Science Fiction Studies

#48 = Volume 16, Part 2 = July 1989


Renewing the Utopian Debate

Hoda M. Zaki. Phoenix Renewed: The Survival and Mutation of Utopian Thought in North American Science Fiction, 1965-1982. ["Starmont Studies in Literary Criticism," No. 22.] Mercer Island, WA: Starmont Press, 1988. vii + 151pp. $17.95 (cloth), $9.95 (paper)

Utopian expression has radically changed in the second half of this century, and in this post-modern period it consequently requires fresh theoretical and analytical approaches in order for it to be properly understood and valued. Hoda Zaki's study of utopian thought in North American SF--specifically in the Nebula Award winners from 1965-82--is a stimulating contribution to this effort. As a political scientist, Zaki seeks to demonstrate to her colleagues that utopian thought survives in modern SF, albeit in a mutated, apolitical fashion which results from what she regards as the ineffective oppositional politics of the 1960s. She describes her study as an introduction to a body of literature which may not be familiar to political scientists but which provides a "link... [with the] 'live' controversies in modern political discourse" (p. 66). In her conclusion, she calls on others in her field to "assess science fiction and any other similar cultural form and tradition" that so effectively addresses "issues of concern to the entire body politic" (p. 118). She regards this work as a way of stretching the boundaries of political philosophy.

In her first chapter, Zaki surveys--all too briefly--the critical responses to utopian thought in Western civilization. Her treatments of Marx and Engels' critique of utopian socialism and of Karl Mannheim's opposition of utopia and ideology are clear and useful. Indeed, after reading her discussion of Marx and Engels, I was struck by the similarities between their views and post-structuralist criticism of utopian discourse, particularly in their argument that utopian thought loses its political effectiveness because it "arbitrarily urged a perfect social order derived from an a priori model" (p. 3). Her discussion of Mannheim is also good; but it does not move on to Fredric Jameson's The Political Unconscious, which transcends Mannheim's binary opposition by relating utopia and ideology in a more complex and dialectical manner, leading Jameson to conclude that "the effectively ideological is also, at the same time, necessarily Utopian" (p. 286). This gap weakens her overall argument for it means that she ignores more recent work on the complexity of power--from Gramsci, Althusser, and Jameson to Foucault and feminist theory--and therefore traps herself in a simplified notion of domination which does not account for the actuality of opposition in late capitalist society.

Following a brief discussion of Darko Suvin's theory of estrangement, Zaki presents her four "attributes" of modern utopian thought: the critique of the author's society, the speculation about an ideal social order, the anticipation of the future, and the attempt to construct a better society. After explaining the four, she notes that in this century "utopian speculation seems strained and even inappropriate for modern political science" (p. 13). As other critics have also done, she then locates the utopian impulse in post-war North American SF. Zaki introduces SF into consideration in her second chapter, judging it in terms of her four categories; and in her third, she traces these attributes in the Nebula Award winners. Through her readings (which perhaps could benefit from more analysis and less plot summary), she demonstrates that while the first three utopian attributes survive in these SF texts, the fourth category--the presentation of a better society--appears in only two instances: in Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. She thereupon asserts that the utopian impulse in North American SF is significantly weakened by its failure to posit better societies.

Zaki's discussion of the Nebula winners is useful, but it includes certain methodological problems that hamper her larger argument. For one thing, she does not sufficiently situate SF in its larger historical context; nor does she present the genre in its full intertextual richness. Instead, she falls into the trap of judging SF by the traditional academic standards that have been applied to mainstream literature: she makes a distinction between quality "substantial" texts (in this case, the Nebula winners picked by the Science Fiction Writers Association) and the remainder, which are tainted by their links to the "lurid beginnings" of SF in the pulp magazines. This false aesthetic split leads to a second problem: that in focusing on the Nebula winners as her symptomatic sample, Zaki neglects other important texts--e.g., Hugo winners, awarded by SF fans; more formally and/or politically contentious SF texts (such as Russ's Female Man or Delany's Triton) which were not immediately acclaimed; or texts which appear on the borderline between SF and mainstream literature, such as Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time or Callenbach's Ecotopia. Given her limited sample--one that tends to fall into the less politically controversial middle of SF--her doubts about the continuation of politically-engaged utopian thought in SF must be questioned. Finally, another problem arises because Zaki concerns herself with the content of SF in order to determine the presence and type of the utopian material; consequently, she does not address the question of how the textual form re-negotiates the utopian impulse in a dialectically new way--as Samuel Delany and others have demonstrated. If she had taken this into consideration, her analyses of the Nebula winners would have been more effective.

Zaki's fourth chapter, on the two works by Le Guin already mentioned, is more rewarding. Like her insightful account of Frank Herbert's Dune in terms of its appropriation and exploitation of Arabic culture--a move which aptly critiques the novel in a way that parallels Edward Said's approach in Orientalism--Zaki's readings of Le Guin are effective in their analysis of the author's political philosophy and the contradictions therein. While she acknowledges that Le Guin stands alone among the Nebula winners in meeting all four of Zaki's utopian requirements, she also argues that the novels are a mutation of the utopian thought and thus fail to preserve the political edge of that tradition. Zaki charges Le Guin with collapsing the political into the personal and thereby settling for a literal sensibility that rewards exceptional individual effort over the processes of power politics or class struggle. I am sympathetic with the intent of her critique, but I think her analysis, though in itself informative, does not fully take into account the counter-tendency of Le Guin's anarchist, Taoist, and ecological vision; nor does it consider the texts as contributions to the political debate ongoing at the time they were written. Even though in my own work I have described The Dispossessed as less radical than the critical utopias of Russ, Delany, or Piercy, I still find Le Guin's novels to be politically engaged. Their politics may be other than mine, but they are serious oppositional texts and cannot be reduced to the status of apolitical expressions.

In her conclusion, Zaki praises utopian thought as the "custodian of hope" and then expresses her surprise at its disappearance in this century. In her explanation of this unfortunate occurrence, she identifies the "hegemony of the bourgeoisie" and "its success in elimination all significant opposition to its rule" as the underlying reason (p. 116). She observes that with the consequent "absence of emerging classes," the "objective basis for an insurgent literature" is non-existent; and she then notes that the "paucity and poverty of the political visions enunciated in SF is indicative of the caliber and nature" of the oppositional forces of the 1960s--i.e., their ineffective politics failed to provide the ground for a new utopian literature. This is provocative material, challenging to those of us who see the politics and literature of the late '60s in a more positive light. However, Zaki does not explain fully enough this failure and its relationship to the texts under consideration, and as a result, we are left with assertions rather than with detailed arguments.

Traditional utopian literature and even its dystopian counterpart no longer occupy the privileged place that they once held in the social imagination, and this makes coming to terms with the newer manifestations of the utopian impulse a difficult task. Apparently exacerbating the difficulty are certain post-structuralist attacks on utopian writing as a discursive artifact that is too closely implicated in, or at least coopted by, the structures of power of Western humanism. Yet, the persistence of the utopian impulse since the end of World War II--e.g., in "first world" SF, in "third world" fantasy, and in non-fictional discourses of the religious or political spheres-- demands that we find ways to transcend post-structural pessimism (or cynicism) and appreciate the power of the stubborn human effort to better our world. To be sure, post-structuralist critiques, as well as more traditional political critiques such as Zaki's, have taught us that we must suspect utopian discourse and question its tendencies toward systematic closure and the privileging of the values of hegemonic Western, white, male society. This means that we can no longer "read" utopian expression as positively as we once did. But we also cannot deny the role of the utopian impulse in articulating and motivating serious political opposition throughout the history of Western societies, nor can we ignore the continuation of that force in the present. The goal is to continue utopian scholarship in a way that incorporates the post-modern sensibility while retaining the progressive aspects of modernity, including its important utopian discourse. In our analysis, that is in part to say, we must be careful to do justice to the complexities of its history and its present manifestations.

While I am to some extent critical of Zaki's book in that regard, I still find it otherwise commendable. Her intention of presenting this material to her colleagues in political science is another important step in breaking down traditional disciplinary boundaries and in expanding the larger project of utopian studies. And though I think that her political analyses are somewhat wanting in their theoretical basis, they do serve for re-examining the more optimistic readings of utopian texts of the 1960s. In particular, I strongly recommend her creative readings of Herbert and Le Guin, which certainly add to our detailed understanding of the two writers.

--Tom Moylan  University of Wisconsin, Waukesha

Hit-and-Miss History

John J. Pierce. Foundations of Science Fiction: A Study in Imagination and Evolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1987. xv + 290pp. $35.00

This is the first installment of a projected three-volume narrative history of SF, organized on thematic rather than strictly chronological lines. Pierce, a journalist and commercial editor, views the development of SF as an evolutionary process, like the growth of a tree. In Foundations of Science Fiction, he maps out the whole of its history and prehistory, from its roots in Plato and Lucian to the latest offshoots of each of the principal "branches" of the genre: created worlds, created universes, utopias, anti-utopias, sociological SF, and future histories. Subsequent volumes, entitled Great Themes of Science Fiction and When World Views Collide, are apparently intended to fill in the detail which is already sketched out here.

In his preface, Pierce admits that he is by no means the first in the field. He has, he implies, steered a middle course, between Suvin's Metamorphoses (too academic) and Kyle's Pictorial History (too relentlessly populist). His history aims to be international (unlike Lester del Rey's), while avoiding what he sees as the eccentricity of Aldiss's Billion Year Spree, "with its assumption that gothic sf is the only real sf" (p. xiv). Apart from his commitment to viewing SF as an organic whole, his own guiding principles are not particularly explicit. "What is this thing called science fiction?" (p. 3), he asks in his opening sentence, but the promised definition is held in suspension. It is only in chapter 3, which celebrates Jules Verne as the first writer to capture the spirit of scientific discovery by romanticizing the future, that Pierce's standpoint becomes clear. "Verne's name still means science fiction to millions" (p. 33), he asserts. The genre which began with the Voyages Extraordinaires was, he suggests, fully established by the time of Wells's The First Men in the Moon in 1901. The second half of his book presents modern popular SF, from Asimov and Heinlein to the two Smiths, as the lineal descendant of Verne and Wells. SF, in other words, is portrayed as a seamless continuation of the 19th- century "scientific romance" (a term which Pierce barely mentions). The result is a text-based history, paying little or no attention to the role of the pulp magazines, fandom, and paperback publishing in the genre's evolution. John W. Campbell appears mainly as a writer of post-Wellsian space operas, while Hugo Gernsback is no longer the "father of science fiction" (a title that is passed back to Verne), but rather the author of the quaintly Victorian "Ralph 124C 41+."

So far so good: Pierce, on the whole, offers a reasonably reliable and impeccably mainstream view of SF history. The level of readership at which he seems to be aiming may be judged from the 3 pages tracing the pre-scientific stages of Western literature and culture from Plato to Bunyan, and the still breezier 2 pages on modern literature from Ibsen to Endgame (the message of Joyce's Ulysses, Pierce tells us, is that "existence may be absurd, but art is still meaningful" [p. 69]). What I find disconcerting are the attempts of the publishers and of Frederik Pohl (who provides a foreword) to pass off Foundations of Science Fiction as a major and definitive scholarly work rather than as the decent piece of popularization which it so evidently is. It appears in the "Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy" series edited by Marshall Tymn. It comes adorned with 50 pages of notes and bibliography, and is priced accordingly. Pohl's foreword claims that Pierce "has done a great thing for scholarship in the field" and that his wide reading and acute critical judgment "ha[ve] saved any number of graduate-degree candidates the necessity of plowing through irrelevant works for their dissertations" (pp. x-xi). Perhaps Pohl's knowledge of current SF scholarship is as patchy as--to judge by his secondary bibliography--Pierce's seems to be? Published with no illustrations or dustjacket, and in a distinctly sober format, Foundations looks like a book which its publishers have directed at the wrong audience.

On the major writers, Pierce is usually well-informed, and often trenchant. He is good with those he admires, such as Verne and Wells, and where he feels a reputation has to be dislodged--such as that of Poe as an SF writer--he sets about it with vigor. It is with the minor writers, who take up the greater proportion of the volume, that one becomes aware of Pierce's hit-and-miss propensities. He relies quite heavily on secondary sources--notably Pierre Versins for French SF--and if I read his acknowledgments correctly, he has employed research assistants to help with untranslated German and Russian works. (He is much more genuinely cosmopolitan, as it happens, when dealing with 19th-century than with recent SF). Undoubtedly he overpraises some authors; others get scant, or no, justice done to them. It is hard to see why, to take some diverse examples, J.G. Ballard, Alfred Bester, Thomas M. Disch, Camille Flammarion, Harry Harrison, Walter M. Miller, Joanna Russ, and John Wyndham do not rate a mention; countless other figures of comparable or lesser stature are included. Among 20th-century British writers, Olaf Stapledon is highly praised but the contributions of Brian Aldiss, Arthur C. Clarke, and M.P. Shiel are rendered almost invisible. Pierce devotes a page to three of Shiel's novels and to a simplistic analysis of the "world view" that they express, taking up from Sam Moskowitz the question of whether or not Shiel was anti-semitic. He shows no sign of having heard of Shiel's masterpiece, The Purple Cloud (1901). There is more to be learnt from the entry on Shiel in Peter Nicholls' Science Fiction Encyclopedia, not to mention Brian Stableford's subtle and challenging study of his oeuvre in Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950 (1985).

How far these omissions and vagaries of emphasis stem from Pierce's bias against what he calls "gothic sf" is difficult to say. The formula of this subgenre is simple, he explains: "the scientist must sin, he must suffer retribution" (p. 23). (Pierce, however, enthuses over space opera despite its reliance on a still simpler formula.) He then discusses the British New Wave as "the culmination of...[the gothic] school and a hybridization of gothic SF with the absurdist literature of alienation" (p. 24)--so much for Aldiss and Ballard!

It is true that his projected third volume, When World Views Collide, may be expected to return to the theme of orthodox scientific-materialist versus Gothic, neo-Christian, and New Wave SF; also that the second and third volumes may fill in the gaps of Foundations. Nevertheless, I have two misgivings about these prospective volumes. The first is that if, as with Volume One, they rely heavily on a succession of plot-summaries, the narrative interest (which is already flagging by the end of Foundations) may become increasingly hard to sustain. The second is that Pierce's overall view of SF seems, on the surface, to be a naively old-fashioned one. Not only does he write literary history on the evolutionary model, but he believes that SF ought to give romantic expression to the scientific future--SF writers have collaborated in offering their readers a "shared epic vision of the future" (p. 224). That was certainly the Vernean and Wellsian dream, but today's reality is rather different. Thomas M. Disch has recently described the genre as "a debating society, moral support system and cheerleading section for the present and future personnel of space-related industries and military services." Unless Pierce takes a long, hard look at that sort of assessment of modern American SF, he is likely to end up, not as the author of the fair-minded history to which I think he aspires, but of an elegy masquerading as advocacy.

--Patrick Parrinder University of Reading

Philip K. Dick is Dead

The most ineffectual way to argue Dick's to claim his books as high literature. Fredric Jameson

Douglas Mackey. Philip K. Dick. [Twayne's "United States Authors" Series.] Boston: Twayne, 1988. 157pp. $19.95

As a reader with a long-time interest in Dick's work, I bring to the task of reviewing a new book on my favorite author--in addition to all my other biases--a craving for some new insights and perhaps some explanations for my own fascination with his fiction. While Mackey's Philip K. Dick is a very good introduction, it does not satisfy those cravings. Written within the modest dimensions of the Twayne series, Mackey's book provides an overall survey of Dick's life and work. Although it is a relatively short book--130 pages of text (perhaps 60,000 words)--it includes an open-minded, balanced reading of 43 novels (including nine of the "mainstream" novels), as well as a bibliography of Dick's work, an annotated bibliography of most of the English-language criticism, and an index.1 After a brief introduction to Dick's life, his novels and stories are assessed chronologically.

The book consists of straightforward presentations, written for readers with little or no familiarity with Dick. Mackey's analysis--and particularly his reading of the 1970s' novels--is cast in the framework of a life, of an author struggling to communicate a message: "From 1970 through the end of Dick's life his writing veered away from science fiction, even the idiosyncratic vein he had been mining, and became simultaneously more autobiographical and metaphysical" (p. 108).

The reliance on Dick's own explanations for the meaning of his work reaches an extreme in a 1987 study of Dick, Mind in Motion (reviewed in SFS no. 45) by Patricia Warrick, who often cites letters or telephone conversations with Dick to bolster her points. I mention this because such reliance on or interest in an author's intentions has been the subject for much critical debate over the past few decades, and may be seen as a kind of litmus test of just what one understands literature and critical writing to be. More to the point, there has been some debate in SFS about Dick "scholarship" following Merritt Abrash's negative review of Kim Stanley Robinson's book on Dick novels,2 and I would like to set my comments about Mackey's introduction in that larger context. Without wanting to revive the arguments about Robinson's The Novels of Philip K. Dick (1984--in my opinion a good first book on Dick), I think the debate points to a gulf--part misunderstanding, part disagreement--between two very different kinds of critical attitudes which Dick's writing seems to generate perhaps more than that of any other SF author.

There are those for whom the work--particularly in the later years--is the expression of a conscious vision, one which has ethical and moral consequences and which even, for some readers, contains something akin to religious truth. The essential critical act here lies in discovering what Dick meant. On the other hand, there are others who may think that Dick's work was the expression of a vision, but that it is irrelevant whether it is a conscious one-- critics, furthermore, who evince little or no interest in the contents or truth of his writing (metaphysical or otherwise). Criticism in this latter sense lies in situating Dick's writing in some larger framework, one bounded by the themes and horizons of SF, on the one hand, and by the social reality of the US in the 1960s--so central to his earlier work and to his initial popularity --on the other.

According to my thoughts at the moment, the first grouping includes his biographers' (Gregg Rickman and Paul Williams) as well as Warrick and Mackey and all others who look to Dick's own words for the meaning of his work. (This category might be defined in terms of Abrash's statement that Dick was "a profound commentator on both the daily conduct and the existential quality of human life": p. 337).

There are other critics who are prepared to link the man and his work, but in ways which belie any reverence for the author's conscious intentions. This category includes those who, like Marcel Thaon, attempt to interpret the fiction in terms of Dick's unconscious drives and motives.3 It also includes those who more modestly argue that Dick was not aware of his own intentions and motives and those who find literary qualities and values in what they consider a confusing and contradictory oeuvre precisely insofar as it is the product (or reflection) of a troubled and confused individual writing at a confused and troubled time.

The July 1988 issue of SFS (comprising a number of the papers from the 1986 Morigny conference) presents some recent examples of this second approach, beginning with Eric Rabkin's shocking statement about the last years: "Frankly, I think he did go insane" (p. 170)--a statement which Rabkin defends in a fascinating discussion of the contradictions between the real "post-industrial world" of economics and politics and Dick's "irrational expectations," which finally "drove him mad" (p. 171).4

This is the opposite of attempts to see "Dick's life [as] a quest for meaning" and his writing as the expression of that quest: "In his writing Dick shared with us his private dreams and his nightmares about this new reality..." (Warrick: 202). Although I knew Dick, liked Dick, corresponded with him and visited him, I'm not sure how this helps my understanding of the work. Philip K. Dick is dead. His novels and stories are all we have, and I think that his literary qualities and his appeal lie in the novels, which, finally, speak for themselves.

I think that the understanding and appreciation of his work will come from setting his fiction in its literary and historical context. In the first instance, this means the SF context, the milieu of magazines and books in which Dick lived and wrote, one in which themes and ideas were exchanged and reworked--a kind of dialogue which can be seen very much today in the declared relationship of so many of the writers lumped under the "cyberpunk" label with the work of Dick; or, in a completely different context, in Emmanuel Jouanne's account of a new generation of French SF writers "working through" their relationship to Dick's work.

In this way, the final "metaphysical" novels are neither more nor less important in themselves than their predecessors, but they must be treated as fiction. Although SF has always included authors who dealt with religious, theological, and metaphysical themes, why does the appearance or increase in metaphysical themes in Dick's last novels imply for some critics the abandoning of SF? This is also to say--without ruling out the Gnostic dimension of Dick's last works--that at this point in Dick studies we do not need any more introductions or readings based on what Dick may have said about his work.

In opposition to attempts to explain the work in terms of the biography, John Huntington's "Philip K. Dick: Authenticity and Insincerity" is a fascinating and provocative example of the other kind of criticism I am describing. Rather than seek for "sincerity"--viz., some message which Dick was anxious to transmit-- Huntington argues that the critic should acknowledge the possibilities of a textual "insincerity." The contradictions and puzzles of Dick's narratives may be the result not of some complex search for truth, but of the application of a "mechanical narrative rule," borrowed from van Vogt, as a "practical technique to make a story interesting" (p. 154). In other words, "Dick, like van Vogt, and like other popular SF writers such as Heinlein or Herbert, has learned how to give the impression of deep understanding simply by contradicting himself" (ibid., emphasis added). While this may be a heretical explanation of what others describe as his "creative method," the argument carries a punch equal to Raymond Roussel's posthumous explanations of his own writing habits in Comment j'ai écrit certains de mes livres.

Though I am not sure that I agree with Huntington, his article moves beyond the uncritical reverence for the man to raise the kind of issues I would like to see discussed in a study of Dick. In fact, most critics hardly deal with Dick's actual writing at all, seeing it as a "motivated" device for the transmission of the message: "Our study of Dick's writings has traced the journey of his restless mind, watching as it grasped an idea, created a metaphor for it in a fictional pattern of antinomies, discarded it for another idea..." (Warrick: 196).

If the first mark of "scholarship" lies in the "use...of other scholarship" (Abrash: 338), then Mackey's book is a modest success.5 Yet he does not really bring any "new" readings to our understanding of Dick. The difference between his study and the latest SFS issue on Dick is that the former is literally an introduction. It may be, as Rickman writes in the August 18, 1988 Philip K. Dick Society Newsletter (p. 16), that Mackey's is the book which should be read first, but it is not the book which should be read last.


1 While there may be an argument for ignoring the growing body of French and German criticism of Dick's work, Mackey also misses, for instance, Michael Tolley's "Beyond the Enigma: Dick's Questors" (in M. Tolley & Kirpal Sing, eds. The Stellar Gaze: Essays on Science Fiction, Nostrilia Press, 1980), and Pascal Thomas's "French Science Fiction and the Legacy of Philip K. Dick" (Foundation no. 35), as well as Fredric Jameson's obituary in In These Times (May 5-11, 1982), p. 17, from which my epigraph is taken.

2 The original review by Merritt Abrash, under the title "A Failure of Scholarship" was printed in SFS no. 37. Kim Stanley Robinson replied in SFS no. 41, followed by a further attack on Abrash by George Slusser and an answer by Abrash (both in SFS no. 42).

3 Thaon's "Philip K. Dick: Le roman familial psychotique" occupies pp. 190-220 of the volume reviewed by Marc Angenot earlier in this issue of SFS.--RMP

4 The articles by Rabkin, Huntington, and Jouanne cited in this review are all to be found in SFS no. 45 (July 1988).

5 While the absence of any critical references in Warrick may be a plus for some readers of Dick who are not really interested in what they perceive as the hair-splitting and obfuscating discourses of contemporary academic criticism, her Mind in Motion would fail using the Abrash standards.

--Peter Fitting University of Toronto

Question of Genre

Albert Howard Carter. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy. ["Studies in Speculative Fiction," no. 13.] Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1987. 182pp. $39.95

Albert Howard Carter purposes to offer a synthetic overview of the creative work of Italo Calvino. Meeting with the polymorphic character of Calvino's writings, which go from realism to fable, from the socially committed to the pure speculative, Carter has chosen fantasy as his heuristic focus. He uses the term to designate the non-realistic realm of speculation, imagination, and hypothesis, viewed in each textual instance in combination with other literary aspects of his author: neorealistic in the early stories, grotesque and historical in the case of the trilogy "Our Forefathers," and abstract, scientific, or mythical in other works. This enables Carter to analyze systematically the evolution of Calvino's literary skill, so as to reveal not only the experimenter, craftsman, and ethically-motivated writer that Calvino was, but also the fine reader he has found in Carter. The latter quality is imperative for a critic who has Calvino as object, since for him the reader's participation is essential if the literary creation is to come to life.

Carter's book reminded me of my own past pleasures journeying through Calvino's fictive worlds. Meanwhile, Carter's textual analysis prompted some terminological-generic considerations on my part.

The first concerns Carter's attempt to defend Cosmicomics against the banalizing of SF suggested by the depreciatory phrase "the subgenre of science-fiction." He in effect concedes to the devaluation, but argues that SF is a subgenre which we should not "force" Calvino's tales to enter (p. 75). But in an article of mine elsewhere in these SFS pages, I hope to have proved that those "cosmicomical" narratives, by reason of their pluritemporal, estranged, and cognitive dimensions, must be recognized as belonging not only to SF, but to the highest reaches of the genre. Which would make Carter's defense superfluous.

Secondly, I would take exception to Carter's confounding of the terms "fantasy" and "fantastic." In his introduction, he defines the former as covering the realms of the fantastic and the marvelous, in defiance (as it were) of Tzvetan Todorov's Introduction à la littérature fantastique (Paris, 1970; translated as The Fantastic [Cleveland, 1973]). For Todorov, the fantastic lingers at the boundaries of the realms of the marvelous and the strange, so that the reader and/or a character doubt(s) the reality of what is perceived/represented. The strange comprises phenomena that can be explained by laws of nature; the marvelous requires belief in new (and extra-scientific) laws. Todorov's distinctions, however, and especially the indepen- dent prominence he gives to the supernatural, apply primarily to 19th-century literature. For the 20th century, a more appropriate definition of the fantastic has to take into account the problematic coexistence of reality and "irreality"--as spelled out by Elsa Dehennin, for example, in her "De lo fantástico y su estrategia narrativa" (Ibero-Romania, 19 [1984]:53ff.). Dehennin in turn refers to and relies on an article by A.M. Barrenechea, "Ensayo de una tipologiá de la literatura fantástica" (Revista Iberoamericana, 90 [1972]:391ff.), who sees the fantastic as "subverting the rational order and having a problematic meaning" (my translation).

Putting together the ideas of Todorov, Dehennin, and Barrenechea, I would define the fantastic as being essentially characterized by the "coexistence of elements of reality and irreality, a belief in which (unlike in the case of the marvelous) is problematic." In contrast to the strange, where a logical, psychological, or symbolic solution is possible, the fantastic poses problems as not having a solution. With the great J.L. Borges, we could say that the fantastic implies an "impossible" (cf. F. Sorrentino's Siete conversaciones con J.L. Borges [Buenos Aires, 1973], p. 122).

By this definition, many of those works of Calvino's which Carter calls fantastic do not really qualify as such. If, for example, we determine that the "clovenness" of the Viscount in The Cloven Viscount is fantasy (as Carter contends, p. 26), there is then nothing problematic about the reader's accepting the situation featured in the book, which accordingly should not be labeled as fantastic. Something similar can be said of the alleged "fantastic nature of" The Baron in the Trees (p. 45). Its "irrealistic" elements, too--most notably, the horses living in trees--are unproblematic in the same way that the givens in Cosmicomics generally are: they are clearly intended for purposes of comic distancing, for estrangement effects, so that the question of their believability is not a valid issue.

I do not mean by these strictures to detract from the merits of Carter's book. His central focus, on the metamorphoses of fantasy in Calvino, allows him to display quite well that author's literary skill. Yet, in a critical study of this high quality, the confusion of "fantasy" and "fantastic" only underscores the need for further work on the definition of genre.

--Francis Cromphout Ghent, Belgium

Bellamy Bibliographied

Peggy Ann Brown. "Edward Bellamy: An Introductory Bibliography," American Studies International, 26.2 (1988):37-50.

Nancy Snell Griffith. Edward Bellamy: A Bibliography. [Scarecrow Author Bibliographies, no. 78] Metuchen, NJ: 1986. 185pp. $27.50.

Richard Toby Widdicombe. Edward Bellamy: An Annotated Bibliography of Secondary Criticism. NY: Garland, 1988. 587pp. $75.00

Does the world really need three new Bellamy bibliographies? Even if it did, wouldn't such a publishing event constitute a flagrant act of unnecessary duplication?

I realize that the world wouldn't go to ruin without new Bellamy bibliographies, but there was a definite need. True, during the 1970s and early 1980s, selected listings appended to books and introductions and my survey of dissertations (in American Literary Realism [ALR] 8.3 [1975]:191-98) appeared. Nevertheless, there really hadn't been any serious attempts at Bellamy bibliography since Silvia Bowman's unannotated lists in The Year 2000 (1958) and Edward Bellamy Abroad (1962) and her supplementary, annotated survey (ALR, 1.1 [1967]:7-12).

There is duplication. Richard Toby Widdicombe's annotated bibliography supersedes much of the other two works. It contains almost four times the number of entries in Nancy Snell Griffith's annotated secondary listings and ten times the number in Peggy Ann Brown's unannotated list. But these statistics do not render Griffith's and Brown's works instantaneously obsolete. Fortunately, each scholar contributes in a distinct and useful way: Brown offers a very good and up-to-date introduction; Griffith advances our knowledge of primary sources; and Widdicombe compiles a thoroughly comprehensive and exceptionally accessible secondary reference.

American Studies International has become a major source of bibliographic essays for students of American culture and literature. Brown's essay and selected primary and secondary listings provide concise overviews of Bellamy's social reform ideas, his early works, editions of Looking Backward (including important introductions), general, political, and literary responses, and biographical and critical studies. Even Bellamy experts will benefit from her critical assessments of the scholarship (Griffith's and Widdicombe's annotations are usually descriptive, not evaluative) and from her provocative comments about the little-known illustrated 1941 and 1945 editions of Looking Backward. My only quibbles are that Brown depends too much on one source (Rooney's Dreams and Visions [1985]) for her comments about contemporary (utopian) literary responses to Looking Backward, and she omits mention of Howard Segal's Technological Utopianism in American Culture (1985).

Elsewhere I have commented at some length on Griffith's bibliography (ALR, 21.1 [1988]:95-96). She divides her listings into two parts: works by Bellamy (fiction, non-fiction) and works about Bellamy. Part two is subdivided into "Life and Work," discussions of specific books by Bellamy, "Bellamy's Imitators," Nationalism, bibliographies, dissertations, meetings and conferences, and miscellaneous. (The last two sections are too skimpy to be of much use.) The entries on Bellamy's book-length fictions are annotated; the lists of various types of non-fiction writings are preceded by concise introductions; and the secondary lists (except for meetings and conferences) are annotated. The section on bibliographies is useful, especially since neither Brown nor Widdicombe includes separate bibliographic lists. I do wish, however, that Griffith had taken into account the bibliographies appended to books about Bellamy (e.g., Bowman's lists).

Griffith's most significant contributions are her bibliographies of primary sources, especially in her "Journalist" and "Nationalist" sections. The former clearly demonstrates how much Bellamy had thought about social issues before he wrote Looking Backward; the latter provides a thorough basis for studying relationships between literature and social movements. Some formulaic annotations, several omissions of bibliographic information (e.g., no place of publication for item no. 5q, an edition of Looking Backward), and a few lapses of accuracy (e.g., in no. 647 and no. 1055, the omission of "Jr." makes the Parrington son appear to be the father) occasionally mar Griffith's otherwise commendable presentation of the Bellamy opus.

A scholarly author bibliography of secondary works should be comprehensive, accurate, accessible, and useful. Widdicombe's Edward Bellamy meets all these criteria. He certainly meets the numbers standard: 112 pages of indices covering 2310 entries (books, articles, theses/dissertations, chapters, introductions, reviews, sequels, citations, reprinted extracts, spurious/unlocated, addenda). But "comprehensive" is not simply a matter of numbers. It also reflects a combination of doggedness and imagination that compels the bibliographer to seek sources often overlooked. For instance, in the articles section, Widdicombe includes reviews of Bellamy studies that contain extended comment on Bellamy, and also contemporary speeches (no. 23), obituaries (no. 26), and published letters about Bellamy (no. 28). The contemporary sources in the articles section, conjoined with the lists of reviews, sequels (to Looking Backward), and extracts from newspapers and periodicals reprinted in reform journals like Nationalist, New Nation, and Liberty, offer the most complete picture of published contemporary response to Bellamy ever compiled. The citations section (1177 entries) demonstrates that valuable insights about Bellamy can be found in studies on landscape design (no. 484) and domestic management (no. 1413), as well as works about American literature and reform movements. The only important omission that bothered me was Arthur O. Lewis's Utopian Literature in the Pennsylvania State University Libraries: A Selected Bibliography (1984). (Brown and Griffith also overlooked this book.)

My careful spot-check of Widdicombe turned up very few errors. The only one of much concern was the incorrect publication date for Bowman's Year 2000 (1953 instead of 1958). Needless to say, I was impressed by Widdicombe's accuracy. Still, unless a comprehensive and accurate bibliography is accessible and useable, it is only a grand amassing of type marks and paper that may actually be an intimidating deterrent rather than an encouraging aid to future scholarship. Fortunately, this Edward Bellamy is accessible and useful in many ways. If scholars want to discover literary studies of Looking Backward, they can turn to the subject-index Looking Backward subcategories: form, as literature, rhetoric, utopian romance, etc. If they want to find all the articles on Bellamy that have appeared in SFS, they can consult the sources index, which is also extremely valuable for scholars tracking articles in late-19th century periodicals. The bibliographic entries in the citations section indicate the exact pages of comments on Bellamy; most sections begin with a clear statement of the criteria that guided Widdicombe's selection and format; and the annotations are typically full and concise. I have only two criticisms--or rather, cavils. Sectional running heads, similar to Griffith's, would have been very helpful. It would also have been desirable for Widdicombe to have made a few exceptions to his policy of providing only extremely brief annotations for commentaries taking the form of introductions or headnotes. I agree that most of these are not worthy of extended remark. As Brown observes, however, several of them constitute significant analyses of Bellamy (especially those by Schiffman, Fromm, Elliott, White, Wilson, Tichi, and Thomas) and should not be overlooked --something which Widdicombe's cursory treatment might prompt the neophyte, at least, to do.

No one interested in Bellamy or in 19th- and early-20th-century American culture should overlook Widdicombe's comprehensive, accurate, accessible, and useful bibliography. To do so would risk missing opportunities to be (re)acquainted with familiar viewpoints and to gain many new insights about Bellamy's writings, his era, and popular and scholarly responses to both.

--Kenneth M. Roemer University of Texas at Arlington

A New SF Bibliography from Québec

Norbert Spehner. Écrits sur la science-fiction: bibliographie analytique des études et essais sur la science-fiction publiés entre 1900 et 1987 (littérature/cinéma/ illustration). [Collection "Paralittératures."] Longueuil, Québec: Editions du Préamble, 1988. 535pp. $35.00

This volume is the second publication in a bibliographic series by the Québec SF critic and former editor of Solaris Norbert Spehner--the first being his Écrits sur le fantastique (1986). Let me say from the outset that, as much as I find this book a very useful addition to current SF scholarship, a great deal of what Mary Ellen Ross said in her review of Spehner's former bibliography (in SFS no. 42) applies to this one as well.

Écrits sur la science-fiction catalogues, according to its preface, some 4000 critical references on SF in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German. The book is divided into two main parts: general studies on SF in literature, cinema, and art, and those studies targeting specific SF authors. The first part (pp. 25-308) is subdivided into six sections: (1) special numbers of periodicals; (2) general reference works such as bibliographies and dictionaries; (3) articles and works dealing with SF history, themes, theory, and the publishing industry (classified in three parts: books, articles and prefaces, and unpublished dissertations and theses); (4) SF pedagogy and literature for youth; (5) SF in art; and (6) SF in cinema (classified into books, articles, and special numbers of periodicals). The second part (pp. 311-480) lists, initially, those studies which focus on selected groups of SF authors and then those studies devoted to individual SF writers and their works-- alphabetically by name, from the French Edmond About to the Polish Jerzy Zulawski. Almost all the critical works listed in this sizeable bibliography (as explained by Spehner in the Introduction) were written between 1900 and 1987, and a limited number of them are quite satisfyingly annotated.

On the positive side, this bibliography represents an impressive attempt to catalogue a vast array of multi-language SF criticism within a volume that is very "user-friendly." Although, as Spehner points out, it does not claim to be a totally exhaustive (and thus cannot be faulted--exclusively--on those grounds), Écrits sur...SF does succeed in citing an unparalleled number of studies on French SF: interesting articles that are sometimes difficult to locate, tucked away in lesser-known French fanzines. And, to my mind, this constitutes one of the greatest strengths of this publication--given the scarcity of other bibliographic listings on SF produced in France.

On the negative side, there are three fundamental areas of weakness in this new bibliography. The first is somewhat minor and simply annoying, but the second and third are of far greater concern and tend to undermine the book's authoritativeness and reliability.

First, the author's introduction is unnecessarily polemical and, at times, downright inflammatory. Before outlining the basic format of his book and offering a mode d'emploi for its use, Spehner launches into an extensive (and thickly sarcastic) diatribe against certain trends in contemporary "academic" SF criticism-- especially the work of certain SF theoreticians. Praising the simpler, more thematic SF criticism of the pre-structuralist era, Spehner demands: "Is SF a 'poetic of alterity,' a 'literature of cognitive estrangement,' or a 'rational novelistic speculation'? Who really cares except some university professors whose vocation and profession it is to seek out the impossible?" (p. 11). And he castigates certain "university" SF journals like SFS ("It's edited in Montréal but it seems to us to be completely colonized by the Americans" [p. 16]) and Extrapolation for "the almost systematic use of a jargon [at once] hermetic, pretentious, snobbish, and--let's say it--deathly boring...[for] entire pages of indigestible prose and terminology...a jargon of caste" (ibid.). Needless to say, such blatant outbursts of personal bias and critical intolerance--coupled with an overall tone of rampant anti-Americanism--appearing in the opening pages of a (supposedly objective) bibliographical study, does tend to raise in the reader's mind some disturbing questions about how the various entries therein may have been judged for inclusion.

The second problem--perhaps an inadvertent result of the above bias and more serious for the SF researcher--concerns Spehner's choice of what to include. As I have said, he makes no claims to exhaustivity. However, when confronted by a large corpus of criticism from which certain representative selections must be made, the criteria used sometimes seem a bit perplexing. Take the works listed on Jules Verne, for example. Important (albeit rather "academic") milestone studies on Verne's works like those of Roland Barthes, Michel Butor, and Michel Carrouges are not mentioned, whereas several studies of much lesser significance are.

The third problem has to do with accuracy. Écrits sur...SF contains a disconcerting number of lacunae, misprints, inconsistencies, and just plain errors, typographical and other--to such an extent that, as Ross noted in reviewing his earlier bibliography, "they might very well tax the patience and test the ingenuity of a reader." In all fairness, I must add that most of these mistakes are fairly trivial: nonsensical page numbers ("pp. 361-163" [p. 164]); frequent run-on page numbers ("pp. 2526" or "pp. 6566" [p. 371]); persistent misspellings of words like "Apollo" (rendered as "Appolo" [p. 31]); contradictory chronology in serial periodicals (e.g., at one and the same point, Espace-Temps no. 6 is said to be the spring 1979 issue, while E-T no. 8 is identified as that for autumn 1978 [p. 200]); and even the strange alphabetization (as in this supposedly alphabetical sequence by title: "'La France...,' 'Science-fiction...,' 'Danger...,' 'Existe-t-il...,' 'Pourquoi...,' and 'Habite-t-on...'" [p. 167]).

But there are more serious errors in this book as well: Many references lack essential information like the year of publication, and many more lack volume and/or page numbers. In some cases, due to extremely careless editing, the name of the author and/or work is misspelled or the title itself is wrongly attributed, resulting in reference duplication and total confusion for the reader. Consider, for example, these two entries, which appear on facing pages (222-23): (a) "Cordon, Viviane C. Fantasmes et féminitude: aspects du récit utopique et de SF féminin en France et aux USA de 1960 à 1976, [Thèse de Lettres], Paris VIII"; and (b) "Gordon, Viviane, Fantasmes et féminitude: aspects du récit utopique et de science-fiction féminin en France et aux U.S.A. de 1966 à 1976 [Thèse d'État], Université de Paris VII, 1981." Or, for another example, on p. 477 there are two entries identical on every point except these: one offers page numbers and assigns the essay in question (on Stefan Wul) to "Andrevon, Jean-Pierre"; the other gives it to "Philippe, Denis."

As an SF scholar (admittedly--should I say apologetically?--at a US university), I can easily overlook the simpler typographical errors, like Paschal becoming "Pascal" Grousset (p. 391) or Martin Bridgstock becoming "Bridstock" (p. 163). But repeated mistakes in author attribution are indefensible in any bibliography and, as such, reflect a lack of basic documentational rigor. Such editing foul-ups could feasibly result in much wasted time for the SF researcher and, more importantly, they could promote the unintentional perpetuation of such misinformation in future bibliographies.

In summary, I have found Norbert Spehner's Écrits sur...SF to be, on the one hand, a surprisingly rich source of bibliographic information--particularly on non-English-language SF criticism--and as such, a highly useful contribution to contemporary SF scholarship. On the other hand, its frequent oversights, its slipshod editing, and its author's gratuitously offensive introductory comments all serve to mar an otherwise very valuable SF reference tool.

--Arthur B. Evans DePauw University

Purveying H.G. Wells: A Secondary Bibliography

William J. Scheick & J. Randolph Cox. H.G. Wells: A Reference Guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1988. xxxiii+430pp. $45.00

At first--and even second--sight, this is a daunting tome, more so than Hal Hall's Science Fiction and Fantasy Reference Guide, with which it has certain things in common beyond being the product of almost 20 years' labor. While not as physically imposing as either of the Hall volumes, Scheick-Cox's is devoted exclusively to Wells: to the extent of 412 pages of annotated listings of secondary materials and 3019 entries in all (perhaps needless to say, I did not count them; they are numbered sequentially). Put another way, this means that a proper index (about which more later) would by itself have run to the length of a comparable bibliography for most 20th-century authors, in many cases even if one threw in a catalogue of that author's own writings.

One might therefore suppose that William Scheick and J. Randolph Cox were being unduly modest when they say in their Preface that they are offering "a broadly representative portion of...critical commentary...[on] Wells" through 1986 (p. x; my emphasis). In fact, however, they have not included--presumably through oversight--a number of items which fall within the scope of their project--enough to have made it somewhat rash for the editor of English Language in Transition to have promised to print a supplement to their volume incorporating suggestions that Wellsians are invited to communicate to them.

Some of the items I am referring to are admittedly obscure. Indeed, I was able to locate them in short order only because I am being crowded out of my office by a recently-purchased collection of Wellsiana (which I don't need as much as I do the office space, I may add, should any prospective purchasers be reading this review). Still, in a volume whose chronological arrangement suggests the intention of tracing "the trajectory of Wells's career" (p. xiii), it would have been appropriate to include the 1911 compilation (reprinted in 1915) by Rosamund Marriott Watson (no doubt the wife of the novelist Marriott Watson) called The Wells Calendar: A Quotation from the Works of H.G. Wells for Every Day of the Year (albeit the quotations selected are even less memorable than those in Mao's Red Book, at least in its English translation). So, too, it would have been useful to have listed such parodies of Wells as J.F. Sullivan's "The Island of Dr Menu" (1896) and A.A.M. Thomson's The World of Billiam Wissold (1927), both of which qualify as criticism of a sort. (For the record, the Sullivan is mentioned, without comment, in Scheick-Cox's entry for Peter Haining's The H.G. Wells Scrapbook, which reprints it.)

Another category of materials that, understandably enough, receives incomplete coverage consists of books devoted in part to Wells. Here the omitted items include Percy Colson's Georgian Portraits (1939), Bernard Bergonzi's The Turn of the Century (1973), and Peter Mudford's The Art of Celebration (1979).

Not so understandable is the spotty treatment of book reviews. Ingvald Raknem's H.G. Wells and His Critics (1962) provides a fairly exhaustive listing of these (pp. 446-58; this fact, minus the page references, figures in the entry for Raknem); but my check of Scheick-Cox indicates that they regularly leave out notices (at least of early Wells titles) that appeared in English newspapers (virtually all of which they could have found, I believe, in the British Library's archive).

Other oversights are less understandable still. There is an entry, for instance, for an essay on A Modern Utopia by Bruno Schultz--this in a German anthology on Anglo-American utopias--but none for Bruno Schultze's H.G. Wells und der Erste Weltkrieg (Berlin, 1971). (I should say at this point that Scheick-Cox's misspelling of Herr Schultze's name is something of an anomaly; I have found the bibliographical information in their volume to be quite reliable as a rule.) More inexplicably, Bernard Loing's important and massive study of the manuscripts of The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Love and Mr. Lewisham (Paris, 1984) goes unrecorded. Finally, and strangest of all, the compilers have all but completely ignored The Wellsian, despite the fact that that journal has been publishing worthwhile articles at least since the time when it was under the direction of Patrick Parrinder (who--as if to make the oversight the more mysterious--gets thanks in this volume's Acknowledgments).

Another problem--this one having only partly to do with what is not in the volume--pertains to the annotations. These on the whole are reasonably accurate (or at least illuminatingly partial), though the necessity of conciseness sometimes dictates that they be incomplete. On occasion, however, they can be quite inadequate, even wildly misleading. A general inadequacy concerns doctoral dissertations, in regard to which Scheick and Cox refer the reader to Dissertation Abstracts in lieu of annotative comment, even when the title does not give a clear idea of what work(s) a given thesis deals with (as in the case of entry 2866). In other cases, the inadequacy is specific to the particular entry: the summary of John Huntington's The Logic of Fantasy, for example, makes no mention of that critic's (main) idea about the "two-world structure" of Wells's early fiction. As for inaccuracy, I invite my reader to compare the text of Wells's "Utopias" (in SFS no. 27) with this Guide's epitome of it (which I quote in full): "A radio talk over the Australian Broadcasting Co., 19 January 1939, shows that W[ells] was aware of the coming war."

These lapses do not do justice to the acumen of William Scheick (whose responsibility in my final instance cannot conceivably go beyond his having allowed the annotation to pass muster). The same can be said of the Introduction to the book which bears his name as (principal) co-author. The actual contents of the volume and its chronological arrangement should have afforded him the opportunity for further insights of the quality he offers in The Splintering Frame and other of his writings on Wells. Instead, his Introduction (and I assume it to be chiefly his) is a somewhat perfunctory affair, given over to the notion of a "decline" in Wells's four-fold "fame," "slow and disproportionate to its initial ascent." Not only is that hypothesis seemingly at variance with what the bibliography proper reveals (viz., a rather steady interest in Wells); it is also one which Scheick himself appears to retract in his concluding paragraph (where he says that "Wells remains almost as popular today as he was in his lifetime" [p. xvi]).

The foregoing remarks do not exhaust the problems with what is not in this volume. What the user will also not find--despite the Preface's claim that "the primary purpose of this book is to make...[the] critical commentary... manageable and accessible" (p. x)--is any kind of apparatus allowing a researcher to locate articles about a particular title. To be sure, there is an index; but as with the Hal Hall production I alluded to at the outset (cf. my review in SFS no. 46), that is reserved for author-critics. In the present case, moreover, the absence of an index by Wells title is all the more frustrating because the numbering of entries in Scheick-Cox's chronological catalogue provides for the possibility of such, and at the negligible "expense" of adding perhaps 16 pages to the book (the length of its author index). In fairness, however, it is a safe guess that Scheick and Cox are not to blame for this absurdity. All other G.K. Hall bibliographies that I have had occasion to examine recently--including those on a single author--also lack any finding list by title.

Still, one may be prompted to ask: For whom are these things designed? Somehow the question puts me in mind of the joke concerning a can of tuna fish that a woman complains about to her grocery store manager after her husband gets food poisoning from eating its contents. Her complaint travels down the chain of middlemen, each of whom has marked the price of the tins up considerably before passing them along, until it finally reaches the importer. When he is told of the food-poisoning, he replies: "I don't understand. That tuna fish is not for eating. It's for buying and selling." I leave the caveat of that little parable to the emptor.


moonbut.gif (4466 bytes) Back to Home