and told to write about themselves. Harlan Ellison's piece is a reprint; but the others (by Farmer, Lafferty, MacLean, Malzberg, Reynolds, St Clair, Spinrad, and van Vogt) are originally printed reminiscences. A kind of disjointed cuteness skips through all the essays. I suspect each of the authors is better at fiction. My favorite essays are those by R.A. Lafferty, Mack Reynolds, Margaret St Clair, and A.E. van Vogt because they contain interesting opinons about the genre and what seems to be real news about the individual authorships. It is useful to have each of these essays, however, for future work on the authors.

On the other hand, Platt's book is an uneven and sometimes troubling mixture that at best defies description and at worst could confuse the reader about the authors that it treats. Platt made tapes of 90-minute conversations with 29 authors. (He includes a piece on himself but probably did not tape himself.) He transcribed the tapes himself and then wrote a profile of each author containing three to six thousand words in which the taped comments are mixed with his own impressions. I am never sure what I am reading in the resulting profiles, although I suspect it is mostly Platt and, in some cases, often repeated opinions attributed to our authors. If they voiced them on the tapes, they themselves are simply building their conventional images of themselves and not speaking directly to anyone. For example, the book follows Samuel Delany through a routine about mundane fiction that I have heard or read in at least two other places. Either Delany is quoting himself on Platt's tape, or Platt has taken the opinions from the other sources without identifying them. The fact that the reader cannot know is troubling; rather than adding to knowledge, Platt's book may simply confuse future critics and scholars of the genre. Though I know that the interpretation of mixed texts is the job of the critic, I would suggest that this book of Platt's is a cheap, hurried, and overly impressionistic text.

--Donald M. Hassler

Evaluating Vance, Interpreting Bradbury

Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, eds. Jack Vance. NY: Taplinger, 1980. 252p. $12.95 cloth, $5.95 paper.

Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Ray Bradbury. NY: Taplingen 1980. [Writers of the 21st Century Series]. 248p. $12.95 cloth, $5.95 paper

Of all the burgeoning SF criticism series, Writers of the 21st Century generally has received the best press--and quite probably deserves it. While some readers no doubt yearn for in-depth, completely integrated book-length studies, essay collections such as the ones in this series offer, at their best, a broad range of critical opinions, often subjecting particular aspects of each SF author to meaningful scrutiny. Unfortunately, at worst these essay collections are repetitious and fail to develop worthwhile theses with any noticeable intensity. These two new collections straddle the spectrum of accomplishment.

Jack Vance is an interesting choice for a collection of critical essays, especially since the other Taplinger offerings so far have been devoted to rather obvious choices: Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin, and Ray Bradbury. (Volumes on Sturgeon, Lem, Silverberg, and Dick are in preparation.) Unlike these other writers, and despite his long and fruitful career, Jack Vance has received very little critical attention. (Marshall Tymn, whose bibliographies appear in both the Bradbury and Vance volumes, had to turn to fanzines and general reference books to scrape up a reasonable number of critical articles.) The strategy of the volume's editors seems to have been to go outside of scholarly ranks for their essays on Vance, and then to chide the scholars for ignoring him. The result is a disaster.

At the end of his essay in Jack Vance, Arthur Jean Cox quotes Nietzsche, "To praise is as egregious as to blame," and then goes on to display his general misconception of Nietzsche by saying "He might have added, 'Or to criticize, analyze, interpret.'" For a critical work to defenestrate criticism is not particularly novel in some SF circles, but it seems suicidal to me. Unfortunately, while Cox's essay avoids some of this cynicism, his attitude appears to be shared by a majority of the other writers in this collection. Cox is at least able to describe a number of general thematic concerns that vein Vance's fiction, themes which are "explored" at greater length but not much more depth in other essays.

The general consensus that emerges in this volume is that Vance is a superior stylist who, while packing plenty of action into his stories, is often careless with plot: that his strong suits are style and his ability to describe fully-realized alien landscapes and cultures: and that Vance is not particularly concerned with complex thematic development or with either metaphor or extrapolation per se (although Cox shows some interesting parallels between European and American cultures and those in Vance's fiction).

Essays by Terry Dowling and Mark Willard are largely plot summaries, of little use to anyone who has read Vance's work. Robert Silverberg, whose critical introductions to works of various SF writers are often illuminating, is here practicing gonzo criticism, telling us more about himself than about Vance. The pieces by Norman Spinrad and Poul Anderson, and to some extent the long essay by Richard Tiedman, are too often preoccupied with asserting through invective and exclamation point that Vance is a "good" author. Writers without a scholarly background or real critical training often seem obsessed with declarations of "good" or "bad," apparently assuming that that is what "critics" are supposed to do. These adjectives are not particularly useful to the people who read their essays, whose own opinions remain untouched by jeering and cheering. A reader may agree or disagree with this sort of "criticism," but he learns relatively little from it. A real critic, it seems to me, can elucidate a text by any number of means. He can show that it has thematic complexity, he can illustrate the meaningful unity of plot, characterization, setting, and narrative voice, he can suggest its relationship to other works or to a literary tradition or a particular worldview. A critic can approach a work in any number of ways, but he ultimately cannot prove that it is "good." ( A book reviewer, on the other hand, usually expresses his opinion.)

Perhaps, as an academic critic, I am merely flaunting my bias, but if so it extends to my valuing very highly the collection of essays on Ray Bradbury, most of them written by academicians, most of them accomplishing the things criticism can accomplish. While no single collection of essays could hope to examine even every major Bradbury production, this book contains worthwhile articles on The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 and a variety of his other works are touched upon in thematically-oriented essays. The points of view are too diverse to summarize here, but I would like to note that Gary Wolfe's essay "The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury" and Donald Watt's "Burning Bright: Fahrenheit 451 as Symbolic Dystopia" are particularly interesting. Since Bradbury increasingly is a subject of critical attention, it is neither surprising nor particularly disappointing that the Writers of the 21st Century volume devoted to him does not try to treat him comprehensively. While the book as a whole spends too much of its valuable space on sometimes obvious discussions of The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury is a critical volume well worth owning.

--Mark Siegel

(Re)discovering Mark Clifton

Barry N. Malzberg and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. The Science Fiction of Mark Clifton. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980. 296p

Mark Clifton is little known; his novels are out of print, and his stories are indeed hard to locate. This collection of tales, just recently published, is a welcome arrival, creating a much-needed accessibility to his work. Clifton's stories are unique; they fascinate with ingenious plot and captivating theme. Because the tales do so interest, they are able to rise above the terribly weak commentary with which the editors frame them. Merril's memoir, the notes and afterword by Greenberg and Malzberg, cannot dampen the excitement of reading this SF. Despite the poor "packaging" of these tales, then, I can highly recommend The Science Fiction of Mark Clifton.

The book begins with Merril's memoir, which, while it may be emotionally charged for the writer, frankly yields little insight into Clifton, the man or his work. When Merril concludes her recollections suggesting that Clifton may have had a part in "seeding" (p. xix) the anti-war and ecology movements (little read as he was), she calls into question her sense of perspective and undermines her credibility. The notes (by Greenberg?) preceding each tale, are not only unhelpful but often lack coherence as well. Take as example this comment preceding "Star, Bright": "Moving (although not unreminiscent of Kuttner/Moore's 'Mimsy Were the Borogroves' published in Astounding seven years earlier), it obviously possessed some personal significance" (p. 18). Malzberg's "afterword" is disappointing as well. In glowing language it rambles discussing the writer's life and work, exaggerating Clifton as "a major writer of his time," bemoaning the fact (of questionable importance) that he "earned for the totality of his Science Fiction something less than twenty-thousand dollars" (p. 294).

Thankfully, the greater part of this text is given to a selection of Clifton's tales. Included here are many fictions of original event and circumstance. Although his plots are often common to SF--aliens in disguise wanting our Earth for themselves, the creation of a super-robot, man the imperialist moving to the stars, a confrontation with telepathic powers--Clifton always manages to turn up a new and intriguing slant. In "What Have I Done,?," aliens seeking to blend in, become ideal humans, leaving themselves vulnerable to the far from ideal men around them. The "brainy" robot in "Hide! Hide! Witch!," makes man insecure, undermining his need to feel superior, creating a violent hysteria. In "What Now Little Man?," the wondrous 'Goonies" (of the planet Libo) appear to be submitting dumbly to the cruel domination of man, yet are actually yielding as part of design. "George," In "How Allied," is an amazing personality," and amalgam of the telepathic senses of no less than five young men.

There is a central theme to all this: man has great potential, and yet is mired in clay. "Was man doomed to follow in the circle endlessly, like a two-dimensional animal bounded by a carelessly thrown thread, unable to conceive of a third dimension whereby it might change direction and crawl upward" (p. 214). What separates man from that third dimension is his dogged adherence to a societally established pattern of thinking, a pattern which Clifton terms a "framework." Man refuses to listen to anything which [does] not fit with his already formed conceptions" (p. 214). He is thus blinded to alternate possibilities, seeing only what he expects to see. This is why, in "Remembrance and Reflection," "George," and the Swami and Jennie and Logart, all of a different framework," must leave the earth to find grow" (p. 179).

Theme and incident fascinate in this book. Clifton is obviously an important figure in SF and it is appropriate that we should have a text readily available to savor him. It is unfortunate, however, that the editors of this text felt the need of commentary. Instead, we might have been treated to another of Clifton's marvelous tales.

--Michael Tritt

From Poets' Lives to Reader's Guides and Back

Joan Gordon. Joe Haldeman. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House [Starmont Reader's Guides to Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors No. 4: Roger C. Schlobin, series editor], 1980. 64p. $3.95, paper.

Jeff Frane. Fritz Leiber. [Starmont Reader's Guide to Contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors No. 8]. 64 p. $3.95 paper

Some quixotic idealism in me keeps wanting to contend that the standards for a vital criticism of a new literature were set 200 years ago when English poetry came to be treated critically for the first time. Johnson wrote Lives of the Poets for much the same purpose that first critical studies of SF writers are now being projected. A new literature creates a market for commentary, and the commercial competition measures the vitality of the literature. Whereas Johnson himself thought the pace of human affairs had quickened significantly when he was asked to treat modern writers as classical, our century demands critical evaluation even before the work of the writer is complete. Nevertheless, the Starmont Reader's Guides, along with the numerous similar projects from competing publishers such as those of the Borgo Press, Oxford University Press, and Taplinger, and the multi-volume critical collections such as those from Salem Press, seem designed to map what is significant and classical out of the forests and swamps of an increasingly popular literature.

The job cannot be done with plot summary and paraphrase but must employ reflection, judgment, and creative organization. Joan Gordon on Haldeman and Jeff Frane on Leiber cannot rely solely on lists of narrative or bibliographic data. They must write in a way that works toward the essence of their respective writers--notwithstanding the obvious fact that both Joe Haldeman and Fritz Leiber are very much alive and writing themselves toward the expression of their respective visions. The point is, I think, that both Haldeman and Leiber are important writers because their work shows a unity and power of vision that holds some significance. Haldeman's notion of life as merely episodic and without meaning as well as the tactics his characters adopt in order to cope are important to understand. Leiber's ideas on the female anima, on change and time slips, on "sword and sorcery" (a phrase he coined) are among the most provocative and well developed in the genre. Frane's book is the more disappointing of the two in carrying out the task of organizing and interpreting ideas. Gordon has less substance to work on with Haldeman, but even she loses perspective at times and lapses too easily from well-organized interpretation to plot summary. The standard does not require that each Reader's Guide be longer. Lives of the Poets are not long. Let us hope that the authors of future titles in this series will learn from the work of Joan Gordon and Jeff Frane to emulate their attempts at unified and well-pointed interpretation as well as to avoid the meaningless rehash of plot summary. In other words, I would hope that in this series the genuine seeds of criticism will be allowed to grow and that the editor will weed out what is mere guide for lazy readers.

--Donald M. Hassler

Death and Science Fiction

Louis-Vincent Thomas. Civilisation et diagnations: mort, fantasmes, science-fiction. Paris: Payot, 1979. 285p. FF22,00

Prior to this study, Louis-Vincent Thomas had written two books on death; here he brings his knowledge and experience to bear on what he considers an especially rich field for an exploration of the full range of contemporary fears and obsessions about death. His thematic study of SF as a "literature of anxiety" groups SF writing and film under three general headings: (1) "The affirmation of death: [works in which] the realization of the risks [we face], whether real or imaginary, from `outside' or as a result of our own aggressivity, has brought about the reapppearance of the long-standing myth of the apocalypse, in an updated and secular but nonetheless terrifying form"; (2) "The denial of death.... the quest for an afterlife [survie] or for an indefinitely prolonged life"; and (3) "The city, inasmuch as it constitutes a microcosm of modern life... [In SF there are] close links between the city and anxieties about death which preoccupy the city-dweller" (p. 16). These, he argues, when taken together, will provide a complete account of "the anxiety about death which characterizes our epoch and the defense mechanisms [fantasmes de défense] which are apparent in science fiction."

Thomas lists some 250 SF titles (French and French translations) and 100 films in his bibliography, but there is no index and thus no way to locate the discussion of a particular work. This is not a real failing, however, since the actual treatment of specific works is very brief and entirely content-oriented: works are discussed only as representative of the thematic variations of contemporary anxieties about death. What finally does invalidate this study is not its thematic nature, but the ethnocentricity and superficiality of the author's approach to the question of death itself.

Within the context of renewed interest in France in our understanding and attitudes towards death (e.g., from Thomas's bibliography, the works of Ariès, Baudrillard, Chaunu, etc.), Thomas's own approach seems trivial and reductive, colored by such generalizations as the following: "Civilizations exist in order to struggle against the dissolving power of death. Our civilization has invested in the mastery of the world and in the accumulation of goods; it denies death in the name of the omnipotence of reason and technology [la technique]" (p. 9). Throughout the book, SF and our contemporary anxieties about death are taken as worldwide and trans-historical phenomena. As far as I am concerned, it should not be necessary to repeat that SF is not a universal phenomenon, but a specific literary (or filmic) form which is produced and consumed under specific conditions. As for the idea that anxiety about death is the fundamental motor of human activity, this is certainly a questionable proposition, particularly when it is given rather than argued. Bruce Franklin, in an article entitled "Chic Bleak in Fantasy Fiction," published almost ten years ago, put forward a different explanation for much of the gloom and doom in contemporary SF:

The peoples of the world are becoming well aware of how to solve their problems. They are destroying the empires that oppress them. Thus our doomsday culture. It is not the world that is coming to an end, merely the empires of the world... Writers inside the empire can choose. They can identify with a doomed system and then imagine the possible forms of their own doom. Or they can take the side of the rising class and system, helping, through their use of art, to create a better future. (Saturday Review. July 15, 1972, p. 45)

While I do not fully agree with that argument, particularly inasmuch as I consider many of the threats referred to in SF--e.g., that of nuclear destruction--as real, especially with the likes of Reagan and Haig in Washington, Franklin's explanation makes more sense to me that Thomas's vague psychologizing. And SF has responded to Franklin's challenge, as can be seen in the feminist utopian writing of the last decade!

--Peter Fitting

A Teutonic Survey of SF Criticism

Reiner Jehmlich. Science Fiction. [Erträge der Forschung. No. 139]. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. 1980. 170p. DM 37.50

The aim of this small hook is to give a critical survey of the research done on SF after World War II, particularly on its development in North America, England, and West Germany.

The study consists of three major parts. A short introduction precedes chapter one, which is a lament on the absence of a concise definition of this genre, an absence all the more remarkable in view of the abundance of literature with the SF label. Deplorable as this is, however, it is not helped much by Jehmlich's own work.

In chapter two, the core of the study, Jehmlich categorizes the critical literature on SF as follows: (1) fan or amateur criticism: (2) journalistic or essay criticism: and (3) scholarly criticism--the holy cow as it turns out, Jehmlich dismisses fan criticism because of the obvious insider-involvement-syndrome of the authors. Though he concedes the importance of this category, acknowledging the authors' compilations of checklists and bibliographies, he criticizes the lack of scholarly objectivity, as evinced by a tendency to eulogy and apology. Turning to the second category, that of journalistic SF criticism, Jehmlich gives some praise to such essays for their wit and readability. This asset, however, counter-balances only too little what he perceives as the major flaw, generalization: for Jehmlich strongly criticizes the journalistic inclination to extract global characteristics from insufficient data. Having thus eliminated the "inadequate" approaches to SF, he finally arrives at the one and only "acceptable" approach, that of methodological scholarly research. Whereas in the 1950s and early '60s, scholarly criticism dealt with SF as part of utopian literature, a change occurred in the late '60s: SF was seen as a sub-genre by itself. And since this latter period, there has arisen a scholarly dispute on the right methodological approach to the newly found sub-genre: "bourgeois" criticism of form and content was opposed to "Marxist" criticism of ideology. A satisfying synthesis has been achieved in only a few critical works of the 1970s. Though this scholarly debate on the correct approach is seen as mainly a German phenomenon, Jehmlich names SFS (which he wrongly calls an American journal) for its praise-worthy "intentions" in the matter. In general, however, he finds fault with North American scholars. With true tectonic hubris, he regards their research as a mere dabbling in essays and notes. English critical research he scorns as much because of its essay-like style.

In the third and last chapter of his book, Jehmlich lists the SF problems that are unsolved. A closer look reveals, however, that those problems consist, after all, in nothing but the recurrence of his first lament: that is, how to define SF within the field of the fantastic and the utopian. Jehmlich's solutions fail to be anything but an eclectic recycling of the well-known: (1) find the structural aspects that differentiate fantastic from realistic literature; (2) define the characteristics of SF as opposed to utopian, fantastic, and non-realistic literature; (3) differentiate the main sub-categories of SF. Having admonished scholars to treat SF not as an isolated phenomenon but as one part of main-stream literature, he closes with the remark that the problems of SF can be solved in the framework of pare-literature and genre research. An extensive bibliography concludes the study.

Were it not for its manifestly superior attitude, which stems from West German methodological hubris, were it not for its pseudo-scholarly rhapsody of foreign (latinized) words, the book could be called an interesting though somewhat eclectic survey of SF criticism. In the form presented, however, it tends to be rather annoying at times.

--Ira Tschimmel

Science and Technology in the US: A Bibliography

Stephen H. Cutliffe, Judith A. Mistichelli, and Christine M. Roysdon. Technology and Values in American Civilization: A Guide to Information Sources. [Vol. 9 of the American Studies Information Guide Series, ed. Donald Koster]. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1980. xviii + 704p. $28.00

This book is an annotated bibliography in 22 sections conceived of as a guide to information, relating technology and values in US society since the late 19th century to the present day (i.e., 1978). "Technology" should be understood in a wider sense here as covering industrialization, urbanization, labor and labor conditions, communications, energy (its sources and uses)--in short, all aspects of modern life with special consideration for their influence on and link with societal axiology, professional ethics, social philosophy, etc.

Considering its wide scope, preciseness, and handiness, and the general accuracy of its annotations (more content-oriented, though, than providing value judgments), this guide will become a basic research tool for SF critics, providing indispensable sources of information about science, technology, and society in America and about the way they have been perceived in the course of history. (The book includes author, title and subject indexes.) There is a short section on literature with a sub-section on SF and Utopias, providing, first, entries of primary literature from Edward Bellamy to John Brunner (hardly an American writer!). SF criticism as such is represented by 29 entries: 12 books and booklets and, for the rest, 17 articles published between 1950 and 1977. Whereas the annotations in themselves seem acceptable, such a narrow selection is simply insufficient on the face of it: there are many "unforgivable" omissions. Even for a beginner, the selection does not provide a basis for undertaking investigations in the field. Despite these reservations, my probings in sections dealing with some hard sciences and techniques--where I am not unaware of the basic bibliographic "musts"--lead me to conclude that, considering the encompassing character of this bibliographical endeavor, it is generally reliable. Nonetheless, the absence of any reference to Vance Packard (including the parts of his work clearly dealing with technological fallouts and value changes) seems to me unaccountable. I also feel that, from Maurice Dobb to Stanley Aronowitz, Marxist or "radical" cultural sociologists or economists (no Paul M. Sweezy?) are conspicuously under-represented (e.g., the three names just cited are absent). When I checked The Organization Man, I found it attributed not to William H. Whyte, Jr. but to a "William Foote Whyte" (?). There are probably other errors of detail and other possible objections about the selection and the choices, but all in all, with over 2,400 entries and its extensive coverage, this guide offers the SF critic a treasury of useful data and references.


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