Science Fiction Studies

#36 = Volume 12, Part 2 = July 1985


Introduction to a "Past Master"

Anthony Kenny. Thomas More. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983. [Past Masters Series.] 111 pp. $3.95 paper

For readers with little knowledge of Thomas More or of the historical, intellectual, and political climate of his time, this Past Masters volume introduces both topics concisely. Anthony Kenny presents More in each of his roles: prototypical humanist, author of Utopia, fierce judge of heretics and anti-Lutheran polemicist, chancellor, family man. In his final chapter, Kenny discusses Robert Bolt's somewhat misleading Man for All Seasons to present More's thinking on the supremacy of individual conscience and his views on the relationship of church and state. This sensible last word can rescue readers new to the period from erroneous conclusions about More's imprisonment and execution.

Those unfamiliar with More's work will welcome, too, Kenny's chapter on Utopia. Appropriately in an introductory work, Kenny treads familiar ground. He quotes lengthy key passages on Utopian communal ownership, child-raising, marriage customs, religion, war, and diplomacy. He notes that, comparing historically contemporary English beliefs and practices with More's fiction, readers still find puzzling the relationship between the book, the man, and the culture that produced both. This discussion, and Kenny's subsequent account of More's career in the service of Henry VIII, sets before readers a truism of studies of More: that the comparison of his life with his Utopia, and of Utopia with 16th-century England, has always raised questions about More's intentions in the book and about his motives in life, making him an enigmatic man as well as a writer who gave irony and paradox free ply.

Kenny, however, leaves readers with little sense of More's personal complexity. Although he resists the temptation to write hagiography, he finds in More the embodiment of a "peculiarly English ideal," the good man who can meet adversity with a joke. This flattening of More's character is disappointing but unsurprising in view of Kenny's reliance for biographical data on Roper and Harpsfield, two 16th-century sources now regarded as not completely reliable.

Nevertheless, Kenny's Thomas More remains a good starting point for the nonspecialist. Certainly it fills a need; except for John Farrow's hagiographic The Story of Thomas More (Image Books, 1968), now out of print, no other brief introduction is available. Kenny's final aid to students is a standard feature of Past Masters books; his short annotated bibliography cites editions of More's works, several biographies, and historical and political background studies. It should be noted, though, that R.W. Chambers' Thomas More (Cape, 1935) can no longer be called the "best modern life"; it has just been superseded by Richard Marius' definitive Thomas More: A Biography (Knopf, 1984).

--Carmela Pinto McIntire Florida International University

Huxley as Humanist

Peter Edgerly Firchow. The End of Utopia: A Study of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." Cranbury, NJ: Bucknell UP, 1984. 154pp. $23.50

I had always considered Aldous Huxley to be a kind of proto-Age of Aquarius type--a quaint and prissy toucher-feeler. It seemed odd that some of the more acute people I've known took him seriously. As the years have passed, though--especially this last one, "The Year of Orwell" --Huxley's quaintness has slipped away.

George Orwell's vision of a political future based on management by pain has come to pass in many parts of the world, but not in Western Europe or the US. Such a future probably will happen here, as our present economic and social practices continue to ignore the first two laws of thermodynamics and distributive justice, but for the moment we are rich and privileged. The rich and privileged are best managed more subtly, by pleasure, by commodities, and by an ideology that justifies greed as natural. At the moment, Huxley seems the better prophet. We are far more like the new world state than we are like Airstrip One.

In The End of Utopia, Peter Firchow has told us a great deal about Brave New World. This volume is a collected set of essays, the first three chapters rewritten versions of work published elsewhere, the last, two new pieces. The eclectic form of The End of Utopia is explained by the author as an attempt "to elucidate Brave New World literally, historically, socially, politically, scientifically" (p. 9). Some elucidations are better than others; but except for the fifth chapter, which seems tacked on at the behest of the publisher, I found them all interesting and wryly crafted.

Chapter one, "The Future as Literature," does what it says. Firchow argues nicely that Brave New World " is literarily speaking, a very modern book" (p. 13). He notes Huxley's use of indirection, dissonance and counterpoint, juxtapositional irony, vague herolessness. He gives a reading of the text, pointing out Huxley's pervasive use of doubling in plot structure and literary allusion.

Chapter two, "The Future of Science and Our Freud," is my second favorite chapter. Here is where Firchow begins to speak of Huxley's purpose ("to awake modern man to the horrible paradise of mechanical progress" [p. 381), of the influence on his thought of Haldane, Russell, and brother Julian, and, especially, of his deep and fearful antipathy towards Freud, Ford, and the behavioral psychologists with their techniques of conditioning. Firchow resolves a seeming paradox by suggesting that "Freud provides the rationale (for the Hatchery and Conditioning Center in particular and the new world state in general), the Behaviorists only the staff" (p. 47).

In chapter three, "From Savages to Men Like Gods," H.G. Wells, with his confidence in science, and D.H. Lawrence, with his romantic "natural man," are the villains. Here Huxley comes out most clearly not as an Aquarian but as Tocquevillian--an aristocrat warning of the hidden costs of equality.

"The Politics of Utopia" (chapter four) requires a review of its own. Ranging from Pelagus and Rousseau, through Saint-Simon, Comte, and Fourier, to Henry Ford and F.W. Taylor, Firchow makes the correct argument that Huxley did not lack the political awareness he has so often been accused of lacking. Huxley's "really revolutionary revolution" will be internal. It will be sneaky. People's cognitions and emotions will be captured. No stick will be needed--only carrots. It is happening around us.

Firchow has given us a solid and satisfying, if expensive, work of humanistic criticism.

--Stephen M. Fjellman Florida International University

No News About Vonnegut

Eva-Maria Streier. Bedrohung des Menseben durch Naturwissenschaft and Technologie? Antworten im romanwerk (1952-69) von Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. [Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik. Eine europaische Hochschulreihe: Vol. 19] Frankurt/Main et al.: Peter Lang, 1984, 279pp. SFrs. 62

Although this German doctoral thesis asks in its title whether natural science and technology are a threat to human beings and promises answers from the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, the author also analyzes various other aspects of Vonnegut's novels, especially Player Piano (1952) and Cat's Cradle (1963), in which science and technology play more prominent roles than in Vonnegut's other fiction. In fact, what the author offers are well-rounded analyses of those novels: their content, Vonnegut's post-modern narrative techniques, their characters, language, and so on.

Vonnegut has had some critical attention in West Germany; but unlike in the US he was never a publishing success there, albeit several publishers tried their hands publishing him. Of the two novels Streier principally attends to, Player Piano appeared only under the horrible title of Das höllische System in an abridged and poorly translated version in Heyne's SF series (1964), the first book by Vonnegut to appear in Germany. Bertelsmann published God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater in 1968, Hoffmam & Campe did Slaughterhouse-Five in 1970, Welcome to the Monkey House in 1971, and Breakfast of Champions in 1974; Piper followed with Slapstick in 1977, The Sirens of Titan in 1979, and Jailbird in 1980 And that's all. (Cat's Cradle had already been translated for Hoffmam & Campe when they were Vonnegut's publisher, but it has yet to appear.)

After a brief sketch of Vonnegut's life, career, and international reception, Streier concentrates on two of the novels. She concludes that their organizing principle is opposition: in Player Piano, between technology and human existence; in Cat's Cradle between science and religion. The detailed analyses are sound and rely on existing American criticism of Vonnegut. She concludes her study, which is accompanied by a lengthy (30pp.) bibliography, with a brief analysis of Vonnegut's other work.

Streier sees Vonnegut's particular merit in his "prophetic" pointing out of dangers and threats to human dignity in an automated and absurd modern world. But in her view, his statements as to how these dangers are to be met show him to be an "uncertain messenger."

This is, as far as I know, the first doctoral thesis on Vonnegut in Germany, and it is a competent work that carefully analyses Player Piano and Cat's Cradle and summarizes some others among Vonnegut's earlier work. But while she does full justice both to the artist and comic writer who employs innovative techniques and to his absurdist vision, Streier hardly offers any new insights that would go beyond what has been written on Vonnegut by critics in his own country.

--Franz Rottensteiner Vienna, Austria

An Old World Guide to the New

P.S. Krishnamoorthy. A Scholar's Guide to Modern American Science Fiction. Hyderabad, India: American Studies Research Centre, 1983. xii+182pp. Rs. 40.00

With some minor reservations, this generally well-informed, clearly-written, and logically arranged bibliographical essay can be recommended both on its own terms and as also serving the purposes of a comprehensive introduction to its subject. The first two chapters "Science Fiction--its Properties and Functions" and "An Overview of Science Fiction, 1818-1937" set the stage. Along the way, some useful points are made. SF worlds of "NOWHERE," the reader is informed, "turn out to be 'NOW HERE'" (p. 7)--i.e., about our present reality. Jack London "could have been the H.G. Wells of American" SF (p. 22). But there are also some more dubious statements. Mary Shelley was not "the first to use...the 'End of the World' motif" (p. 15)--she was preceded by De Grainville's The Last Man (1806). Harold Beaver's The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe does not contain "all the science-fictional short stories of Poe" (p. 15)--" The Man That Was Used Up" is missing. And the characterization of Around the World in Eighty Days as not SF (p. 17) is surely arguable. The chapter on the early history of SF can also be faulted for its failure to provide any rationale for the particular primary editions which are mentioned (aside, perhaps, from their immediate availability to Krishnamoorthy).

The next four chapters--the bulk of the book--treat, by way of representative figures and works, the historical development of modern American SF in three stages, including an "Age of Transition," "The Transformation of the Sixties," and "Science Fiction and the Mainstream of American Fiction." Here Krishnamoorthy's summaries are uniformly well balanced and accurate. He is particularly perceptive regarding Heinlein, noting that "Even critics who see the other areas of satire in [Stranger in a Strange Land]have taken Valentine Michael Smith's messianic mission as sincerely intended and discuss its implications seriously" (p. 31). He likewise comments probingly on H. Bruce Franklin's book on Heinlein. Delany and Le Guin are singled out as the greatest living American SF writers, but of these Le Guin would appear to be in Krishnamoorthy's opinion the greater, to judge from the fact that by far the longest sub-section in the book is devoted to her.

Apparently this essay was written, according to an Editorial Note, "as one of many scholarly projects which were undertaken" on the torturous road to the Ph.D. Krishnamoorthy's Director, the author of the Editorial Note, points out that "financial and administrative problems" delayed publication and that "the author should not be blamed if important items, which reached us after early 1981, are unmentioned." And it is true that coverage is pretty much comprehensive up to and including 1980. The most important omission is John Varley, whose Ophiuchi Hotline appeared in 1977; and Ada (1969) should have been mentioned in the discussion of Nabokov.

Chapter seven provides "A Passing Glance at British Science Fiction." This glance, however, is misleading as well as passing in the case of Brian Aldiss, whose Report on Probability A is said to be based on the linguistic model of Joyce's "Finnegan's [sic] Wake" (p. 134). (The typo here is unfortunately one of many such in the book. )

Of the concluding chapter--"Anthologies of Science Fiction" and "Modern Science Fiction: A Brief Survey of Scholarship"--the second is particularly useful and well done. Included are historical surveys, "Studies on Definition and Genology," and "Studies of Forms and Themes in Science Fiction" ("Science Fiction as Apocalyptic Literature," "Science Fiction as utopia/dystopia," "Science Fiction as Mythology"). There are a few inaccuracies (e.g., the Tymn/Schlobin annual survey of scholarship no longer appears in Extrapolation) and one very important omission--Peter Nicholls' Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979)--which prompts me to mention something else Krishnamoorthy's reader will not find: Why, oh why, is there no index?

--David Ketterer Concordia University

Philosophers Need Something Else

Michael Philips, ed. Philosophy and Science Fiction. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1984. viii+392pp. $12.95

Even the most tradition-oriented philosophers are coming to see that SF contains a wealth of material which exemplifies important philosophical issues and highlights their problems. Moreover, philosophers' own examples are frequently so dull or so abstract as to lead to stupefaction. It is not surprising, then, that some of us are turning to SF as an aid in introducing students to philosophy.

Philips has assembled 17 SF selections, which he divides into six units. Not all of them are independent stories, there is a long excerpt from Lem's Solaris. The unit titles give a fairly good idea of the thrust of the book: "Part 1: Knowledge and the Meaning of Life," "Part 2: Trips through Time and Logical Space:' "Part 3: The Elusive Self," "Part 4: Persona, Minds, and the Essentially Human," "Part 5: Moral Dilemmas," "Part 6: Technology and Human Self-Trans- formation." Each unit contains two or more selections preceded by an Introduction and followed by Study Questions. The editor has shown a commendable open-mindedness in including philosophical material from cultural "hermaneutics," as it is consistently (mis)spelled, as well as the analytic tradition.

His introduction to the book and his unit Introductions are competent but so compressed as to require a lot of explanation and amplification for beginning philosophy students. This at least has the merit of making teachers appear useful. The Study Questions are narrowly focused. Each is concerned with just one selection. No attempt is made to deal with the interrelations of the various issues raised, so here is something else for teachers to do. The disadvantage of this approach is that the students don't have much philosophical reading material to examine. Even if we grant that philosophy is an activity, it is still important to look at examples of that activity.

As for the SF, Philips has come up with a very good group of readings. It is always possible to quarrel with an editor's selections, but particularly in cases like this it may be impossible for the editor to get the rights to his or her first choices. Be that as it may, Philips offers material which is both readable and relevant to his purposes.

Only about ten per cent of the material in this book is primarily philosophical--not enough to make it suitable as the primary text in an introductory course. It could be used as a supplement, but why not use a cheaper mass-market paperback instead? Not all the material in such books would lend itself to philosophical treatment, but a trip to any bookstore with a fair-sized SF section would certainly produce several candidates with enough to be useful. And for those who are set on an integrated approach, there is always Miller and Smith's Thought Probes, which is pretty good despite its flaws.

--William M. Schuyler, Jr. University of Louisville

Indexing Science-Fiction Magazines

Mike Ashley & Terry Jeeves. The Complete Index to Astounding/Analog. Oak Forest, IL: Robert Weinberg Publications, 1981. 253 pp. $29.95.

Donald B. Day. Index to the Science-Fiction Magazines, 1926-50 Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1982. xv+289pp. $48.00.

Hal W. Hall. SFBRI: Science Fiction Book Review Index, Volume 14, 1983. Bryan, TX: SFBRI, 1984. 61pp. $5.50+postage.

Complementing some of the reference works I reviewed in SFS No. 33, and particularly the New England SF Association's annual Index to the Science Fiction Magazines... (1971- ) and its predecessor by Erwin Strauss covering the years 1951-65, the volumes compiled by Ashley/Jeeves and Day are folio-size tomes which everyone doing serious research on SF in English should be familiar with. Both in effect supplement William Contento's Index. . . and Donald Tuck's Encyclopedia. . . as sources of bibliographical information about SF short stories in English and about the textual history of longer works; and they are also, of course, indispensable for anyone investigating SF magazines.

The Ashley/Jeeves is obviously the more specialized of the two. Pretty much following the format of the N.E.S.F.A. indexes, it "analyzes" Astounding/Analog by issue, author, title, series, artist, and letters to the editor (subdividing the author and title sections into fiction and non-fiction). It contains as well a series of appendixes which draw more or less quantitative conclusions about the magazine's contents (e.g., about "Most Prolific Contributors" and about "Top Writers" according to a poll of readers). A spot-check indicated that there are some errors in the page numbers that Ashley and Jeeves give for short stories (though in no case do they seem to be off by more than one page), and they appear mostly to ignore the "Reader's Department." The chief problem with using their tome, however--and it is a minor one--is that those consulting it will find page references solely in the "series" list; in the author and title sections, they give only the month and year of an entry's publication.

That is not true of Day's index. Its present incarnation, a revised version of his original (1952) book, details most of the contents of 58 SF magazines (specified on p. xi) in its two principal sections, by author and by title; and in both cases, it provides all of the pertinent bibliographical information then and there. But while this edition of Day posthumously "incorporates several hundred corrections to [his 1952] text. . . collated [by Lloyd Currey and David Hartwell] from Day's own annotated copy of the original edition, from published errata sheets from the early 1950s, and from certain issues of ephemeral fanzines of the period" (p. vii), neither Day nor Currey and Hartwell managed to catch every mistake that might be expected in this mammoth undertaking. To judge from a sampling of a handful of issues of Amazing, the Day volume is not wholly reliable when it comes to page numbers (e.g., "The Scientific Adventures of Mr. Fosdick" appears in June 1926's Amazing not, as recorded in Day, onp. 233, but on p. 238), end he does not seem to have attempted to itemize comprehensively contributions that do not appear on a magazine's contents page. Even so, the new edition of Day that Currey and Hartwell have delivered to the SF world is in all (including physical) respects a work of very high quality.

As for the 1983 SFBRI, I have little to add to what Irena Žantovská-Murray and Charles Elkins have said (in SFS Nos. 19 and 26, respectively) about similar useful bibliographies that Hal Hall has labored to give us. In this instance, he records "3,063 reviews of 1,346 books" of SF and SF criticism noticed in 68 English-language publications.


A Cordwainer Smith Concordance

Anthony R. Lewis. Concordance to Cordwainer Smith. Cambridge, MA: New England Science Fiction Association, 1984. ii + 90 pp. $6.00 (paper)

Dedicated fans sometimes undertake, as labors of love, projects from which dedicated scholars would shrink. Thus originated the present work: a list of approximately 1,000 names and terms from the SF of Paul M.A. Linebarger (Cordwainer Smith), each briefly described or defined and referenced to the stories in which it appears.

Many of Linebarger's "Instrumentality" stories allude to events more fully described elsewhere in the cycle, so an easy source for cross-referencing is good to have around. Furthermore, Linebarger's SF incorporates to an unusual degree material from languages and literatures other than English; and Anthony Lewis has worked hard to identify or explain such usages.

At times, Lewis's explanations appear more ingenious than accurate; at other times, he misses the personal significance that led Linebarger to use certain names and terms in specific contexts. Lewis does promise "later editions," which may remedy such shortcomings. Meanwhile, this edition should be fun for other dedicated Cordwainer Smith fans and helpful to dedicated Cordwainer Smith scholars.

--Alan C. Elms University of California, Davis

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