Science Fiction Studies

#31 = Volume 10, Part 3 = November 1983



Brian Aldiss. This World and Nearer Ones: Essays Exploring the Familiar. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1981. 261pp. $6.95

This collection of essays and reviews on various topics is always well written, intelligent--and entertaining. It is exactly the kind of informal, yet exceptionally informative writing we used to associate with great writer-critics but which has unfortunately been in short supply in recent years, probably more because of a lack of intelligent and receptive readers than because our great authors are unwilling to provide their audiences with such edifying entertainments. However, I do not wish to underrate Brian Aldiss's achievement in this particular book and in this peculiar genre: rightly he has been dubbed a "writer's writer" and he does not let us down here. This is a virtuoso performance by one of the best, with wit and humor constituting the most attractive feature of these pieces. (Those of us who have heard him deliver one of his famous after-dinner speeches--as I did at an SFRA convention in Waterloo, Iowa, some years ago--will automatically know what to expect; indeed, the comic speech entitled "Looking Forward to 2001" and ironically classified in the section of the book called "hoping" is by itself worth the price of the collection; expect some lowbrow moments, too, in the spirit of "Monty Python.") If the anthology has a weakness, it is in the lack of a real focus, and many readers will get lost here and there unless they are acquainted with particular authors, stories, films, or painters (for example, I was introduced through Aldiss's volume to the contemporary Czech SF writer, Josef Nesvadba--heretofore unknown to me--only to find that my own university's major library, though strong in the field of Slavic literatures, contained just one collection of this writer's short stories in English translation, and not the one mentioned by Aldiss). What gives the book intellectual cohesion and makes it a success is the ever-present, ever-ingenious personality of the author.

The book doesn't limit itself to SF, although writing about SF does remain the most substantive part of it. Aldiss is not only one of the top SF writers anywhere, but one of SFs most important apologists across the planet. Over 100 writers from the broad modern history of the genre come up for observations ranging anywhere from a sentence to review-type paragraphs; some of the essays are confined to single figures like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Philip K. Dick. Perhaps, though, the most important and perceptive essays are those on James Blish (because of that author's serious approach to the issue of science vs. religion, or more accurately of scientific cosmology vs. religious eschatology), Robert Sheckley (because he is so often overlooked by the academic critics; on page 123 Aldiss links Sheckley with A.E. Van Vogt as "possibly the two SF writers the world digs most"), and Jules Verne (the author's real life vs. his works). Other important essays demonstrate that SF today is by no means confined to writing: its appearance in film, TV, and art and architecture is equally significant. The films of Steven Spielberg (before E. T, of course) come up for positive comment, but what Aldiss says about Andrei Tarkovsky's Soviet film version of Solaris is much more helpful and insightful in regard to so challenging and rewarding a movie. The section of the book called "seeing" has an essay on painter G.F. Watts "as a precursor of modern art"--and our peculiar 20th-century consciousness associated with such art. This essay is nicely balanced against a short, but very informative history of SF illustration from the 18th century to the pulp magazines. (Aldiss certainly does justice to figures like Virgil Finlay, Frank R. Paul, and Emsh--and even Piranesi, M.C. Escher, and Karel Thole get their due--but I remain curious why Hannes Bok isn't even mentioned.) Fourteen black-and-white photos, with useful captions, help the reader a great deal with this section on visual media. Also, the essay on the TV series, ranging from Star Trek to The Prisoner, seems accurate and convincing (erg., Star Trek "provides reassurance disguised as challenge" IP. 170]).

Our author also brings in related discussions of pseudo-scientific cults ("Sleanzo Inputs I have known"), think tanks ("The Universe as Coal-Shuttle"), and even SF criticism ("Yes, well, but..."); and various degrees of satire come into play in every case (but see p. 101 for positive views of academic criticism of SF and its journals, especially our own SFS).

I don't know what to say about the last section of the book, "this world," which consists of four travelogue journals taking us to Southern California, Trieste, the Soviet Union, and Sumatra. All my life I've listened to the usual tourist talk from travelers who've never gotten further into a foreigner's ways of living or thinking than Club International or the Hilton Hotel, whereas Aldiss's varied appreciations are a welcome tonic, refreshing and insightful. Certainly these pages have little to do with SF per se (with the exception of a few pages on Soviet SF), but they do have a great deal to do with a planetary consciousness, and almost everywhere in this volume Aldiss takes us on trips into the world of today: these thoughts are grounded in our real Earth with all its real people and problems.

To be fair, then, there are signs of a superstructure in this somewhat motley anthology beyond the winsome ego of Brian Aldiss: one essay ("from history to timelessness") attempts an integration of consciousness--a recurrent theme throughout the book (the scientific mode vs. the other kind of thinking we often connect with magic and myths, imagination and literature and art). Consider it typical of Aldiss and this book to suggest that the main point of unity transcending these opposites--and the two hemispheres of the brain which are apparently their source, according to recent science--is in wit and humor (p. 124).

Along another axis, Aldiss integrates the past, the present, and the future (this last is the specialty of modern SF, of course) into one unified consciousness package. Even the opening essay of the book is a 20-page history, racing across European history from the defeat of the Turks at Vienna in the late 18th century to Star Wars, emphasizing how SF developed and why it exists.

So: this is not a literary history, and not a theoretical study, but the man who wrote it is certainly competent in either area. Mainly, Aldiss has the courage to be personal and opinionated, to make value judgments (though he's always kind and affectionately humorous even at his most critical), at a time when pseudo-objectivity and procrustean classification are the fashion in writing about literature. Having read so many of Aldiss's books, fiction and non-fiction alike, and having enjoyed this one immensely, all I can say is I don't know anyone warmer, more completely human than Brian Aldiss.

--Casey Fredericks

Minding the Gap

Donald M. Hassler. Comic Tones in Science Fiction. The Art of Compromise with Nature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982. xiv + 143pp. S25.00

With books on Erasmus Darwin and Hal Clement to his credit, Donald M. Hassler would appear to have one foot planted in the 18th century, the other in the 20th. In trying to bootstrap himself from one to the other in this slim volume, however, he risks tripping over his own shoelaces.

Readers of SFS will hardly fault him for trying to show historical continuity in the development of SF, or for wanting to study SF in the light of critical insights gleaned from contemporary literary theory. But there is a considerable gap between his aims and his execution. The book is riddled with problems in organization and expression which suggest at the least inattentive editing, and at worst a failure in conceptualization.

If I read him rightly, Hassler is arguing that "hard" SF focuses on the indeterminacy of scientific knowledge in ways that parallel certain "late Enlightenment" writings as well as critical theories formulated by Freud and more recent thinkers. These writers he calls "comic" because they recognize science is "speculative" and by nature incomplete, although it may be our best approach to what we think of as "truth." Haunting them is the sense of a fall from a "Golden Age" of secure, unified knowledge, itself undercut by an awareness that the belief in such a state or time is mere wish-fulfillment.

Hassler's own focus, however, is far from clear, as he himself seems to acknowledge in calling his argument "orbital." If all he wants to do is point out certain resemblances, circularity may work fine, but half the book might well have been eliminated. The actual text seems to be giving us lessons in history, in reading and evaluating (some) SF, and in understanding the nature of human knowledge. In either the existing long form or the hypothetical short form, the reader may be entitled to ask the purpose of the whole enterprise.

If the whole is uncertain, so are some of the parts. As examples of "hard" SF, few would quarrel with the choice Clement, Pohl's work in the 1970s, and some of Asimov. Le Guin, Sturgeon, and Asimov's autobiography are a bit harder to fit in. Use of the word "comic" with little or no reference to humor or to the structural significance of "rising" comic action may also give a reader pause. But "irony" begins the titles of three of Comic Tone's six chapters; to help find the range, "self-mockery" and "humility" might be even more precise.

Hassler seems to equate deconstructionist, structuralist, and post-structuralist critics, and claims that the 18th-century philosophe Buffon thought "like an early structuralist or poststructuralist critic" (p. 31). His prize samples, however, are Lem, Scholes, and Suvin, only one of whom clearly shows the kind of uncertainty Hassler seems to prize. While his "late Enlightenment" seems to range from 1739 (David Hume) to 1818 (Jane Austen), including Buffon and Erasmus Darwin, it also has room for such nominal Romantics as Hazlitt and Wordsworth, and may even take in Francis Bacon and Charles Darwin. But why stop there? Given the "science" of their day, were not Joyce, Kafka, Zola, Balzac, Milton, Roger Bacon, Leonardo, Dante, Vergil, even the Gilgamesh poet-- just to name a few "speculative" writers omitted from this "great tradition"--also beset by doubts concerning the limits of human knowledge and communication?

Other pieces by Hassler do not show this much difficulty in expression. But what is one to do with a phrase like "the freedom to speculate freely" (p. 34), with calling Kilgore Trout a "favorite nom de plume" of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (p. 36), with referring to Asimov as a "hack" at the same time that one is trying to undermine "elitist" evaluation (p. 95)? Attentive editing by that author, or by series editor Marshall B. Tymn, might not have eliminated empty rhetoric, toned down academic jargon, and simplified overly long sentences full of jaw-breaking abstractions. But simply careful proofreading should have eliminated the dangling modifiers, vague pronoun references, and failures in subject-verb agreement.

A somewhat less than finished product, perhaps this book should be regarded more as "work in progress." Some of the ideas in it are worth pursuing, and some readings of individual texts are of passing interest. But $25.00 is a stiff price to pay for someone else's on-the job training.

--David N. Samuelson

New Worlds and Beyond

Colin Greenland. The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British New Wave in Science Fiction. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982. xii + 244pp. $25.00

Colin Greenland's study of New Worlds and three of its most important contributors-- Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, and Moorcock--is an important and most welcome contribution to the history of SF. Under Moorcock's editorship of New Worlds in the 1960s and '70s, a group of writers assembled--Moorcock, Aldiss, Ballard, M. John Harrison, D.M. Thomas, Langdon Jones, and the Americans Thomas M. Disch, John Sladek, Norman Spinrad, and James Sallis--with a common perception and common goal. While recognizing that the SF published in the American magazines and popular press was formulaic, limited, and largely unliterary, they also realized that the images and themes of SF were ideally suited to articulating the particular anxieties and experiences of the modern era. Though the group never demonstrated as much genuine artistic unity as the "movement" label suggests (in fact, Greenland observes that the New Wave was "less a Wave than an explosion, starting at a definable centre and dissipating swiftly in all directions" [p. 206]), they did agree on the necessity of breaking out of the narrow limits of available literary patterns. By combining some of the motifs and techniques of SF with the stylistic theories of "post-Modernist" fiction, they aimed to create what one might call a "mutant" form capable of addressing the concerns of their culture and reflecting the kind of world they found themselves inhabiting. Their most distinctive themes were "ontological insecurity, alienation, the hidden and hostile dimensions of media and machines, the disintegration of objectivity into subjective worlds of inner space, the dangerously exhilarating multiplication of 'possibilities'" (at the expense of certainty and absolute authority of all kinds); and (as Greenland further observes), these "are all primary concerns of their times, though they came to them rather in advance of popular assent. The concept of entropy, a degeneration inevitable from either overorganization or chaos, is the centre of this imaginative cluster" (p. 201).

While considering New Wave stylistic theory and practice, Greenland examines each of these themes in detail as they manifest themselves in the pages of New Worlds and in the novels of Aldiss, Ballard, and Moorcock. The issues are important to the history of the genre because the New Worlds writers are among the first in SF to see their work primarily in terms of art, to be self-conscious about the artistic possibilities of SF and concerned with stretching those possibilities as dramatically as they could. Greenland's study, as the first thorough examination of New Wave poetics, thus opens up a crucial chapter in the development of the genre; for if many diehard fans rejected the New Wave in outrage, such works did attract new readers to the genre, and new writers adopted at least some of the aesthetic concerns and techniques first given wide exposure in New Worlds.

The Entropy Exhibition also has relevance beyond narrow genre boundaries. In the first place, Greenland has taken pains to place the New Worlds movement in its cultural context. He looks at the mood of Anglo-American society during the '60s and explores the ways in which New Wave is both a reflection of and reaction to that mood, producing fiction which is subjective, hyperconscious, fragmented, ambiguous, horrific, ironic, and profoundly anxious, characterized above all by what Greenland calls the "central paradox" of the New Worlds group: "the conviction that form is degenerating and energy dissipating, asserted with remarkable formal resourcefulness and an energy of expression so compelling we may well call it exhibitionist" (p. 194).

However, he also points out that the New Worlds writers were not the only ones to arrive at this synthesis of SF and the avant garde: figures like Borges, Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Anthony Burgess, William Golding, and Doris Lessing, though they begin from the other ("mainstream") direction, also combine SF motifs and generic freedoms with the stylistic and structural innovations of the avant garde. But whereas contemporary critics have been quick to recognize the merit of these latter writers, the likes of Aldiss, Ballard, and Moorcock are largely ignored. In fact, Greenland identifies as one major motive for writing The Entropy Exhibition the fact of this conspicuous neglect, the fact that writers of such caliber can be so routinely and casually omitted in surveys of contemporary British literature.

As a result, this study, thoroughly researched (with support and advice from the subject authors) and eminently readable, is designed not just for SF specialists--though they are well served by it--but for critics of contemporary literature as well. For instance, the scholarly apparatus in this book includes a chapter-by-chapter bibliography which, for those chapters treating Aldiss, Ballard, and Moorcock, includes not only the usual secondary sources but a primary bibliography of the major works of each author (in the case of Moorcock's complicated oeurre, arranged helpfully according to series). Thus, though Greenland's decision to center his discussion on New Worlds allows for a specificity of focus which contributes considerably to the coherence of his study, The Entropy Exhibition is far more than a simple history of an SF magazine. It is an attempt--successful, I hope and believe--to "de-ghettoize" not only a group of talented SF writers, but SF criticism as well.

I do, however, have two nits to pick, one with the publishers and one with Greenland himself. The design of the text, for reasons that we can only speculate about with puzzlement, does not provide the means for readily distinguishing between extended quotations and the body of Greenland's text; and the result is an often maddening difficulty in separating his words from those he is quoting. Repeatedly I was forced to reread passages several times in order to determine the boundary between text and quotation. Paper, we know, has gotten very expensive, but surely Routledge and Kegan Paul could have spared the tiny amount of extra space necessary to make the distinctions clear and avoid such sustained aggravation for the reader.

My complaint against Greenland himself is in some senses even less central to the merits of his study. Nevertheless, I must say I find it very disappointing that in a work which is otherwise so thoughtful and well written the author should persist in resorting to the old, automatic and sexist phraseology which American academic writing now on principle eschews. Such phrases as "man and his universe" are not particularly numerous or egregious in this book, but they would have been so easy to eliminate that we can only regret Mr. Greenland's not thinking to do so.

Despite those quibbling matters, though, Greenland's book is an essential addition to the understanding of the history of both SF and contemporary British literature.

--Kathleen L. Spencer

"Index Learning": The Le Guin Bibliography

Elizabeth Cummins Cogell. Ursula K Le Guin: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1983. xi + 244pp. S39.95

In response to those who scoffed at his activities, a collector-bibliographer friend of mine used to legitimate his efforts with a couplet from Pope's Dunciad: "Index-learning turns no student pale,/Yet holds the eel of science by the tail." Though bibliographers, collectors, and index-makers are rarely superstars, we all know that no serious production can be mounted successfully without their behind-the-scenes work. Thanks to G.K. Hall's Masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy series of author bibliographies--Cogell's Le Guin bibliography is the 11th in the on-going series--we are getting a virtually complete record of the output of selected SF authors and their critics. Some of their writing, including a few significant pieces, has appeared in fanzines and in other out-of-the-mainstream publications, and is as slippery as an eel for the bibliographer. Unless someone does the collecting and index-making while the author is alive, these pieces would probably swim into oblivion. Because finding and tracking down these ephemeral pieces is an arduous task, even with an author's help, students of Le Guin will be in Cogell's debt for undertaking it.

Like previous volumes in the Hall series, Cogell's includes an introductory essay, a primary bibliography, an annotated secondary bibliography, and indexes of primary and secondary works. Particularly helpful is the title, author, and subject index to the criticism: if one wants to find out what has been published on The Left Hand of Darkness, she or he can consult the index and find 130 secondary works that mention or discuss that novel. Jungian critics can use the index to locate 10 different Jungian interpretations of Le Guin, and, I hope, try their talents on another author. This index will be the most useful and valuable tool in the bibliography. Teachers and scholars will save enormous amounts of time and energy, as well as avoid repeating others' interpretations, whenever they begin at the end of Cogell's book.

Some of the earlier Hall bibliographies have included sections or appendices that are missing from the Le Guin volume. It would be nice to have a list of translations and foreign editions (the German translation of The Word for World is Forest was the first separate publication of that novella), a list of awards and honors, a list of Science Fiction Book Club editions, a list of reviews and other secondary materials excluded from the annotated list, and, finally, a description of Le Guin collections, especially the one Cogell consulted at the University of Oregon library archives.

Except for a couple of major slips (and a very few minor errors, which would be of interest to textual scholars and collectors), the three-part primary bibliography (headed "Fiction," "Miscellaneous Media," and "Nonfiction") is comprehensive and accurate. In the Miscellaneous Media section, items B18-B22 (a poem, three recipes, a translation, and a taped interview)--they aren't kidding when they say miscellaneous media--are listed under 1971. They were all published in 1973. Items B57-B62 (translation of six Rilke poems) are listed under 1975. They also appeared in 1973. This looks like the result of a mix-shuffling of index cards, or a typist's misplacing a sheet. If Le Guin readers can be confident that they have in their hands a virtually complete bibliography of Le Guin's works in English, collectors will have to use the list with caution. Cogell reports that the 1977 Harper & Row edition of Rocannon's World corrects errors in previous editions, but that is only part of the story. Harper & Row reprinted the text as published by Ace in 1972, and, while correcting those errors which Le Guin noted in Ace's 1966 text, did not correct the errors in the 1972 Ace text. When the Science Fiction Book Club issued Three Hainish Novels in 1978, the errors in previous editions were finally corrected, by Jeff Levin's careful copy-editing. The first appearance of the corrected version of "Nine Lives," after its initial publication in Playboy, was not in the Ace paperback edition of World s Best Science Fiction 1970, but was in the Ace SFBC edition. Likewise, a collector who wants the first edition of "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" will get the Doubleday SFBC edition of New Dimensions 3, not the Signet paperback listed by Cogell.

Except for these things, the primary bibliography is, as far as I can tell, free of substantive errors. This is no mean achievement. ("An die Musik," "Rakaforta," and "Discovery," the titles of Le Guin's first published story and two of her poems, should be italicised. It matters: Discovery, Robert F. Scott's ship, and "discovery" represent two quite different signifieds.)

Index-learning should not just hold the eel of science; it should allow others to grasp it as well. Researchers who set out to track down out of the way publications will have an easier time of it if the G.K. Hall bibliographers would tell their readers more about where they can locate rare items. Le Guin's story "Cake and Ice Cream" appeared in Playgirl in 1973, but this is not the Playgirl we see on magazine racks. The Playgirl containing Le Guin's story, which has never been reprinted, was published in Indianapolis and has ceased publication. Placed in motels, it was a magazine similar to the in-house magazines slipped into the pockets on the backs of airplane seats. If Cogell had mentioned this, as well as identifying fanzine publishers, or listing the locations of public or private collections of fanzines containing material by or about Le Guin, she would save interlibrary loan librarians and their patrons frustration and headaches. I know that this information is hard (though not impossible) to come by, but I think we can expect it from a bibliographer who has not only published an essay on library collections of SF, but also has had access to the author and the author's papers. Cogell lists as "not seen" two interviews which appeared in the fanzine Entropy Negative in 1971. Jeff Levin had a copy of the original fanzine; I have a copy of that; and Joe De Bolt has a copy of my copy. Cogell acknowledges all three of us in her "Preface" as generous providers of information when she sought it. Apparently she never sought this piece, which contains important information on The Left Hand of Darkness.

The largest section in the book by far (183pp.) is the annotated secondary bibliography. The 761 (!) entries form a comprehensive list of "significant analyses" of Le Guin from 1966 through 1979, with some 1980 and 1981 pieces added on. Cogell says she excluded more book reviews than any other type of secondary material, retaining only those reviews which were 100 words long, contained a significant critical assessment, or helped chart Le Guin's reputation. She doesn't list the reviews she excluded, nor does she list the other types of secondary material she excluded. Nevertheless, I know of no important piece of Le Guin criticism in English that Cogell does not list accurately and annotate. Once in a while she offers an evaluative comment ("oversimplifies," "erroneously asserts," "adds no new information," "clearest and most faithful"), but Cogell's annotations are on the whole descriptive, leaning heavily on short quotations from the secondary sources themselves. More evaluative tags would be welcome; if a piece is trivial or unimportant, Cogell could save the researcher some time by saying so.

Some might question the inclusion under "Critical Studies" of David McAllester's "The Astonished Ethno-Muse," an essay on ethnomusicology which merely quotes Le Guin without adding anything to our knowledge of Le Guin's fiction. On the other hand, anyone serious enough about Le Guin to be reading Cogell's bibliography may welcome its inclusion, for it is evidence that Le Guin's reputation spreads beyond SF, beyond literary studies even, and is established among political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, Sinologists, and musicians. We can thank Cogell for assembling the materials for a study in reception aesthetics, something that needs to be done for Le Guin's SF and its criticism.

Reviewing the first four Hall bibliographies, Gary Wolfe suspected that SF "is out to be the most indexed, bibliographied, collated, and cross-referenced body of literature since the Pentateuch" (SFS, 8 11981]:224-26). True enough. When we start to get annotations of annotations, the cup overfloweth: item D348 in Cogell's secondary bibliography is an annotation of Molson's annotation of A Wizard of Earthsea from Anatomy of Wonder--all the more reason for a standard appendix in future volumes in the Hall series, similar to the lists of excluded reviews in the Simak and Williamson volumes. This would satisfy the bibliographer's hunger for completeness, and would relieve the congestion caused by filler and padding in the main bibliography. If Cogell's 28-page index is the most valuable tool in the book, her publishing career, her non-fiction, and her critical reception, is the least valuable. Any further concentration on Le Guin herself, especially if it produces description of her like Cogell's--"a late twentieth-century Taoist sage sans robe, forest hermitage, and flowing beard"--will divert us from one (the?) main task: a critical reading and understanding of the fiction, its place in the literary systems of the '60s and '70s, and its roles, positive and negative, in the consciousness industries of our time. And Cogell's survey of Le Guin's critical reception can be skipped entirely, not the least because it is so poorly written. "Grouping the essays," writes Cogell, "reveals a variety of categories in which study has taken place and suggest the multiple levels of her work." Never mind the subject-verb agreement error; this sentence, like too many others in the introductory essay, is simply opaque. Readers who want to fashion an understanding of Le Guin's critical reception can appreciate Cogell's marking out of the ore veins, but they will have to bring up the ore, assay it, smelt it, refine it, and mold and hammer it themselves.

--James W. Bittner

Five from the Borgo Press

Science Fiction Voices 4: Interviews with Science Fiction Writers. Conducted by Jeffrey M. Elliot; Science Fiction Voices 5: Interviews with Science Fiction Writers. Conducted by Darrell Schweitzer; Brian M. Stableford. Masters of Science Fiction: Essays on Six Science Fiction Authors; The Future of the Space Program. Large Corporations and Society: Discussions with 22 Science-Fiction Writers. Conducted by Jeffrey M. Elliot and David Mogen, Wilderness Visions. Science Fiction Westerns, Vol. 1 San Bernadino CA: Borgo Press, 1981 (except the last title, 1982). 64pp. ea. $2.95 ea. (paper)

These five booklets illustrate a particular form of fan publishing which is at best uneven. The first two are collections of interviews: Science Fiction Voices 4 is made up of four interviews (3500-5000 words each) with: the "editor-fan" Charles D. Hornig (an editor for Gernsback in the 1930s who left SF for book-keeping and became a war resister and pacifist in the 1940s); the writer Bob Shaw; the SF illustrator Frank Kelly Freas; and the "writer-academic" Brian M. Stableford. Science Fiction Voices 5 contains eight previously published interviews (from 1500 to 4500 words) with: Isaac Asimov, Lin Carter, Lester del Rey, Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett, Frank Belknap Long, Clifford Simak, Wilson Tucker, and Jack Williamson. The interviews in both collections are mainly anecdotal and convey something of the author's thoughts on writing and SF as well as descriptions of working habits and techniques.

Brian Stableford's Essays on Six Science Fiction Authors consists of five previously published essays (4500-6500 words): "Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett: An Appreciation" (a review of The Best of Edmond Hamilton and of The Best of Leigh Brackett); "Locked in the Slaughterhouse: The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut" (on seven Vonnegut novels); "Insoluble Problems: Footnotes to Barry Malzberg's Career in Science Fiction" (on the tensions between Malzberg's purpose as a writer and the demands of a mass readership); "The Metamorphosis of Robert Silverberg" (a quick look at the career of "the most prolific science fiction writer of the past two decades"); and "Utopia--and Afterwards: Socio-economic Speculation in the SF of Mack Reynolds." With the exception of this last (and longest) essay, these pieces are rapid overviews that do little more than enumerate plots and themes. The Reynolds essay is more useful because it chronicles the life and work of an author who has not been widely studied. Unfortunately, in dealing with utopian themes in Reynolds, Stableford makes what I consider some serious oversights. Of Soviet SF, he writes: it "presents a consistent tone of optimistic self-congratulation while being utterly devoid of any serious socio-economic speculation" (p. 44). His ignorance (writing in 1979) of the Strugatskys' work is followed by an even more surprising misjudgment of utopian developments in American SF. He states that Reynolds' Looking Backwards from the Year 2000 is "the only significant Utopian novel to be produced in the genre during the last forty years which does not tie its utopian pretensions to some recommendation of 'technological retreat"' (p. 45). While "technological retreat" might fit the utopia of Russ's Female Man, it would demand some explanation if applied to Le Guin's The Dispossessed or Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, and it is completely inaccurate in terms of Delany's Triton--to mention only my favorite utopian novels from the 1970s. Stableford goes even further astray in his conclusion when he asserts that Reynolds is "the only contemporary Science Fiction author to have made a serious attempt to design a utopian society" (p. 63).

The next two books are even more typical of fan publishing. The Future of the Space Program is made up of the responses to two questions. Fifteen SF writers (including Dickson, Gunn, Hogan, Lupoff, Niven, Vance, Van Vogt, Vinge, Yarbo, and Zelazny) answer the question, "What explains the present lack of citizen interest in and support for the U.S. space program?"; while 13 writers (including six from the first group) respond to the question, "What role can and should science fiction writers play in working with America's major corporations in planning for society's future?" The range of answers to the first question is summed up by Mildred Downey Brown, who attributes the lack of interest to the perception that the space program is "boring," or "elitist," or "costs too much" or to a "fear of the unknown," or "the unreality of the experience," or the attitude that "none of us will ever get there" (pp. 5-6). Other writers criticize NASA and/or public apathy, but only one writer (Lupoff) mentions the cost of the arms race and the possibility of diverting some of that money into the space program. Most of the writers are in favor of continuing the space program, but none of them mentions the militarization of space now under wav--the major reason why I think that the space program will continue despite the public's lack of interest.

The second question deals with SF insofar as the writers address the role and function of SF in relationship to "society's future" (as future prediction; as a way of conditioning readers to accept change; as simply escapism), but few of the writers are very sanguine about either the possibility or the usefulness of acting as advisors to large corporations. If you are interested in the questions, you may find the answers at times worth your while.

To some extent Borgo Press redeems itself with the final book under review: David Mogen's examination of the "frontier myth" in SF. After a rather defensive look at criticisms of the "Western"/SF link ("The study might be described as exploring the implications of a long-standing science fiction joke," p. 15), the author defends the legitimacy of his study by arguing for the "Americanness" of the frontier myth and its pertinence to understanding the specifically "American" character of SF. In his second chapter, "The Frontier Metaphor in American Culture," Mogen examines the "Turner thesis" ("the presence of the frontier was the crucial influence in the process of 'Americanization' that shaped American institutions and American culture," p. 17), and the subsequent debates around this position. Having argued that the frontier myth is important as a "metaphor"--and not as "an accurate description of historical processes" (p. 19)--Mogen turns to his central thesis:

Essentially science fiction has adopted new techniques to validate frontier myths. Where the Western presents a vanished frontier whose reality is documented as convincingly as possible, science fiction projects the frontier into the future and documents its reality by means of scientific extrapolation. In either case the 'frontier' is made up of factual data shaped to form a vision of the nature and significance of the American Dream. (pp. 20-21 )

In his next chapter, "The Frontier Myth as Prophecy," Mogen develops a second hypothesis, which will determine his choice of what SF novels to discuss. Whereas the Western is "nostalgic" (the frontier lies in the past), in SF the dominant emotion is often "impatient anticipation of the wonders of tomorrow" (p. 29). Rather than consider what he calls the "metaphorical use of the frontier myth (e.g., in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles), Mogen is interested in the "literal" uses of the myth in those writers for whom "the space frontier really is there, literally there, providing a genuine alternative to the mess we've made of life on Earth" (p. 28). In his final chapter, the author gives us a lengthy (and not very interesting) reading of the fiction of Heinlein published as The Past Through Tomorrow (and primarily of The Man Who Sold the Moon), followed by a brief look at how Asimov modifies this theme (in "The Martian Way" and in Caves of Steel).

In what is perhaps the most interesting of his readings, Mogen points to a structural inconsistency in Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants. Despite the authors' satiric treatment of the "American frontier myth" ("which functions as an integral part of an exploitative system for distributing power and wealth," pp. 61-62), the novel succumbs, according to Mogen, to the very myth it attempts to lay bare:

Though The Space Merchants spends much of its time lampooning the absurdity of importing myths from our frontier past into the context of the Space Age, it finds its resolution in the tried and true American solution to social and personal problems: escape to the frontier. (p. 62)

While the frontier myth in SF is a plausible and interesting subject, particularly in terms of Mogen's "reversal" of the impact of the myth, from nostalgia in the Western to anticipation and optimism in SF, the author does not seem to follow through in his actual readings, particularly insofar as he chooses to restrict his analysis to the SF tradition which "employs frontier analogies to romanticise the possibilities opened up by space travel.. ." (p. 34). Aside from problems with the "frontier myth" itself, to which I shall return, this myth has, according to Mogen's presentation of the debate around it, an all-embracing significance for an understanding of both the "American character" and the Western genre--a significance which it lacks in SF. In SF the frontier myth cannot be shown to be a central organizing myth. More- over, in restricting himself to the "literal" use of the frontier myth, the frontier is read in terms of a "tradition" (namely "scientific extrapolation") which for many SF readers and critics is not the central concern or function of the genre.

As for the frontier myth itself--and in this I am not so much criticizing Mogen as the historians and sociologists to whom he refers (Folsom, Fussell, Slotkin, etc.)--I think that there are some serious questions to be raised. Myths, as Roland Barthes has shown us, are not innocent. The fact that the critics Mogen cites argue for the consideration of the frontier myth as a "metaphor" rather than as an "accurate description of historical processes" is an ideological operation which attempts to conceal all that is shameful and reprehensible in the history of the American frontier (a reality to which Mogen does allude, pp. 14-15), most especially the subjugation and plunder of the peoples already living on the lands which became the "frontier" for the white European immigrants. But for the critics to whom Mogen refers, the historical situation is different: "the colonization process in American culture is a myth of nation-building and forming the national character, rather than of simply subjugating new territory" (p. 14; my emphasis). It is not the people who have been subjugated, according to this account, but territory.

In these terms, the "function" of the frontier myth as a way of defining the nature of the American character" (p. 17) takes on a new meaning. The role of the historians and students of the frontier is to disguise as much as possible the brutal actions of the European colonists. Consequently it would perhaps be more accurate to describe the "frontier" as a myth whose "signified" is the legitimization of the white Americans' own right to the land their ancestors had stolen. The "frontier" is a metaphor which appears in a number of contemporary discourses apart from SF--in Western films and novels as well as in history and sociology and, more pragmatically, in advertising, the space program, or today's politics; but its meaning cannot be given in the terms of any of those ideological discourses. Although the "metaphor" circulates from discourse to discourse, we can only grasp its meaning in what has been repressed in the metaphor: the actual historical rape and plunder of America's indigenous peoples. In terms of the thematics of SF one should turn not to the explicit opposition Mogen proposes--the "metaphorical" versus the "literal" uses of the myth--but to the spectrum implicit in his account, a spectrum which runs from the critical rejection of the myth of the frontier (to use Mogen's examples: in Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest ) to Heinlein's enthusiastic endorsement of that same myth. Others might argue further with Mogen's analysis by pointing out that SF frontiers are not necessarily future-oriented, or that there is a distinction to be made between inhabited and uninhabited SF frontiers, or that the Frontier theme overlaps with the themes of the Alien and First Contact. My basic point, however, is that to write about the frontier in SF, one must first of all examine more critically than Mogen in fact does the "metaphor" itself.

Mogen's work is nevertheless a serious essay. But the rest of these Borgo Press productions can be characterized as fan writing, and fan writing hardly on a par with what can be found in a good fanzine.

--Peter Fitting  

[Robert Reginald's response appears in SFS 32 (March 1984).]

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