The Imagery of Defamiliarization.
Brian Aldiss. The
Detached Retina: Aspects of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Syracuse UP (800- 365-8929), 1995. x+224. $39.95 cloth, $16.95 paper.
Brian Aldiss's The Detached Retina is a collection of essays, some previously
published and some written especially for this volume, loosely organized around the
central metaphor of the title. Aldiss means for the figure of the "detached
retina" to convey science fiction's unique ability to offer a defamiliarized
perspective on a familiar world. As Aldiss describes it, "science fiction seems to
offer an elusive something more, a Martian sense of looking at things and finding the
familiar strange.... For this it needs the sf writer's gift, a detached viewpoint, a
detached retina" (5). Aldiss's trope, then, is not so different from Darko Suvin's
description of cognitive estrangement. What does mark the uniqueness of Aldiss's trope,
however, is its focus on imagery or vision. He tells us, for example, that "much of
the pleasure of sf lies in its imagery, in the bold pictures it paints" (5), and that
the "coining of images is one of the true marks of imaginative genius" (122). As
such, his collection begins with a missive written to Salvador Dali from "Your
admirer, Brian Aldiss" in which Aldiss depicts Dali as "the great international
sf writer in paint" (15). According to Aldiss, Dali's images fulfill the sufficient
condition of sf: Dali offers us a way to see the old world anew.
An epistolary essay to a surrealist painter might seem a strange beginning to a
collection of critical essays that seeks to consider the generic boundary of sf and
fantasy literature, yet such strangeness is at the center of Aldiss's project of
"detachment." That is, he begins with such an odd choice precisely because he
means for us to extend the boundaries of that which we consider under the rubric of sf.
Thus, Aldiss begins his collection with a "Warning" that the only theme uniting
his collection of twenty-two short essays is the "belief that all literature is a
criticism of life, or someone's life" (1). The risk of this "unifying
theme" is that it will be so general as to offer no conceptual coherence to the
collection of essays, and indeed, there are moments when the book feels as if it does
meander between subjects. What saves The Detached Retina, however, is its
explicit recognition of this problematic. Throughout there is a suggestion that Aldiss's
attempt to construct a unifying theme that would be general enough to include a wide host
of texts, but not so general as to make for theoretical absurdity, is analogous to the
problem of conceptualizing a generic theory for sf. Aldiss wants to widen the
"unifying theme" of sf, but not so wide as to render the term "sf"
meaningless. Sf, as he describes it, is a "mongrel art" capable of integrating a
wide variety of literary traditions (the gothic or comic literature, for example). But, as
he also explains, "To regard sf as co-existent with literature since Homer is to
bestow on it no function not also operative in literature; which contradicts the
experience of most of us who enjoy both literature and sf" (81, 82).
Thus, the potpourri of authors that Aldiss surveys in these critical essays (Mary
Shelley, Philip K. Dick, Kingsley Amis, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Anna Kavan,
and Johannes Kepler, to name just a few) constitute the framework to a larger meditation
on the variety of subgenres and larger genres that comprise what we label sf. As such,
throughout the essays Aldiss insists on the importance of mainstream literature's
influence on sf: he explains, for example, the centrality of Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens,
and A.E. van Vogt to Dick (45), as well as his own indebtedness to Thomas Hardy and Cyril
Tourneur (173-74). And in the longest essay of the collection, "Science Fiction's
Mother Figure," Aldiss repeats his claim from Billion Year Spree that
Shelley's Frankenstein is a seminal sf text. The interest in making this claim of
origins is once again an attempt to search for a generic definition that does not render
the concept of generic discrimination irrelevant. As he describes it, "the question
of function was involved with the question of origin" (81). It is in such moments
when Aldiss explicitly confronts the theorization of sf that this collection is most
interesting and valuable.
Most of the essays, however, do not attempt to offer tidy theories of sf, but instead
focus on Aldiss's personal ruminations on sf reading. Indeed, this focus on the personal
is another central unifying thread of the essays, as he recounts his own engagement with a
variety of different authors and texts. In one essay, for example, he recalls his
childhood reading of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Music of Erick Zann"; in another he
writes a moving eulogy to James Blish. This tendency towards the personal essay is closely
tied to a larger theoretic proposition that Aldiss describes early in the book, in which
he critiques what he calls the "eschatology of the impersonal" (a term coined by
Czech philosopher, Vaclab Belohradsky, and used by Vaclev Havel). Although Aldiss
recognizes that this "drift towards the impersonal, towards humans as units, as
machines" is at the "very roots of sf" (16), he himself resists this cult
of impersonality not only in his critical style (he begins one essay, for example,
"Philip Dick made me happy" ), but also in his positive description of sf as
"decadent." A "decadent" sf is speculative in its capacity to offer a
reflective vision of the world in which we live, but it is not focused on the prediction
of future technological development.
Ultimately, Aldiss's collection constitutes a manifesto against the understanding of sf
as a species of speculative science: "It is part of sf's gaudy misleading label that
it predicts" (189). As Aldiss himself declares, most of the last few decade's best sf
authors write about "many more interesting and truthful matters, imagery, visions,
disaster, oppression, hope" (190). Yet, while this description of the sf endeavor is
certainly more accurate, it does have the tendency of making for a rather nebulous generic
category. It is perhaps for this reason that Aldiss is strongest not when he is searching
for a definition of sf, but in his microscopic and personal readings of texts in which we
see his value as both a critic and an artist.
Elizabeth Hewitt, Hamilton College.
Again the Postmodern Packrat.
Larry McCaffrey, ed. After
Yesterday's Crash: The Avant-Pop Anthology.
NY: Penguin. xxxi+350. Paper, $12.95.
Larry McCaffrey, postmodern packrat, has surfaced with After Yesterday's Crash: The
Avant-Pop Anthology, a collage of fiction and text/image pieces. Avant-Pop is
McCaffrey's term for the latest moment in aesthetic production. The term comes from jazz
master Lester Bowie, whose album of that title created intense dialogue with all sorts of
pop standards. This sort of riffing off of pop culture is exactly where McCaffrey's
interest lies, in all kinds of art and all kinds of media. While Pop Art represented a
high art appropriation of the forms and materials of popular culture, Avant-Pop
"tends to rely on considerably more flexible strategies which often amount to active
collaborations with, rather than neutral presentation of, the original materials"
(xix). So Avant-Pop riffs on top of pop (Hop on Pop might be an alternative title). The
adversarial relation between the avant-garde and mass culture, which Fredric Jameson has
discussed as the last bastion of the "authentic" voice and the
"hand-crafted" artifact under modernist culture, is replaced by a complicity
fostered by the recognition that high-tech popular culture is where we live. It is no
longer a separable commodity, able to be rationally recognized and resisted, it is in fact
an absolutely unavoidable spectacle. But where such diverse critics as Guy Debord and
Daniel Boorstin lamented the onset of the unreal, Avant-Pop academes and artists recognize
that the real is where you find it, and at this historical moment, the real world is
defined by the new prevalence of pop culture as globally disseminated across television
screens and internet connections. So it can be difficult to separate Avant-Pop from its
pop cultural environment, and this difficulty is properly endemic to a world in which
popular culture is everywhere, seemingly defining everything. The only position for an
artist to take, according to McCaffrey and his unindicted coconspirators, is
collaboration. The dualistic dichotomy between high and low is, of course, effaced and
replaced by dynamic exchange among diverse realms of activity. "It seemed strange,
but the enemy was no longer the enemy. In fact, if either of them died the other would
either be severely weakened or die off completely." [A brief, illustrative word from
my personal nominees to the Avant-Pop canon, comic strip heroes Calvin & Hobbes:
CALVIN: A painting. Moving. Spiritually enriching. Sublime."High" art. The comic
strip. Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work."Low" art. A painting of a comic
strip panel. Sophisticated irony. Philosophically challenging."High" art.
HOBBES: Suppose I draw a cartoon of a painting of a comic strip? CALVIN: Sophomoric.
Intellectually sterile. "Low" art.]
McCaffrey projects a world familiar to readers of his Storming the Reality Studio:
A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction. "My own landscape has
increasingly become less a literal territory than a multidimensional hyperreality of
television lands, media 'jungles,' and information 'highways,' a place where the real is
now a 'desert' that is 'rained on' by a ceaseless 'downpour' of information and data;
'flooded' by a 'torrent' of disposable consumer goods, narratives, images, ads, signs and
electronically generated stimuli; and peopled by media figures whose lives and stories
seems at once more vivid, more familiar, and more real than anything the artist might
create" (xiv). McCaffrey refers to the "bewildering proliferation of new lingos,
databases and 57 channels (soon expanding to 500)."
How can we find our way through this virtual morass? (Probably by subscribing to TV
Guide, just like we do now). The mistake that McCaffrey and I have made, here and
elsewhere, is that we tend to believe the hype. In some ways that McCaffrey doesn't
acknowledge, Avant-Pop is actually not a response to "real" conditions: those
conditions are, in fact, Avant-Pop's operative fiction, its master-narrative (in an era
that has supposedly to forsaken master-narratives). The "blizzard" of
technological change has been occurring without cessation since the 18th century at least,
and for the last century and a half the rate of change has been continuingly
extraordinary. Perhaps things are moving faster now--perhaps--but the rhetoric linking
speed with progress is older than any of us. Wolfgang Schivelbusch's writing on the
phenomenological affect of the railway (The Railroad Journey) demonstrates that
today's techno-euphoria and techno-trauma have their precedents in industrial culture.
McCaffrey knows this: he cites Berlin Dada as a significant Avant-Pop precursor, and he
correctly notes that the avant-garde has always emphasized "the new" and the
unprecedented. But when he gets down to cases, he still slips into his virtual reality
bodysuit and steps inside that giant Blipvert which postmodern critics pretend constitutes
the whole of a new "new reality." Obviously I'm not arguing that nothing has
changed. This is also not to say that Avant-Pop's collection of "innovative formal
strategies and narrative approaches modeled on more kinetic, dynamic, nonliterary forms of
art" is without interest. Far from it. But I would like to point to a continuing
rhetoric of the new that has been used to justify so much, from aesthetic
manifestos to repressive legislation. It is that rhetoric that desperately warrants
further examination. McCaffrey notes that several of the writers posit new machines that
can capture elusive realms of human experience: the Spiritualist camera of David Blair's
"Ella's Special Camera," a thought-recording machine posited by Mark Laidlaw, a
Smell Machine from Ben Marcus. "These fabulous inventions are, of course, extensions
of our own actual fabulous inventions--the camera, the video camera, X-Ray machines,
telescopes, microscopes, the computer--which have utterly changed the borders of reality,
human perception, and memory." The ultimate goal, McCaffrey argues, is control: to
record a phenomenon is to make it susceptible to rational analysis. I think there is more
of a desire to define--still a part of the rationalist project--but the object of
definition is ourselves. What are we? If it can be separated from us, recorded or
simulated, then what remains? Is that remainder "us"? Ontological anxiety
jostles with epistemological megalomania in the ambivalence of our attitudes towards new
technologies. Even within the blip culture reality of the Avant-Pop "movement"
then, there still lurks some nostalgia for the real, the authentic, the self, just as,
within McCaffrey's introduction, there still exists some sense of a "real" world
that Avant-Pop is responding to. McCaffrey's collection is wonderful, fiery, lively and
varied. His taste in literature, and his encouragement of younger writers and filmmakers,
are both exemplary. If his introduction seems like another fictional fragment in the
postmodern collage that is this anthology, well, I guess that's Avant-Pop, too. [Thanks,
Larry! At the end of the introduction, McCaffrey provides a random sampling of Avant-Pop
works in literature, film, TV, music, and criticism. I was pleased to find my name among
the chosen critics. I have finally made the A list!].
Scott Bukatman, University of New Mexico.
All About SF and All About Sci-Fi.
John Clute. Science
Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. London and NY: Dorling
Kindersley, 1995. 10x11‡. 312pp. $39.95.
Jeff Rovin, Aliens,
Robots, and Spaceships. NY: Facts on File (800-322-8755), 1995. 8‡x
11. xi+372. $35.00.
It's a shame that neither of these books arrived early enough to be reviewed in our
November issue, for each would make an excellent Christmas gift, the Clute for anyone
interested in science fiction, the Rovin for any youngster of any age enthusiastic about
sci-fi in comic books and movies.
Other than many of its magnificent illustrations, there is little if anything in
Clute's book that would be new for most readers of SFS, and even many of the illustrations
will be familiar from such earlier illustrated books as those by Franz Rottensteiner,
James Gunn, Brian Ash, Sam Lundwall, Brian W. Aldiss, etc., etc. Even so, the material is
organized in a new and interesting way and is more inclusive with respect to social
history than any previous sf book devoted primarily to pictures.
The first chapter, "Visions," presents depictions of the future from the 19th
century and from each decade of the 20th. For each period the visions are those
representative of the hopes and fears of the time; e.g., the 19th century, mighty
machines; the 1900s, great cities; the 1910s, fantastic aircraft; and so on. The second
chapter, "Historical Context," presents, in two-page spreads, four time-lines in
parallel rows (sf events, film-radio- TV, magazines, world events) with a column for each
decade of the 19th century and for each year of the 20th, and with intercalery pages
devoted to the principal sf themes of period. The third chapter is devoted to
"Influential Magazines." In the fourth chapter, "Major Authors," we
again have time-lines (notable works, icons, debuts) with a column for each decade of the
19th century and each quinquennium of the 20th, and with intercalary pages devoted to
comments on and lists of sf books by the "major authors."
Clute treats 109 authors in the "Major Authors" section, giving a two-page
spread to six (Verne, Wells, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Dick), a page and a half to one (Le
Guin), and lesser space to the others. The choice of the authors and the amount of space
given each seem to have been dictated by a mixture of popularity, prolificacy, and
literary reputation: Edgar Rice Burroughs wins a half-page with popularity and
prolificacy (half his half-page is devoted to listing his books); if his fame among
literate readers were as great as his notoriety, he would have deserved a two-page spread.
Zamyatin is held to a quarter-page because he is known (in the anglophone world, at least)
almost entirely for a single book.
Chapter 5, "Classic Titles," is devoted to pictures of the covers or jackets
of and brief notes on well-known books. Chapter 6, "Graphic Works," has two
pages on "great" illustrators and two pages each on American, European, and
Japanese comics. Chapters 6 and 7 deal with film and TV, with highly inclusive
chronological lists. The book ends with a one-page glossary of sf terms and a five-page
The one feature of the book to which I have serious objection is the design of the
"bibliography" sections of the "Major Author" articles. But since I do
not here have sufficient space to deal with the details of this matter, let me say simply
that these "bibliographies" can only confuse and mislead the not especially
knowledgeable fans who will make up the major part of its audience.
Having graduated from the pulps to serious fiction in 1933, I missed the hero-pulps of
the mid-'30s and the comic books that began in the late '30s, and so never became
entranced with Doc Savage or Superman. As for movies, I belong to the generation that
thought sf disgraced when one of its masterpieces--"Who Goes There?"--was made
into The Thing from Another World. We never imagined that the film would be
viewed by later generations as a classic work of art. For me and my ilk there is little in
Aliens, Robots, and Spaceships of any interest.
Even so, it may be said that an article on almost anything you can remember from sf in
the way of an alien, robot, spaceship, or planet can be found in the book if it made
its way into the comics or the movies. Though the Skylarks are not here, virtually
everything else is. The "more than 500" articles are in alphabetical order with
the title of the article in most cases being the name of the alien, robot, spaceship, or
planet in question. If you look for an article titled "Robby" you won't find it;
if you pursue your search into the index (surely the longest and most comprehensive in the
history of books on sf or sci-fi), you will find "Robby (Forbidden Planet)
14," and on page 14 you will find the article "Altair-4." The name Twiki
meant nothing to me until I glanced through the dust-jacket blurb, where Twiki is said to
be a robot "sidekick" of Buck Rogers. Wondering how someone as ignorant as I but
with a jacketless copy of the book would discover that a later avatar of Buck Rogers had a
robot pal, I looked in the index for both "Buck Rogers" and "Nowlan, Philip
Francis" and found them both referred to page 247. The article "Twiki" does
discuss "Armageddon 2419 A.D." and the comic strip of the 1930s that gave rise
to the expression "that Buck Rogers kid stuff," so that for oldtimers it may be
said that Aliens, Robots, and Spaceships does justice to Buck Rogers even though it omits
all reference to the spaceships most beloved by early fans (neither "Skylark"
nor "Smith, E.E." appears in the index).
A Guide to the Cyberfuture.
Mark Dery, ed. Flame
Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture. Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, 1994. iv+349.
Given that we are all cyborgs these days, there is a certain inevitability to the term
"cyberculture," expressive as it is of the pervasive presence of technology in
every aspect of our post-industrial lives, most definitely not excepting the
artistic and the intellectual. None of this is news. It doesn't even matter if, as a
descriptive, "cyberculture" is accurate; its meaning is quite elegantly clear.
Every one of us will be able to think of some referent for the term, even if we have never
come across it before. The articles, essays, and fictional excerpts collected in Flame
Wars serve to confirm that cyberculture is part of the contemporary landscape, and
that it encompasses everything from virtual sex to radical performance art to critical
theory. Even the label on the back cover, "Cultural criticism/Technology," tells
this story in publisher's shorthand.
Mark Dery, editor of Flame Wars, is an analyst of the cyberscene whose
writings have appeared, appropriately enough, in popular venues like Mondo 2000,
Rolling Stone, and Interview Magazine. As such, he is eminently qualified to
put together these notes from the technological underground, an alternative scene which is
in the process of becoming one with the mainstream. In fact, Dery claims in his
introductory remarks that the varied forms of cyberculture, not excluding flame wars
themselves, "offer a precognitive glimpse of mainstream culture a few years from now,
when ever-greater numbers of Americans will be part-time residents in virtual
With one exception, the articles and essays collected here appeared previously, under
the same title, in a special issue of The South Atlantic Quarterly (Fall 1993),
also edited by Dery. The present volume is the latest in a number of studies of the
current techno-scene published by Duke University Press, a kind of unofficial series which
includes Larry McCaffery's Storming the Reality Studio and Scott Bukatman's Terminal
Identity. Like these earlier volumes, Flame Wars is well worth reading, not only
because of the useful analyses it provides, but because it is itself so clearly a product
of the very techno-culture it aims to explore.
What can be said about the essays in this collection? Well, while they are not, for the
most part, about science fiction, they serve to demonstrate the ever-increasing
science-fictionalization of the present cultural scene. They frequently focus on some
aspect of sexual or erotic experience. (An on-line orgasm looks like this: "I'mmmm
commmmmmmminnnggggggggg!!!!!!" .) And why not? These days, machines are sexy,
virtual sex is safer sex, and human beings have a proven ability to get turned on in just
about any mode: sex in the head becomes sex in the machine.
As for Dery's title, as many SFS readers will already know, "flame wars" are
virtual battles, discursive combats that erupt within, and are carried on by inhabitants
of, the global internet. Dery's stated purpose in choosing this title is not to indicate
the presence of "flaming" in his collection, but to serve as a reminder that
"our interaction with the world around us is increasingly mediated by computer
technology" and to demonstrate his not surprising thesis that we are all gradually
becoming "transformed into cyborgian hybrids of technology and biology through our
ever- more-frequent interactions with machines, or with one another through
technological interfaces" (6). In any event, it's a sexy title.
And talking about sex, the most resonant essay in Dery's collection may be the only one
not included in the original South Atlantic Quarterly issue. This is Julian
Dibbell's "A Rape in Cyberspace; or, How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit,
Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society." In spite of its
annoying subtitle, Dibbell's essay is well worth reading, demonstrating as it does that,
where virtual interaction exists, so does virtual sexual aggression. Dibbell's essay
describes an incident of MUD-rape (MUD = multi-user domain), that is, a virtual attack on
several inhabitants of a virtual shared-world environment (Flame Wars includes a
brief but useful glossary of terms for the cyber-challenged). More interesting than
Dibbell's account of how the members of this community deal with this event, at once so
bizarre and yet so dismally familiar, are the issues, philosophical and sexual/political,
which it foregrounds for our consideration. There is a part of me which is convinced that
I've never heard of anything so flaky in my life, that the very idea of virtual rape is a
denigration of the pain suffered by real bodies in the real world. On the other hand, I
recognize that psychological pain is real as well, and that, therefore, the experience of
virtual rape has to be considered very seriously. It is for this reason that Dibbell's
essay, in spite of its rather colorless prose and its rather New Age slant on events, is
so central to Dery's collection: it raises questions which we simply cannot answer at this
stage in our techno-evolution, questions about the nature of "authentic"
experience, questions about the nature of presence, questions about the nature of the body
in cyberspace. As "A Rape in Cyberspace" demonstrates, we take our RL (real
life) narratives with us into our VL (virtual life); what happens to us during the
resulting interaction "is neither exactly real nor exactly make-believe, but
profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally meaningful" (244).
Flame Wars includes several essays by experienced critics from the academic
field. Peter Schwenger is represented by an article on William Gibson's "virtual
book," Agrippa (A Book of the Dead), which explores the play of appearance
and disappearance inherent in any experience of textuality (see my review of Schwenger's Letter
Bomb: Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word in SFS #67). Anne Balsamo provides a
fine feminist critique of the body's interactions with the virtual environment, building
upon cyberpunk sf in general and Pat Cadigan's Synners in particular.
Interestingly (given Dery's association with Mondo 2000), the first essay in the
collection is Vivian Sobchack's witty and trenchant attack on this magazine for its
encouragement of the "interactive autism" of today's New Age Mutant Ninja
Hackers (Sobchack's term) and their (masculine) "apolitical fantasy of escape"
(20). In "Gibson's Typewriter," Scott Bukatman reminds us that Neuromancer,
the cyberbible, was written on a manual typewriter. Bukatman explores the
historical/industrial context of the development of the typewriter in order "to type
history back into Neuromancer" (73); the result is a fascinating story which
begins with Mark Twain and links Twain to Gibson in their common role as producers of
It is not unexpected, I would suggest, that Sobchack and Balsamo, as feminist critics,
are both concerned with the representation/construction of material bodies within the
discourses of cyberculture, discourses developed by and aimed at describing, for the most
part, the experiences of (cyber)men. Indeed, one of the really welcome features of Dery's
collection is the attention it pays to gender issues, including as well Claudia Springer's
exploration of the treatment(s) of sexuality and sexual politics in contemporary visions
of the technological future. In the process of developing her observations, Springer reads
sf texts by Gibson, Cadigan, George Alec Effinger, Walter Jon Williams, and Kathy Acker,
Even more welcome, in fact, is Dery's own contribution to this collection,
a trilogy of interviews with Samuel Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose entitled
"Black to the Future," which begins with the question "Why do so few
African-Americans write science fiction, a genre whose close encounters with the Other . .
. would seem uniquely suited to the concerns of African-American novelists?"
(179-80). Dery provides an informative introduction to the work of black sf writers, and
the interview with Delany, by far the lengthiest of the three, is both insightful and
occasionally surprising (for example, his critique of Gibson's construction of black
characters in Neuromancer).
Sf writers are represented in this collection by Pat Cadigan and Marc Laidlaw. Cadigan
contributes one of her frantically-paced chapters from Synners, which, in this
context, reads like a kind of fictionalized account of where we might be not so many years
down the cyber-road. Laidlaw, author of alternative sf novels and stories like Dad's
Nuke, contributes an article on virtual reality as a plot device which can raise
questions about conventional notions of reality; as Laidlaw argues, VR has appeared in sf
for years and its contemporary presence owes as much to its treatments in earlier texts
like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World as it does to actual technological
developments and experiences. Reworking a well-known sentence from Neuromancer,
Laidlaw concludes that "Writers have their own uses for technology" (111).
And there's more, from an attempt to track an evolution of ethics for the computer age,
to a discussion of (techno)gnosis which draws Philip K. Dick into the cyberpicture, to an
analysis of artificial intelligence within the context of a history of logical reasoning,
to Mark Pauline's reconstructed thumb (he replaced it with one of his big toes). If Dery
is right that the facets of cyberculture explored in Flame Wars will soon be
common currency, this collection is very relevant reading indeed. If he is wrong, the
articles collected here nevertheless offer a wealth of insight into a slice of the culture
whose sheer outlandishness makes for fascinating reading. I think it's an outland many of
us already inhabit, whether we realize it or not.
SF in Greece.
Domna Pastourmatzi. Bibliography of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: 1960-1993.
Alien (Athens), 1995. 245. $30.00.
In 1991 a young Greek academic returned from the USA to the Aristotle University of
Thessaloniki fired with zeal to promote the cause of sf. Domna Pastourmatzi sounded out
students, critics, and publishers and was greeted with ignorance, indifference, or
downright hostility. She then set out on the extraordinarily difficult task of tabulating
all the translations of sf works which had been published in Greece since 1960. The
project was difficult because it is only recently that Greek publishers have kept proper
bibliographical records. The result is an impressively detailed bibliography arranged
alphabetically by author which gives wherever possible the Greek title, original title,
translator, and publisher with date. It is impossible to tell from this listing how
extensive print runs or sales have been but, that factor apart, a startlingly extensive
picture of translations emerges. Predictably long entries are given for anthologies and
fiction by figures like Verne, Lovecraft, and Dick, but also extensive lists for writers
far less familiar to Anglophone countries like the Russian Dmitri Bilenkin or the French
writer Jimmy Guieu. The appeal of such a bibliography will inevitably be a very
specialized one but its publication has a symbolic importance in representing a shot
across the bows of the Greek critical establishment, which preserves a rigid hostility
towards sf. The introductory essay on, "The Critical Reaction to Science Fiction in
Greece" paints a depressing picture of hostility and rejection which contrasts with
an evidently buoyant public demand. In the 1970s one publisher launched a new sf series
and suffered the scorn of the other publishing houses. The critical commentary on sf which
has been published over the last twenty years has mainly concentrated in precarious and
ephemeral journals like Riddles of the Universe, Andromeda, and Forbidden
Planet. There is to date no academic journal which promotes interest in this field.
Indeed the situation seems to be the all-too-familiar one in Greek culture of a total gap
between officially recognized literature and popular taste. Domna Pastourmatzi's new
bibliography should represent the first crucial step in rectifying that situation. A
sequel is planned which survey material from 1994 up to 2000.
David Seed, Liverpool University.
A Shiel Serial.
M.P. Shiel. To
Arms! Ed. John D. Squires. Dayton: J.D.S. Books (25 copies for
private circulation), 1995. [3 leaves]+v+167. Paper, spiral binding.
"To Arms!" (The Red Magazine, semimonthly 1/1/13-3/15/13) is the first
version of The Dragon (London 1913; reissued slightly revised as The Yellow
Peril, London 1929), which is the third of Shiel's three novels of East-West
conflict, the others being The Yellow Danger (London 1898) and The Yellow
Wave (London 1905). The book is offset from the pages of the magazine. In addition to
the illustrated title-head (the same in all six issues), there are seven illustrations.
There is also a reproduction in color of the dust jacket of the 1913 edition. J.D.S. Books
(P.O. Box 67, MCS, Dayton, OH 45402) specializes in the works of Shiel and his contemporaries; readers may write for a flier listing in-print works by or on Shiel and others.
Mr. Squires writes me that he might "run off more copies in a better binding" of To
What Should Be the Last Word on the
Roy Craig. UFOs:
An Insider's View of the Official Quest for Evidence. Denton:
University of North Texas Press (800-826-8911). xxv+276. $24.95 cloth, $18.95 paper.
This is a sober though often amusing account of the official endeavor to discover the
truth about the unidentified flying objects reported by many people not so long ago and
still believed in by many others. (When my next-door neighbor in the old-folks home in
which I now live discovered that I edited an sf journal, he immediately began to talk
about UFOs and the governmental coverup.) Roy Craig was a member of the team organized by
E.U. Condon at the University of Colorado at the request of the Air Force to investigate
the matter. The first half of the book details the "Field and Laboratory
Investigations of Reported UFO experiences"; the second half is concerned with
"The Production, Content, and Impact of the Condon Report" with a coda on
"Interstellar Travel and the Current State of Human Knowledge."
The Fun Version of the Clute-Nicholls
Grolier Science Fiction: The Multimedia Encyclopedia
of Science Fiction. CD-ROM. Editor-in-Chief not known. Grolier
(800-285-4534, if you can get past the answering machines). $39.95 ($44.95 shipped by
The obvious selling points of Grolier Science Fiction: The Multimedia Encyclopedia
of Science Fiction on CD-ROM (1995) are the hypertext and video features. Hypertext
allows the reader to use highlighted terms in an article to jump to other, related
articles, which is terrific when browsing at leisure, though a little unwieldy if you're
in haste. A convenient "Edit" feature consists of cut-and-paste capabilities; I
could copy passages directly into my word processing program. But the initial attraction
for general users will be the videos.
The videos are categorized by "Themes"About Sf, Space, Time, Life Forms, Mind
and Spirit, and Science and Technology featuring discussions by the usual suspects: Brian
Aldiss, Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Michael Bishop, John Brunner, Lois
McMaster Bujold, Suzy McKee Charnas, John Clute, Samuel Delany, William Gibson, Nancy
Kress, Ursula Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, James Morrow, Andre Norton,
Frederik Pohl, Spider Robinson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Geoff Ryman, Robert Silverberg,
Bruce Sterling, and Connie Willis. Thirty-three more videos feature authors talking about
themes in their own works. These are brief, lucid and well filmed. It was a treat to
discover movie trailers for Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Blob, The Day of the
Triffids, The Little Shop of Horrors, and The War of the Worlds, though I
rather mean-spiritedly agree with the complaints I've seen on the Internet that there
should be more. The "Gallery" includes over 1,500 film posters, book covers and
other artwork and over 350 photographs of authors. At least one gremlin has struck,
though, for the photos of Mike Resnick and Terry Pratchett were swapped.
A "Time Machine" provides a graphic timeline of SF, highlighting film and
book titles in the history of the genre against the context of contemporaneous events in
world politics and technology. These are accompanied by short "audio-anecdotes,"
consisting of very brief summaries, read aloud by a recorded voice, of such subjects as
"Tiptree," "Ballard's Dark Vision," "Sci-Fi Films," and
"Cyberspace." The timeline, a very sketchy chronology, is more useful than the
Unfortunately, a few complaints. In title listings, the articles "A,"
"An" and "The" are indexed, which is contrary to standard library and
bookstore practice and will confuse many users. I also had trouble with the Collections
feature, which allows you to gather and store related essays under your own rubric; I
found that they did not always remain collected on the first attempt. It took me a while
to find the general introductions and list of contributors, which are listed in the
"Help" function under "About this Disc" rather than with the other
articles. But overall the CD is easy for beginners to use, and it is now available both in
retail stores and from Grolier.
The CD container does not list the system requirements, but I found it to work fine on
my IBM clone, which handles Windows 3.1, 8 MB RAM, SVGA graphics (256 colors with 640 x
480 resolution), QuickTime, and a sound card. It is also available for Macintosh.
Fiona Kelleghan, University of Miami.
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