Science Fiction Studies

#81 = Volume 27, Part 2 = July 2000


A Monumental Achievement.

Everett F. Bleiler (with the assistance of Richard J. Bleiler). Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years: A Complete Coverage of the Genre Magazines "Amazing," "Astounding," "Wonder," and Others from 1926 through 1936. Kent State UP, 1998. xxx + 730 pp. $65 cloth.

Anyone who is familiar with Everett Bleiler’s magisterial book Science-Fiction: The Early Years (Kent State UP, 1991) will need no further recommendation: this later volume, in effect a "sequel," is just as essential a purchase for all serious scholars of sf. The Gernsback Years, which concentrates solely on the genre sf magazines from the founding of Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories in April 1926 to the folding of his Wonder Stories in April 1936 (and slightly beyond), is structured on the same pattern as the earlier volume: the main body of the book is arranged alphabetically by author, with each story detailed in chronological order. As before, there is a lengthy introduction and very full sets of appendices and indices. Given its more limited scope (the earlier volume dealt with non-genre sf "from the earliest times up to 1930"), it is a somewhat smaller book—730 pages as opposed to 998, and with less dense type—but it is still a mightily impressive tome.

The Early Years , for all its immense size, was selective in that it covered only those stories and novels, up to 1930, that fell within Bleiler’s (generous) definition of sf. The Gernsback Years, on the other hand, is fully comprehensive within its scope—that is, it sets out to describe every story in every English-language sf magazine published during the eleven years in question. It covers the complete fiction contents not only of the three major magazines mentioned in the subtitle—Amazing, Astounding, and Wonder—but also of all the associated Quarterlies and Annuals, and of such minor magazines as Air Wonder Stories (July 1929-May 1930), Flash Gordon’s Strange Adventure Magazine (December 1936), Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories (April-July 1931), and the sole British title represented, Scoops: The Story Paper of Tomorrow (February10-June 23, 1934). It even details the contents of the first three issues of the pulp Thrilling Wonder Stories—the downmarket successor to Gernsback’s failed Wonder Stories—in order to bring the narrative up to the end of 1936. One of the appendices, "Magazine Histories and Contents," gives very full publishing details of all these magazines, with individual issue contents, cover artists’ and internal illustrators’ names, size, pagination, and much other matter.

In short, this book is the product of a breathtaking achievement in sheer reading: Bleiler has pored through hundreds of issues of (for the most part) bulky pulp magazines and, in a sense, has relieved the rest of us from the necessity of ever having to do likewise. His plot summaries and motif descriptions are clearly and cogently done, and sometimes very funny; his evaluations are pithily expressed and (I am convinced) rest on a reliable judgment. The readings and summaries are all the work of Everett Bleiler alone; his son and collaborator, librarian Richard Bleiler, appears to have confined himself to researching dates and biographical details of some of the more obscure authors.

Although some will have access to runs of the relevant magazines in libraries, the great majority of students of sf will not have the Gernsback magazines (and the early Astounding Stories, initially published by Clayton, later by Street & Smith) in their personal collections. Those crumbling pulps have become too rare, and too highly priced. For most of us, then, knowledge of the contents of the sf magazines of the 1926-1936 period will come mainly from book reprints—a few novels and story-series that have been preserved in hardcover or paperback, and a few useful anthologies. The latter include Mike Ashley’s The History of the Science Fiction Magazine, Part 1: 1926-1935 (1974), Isaac Asimov’s mammoth Before the Golden Age (1974), Damon Knight’s Science Fiction of the 30's (1975), James Gunn’s The Road to Science Fiction #2: From Wells to Heinlein (1979), Forrest J. Ackerman’s Gosh! Wow! (Sense of Wonder) Science Fiction (1982), and Martin H. Greenberg’s Amazing Science Fiction Stories: The Wonder Years (1987). Some of those anthologies recycle several of the same stories, the handful of acknowledged "classics" of that period by Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, John W. Campbell, Stanley G. Weinbaum, and a few others. The vast majority of the stories from the Gernsback-era sf pulps remain unreprinted, and it is for the detailed second-hand knowledge of these that it provides that Bleiler’s book will be particularly valuable.

In fact, with Bleiler’s guidance, it would be possible to compile (in the mind’s eye, at least) another fat anthology of historically interesting but hitherto unreprinted stories from that period, a sort of "Best of Bleiler’s Gernsback Years." The contents could include work by writers almost forgotten today, such as Fred M. Barclay, Bernard Brown, Patrick Dutton, Roscoe B. Fleming, Walter Kateley, Festus Pragnell, and G. Peyton Wertenbaker. Perhaps an adventurous publisher should give some such anthology serious consideration. Would it be of historical interest to students of sf? Most certainly. Would it be of literary value? Probably not. One has to bear in mind that Bleiler’s favorable judgments on stories by the above writers (and some others, more familiar and reprinted) are best appreciated in context—and that context, as numerous other annotations in this book make abundantly clear, was one of mediocrity. Most "Gernsbackian" sf was ill-written and poorly thought-out, and much of it was downright puerile—indeed, a good deal of it was written by teenagers. Some of it is marred for modern readers by racism and other now-reprehensible social attitudes. And yet, and yet... The best of these old stories, even when viewed at second hand through Bleiler’s lens, have the virtue of freshness, the sense of a whole new genre a-borning. They give off crackles of youthful excitement. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.

Sf was not quite as "young" a genre, however, as many of the Gernsbackian authors and their readers perhaps thought. The very existence of Bleiler’s previous book, The Early Years, gives the lie to the notion that sf was born in 1926, as does the fact, amply evidenced in The Gernsback Years itself, that the first two-and-and-a-half years’ worth of Gernsback’s original sf magazine, Amazing, was dominated by reprints of pre-1926 material, and in particular by reprints of stories by one author—H.G. Wells. As Bleiler states, "A story or serial part by Wells appeared in each of the first twenty-nine issues of the magazine" (546). Something was born in 1926, a marketplace category (initially called "scientifiction" by Gernsback, modulating into the more pronounceable "science fiction" by 1930), a self-conscious genre of popular fiction, a hothouse for the exchange of ideas and enthusiasms and hence the forcing of further generic growth—but the genre itself, in a wider literary sense, was not new. In looking through the nearly 60 pages of Bleiler’s "Motif and Theme Index," one appreciates that there was very little there that had not been invented prior to 1926. Sf came to be seen as an American creation, and certainly the great majority of the sf pulp magazines were US-published, but the shadow of that earlier, non-American, writer looms over the Gernsback years, both in the sense that he was present, in reprinted form, in the pages of Gernsback’s first magazine, and in the more important sense that one can see, emerging from many of this book’s story synopses, traces of his direct influence, however crudely reflected. The early genre sf writers read each other’s jejune stories, and they read Gernsback’s editorials; but they also read Wells. No doubt many of them also read Poe and Verne and Bellamy and Jack London; but Wells—I feel sure, after reading Mr. Bleiler’s excellent book, and after reading many stories of the 1926-1936 period in collections and anthologies—was the paramount influence, the writer who above all others conquered the territory and first drew the borders of a major twentieth-century literary genre.

Though Bleiler shows a remarkable command of detail throughout this volume, he does make the occasional error. He lists, for example, Clark Ashton Smith’s "The Eternal World" (Wonder Stories, March 1932) as an unreprinted story, when in fact it was gathered in Smith’s 1948 collection from Arkham House, Genius Loci. But any attempt to list such small mistakes would be mere quibbling with what is obviously a brilliant and monumental achievement. —David Pringle, London

For Fans or Scholars?

Frank M. Robinson. Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History . Collectors Press, 1999. 256 pp. $59.95 cloth.

Brian Stableford. The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places. Fireside/ Wonderland, 1999. 384 pp. $19.95 paper. Dist. by Simon & Schuster.

These two odd reference works are like mirror images of one another: Robinson’s title presents his book as a "history" of sf when in fact it is an album of glossy pictures with a thin threadwork of text that basically amounts to a series of extended captions, while Stableford’s seems on the surface to be a coffee-table volume, replete with drawings commissioned especially for the book, yet in fact is a densely conceived and original critical study of the genre. Both books are worth having for their various—and contrasting— excellences, but the way they have been packaged and promoted is somewhat misleading.

Science Fiction of the 20th Century would be more accurately subtitled "A History in Illustrations." The hundreds of reproductions of sf artwork cramming the book—pulp covers and interiors, movie posters, hardcover and paperback jacket designs—are glorious, perhaps the most sharply pristine ever assembled in one place, and they are generously supplied: virtually every page carries at least one full-color image, and many pages gather a number of them. Artwork from even the most ancient of pulps has been meticulously spruced up; indeed, all the illustrations are so technically flawless—entirely lacking in creases and discolorations—that when the cover of Jonathan Lethem’s novel Gun, with Occasional Music (1994), with its intentionally tattered, weathered look, is reproduced, Robinson’s observation that it attempts to capture the flavor of the pulps comes across as rather ironic. As a treasured gift for a youthful fan (or for oneself), one could hardly do better than this magnificent museum of imagery.

The discursive accompaniment to this visual compendium—Robinson’s "history" of the field—suffers by comparison. In part, the problem is that this material breaks no new ground, repeating the basic "consensus" view of the field to be found in previous coffee-table histories, such as James Gunn’s Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction (Prentice-Hall, 1975). Robinson draws greater attention to the publication chronology and editorial procedures of the pulps than other historians have done, but this focus seems a direct result of needing to gloss the spate of images, rather than a major critical reorientation. His almost ritualistic mention of film versions of sf texts, when available, indicates the presumed audience for the book: those for whom the genre exists basically as a visual medium, a collection of brilliant icons rather than a canon of memorable stories. Indeed, aspects of sf history not easily accessed through image repertoires—e.g., transformations in narrative aesthetics or sf’s evolving relationship to scientific culture—are essentially elided. Robinson is a pleasant enough companion throughout the volume, often serving up hilarious anecdotes or arresting sidelights (such as Hugh Hefner’s relationship with William Lawrence Hamling, editor of a number of 1950s sf digests), but his level of commentary does not run very deep.

This lack of depth is evidenced in his ready recourse to critical bromides (the 1960s New Wave involved "a drastic departure from the safe and familiar turf of rayguns and rocketships and wasn’t welcomed by everybody" [156]) and his perpetuation of debatable truisms (Harlan Ellison’s "City on the Edge of Forever" was "the best episode of the original Star Trek series" [116]). There are also occasional mistakes: The Door into Summer (1957) is not generally listed among Robert Heinlein’s juveniles (110); Snow Crash is not Neal Stephenson’s first novel (182). But these errors hardly matter, since the book really does not deserve to be judged by scholarly standards, but by the abiding fannish taste for bright, startling imagery—a form of appreciation that, I suspect, still lurks in all of us.

Brian Stableford’s Dictionary of Science Fiction Places, by contrast, seems clearly geared for the fan, with its oversize coffee-table format and its generous helping of black-and-white illustrations by Jeff White. Yet upon closer examination, it turns out to be a carefully constructed, cleverly layered argument about the importance of place in the genre’s history—indeed, perhaps the most useful extended discussion of narrative setting in sf literature ever produced. And the book is quite obviously focused on the literature: sf based in visual media is eschewed entirely, though one could imagine Stableford might easily have integrated settings drawn from sf film and television (Metropolis, the Deathstar, Babylon 5, etc.) into the matrix of his discussion.

This matrix is, as the title suggests, constructed alphabetically: the format of the book is a list of major locations in sf’s textual history ranging from isolated architectural structures (the Hall of the Grand Lunar), to sub-planetary habitats such as islands and cities (Noble’s Isle, Diaspar), to space-based artificial environments (Lagrange-5, Ringworld), to planets both real and fictive (Jupiter, Arrakis), to larger-scale galactic systems (the Rim Worlds), to abstract venues such as cyberspace. While admitting that these locales have been drawn from a multitude of texts and could not possibly co-exist in one coherent universe, Stableford does seek to "retain some sense of the connectedness of the whole enterprise"; indeed, his book amounts to an ambitious mapping of sf’s megatext, its overall generic system conceived here as a "multiverse full of alternativerses" (7). The extensive cross-referencing featured throughout the book—following in format from the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (St. Martin’s, 1993), to which Stableford was a major contributor—reinforces this curious sense of cohesion in diversity, so that sf comes to seem a space large enough (both physically and ideologically) to contain Isaac Asimov’s empire of rationality, Trantor; J.G. Ballard’s decadent artists’ colony, Vermilion Sands; Borges’ legendary wonderland, Uqbar; and so on. The cross-references from Borges’ playfully mystical realm show how imaginatively Stableford has conceived his web of allusions, linking up with the planet of Delmark-O in Philip K. Dick’s A Maze of Death (1970), with Marge Piercy’s village of Mattapoisset in Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and with David Lindsay’s world of Tormance in A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) as sites whose textual existence is largely figurative or allegorical. At the other end of the spectrum from these shadowy metafictional locales are the meticulously crafted hard-sf worlds of Poul Anderson and Hal Clement, represented here by twenty and six entries, respectively (a list of Works Cited, organized alphabetically by author, is cross-indexed with the Entry List at the end of the book).

This genre multiverse does have its borders, however. While it includes some famous utopias and dystopias, these tend to be the more science-fictional settings—on other planets or in the future (e.g., Margaret Atwood’s Republic of Gilead). Also, the coverage of fantasy venues is limited to science-fantasy locales (e.g., Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique, M. John Harrison’s Viriconium). Even so, there are some curious omissions: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover is included, but not Andre Norton’s similarly fantastic Witch World (Norton’s work, in my view, is generally under-represented, meriting only three entries). But all in all, this is a remarkably complete compendium of sf’s major and minor places, and each entry bears the stamp of Stableford’s alert, discerning, mordant intelligence.

There is some tension, in the various entries, among competing claims to critical attention: at times, Stableford seems simply to be describing the major features of exotic places (almost as if they were truly extant), at other times to be summarizing the plots of stories played out in specific locales, and at yet others to be offering abstract observations on general tendencies in the genre’s deployment of imaginary habitats. Despite this vacillation in focus—or perhaps because of it—the book is a rich mosaic of information and commentary, at once a nostalgic travelogue and an exploratory critical probe into the theme of place in sf literature. It is highly recommended for fans and scholars alike. RL

Here There Be Monsters .

Joseph D. Andriano. Immortal Monster: The Mythological Evolution of the Fantastic Beast in Modern Fiction and Film . Greenwood, 1999. xix + 179 pp. $55 cloth.

Literary and cultural teratologies, at least when they focus on science fiction, tend to locate the genesis of the sf monster somewhere around Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), when the supernatural and alchemical beasts of earlier Gothic fiction gave way to man-made marauders and science-induced transformations. But there is a much older tradition that has had at least a comparable impact on pop monsterdom, and it is this tradition—the legend of the leviathan or behemoth—that provides the focus for Joseph D. Andriano’s often provocative Immortal Monster, whose subtitle suggests a far more ambitious and encyclopedic approach than the book actually delivers. It’s not uncommon for a monograph’s aims to be far more modest than its title, but in this case it’s probably just as well, since the textual universe Andriano wants to explore ranges broadly from Melville, Pynchon, and John Gardner to killer whale movies such as Orca (1977) and shlock classics such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Any attempt to comprehensively explain the "mythological evolution" of such a range of literary and cinematic monsters would be the work of a lifetime, much of it spent watching cheesy videotapes of unwatchable movies.

Andriano wisely delimits his purview in two ways: by focusing principally on what he calls "leviathanic texts" (of which his archetype is Moby-Dick [1851]), and by offering an introductory disclaimer that he is attempting not to trace exhaustively any one theme, but rather to explore "paradigmatic" texts "that seem to redefine the monster in a way that influences other texts, which I then also consider" (xv-xvi). More often than not, those "other texts" turn out to be movies, so that (for example) when Andriano discusses Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), he spends most of the chapter analyzing the differences among the three film versions, but feels no need to mention later literary treatments of the tale from Brian Aldiss, Gene Wolfe, and others; nor, save for a brief discussion of Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), does he mention the considerable literary heritage of King Kong (1933). Conversely, the one film that would establish a firm link between Moby-Dick, many of these later movies, and the science-fictional notion of the leviathan in outer space (an idea Andriano explores only tentatively) is missing from the discussion altogether: this is the 1956 John Huston/Ray Bradbury film of the Melville novel, which later prompted Bradbury to write a radio space-opera version of the same tale.

There are, in other words, some odd omissions even by the terms Andriano has set out, and some equally odd inclusions. After discussing Moby-Dick, Jaws (1975) and its descendants, the King Kong movies, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Andriano radically shifts gears into a discussion of John Gardner’s Grendel (1971), because the monster’s mere supposedly fills a thematic role similar to that of the Black Lagoon. But then, are we meant to view Grendel as a kind of high-culture response to the same late-capitalist mythic impulse that gave us Jack Arnold movies? It’s an intriguing proposition, but it’s never quite developed or persuasively articulated. Again, there is a whole cluster of pop-culture redactions of the Beowulf tale (including a novel by Michael Crichton) that goes unmentioned as the chapter slides instead into an X-Files episode about an Appalachian lake monster, which is linked to the Loch Ness monster, whose rich cultural history also goes unexamined. In terms of its coverage, then, the book opens far more avenues than it is willing to explore, and sometimes settles too easily for cataloging the failures of manifestly awful movies such as King Kong Lives (1986). As a guide to its putative subject, then, Immortal Monster is a bit limited in scope, and like a number of recent studies of post-Gothic traditions, it tends to view twentieth- century pop culture more through the lens of movies than through literary traditions, even the traditions of genre fiction. But a good deal of what it lacks in breadth is more than made up in the compelling substance of Andriano’s major theses.

Essentially, Andriano sees these various leviathan tales as post-Darwinian versions of ancient monster stories, with the evolutionary perspective leading to a tension between anthropomorphism and bestialization, between the more rigidly hierarchical ancient "Ladder of Being" and the more complexly organized Darwinian "bushy Tree of Life." This evolutionary perspective also leads to what Andriano sees as a continuing undercurrent of racism or racial anxiety in many of these texts—a theme that has often been noted in Moby-Dick or the King Kong movies, but which Andriano also links to Peter Benchley’s Jaws (1974) and Beast (1991) by noting some telling differences between novel and film versions, and between the original film of Jaws and its sequels (1978, 1983, 1987). This theme, in fact, is what powers the first several chapters of the book, which falls into three general parts. The first two chapters discuss Moby-Dick and its more or less direct heirs in Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Spielberg’s film of that novel, the lame whale film Orca, and Benchley’s Beast (produced as a TV-movie in 1996); the next two chapters deal with King Kong, its sequels, remakes, and variations (such as Mighty Joe Young [1949] and Congo [1995]); the next three chapters treat more-or-less freestanding variations on the theme, such as the Black Lagoon movies, Gardner’s Grendel, and Wells’s Island of Dr. Moreau and its three movie versions (1932, 1977, 1996). A final chapter introduces a huge new concept of particular relevance to sf—the effect on these evolutionary myths of the human-machine relationships as explored in Gravity’s Rainbow—but explores the idea almost cursorily and with little hint of the enormous range of potentially relevant texts.

Andriano foreshadows this final chapter by mentioning technology at various points earlier in the book; but some of these mentions seem pretty strained, as when he claims that the planes that bring down King Kong, since they have pilots in them, are early versions of cyborgs, foreshadowing the next evolutionary step just as Kong’s world suggested an earlier stage of evolution. Similarly, he occasionally falls into the trap—not unusual in discussions of popular film—of ascribing his own intellectual arguments to the filmmakers he is discussing. Of the 1976 remake of King Kong, he writes, "The filmmakers are primarily concerned with using the metonymic image of Kong as generic ape to explore the relationship between human beings and other primate species" (69). Throughout, Andriano has made an interesting distinction between the metaphoric and metonymic uses of monsters, but it strikes me as highly unlikely that DeLaurentis and company were "primarily concerned" with this sort of thing at all. Similarly, a famous line from Island of Lost Souls (the 1933 film version of The Island of Dr. Moreau)—"the natives are restless tonight"—becomes evidence that the film "thus draws an ethical parallel between capturing animals and colonizing human beings" (138). This claim rests on the fact that the natives aren’t really natives at all, but altered animals, so why would Dr. Moreau call them "natives" unless the screenwriters intended such a parallel? The much simpler answer—which Andriano acknowledges—is that Moreau merely wants his visitors to think the animals are natives.

Still, Andriano’s template of anthropomorphism vs. bestialization, of the Ladder of Being vs. the Tree of Life, is clearly thought out in theoretical terms, and provides a useful and revealing way of approaching a wide variety of texts in the leviathanic tradition. Moreover, Andriano’s insightful linking of this evolutionary theme with such problematic issues in American culture as racial anxiety, while not entirely original (certainly the racial subtext of King Kong has long been observed, though few other authors have made such connections with Jaws), is provocative enough that one wishes he might have explored it further. A sure sign of Andriano’s acumen as a critic is that one comes away from Immortal Monster wondering what he might have made of more recent novels such as Benchley’s White Shark (1994)—which encapsulates many of Andriano’s major themes, from leviathan to cyborg—or films such as Deep Blue Sea (1999).But then again, White Shark—a pretty bad novel, but no worse than some films Andriano discusses—dates from 1994, and might easily have been mentioned had Andriano cast his net a little further. Immortal Monster offers enough new insights and intelligent readings to make it easily worth the attention of anyone interested in the etiology of pop-culture monsters, but one worries that a good deal of the landscape Andriano hopes to map may still be terra incognita to his own research: here there be monsters indeed, and in far greater abundance than this intelligent map suggests.—Gary K. Wolfe, Roosevelt University

By the Bomb’s Early Footlights.

Charles A. Carpenter. Dramatists and the Bomb: American and British Playwrights Confront the Nuclear Age, 1945-1964. Greenwood, 1999. xvi + 183 pp. $57.95 cloth. Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies #91.

This is a systematic survey of all the plays on the topic of the Bomb that the author could identify as being published in English during the first two decades of the atomic age. And he would seem to have done a very thorough job, since he discusses more than a dozen works that have not been uncovered by earlier scholars, though these are understandably extremely obscure and often quite short. In fact, there is not a really well-known play discussed in the entire volume—because there are no well-known plays about nuclear war from this period. The theater never produced the equivalent of an On the Beach (1957). (It did produce an Alas, Babylon: an exceedingly obscure 1963 theatrical version of Pat Frank’s best-selling 1959 novel written by Anne Coulter Martens; Carpenter doesn’t mention it, perhaps because of his debatable decision to exclude plays that were merely adaptations of books.)

Carpenter analyzes the political context of his subject in some detail, discussing the public events that provided the backdrop for the writings under discussion. The plays are grouped by nationality (American and British) and by theme. Carpenter has done an admirable job of ferreting out background information, such as how the authors became interested in the subject, where their plays were performed, etc. One of the more striking features of the book is its discussion of playwrights who tried and failed to write nuclear war plays. Carpenter also recounts the personal reactions of playwrights such as Maxwell Anderson and Arthur Miller to Hiroshima and the arms race, noting that they did not go on to express their concerns on the stage. He also discusses a few plays with anti-nuclear protest themes that do not actually depict nuclear wars.

The most famous names among those whose plays are discussed are George Bernard Shaw (a couple of brief sketches), J.B. Priestley (Summer Day’s Dream [1949]), Herman Wouk (The Traitor [1949]), and Doris Lessing (Each His Own Wilderness [1958]). Carpenter concludes with a reading of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame (1957) as a postnuclear drama, acknowledging that the playwright strenuously objected to such an interpretation, but nevertheless making some interesting observations about it. When I tell you that there is extended attention paid to Robert Nichols and Maurice Brown’s pre-Hiroshima atomic drama Wings Over Europe (1929) and Marghanita Laski’s 1961 The Offshore Island, you will have some notion of the level of obscurity with which we are dealing. Many of the plays are eccentric and approach their subject with that odd irrelevance that marks so many nuclear war novels. There is also a useful checklist of relevant plays published in other languages.

In his interesting personal introduction, Carpenter discusses how his own apparent obliviousness to the nuclear threat was punctured by a nightmare that led ultimately to the writing of this book. The problem for those who would make the postwar era an Atomic Age loomed over by visions of mushroom clouds is that the subject was avoided, evaded, repressed, and sublimated far more often than it was confronted. It is to Carpenter’s credit that he does not try to inflate the importance of his topic by claiming more currency for the ideas portrayed in these plays than they can justify.

The choice of 1964 for an end date makes sense, for the signing of the atmospheric testing ban in the previous year, in the wake of the traumatic Cuban missile crisis, led to a marked falling-off in public interest in the subject of the threats posed by nuclear weapons. Carpenter acknowledges the revival of interest in the Reagan years, but does not justify his decision to exclude the 1980s boom in writings about nuclear war and weapons, many of which (such as Lee Blessing’s 1986 A Walk in the Woods) reached a much wider audience than the 1945-1964 plays. There is room here for a sequel.

Carpenter draws sensible conclusions about the cultural context of the plays, drawing mostly on two of our finest guides to the subject—Paul Boyer’s By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Pantheon, 1985) and Spencer Weart’s Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (Harvard UP, 1988)—but generally not going beyond them. We don’t learn anything strikingly new about how America and Britain reacted to the atomic age: this study merely fills in gaps in well-charted territory, but does a workmanlike job of doing so. The plays are too obscure and too few to form a school or tradition, and Carpenter wisely resists trying to create one.

Notably rare in the book are references to genre science fiction, which produced the majority of atomic war fictions during the period covered. It is significant that this volume appears not in Greenwood’s Studies in Science Fiction series, but in its Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies line. The book does comment on some television productions of the plays under discussion and on Rod Serling’s script for the Twilight Zone episode "The Shelter," but it does not cover the 1954 ABC television drama Atomic Attack, based on Judith Merril’s Shadow on the Hearth (1950). And Carpenter doesn’t make the allusions one might expect to films, except for Dr. Strangelove (1963). Mick Broderick has covered this territory in his Nuclear Movies (McFarland, 1991) and other studies, so nuclear war film has hardly been neglected; but the absence of Broderick from Carpenter’s bibliography indicates a lack of interest in this related dramatic art.

Despite the various limitations noted above, the volume admirably lives up to its title, covering precisely what it claims to. Though not of intense interest to the average reader, this is a valuable tool for anyone doing research in nuclear war imagery in the arts, and is appropriate for larger research collections.—Paul Brians, Washington State University

SF and the Discourse of Modernism .

Richard Saint-Gelais. L’Empire du pseudo: modernités de la science-fiction. Editions Nota bene (fax: 418-656-7701), 1999. 405 pp. CAN$24.00 paper.

After the sociological approaches of Darko Suvin and Marc Angenot, and the multiple universes of Guy Bouchard, Québécois sf scholarship now offers us a new study by Richard Saint-Gelais, professor at the Université de Laval. This book treats sf not as a collection of particular themes or as a literary genre but as a unique type of textual discourse closely linked to modernism—and even to postmodernism—and which Saint-Gelais examines in great detail from a variety of perspectives.

The work is divided into three main parts and nine chapters. In the first part, called "Quatre Motifs Structurels," the author, in addition to comparing the basic structure of modern sf with that of early anticipation novels, uchronias, and detective fiction, also discusses the semiotic "speed" of the former—i.e., the discursive short-circuit between sf’s futuristic dream and its textual articulation (e.g., the notion of hyperspace [90]). Another element, which does not appear explicitly in the chapter titles but is omnipresent throughout the discussions, is a comparison with mainstream literature, allowing the author to trace a clear evolution in sf’s signifying practices and to demonstrate, for example, the textual originality of "New Wave" sf. Through his incisive observations, many centered primarily on how time is used in the narrative structure of these works, Saint-Gelais succeeds in analyzing sf as a specific set of writing "protocols" (dispositifs, 84) which evolve historically. He highlights the presence of certain perverse effects in the creation of sf’s extrapolations and parallel worlds, and he invites the reader to question the manner by which such effects become themes in the context of a "naive" reading style. Similarly, his treatment of what Wells once termed "scientific patter"—which adds a certain level of verisimilitude to the most imaginative narratives—is treated pragmatically as simple "words of science" (93) that create for the reader a "referential illusion" (94). Rather than discussing plot or thematic content, Saint-Gelais focuses on the mechanisms of how the sf text (much like the "nouveau roman"—e.g., a passage from Claude Ollier is cited [125]) conveys meaning through the destabilization of the traditional frames of reference of place, time, and voice.

The second part of L’Empire du pseudo, two chapters in length, is called "Science-Fiction, Discours et Lecture" and analyzes sf from the point of view of various "reading protocols." Saint-Gelais begins by visualizing sf as being in a constant paradoxical tension between two poles: a fictional narrative on the one hand and an "encyclopedia" (in the sense used by Umberto Eco) on the other. This tension is resolved differently at different stages of sf’s evolution. In early didactic sf texts, the technical discourse limits its narrational possibilities. Later sf becomes progressively more free in this regard, and the fictional worlds wherein the sf plots unfold are reconstructed by the reader from disparate textual indices. Although certainly not the first to do so, Saint-Gelais thus outlines an evolution in sf reader conventions from those of "didactic strategy" sf (141) to those used for decoding more "estranging" sf of the modern era. In so doing, he raises fundamental questions about the sf genre’s intrinsic limits (especially as compared to "mainstream" fiction) and the quality of the reading experience itself.

The third and final part of L’Empire du pseudo, composed of three chapters and called "Modernités de la science-fiction," is somewhat more heterogeneous and unfocused. The author’s diverse musings on such topics as sf’s "artifacts" and the "transfictionality" of Star Trek, although they might make interesting stand-alone articles, seem disjointed and poorly integrated into what precedes them. In this part, Saint-Gelais addresses a number of questions related to the putative "postmodern" aspects of sf. His basic thesis might be summarized, albeit perhaps too simply, as follows. Sf of the "golden age" was characterized (sometimes falsely, as Saint-Gelais also points out) by its naive portrayal at the "zero degree of writing" of fantasized treatments of scientific themes. As a result of and following the "New Wave," sf was promoted as a locus for and a means to the exploration of subtle narrational effects (the "science-fictional" experience), as evident in the texts of Ballard, Dick, or Delany (247). As a direct result, the sf field is now polarized: on the one hand, there is genre sf that portrays in mimetic fashion a future whose signs are immediately recognizable and clear and where the adventures of type-cast protagonists are elaborated within the framework of a linear plot; on the other hand, there is literary sf, whose reading is oriented more toward an appreciation of "textual protocols" and whose generic relationship to sf, although not in doubt, remains nevertheless a marginal aspect of its identity.

Some unanswered questions linger: do these two types of sf (narrative vs. textual) address the same type of reader? Have readers also evolved in the same fashion as sf? Is there an "ideal reader" (Eco) of sf? Despite such reservations, one can only be in favor of a book that adds to our perception of the sf genre. It should nevertheless be noted that the author, in putting such a heavy emphasis on textuality, has perhaps lost sight of the discursive specificity that is unique to sf. Moreover, throughout the book, certain concepts are used without sufficient explanation: for example, the distinction between "fictive" and "fictional" is not clarified until page 310—and, given the complexity of the problem, it still remains quite debatable.

But, overall, Richard Saint-Gelais’s L’Empire du pseudo: modernités de la science-fiction is rich, copious, and generally well argued. It builds upon a large number of earlier sf critical works in both English and French, and it boasts an excellent bibliography. Regrettably, it has no index.—Roger Bozzetto, University d'Aix

Slipstreaming with Lacan.

Fred Botting. Sex, Machines and Navels: Fiction, Fantasy and History in the Future Present. Manchester UP, 1999. vii + 240 pp. $69.95 cloth; $29.95 paper. Dist. in the US by St. Martin’s.

I have never been too bothered by the fact that, in many visual representations of the Book of Genesis, Adam appears to be the proud owner of a navel. As any good poststructuralist knows, it is precisely this type of thing that motivates cultural criticism. If it turns out that the most famous origin story of them all bears traces of impossible events, this merely provides more ammunition against those currently campaigning to have the teaching of evolution outlawed. In the beginning was another beginning that someone is not telling us about. Some genesis. As a cultural critic with an interest in sf, however, I have always been troubled by the scene towards the end of Blade Runner (1982) in which Roy Batty strips to the waist and, in doing so, reveals that he has a navel. Why would a being who has not been born, not been separated from the maternal body, need such a thing? There are, of course, two simple answers: first, and somewhat pedantically, the actor who plays Roy is human; second, replicants are designed to be physically indistinguishable from humans, and an unmarked belly would give the game away (no need for the Voigt-Kampff test; simply lift the subject’s shirt).

While Fred Botting shares my fascination with Roy Batty’s navel, his book resists such a convenient "common sense" explanation. The whole of Sex, Machines and Navels is, in fact, obsessed with the persistence of the navel in our apparently posthuman, postnatural moment. Why, it asks, does this entirely useless flap of flesh continue to figure in contemporary culture? What might it have to say about culture itself, particularly at a moment when, so the story goes, all traces of the natural have been erased? Could it be that the navel—at once "a sign of natural reproduction" and "a scar forming the first mark of culture on the body" (3)—confuses the very opposition between nature and culture? As if to preempt predictable put-downs (and, moreover, to deny reviewers the perfect title for their articles), Botting mischievously describes his own project as "navel-gazing." This, he writes, "may not, after all, prove so idle or pointless an exercise as it is popularly assumed to be. Examining an object simultaneously so visible and so overlooked reveals not only the variety of navel appearances on the textual bodies of culture but also diverse networks of significance in which the navel emerges as a crucial node" (12-13).

The book gazes at navels from a perspective informed by psychoanalysis, particularly the work of Jacques Lacan. The first two chapters, accordingly, provide an exhaustive summary of the place of the navel in Freudian and Lacanian theory. With a remarkable eye for detail, Botting relates how, from out of the belly of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Lacan develops an entire theory of the navel, in which this nexus becomes "the limit of mediation, the point beyond which imaginary and symbolic registers fail, open[ing] on to the unsymbolisable real, glimpsed only in its unknown, abyssal relation’ to analysis" (35). More confusingly, he continues, it "lies at the point where meaning both threatens to evaporate, to unravel beyond the knot that covers a hole, and emerges, particularly condensed, in the fullness of sense. Beyond the knot, in the locus marked by a hole, there is the real, the core of being" (57). But this beyond is truly beyond: it cannot be captured, assimilated, known. The knot, however, remains.

The third section, again principally devoted to staking out the theoretical terrain, considers the relationship between postmodernism and jokes. If humor is, as Freud suggested, a momentary release of repressed anti-social desires, then postmodernism—that "thrilling release from systems of authority, the pursuit of numerous artistic, social, sexual and economic freedoms, and a loss of control experienced as a delirious, aesthetic flight of and from meaning" (70-71)—quite clearly has something of the joke about it. While some cultural critics might denounce the postmodern for privileging navel-gazing and in-jokes over the serious work of changing the world, Botting refrains from rushing into moralizing value judgements. And that is precisely one of the main strengths of this book: through a careful observation of a diverse range of cultural productions, Sex, Machines and Navels highlights connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. It is rare to find a writer who can move seamlessly among the high theory of Lacan, cyberpunk sf, the apparently non-sf "serious" literature of Graham Swift and Julian Barnes, Hollywood cinema, and even the world of fashion (at times the leaps of imagination recall, in method at least, the work of Marjorie Garber). No form of signifying practice is privileged over another: making connections is what counts, and in its finely crafted tying together of things, this is criticism as navel.

The fourth chapter begins to show how the theory, developed in the previous sections, bears upon fiction. Taking Graham Swift’s Waterland (1984) as an example, Botting works through the novel’s approach to the question of history. In this slippery text, itself a knot of stories, "the grand model of History" (121) is forever eroded by what remains unsaid. "Waterland’s stories," Botting concludes, "defer the ungraspable real, repeatedly circulating around and departing from empty vessels: even as they broach the traumatic core of events they look away, to another story" (124). As beautifully executed as Botting’s reading of Waterland is, scholars of sf are more likely to be drawn to the final two chapters, where the narratives of cyberculture, and particularly the fictions of William Gibson and Rudy Rucker, are considered at some length. Drawing in part upon the recent work of Paul Virilio, Botting points out that many cyberpunks and cybertheorists return to humanism, simply because they align being digital with a state of transcendence, with being God, the One who sees and knows everything in an instant. If to plunge into the matrix is often to "plunge through a hole towards a site of plenitude, a jouissance in the One akin to that associated with the original matrix" (170), the real and its attendant desires are clearly alive and kicking.

Rucker’s Wetware (1988), however, is singled out for attention because of the way in which it swims against the tide, "complicat[ing] questions of the future and render[ing] visible the matter of an inassimilable difference" (165). Here, quite simply, the "question of the navel, of one’s relation to the meat, remains paramount" (162). And what remains paramount in Sex, Machines and Navels is precisely an awareness of what remains. The book comes to resemble a litany of what contemporary cyberculture habitually represses. The repressed, of course, always finds a way to return, and Botting tirelessly follows the twists and turns of exactly what returns: the real.

It should be apparent that Sex, Machines and Navels is not simply a book about sf. Yet I think that the book asks some timely questions about the place of sf in the "future present," that strange moment when futures past seem to be here and now. By expanding the field of inquiry beyond sf—by reading Gibson and Rucker alongside Swift and Barnes, for instance—Botting questions the border between sf and non-sf literatures. Bruce Sterling has given the name "slipstream fiction" to texts that wander between those generic spaces, and Sex, Machines and Navels adds some surprising works to the list. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever made Swift’s Waterland or Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (1989) sound so close to sf. When Botting discusses the latter’s refashioning of the story of the Ark, for instance, it is hard not to think of Philip K. Dick’s "The Builder" (1953-54) and to question the easy generic distinction between the two authors. It is not merely fiction that gets such treatment, for theory’s proximity to sf is also considered. Just as Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. memorably identified the "science-fictionalization of theory" in the writings of Haraway and Baudrillard, Botting unearths it in Lacan’s "return to Freud." There may well be, as Slavoj Zizek once pointed out, only one explicit reference to sf in the whole of Lacan’s work, but Sex, Machines and Navels unfolds the implicit.

This is not an easy book. It never compromises its theoretical position and, on many counts, refuses to march in time with a great deal of contemporary scholarship on the place of the human in a posthumanist landscape. Lacanian theory has recently come under attack from various camps for sounding just a little too often like a metanarrative, and it would be easy to criticize Botting for using psychoanalysis as a predetermined key to all mythologies. But I think that Sex, Machines and Navels forestalls such criticism by showing how Lacanian theory remembers something that many of the more fashionable theorists forget (or repress): the unknowable real that dwells beyond the symbolic and the imaginary. Lacan, in Botting’s hands, cautions against crude and totalizing declarations of the absolute end of the human, of the body, of reality (which is not, of course, to be confused with the Lacanian real). If the real cannot be mastered, known, made present, how can we claim to have left it behind? How would we ever know?

It does not follow that Sex, Machines and Navels calls for a return to humanism. What it does call for, however, is a rethinking of our willingness to be seduced by apocalyptic narratives about the absolute death of humanist discourse. Navels, it points out, are everywhere in contemporary culture. They will not go away. They haunt even the most "post-" of "post-"s. History repeats itself not as tragedy, not as farce, but as navel-gazing. And if "Traces of age-old romantic traditions remain in the apocalyptic romance of the machine" (218), the story cannot be over. Know apocalypse? Not now.—Neil Badmington, Cardiff University

Fantastic Flora of England.

Colin Manlove. The Fantasy Literature of England. St. Martin’s, 1999. vi + 222 pp. $49.95 cloth.

The acknowledgments page comments that this volume appears to be the first book on English fantasy—a fact both undeniable and astounding, given the prominence of English writers in the development of modern fantasy. Many works on fantasy turn out to be de facto studies of the British tradition, simply because of the overwhelming presence of Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, William Morris, C.S. Lewis, Mervyn Peake, Kenneth Grahame, Edith Nesbit, E.R. Eddison, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Colin Manlove himself has written about all of those fantasists before. He has not, however, previously explored them in terms of their Englishness. What is there, he asks, about English culture that has drawn such diverse imaginative work from "a people often seen as practical and hard-headed, materialist, prudish, repressed and insular" (1)?

A study of literary nationality can take either of two tacks. First, it may simply assume that works produced within a country’s borders form a natural grouping, and proceed to survey the variety within that category. I think of this as the "Flora of Idaho" approach, not because there is a romance by that name about an eponymous heroine, but because botanists find it useful to categorize all the plant species within a given region, regardless of their appearance in the next state over or halfway around the world. In this approach, we are offered a field guide to English fantasy: here is the sort of thing one is likely to find and where it fits into some sort of taxonomic scheme. The second kind of national study pinpoints common experiences and characteristics that distinguish English-ness from French-ness or American-ness. We might call this the "New World Symphony" approach: the attempt to construct a coherent whole from indigenous materials, as Anton Dvořák did during his stay in America. Of course, Dvořák’s symphony is one part American melody to twenty parts European harmonic tradition, about as American as a batch of strudel. Similarly, theories of national identity notoriously ignore internal differences and external resemblances to construct neat theories of a distinct local character. My own discipline of American Studies offers many cautionary examples of over-generalization. Many early writings in the field are as unsupported and misleading as a traveler’s first impressions—e.g., "The Italians are so romantic; Parisians are rude; Swedes have no sense of humor." Yet the traveler is sensing some sort of genuine cultural difference, and there are aspects of American culture that differ from even such close kin as Canadians—our guns and our religiosity, for instance.

First impressions have the advantage of not much complicating knowledge. National characters are always more evident from the outside, at a glance. When I tried to describe American fantasy many years ago, I used the English tradition as a convenient contrast. It seemed to offer a nice clear pattern, unlike the ill-assorted fragments I was finding. Thanks to scholars like Manlove, whose Modern Fantasy: Five Studies (Cambridge, 1975) was one of the pioneering works in the field, I was able to define an American national character in whatever was not English. Without the grounding in English history and prehistory, the convenient body of British fairy lore, and what seemed (from the outside) to be the unbroken tradition of fantastic literature that Lewis and Tolkien could draw on, American fantasists had to convert such unlikely materials as skepticism and humor into such fantasy worlds as Oz and Earthsea.

But what looked coherent and consistent from across the Atlantic turns out, in Manlove’s new telling, to be more contradictory and more interrupted than it might appear—a punctuated sequence rather than a smooth evolutionary slope. English fantasy has been reinvented many times and suffered as many apparent deaths. Its enemies have included both rationalists and religious zealots, although Manlove points out that one of its important strands is Christian metaphysical fantasy. Though there is a tradition supporting English fantasists, it is one that has had to be reconstructed by each generation of writers, who say, in effect, "What we’re doing is legitimate, because it goes right back to Beowulf or Chaucer or Shakespeare or Coleridge." As Manlove tells the story, it does go back to Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon dream visions, which are succeeded by Anglo-French romances and then by Renaissance pastorals and utopias. His origins chapter actually begins with British fairy tales. This is a slightly shaky argument, since, as he points out, the earliest surviving fairy-tale texts are Renaissance chapbooks and most versions date from the seventeenth century or later. I agree that some version of some magical tales were undoubtedly being told earlier, but not necessarily in a form we would recognize.

Some of the most useful discussions in the book deal with early literary (as opposed to transcribed oral) texts. By focusing on their uses of fantasy, Manlove finds something new and interesting to say about works such as "The Dream of the Rood" (?8th century AD) and Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus (1604). The latter, he points out, is, in a sense, a story "about fantasy: Faustus’s fantasy that he rules the world is overwhelmed by the greater and true fantasy of God; and the materialist who dismisses hell as a fable learns all too painfully its supernatural reality" (26). I wanted to hear more about this and many other insights, but the amount of material to be covered allows only a paragraph or two even about major works. It is to Manlove’s credit that many of those paragraphs are more substantial than many encyclopedia-length entries I have read elsewhere. Only occasionally does he fall into mere cataloguing of works and authors, despite the need to compress.

Aside from a brief introduction and briefer conclusion, most of the historical argument comes in the chapter called "The Origins of English Fantasy." The remainder of the book consists of a series of chronological listings of various types of fantasy. His groupings are labeled secondary world, metaphysical, emotive, comic, subversive, and children’s—categories that, as he points out, are not mutually exclusive and are based on different criteria. The first three are generally concerned with validating belief systems of various sorts, the next two with overturning or questioning such systems, and the last with providing representatives of all the other categories. The bulk of the book, then, is primarily descriptive and taxonomic: Fantastic Flora of England. Taken altogether, though, the groupings themselves suggest Manlove’s argument about national character, his Old World Symphony. English fantasy is that which engages religious and metaphysical notions in a particularly intense way, either by embodying them in fantasy worlds or by turning them loose (often with disastrously hilarious consequences) in the real world. The apparent contradiction between these two techniques is itself part of the pattern of English fantasy, which embraces both Tolkien and Angela Carter. This is a relatively modest claim—that diversity itself is the primary hallmark of the tradition—but it is a supportable and useful one. In his conclusion, Manlove makes a few other suggestions, each of which I wish he had developed further: that English fantasy is "crammed with life" (192), that it involves "mind-broadening adventure" (192), that it "has a social bias" (193) and a tendency to resolve ambiguity into "exposure and daylight" (195). I would like to read a chapter, at least, on each of these ideas. In fact, that is my main complaint about the book as a whole: I want more of everything, more than is possible to fit into a 200-page study.

For me, the most valuable thing about this volume is that it provides a context within which to read—and judge—contemporary fantasy. In earlier works, Colin Manlove has often adopted a grumpy tone toward fantasy writers, who never seemed to live up to his expectations. Here we see how those expectations were formed, and why the standard is so high. The tone this time around, though, is more celebratory than judgmental. Perhaps this new cheer comes partly from having the chance to talk about Spenser and Milton; perhaps from the strength of newer examples by Carter and Peter Ackroyd and Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones. But Manlove seems to take more pleasure here even in Tolkien and Lewis, as if by seeing their work as part of something larger, he need not demand quite so much out of any particular instance but can enjoy the harmonies each adds to the whole symphony. —Brian Attebery, Idaho State University

More on the Two Cultures.

Elmar Schenkel and Stefan Welz, eds. Lost Worlds and Mad Elephants: Literature, Science and Technology, 1700-1990 Galda + Wilch Verlag (fax: 03-30-56-8-01-57), 1999. Leipzig Explorations in Literature and Culture, Volume 2. 371 pp. DM 118.

The twenty-one essays in this volume are the selected proceedings of a 1998 conference held in Leipzig that focused on scientific ideas in literary works. Although the subtitle indicates that the essays are concerned with literature, science, and technology from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, the book’s scope is broader than that: the first essay, by Barbara Korte, deals with the evolving relationship of painting (and of visual arts generally) to physical science over several centuries, and the second, by Richard Nate, is a commentary on the writings of Margaret Cavendish, including her Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy (1666). Most of the literary works studied here are by British authors, but there are also occasional American, Irish, or Caribbean authors, as well as two Russians—A.K. Tolstoy and Mikhail Bulgakov—whose fiction is compared with that of H.G. Wells. The essays take various approaches to the works and to the relationship of literary and scientific cultures: Snow’s "The Two Cultures" (1959) is inevitably invoked at several points, but never in a narrow or reductive fashion. Indeed, what emerges most from the collection is a healthy open-mindedness about how scientific ideas might be appropriated for use in fictional, poetic, and dramatic works.

There is not space enough for me to comment in detail on each essay, but a sampling will at least indicate how the collection might interest readers of SFS. Silke Strickrodt’s paper on Jane Loudon’s The Mummy! (1827) summarizes a neglected novel and shows how it uses contemporary scientific ideas. Hermann Josef Schnackertz argues that several of Poe’s stories, especially "The Business Man," "The Imp of the Perverse," and the Dupin stories, reveal Poe’s interest in and knowledge of phrenology. Kate Flint outlines approaches to hallucination from St. Augustine through the late nineteenth century, then shows how these ideas underlie stories by Margaret Oliphant ("The Open Door" [1881]), Rudyard Kipling ("The Phantom Rickshaw" [1885]), and H.G. Wells ("The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes" [1895] and "The Crystal Egg" [1897]). These stories, she argues, were influenced both by theories of sensory perception and by the emerging field of psychoanalysis.

One of the best essays, "Invisibility: Strategies of Encounter" by Elmar Schenkel, makes a good companion piece for Flint’s study of hallucination. Schenkel looks at ways in which invisibility is used in fiction, relating it to scientific interest in the range of chromatic perception, gaps in space, and the fourth dimension. Another fine piece is Eckart Voigts-Virchow’s overview of the evolving portrayal of mechanization in late nineteenth and early twentieth- century novels. John S. Partington’s "The First Men in the Moon and the Corporative State’" investigates the influence of F.W. Taylor’s models of scientific management on Wells’s portrayal of the Selenites and draws intriguing parallels with Fascist Italy.

For other examples of what is best in the collection, we might turn to the last three essays, each quite compelling in its argument. Klaus Peter Müller’s "Constructionism in the Sciences, in Literature and in Literary Theory" outlines the nature and implications (both for scientific and for literary discourse) of constructionist theory, which defines reality neither simply as "a creation of the human mind" nor as "totally independent of the mind" (312), thereby avoiding both the empiricist claim of objectivity and the arbitrariness of postmodern theory. Jürgen Meyer examines the way black holes and other concepts from physics are used to good effect in Salman Rushdie’s early sf novel Grimus (1975). Dirk Vanderbeke draws both upon G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown (1911, 1914) and on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) in examining the sort of "narrative" implicit in Stephen Jay Gould’s essays on contingent evolution.

The list of works covered here is so long, and includes so many that are not widely known, that I think I can be forgiven for not being familiar with, say, William Henry Bates’s The Naturalist on the River Amazons [sic] (1864), or Morrison’s Machine by J.S. Fletcher (1900), or Athol Fugard’s play Dimetos (1977). The synopses of the various works are generally clear and helpful; some—like Maria and Elena Kozyreva’s summary of The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin (1925; revised 1934) by A.K. Tolstoy—are so interesting that I plan to look for copies of the books. Even when they deal with such well-known authors as Poe, Dickens, Kipling, Wells, Conrad, Chesterton, and Pound, the essays have something new to say: take, for example, Christine Fingas’s comments on Pound’s use of electromagnetic images, or Christoph Houswitschka’s contention that Chesterton’s critique of scientific monism resembles ideas in recent writings on science by Brian Goodwin and Lewis Wolpert. I could quibble about a point here and there, but the arguments seem to me generally plausible and often very strong; indeed, the book’s only serious drawback, in my view, is its lack of an index. This is, in short, a well-chosen and substantial collection of inquiries into relationships between the two cultures.—Patrick A. McCarthy,

New Feminist Cultural Criticism.

Sherrie A. Inness. Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture. U Pennsylvania P, 1999. viii + 228 pp. $47.50 cloth, $19.95 paper.

Lisa Maria Hogeland. Feminism and Its Fictions: The Consciousness-Raising Novel and the Women’s Liberation Movement . U Pennsylvania P, 1998. xxi + 200 pp. $39.95 cloth, $18.95 paper.

These two works provide intriguing and valuable additions to feminist scholarship on the fantastic. Sherrie Inness’s Tough Girls analyzes the increasing number of powerful women that have appeared during the last thirty years in a wide range of American media: television, women’s magazines, film, and comics. The book begins by questioning definitions of "toughness" in American society, identifying the extent to which this aspect of identity has been automatically associated, in the popular media, with the white male hero. While traditional images of masculinity and femininity serve to shore up norms of heterosexuality and patriarchal authority, many Americans—male and female, straight and gay—have, Inness argues, become increasingly fascinated by images of strong women as represented in the media.

The book is organized chronologically to show how "New Tough Women" figures developed over a period of three decades. The first part of the book (Chapters 1-4) examines "pseudo-tough" women, characters whose superficial toughness supports rather than disrupts social conventions of gender. Starting with popular television shows of the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., The Avengers, Charlie’s Angels, The Bionic Woman), Inness argues that these programs presented contradictory images of women. While the female central characters were tougher than many of the women in popular media at the time, the shows also repressed or contained tough women by a variety of means: the use of masquerade or disguise, emphasis on the characters’ sexuality and traditional femininity, and the nature of their relationships with men.

This notion that popular media create images of tough women as commodities while simultaneously acting to control or contain their toughness runs throughout Inness’s analysis of women’s magazines, film, and comics. In a chapter on "Lady Killers," Inness discusses films about women who kill, tracing the image of the femme fatale back to the 1940s. Her discussion of more contemporary materials focuses primarily on the films The Professional (1994), La Femme Nikita (1991), and The Quick and the Dead (1994)—with some attention paid to Thelma and Louise (1991), Galaxis (1995), and The Demolitionist (1995). Killer women are contained, Inness argues, by presenting them as sex kittens, as insane, as lesbians, or as forced into killing because of the lack of a stable family. Their punishment by the end of the films contains their toughness and reinforces social norms.

In Part II (Chapters 5-9), Inness moves on to examine what she sees as the more authentically tough women of the 1990s. In a close examination of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully in The X-Files, Inness analyzes the extent to which these characters are figured as tougher than the earlier women but are also undercut by the emphasis put upon their femininity, vulnerability, and size. As Inness notes, despite the attempts to soften their characters, they are both strong intellectually and ethically.

Inness focuses on science fiction in two chapters of this section, primarily working with television and film, although she does mention some novels. Pairing the ALIEN films (with Sigourney Weaver playing Ellen Ripley) with the TV series Star Trek: Voyager (with Kate Mulgrew playing Kathryn Janeway, the first woman starship captain), Inness contrasts Ripley’s physical toughness with Janeway’s leadership qualities. The film and television series, while presenting tough women, contain this toughness by presenting them as maternal and contrasting them with minor female characters who are more obviously tough than they. In a chapter focusing on post-apocalyptic sf, Inness analyzes the tough women of the TERMINATOR films (1984, 1991), The Blood of Heroes (1989), and Nemesis 2: Nebula (1994). Arguing that these films depict increasingly tougher women, Inness shows the extent to which the three mainstream films repress this toughness by depicting the characters as vulnerable, needing to be rescued, or contained by maternity, while the third film, released only on video, projects a heroine who would not be seen on the big screen because of how much she transgresses social norms.

Inness includes comics, a genre she notes is even more marginalized than science fiction, examining a number of characters and series ranging from Wonder Woman (which appeared in 1941) to mainstream series such as X-Men and recent graphic novels. While more tough women have been appearing in the comics of the 1980s and 1990s, Inness argues that they are still vastly outnumbered by men and are often portrayed as buxom sex toys rather than tough girls. One important exception is Martha Washington in Give Me Liberty: An American Dream, one of the few tough black women in popular culture. Inness argues that Washington is not only physically strong but also a leader who subverts traditional comics conventions by her prominence, complex character, morality, and lack of worry about her appearance. Washington is, however, a minority in more ways than one.

Inness devotes her last chapter to Xena: Warrior Princess, arguing that the success of this character marks a shift in the portrayal of tough women in the mainstream media. Travelling with her horse Argo and her companion Gabrielle, Xena rebuffs male reinforcements and comrades, and the show blurs the boundaries between depicting Xena and Gabrielle as friends and as a possible lesbian couple. Additionally, the self-reflexive and parodic nature of the program, Xena’s status as a flawed hero, and the show’s use of camp techniques that question social conventions, all function to create a different kind of tough woman, no longer as constrained as other such characters in the media. As Inness notes, however, there are two ways in which the show continues to affirm social norms: the continuing ideal of physical beauty/sexual appeal and the convention of the hero as white.

Inness concludes with an Epilogue that summarizes the achievements of women who participate in the Iditarod and other physically taxing sports assumed to be the province exclusively of men, thus challenging the social convention that women are not tough. Yet Inness also questions whether or not it is desirable for women to adopt the brutality and violence that is often associated with the toughness of men. Noting the existence of underground or alternative cultural productions that are more radical in their creation of tough girls and women than the mainstream media, Inness points to the fact that such figures are still outsiders in a culture that continues to hold to the "cult of femininity" that functions to keep women outside the spheres of power and authority.

Lisa Hogeland’s book Feminism and Its Fictions is an ambitious study that focuses on a historically specific group of novels, what she calls consciousness-raising (or CR) novels, discussing their connections with the Women’s Liberation movement and with feminist struggle generally, as well as the role they played in introducing feminist ideas to a wider public. Hogeland identifies her central task as theorizing and historicizing the "high feminist renaissance" of the 1970s (xi), as part of a process of feminist scholarship that could lead to a richer understanding of the present, especially the recent shift in the feminist movement to include issues of ethnicity and class. Hogeland focuses on popular novels in English by American, British, and Canadian writers rather than the "canonical feminist metafiction" of the 1970s (xiii). This focus includes a number of works of science fiction, as well as more realistic novels: authors such as Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, Suzy McKee Charnas, Sally Miller Gearheart, and Ursula K. Le Guin are included. From the start, Hogeland specifically notes the extent to which CR novels have been written by white women (with Alice Walker’s The Color Purple [1982] being an important exception), as well as the extent to which current feminist literary criticism has had problems including women writers of color.

Hogeland begins by summarizing feminism’s growth in the seventies, with an overview of the media attention paid to women’s accomplishments in sports, academia, television, film, and politics. According to Hogeland, the growth in feminism had both positive and negative results: more women began learning about and identifying with the movement, but this growth also led to deradicalization. Hogeland traces multiple networks of seventies feminist activity and theory, arguing for feminism as a new form of literacy—a series of strategies for interpreting texts and society—rather than as participation in specific groups. Hogeland’s complex reading of the seventies feminist movement and its relationship with contemporary fictions not only analyzes representations of women in the texts, but also addresses important contextual questions (such as the suspicion of "famous" writers in a movement with an egalitarian philosophy).

Main chapters are organized thematically around "Sexuality," "Men," "Strategies of Futurity," and "The Sex/Race Analogy." Hogeland draws on original publications by feminists, on historical scholarship about seventies feminism, on CR novels, and on reviews and scholarly studies devoted to them. Distinguishing between "feminist writers" and "women writers" (terms that Hogeland argues against conflating), she makes the case that the consciousness-raising novel was the most important genre, during the 1970s, for both feminist and women writers alike. Hogeland describes a spectrum from "hard" to "soft" CR novels that parallels the shift in the women’s movement from "hard" to "soft" CR strategies. Hard CR links women’s personal situation to the politics of patriarchy in order to change society, while soft CR stays focused on individual women’s psychology with the goal of enhancing self-esteem and providing individual support. Hogeland argues that both science fiction and lesbian novels tend to critique social and political institutions and are thus more "hard" than realist novels that focus on individual women’s psychology and relationships.

Hogeland examines how sexuality is dealt with in the CR novel, specifically through the critique of vaginal orgasms, the issue of abortion rights, and the exploration of lesbianism. Focusing primarily on Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying (1973), Hogeland shows the extent to which these novels reflect feminist ideas about sexuality. She then examines seventies feminist debates about the role of men and the CR depiction of male characters, as well as how reviews (in mainstream, mainstream-feminist, and oppositional-feminist periodicals) evaluated "feminism" as a movement by evaluating the characterization of men in novels. Hogeland shows how race played an important part by contrasting reviews of Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room (1977) and Walker’s The Color Purple. The extent to which racial differences were seriously neglected in feminist discourse at this time is shown by how some feminist reviewers criticized the portrayals of white heterosexual men in novels by white women as "unrealistic" but did not question the portrayal of black men in Walker’s novel.

In her discussion of feminist futures, Hogeland analyzes both feminist science fiction and realist CR novels, spending more time on the sf texts. According to Hogeland, narrative strategies linked to imagining the future involve unfinished/suspended endings, the exploration of generational relationships, and the evocation of historical "mothers" (feminist role models or heroic figures). As noted above, Hogeland argues that sf novels are the only kind of fictions that can show major political change; realist novels, because of genre conventions, focus more on personal change. Hogeland’s analyses of classic works of feminist sf are both original and deeply informed by previous scholarship in the field.

Hogeland concludes with an extended and provocative reading of Thelma and Louise and other texts from the 1980s and 1990s, arguing that the CR strategies used in feminist novels of the seventies became so conventional that it was possible for post- (or anti-) feminist texts to deploy them. The success of the earlier novels spread the knowledge of the conventions but softened them, and the underlying theories of feminism shifted from an evocation of sisterhood (based on a false universality of women) to coalition politics (acknowledging the racial, ethnic, and class differences among women). The CR strategies in Thelma and Louise, according to Hogeland, involve the characters’ perceptions of crossing into a new understanding of their personal future as well as their refusal to return to an oppressive past; a split view of sexuality (as oppressive yet potentially liberatory); a parody of patriarchal discourse; and the portrayal of men as villains (a point of criticism in mainstream reviews of the film). Hogeland argues that, although Thelma and Louise does feminist work (and mainstream feminists have appropriated its images), the film is limited in its usefulness by its reliance on other film conventions (buddy films, road films, and Westerns). Finally, Hogeland extends her consideration of CR strategies to activities on the Internet (especially grrrl culture), contemporary music, and Women’s Studies in order to argue for reclaiming CR as an "intellectually sound" and "politically and theoretically sophisticated" mode of feminist thought and writing (168).

Inness’s and Hogeland’s books are important contributions to scholarship on the fantastic. Approaching a wide variety of texts and genres (ranging from mainstream to marginalized), both authors show how fantastic texts question social conventions about gender and sexuality, explore feminist ideas, and invoke possibilities for social change. They are significant additions to any collection of feminist cultural criticism.—Robin Reid, Texas A&M, Commerce

An Indispensable Writer.

Jeanne Cortiel. Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ/Feminism/Science Fiction . Liverpool UP, 1999. viii + 254 pp. £32 cloth; £15.95 paper.

Joanna Russ. What Are We Fighting For?: Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism. St. Martin’s, 1998. xx + 476 pp. $27.95 cloth.

Jeanne Cortiel offers a single-author study of Joanna Russ’s works in the context of the history of late-twentieth-century feminism. The book is well-written and elegantly argued, even in the sections that depend on difficult theory. Cortiel explores relevant definitions of science fiction in the introduction, and divides the study into three sections based on Russ’s career as writer and as feminist. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Cortiel sees a Russ who, in works like the ALYX stories, is a materialist, advocating political equality, and less experimental in prose than she will become. In the mid- to late 1970s, Cortiel proposes a Russ who, in works like The Female Man (1975) and We Who Are About To... (1977), is influenced by cultural feminism, with its emphasis on essential differences between the sexes, a writer arguing for sexual equality and experimenting with cyclical time in narration. In the 1980s, Cortiel advances a Russ who, in works like Extra(Ordinary) People (1984), moves towards postmodernism and explores multiple identities and the indeterminacy of categories as an aid to politics. Cortiel links her brief overview of the recent history of feminism (one of the best I’ve seen, though she needs to qualify her periods by acknowledging that they are less discrete than she proposes) to Russ’s interest in female agency, female sexuality, and the fluidity of self and political strategies.

In the three chapters of the first section, Cortiel covers the early Russ, in chapters on narrative, androcide, and the dialectic movement of The Female Man. Following a superb close reading of the short story "My Dear Emily," Cortiel rereads Russ’s criticism to suggest that, in her early fiction, "life" and "lyricism" are not two alternatives to male myths, but one—a simultaneous creation and disruption of plot deriving from female personal experience. With great persuasiveness, Cortiel explores androcide, not as a political strategy in Russ’s ALYX stories, The Female Man, and The Two of Them (1978), but as a narrative device representing women’s claims to agency. Especially interesting is Cortiel’s formulation of the death of Boss at the hands (claws?) of Jael: the orgiastic death of Boss is "just" punishment for a rapist, a vengeful violation of the male body in return for male violation of female bodies. Cortiel postulates, quite appropriately, a link in Russ’s works of this period to Shulamith Firestone’s proposal that women seize the means of reproduction. Finally, she poses the characters of The Female Man as not only versions of the self, but also different stages of the self in a dialectic: selfless Jeannine, self-obsessed Jael, and utopian Janet, whose self is in balance with society. Thus, Russ is moving away from seeing exceptional individual women such as Alyx as models, towards seeing agency as based on collective acts, with characters’ agency tied to women as a social class.

In the three chapters of the second section, Cortiel covers Russ’s middle career, treating the motif of the rescue of the female child along with issues of lesbianism in Russ’s works. Cortiel offers a nuanced discussion of how essentialist discourses interpenetrate social-constructionist views of gender in Russ’s vocabulary, especially in her efforts to express the "liberatory potential of the female body-community" (101). In an extremely helpful reading of the intertextuality of The Two of Them, based on Arthur Conan Doyle, the stories of the Arabian Nights, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wall-paper" (1892), Cortiel argues that Russ aims not for a monolithic authority as a writer, but for an authority that is fragmented, decentralized, temporary. In Russ’s many stories where an older woman rescues a younger one, Cortiel finds an interest in narrative itself as liberation: androcide, for example, is fundamental to Russ’s thinking, since it restores women’s speech. In addition, Russ explores the older woman as a mother figure reuniting with self, providing a link both to women’s history and to the utopian desire to give birth to a new society. In a fascinating excursus through the sex scenes in Russ’s works, Cortiel elucidates the politics of rejecting penetrative sex as oppressive, so that clitoral sex (including masturbation) can be reformulated as women’s agency.

In the three chapters of the third section, Cortiel covers recent Russ in chapters on Sapphic models, fragmented identities, and postmodernist disjunctions of sex/gender roles. Cortiel argues that Russ’s representation of lesbian pleasure as performance allows her to present lesbian sex as also a claim to power, one that is not essential but "contingent and situational." Throughout this most recent period of Russ’s works, Cortiel finds her "consistently partial" in her affiliations, resisting the universalization of her characters’ experiences. Returning to the multiple selves of The Female Man, and examining the narrator-as-committee in On Strike Against God (1980) as well as the narrative deconstruction in We Who Are About To..., Cortiel proposes fractured identity as a means Russ uses to be able to tell new stories that escape patriarchal constraints. Following Donna Haraway’s reading of Russ, Cortiel suggests that Russ’s vampires, ghosts, and aliens offer impersonations of humanness and femaleness in order to explode the concept of the "natural" female body on which earlier feminism rested (and foundered). Russ’s utopias look forward to futures where sex and gender are pretexts for playful performance, rather than oppressions.

My complaints are few about this stunning exposition of Russ’s works. There is nothing in the bibliography published after 1995: the author needed to update her scholarship. It is especially unfortunate that Russ’s own exposition of her politics, What Are We Fighting For? (discussed below), is missing. And at times, Cortiel is a bit too laudatory—as in her dismissal of charges that Russ stereotypes Arab culture in The Two of Them. I especially appreciate the clear, carefully defined progress of the argument, and the perceptive use of Russ’s own sf criticism to analyze her writings. Cortiel does not impose her own or someone else’s theory on Russ, as evidenced by the numerous cited letters from Russ written in response to Cortiel’s explications. I recommend this book to any reader interested in Russ’s fiction, or in women’s science fiction generally.

I also recommend Joanna Russ’s What Are We Fighting For?, although it is not science fiction or science fiction theory. This hefty book is a socialist-feminist-antiracist manifesto, Russ’s own working-out of her theory in relation to the last twenty years of feminist theory and activism. In chapers 1-7, Russ sets out arguments for positioning herself as a feminist, retrieving the erased history of women, criticizing feminist psychology and specifically Freudianism as offering insufficient explanations of women’s oppression, exploring separatism and lesbian invisibility, exposing the myths of heterosexuality, and excavating women’s unpaid or underpaid work and their poverty. In chapters 8-11, Russ positions herself as a socialist, discussing women as a sex-class, seeing women’s oppression as material (not ideological), attacking state control of reproduction, and defining the family as an institution linked with the institutions of capitalism. Finally, in chapters 12-15, Russ positions herself as an antiracist, critiquing feminism as a white women’s movement, showing the interaction of oppressions and the creativity originating in multiple identities, advising white women on how to stop taking charge of feminism so that all women can build coalitions, and linking socialist analysis of the oppression of women with the oppression of people of color as classes.

Some readers will want to use this book in undergraduate women’s studies courses, since the arguments are clearly and accessibly articulated and the extensive notes send readers to specific studies of the supporting pieces of Russ’s argument. Readers interested primarily in Russ’s science fiction and utopias will benefit from this book as an overview of her political development, but also will find enlightening her view of the process of feminist organization and scholarship as "webwork" (xix), her requirements for utopian societies (193, 242), her view of the exploitation of wives and non-dominant groups as feudal practices (257-58, 372), her prediction of the end of kinship as an organizing principle (281), and her appreciation of the creativity resulting from conflicting loyalties to multiple identities (322). Her definition of feminism is especially useful—"the study of the patriarchal system of unrecompensed labor and the politics and propaganda that maintain it" (253). What all readers have come to rely on Russ for is generously given again in this book—unstinting honesty about herself and about all of us she has to live with. This is not a comfortable book, and that is good news.—Jane Donawerth, University of Maryland

Imperial Gothic Fantasies.

Jennifer DeVere Brody. Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture. Duke UP, 1999. xii + 257 pp. $49.95 cloth; $17.95 paper.

In "The Half-Breed as Gothic Unnatural" (in Shearer West, ed., The Victorians and Race [Ashgate, 1996]: 101-11; reprinted in Shadows of Their Own Creation: Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth-Century Britain [Stanford UP, 1996]), H.L. Malchow has persuasively argued that Anglo-America regularly employed Gothic discourse to codify and pathologize the other at home and abroad—the effect of "a concurrent gothicization of racial discourse and a racialization of Gothic fiction" (102). In particular, Malchow claims that it was the partially white "half-breed"—once seen as the highest category of a colored race, an "eternal victim raised from the bestial" through "the actual blood of the white paternalist" (103)—who increasingly became an object of fear and scorn at the fin-de-siècle. Indeed, the narratives that evoked these monstrous hybrids often did so in an attempt to suppress, punish, or kill off the specter of biological and associated cultural impurity that had haunted the European imagination since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). As hybrids of colonizer and colonized, altern and subaltern, subject and abject, the liminality of these fantastic bodies represented the ontological fluidity and social indeterminacy of even those categories of identity that had once seemed safely certain: human and animal, civilized and savage.

Gothic fantasies such as Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1888), Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm (1911), or Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) provide ample support for such a thesis. At the end of the third chapter of Impossible Purities, Jennifer Brody suggests that such works show a growing late-Victorian sense that people could not be separated into neat categories but indiscreetly took on multifarious attributes. Malchow’s work will perhaps be of more interest to scholars of the fantastic than Brody’s, which also considers tropes of fantastic hybridity in its discussion of nineteenth-century racial ideation. Brody’s more narrowly focused book is directed toward Victorianists, feminist theorists, and specialists of "black Atlantic studies"—audience orientations that lead her to discuss fantastic tropes tangentially and with a modicum of fantastic theory. Her stated purpose is to problematize nationalistic nineteenth-century English formations of blackness and whiteness that presupposed a static, pure ground, one that supposedly rendered associated subjectivities distinguishable and discreet. Brody’s special interest is in the "miscegenated’ coupling" of white men and black women, through which she examines the erasures and exaggerations, distinctions between and conflations of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

There can be little question that Jennifer Brody’s first book makes a significant contribution to studies of race in nineteenth-century Britain. She often finds surprising intersections between cultural phenomena as she applies her own hybrid, theoretical perspective to an impressive range of sources, which include Greek statuary, political cartoons, playbills, popular and canonical novels and poetry, journalistic accounts, illustrations, painting, and theatrical performances. Her study’s prologue, four chapters, and epilogue each provide an arresting series of close readings of disparate phenomena, as well as a relentless enumeration of racialized tropes.

It has become de rigueur for projects employing a cultural studies approach to draw upon fantastic texts, especially those that have canonical or near-canonical status. Impossible Purities is no exception. Brody’s prologue touches lightly (and unsatisfactorily) upon the caucus-race scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), but it is her fourth and final chapter that provides, through a reading of The Island of Dr. Moreau, her most sustained discussion of fantastic hybridities. The novel, she writes, "registers as well as reinscribes the belief that the fate and status of the English race itself is in jeopardy of becoming monstrously hybrid, blackened, and feminized" (130). Brody sees Prendick’s self-consciousness of difference, surrounded by beast-men as he is on the island, as symptomatic of the middle-class Englishman’s growing awareness of his own racial identification at the height of British imperialism. The vivisected puma’s blackness and femininity are read as significant sources of anxiety, for they render her "a defiant daughter, the source of the threatening downfall" (131). The beast-men in general suggest how evolutionary thinking led to a blurring of the categories between animal and human that had once seemed fixed and distinct in the early-modern Great Chain of Being. Brody argues that Moreau’s experiments—after the growing scientific fashion of eugenics—represent an attempt to extract Englishmen symbolically from the primordial chaos of corrupted evolutionary origins, metaphorically taming the beast within through literally transforming the beast without.

As the island may be seen as a microcosm of an England that no longer exists in splendid isolation but has indefinite geopolitical borders, Brody suggests that Moreau’s experiments also represent a colonizer’s desire to tame and purify the colonized subject, and that the beast-men’s reversion to their natural state reveals an English belief in subjugated and inferior populations’ resistance to civilization. In her view, what makes Moreau unpalatable to its contemporary audience is that the doctor’s otherwise appealing doctrine of progress presses for a too-rapid, revolutionary change, one that does not respect the slow, inherent caution of natural adaptation. In this, Brody believes readers will hear the echo of the ideological in the biological. She suggests that Moreau’s failure to successfully transform the beast-men may be read either optimistically, as an inability of the lower orders to achieve equivalency, or pessimistically, as the inability of the white man to master the abject. The failure, she argues, may also have reinforced the idea that the pain-insensitive flesh of dull brutes could not be mixed effectively with that of a higher order.

Jennifer Brody identifies hybridity as the real source of anxiety in the narrative, one that the ending points up and may seek to contain. Yet I would find her reading even more satisfying if it did not so simply and swiftly convert the animal into the savage human; assume that the animal, as a category, is necessarily abject in Wells’s fiction; or slide the treatment of a black race (as her prologue suggests) into one that includes "island races" more generally (an elision of racial and ethnic categories that Brody avoids elsewhere). Further, a more careful and extended account of why evolution, rather than the more common concept of devolution, is the source of horror here would also be more satisfying. Even given these concerns, I recommend Impossible Purities’s reading of The Island of Dr. Moreau for the ways it enriches our understanding of how racial, gendered, and scientific discourses may intersect with the colonial in this novel and in other Victorian fantasies of dark (in)difference.

In her epilogue, Brody treats one last fantastic work: Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm. Brody argues that "Stoker’s text trades explicitly on unequal, asymmetrical pairings of white and black, English and American, masculinity and femininity, Christian and heathen," opposites that "come together as the novella obsessively describes dangerous tropes of miscegenation" (172-73). The feminized English landscape is tainted, just as the Lady Arabella has been both "invaded" and "impregnated" by a primordial white worm. Arabella’s fascination lies in her blending the outward purity of superlative, aristocratic whiteness with inward corruption. In worm form, she is black and foreign, her whiteness only a thin veneer of virgin English clay. Oolonga, the local lord’s African retainer, is read as a civilized savage, a hybrid figure whose dangerousness is rooted in his unwholesome desire for a white woman. In contrast, Mimi, the mixed-race bride of Adam Salton, is idealized for her inner whiteness, providing a sentimentalized portrait, popular at mid-century, of a tamed or refined multaroon (a term coined by Brody to stand for "the figment of the concept of pigment" that the "woman of color" represented [16]). She is purified through her association with whites and with Christian symbolism. It is in the reading of this final fantastic work that Brody succeeds most fully. Her convincing treatment suggests most directly how pervasive symbolic associations of whiteness with good and blackness with evil reinforced an imaginative imperative for English racial purity.—Kelly Searsmith, Appalachian State University

[Editor’s Note: Another recent volume that provides valuable perspectives on late-Victorian fantastic texts is Kirby Farrell’s Post-Traumatic Culture: Injury and Interpretation in the Nineties (Johns Hopkins, 1998), which contrasts "traumatic" theories and cultural practices of the 1890s and the 1990s. The earlier section includes chapters on Doyle, Haggard, Wells, and Wilde, while the later section covers "prosthetic fantasy" in Gibson’s Neuromancer, among other topics. The Wells chapter, entitled "Traumatic Prophecy," offers provocative readings of The Time Machine and other scientific romances.—RL]

A Blurred Close-up .

Brian W. Aldiss. The Twinkling of an Eye: Or, My Life as an Englishman . St. Martin’s, 1999. 484 pp. $32.50 cloth. First published in the UK by Little, Brown in 1998.

Within this latest compilation of Brian Aldiss’s autobiographical writings, one may identify at least three basic texts, plus extracts from a dozen others. In the effort to understand himself, and of course to invite others to do so, Aldiss has reshaped the materials of his life repeatedly, in fiction as well as autobiography. Besides the present account, the previous autobiographical texts include (chronologically) "The Glass Forest" (1986)—an expanded version of an essay originally done for Gale Research Press’s Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series that appeared in Aldiss’ ...And the Lurid Glare of the Comet (Serconia, 1986)—and Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith’s: A Writing Life (Hodder & Stoughton, 1990). The novels that contain extensive autobiographical passages include the HORATIO STUBBS SAGA (The Hand-Reared Boy [1970], A Soldier Erect [1971], A Rude Awakening [1978]), Life in the West (1980), Forgotten Life (1988), Somewhere East of Life (1994), and others. For the Aldiss fan, reading The Twinkling of an Eye presents an almost continuous sensation of déją vu: phrases, sentences, paragraphs, even whole pages one has read before turn up in the narrative. Yet the net impression of this reshaping is new.

As Aldiss comments in "The Glass Forest":

It is the duty of the writer to fumble his way towards truth.... At the same time, truth is elusive; if the future is fluid, so is the past.... Were I to write this article in a year’s time, or had I written it a year ago, no doubt the emphases would be different, and those in turn interpreted differently by the reader.... (...And the Lurid Glare of the Comet 97)

On this particular occasion the tale of the author’s life might be said to have a "happy ending," and so the text of Twinkling differs markedly from earlier versions of Aldiss’s story (like "The Glass Forest") in which pain and insecurity seemed dominant. In broad outline, the new book in fact resembles those Freudian psychodramas of the midcentury, in which a central epiphany banishes the dark night of the soul and the protagonist’s life is changed "in the twinkling of an eye."

Not without plenty of Sturm und Drang, however. In its earliest appearances in the text, the title’s Biblical allusion is mostly grim. Recalling a moment of childhood terror, Aldiss recounts the death of a family cat, treed by two yard dogs:

My arrival startles the cat. It decides to make a run for it.... It has gone only a few feet before the dogs are on it. Next moment—in the words of Handel’s Messiah, Behold I show you a mystery ... we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.’ The cat is changed ... it becomes an incoherent red mess, stretching, stretching, as the two dogs rush past me, each fastening on to a strand of flesh ... growling in parallel. (63)

Abrupt, traumatic change, often regretted, occasionally welcomed, is the recurrent motif of these scenes from the author’s formative years.

Part One of the volume, subtitled "Necessitations," begins with the author finally going off to war in 1944 and then moves backwards, covering the family’s wartime move to Devon, Brian’s earlier "exile" to public school, then the familiar scenes of his childhood in East Dereham, Norfolk. At the center of this section is a couple of chapters on the witless cruelty of his parents, who are the source of his deepest fears and insecurities. When he is yet an infant, his gruff, insensitive father stops his crying by dangling his little body out of a second-story window, upside down. Both parents laugh about this when they tell the child about it later. Baby Brian laughs with them, albeit very nervously. At the time of his birth, his mother is still grieving over a stillborn baby daughter, for whom she fantasizes a short life and an angelic nature; she then uses this fantasy to denigrate Brian for his comparative shortcomings, always threatening to withdraw her love if he is bad, or go away and leave him, or both. She constantly prays for a daughter in his place, and makes him pray for her also. When his little sister is finally born, Brian, who at that moment has whooping cough, is instantly banished to Peterborough. He sees it as fulfillment of his mother’s threat: he has been abandoned and replaced by the daughter she wanted all along. Miserably lonely at boarding school, he concludes his mother does not love him and hardens himself against her. So deep-seated is the resulting conviction that he is both unworthy and unwanted, that when his own daughter is born, he again leaves home, recapitulating the childhood trauma. His mother’s apparent betrayal is the wound at the source of all his domestic instabilities, not to be resolved until the "twilight years" of his career.

Happily, perhaps, Aldiss also senses that his life has begun afresh on several occasions. One of these is his entry into World War II as a signalman in the "Forgotten Army," sent to dislodge the Japanese from Burma. His experiences there occupy the rest of Book One, which ends with his return to England and his flight from home to Oxford. (These experiences are also treated in Forgotten Life and A Soldier Erect, as well as in passages of Bury My Heart and "The Glass Forest.")

The middle section of the book shifts from personal to public reminiscences for the most part, incorporating much of Bury My Heart, and the tone changes. This is the Aldiss we all know, the world traveler, the goodwill ambassador, the acerbic critic of life and literature, the historian of science fiction, the author of a series of critically and commercially successful books, and the winner of numerous awards. Much of his account is perforce a name-dropping exercise. But here and there the seeds of his psychodrama continue to sprout:

Margaret [his wife] and I had a falling out about something or other. Feeling hopeless, I turned my back and was going to leave. She said ... Don’t turn away from me.’

Don’t turn away! I did not recall anyone ever saying that to me before. I turned back to her and took her in my arms.

Margaret’s words showed me how I had learnt to behave. Always, the sense of being unwanted.... A harsh word and I was off. What Margaret said showed me how Bill and Dot [his parents] had never called me back. Bill would have speeded me on my way with a parting jibe. I would have retreated to my room, to solitude and a book. (352)

As the final section of the book, which is largely new material, begins, Brian’s marital infidelities have brought on a domestic crisis. "There followed mental breakdown, succeeded by illness" (386). Along with clinical depression, a "fog" veils much of his memory. The medical diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome offers no practical help, and a psychiatrist is recommended. On his last trip to Dereham, to bury his Aunt Dorothy, Brian had already discovered that his supposed sister, whose image as a "steel engraving angel" had haunted him much of his life, had in fact never lived. Now, telling the story of his life to the psychiatrist, Mrs. Green, "a cohesive, sometimes diffuse tale, such as I have told here" (401), "the past was transformed. In the twinkling of an eye, it became something valuable to me, worth having. My personal mythology" (402). The peak experience of this period concerns what he calls a "visitation" from his anima, a voice that convinces him that his mother did love him, and that having rejected her in childish hurt, he has discounted the very real evidence of her love. From his new conviction comes a miraculous personal reassessment and the ability to forgive. At last, he says, "the parents were laid to rest.... I had stepped out into the sunshine. I was changed" (409). The book ends with a return to the newly confident persona of the world traveler.

This life record is a sprawling compilation, often uneven in mood and tone, most interesting when most personal, evoking both the delights and the traumas of growing up. Aldiss reveals along the way the biographical significance of much of his fiction, even the forbiddingly abstract Report on Probability A (1968), which he says reflects the "paralysis of feeling" that followed his father’s "terrible act" in dangling him out the window as an infant. "There had been another probability world, the world of Probability A, where everything had remained frozen, without emotion, without future.... how true to my inner self my fiction was!" (408) Aldiss also presents us with several recurrent dreams that seem significant at various moments of his life, and that form part of his persistent mythologizing, seeking meaningful connections among kaleidoscopic events.

The life revealed in Twinkling is certainly not an unexamined life. And yet, perhaps, some of the connections seem a bit contrived. The Index is admirable, though I wished the titles of Aldiss’ novels had been included in the alphabetical listing (they are lumped under the entry for his name). The dust cover features a photo of the youthful Aldiss swimming with his army mates in the Mu River. Below that is a blurred close-up of the mature Aldiss, with his friend Ursula Kiausch reflected in the lens over his right eye.—Robert A. Collins, Florida Atlantic University

On Looking into Chapman’s Silverberg.

Edgar L. Chapman. The Road to Castle Mount: The Science Fiction of Robert Silverberg . Greenwood, 1999. xiv + 209 pp. $59.95 cloth

This book has many strengths and one perhaps vitiating weakness. The main strength is Chapman’s great skill as a reader which, combined with his obvious respect for Silverberg’s work, produces some excellent interpretations of key texts in American New Wave sf—Dying Inside (1972), The Book of Skulls (1972), "Born with the Dead" (1974), and many others. Indeed, Chapman essentially covers all of Silverberg’s immense output in the fantastic genres, making this the most wide-ranging overview of the author’s career available (easily supplanting Thomas Clareson’s 1983 study in the Starmont House series). When Chapman is engaged with the fiction itself, I have very little quarrel with his judgments: he has an unerring eye for Silverberg’s key themes, tracking them across several decades of disparate work. Indeed, his linked contentions that Silverberg has been consistently working towards "a maturing vision of human aspiration and tragic human limitations" (12) and that this progress has been marked by an abiding "conflict between his visionary and ironic selves" (1), seem quite cogent (especially as worked out through the readings), and are likely to provide a valuable critical template for assessing the author for some time to come. Moreover, Chapman shows an admirable ability to identify literary influences on Silverberg’s writing, displaying, for example, the broad range of materials Silverberg synthesized in Dying Inside—from traditional sf tales of mutant outcasts (Van Vogt’s Slan [1940], Stapledon’s Odd John [1935]) to American Jewish modernist depictions of alienated "schlemiels" (in the work of Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth). As a guide to Silverberg’s evolving repertoire of ideas and influences, Chapman could hardly be bettered.

The main weakness of the study is Chapman’s larger evaluative animus, which is driven by a defensive anxiety about the putative stigma of generic "hackwork" on the one hand and a reverential aspiration towards canonical enshrinement on the other. In other words, Chapman is caught in the conventional—and by now quite boring and useless—critical bind of either depicting Silverberg as a capable genre craftsman or arguing for his more general aesthetic worth. Chapman attempts to do both here, but this results in some peculiar rhetoric and strained argument.

The oddest rhetoric is the guild metaphor of literary production Chapman deploys throughout: Silverberg’s career is anatomized into "four logically distinct divisions ... an apprentice period [during the 1950s], a journeyman period [during the early and mid-1960s], a climactic period of mastery [during the late 1960s and 1970s], and a second period of mature work [since 1980]" (6). The effect of this metaphor is to impose a dubious continuity on a career that has been notoriously marked by violent interruptions—most famously, Silverberg’s angry "retirement" from writing in the late 1970s, in disgust that his serious sf was not reaching a very large audience. In fact, this moment provides the most difficult crux for Chapman’s argument, since he is forced to minimize Silverberg’s rage at the genre in order to mitigate accusations that his subsequent return to the field was motivated by cynical commercialism. Chapman does the best job possible arguing that Silverberg’s late-career fiction represents a period of creative growth rather than a mere retrenchment, but he is ultimately unconvincing (though he does provide fine readings of novels such as Gilgamesh the King [1984] and At Winter’s End [1988]). Yet rather than seeing Silverberg’s developing genre production as evidence of a growing artistic craftsmanship, it might perhaps be more fruitful to view it as a series of exasperated feints and shrewd adaptations, all driven by the exigencies of a boom-and-bust marketplace.

Chapman’s other goal, of defending Silverberg as a literary genius with a uniquely brilliant aesthetic vision, exists rather uneasily with the portrait of him as a solid genre-guild member. As if in compensation for the latter depiction, Chapman stretches credulity in his comparisons; Silverberg’s recent tendency to refer to himself merely as an "old pro" is downplayed by Chapman in favor of absurd assertions such as the following: "we may find it useful to regard Silverberg’s current period as one when he further refines his role as a maker of sophisticated fables, like a prolific twentieth-century Hawthorne, or a modernist novelist sharing affinities of vision with Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster and the James Joyce of Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (11). Is this sort of inflated rhetoric really necessary to convince us that Silverberg is a serious talent worthy of careful critical study? Chapman’s readings of Silverberg’s fiction—especially that of his "climactic period of mastery"—make this fact abundantly clear, and the persistent allusions to Eliot, Yeats, Kafka, etc., are at best mere window-dressing and at worst embarrassing hyperbole.

The capping bibliography is not complete—my 1992 essay "Some Thoughts on Modernism and Science Fiction (Suggested by Robert Silverberg’s Downward to the Earth)," in The Celebration of the Fantastic, eds. Donald E. Morse, Marshall B. Tymn, and Csilla Bertha (Greenwood, 1992), is not cited—and there are some irritating errors (such as the consistent misspelling of Samuel R. Delany’s name). But still this book stands as the best critical work to date on Silverberg’s sf, despite its major and minor flaws. RL

A Mixed Bag .

Gary Westfahl and George Slusser, eds. Nursery Realms: Children in the Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. U Georgia P, 1999. xiii + 223 pp. $40 cloth. $20 paper.

All but one of the essays in Nursery Realms were presented at the Fifteenth Eaton Conference in 1993. The volume clearly illustrates both the possibilities and the perils inherent in assembling a collection from the proceedings of a narrowly focused conference. On the positive side, the restrictive topic— children in fantastic literature—has produced a concentrated array of essays that juxtapose classic and unfamiliar works in strikingly fruitful ways. Unfortunately, the negatives one might expect are here as well: the contents are highly uneven; many individual selections are too short to be read without the author present for an extended Q&A designed to fill in the glaring gaps (or gaffes, in some cases). Finally, while some authors (Heinlein, King) and approaches (parallels with fairy tales and folklore) are well covered, other topics are embarrassingly absent. In a volume on children in fantastic literature there is, for example, no examination of Le Guin’s EARTHSEA trilogy, of the work of C.S. Lewis or Suzy McKee Charnas, or of the recent trend in horror for children by the likes of R.L. Stine. Not only are these subjects not discussed, their absence goes apparently unnoticed.

Still, there are some fine works here, of which two very different essays in particular stand out. The first, by Eric Rabkin, examines a sweeping range of examples drawn from several traditions (fairy tales, the pulps, Shakespeare). Using theories of psychic development from Freud to Fromm, Rabkin argues that portrayals of children and the childlike (Caliban, Frankenstein’s monster) offer readers the vicarious experience of disempowerment. According to Rabkin, the chance to return to a more limited perspective and to surrender to the "oceanic feeling" of self-sublimation (a state that recalls the unified self of childhood) pulls at all of us in those moments of psychic fatigue produced by the divided self of adulthood. This intriguing premise generates new readings of works such as Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1956), often simplistically read as merely an individualist power fantasy. Gay Barton’s "Child Vision in the Fantasy of George MacDonald" provides a rich context for the figure of the child in MacDonald’s complex works. The essay is quite brilliant, covering the linguistic, literary-historical, and biblical origins of MacDonald’s imagery in clear and evocative prose.

The rest of the works in the volume are more mixed in their ambitions and accomplishments. Stephanie Barbé Hammer’s reading of parallels in male psychic development between Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904) and Anne Rice’s Lasher (1993) is provocative but is limited by the truncated ending demanded by a conference-length paper. Many of the works cry out for a stronger editorial hand. Some, like Gary Kern’s examination of teen propaganda films, make a string of strong points, but include lines that fall dead in print: "[Samuel Z.] Arkoff was the chief producer; his AIP [American International Pictures] made more than five hundred movies. As one might expect, he was a baldheaded man with a big cigar." Is this supposed to be humor? Casual anti-Semitism? Whatever its purpose in the original presentation, it certainly has no place in a scholarly article. A majority of the papers assembled here accomplish their core readings well, but stumble when attempting to theorize them. Jung’s theories of psychic development are repeatedly invoked, usually without much display of understanding. Other critical leaps are stranger. Andrew Gordon, for example, succeeds at his core argument in "E.T. as Fairy Tale"—reading narrative logic and parent-child-alien relations in Spielberg’s movie; however, he brackets this reading with a frankly bizarre projection of a Cambodian refugee in America viewing the film for the first time. Meant to suggest the universality of the film’s appeal, this strange approach succeeds instead in casting Western critics of the fantastic as neo-Orientalists secure in their ability to read the mind of the cultural other.

Three curious works deserve individual mention, two of them because they don’t belong in the volume at all. Both are well-crafted, coherent, and interesting essays; but neither provides the full argument needed to make inclusion here legitimate. Alida Allison offers an intelligent reading of the clash between faith, fantastic stories, and "rational thought" in the childhood home of Isaac Bashevis Singer; but she does not address how these clashes play out in Singer’s fiction or how her definitions might shift when moving from the situated tradition of Jewish storytelling to a larger "fantastic" audience. Likewise, Howard Lenhoff’s argument that the "little people" of many folklores may have a basis in physical reality—namely, individuals who suffer from Williams Syndrome—is fascinating; but ancient folklore is not modern fantasy, and the processes of imaginative transformation of Williams Syndrome children into cultural icons are scarcely addressed. Finally, "Coming of Age in Fairyland: The Self-Parenting Child in Walt Disney Animated Films," co-authored by volume editor Gary Westfahl and Lynne Lundquist, gives evidence of exhaustive and impeccable research. Yet its argument—that Disney films, generally thought of as promoting "family values," instead promote a complex set of values that subvert traditional notions of family—never adequately examines its core terms or the larger context in which popular genre films function. For example, even a mildly feminist perspective can reveal how Disney’s depiction of evil stepmothers actually supports family values, or why films promoting such values may be structured around the absence of functional families. Ultimately, Westfahl and Lundquist’s readings are circular and unconvincing.

This failure to examine basic definitions is, alas, endemic to the volume. May teenagers profitably be viewed as children? Is folklore interchangeable with mass-produced genre fiction? Such important methodological questions are never even raised, much less intelligently adjudicated. If the Eaton is to continue its practice of producing volumes of conference proceedings, some changes, I think, must be made. Stricter guidelines, better definitions, and a stronger hand at the editorial tiller seem called for; cutting a few essays and requesting that the remaining authors expand theirs would also improve future volumes. Otherwise, this series will remain a mixed bag at best.—Gregory Beatty, University of Iowa

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