#53 = Volume 18, Part 1 = March 1991
Promoting Harry Harrison
Leon Stover. Harry
Harrison. Boston: Twayne, 1990. viii+141. $18.95.
Leon Stover is to be congratulated for persuading editor Warren French of the Twayne's
"United States Authors Series" to take a chance on an author much less widely
celebrated than previous SF authors treated in this series. There can be no argument that
Harrison has not come in for the kind of critical attention accorded Dick, Heinlein,
Herbert, or Le Guin; but I was a bit surprised to read Stover's flat declaration that
"no academic literature exists" on Harrison (134) other than a fanzine, a fan
bibliography, an interview with Charles Platt, and a brief reference in an essay by Jerry
Pournelle. Stover further cites the Pournelle essay as "the single specimen of
previous criticism relating to anything done by [Harrison]" (105). This unfortunately
suggests that Stover, who has pulled together a great deal of helpful information from his
various interviews with Harrison, hasn't entirely done his library work. It took me less
than an hour to uncover a 1980 essay by Stephen Carter in Extrapolation, a 1985
essay by Brian Aldiss, five essays on Harrison works in the 1979 Salem Press Survey, a
1988 Norman Spinrad essay in Asimov's (which in fairness may have been too recent
for Stover to include), an entry in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, 19
references in Brian Ash's Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and brief
discussions of specific works in books by Paul Carter, Sam Lundwall, and myself. Harrison
may not have achieved the recognition he deserves, but he hasn't been completely ignored,
I mention Stover's comment about previous criticism because it represents the kind of
global generalization one has to watch out for in what is in most ways a very informative
and provocative book--one that is often as interesting for what it tells us of Stover's
view of SF as for what it tells us about Harrison's fiction. Stover is an anthropologist
who collaborated with Harrison on an anthology of anthropological SF in 1968 (as well as
on a novel about Stonehenge), and he makes it clear from the outset that his interest lies
primarily with the scientific and social undergirding of Harrison's work rather than with
its style, structure, or relation to other literature. Not surprisingly, he praises Captive
Universe, with its ingeniously worked-out anthropological solution to the problem of
social stability on a generation starship, as Harrison's masterpiece. But while he
acknowledges the importance of Heinlein's "Universe" in setting up this problem
for later SF writers, he mentions no other treatments of this theme to support his claim
that Harrison has been able to do what no other author had.
Similarly, background material dominates the discussion of Harrison's "West of
Eden" trilogy, which I suspect would be Harrison's own justifiable claim for his
masterwork. The chapter gives a brief background on "prehistoric" SF, followed
by a lengthy lecture on paleo-biology, leaving room for only two brief paragraphs on the
books themselves. Stover tells us up front he is going to do this, arguing that "the
real narrative subject of the trilogy is that world" of alternate evolution (119);
but in so doing he fails to give Harrison's major epic the attention it deserves,
virtually ignoring Harrison's use of the captivity narrative theme and slighting the fact
that it is an example of the alternate history subgenre on the grandest possible scale.
Surely these books are of more value than as a mere exercise in hypothetical evolution.
What Stover really seems to have in mind is not so much initiating a critical dialogue
as developing new readers for Harrison--no doubt a worthwhile goal, but one that ignores
the fact that most readers picking up a book on Harrison are likely to already be familiar
with his work. At several points, Stover seems hesitant to "give away the
ending" of a particular novel, as though he is lecturing us in preparation for the
discussion of an assigned text. But the discussion of the text itself doesn't always
follow. An account of how Harrison thought through the character of the Stainless Steel
Rat, for example, ends before it begins with the abrupt comment that all this is
"detailed elsewhere" (91)--and sends us off via a footnote to an article in a
relatively inaccessible fanzine! Surely one of the purposes of a critical book is to bring
such material to the attention of a wider audience.
Stover's first chapter, "Science Fiction and the Research Revolution,"
doesn't have much to do with Harrison at all, and in fact is a slightly rewritten version
of an essay that Stover wrote for Jack Williamson's Teaching Science Fiction in
1980. This is followed by a useful and fascinating account of Harrison's career and
friendship with Stover and nine chapters detailing aspects of Harrison's work and
philosophy. Of these, the strongest deal with Harrison's liberal and often idealistic
social philosophy (centered around an insightful discussion of the story "Rescue
Operation"--the most sustained piece of critical writing in the book), and the most
disappointing (if only because of their brevity) deal with his parodies and his non-SF
works. Harrison acknowledges his own reputation as a humorist, and it is a reputation as
respectable as any other; but Stover seems uncomfortable discussing it and too often
resorts to explaining Harrison's jokes. Stover is more at home with what he forthrightly
calls Harrison's "didactic" fiction, and his own book is full of didactic asides
explaining everything from Danish social policy to Tom Clancy's popularity.
In the end, however, Stover achieves his aim as he proclaims it in his final paragraph:
"I hope this book will awaken further interest...from a crittical community that has
ignored [Harrison] far too long" (121). While Harrison has probably been ignored no
more or less than many other thoughtful and talented SF writers, he is fortunate to have a
champion in Stover. There is little doubt that those who read this will be forced to take
Harrison a bit more seriously, and Stover succeeds in pointing a number of directions for
future work. His book is hardly meant to be definitive, but it is a useful start and a
worthwhile guide for the beginning reader of Harrison.
--Gary K Wolfe Roosevelt University
Do We Really Need Another Utopian
Lyman Tower Sargent. British and American Utopian Literature, 1516-1985: An
Annotated, Chronological Bibliography. NY: Garland, 1988. xxii+559.
During the early 1970s, one of the common pastimes among students of utopia was passing
along complaints about the dearth of good bibliographies. That form of academic discourse
is now obsolete. Utopographers begin the 1990s with the assistance of several general
bibliographies, including those compiled by Michael Winter, Glenn Negley, Arthur O. Lewis,
and Lyman Tower Sargent, and a variety of more specific listings concentrating on periods
and nationalities (e.g., Kenneth Roemer), utopias by women (e.g., Daphne Patai and Carol
Farley Kessler), and authors (e.g., Nancy Snell Griffith's and Richard Toby Widdicombe's
Bellamy bibliographies). Instead of asking, "Where are the bibliographies?," the
appropriate question today might be, "Do we really need another edition of Lyman
Tower Sargent's 1979 annotated, chronological listing of utopias first appearing in
Yes, we do. We needed the new edition especially because so many titles have been added
to the original 1516-1975 list. The 1979 edition included approximately 1,900 titles; the
1988 edition lists approximately 3,200. In order to cover the 1976-85 period, Sargent uses
about 60 pages (373-433). But the additions aren't limited to works published after
Sargent's earlier 1975 cutoff date. He adds hundreds of "newly discovered"
pre-1975 titles and adds other titles that he knew about during the early 1970s but
decided to omit in the first edition. Several of the latter have been added at the urgings
of Topographers and reviewers who questioned some of the omissions in the 1979
edition--e.g., Edward Everett Hale's How They Lived in Hampton, 1888.
A greater number of additions have resulted from Sargent's changed attitude about short
fiction. Formerly he was hesitant to include works that lacked detailed descriptions of
many aspects of utopian cultures. Now, in his new introduction, he argues that there are
many significant utopian stories, and they should be listed "on the principle that we
can still determine either the author's intent to produce a utopia or that a utopia has
been written whatever the author's primary purpose was" (xiii). Although his
justification is rather fuzzy, I applaud his decision. Carol Farley Kessler's past and
forthcoming (in Utopian Studies) bibliographies of utopias written by women
clearly demonstrate the importance of utopian short fiction. Furthermore, some of the best
contemporary writers (e.g., Ursula K. Le Guin) have produced fascinating, genre-stretching
works of utopian short fiction. I hope the inclusion of so many short stories will
encourage scholars to ask both sociological and literary questions--questions such as: Why
have so many women chosen short stories as a medium of utopian expression? What does this
tell us about the writing outlets for women utopists? How does the condensed form of the
short story affect author and reader expectations? How do the magazine or anthology
contexts influence the readers' responses?
"More" in the 1988 edition is not only a matter of more titles. Sargent
provides much more information about initial serial publication of books and stories. (For
example, compare the entries for Heinlein, 1970, and Jonas, 1970, in the two editions.)
This added information should help us to determine characteristics of readers that
constituted the first audience for numerous works. The indexes are also more complete.
Each author entry indudes a short title and date of publication; each title entry includes
the author's last name and date of publication. These additions make Sargent's huge
bibliography user friendly. Finally, Sargent was evidently allowed more time for and/or
more authority over proofreading. Several minor errors in dating and spelling in the 1979
edition have been corrected (e.g., Welcome, 1894, not 1895; Petersilea, 1889, not 1899;
Wellman, 1898, not Wellmen).
Of course, better is not always a matter of more. Less can be better. Sargent has
omitted several English translations that he had mistakenly identified as English-language
utopias. More significantly, he has dropped the "Secondary Works" section, which
was more than one-third of the 1979 edition. Certainly, that was a useful bibliography.
Nonetheless, an equivalent listing in 1988 would probably run to 1,000 pages, and still be
selective. Furthermore, such a general secondary bibliography may not be as urgently
needed today as it was in the early 1970s. The Humanities and Social Science Citations
Indexes and the MLA bibliographies now routinely include "utopia" subject
sections available for computer searches, and journals and newsletters such as Utopian
Studies, Communal Studies, SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES, Extrapolation,
and Utopus Discovered include relevant bibliographies and reviews.
No utopian bibliography can be ideal for every reader. This reader is sometimes
bothered by the unevenness of the annotating. Turn, for example, to pages 388-89 that list
17 titles in 1978. As is the case throughout the book, the annotations are, of necessity,
brief and employ, with consistency, terms defined in the introduction (e.g., utopia,
eutopia, dystopia) with appropriate qualifiers (e.g., authoritarian). A few of the
annotations offer insights into the narrative situation; for example, beneath the Payes
entry we find: "Dystopia--New York City cut off from the suburbs. All black and
Hispanic in the city." But other annotations are so brief that they may be misleading
or baffling. For instance, Sargent follows the Rimmer entry with "Standard
Rimmer" and the Stableford entry with "Campanella." If readers expect
Rimmer's Love Me Tomorrow to be a Harrad II, they will be quite
surprised by Rimmer's tale of Bellamy's reincarnation; and I frankly don't know if
"Campanella" indicates a positive rewriting or a negative satire of City of
the Sun. Also very few of the annotations suggest anything about literary form. This
is an aspect of utopian literature that is attracting increasing attention, as Sargent
himself indicates in his introductory comments about form and his decision to include a
few non-fictional works. In several cases, the annotations do indeed indicate a work of
non-fiction (e.g., Wheeler 107-08; Giles 109; Gillette 175-76), but in others there is no
indication (e.g., Griffin 81; Gilpin 85; Longley 85-86; Gillette 102, 148).
In his introductory comments, Sargent acknowledges the limits of the annotations and
longs for "that eutopian day" when he will have the time to write fuller
annotations (xvi). I hope in that time he will also add a paragraph to his introduction
that will help novices to understand the chronological distribution of the bibliography.
Sargent covers 1516-1920 in 168 pages. It takes more pages (168-433) to cover the
remainder of the 20th century. Considering these numbers, a newcomer to the field might
conclude that the impact of five centuries of pre-World War I utopian literature in
English was less than the impact of mid- and late-20th-century utopian literature. A brief
paragraph that placed the figures within relevant intellectual, social, and publishing
contexts would help readers to avoid that misunderstanding.
A decade ago, I concluded a review of the 1979 edition by saying that students of
utopia owed Sargent a "substantial debt of gratitude." Now, with the 1988
edition in hand, I realize that I understated the case. We owe him an immense debt of
gratitude, and I hope that at the turn of the century I will be writing another review
congratulating Sargent on the 1516-1995 bibliography.
--Kenneth M. Roemer University of Texas at
A Study of Superweapon Stories
Martha A. Bartter. The
Way to Ground Zero: The Atomic Bomb in American Science Fiction. Contributions
to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy #33. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Acknowledging her concern about nuclear war as one impetus for her writing, Martha
Bartter has marshaled knowledge of SF, supported by an exhaustive search of the
literature, to produce an analysis of American SF's persistent and important subgenre of
atomic and "superweapon" stories and novels. She has combined a number of
approaches--chronological development, thematic clustering, and parallel analysis of
important authors (in this case, Heinlein and Sturgeon)--with insights into both the
social and the publishing milieus dominant in various periods of the 20th century. If
there is a single major flaw in the work, it is Bartter's attempt to get too much in: too
many insights, too heavily-freighted meaning derived from single events or stories, too
many detailed plot summaries. At the same time, however, much of the richness of the book
comes from the obvious parallels in story after story across a long stretch of years.
At times, Bartter's various conceptual schemes overlap, so that themes that would
benefit by being brought together are scattered in various sections and subsections
throughout the book. One example of this is her very useful discussion of the images of
the scientist. Bartter describes--and supports with multiple examples--the often-used
image of the scientist as "lone inventor," a stock figure of SF stories dealing
with atomic bombs and other superweapons. She contrasts this portrayal with the work and
culture of science as it takes place in the real world, showing how the fictional creation
is more technologist or engineer than scientist. To follow Bartter's various examples and
discussions centered on this single theme--one of many treated in the book--a reader has
to range across 200 pages, finding a paragraph in one place, a subsection in another, an
entire section in a third. Here, as in some other areas, the framework of the book
hinders, rather than assists, and some valuable and interesting insights could easily be
Bartter has done an admirable job in laying out the various plot-types associated with
American atomic SF. Her book abounds with examples of such types: awful warnings, wars
planned, averted, aborted, or carried out; populations lost and saved; mutants and other
byproducts of technology gone astray. Bartter also shows how SF writers have used these
variations in plot to ring all the changes on worries about politicians and the role they
take in war; on military personnel unable or unwilling to see the implications of new
technology; on potential social dangers, such as loss of freedom of speech during wartime;
and on wars taking on their own rhythm in repeating cycles, whether earthbound or in
space, over decades or millennia. In the sections analyzing recent atomic fiction, Bartter
makes a point of showing that there is an emerging subgenre, the blend of SF and
action-adventure usually based on a thriller-style threat of weapons gone astray in the
hands of groups or individuals representing one or another variety of contemporary
The extended plot descriptions show the early stories, particularly, as studded with a
Tom Swiftian cornucopia of technology and discovery, substances and inventions:
"radioactive corpuscles"; "contra-terrene matter"; "X, the
unknown metal"; "ultron" and "inertron"; "vacite";
"uranite"; kryptonite; "radite bombs" and "feroxite bombs";
"sterio rays," "dis rays," and other rays, violet and otherwise;
"instantaneous motors"; radioplanes, aero-destroyers, and flying rings;
400-mile-per-hour automatic subway diggers; thermic induction; and plans for exploring the
"sidereal ether." Accompanying these wonders are breathless statements made by
excited characters, such as "'That meant gamma rays! And gamma rays meant Atomic
Less useful are Bartter's attempts to link the themes and plot details of the various
stories to the standard rota of criticisms aimed at 20th-century American society. Some of
these approaches, such as trying to plot the social status of women as reflected in the
degree of passivity or heroines and other female characters in pulp fiction, seem to raise
questions of analytic validity: if genre author X has an active female character in one
story, and author Y a passive one in another ten years later, such evidence may show that
the social status of women has altered, but it may show any of several other things, or
not much at all.
Another attempt, invoking racism as the mode of several stories dealing with
international conflict, is equally flawed. Bartter is clear in her supposition, if not in
her evidence: "Each of these works involves racial prejudice. Sometimes it shows up
only in the confident assumption of American superiority....Often it shows up as fear of
German militarism...." (37).
Somehow, fear of German militarism and the assumption of American superiority do not
seem to fit into the category of overt racial prejudice, especially since the batch of
stories under consideration includes conflicts involving most of the major powers of the
West. Bartter seems to have overstated her case. The anti-Japanese and anti-Chinese tenor
of some of the pre-World War I stories provides a better fit for Bartter's charge of
In other instances, Bartter's attempts to link popular SF to current events also lead
to debatable statements, or overstatements, such as seeing America in the 1930s
"struggling with the psychological aftermath of World War I" (2) along with the
Great Depression. This seems like an unfortunate hyperextension of Paul Fussell's thesis
in The Great War and Modern Memory. Similarly, it is clearly a distortion to say
that the anticommunism scare in the 1950s "gave Senator Joe McCarthy virtually
dictatorial power" (128), regardless of the damage he may have caused.
Often, Bartter makes such a generalization, or even a series of sweeping
generalizations, and then proceeds without offering any evidence, as if the reader would
necessarily agree with her stated and implied assumptions. For example:
Our single-minded opposition to communism has had some interesting consequences. For
one thing, we have virtually ignored triumphs achieved by our own democratic capitalist
system: the Marshall Plan in Europe and the highly successful occupation of Japan. (We now
resent their economic success and suggest various ways to punish them for following our
own example.) (130)
As the above quotation illustrates, Bartter also couches her generalizations about
America in coziness--with as many as a dozen uses of "we/us/our" on a single
page. Repeatedly, she tells the reader what "we" think and feel: "[A]s a
nation we cannot rejoice over these achievements; we are too busy opposing communism"
These criticisms indicate minor annoyances, however, rather than fatal flaws. The
Way to Ground Zero has much to recommend it. Bartter's sustained analysis of the way
Robert Heinlein approached the themes of atomic bombs and superweapons in 20 stories and
novels, contrasted with Theodore Sturgeon's approach in 27 stories, is a valuable
contribution. Similarly, she has provided other models for analysis, either sketched or
examined in detail. Varying views of the nature of human beings; various approaches to the
problem of control--of weapons and material, of the potential for destruction, of time, of
human nature itself--each of these provides at least an outline for viewing other
subgenres within the field.
Even the criticism that Bartter lets her personal feelings about nuclear weapons drive
her writing and set her agenda ("We talked our way into our nuclear nightmare, word
by word and story by story" [v]) is obviated by the very forthrightness with which
she acknowledges this motive from the beginning, giving the reader due notice of her
--Alexander H. McIntire, Jr.
University of Miami
Insults and Jargon
Kingsley Widmer. Counterings:
Utopian Dialectics in Contemporary Contexts. Studies in Speculative
Fiction #17. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988. vii+196. $44.95.
Should a bad book be reviewed or ignored? Kingsley Widmer's Counterings forces
a reviewer to ask this question. I do not recall ever previously reading a purportedly
scholarly work with less to offer a reader. It is a self-indulgent work in which Widmer
invents an array of useless new terms and insults a number of scholars, particularly Tom
Moylan, and authors of utopias, particularly Joanna Russ but including most of the
feminist authors. He is very weak on the recent literature on utopianism, and does not
understand what is happening in utopian fiction. He disapproves of much of what he sees,
particularly in feminist utopias, and attacks writers for writing as they do. He also has
a political agenda, which is perfectly appropriate, but I find that this
agenda--libertarianism, with which I am sympathetic in some versions--rarely fits his
analysis of particular texts. In fact I found myself constantly in the position of trying
to figure out how he managed to find his interpretation in the texts. His reading and my
reading differ in some cases subtly and in other cases profoundly. Those differences are
not important. What is important is that fields of scholarship advance not through insults
and dismissals of approaches but through attempts to understand and create dialogue.
Having said this, it is my duty as a reviewer to justify my statements and indicate what,
if anything, there is of value in the book.
"Entopianism"...and many others. If I were to conclude that these words stemmed
from a sense of humor, I might find them diverting. Since I see no evidence of such an
intention on the part of the author, it is necessary to take them as serious attempts to
invent words that will be useful to other scholars. In addition to being embued with a
hearty dislike of jargon in scholarship, I can find no useful purpose served by inventing
terms whose meanings, with one exception, are not dear from the words themselves. There
are numerous errors. Of course, there is no way for a reviewer to know if the errors in
citation are the fault of the author or the press. But to mention just a few, the book
refers to Dolores Hayden as Haylorand to Carol McGuirk as McGicirk. Lee Khanna is Khanne.
Mary Staton is Straton. Frederick Kirchoff is Kurchoff. Daphne Patai is Patae.
Substantive errors are another matter. Widmer calls Sir Herbert Read a
"libertarian" (162, n28), a word that, given its contemporary associations with
anarcho-capitalism, would horrify the anarchist Read. (To be fair, he later calls Read an
"anarchist" [163, n41].) He is very weak on Morris and Bellamy and seems
generally unfamiliar with the vast controversial literature on these thinkers, literature
that would have enriched his analysis. Lipow's book on Bellamy and Rosemont's totally
different approach that places Bellamy close to Morris are minimally needed for an
intelligent discussion today. Widmer has an excellent discussion of the utopian elements
in the work of D.H. Lawrence but does not refer to the one book on the subject, Eugene
Goodheart's The Utopian Vision of D.H. Lawrence.
He is unfamiliar with Carol Parley Kessler's well-known Daring to Dream, which
would have enriched his understanding of the history of both feminist eutopias and
eutopias written by women. And it is in the chapter on feminist utopianism that his
analysis completely falls apart. He attacks Joanna Russ, Suzy McKee Charnas, Sally Miller
Gearhart, and almost all the few feminist literary critics he has read.
It is unclear whether or not he realizes that "sci-fi" is considered
demeaning by both scholars and writers, but he uses it. Some of his other insults can only
be deliberate and are found most consistently in the footnotes. See, for example, his
comments on Tom Moylan at 164, nnS455, 165, n20, and 169, nil; on Gary Saul Morson at 170,
nl3 (where most current scholarship would argue that Morson is more right than Widmer);
and on Joanna Russ at 165, n29 and in the text. Strikingly, for an his attacks on Moylan,
chapter 1 could well have been written by Moylan. To me this verifies how badly Widmer has
Scholarship on utopianism has generally been characterized by a collective search for
understanding. Widmer brings little understanding and has produced a book that would have
been better left unpublished.
--Lyman Tower Sargent
Worthy of Improvement
Robert A. Collins & Robert Latham, eds. Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review Annual 1988. Westport
& London: Meckler, 1988. ix+486. $65.00.
About four-fifths of this volume is given over to book reviews of SF, fantasy, and
horror titles and critical works on those genres. The Introduction speaks of "roughly
six hundred" such entries (vii), but Hal W. Hall (in his notice of this book in the SFRA
Newsletter #166 [April 1989]: 19-21) reports a count of 547, of which 72 (by my
count) are non-fiction. Reviews of the latter take up 72 pages and are, on average, three
times the length of the reviews of the fiction (which generally run in the neighborhood of
250 words apiece and occupy about 300 pages, 20 of them reserved for "Young
If Hal Hall's reckoning of the number of titles covered is correct, then roughly 25% of
all the reviews in this volume apparently come verbatim from the SFRA Newsletter (assuming,
of course, that the half-dozen entries I compared with the Newsletter's are
representative). That figure, however, is misleading since such reprints constitute a
considerably higher percentage of the entries devoted to primary and secondary SF works.
(How much higher I cannot say for sure because all entries are arranged alphabetically by
author in three series [under the rubrics "Fiction," "Young Adult
Fiction," and "Non-Fiction"] but are not segregated by genre; still,
without spending hours investigating the matter, it is a safe guess that reprint reviews
from the Newsletter make up at least 85% of the SF entries.)
The problem this overlap points to has less to do with the substance of the volume than
with its ethics. The Newsletter's reviews, after all, are generally informative
and reliable; and certainly it is useful to have them collected (and rearranged for
greater accessibility, also in the computerological sense of that last word) in a single
volume (which offers much else besides). The question, however, is why there is no real
acknowledgment of this debt to the SFRA Newsletter in the SF&F Book
Review Annual. To be sure, the Introduction concludes by "thank[ing] the Science
Fiction Research Association and the International Association for the Fantastic in the
Arts for encouraging their members to review for us," adding to that particular
thanks to "those who answered out call for reviewers and thus provided the substance
of our book" (ix). But those words convey an impression that is virtually the reverse
of the truth (and of a truth that presumably applies as well to the connection between the
reviews of fantasy titles in this volume and the now-defunct Fantasy Review).
Ethics aside, the point is that readers of the Newsletter will already (have
had the opportunity to) be familiar with most, if not all, of this Annuals reviews
pertaining to SF. That does not mean, however, that those readers will find this volume
redundant; for apart from the consideration of accessibility I've already touched upon,
this book offers other things of (possible) interest. Following an interview with Orson
Scott Card (whom the Annual singles out as "Writer of the Year") appear
four surveys: of Fantasy (Charles de Lint), Horror (Michael Morrison), SF (Michael Levy),
and Research and Criticism (Neil Barron). Each of the four in effect identifies (the)
pertinent titles from the reviews section(s)--both by discussing those titles in some kind
of order and by appending a "Recommended Reading List" or
"Bibliography." But the four also go beyond that in one way or another. Levy,
for instance, offers an overview of SF trends which is especially notable for a couple of
pages (46-47) critical of the US publishing scene (and are all the more informative when
put in the context of Cristine Sedgewick's essay in this issue of SFS). Barron, for his
part, while repeating the substance of the reviews of SF-related "Non-Fiction,"
arranges the titles under such heads as "History and Criticism" and "Author
Studies" and concludes with a bibliography which exceeds the total number of
"Non-Fiction" reviews by 32, primarily because he takes into account 1987 and
1986 imprints (though for some reason the typo "1686" seems to haunt all the
In its general conception, this project is certainly laudable. Yet for that very
reason, its execution leaves one wishing for improvements. The (title) index, for one
thing--meticulous as it is--would definitely profit from a scheme differentiating reviews
from mere mentions of a work (a distinction that could easily be made by means of boldface
numbers). Any user of the Annual might also wish for a plurality of (re)views of
a title (on the model, say, of the Book Review Digest [1905-]) as well as for
more comprehensive coverage of (SF) translations and criticism. (It is hard to believe
that the only relevant foreign-language fictions appearing in English in 1988 were one
title each by Lem and Calvino; and the Annual's non-fiction listings certainly
overlook a good many titles noticed in SFS. The Collins-Latham Introduction dwells on both
the former limitation and others which I have not rehearsed.)
It should be noted, however, that more would be involved in implementing those last
three suggestions than mere (extra) labor. Though the editors say nothing about the need
for timeliness, that must (have) be(en) a major consideration for a volume such as this,
given the present "shelf-life" (which to all intents and purposes means
print-life) of new SF&F titles these days (again, see Sedgewick for more information).
For that reason, any guide to fiction titles that are supposed to be readily available
has to come out as soon as possible, and preferably by the end of the year surveyed (this Annual
was issued in December 1988). On the other hand, the same urgency does not (yet)
apply to works of criticism; so that these could be hived off from the fiction as a
separate and later volume, which could perhaps accommodate reviews appearing as late as
this one (whose tardiness, by the way, is mainly the consequence of the Annual's
having been originally assigned to someone who kept the book for almost a year before
deciding that he couldn't deal with it).
In Praise of Science Fiction
John J. Pierce. IMAGINATION AND EVOLUTION. 3 vols. 1. Foundations of Science Fiction.
2. Great Themes of Science Fiction. 3. When World Views Collide.
Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy ## 25, 29, 36. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1987-89. xv+290, xv+250, xvii+238. $39.95 each volume.
With the publication of the third volume of John Jeremy Pierce's trilogy (originally
intended to be a one-volume work with the title here given to series), it is now clear
that he has written an extremely thorough study of SF, one which is both accessible to the
general reader and also useful to the SF specialist. Pierce notes in one of his prefaces
that his study is neither "relentlessly academic" (Darko Suvin's Metamorphoses)
nor "relentlessly popular" (David Kyle's A Pictorial History of Science
Fiction), and claims that his study has not deliberately limited itself, as has Brian
Aldiss's Billion Year Spree, "with its assumption that gothic sf is the only
real sf (1:xiv). And obviously IMAGINATION AND EVOLUTION is not hit
and miss, as it appeared to Professor Parrinder when he had only the first volume to
review in SFS #48, July 1989 (16:231-33). To the contrary, IMAGINATION AND
EVOLUTION, when taken in its entirety, is remarkably complete. The trilogy has some
claim to be the most comprehensive work about SF yet published. It is also fascinating
Part One of Foundations opens with Lucian and Plato, proceeds to the voyages
imaginaires, early utopias, and then on to an especially illuminating discussion of
gothic SF, to cite most of its chief topics. Among the subjects with which Part Two deals
are Verne and the "Verneans," stories of future wars (beginning, of course with
Sir George Tomkyus Chesney's "The Battle of Dorking"), Victorian voyages to Mars
and Venus, the works of Albert Robida, the fiction of J.H. Rosny
aîné and Kurd
Lasswitz's Auf Zwei Planeten and other writings (for Lasswitz, Pierce draws on
William B. Fischer's recent The Empire Strikes Out). This second part concludes
with an intelligent discussion of H.G. Wells's scientific romances, utopias, and future
histories (mixed with brief discussion of other writers).
Part Three of Foundations consists of only two chapters. The first is an
excellent treatment of "created" (or imaginary) worlds, such as those of Edgar
Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, the Flash Gordon comics and movies, and Ray Bradbury
(The Martian Chronicles). The chapter culminates with an enlightened discussion
of Frank Herbert's Dune series as the ultimate created world. "Created
Universes," the second chapter of Part Three, presents a detailed explanation of the
relationship of George Lucas' Star Wars movie saga to space opera, particularly to E.E.
("Doc") Smith's Lensman series (Pierce relies on Dale Pollock's 1983 Skywalking:
The Life and Films of George Lucas). Along the way in this section, Pierce frames a
remarkably good definition of "space opera." He also analyzes the work of other
writers of space opera, including John W. Campbell, Jack Williamson, and Edmond Hamilton.
Never again, after reading this chapter, will the reader find it easy to look down his
nose at SF! The chapter then turns to a brief look at the television and movie versions of
STAR TREK, which are also space opera, and ends with an analysis of
the work of Olaf Stapledon, whose Last and First Men and Star Maker offer
a cosmic mythology not unlike space opera's.
It has been suggested that Part Four exists only to give a sense of completeness to the
volumes (and hence unnecessary if the trilogy had been published as a single book, as
Pierce originally intended). There may well be some validity to this criticism, though I
find that the final section has several redeeming discussions. In it, for example, Pierce
makes a valid distinction between "dystopia" and "anti-utopia." In it
he also offers an intelligent chapter on "satiric extrapolation" (the
"Pohl-Kornbluth" school, which he convincingly sets off from the
"Tenn-Sheckley" school). He brings the volume to a close with the future
histories of Robert Heinlein, the Brothers Strugatsky, Isaac Asimov, H. Beam Piper, Poul
Anderson, CJ. Cherryh, and finally Ursula K. Le Guin (the Hainish Cycle).
Great Themes, the second volume, is devoted to major themes of SF aliens and
alien worlds, supermen and other mutations, eternal life, god like men and gods like men,
robots and artificial intelligence (SF pretty much missed out on computers), future
cities, future wars (without duplicating much of the material in the first volume), and
cosmic disasters. The concluding chapter of the volume deals with stories at the boundaries
of SF, such as those involving parallel universes and those that are maim' satire,
fantasy, or allegory.
In this second volume I especially liked such discussions as those of Hal Clement's Mission
of Gravity, Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, and Stapledon's Odd John. I
also liked the treatment of Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series And I found useful the
discussion of "cities in flight": Larry Niven's Ringworld (based on the
Dyson sphere), as well as other versions of journey involving multi-generation ships, such
as Heinlein's "Universe" and Arthu Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama.
The third volume, When World Views Collide, is my favorite. It begin with
thoughtful discussions of Arthur Clarke and Isaac Asimov and end with an extended
treatment of Le Guin (works of hers not previously discussed), followed by a brief
epilogue on Star Wars, STAR TREK, and cyberpunk. In
between it offers intelligent analyses of C.S. Lewis, Waite M. Miller, Jr, the New Wave,
Brian Aldiss, feminist SF, plus other school and writers. It makes works the reader may
not know about seem worth looking into. A case in point is his discussion of Joan
Slonczewski's recent A Door into Ocean, an "epic of utopian feminism."
His presentation of Slonczewski's alternative civilization makes it sound intriguing.
In this third volume Pierce explains his own world-view. He is essentially "a
revisionist Wellsian humanist and a pluralistic libertarian" (3:xviii). Ant he does
not accept Shelley's crackpot idea that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of
the world" or the idea common among English Professors that "literary people are
necessarily more rational, virtuous, or wise than the rest of mankind" (3:7). He also
makes an important distinction between Wellsian SF, which he finds congenial, and gothic
SF, which is not to his liking. (He goes far beyond my Future as Nightmare 
in tracing the impact of H.G. Wells.) Pierce sees the Wellsian world view as
"virtually what Christian fundamentalists denounce as secular humanism" (3:15).
IMAGINATION AND EVOLUTION reinforced my conviction that SF,
though different from mainstream literature, is nevertheless a uniquely important kind of
literature whose potential is enormous. As a sophisticated fan ant former editor of Galaxy,
Pierce was uniquely qualified to argue this idea. My problem with this intelligent work is
its extremely high cost. At nearly $120, only libraries will be able to afford it, and not
all of them at that. It is a shame that IMAGINATION AND EVOLUTION was
not published in a one-volume edition at a much lower price. A less expensive (and also
more attractive edition would reach a wider audience. The three separate indexes, notes,
and bibliographies could be combined, and any now existing redundacies could be
eliminated. I can see shelling out $27.95 for it, but not $119.85.
--Mark R. Hillegas Southern Illinois University
Petunias In the Crabgrass
Olena H. Saciuk, ed. The
Shape of the Fantastic. Selected Essays, from the Seventh International Conference on the
Fantastic in the Arts. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction
and Fantasy #39. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1990. xiv+270. $42.95. Michele K. Langford, ed. Contours
of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Eighth Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.
Same series #41. Same publisher, 1990. xiii+232. $45.00.
Much of what Donald M. Hassler had to say about the fifth and sixth books of this
on-going series (SFS #46, 15:381-3) remains highly pertinent for these, the seventh and
eighth publications of selected essays from the annual Conference on the Fantastic in the
Arts (held in 1986 and 1987 respectively). Heterogeneous and eclectic by nature, these
collections contain a vast array of essays on fantasy, horror, SF, critical theory, and
film from a variety of countries and reflect a multitude of critical perspectives and
methodologies. The generic and thematic scope of the yearly conference itself seems to be
purposely all-inclusive (as the title of each book suggests), and it is difficult to find
a common denominator among the many papers chosen for publication. Such lack of focus is
regrettable. But be that as it may, a limited number of them might be of some interest to
SF scholars and therefore warrant being singled out from the others for special attention.
For example, in the first volume (and in chronological order): Jill Milling's "The
Ambiguous Animal: Evolution of the Beast-Man in Scientific Creation Myths" (103-16),
Carl Schaffer's "Exegeses on Stand on Zanzibar's Digressions into
Genesis" (193-99), Brian Aldiss's "What Should an SF Novel Be About?"
(221-34), Leo Daughertys "The Response of Wonder: Science Fiction and Literary
Theory"(235-48), and Brooks Landon's "The Insistence of Fantasy in Contemporary
Science Fiction Film" (249-56). In the second volume: William Lomax's "Epic
Reversal in Mary Shelleys The Last Man: Romantic Irony and the Roots of Science
Fiction" (7-18), Peter Malekin's "The Self, the Referent, and the Real in
Science Fiction and the Fantastic: Lem, Pynchon, Kubin, and Delany' (29-36), Brian
Stableford's "The British and American Traditions of Speculative Fiction"
(39-47), Vivian Sobchack's "Terminal Culture: Science Fiction Cinema in the Age of
the Microchip" (101-12), Lisa M. Heilbronn's "Natural Man, Unnatural Science:
Rejection of Science in Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy Film" (113-19), and
Gregory L. Zentz's "Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction: Shifting Paradigms for
Science Fiction" (173-84). Several of these conference papers targeting SF (and
perhaps others, but I am in no position to judge) are of top-notch quality. It seems
somehow a shame that they are buried in the nebulous generic crabgrass of such
Nouvelle Anthologie of Old Science
Monique Lebailly, ed. La
Science Fiction avant la SF: Anthologie de l'imaginaire scientifique française du
Romantisme à la Pataphysique. Paris: Editions de l'Instant, 1989.
This delightful collection of 19th century French SF, published in oversized softcover
format, contains a wide selection of short stories and excerpts from the works of many
"mainstream" authors in France who, while not known as having written SF,
nevertheless dabbled occasionally in the genre. And some of the entries are quite
surprising. For example, included are not only certain novelists who have often been
associated with SF, like Robida and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, but also unexpected ones,
like Théophile Gautier, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, and Alfred Jarry. Certain
famous poets of the French canon find their way into this collection as well: Alfred de
Musset, Alphonse de Lamartine, Victor Hugo, and even Stéphane
Mallarmé. The renowned
philosopher Ernest Renan makes an appearance, as do a variety of other lesser-known
novelists, journalists, and historians of 19th-century France: Erckmann-Chatrian,
Samuel-Henri Berthoud, Auguste Franklin, Marie-Ernest d'Hervilly, Eugene Mouton
(Mérinos), Charles Cros, Alphonse Allais, and Jean Richepin.
Not surprisingly, in her introduction to this unusual anthology, Monique Lebailly
states her preference for a more broadly inclusive definition of SF--one that is
thematically less restrictive and historically less straitjacketed: Did Homer
need...cybernetics in order to imagine, in Book 18 of the Iliad, that Hephaestos
had in his service golden androids who could think...?
This is why I believe that there are SF texts long before the advent of technology. But
don't expect me to define the word 'science fiction'; numerous specialists of the genre
have already worked up a great many definitions for it ....I instinctively distrust
maybe because of that final period which concludes them--which encloses the defined
object in a tight net from which it cannot escape. I prefer images, and I would say simply
that conjecture and hypothesis are the two driving motors of SF, and that 'if...' is the
roadway upon which it travels... (8)
Explaining why she has chosen to include a selection of (admittedly atypical) texts
from some of the most respected names in the history of French literature, Lebailly says:
Here then are some hilarious, serious, and disturbing examples of SF taken from this
extremely fertile period of conjectural literature known as the 19th century....I hope
that this anthology will please fans of SF, and that some of the famous names cited herein
will serve as a lure to those individuals who still hesitate buying a book which carries
this infâmante label of SF. (9)
But what is interesting here is that, while openly and humorously describing her
editorial tactics, Lebailly has also (perhaps inadvertently) identified a serious and
continuing problem for the SF genre itself in France: its uphill fight for social
legitimacy in the rigid, tradition-bound, and hierarchical world of French Belles-Lettres.
Be that as it may, La Science Fiction avant la SF does contain some
fascinating texts--despite the fact that the SF purist might find a number of them too
utopian and/or fantastic in nature. For example, the four excerpts of poetry from Musset,
Lamartine, Hugo, and Mallarmé which begin the anthology are all grouped under the heading
''Lyrical Futurology'' [Futurologie lyrique]. Musset's, a passage from his Dupont
et Durand (1838), is a biting satire of the utopian genre itself--which he sees as
inherently repressive. A portion of Lamartine's La Chute d'un ange (1837)
describes the flying machines of a technologically-advanced yet decadent civilization
thriving in the pre-dawn of history. In the poem called "Vingtième siècle" in
his opus La Légende des siècles (1883), Hugo, too, sings the praises of
hypothetical human flight, evoking its mystical implications. And Mallarmé's prose poem
titled Le Phénomène futur (1864) paints a gloomy end-of-the-world scenario
where Beauty is a long-forgotten remnant of the past.
Although a bit too taxonomic and quite superfluous to the volume as a whole, each of
the remaining authors in this collection is assigned a separate rubric: e.g., the two
short stories by Erckmann-Chatrian are classified as "Scientific Fantastic,"
that of Auguste Franklin as "Futuristic Archeology," those of Charles Cros as
"Humor and Science," that of Maupassant as "The Presence of the
Other," those of Jarry as "The Science of Imaginary Solutions," and so
But the texts themselves are most often well chosen and do indeed give an idea of the
virtual kaleidoscope of (non-Vernian) speculative fiction written in France during this
period. For example, in the fantastic vein, one finds Erckmann-Chatrian's rather
Hoffmannesque tale of L'Oreille de la chouette (1860), Alphonse Daudet's
brooding, sentient forest in Woodstown (1870), and Jean Richepin's horrifying La
Machine à métaphysique (1876), which prefigures a similar machine later imagined by
Kaflka. As for utopias and dystopias of the future, one finds Samuel-Henri Berthoud's L'An
deux mille huit cent soixante-cinq (1865)--an interesting and technologically-updated
derivation of Mercier's earlier work on the subject--and Auguste Franklin's wryly comical Les
Ruines de Paris en 4875 (1875), which features several post-cataclysm archeologists
poring over ancient monuments (the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, etc.) and conjecturing--in
Samuel Madden fashion-- about how their ancestors must have lived 3000 years earlier. Time
travel and anachronistic comedy are fused in Robida's Jadis chez Aujourd'hui (1890),
as an eccentric scientist manages to resuscitate Louis XIV and his entire Versailles court
into the Third Republic world of fin-de-siècle Paris. An excerpt of Renan's Dialogues
philosophiques (1876) predicts--in somewhat Flammarion fashion--the evolution of the
human species into a single, omniscient intellect expanding into the universe, whereas Eugène Mouton (Mérinos) in his more pessimistic Fantaisies (1883) imagines the
total cessation of life on Earth as a result of progressive spontaneous combustion. Alien
life-forms are the subject of Guy de Maupassant's UFO tale called L'Homme de Mars (1865)
and of Charles Cros' fancifully humorous Le Caillou mort d'amour (1886).
Extrapolated technology is the central theme of Théophile Gauthier's Une Visite
nocturne (1848), which presents a unique flying machine (one of the first to include
an oxygen headmask); of Cros' wildly satirical Le Joumal de l'avenir (1880),
where newspapers outbid each other to purchase the best metallic brains to write their
columns; of Alphonse Allais' sardonic cadaver-dryers in Une idée lumineuse (1888);
of Villier's sadly pervasive sky advertising in L'Affichage céleste (1873); and
of Marie-Ernest d'Hervillys lighthearted parody of Edison's inventiveness in Josuah
Electricmann (1883). And, lastly, the absurdist science of Alfred Jarry's Pataphysique
completes the collection with excerpts from his Gestes et opinions du Docteur
Faustroll, Pataphysicien (1911)--in particular, his "Commentaire pour servir
la construction pratique d'une machine à explorer le temps"--along with a
tongue-in-cheek short story titled L'Aviation resolue (1901), which proposes the
common umbrella as a means to conquer the skies.
Monique Lebailly's anthology La Science Fiction avant la SF chooses to take
the less-traveled road. It does so in two ways: by eschewing the SF "greats" of
19th-century France like Jules Verne, Camille Flammarion, J.H. Rosny, et al. in favor of
more unknown (yet just as imaginative) SF writers, and by reminding us that even the most
highly consecrated authors of the French literary tradition dabbled in SF from time to
time. In this respect, Labailly's collection resembles somewhat H. Bruce Franklin's study
of 19th-century American SF titled Future Perfect (1966, 1978)--although it lacks
the critical depth and incisive commentary of this justly well-known and seminal work. But
La Science Fiction avant la SF does succeed (perhaps even more than Franklin's
book) in underscoring to what extent SF was (and is) a supremely polyvalent narrative
form--how it can span the generic boundaries of poetry and prose, commingle the
disciplines of philosophy and science, and supersede the artificial distinctions of
"high" versus "popular" literature.
Lester Dent and Doc Savage
Marilyn Cannaday. Bigger
Than Life: The Creator of Doc Savage. Bowling Green, OH: BGSU Popular
Press, 1990. 198pp. $34.95 cloth, $17.95 paper.
Lester Dent wrote some 160 Doc Savage novels for Street and Smith's Doc Savage
Magazine between 1934 and 1949. In the chronicles of the scientific genius, Clark
Savage, Jr, and his five companions--ranging from a lawyer to an archaeologist and a
chemist--Dent drew heavily on the "lost-race" tradition established by H. Rider
Haggard, although like Arthur B. Reeve's Craig Kennedy, Doc used many super-scientific
devices. Dent, however, emphasized adventure, not detection. Doc often fought villains who
threatened civilization itself. Second in popularity only to Street and Smith's Lamont
Cranston, a.k.a. The Shadow, he remains the most enduring of the pulp heroes of the 1930s;
in 1964 Bentam began reissuing the novels in a series continuing through the 1980s.
Collectors pay top money for the original magazines. In the Preface to this
"biography [which] attempts to capture the essence of Lester Dent" (4), Marilyn
Cannaday acknowledges that although in her high-school days during the 1940s in LaPlata,
Missouri she hand-colored "photos for Dent's aerial photography business," and
saw him on the street, she never worked "directly with him" and, apparently, did
not actually know him personally (1). Yet her enthusiasm for the writer who shared her
hometown led her to this project, for his name "deserves a place in the history of
popular culture" (1).
Regrettably that enthusiasm may well be the chief merit of a study which skips back and
forth--often repetitively, even in its phrasing--between talk about some of the high
points of Dent's life and a cursory account of the rise of American pulp magazines. On the
one hand, she seems uncertain as to who makes up her audience, for she certainly does not
aim this book at the serious student of American popular fiction. On the other hand, the
reader puzzles over her use (and presentation) of material. For example, her account of
both Dent's earliest years and his marriage ( 3, 6) relies heavily on his wife Norma, whom
Cannaday visited in 1986 (70); since Norma is frequently quoted directly, one assumes that
Cannaday made good use of notes or tapes.
At one point she explains that "Information about Dent's early childhood is
sketchy. He didn't really tell Norma much about it except to say that he had been terribly
lonely..." (38). From such a remark grows the dominant image of Lester Dent: that of
a lonely, isolated individual who sought refuge in the works of his imagination.
Cannaday fleshes out those chapters taking Dent from a rural elementary school through
LaPlata High School (4-5) by drawing on her personal memories and those of her family. In
like manner her discussion of LaPlata during the 1940s and 1950s after the Dents made it
their permanent home (9) makes use of a mixture her memories, generalized descriptions of
the town and its people, and quick summaries of Dent's activities. All books reveal
something of the subjectivity of the author, but at times one feels that Bigger Than
Life is the story of Cannaday and her brother instead of Dent.
In the present mood of the academy some readers may not react unfavorably to her
intrusiveness, but two other consistent practices do raise questions about her portrayal
of Lester Dent, especially during those years before he went to New York in December 1930.
First, she assigns feelings and attitudes to him which may not have been his: "It
seems likely..." (35); "It is easy to imagine the thoughts..." (40);
"Maybe Lester preferred his imaginary adventures..." (49); "To a teen-age
boy...and Lester was no exception..." (55); "[he] was sure to have felt the wave
of patriotism..." (63). Such examples may suffice. They are supplemented by such
remarks as "It is hard to verify whether a teacher called him 'hopeless'..."
(61). Second, throughout the book she directly quotes him, often asserting that the brief
statements are something he said "later," although she never acknowledges any
source whatsoever. Her speculations may produce a typical midwestern farm boy growing up
in a small town, but they do not vividly individualize Dent.
At times her account becomes confusing. In a fragmented report of his love for animals
and his supposed hunting, she seems to contradict herself before she concludes:
"Lester Dent loved animals, and as an adult admitted that he did not like to hunt
because he hated to kill them. But he was exposed to some of the hard realities of farm
life in the twenties when the farmer did everything for himself. It was the
On May 2, 1985, Norma Dent gave a "massive accumulation of papers" to the
Joint Collection, University of Missouri Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Columbia
and the State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscripts (75). For the chapters
chronicling Dent's literary career ( 1, 2, 8), Cannaday consulted those papers--"92
boxes containing a total of 2,156 folders plus 234 volumes of publications--magazines,
newspapers and novels..." (191). "Correspondence" and "personal
papers" made up two of its nine series. Although she waxes eloquent about the
Collection itself, one cannot be certain how extensively she made use of it, for she cites
it explicitly only once (61), referring specifically more often to Will Murray's Doc
Savage Supreme Adventurer (1980), Margaret Gwinn's 1979 M A. thesis, and Philip José
Farmer's Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973). One may infer that her few
references to some "unpublished manuscript" draw on the Collection, but no
specific data is given. Indeed, the most frequent citations are to the texts of Dent's Doc
Savage novels--often limited to a single sentence--though she does not give either chapter
or page references so that one would have to search for most of the quotes to find the
contexts in which they occur. Those readers for whom pulp magazines are part of prehistory
may be satisfied with the information she gives. She does include a chronological listing
of all Dent's published fiction (182-90). She sketches his early career so that the reader
knows that he published before Dell Publishing Company invited him to New York late in
1930 and that Street and Smith solicited a novel for The Shadow from him before
conferring with him about the projected Doc Savage Magazine. In "The Fiction
Factory' (8) she discusses the six major categories into which his fiction falls--from his
early contributions to the pulps through his six novels published only in book form
(194S-54) as well as the few stories he placed after 1948 in the "slicks." From
the outset of his career Dent wanted to be something more than a writer for the pulps and
considered his brief relationship with Joseph Shaw, the renowned editor of Black Mask,
a major influence on his writing.
Earlier (7) Cannaday introduces Paul Zweig's The Adventurer (1974) as a point
of departure for the distinction between heroes and adventurers, but she becomes ensnarled
in a debate as to whether or not Doc and his five friends fought crime "for kicks and
thrills" or did indeed have a "moral purpose" (86-87). In her discussion of
irresponsible adventurers and moral heroes, she seems, at times, to identify the writer
Dent with his creation Doc Savage. For example, she remarks, "Drawing parallels
between Doc and Dent's attitude toward women is difficult--but there are
similarities," although she goes go to acknowledge that the "adventure story in
the thirties was a man's domain" (93).
Toward the end of "The Fiction Factory" she points out that Dent also wrote
non-fiction articles and an occasional television script as well as "a series of
boys' books for Grosset and Dunlap (1947-58) under the name John Blaine" (123). At
this point the reader senses something of Cannaday's anguish; just before dismissing
these--by implication--minor categories, she exclaims, "How can anyone possibly
summarize such a vast body of work?" And there, one infers, lies the central problem
of Larger Than Life. For assertion and brief summaries govern Cannaday's
presentation of material.
Some 45 pages of the volume make up a three-part appendix: "Doe Savage, Supreme
Adventurer," an essay presumably written by Henry Ralston and John Nanovic and
copyrighted by Street and Smith in 1932, months before they began negotiations with Dent;
two articles, "The Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot" and "Tag 'Em,"
written by Dent himself and published in the Writers Digest Yearbook (1936, 1940
respectively); and "Lester Dent's Published Fiction," already referred to.
If this "vast body" of Dent's fiction presents a problem in organization and
presentation, then something of an underlying philosophical problem surfaces when Cannaday
reports that during Dent's childhood on a Wyoming ranch, "he claimed that his reading
material had been severely limited until he discovered pulp magazines." Then she
adds: "In school he discovered real fiction; Mark Twain's
Huckleberry Finn and Booth Tarkington's Penrod
and others further whetted
his appetite for reading" (41). For reading
fiction? She nevertheless
concludes, "Doc Savage lives on" (145).
--Thomas D. Clareson. College of Wooster
On the Weird
S.T. Joshi. The Weird
Tale. Austin: Texas UP, 1990. xii+292. $27.50 cloth, $12.95 paper
Since Texas has sent us this splendid book for review, we will allow it space
consistent with the policy on supernatural or mythological fantasy stated on an inside
cover page of each issue since our first. Mr. Joshi deals with six authors: Arthur Machen,
Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, Ambrose Bierce, and H.P. Lovecraft. His
thesis is that "the weird tale, in the period covered by this volume (generally
1880-1940), did not (and perhaps does not now) exist as a genre but as the consequence
of a world view." Among them only Lovecraft was "conscious of working in a
weird tradition. The others...regarded themselves (and were regarded by contemporary
reviewers) as not intrinsically different from their fellow novelists and short-story
writers" (1). The thesis stated, he proceeds with an examination of all the literary
and critical writing of each author, bringing to bear a wealth of references. Lovecraft's
stories of the so-called Cthulhu mythos are called "quasi science fiction" on
the basis of their rejection of the supernatural, the aliens coming from outer space,
other dimensions, or the past or future. While this is not a new concept, it is presented
here more clearly and fully than anywhere else that I am aware of. All in all, this book
is remarkably persuasive and rewarding.
On Romantic Fantasy and Postmodern
Karl Kroeber. Romantic
Fantasy and Science Fiction. New Haven: Yale UP, 1988. vii+ 188.
This is also a splendid book, albeit one with a misleading title: the adjective
applying only to the first noun, and SF being discussed only for contrast. The author's
opening paragraphs present an admirably clear and succinct statement of his thesis and
Romantic fantasy emerges out of Enlightenment culture, which excluded anything
fantastic from civilized life. Romantic fantasy celebrates the magical in a society for
which magic had become only a benighted superstition. The essential mode of Romantic
fantastic discourse, therefore, derives from the trope of oxymoron-- an impossible
possibility. Use of this mode necessarily involves the fantasist in an art of intense
self-reflexivity, enchanting himself so that he may enchant others. This inwardness
distinguishes fantasy from its non-identical twin, science fiction. Science fiction also
appears when the supernatural has been driven out of enlightened society, but instead of
seeking to recover otherness and magicality, science fiction extrapolates consequences of
the scientific-technological progress that destroyed superstition.
In the chapter following this introductory one, centered on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
the prototypical work of science fiction, I explore implications of the distinction
between science fiction and fantasy. I then [in chapter 31 focus on Coleridge's 'Rime of
the Ancient Mariner' and Keats's 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci.' In chapter 4 I contrast
Keats's poem to both other literary ballads and 'authentic' popular ballads to illuminate
how Romantic fantasy uncovers qualities obscured or elided in genuine balladry and
undesired by later nineteenth century and Modern poets. Chapter 5 juxtaposes 'The Rime of
the Ancient Mariner' with Robert Browning's 'Childe Harold to the Dark Tower Came' to
deepen understanding of how and why Romantic fantasy was exorcised from the mainstream of
nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, an exorcism culminating in Freud's essay on
In chapter 6 I describe the un-Freudian psychology that made possible creations of
Romantic fantasy, analyzing Keats's 'Ode to Psyche,' with special attention to one of the
poem's sources, The Golden Ass of Apuleius, a work having good claim to being the
premier fantasy of classical antiquity. Through discussion Heinrich von Kleist's Michael
Kohlhaas, the final chapter demonstrates the necessity for stylistic radicalism in
fantasy's self-challenging forms, suggesting that the recent revival of critical interest
in fantasy reflects postmodern literature's concern with self-contesting structures, as is
illustrated by Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.' (1-2).
Chapter 2 discusses "The Beowulfian Monster" as a lead-in to what is the best
brief discussion of Frankenstein known to me, and then continues with SF as
"desocialized narrative" in "plain style" and with
"depersonalized characterization," with one section devoted to The Time
Machine. It is all quite sensible but none of it would be new to most readers of
The book concludes with two appendices in order to contrast SF and postmodern fantasy, the
one reprinting Wells's "Æpyornis Island," the other Garcia Marquez's "The
Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship." The Wells story is reprinted from an 1894 issue of
the Pall Mall Budget, and is said to be a "fine though little-known
story" and to have been "out of print for more than seventy-five years"
(26), whereas it has actually been continuously in print, except perhaps for a few brief
intervals, for nearly a century.
In sum, Romantic Fantasy and Science Fiction is devoted almost entirely to
interesting and persuasive interpretations of 19th-century poetry, leading up to a
discussion of fantasy in postmodern fiction. The title of this notice would have been a
more accurate title for the book.
Justification by Faith In Archetypes
Ronald Foust. A. Merritt.
Starmont Readers' Guide #43. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1989. v+104
Between 1917 and 1934 A. Merritt published two short stories, two novelettes, and eight
serials in All-Story and Argosy. Judged by the enthusiasm of reader
response, as expressed in letters in the magazines and in favorite-author or
favorite-story polls, Merritt was the foremost SF-and-fantasy author of his time. His
popularity with the general SF-and-fantasy readership lasted for decades, as attested to
by the reprinting of his stories in various pulp-paper magazines between 1939 and 1950,
and by their success as paperbacks. The blurbs of reissues circa 1980 proclaim "Over
5,000,000 Copies of A. Merritt's Books Sold In Avon Editions." But that was the end
In 1974 I wrote that while Brian Aldiss was surely correct in saying that "Merritt
could not write--could not plot, could not draw character, had a beastly style--could only
confect," still "any SF writer who aroused so much enthusiasm over so long a
period deserves at least some attention from students of SF" (SFS #4, 1:304). Now, 15
years later, Professor Foust has provided the first book-length study of Merritt's
For Foust, Merritt's fiction is worthy of study because his protagonists, unlike those
of most adventure-story writers, are "victims of moral and psychological
ambivalence" and thus are "more complex and more interesting than most fantasy
heroes" (9). In support of this claim Professor Foust adduces Freud on four occasions
and Jung on eight--e.g.:
The successful completion of this quest should result in what C.G. Jung called
'individuation,' the pleasing integration of the various parts of the hero's unconscious
into a psychic whole. This act of individuation, in which the protagonist's ego masters
the 'dragon' of his libidinal drives, is the true meaning of the victory of Good over Evil
that is so common in Heroic Fantasy. This victory creates pleasing psychological concords
for the reader and is probably the reason that this novel was so popular with its original
Foust's case for Merritt is made by going through the books one by one and justifying
their plots, characterizations, and marvels by reference to myths and archetypes, Freud
and Jung, Frye and Campbell, and numerous other workers in the field, and so is quite in
tune with much present-day criticism of fantasy and other forms of popular fiction.
Merritt's masterpiece is said by Faust and other Merritt fans to be Dwellers in the
Mirage, a work that "'caps' and exhausts the lost-civilization theme" (55).
For Foust a "lost civilization bears the same relation to the modern world with which
it co-exists as that of the unconscious to consciousness in psychoanalytic theory,"
it being the function of the novel "to immerse the protagonist (and the reader) in an
imaginary world much like the world of dreams for the purpose of ultimately strengthening
the ego's role as psychic regulator of the clamorous demands of the id" (63). The
value of Dwellers, then, is not intellectual as in the best SF, but therapeutic.
The question that remains is, how many readers stand to benefit Tom this kind of therapy?
Foust's first sentence is, "Abraham Merritt's career as a fantasy and
science-fiction writer is a study in the evanescence of literary celebrity"
(4), and he
devotes some space in his first chapter to speculations on the decline of Merritt's
popularity. It might be noted that that decline was coeval with the rise of the horror
genre beginning in 1967 with Rosemary's Baby and continuing with the adulation of
Stephen King, whose works evidently have stronger therapeutic effects for present-day
readers than those of such outmoded therapists as A. Merritt.
The only hard science in Dwellers is the law of entropy, and that appears only
to generate emotion in character and reader. The other sciences drawn on are the softest
of the soft: anthropological, biological, and psychological speculations that, if not
entirely discredited, are of much less interest today than when they were formulated. For
students of SF, Professor Foust's book may be regarded as definitive in that it
demonstrates, albeit unintentionally, that Merritt's fiction is essentially
supernatural-mythological fantasy rather than SF, and so no longer needs their attention.
Nietzschean Analysis and Theatrical
William F. Touponce. Ray
Bradbury. Starmont Reader's Guide #31. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont
House, 1989. iv+ 110. $19.95 cloth, $9.95 paper.
Ben P. Indick. Ray
Bradbury: Dramatist. Essays on Fantastic Literature #3. San
Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1989. 48pp. $17.95 cloth, $7.95 paper
Bradbury's aesthetic of fantasy, as set forth by Professor Touponce, resembles, if it
does not derive from, the Nietszchean Esthetic of tragedy, so that Bradburian fantasy
"fulfills the same roles and saving functions [as tragedy in Nietzschean theory]; it
has the same constant awareness of chaos with the will to form beautiful illusions in the
interests of life. Therefore, in The Martian Chronicles, we would expect a
critique of worn-out illusions to alternate with the fresh creations of new myths, and in
this chapter I will show that that is exactly what we have: the reader oscillates between
Apollonian and Dionysian fantasy..." (24). In other chapters Touponce subjects Fahrenheit
451, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Halloween Tree, and a
number of short stories to the same kind of Nietzchean analysis. I found the analysis
consistently interesting but not especially illuminating, for Bradbury's fiction is hardly
so difficult, or his philosophy so complex, as to need detailed explication.
Bradbury stories have been adapted by other writers for radio, television, the screen,
and the stage; Bradbury has adapted the work of others as well as his own. His one great
success has been the screenplay for John Huston's Moby Dick. He has had moderate
success on TV in the HBO series THE RAY BRADBURY THEATRE. His first
major stage production, The World of Ray Bradbury was successful in Los Angeles in 1964
but failed in New York in 1965. He is at present engaged, with various collaborators, in
adapting Fahrenheit 451 for the musical stage. Mr. Indick, in addition to relating
the details of Bradbury's career in the various dramatic media, discusses the plays from
the standpoint of theatrical craftmanship. He ends with an expression of hope if not
faith: that the operatic Fahrenheit 451, if and when it reaches Broadway, will "take
its place among the modern triumphs of the imaginative American stage" (35).
Scheherazade in England
Peter L. Caracciolo, ed. The
Arabian Nights In English Literature. Studies
in the Reception of The Thousand and One Nights into British Culture.
London: Macmillan, 1988. xi+330. 16 plates. 40.00. NY: St Martin's Press. $35.00
That the Arabian Nights was widely read in 19th-century Britain is almost a
truism, yet its influence on British fiction has never before been thoroughly studied. The
contributors to the present volume address this problem in terms of fiction by Charles
Dickens, W.M. Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, George Meredith, Elizabeth Gaskell, Robert Louis
Stevenson, H.G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad, adding poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and
William Butler Yeats. Special topics include the adaptation of Nights into a
children's book, the influence of Nights on Victorian English travelers, and parallelism
between "The King of the Black Isles" and the Frazerian divine king and the
For the most part the contributors are concerned with references to Nights as
a token for exoticism or romance, or with narrative structure. In this last instance,
simple frame-situations with imbedded stories are equated with the extremely elaborate
patterning by Schcherazade, with the unstated assumption that slight similarity
constitutes genetic relationship.
SF does not appear significantly in the book. Of three authors briefly considered,
Wells, C.S. Lewis, and Doris Lessing, only Lessing seems plausible.
The development is not always impeccable. Neither Michael Slater nor Caracciolo, who
write about Dickens, seems to be acquainted with The Mystery of Edwin Drood,
which would afford firmer support than the works they cite. Caracciolo, discussing Wilkie
Collins, bases part of his thesis on "The Bridal Chamber" from The Lay Tour
of Two Idle Apprentices; this is surprising, since this story has been accepted as by
Dickens for roughly the past 100 years. Robert G. Hampson and the editor, on H.G. Wells,
both confuse When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) with The Sleeper Awakes (1910).
Hampson also assigns a wrong date to the novel; corrected, it removes a point of his.
Leonee Ormond on Stevenson's "The Bottle Imp" seems unaware that it is an
adaptation of Fouque's "Das Galgenmaennlein."
Caracciolo's long, elaborate introduction is both rewarding and irritating. On the
positive side, Caracciolo includes many early citations of Nights, much of which
is new. Caracciolo is also a fine idea man, with many insights that compel thought. On the
debit side, he is sometimes erratic and irrelevant, bemusing the reader with statements
like "[Wilkie Collins] develops a new subgenre, the detective novel, to investigate
the insidious effects of empire upon the morality of the British class structure"
Did Nights have a significant influence on British literature, as covered here? I
remain unconvinced. There can be no argument on Meredith or Stevenson, but borrowings
proposed elsewhere seem to me mostly trivial, strained, or inconclusive. (Warwick Gould on
Yeats, though, is solid.) Once one leaves out-and-out imitations by lesser authors, like
M.G. Lewis's "Amorassan," G.P.R. James's The String of Pearls, or
Frederick Marryat's The Pacha of Many Tales (which are not mentioned), one has
difficulty finding significant diffusion of Nights into British fiction.
--Everett F. Bleiler
A Series of Exhaustive Bibliographies
Boden Clarke, ed. Bibliographies
of Modern Authors ##1-25. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1984-.
$19.95 cloth, $9.95 paper, except where noted
The titles of the books in this series all follow the same pattern: The Work of--An
Annotated Bibliography & Guide. Four of the books are on authors of considerable
fame; the other authors, while well-known in SF or other circles, are comparatively
obscure. The following are in print or promised by March 1991 (in some cases the
pagination is tentative): Brian W. Aldiss by Margaret Aldiss (#9, 350pp,
$32.95/$22.95), Charles Beaumont by William F. Nolan (#6, 1990, 60pp), Reginald
Bretnor by Scott Alan Burgess (#8, 1989, 122pp), Orson Scott Card by Michael
R. Collings (#19, 180pp, $22.95/$12.95) Jeffrey M. Elliot by Boden Clarke (#2,
1984, 50pp), Raymond Z. Gallun by Jeffrey M. Elliot (#?, 70pp), Dean Ing by
Scott Alan Burgess (#11, 80pp), Katherine Kurtz by Boden Clarke (#7, 60pp), Louis
L'Amour by Hal W. Hall (#15, 160pp, $24.95/$14.95), Bruce McAllister by
David Ray Bourquin (#10, 1986, 32pp), Chad Oliver by Hal W. Hall (#12, 1989,
88pp), Robert Reginald by Michael Burgess, 2nd ed. (#5, 120p), Ross Rocklynne
by Douglas Menville (#17, 1989, 70pp), Ian Watson by Douglas A. Mackey (#18,
1989, 148pp, $22.95/$12.95), Colin Wilson by Colin Stanley (#1, 1989, 312pp,
$32.95/$22.95), and the three reviewed below.
Jeffrey M. Elliot. The Work of George Zebrowski. With Robert Reginald (this
volume only). 2nd ed. #4, 1990. 118pp. The Work of Pamela Sargent. #13. 80pp.
1990. The Work of Jack Dann.#16. 128pp. 1990. Each $19.95 cloth, $9.95
paper.--The editorial format and exhaustive nature of these books, together with some
indication of the details provided, can perhaps be set forth most conveniently by listing
the sections as they appear in the tables of contents, with the three books designated as
WZ, WS, WD.
Introduction. In WZ, "Between Sensitivity and Concern"; in WS, "Let the
Rest take Care of Itself"; in WD, "In Pity and Terror."
Chronology. Birth, family, school (literary activity, awards, etc.), college, graduate
work, friendships formed within the SF community (very extensive for Zebrowski), first
sales, books published, editorial posts, awards, marriages, etc.
A. Books. In
chronological order: not only books written by, but also anthologies edited or co-edited
by, the author in in question. Includes all American and foreign editions. The data
includes the name of the cover artist, and for each book a list of "Secondary Sources
B. Short Fiction. Details not only of first publication in magazine, anthology, or
collection, but also of all reprintings.
C (D in WD). Nonfiction. Letters to editors, reviews, introductions, and miscellaneous
essays, with details of first publication and reprintings.
C (in WD only). Poetry. As above for Short Fiction and Nonfiction.
D (in WZ only). Translations. Publication details for one magazine story.
E. Editorial Credits. Positions with magazines or publishing houses. Lists of books
edited or books selected for a publisher's series.
F (G in WS, not in WD). Juvenilia. Stories and/or essays published in school papers,
G (D in WS, not in WD). Unpublished Works. For Sargent, her senior thesis and master's
thesis; for Zebrowski, an unsold story written with Dann and two versions of a story sold
to a magazine that folded without publishing it; for both, in collaboration, four
filmstrips ordered and paid for but never produced.
H (F in WS). Other Media. For Zebrowski, a play consisting of adaptations of five SF
stories (one by himself, four by other authors) produced at the University of Nebraska;
for Sargent, a radio play broadcast in Germany and an adaptation for television of one of
I (G in WD). Honors and Awards. School and college honor rolls; scholarships,
fellowships, assistantships; books recommended by the American Library Association or
listed in a periodical as one of the year's best, etc.; books or stories winning or
short-listed for Hugos, Nebulas, etc.; etc.
J (H in WD). Public Appearances. Addresses, panel participations, courses taught, talks
to high school or college classes, TV interviews, etc.
K (J in WS, F in WD). About the Author. Books and/or articles on the author
(rather than on individual works).
L (K in WS, I in WD). Miscellanea. Manuscripts, memberships, dedications, the author's
Library of Congress numbers, etc.
Quoth the Critics. Sentences or paragraphs quoted from reviews.
Afterword. By Zebrowski, "6,250 Bits of Immortality"; by Sargent,
"Through the Looking Glass"; by Dann, "Advice to Aspiring Writers."
Postscript (in Wit) only). An interview with Dann by Gregory Feeley.
About the Author(s). Notes on Reginald (WZ only) and Elliot.
George Zebrowski and Pamela Sargent entered SUNY Binghamton as freshmen in 1964, Dann
as a junior in 1966; the three became friends, Zebrowski and Sargent
"companions" (WS 9). Sargent and Zebrowski majored in philosophy, Dann in
political science. Zebrowski, already active in fandom and as an apprentice writer
collecting rejection slips, encouraged the other two to attempt SF stories. Sargent sold
her first story in 1968, Zebrowski in 1969, and Dann (a collaboration with Zebrowski) also
in 1969. In the years 1970-74, Zebrowski was editor of the SFWA Bulletin, with
Sargent and Dann as assistants. Each of them did some college teaching in the early '70s.
Sargent began doctoral work but abandoned it when she became confident of success in SF.
The first books published by Dann (Wandering Stars, 1974) and Sargent (Women
of Wonder, 1975) were anthologies, each a notable success; Zebrowski's first was a
novel, but his second was also an anthology (Tomorrow Today, 1975). Dann has
since been editor or co-editor of 15 anthologies, Zebrowski of 11, Sargent of 5. Sargent has published 12 novels, Zebrowski 7, Dann 3. Zebrowski and Sargent have been
co-editors of the SFWA Bulletin since 1983.