Science Fiction Studies

#38 = Volume 13, Part 1 = March 1986


Chronic Adolescence

David Hartwell. Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction. NY: Walker &: Co., 1984. 205pp. $15.95

As he explains at the beginning of his book, David Hartwell has set out to provide: outsider's guidebook and road map through the world of science fiction, pointing out the historical monuments, backyard follies, highways, and backstreets of the SF community--a tour of main events and sideshows, and a running commentary on why the SF world is the way it is. I hope it will be particularly useful for the casually curious, the neophyte reader, and of course the person who knows people in SF and wonders why they are that way. (p. 4)

Hartwell never explains where that peculiar "of course" comes from, nor why people in SF are "that way." What he does do, in 12 jazzily titled chapters, is to comment breezily on everything from the appeal of SF to (moments from) its history, from definitions of SF to the eccentricities of its fans, and from the variety of works that can be described as SF to the "fantastic," "big, wonderful, mind-stretching" ideas that are "made flesh" by its writers (p. 40). In so doing, he writes carelessly, he contradicts himself shamelessly, and he glories in mystifying what he might have been expected to clarify. His book can recommend itself only as an example of how not to write about SF.

The first chapter, entitled "The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twelve," appeared in a slightly different form in a 1982 issue of Top of the News, a library journal for children's and young adults' librarians. (The reprinted issue, Reflections on Fantasy and Science Fiction, was reviewed in SFS No. 32.) Here Hartwell discusses the appeal of SF for adolescents and the indiscriminate tastes of those in the "omnivorous" phase of their reading:

Publishers adore this phenomenon....One major publisher of SF had been [sic] heard to remark that his books are supported by twelve-year-olds of all ages....[I]t requires extreme ignorance and professional be unsuccessful when selling science fiction to the omnivorous teenage audience. (p. 8)

Though Hartwell moves on to other topics soon enough, he never quite leaves those 12-year-olds behind. His adolescent enthusiasm for the genre never falters, except to spill over--as in his discussion of John Varley's "The Phantom of Kansas," which is peppered with "pow!" (p. 98), "of course!" (p. 98), and "whew!" (p. 102)--into expressions of boyish delight and amazement.

Occasionally Hartwell advances an idea. In the context of a discussion of the "underground world of SF," he mentions Thomas Pynchon's comment (in The Crying of Lot 49) that almost everyone is involved in some sort of underground activity; he then writes: "This kind of activity is so much a part of what everyone does (without ever seeing the big picture) that if you pull back and look at it all, the real world seems very different. This is, in one very real sense, what this book is about" (p. 6).

The real world seems very different from what? What is this book about? Is it about the "real" world? Is it about how the "real" world looks when you're involved in any underground activity? An idea that could have been interesting is virtually incomprehensible. It is never referred to again.

In his chapter on "Worshiping at the Church of Wonder," Hartwell makes much of C.S. Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism, and especially of the chapter "On Myth," which distinguishes between "the mass of the unliterary" and "the lover of myth." Hartwell appears not to have noticed that Lewis's point here is entirely at odds with his own view of the unliterary, who love SF no matter how badly it is written.

Ineffective though he himself is in proposing and in discussing ideas, Hartwell thinks the world of the ideas used by SF writers. Both his second chapter ("I Have a Cosmic Mind--Now What Do I Do?") and his sixth ("Where Do You Get Those Crazy Ideas?") explore the ideas expressed in SF stories, providing countless examples of "crazy," "very old," "overarching," and especially (and repeatedly) "big" ideas.

The only ideas he really does not want to hear about are any voiced by academics ("oh, sigh," p. 15) who presume to appraise, comment on, and define SF. In the conclusion to his chapter on "Why 'Science Fiction' is the Wrong and Only Name For It," Hartwell quotes Suvin's definition of SF (he does not, incidentally, give the source of the definition; Age of Wonders is innocent of footnotes and bibliographic material), and comments that:

it works all right for a number of critics, but no one in the field will accept or use it since it does exclude some treasured conceptions held by most in the field for decades (it doesn't mention 'science') and besides, it is academic and therefore suspect, if not downright subversive, maybe even anti-American (Suvin is European and a Marxist critic). It smacks of the academy, of the mummification of literary energy--dry, dry, dry. (p. 122)

Later on, though, in the penultimate chapter ("Let's Get SF Back in the Gutter Where It Belongs"), Hartwell defends the academic theoreticians of SF (he mentions Robert Scholes and Joanna Russ as well as Suvin) "who are doing the real work of criticism" (p. 181). Bewilderingly, for a man who clearly understands and in large part shares some of the writers' and fans' aversion to scholarly commentary, Hartwell concludes this chapter by saying: "The most serious reassessment of science fiction and the achievement of its writers is still to come" (p. 194).

The most confusing and contradictory sections of the book are those devoted to Hartwell's own attempts to define SF. At times, following Damon Knight and Norman Spinrad, he argues for a definition that does not define: "Science Fiction is every SF story written or to be written, the sum total of science fictional reality past, present and future--otherwise indefinable" (p. 129). Consistent with this anti-critical and profoundly anti-intellectual attitude, his view of SF includes: "classic fantasy (ghost stories, legends, tales); supernatural horror (two categories: classic--from Le Fanu, Blackwood, and Machen to Stephen King and Rosemary's Baby; and Lovecraftian...)," as well as "Tolkienesque fantasy," heroic fantasy, space opera, etc. (pp. 14-15). He therefore has no difficulty at all including some recent works that appeal to what is "more nearly a fantasy audience" of "young women and men who will admit to a casual dislike of science and technology" (p. 73). But, as even his wording here indicates, he also wants to insist that there is a difference between fantasy and SF. At one point he writes that SF "always deals with ideas, as opposed to fantasy, which almost always deals with morality, ethics, and the inner life of characters" (p. 27). Much later he comments that "SF is not, hardly ever, about science as theory or lab work; it's about technology, applied science, neat gadgets" (p.117).

Not content merely to contradict himself, he then wallows in his unwillingness and inability to say anything sensible about what SF is:

The mystery of what science fiction is, is therefore preserved from outsiders. For, you see, one of the great unarticulated foundations of the SF field, perhaps the most basic at the deepest level of the field's collective unconscious, is that the wonderful, inchoate family of science fiction all know what SF is by intuition. Knight and Spinrad know, as the gorgeous subjectivity of their own definitions orbits around them, that to the field, further definition is unacceptable--disunifying, exclusive, potentially destructive of the fragile elitism that bonds chronic reader to chronic reader to editor to writer to illustrator to the most callow neofan. (p. 120)

The true, dismaying wonder is that this book, which purports to be a guidebook through "the world of science fiction," glories in its mystification of the very meaning of the term.

--Linda Leith, John Abbott College

Science-Fiction and Fantasy Film: Shadow and Substance

George E. Slusser & Eric S. Rabkin, eds. Shadows of the Magic Lamp: Fantasy and Science Fiction in Film. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1985. 259pp. $19.95

This volume, part of the continuing "Alternatives" series on SF, fantasy, and speculative fiction published by Southern Illinois University Press, is a useful addition to the slim collections of serious critical works on fantasy and SF in film. The editors selected the essays from papers presented at the Fourth J. Lloyd Eaton Conference (1982) at the University of California, Riverside (the three previous Eaton Conferences led to the volumes Bridges to Science Fiction, Bridges to Fantasy, and Coordinates: Placing Science Fiction and Fantasy). Unlike some conference proceedings, this is not a grab-bag but instead a unified collection addressing key questions of generic definition and current directions in SF, fantasy, and horror films. The articles are of almost uniformly high quality.

The opening essay, Leo Braudy's "Genre and the Resurrection of the Past," is unfortunately one of the weakest. Braudy's essay is too wide-ranging for a short paper. His argument, which is neither successfully unified nor wholly convincing, deals with two subjects: the new generic self-consciousness and the fear of death in films. He is persuasive in his assertion that the only pure film genre now is "the genre of self-consciousness about genre" (p. 4) and in his explanation of the function that formulate elements in film genres have, of providing for audiences the reassurance of ritual. (Frank McConnell makes a similar point in the closing essay, "Born in Fire: The Ontology of the Monster," when he claims that films about Frankenstein are "cult observances, inverted Masses whose conclusion is preordained and all of whose plot elements are...predictable" [p. 234]. On this point, also see Mark Siegel's essay on Rocky Horror [SFS no. 22, pp. 305-12].) Yet Braudy's essay is vague and unconvincing when he asserts that "motifs and themes of horror film" have permeated films of quite different sorts (p. 10). This is a separate point that deserves more than the sketchy treatment Braudy gives it here.

The second essay, Bruce Kawin's "Children of the Light," is more detailed and persuasive than Braudy's in distinguishing between horror and other genres, particularly between SF as appealing to the Conscious and horror to the Unconscious. Both "promote growth," according to Kawin; only the horror film does it by showing us "what we are not comfortable seeing but need to look at anyway" (pp. 23-25). (This notion too, is echoed in McConnell's concluding essay: "What is monstrosity, after all, if not the image of ourselves we have searched for and which, having once gazed upon it, we cannot ever forget?" [p. 232].)

Like Braudy and Kawin, George Slusser approaches large generic questions in an overambitious essay on "Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror." Like Braudy, Slusser deals with the breakdown of genres and the way that SF has turned into horror in such recent films as Alien and Poltergeist. Slusser distinguishes between two modes he sees operative in fantasy, the "investigative" and the "sentimental." The "investigative" tends to question all human forms of perception and ordering (as in Antonioni's Blow-Up), whereas the "sentimental" wants to place the human back in the center of the picture (as in Jack Arnold's The Incredible Shrinking Man). This is an interesting distinction, except that I wonder if it applies solely to films with elements of the fantastic or to all films. Slusser's essay also suffers from the worst case of creeping jargon in the book: "Seen in this matrix of film as medium, the relation between a dynamic that is transgeneric and aspirations that are transmimetic may come clear at last" (p. 209). It never does "come clear."

Garrett Stewart's essay on "Videology," by far the longest in the volume, is filled with new insights into many recent SF films; but it is also flawed, like Slusser's, by its garbled prose. It is not jargon that defeats Stewart but awkwardness and verbosity: "in a curious double crossing of temporal and spatial logic wherein the mechanics of simulation intersect the odd mechanical laws of the rendered phenomenon..." (pp. 159-60). Run that one by me again? Like Slusser, Stewart has novel and interesting ideas, but one has to slog upstream through tortuous prose to get at them. Stewart discusses self-reflexive SF movies which contain within themselves images of present or future cinematic or video technology, screens within screens. "Such screening within the screen provides the chief site of a film's self-inspection" as well as rendering "a critique of our present social uses of visual media, our 'videology'" (p. 174). He focuses in detail on dystopian SF films involving the use of video or film images for surveillance or brainwashing, including Zardoz, A Clockwork Orange, Colossus: The Forbin Project, Soylent Green, THX-1138, Fahrenheit 451, and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Albert J. La Valley's "Traditions of Trickery" is an extremely useful, clearly written short history of special effects in SF films, all the way from Mlis to Lucas and Spielberg. La Valley cites Christian Metz's notion of all cinema as trucage, or trickery; by that standard, SF films, which rely so much on special effects to make the impossible seem real, are the film genre most dependent on trickery. He also refers to Stephen Neale's remark in Genre that recent SF movies are about special effects more than about anything else--advertisements for the state of the art. Such films (Close Encounters is a good example) always lead up to an apocalyptic special effects climax. La Valley distinguishes between two poles of SF film: the tendency towards documentary realism and the tendency towards fantasy. He concludes by lamenting the present "yearning for the real to disappear or for the imaginary to become the real. Recent large-scale SF films move strongly toward fantasy" (p. 157). The constant upping of the ante in special effects leads only to optimistic big budget films which largely ignore social criticism and human psychology and hence tend towards pure escapism.

One critic who would disagree with La Valley's conclusions is H. Bruce Franklin, who in "Don't Look Where We're Going" examines visions of the future in recent SF films (1970-82) and sees them filled with doom and decay. (A version of his essay appeared in SFS no. 29.) He finds these films to be either symptomatic of a terrifying decline or warnings "not to follow the lead of a social structure that either doesn't know where it's going or sees its own future as hopeless" (p. 85).

Another political critique of SF film is offered by Peter Biskind in "Pods, Blobs, and Ideology in American Films of the Fifties" (familiar as part of his recent book Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties [NY: Random House, 1983]). Biskind categorizes SF films as "centrist" (either of the corporate liberal or conservative stripe), right-wing, or left-wing. But some of his pigeon-holing is too neat: depending upon their political predilections, critics have chosen to see Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers as either an allegory about Communist takeover or a fable about 1950s' conformism.

Vivian Sobchack, well known as a critic of American SF film for her The Limits of Infinity (NY: A.S. Barnes, 1980), examines the sexual politics of the genre in "The Virginity of Astronauts: Sex and the Science-Fiction Film." Here she argues that women and biological sexuality are repressed in most American SF films, only to re-emerge in condensed and displaced images of mutants, aliens, and phallic rockets penetrating endless space. She attributes this repression to the tendency of American culture to link "biology to women and technology to male" (p. 57). Thus the heroes of SF films are often "virginal astronauts": "cool, rational, competent, unimaginative, male, and sexless" (p. 46).

Other useful if more narrowly focused essays in the volume include two on medieval romance by E. Jane Burns and Cyndia Clegg, both of whom consider the significance of the nostalgic trend towards Arthurian romance in such films as John Boorman's Excalibur as well as the problems of adapting the literary world of the romance to film. Another problem of adaptation is dealt with in James W. Arnold's detailed essay on the musical fantasy film The Little Prince. Arnold considers the difficulties inherent in recreating the whimsy and spiritual concerns of Saint-Exupéry in the medium of film, which emphasizes visual surfaces and serves technology and science. Nevertheless, he finds that Stanley Donen's film, while flawed, is true to the style of Saint-Exupéry through its use of special effects and dance.

Looking at fantasy from the point of view of its creator, Fred Burns discusses the evolution of his animated film "The Burial of Natty Bumppo," in which he tried to convey certain ideas about the 19th-century American industrial landscape by conflating images of machinery and ornamental gardens. The notion seems an extension into art of the ideas of such intellectuals as Herbert Sussman in Victorians and the Machine, John Kasson in Civilizing the Machine, and Leo Marx in The Machine in the Garden.

And in another consideration of the uses of the fantastic, Ben Stoltzfus analyzes Robbe-Grillet's post-modernist, self-reflexive films as parodic and subversive. Like the surrealist paintings of Dali, they use the conventions of realism to undermine realism by "dramatizing the impossible" (p. 36). My objection to Robbe-Grillet's fantasies is that they so frequently involve torturing and violating naked women. Stoltzfus interprets the woman's body as "a metaphor for language" (p. 34), but a more obvious interpretation is that Robbe-Grillet enjoys misogynistic fantasies.

All the essays in Shadows in the Magic Lamp--both those which consider generic definitions and those which concern themselves with general trends or with a single filmmaker or film-- show intelligence and insight. The editors have picked them well to cover the entire field of SF and fantasy film. If I had to single out the most valuable of a generally fine collection, I would mention in particular those by Kawin, La Valley, McConnell, Sobchack, and Stewart (despite his prose style). My only complaint about the anthology, aside from the opaque academic prose in a few articles, is the paucity of decent illustrations. I recognize that the editors wanted to keep down costs and not publish yet another SF or fantasy film picture-book, but those film frames which they have reproduced are so tiny that they are often difficult to decipher. And some articles which badly needed illustrations--e.g., the ones on Excalibur and The Little Prince--lack them entirely.

--Andrew Gordon University of Florida, Gainesville

Morris as Prophet

Peter Stansky. William Morris. NY: Oxford UP, 1983. [Past Masters Series.] 96pp. $3.95 (paper)

This volume consists of a 90-page outline of Morris's life and work, followed by a couple of pages of suggestions for further reading. A certain superficiality in dealing so briefly with a figure as diverse and prodigal as Morris is inevitable--Stansky quotes Walter Crane's assertion that Morris possessed at least six distinct personalities--but in general Stansky's is a lively and informative introduction. He shows enthusiasm for Morris's achievements as craftsman, architect, book designer, and political activist; but his level of critical engagement drops disconcertingly when he comes to comment on News from Nowhere and the late prose romances. Having quarried News as a source for Morris's ideas, Stansky solemnly identifies a "lack of realism in Morris's vision of utopia" (p. 76). When Guest reaches the end of his journey up-river, he fades out, Stansky opines, "perhaps because he had never learned to wield a scythe" (p. 77).

Notwithstanding some hints towards a political reading of the late romances, Stansky prefers a bluff, commonsense perspective--designed to show in what respects Morris has proved a true or false prophet--to the textual approaches of modern SF and fantasy criticism. He concludes that even if Morris failed in his aim of reforming the world, he has been central in changing our vision of the world, as such phenomena as communes, preservation societies, environmental groups, and the "present emphasis on the importance of leisure" (not exactly a Morrisian theme) all testify.

Oddly enough in a book on Morris, there are no illustrations.

--Patrick Parrinder University of Reading

Interpretatively Sound, Theoretically Weak

Natalie M. Rosinsky. Feminist Futures: Contemporary Women's Speculative Fiction. [Studies in Speculative Fiction, No. 1.] Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984. 147pp. $24.95

In her introduction Rosinsky explains that she intends to "illustrate the ways in which contemporary feminisms have significantly influenced the development" of speculative fiction. She then perfunctorily distinguishes "feminist androgyny" (the proponents of which argue that women's and men's abilities are potentially equal) from "gynocentric essentialism" (which holds that there are innate psychological or spiritual differences between the sexes). While she acknowledges that none of the works she examines is solely an ideological tract for either feminist viewpoint, she proposes to analyze each of them in terms of a "continuum of beliefs" lying between those two poles.

Given the centrality of this distinction to her study, the page or so that Rosinsky devotes to its exposition is perfectly inadequate. Her two-page long Introduction is woefully unsatisfactory in other ways too. It contains only the vaguest hint of her book's claim on our attention: its focus on the forms of certain feminist fictions, not simply on their themes; and it gives no indication whatsoever of how she will draw the many threads of her analysis together. Instead of this disservice, she should have explained that Feminist Futures explores the extent to which various contemporary works of speculative fiction embody feminist theory in their forms and in their content, and thereby foster feminist praxis.

The book is divided into four chapters. In the first, which is entitled "Metamorphosis: The Shaping of Female Identity " Rosinsky discusses Lois Gould's A Sea Change (1976), Rhoda Lerman's Call Me Ishtar (1973), Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve (1977), and June Arnold's Applesauce (1966) as speculative "re/visions" of the theme of classical metamorphosis. She also touches on the contemporaneous body and performance art movements and on Virginia Woolf's Orlando, which Rosinsky argues is the ideological predecessor of the titles she concentrates on, all of them fictions in which women become men, or vice-versa. Her analysis of these allows her to demonstrate that their authors "range the continuum of feminist ideologies--gynocentric essentialism to androgyny--that are currently being debated, explored and experimented with in contemporary society" (p. 27). More interestingly, in the process of discussing those contemporary fictions, she has been able to illuminate some of their formal characteristics: complex, at times unreliable, narration; plot devices and metaphoric systems that invert "fact" and "fiction"; and discourse that questions the efficacy of conventional, patriarchal linear writing. These, she argues, compel the reader to accept responsibility and authority for the final construction of the text's meaning--an authority comparable to the control that feminists currently seek to wrest from patriarchal convention and replace in freer women's and men's hands (p. 28).

Chapter 2, entitled "Questors and Heroines: New Myths, New Models," analyzes "feminist re/visions of the heroic quest and utopian model of a traveler educated through experience in a strange land" (p. x). Its focus is on Dorothy Bryant's The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You (1971) and Mary Staton's From the Legend of Biel (1975), works that Rosinsky compares favorably with Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. Again the most interesting comments are on the writers' formal innovations (Staton is the boldest in this regard) and on the connection, here established more convincingly than in the first chapter, between these and the feminist politics of the texts:

By asserting that reading can be a political as well as a philosophical act, involving the assumption of 'authority' by the conventionally passive individual (reader), Dorothy Bryant and Mary Staton rebut Ursula K. Le Guin's self-deceptive separation of artistic truth from feminist politics and poetics. (p. 63)

The third chapter, "The Battle of the Sexes: Things to Come," uses Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975), Sally Miller Gearhart's The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women (1978), and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) as examples of how different feminist ideologies affect theme and form. Rosinsky sees the three fictions as being alike in their questioning, open-ended depiction of the future and its possibilities for women's and men's non-sexist co-existence. She also sees them as sharing a non-combative, humorous sensibility. In ideological terms, though, she argues that Russ and Piercy affirm the androgynous concept of human potentiality, while Gearhart emphasizes essential psychological differences between the sexes:

Despite these ideological differences, though, these authors do employ similar literary techniques, including dialectical and associative narrative structures, atypically heroic or multiple protagonists, and embedded discourse which emphasizes their particular didactic aims both incrementally and contrapuntally. Demanding active reader involvement to construct textual meaning, these techniques challenge the reader's traditional passivity. In this encouragement of audience grass roots activism,' the narrative forms (as well as the context) of these texts embody feminist theory and foster feminist praxis. (p. 104)

In a short final chapter, "The Futures of Feminist Discourse," Rosinsky draws from comments such as the foregoing some conclusions which seriously undermine her central argument. While claiming that her study of diverse speculative fictions confirms her perception of feminist androgyny as a literary force as well as a philosophical construct, she also admits that she has found some ways in which this viewpoint and its seeming ideological opposite, gynocentric essentialism, are allied through common feminist praxis. Since her study has been based on precisely the distinction between these two feminist viewpoints, her perceptions of unforeseen connections between them surely should have prompted her to revise what she says in earlier sections.

The impression that she is finally confused about the ideological distinctions she is working with is soon confirmed. Her statement that "the opposition of gynocentric essentialism to feminist androgyny is, after all, yet another inherently misleading symbolic model" (p. 107) does not sort well with the thesis (sketchily posed in her Introduction) underlying much of the analysis in her three main chapters. A similar contradiction appears in the concluding chapter itself. There Rosinsky avers that each of the authors discussed, "[r]egardless of the particular feminist ideology she advocates," employs narrative techniques that actively involve the reader in the de/construction of textual meaning. Yet two pages later, Rosinsky is again writing about what "fundamentally distinguishes feminist androgyny from gynocentric essentialism":

the latter ideology, which merely inverts the ontological premises of androcentric essentialism, remains a concept which still can 'be understood in terms of the previous regime.' It is equally essentialist and still defines 'woman' in relationship to biological 'man.' (p. 109)

This final chapter is in its own way as lame and unsatisfactory as the Introduction. Both suffer dramatically in comparison with the three thorough and well-argued chapters that form the mainstay of Feminist Futures. Even in those three, however, the weakness of her theoretical and historical understanding of the genre comes through. Though she has a nodding acquaintance with some scholarly criticism, she is not particularly concerned to distinguish the works of SF from the fantasies that she also discusses. Nor is she able to compare the formal innovations of the contemporary feminist writers she is interested in with those of any other writers of SF. At crucial junctures, moreover, she is, as I have indicated, disturbingly unsure of the implications of her own arguments. At her best, though, Rosinsky is a good reader of texts, and she has succeeded in illuminating feminist politics and poetics in some works of contemporary speculative fiction.

--Linda Leith John Abbott College

A Descent into Respectability?

Frederick Andrew Lerner. Modern Science Fiction and the American Literary Community. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1985. xviii + 325pp. $26.00

The subject matter of this book is most succinctly expressed by the title of the Library Science dissertation from which it derives: "Modern Science Fiction and Its Reception by the American Literary and Educational Communities, 1926-1970." Although the book extends coverage to 1976 and expands the number of writers taken account of from 94 to 102, it seems unlikely that this affected Lerner's essential finding. What one learns from his exhaustively researched account (almost half of the book consists of reference material: "Chapter Notes," "Sources Consulted," "Book Reviews Examined," "Articles and Stories Examined") is what one might expect: slowly but surely SF has gained in status and acceptability. In other words, this is a dissertation that might more appropriately have been boiled down into an article.

As it is, we are treated to the recovering of a lot of familiar ground. A chapter entitled "What is Modern Science Fiction?" is followed by five others describing the development of modern SF in the years of its birth (1926-45), during the atomic age (1945-50), during a period of ideological sensitivity (1950-57), after Sputnik (1957-69), and since Apollo (1969-76). Perhaps surprisingly, the last two scientific and technological achievements seem to have had little positive influence on the reception of SF.

Four more chapters detail the fortunes of SF at the hands of the scholars, in the classroom, in the library, in relation to futurology; and these culminate in a fifth, a redundant summarizing chapter entitled (in imitation of a statement made by Paul A. Carter) "The Descent into Respectability." Unfortunately, Lerner's ploddingly predictable presentation serves unwittingly to underline the element of "descent." This is not to deny that Lerner does indeed marshal a good deal of useful out-of-the-way information, particularly in the chapter on "Science Fiction in the Library," where genuine new ground is broken. However, in a study notable for its scrupulous documentary scaffolding and its general absence of typos, the Englishman Arthur C. Clarke might be surprised to find himself included among "prolific American science fiction writers" (p. 123).

--David Ketterer Concordia University

One Man's Canon

David Pringle. Science Fiction, the 100 Best Novels: An English-Language Selection, 1949-1984. Foreword by Michael Moorcock. London: Xanadu Publications, 1984. 224pp. £3.95

David Pringle's credentials for a work of this kind are more than acceptable. He is editor of the British SF magazine, Interzone, and of the critical journal, Foundation. In addition, he is the compiler of J.G. Ballard: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1984).

The structure of this present work is reassuringly straightforward: Pringle introduces it with a ten-page essay which explains and qualifies his own ideas about what constitutes SF ("Science fiction is a form of fantastic fiction which exploits the imaginative perspectives of modern science" [p. 9]), provides the reader with a thumbnail history of the genre, and concludes with a defense of his nominees for the 100 best SF novels written in English over the past 35 years. After listing a brief bibliography of secondary readings, Pringle proceeds to treat each of his 100 choices to a two-page discussion, including information about first and current editions. The bibliography is useful and informative, except for its neglect of the American journal, Extrapolation. Each of the brief analyses is clear and informed; together they build up a broad context for SF into which each individual work can be placed.

It is obvious that Pringle's notions about what SF is and is not will have an unavoidable effect upon what is and is not included in his canon. In the final analysis, his last line of defense is the tautological "I know that science fiction is not a 'thing,' but I must assert that sf is these hundred books, and these hundred books are sf" (p. 17). While this is reminiscent of Norman Spinrad's comment that "science fiction is anything published as science fiction,'' Pringle does not hesitate to include works which do not fall into Spinrad's category, such as William Burroughs's Nova Express (1954), J.G. Ballard's Crash (1973), and John Calvin Batchelor's The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica (1983--published by Penguin Books as part of its "Contemporary American Fiction" series: no mention of SF here). Thus there will be some inevitable controversy over the admissibility of certain entries in Pringle's book--which is part of the pleasure of such works.

Another pleasure which results from a work like this is the controversy over which novels really deserve to be called the best. The first reaction of most readers will be to test their knowledge of the novels listed and then to get down to the serious business of purely subjective agreement and disagreement. Pringle's British background is reflected in the compilation of his canon. A North American undertaking the same task would probably not have included two novels by John Wyndham or four by J.G. Ballard, nor are many US or Canadian readers familiar with the stylish works of Angela Carter, whose wonderful Heroes and Villains (1969) is also mentioned. Pringle's British leanings do not prevent him from recognizing the importance of Bernard Wolfe's Limbo (1952), an American work which he rightly claims as a neglected masterpiece. On the other hand, it must be arrant subjectivity which drives him to include no less than six novels by "the late great Philip Kindred Dick" (p. 75). Between them, Ballard and Dick account for ten percent of Pringle's canon.

The severest limitations under which Pringle's work labors are the restrictions he has himself imposed upon it. While his focus upon recently published works is a legitimate one, his decision to confine himself to novels, and to novels published only in English, has had several unfortunate side effects. In the first place, it excludes such important writers as Harlan Ellison and James Tiptree, Jr, whose best work has appeared in short stories. Second, it reflects an overwhelmingly white, male, middle-class authorship, for much the same reasons. Third, there is no recognition of the vast amount of good SF written in languages other than English. Moorcock does call attention in his foreword to the first two points, but recognition of such limitations does not overcome them.

--Veronica Hollinger Concordia University

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