Science Fiction Studies

#46 = Volume 15, Part 3 = November 1988


Where's the Theory?

Frank Sadler. The Unified Ring: Narrative Art and the Science-Fiction Novel. ["Studies in Speculative Fiction," No. 11.] Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984. 117pp. $37.95.

I wanted to like this book a great deal more than I was able to. Since studying the narrative techniques of SF strikes me as a worthwhile undertaking, it was very disappointing to discover that Sadler's book doesn't live up to the promise of his title.

He argues that novelists, like all members of a culture, are influenced by their age's conception of the nature of the universe, and that such conceptions necessarily shape their art, not only in content but in form. Thus when the conception of the universe undergoes a dramatic change-- as it did in the 20th century under the impact of modern mathematical physics, especially the theories of relativity, probability, and uncertainty--one would expect a change in artistic techniques to reflect this changed understanding of reality. This observation, as Sadler admits, suggests:

that the value of the novelist's art lies directly in his keeping abreast of the newer theories of reality. And, perhaps, there are other values of art, and other theories in which this type of argument would be foreign. Nevertheless, it would seem safe to assume...that one standard or criterion that may be used to judge the credibility of any fictional system is the degree to which its narrative devices (techniques) are appropriate or inappropriate to the world view, both implicit and explicit, which exists in the novel. (p. 11)

In order to demonstrate this point, Sadler proposes to examine three "recent" SF novels (at least recent in 1974 when he completed this doctoral dissertation) in light of contemporary mathematical physics: relativity in Samuel R. Delany's The Einstein Intersection (1967); probability theory in Brian Aldiss's Report on Probability A (1968); and time in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). In fact, the two chapters on Aldiss and Vonnegut are effective close readings of those texts (though not of great theoretical interest), and would make quite satisfactory journal articles, but I can see no excuse whatever for publishing this book in its entirety, especially not in 1984. Sadler's general thesis--that prevailing world-view affects works of art--seems comparatively trivial; and his prose is pedestrian, his tone defensive, and the entire project seriously dated.

And therein, I suspect, lies the key to most of the problems with this text: that it essentially reprints a ten-year-old dissertation. If we picture the author as a graduate student in English literature in the early 1970s, trying to persuade his doctoral committee that one could, indeed, write a genuinely scholarly study of a scorned genre like SF, then the defensiveness of his tone makes some sense. This context also would explain his otherwise incomprehensibly respectful bows in the direction of "organic form" as the key criterion for evaluating literary structure, and his attempts to update the term by including in it the new perceptions of nature found in mathematical physics.

Further, it could explain Sadler's choice of texts, in particular his inclusion of The Einstein Intersection. Delany's novel is clearly of high literary merit and, equally clearly, is concerned with the difference between the Einsteinian and the Gödelian universe, but more on a thematic than on a structural level. Sadler works strenuously to persuade us otherwise, but the very effort betrays him: he has to work too hard to make the novel fit his model. First, he devotes the bulk of the chapter to discussions of relativity and the connections between physics and fiction rather than to Delany's novel; next, he defines "form" in a notably metaphorical and unhelpful way (adopting Charles Olson's definition: "FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT"). Finally, his argument rests on two features of the text: that Delany intersperses his novel with passages from the journal he kept while he was writing it, and that Spider in a set-piece explains to Lobey the significance of the differences between Einstein and Gödel.

It seems likely to me that Delany's novel does reflect the world created by modern physics, but Sadler's argument does not persuade me that this reflection is on the level of structure, or that--even if he were right--this fact tells us anything very important about The Einstein Intersection. If I had been reading for myself rather than for review, I would have stopped with this chapter, and would thus have missed the far more sensible and productive discussions of Aldiss and Vonnegut, where the scientific models really do operate on a structural level and where Sadler's analysis contributes to our understanding of the novels.

Consider, though: ten years later, other more suitable texts have become available--Joanna Russ's The Female Man, several of Delany's subsequent experiments, Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, just to name some of the most obvious examples, all of them with sufficient literary merit to justify their inclusion in such a study. Choosing one of these other texts might have helped Sadler write a much more compelling analysis. And yet, rather than taking advantage of the ten-year gap between the dissertation and its publication to make such a crucial improvement, Sadler sticks with his original choice.

Moreover, as we compare the chapter on Delany with those on Aldiss and Vonnegut, a more problematic aspect of Sadler's argument appears, one which goes to the heart of his theoretical point. Occasionally he admits that most SF does not employ the narrative techniques he describes; he himself points out that, while many SF writers address the issues of contemporary science thematically, few of them indulge in formal experimentation (not that this concession prevents Sadler from generalizing about "SF" in other places as if most SF texts did use such narrative techniques).

This contradiction would be unimportant except that Sadler's model implies that not just SF novels, but all modern--perhaps we should call them "experimental" novels--to the extent that they are truly of their own time, should demonstrate the same structural reflections of contemporary physics that he finds in selected SF texts. He says that he is not making any "special claim for science fiction" (p. 19). But if there is nothing "special" about SF in this regard, then Sadler's claim to be contributing to SF theory is incoherent on its face.

I suspect that the reason Sadler's analyses of Aldiss and Vonnegut are so much more satisfactory than of Delany is that Report on Probability A and Slaughterhouse-Five are structurally much more like experimental novels than like most SF--far more so than The Einstein Intersection. Sadler, despite his announced goal here, lacks a critical vocabulary to talk about the narrative structures of SF, only he doesn't seem to have recognized that fact. He is still trying to adapt the ordinary language of literary criticism (and, in "organic form," an outdated language at that) to a paraliterary genre, and it proves inadequate to the task.

I would, perhaps, be more tolerant of this muddle-headed addition to the lists of SF criticism if Sadler had not prefaced it with a statement of breathtaking arrogance, implicitly designed to justify publishing such a dated study. "In the ten years since the preponderance of this book was first written," he observes, "little has taken place to warrant optimism about the future of science-fiction criticism. What had been published, for the most part, continues to be rather traditional in its examination of the science-fiction novel." This is a statement with which many of us could readily agree, despite its self-serving quality--and despite our wry recognition that the pot is here calling the kettle black. However, he goes on to take the community of SF critics to task for not incorporating recent developments in "semiotics and deconstructionist theory" (not to mention for ignoring the work of Robert Scholes) and to shake his head gravely, dubious of future reform. He then concludes with a fatuous remark about the value of art, and trumps it by adding: "My method is somewhat eclectic and personal. I offer no apologies for it. It is, in one sense, intellectual, while in another, truly creative."

Alas, it is neither intellectual nor creative, and has nothing of value to say about either narrative art or the SF novel as a form. It is hard to know who to be most irritated with--Sadler for his arrogance, or UMI for publishing this volume.

--Kathleen L. Spencer Millsaps College

A Modern Dystopia

Leon Stover. The Prophetic Soul: A Reading of H.G. Wells's Things to Come. Jefferson, NC & London: McFarland & Co., 1987. 301pp. $39.95

Although Things to Come was H.G. Wells's most ambitious venture into film-making, scholars and critics have never paid it more than superficial attention. At the time of its original release (1936), it earned the dubious distinction of becoming (in Michael Korda's words) "an instant box-office failure"; and with the passing of the years film aficionados have generally written it off (along with Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which Wells heartily detested) as a spectacular but ludicrous SF "dinosaur," or even worse, they have dismissed it as a movie whose sole significance was that it provided the inspiration for Arthur Bliss's memorable score.

At long last we have a serious reading of the film. The Prophetic Soul contains Leon Stover's close analysis of Things to Come, a rich collection of stills from the movie, and two appendixes providing previously unpublished items of extraordinary interest: "Whither Mankind?" (1934), Wells's film treatment privately published for circulation among the production staff of London Films, and the so-called release (or cutting continuity) script prepared after the film's completion but containing some material actually omitted from the released version. Neither of these appendix items should be confused with the novel The Shape of Things to Come (1933), on which the film is partly based, or with the book Things to Come, a film scenario in literary form published by Wells in 1935.

I have only two objections to this otherwise admirable contribution to Wells scholarship. Mr. Stover has a tendency to repeat (and sometimes paraphrase) himself. Some judicious pruning could have shortened his commentary by about a third of its length without any significant loss of content. He has also short-changed the aesthetic aspects of the film in order to focus on its ideological significance. This will worry film specialists; but Wells scholars will probably find Mr. Stover's revelations to be ample compensation for that limitation.

The Prophetic Soul starts out by correcting some popular misconceptions about the film. Stover dismisses the notion that "the film is nothing more than a crude prophecy of space flight derived from Jules Verne" (p. xv). He reminds us of Wells's memo to his film's production staff (originally published in the 1935 scenario): "As a general rule you may take it that whatever Lange [sic] did in Metropolis is the exact opposite of what is wanted here" (p. xv). More important, he points out that Things to Come is not just another adaptation of a Wells novel or a director's (William Cameron Menzies') transmutation of Wells's scenario. It was shot from an original screenplay and was entirely Wells's in conception and realization. Except for the change of title (from Wells's preferred "Whither Mankind?") and the omission of a few brief scenes in the 2036 sequences, the film was in every respect what Wells intended it to be. Raymond Massey, who played the film's two heroes, John and Oswald Cabal, observed that "No writer for the screen ever had or ever will have such authority as H.G. Wells possessed in the making of Things to Come" (p. xvii).

It is but a short step from Massey's "insider" observation to Stover's impressive claim--are you ready for it?--that the film was nothing less than the culmination of Wells's socio-political visions--a claim that he fully substantiates by documenting its crucial place in the evolution of Wells's thought and by providing a scene-by-scene reading of the film--an analytic process which may be aptly described as "double exposure." Drawing heavily on his two appendixes and upon two published works on which (according to Wells himself) the film was based--i.e., The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1931) and The Shape of Things to Come--Stover exposes the film's underlying "political religion" and its sources, both of which have escaped previous commentators; then he exposes the anti-humanist implications of that ideology, which he dubs "Wellsism." A passage in "Whither Mankind?" reveals that "Wellsism" was originally conceived in terms of a drama of three contesting universal forces, represented in Hindu theology as Brahma the Creator (whom Wells identified with the Poietic or scientific-creative mind), Siva the Destroyer (identified with the Kinetic or administrative-managerial capacity), and Vishnu the Possessor (identified with the "dull and base" masses). This conception is never made explicit in the released film, but Stover summarizes it thus:

Like Plato's philosopher, John Cabal hand picks his teachers and soldiers, himself a shining example to them of both rational wisdom [Brahma] and the courage to use force [Siva]. He gathers into his Air Dictatorship those few exceptional men and women of the Poietic and the Kinetic type that exist in the world, ruling it in his image over the intellectually Dull and morally Base who comprise the rest of humanity [Vishnu]. This he does for mankind's own good in spite of its fierce resistance. But in time all opposition to his Puritan Tyranny ceases. Cabal brings Siva the Destroyer to the side of Brahma the Creator for the permanent holding down of Vishnu the Possessor. In monopolizing all instruments of force in the creative name of the Social Idea, he achieves a lasting victory over those craven desires that animate the common man. (pp. 21-22)

A unique kind of socialist, Wells was distrustful and contemptuous of the common man and his naive complacency (which he termed Everydayism). As Stover explains, the Utopia Wells depicts in Things to Come shows his ideal to have been neither democratic socialism nor Marxist-Leninist communism but statism in its most absolute form. Taking his cue from Saint-Simon's vision of a ruling elite of industrialists, Wells envisages a world revolution removing all power from the people and vesting it instead in a scientific-managerial elite. In its perfected form--which is never shown in the film--the Wellsian world state, under the totalitarian guidance of this elite class, would become a completely unified social organism in which there would be no place for individualism. Quoting and commenting on Wells's ideal, Stover clarifies the picture:

The world citizen [of 2036 A.D.] is taught a scientific creed that calls for the 'merger of one's romantic individual life into the deathless life of the species'.... John Cabal affirms this credo in the concluding part of his address [to the World Council], thereby making merger immortality the official creed of the world socialist state.

Certainly it is Wells's credo. 'Socialism is to me,' he says, 'no more and no less than the awakening of a collective consciousness in humanity.' This means, he goes on, 'I would oppose the conception of the Whole to the self-seeking of the Individual.' The Individual is to sink his ego into the immortal state-monster, and so 'live in the species and find his happiness there,' rejoicing in 'the idea of a racial well-being embodied in an organized state.' (pp. 68-69)

If Stover's reading is sound--and I can discern no significant flaws in his overall interpretation-- then Wells's ultimate antidote for the racial degeneracy prophesied in The Time Machine was to turn the planet into a kind of human anthill and then extend its boundaries into outer space. The Martians in Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men demonstrate that kind of collective consciousness as an evolutionary dead end. Stapledon looked forward to the attainment of collective consciousness in the human race; but he envisaged that super-faculty as a development that would co-exist with rather than negate the individual spirit. How ironic--and how depressing--that Wells, who started out by rediscovering the unique, should ultimately hold up for our admiration a "Utopia" dedicated to the suppression of unique egos such as his own!

--Harry M. Geduld Indiana University

Orwell's Purposes

George Slusser, Colin Greenland, & Eric S. Rabkin, eds. Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1987. 278pp. $29.95

To misunderstand or to misstate an author's intentions is surely not a rarity in criticism, but in the case of George Orwell's 1984 it is especially significant and warrants particular attention. This attention is afforded in several essays anthologized in Storm Warnings. The collection, dealing with the status and future of SF, addresses this problem of misunderstanding in several essays relating to 1984 and its author. A principle question raised by many of the earliest commentators on 1984 had to do, in fact, with its intention. Is it a warning, admonishing us to mend our ways before the totalitarian bogeyman gets us, or is it a prophecy, foretelling our inevitable fate? To examine the 1984-oriented essays in Storm Warnings is to be struck by the importance and pervasiveness of this question.

In his essay "Coming Up on 1984" Frederik Pohl offers much salient observation about Orwell's development from empathizer with his fellow unfortunates in the world to activist seeking a political remedy for the inequities he saw about him. Pohl finds 1984 to be Orwell's worst book, and in contrast to Down and Out in Paris and London, with its fresh vivacity, his point is well taken. Down and Out, the four early novels, and the first part of The Road to Wigan Pier do show Orwell at his best, recording the real pains of real life as Bozo the Screever, John Flory, Dorothy Hare, Gordon Comstock, George Bowling, and the Wigan coal miners lived it.

Homage to Catalonia also is a fine book, capturing much of life's agony, exaltation and vitality, but it is more than that. Herein one sees Orwell's long-held respect and sympathy for the common man move to a resolve to work to establish a political base founded upon democratic socialism and to oppose the threat of Stalin's totalitarianism, which he saw darken the skies of Spain in 1937. Orwell's earlier sympathy for the deprived lower classes had grown into commitment to political action. The fate of the attacks upon Stalinism embodied in Homage to Catalonia and later in Animal Farm should have warned Orwell that his message, whether in realistic or oblique form, would be misunderstood. Homage to Catalonia was remaindered, and Animal Farm found a publisher only after some two dozen refusals. Typical of the insightful rejections was T.S. Eliot's, who lauded the artistry of the book and saw that it would make money, but also that it opposed the political temper of the moment. Animal Farm was finally published by Secker and Warburg and, sure enough, was an instant popular success, the first two printings selling out almost immediately, and the BOMC selling a half million copies. And just as surely, the success of the book was accompanied by many critics' misreadings of its purpose. Even its publisher found it to be an attack upon socialism and socialist parties, all this regardless of the fact that even a casual reading of the allegory makes it crystal clear that Orwell's attack is directed particularly against totalitarian forces--German and British certainly, but Stalinist Russian especially. So, with terrible irony, the first financial rewards came to Orwell at a time when they brought least happiness, and were a result of his deeply felt ideas being misunderstood.

Animal Farm is a well-planned, gracefully written allegory, understandably a perennially dependable seller. But however readable and successful it is, the fact remains that the thrust of Orwell's message has been consistently and deliberately misunderstood. How effectively can it achieve its intentions if its readers persist in practicing "blackwhite," the readiness to believe that black is white if party discipline demands it?

Blackwhite is the main cause of 1984's failure to communicate its message that totalitarian forces are so great a threat to us. Pohl is quite justified in his evaluation of 1984: it is Orwell's worst book. However, one would err in attributing the failure of the book to communicate to its shortcomings as a work of art. One can infer directly from Pohl's observations on Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm that realism, vividness, and windowpane prose do not guarantee that a book will be understood. Rather, readers are far more likely to succumb to the blandishments of what is facile, safe, and expedient.

Colin Greenland's essay, "Images of Nineteen Eighty-Four: Fiction and Prediction," addresses the question of intention more directly. He asserts that 1984 is not a prophecy but a satire on the elements which Orwell saw in 1948 and which Greenland finds in the Britain of 1984: superpowers in uneasy confrontation, rampant militarism, kitsch, equivocating national leaders and growing taste of nations for power rather than as sources for care and opportunity. Furthermore, Greenland finds that misinterpretation of 1984 is a deliberate, calculated attempt to throw a red herring across the path of understanding. By suggesting that the thrust of 1984 is its attack upon debasement of language, the London Times, speaking for the Establishment, opposes pluralism of thought in economics, religion, morality, and politics. Greenland's understanding of 1984's purpose affirms that the novel is not dead prophecy, but vital, pertinent satire. The view of T.A. Shippey, set forth in "Variations in Newspeak: The Open Question of Nineteen Eighty-Four," is antithetical to Greenland's, for Shippey finds debasement of language to be the paramount concern in Orwell's dystopia. His analysis of the novel demonstrates that its real climax is reached when Winston Smith comes to believe that his recollections of olden days are "false" memories. And, of course, along with the memories goes the language that would preserve them. Elizabeth Maslen's "One Man's Tomorrow Is Another's Today: The Reader's World and Its Impact on Nineteen Eighty-Four" discusses some implications of the choice imposed upon writers who, because they write in a free society, may write either realistically or obliquely. Orwell, as one of these who could choose, selected futuristic fiction for his vehicle. With this decision Orwell opts for the freedom of his audience and imposes upon them the responsibility to decide and learn for themselves. John Huntington's "Orwell and the Uses of the Future" points out how the Goldstein tract, that sociological study incorporated into 1984, resembles an "anticipation," a Wellsian prophecy disguised as a dispassionate, strictly logical description, thus effectively encouraging readers to resign themselves to the inevitable. One wishes that the many pertinent observations in this timely, interesting collection had focused more specifically upon the central question of purpose.

--Philip J. Snyder Kent State University

Christian Theology in Fantasy

Martha C. Sammons. "A Better Country": The Worlds of Religious Fantasy and Science Fiction. ["Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy," No. 32.] Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988. 168pp. $35.00

One cannot read Martha Sammons' book without perceiving the depth and thoroughness of her research on the subject of Christian fantasy. There is, indeed, very little that she has missed, either in the literature itself or in the criticism. (The one big exception is Charles Williams, whose novels are not even mentioned.) Here one can find useful information about critical questions (the Lewis-Tolkien debate concerning artistic creativity in the development of secondary worlds, for instance) and about works of Christian fantasy themselves (many difficult to obtain or by authors not well known). She deals with works by more than 40 authors, concentrating on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, and Madeline L'Engle. The bibliography and index are useful. So her work is a veritable "wordhord" of information and thus a real contribution to the study of fantasy.

Yet there are problems. She says her aim is "to explore why fantasy is used to convey theological principles, and the forms and methods used to achieve various effects" (p. 4). This implies that she is writing a critical work rather than putting together a body of information for reference. Furthermore, it promises an explanation of purpose and of the implication of particular forms and methods. The book ends with a sentence which seems to fulfill that promise: "This similarity between fantasy and the Gospels, perhaps more than any other, gives this genre its legitimacy and true purpose" (p. 151). Perhaps the theses ought to contain the word "Christian" somewhere. I think I could be persuaded to accept the final conclusion about Christian fantasy, but what goes on between theses and conclusion does not persuade me; in fact, the evidence presented does not seem to be very coherent, to lead toward, or to support the conclusion.

The key questions may well be the place of didacticism in literature and how primarily didactic works are to be evaluated. A number of the sources she quotes (and one might mention in passing that she quotes so widely and extensively, especially from C.S. Lewis, that one begins to doubt how well she has assimilated her material) imply that religious fantasy is essentially didactic. Yet the book never comes directly to this conclusion and it skirts the collateral questions: Who does this literature teach? How does it teach? Does didacticism sometimes or often undercut literary effectiveness? Sammons does not ignore these questions, but she does not grapple with them directly and certainly does not present her evidence so as to clearly support or confirm such assertions as she makes about them.

Presentation of evidence may well be the book's most serious deficiency. Consider one example. She says "The writer must also get the characters in and out of the secondary world effectively and credibly" (p. 64). This uncontroversial assertion is followed by three fairly extended examples. However, none of the examples is analyzed so as to demonstrate how it is effective or credible. This reader wants to know the basis for judging whether an event is effective or credible.

Given the body of data Sammons has collected, this book is disappointing. The individual parts offer fascinating possibilities which never come to fruition.

--Robert Reilly Rider College

Madness in their Method

Donald E. Morse, ed. The Fantastic in World Literature and the Arts. ["Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy," No. 28.] Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987. 272pp. Donald Palumbo, ed. Spectrum of the Fantastic. ["Contributions...," &c. No. 31.] Same publisher, 1988. 286pp. $45.00 each

Among the more characteristic products of the now extensive "Contributions" series from Greenwood are the Selected Essays from the annual Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, of which Donald Morse and Donald Palumbo have now edited the fifth and sixth volumes respectively. It is no accident that we are seeing these volumes of proceedings so regularly since the president of the organization sponsoring the conference is also the editor of the Greenwood series. It is also high time, I think, for a hard-headed assessment of exactly what value these contributions have beyond their obvious one of helping to sustain the conference. Anyone with a commitment to the systematic study of SF, however, is apt to recoil from such an assessment once it is clear how wide-ranging, even naive, these volumes, which are characteristic of the conference, really are. Perhaps Morse gives us the best preview in the introduction to his volume when he observes with no qualification that SF is only a "stepchild" of fantasy. At the very least, I must say that the books here are problematic in their intentions and scope so that any reviewer would be remiss just to catalogue the contents and to make a blanket recommendation for libraries. This overall enterprise with regard to the "fantastic" needs commenting on, and I trust I will not be the only reviewer to do so.

First of all, even a cursory look at the contents of these volumes or at the ubiquitous promotional material for the annual conference will indicate that all of literature and art seem to fall under the purview of the fantastic here--from Dante to Asimov and from Canadian film to the surrealist Max Ernst to Wuthering Heights. In the Morse volume, for example, the reader is asked to consider significant amounts of Latin American fiction along with Tolkien, Vinge, and Gene Wolfe as well as to appreciate methodologies ranging from linguistics to a kind of mock film criticism. The Palumbo volume has even less focus. There we find Emily Brontë, two Dante essays, and some drama criticism ranging from Ionesco to a piece titled "Two Sides of Paradise: The Eden Myth According to Kirk and Spock." Further, none of the essays is developed to an adequate length. Most seem still like conference papers. There are 16 contributions to the Morse volume and 23 to the Palumbo, not counting prefaces and introductions by the editors. The impression I get from such profuseness is that everyone involved (many of the contributors are graduate students) genuinely thinks that new ground is being broken.

But this open-faced enthusiasm and eclecticism seems to me the essence of the conservative. These people keep everything and, furthermore, suggest to me that they are trying to hold onto the impossible ideal of the Renaissance Man that most of us have wistfully missed since the 18th century when the term was coined. Theory about "wholeness of being" from phenomenology and from Eastern religion, as it is evoked in particular in the essays by Peter Malekin in each collection, also saturates both of these volumes so that, if one were to absorb it all, the spiritual effect of the fantastic would surely be fantastic. But like an armchair Lt. Henry somehow infected with Hemingway's skepticism, I found myself continually writing in the margins, "Wouldn't it be lovely." Ironically, the editors of these volumes and the organizers of the conference think they are at the forefront of a movement to stake out new academic enterprises. But since nothing from the past is outside of their consideration, I hardly think that their methodology is radical at all; by trying to be all things to all people, the fantastic becomes, indeed, rootless.

Here my bias toward "scientific" methodology comes into play so that what strikes me most about these two volumes is their treatment of method. By suggesting that we revise our studies (those of us who work with SF and fantasy) into such global eclecticism, the fantasists would destroy the discoveries of the last couple of centuries about the value of skepticism and the practicality of partial knowledge. Indeed, they would urge us all to be Renaissance Men. But the SF enterprise of careful, skeptical category-making needs to be protected not only because it is one fraternity of scholars' as opposed to another's but also because we have learned the practical value of careful and limited categories. The most appropriate example of this practicality, or the absence of it, that I can use at this time comes from the organization of these volumes themselves. In fact, the editors (or perhaps Greenwood Press) continually stumble over their own poor categories. Palumbo's book contains a section of three essays labeled "Comparative Studies," but clearly outside of that section are several essays that deal with comparative literature. The lead essay in the volume, in fact, compares Dante and Chaucer but appears in a section labeled "Poetry." This problem is everywhere, contagious, throughout both collections of essays. Everyone wants to talk about everything all at once.

Obviously, I seem to be lapsing into Enlightenment scorn over the enthusiasm of these "diseases of the imagination"; and I could continue to evoke authorities, from 18th-century science on down to our own day, in order to suggest a sane and moderate sense of skepticism for these confrères of the fantastic. But instead I will conclude with a caution about the "madness" inherent in fanatics who sacrifice the sense of clear categories in favor of transports to "wholeness" that comes from Bram Stoker (who, of course, is mentioned in these volumes). The following passage, however, is not quoted in Sharon Russell's essay on the Vampire Film. I came across it while rereading Dracula in the fine new illustrated edition from Unicorn Press and thought of the intention of these "wholistic" volumes to be more omnipotent than is possible. Stoker's Dr. Seward is writing about Renfield, and I can only hope that a future conference on the fantastic will consider his dilemma: " his sublime self-feeling the difference between myself and attendant seemed to him as nothing....These infinitesimal distinctions between man and man are too paltry for an Omnipotent Being."

--Donald M. Hassler Kent State University

Not What You're Looking For

H.W. Hall, ed. Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index, 1878-1985. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1987. 2 vols. 1460pp. $175.00

Hal Hall, in his Preface to the first of these two folio-size tomes, tells us that they record "[m]ore than 19,000 individual books, articles, essays, news reports, and audiovisual items...indexed by over 42,000 author and subject citations," all of them bearing on SF and/or "fantasy and horror/supernatural/weird fiction" (p. ix). The last figure does not quite tally with Gale's information sheet, which breaks down the entries (as the Preface does not) into 16,000 by author and 27,000 by subject. Whatever the exact number, it seems impressive, however much it may owe to Hall's listing of virtually every "news report" (or so it appears) from Locus and Science Fiction Chronicle. The ostensible selling points of this bibliography, then--$175 worth in US funds--are these: it gives the impression of being the only source that one need consult to find out what has been written on a given subject; and it anatomizes the secondary literature far more extensively than any of its competitors.

Neither of those seeming advantages accounts for the nearly 600 pages comprising the volume headed Author Entries. Nor does Hall otherwise explain why he chose this mode of proceeding rather than following the MLA's example of providing an index by author to numbered citations by subject. (Hall, by the way, has no such system of numbers.) To be sure, he did in principle have a rationale available to him: the third of his project given over to listings by "author" (viz., critic) would have been justifiable as a dictate of consistency if he had recorded with some degree of completeness the contributions of those who are also writers of SF&F. That, however, is far from being the case: to take what I hope is the most egregious instance, H.G. Wells is credited with only three pieces (out of a possible 25, at the minimum), and these three do not even include his "Preface to The Scientific Romances...."

No bibliographer, of course, can credibly claim to have overlooked nothing. But given the would-be virtues of Hall which I have mentioned, the number of items that he leaves out constitutes a significant deficiency, and one which is all the greater by reason of his not clearly spelling out what he has omitted or why. So far as I can see, his express acknowledgments about the limits and limitations of his bibliography are two. He says that he has "not fully analyzed" the contents of the bibliographies published by G.K. Hall (p. x); and he admits that coverage of foreign-language criticism is rather cursory. What he means by the former qualification my reader can guess from my subsequent remarks. In the area of foreign-language material, he has relied on David Samuelson for information about work up to 1981 and on Luk de Vos thereafter. Of the two, Samuelson appears to have been the more thorough, but that is relatively speaking. The subject entry for Jules Verne, for instance, lists 98 items by my count; and of the 22 of these in foreign languages, only one is post-1981 (and it is an Italian translation from English). In other words, if the Verne is a fair sample, Hall's volumes ignore just about 95% of the pertinent criticism ("2600 articles" on Verne had been published as of 1982, according to William Butcher: see his "Handle with Care" in SFS No. 44).

In the area of English-language criticism, the omissions--it perhaps goes without saying--are not nearly as quantitatively formidable. They are, however, many of them unexpected and unaccountable. To start with my own entry (as the one on which I can pronounce with some authority), Hall understandably overlooks an essay on A Tale of a Tub as SF (and all the more understandably since it appeared in English Studies in Canada [1984]); but he also leaves out an article on Wells in Texas Studies in Literature (1978), my prefatory essay to the first edition (1976) of Anatomy of Wonder (which also does not figure among the entries for the subject "Definitions"), and H.G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction (1975). And while he does make a practice of noting reprints, often giving them a separate entry (in line with what I consider to be the extravagance of his entire first volume), he does not inform his readers that my SFS article on Borges can also be found in H.G. Wells and Modern Science Fiction (1977) or that a new edition of Into the Unknown was issued by the University of California Press in 1983.

The fact that, by my unsystematic examination, my case is far from being unique will probably not trouble most would-be users of the Author Entries volume, who may have even less occasion to consult it than I would (in my editorial capacity, I mean). The problem is that the oversights apply as well to Subject Entries. Under "Nuclear War" (and also under "Atomic Bomb"), for instance, someone relying on Hall will not find Bruce Franklin's Countdown to Midnight (1984) or Paul Brians' "Nuclear War and Science Fiction, 1945-59" (also 1984); the subject entry for Karel Čapek does not mention, inter alia, the important study by William E. Harkins, even though that book is called Karel Čapek (1962); and the subject entry for C.S. Lewis omits an essay collection bearing his name as its subtitle (edited by Peter J. Schakel, 1977). What I found even more disturbing, however, were omissions of items listed in the Tymn-Schlobin bibliographies of SF&F criticism. Checking a portion of "The Year's Scholarship in Science Fiction and Fantasy: 1977" (Extrapolation, 20 [1979]:238ff.), I discovered that about ten per cent of its entries are missing from the Hall volumes, something which is all the more surprising in view of the 11-line paragraph in Hall's Preface which concludes with his assertion that "this volume [sic] much more comprehensive than the combined Year's Scholarship bibliographies" (p. ix).

Compared with its lack of comprehensiveness, certain other aspects of the Subject Entries volume appear as annoyances rather than as serious handicaps. Nevertheless, anyone who has not yet seen this Hall bibliography should know that the "27,000" subject citations (a figure, by the way, which I for one am unwilling to verify) do not accommodate any individual titles as such. And not only is there no independent entry, say, for The Dispossessed; it is also the case that all writings about Le Guin (for example) appear in one or another of no fewer than three alphabetical listings by title: books; articles whose title begins with a book-title (usually, but not necessarily, of a book by the subject-author); and other articles. Moreover (and as might be anticipated from the absence of any numbering system), there are no cross-references.

I am sure that I am not alone in devoutly wishing for the kind of bibliography of secondary literature that Hall promises in his Preface and is certainly capable of producing: one that would bring together and add to our previous information, which it would thus make readily accessible in one place. It therefore pains me to say that this Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Index is not it.


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