Science Fiction Studies

#82 = Volume 27, Part 3 = November 2000

The Cold War and SF

Cyndy Hendershot. Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films. Bowling Green Popular Press, 1999. 163 pp. $45.95 hc; $21.95 pbk.

David Seed. American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film. Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999. vi + 216 pp. $35 hc.

Among scholars who study American thought and culture during the Cold War, science fiction is widely considered a narrative genre that reveals much about that era. Critics such as Peter Biskind, Paul Boyer, and Ronald Oakley have found science fiction texts—both fiction and film—illuminating in how they treat, or at times critique, the subjectivity of a nation that obsessively kept itself on the knife’s edge of world war for nearly half a century. Whether it took the form of red scare fiction such as Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1952), indictments of nuclear brinkmanship such as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1963), or chastisements of McCarthyism such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1952), science fiction’s growing ideological importance during the Cold War is indisputable. Its significance in those years is often associated with rising cultural pressure to explore the possible moral, political, or biological meanings of the bomb. Two recent books explore in considerable detail science fiction’s involvement in defining the Cold War era as an atomic age.

Cyndy Hendershot’s Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films, as the title suggests, maintains a tight focus. It examines only cinematic science fiction, limits its scope to one decade, and organizes its chosen texts around a very specific Cold War theme. Hendershot’s book begins with the premise that the culture of the 1950s was marked by a collective paranoia that was, as she puts it, "largely triggered by the discovery and use of nuclear weapons during World War II" (1). Hendershot embraces a specifically psychoanalytic account of paranoia that she derives, curiously, from the 1903 memoirs of Daniel Paul Schreber, a patient of Sigmund Freud’s. Hendershot uses Freud’s analysis of Schreber, and the general theory of paranoia that he developed out of the case, to approach the psychic impact of the bomb on Cold War America. At times, Hendershot allows her psychoanalytic model to obscure the historical character of her argument. In a chapter on feminine paranoia, for example, she explains the anger toward men that women characters exhibit in the films I Married A Monster from Outer Space (1958) and Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958) by invoking Freud’s argument that the female subject becomes paranoid when she displaces her love for the pre-Oedipal mother. What the pre-Oedipal mother has to do with the atomic age is beyond my imagination, but at the very least one would have to read postwar ideologies of motherhood into the the film to make her a relevant figure, which Hendershot does not attempt to do. For the most part, however, Hendershot is willing to use the psychoanalytically-informed category of paranoia more loosely, as a fantasy about a totalized universe. This allows her to argue effectively that many sf films of the 1950s evince tremendous anxiety about surviving the new atomic era at the same time that they invest science with the messianic ability to save the world it had placed in danger.

Hendershot begins her book by considering how sf films rework the political agenda of the scientists’ movement that developed in the wake of Truman’s use of the bomb against Japan in the final days of World War II. In his book By The Bomb’s Early Light (Pantheon, 1985), Paul Boyer has described with great skill the conviction among many scientists that the invention of nuclear weapons made a rationally conceived world government into a political imperative. Hendershot mobilizes Boyer’s discussion as a useful context to explore the world vision embodied in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), This Island Earth (1954), and Killers From Space (1954), all of which imagine imminent global disaster if scientific reason is not allowed to rule the day. For Hendershot, the culture of the Cold War is characterized by variations on this vision. Over and over again, a traumatic fear that the world has been doomed by the inventions of atomic science gets parried by a vain hope that scientific know-how can shield us from that danger.

In subsequent chapters, Hendershot explores (among other things): the trope of bodily invasion as a metaphor for the threat of radiation, the use of (d)evolutionary fantasies to describe the status of the United States and the Soviet Union (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms [1953], Them! [1954], The Incredible Shrinking Man [1957]), and the bomb and sexuality (Creature from the Black Lagoon [1954]). She concludes by examining textual elisions of the nuclear threat that involve either converting it into a mythically divine gift (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers [1956], The Monolith Monsters [1957]) or reducing it to the equivalent of a powerful conventional weapon (Invasion U.S.A. [1952], War of the Worlds [1953]). Hendershot works diligently to make the case that all of these themes, and the films that exemplify them, may be understood in relation to atomic trauma.

The book’s recurring problem, however, is that sometimes the evidence must be stretched quite thin to make the case. To begin with, even if one wishes to treat the Cold War era primarily as a culture of paranoia, the bomb is hardly its only important source. So, for instance, Hendershot is often reduced to arguing that a film like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) serves as a metaphor for the way that radiation can invisibly infiltrate the human body. While this is a useful decoding to keep in mind, one would hardly want to dismiss more obvious readings of the film such as the one in which the alien pods more directly represent the totalitarian threat of communism. Even more importantly, the Cold War needs to be approached as a situation that involved far more than an anti-communist, nuke-fearing streak of cultural paranoia. The 1950s, for example, were also marked by the widescale suburbanization and corporatization of everyday life. In that decade, then, hand-wringing over the term "conformity" alluded not only to the feared evils of Soviet totalitarianism but also to a perceived loss of American individualism at the hands of the new forms of mass standardization. These various anxieties clearly interacted with one another. Read against this backdrop, Invasion of the Body Snatchers becomes a different kind of Cold War text, one in which its setting in the fictional California town of Santa Mira alludes, not so much to the proximity to nuclear testing sites, as to the Sun Belt (and Southern California in particular) as the epitome of the new suburbia.

I find myself wishing Hendershot had widened the scope of her argument somewhat, allowing collective fears of and hopes for the bomb to meet with other fears and hopes that also shaped the times. An engagement with other analyses of this era, including those by Alan Nadel, Robert Corber, and Mark Janovich, all of which take a broader approach to Cold War culture, might have greatly benefited Hendershot’s study. Nevertheless, while she must sometimes stretch far in order to convert the figures and events of 1950s sf films into atomic metaphors, Hendershot does an excellent job of suggesting how the delusory fantasies of self-rescue in so many of these films grew out of a sense of deep doubt and unease, if not trauma. Though they provided metaphors for much more than nuclear bombs, it is undeniable that these films offered highly condensed figures for popular anxiety.

David Seed’s American Science Fiction and the Cold War casts a wider net than Hendershot’s book. Seed focuses primarily on literature but also includes film. His study ranges from the 1940s right through the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. While he uses the nuclear age as a rubric for his book, he does not limit his understanding of the Cold War to it. Using Derrida’s notion of nuclear criticism as his starting point, Seed suggests that the threat of worldwide nuclear conflagration, an event that never actually occurred, allowed science fiction to become the speculative terrain upon which various imaginative outcomes of the Cold War might be played out. Less the effect of the bomb on the populace, as in Hendershot, it is the imaginative reshaping of the world’s future by nuclear technology that serves as the central concern for Seed. The book, in Seed’s words, deals with "the overlapping issues of nuclear war, the rise of totalitarianism and fears of invasion" (11). A somewhat longer study, Seed’s book is comprised of a series of short chapters typically focused on one or two sf authors who imaginatively play out a Cold War or post-Cold War future. Early chapters include discussions of Philip Wylie’s jeremiads concerning nuclear catastrophe, Robert Heinlein’s patriotic imperatives, and Judith Merril’s adoption of the bomb-sheltered housewife’s perspective following an atomic war. In later chapters, Seed considers postwar themes of surveillance in sf texts influenced by Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four (1948), such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano (1952). He also considers more left-wing narratives attacking postwar consumer capitalism, such as Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1952). Finally, Seed moves into conspiracy narratives (Philip K. Dick, Thomas M. Disch), Strangelovean absurdism, and even the Star Wars debate.

One gets the sense that Seed wishes to include in his discussion any sort of sf that can be associated with the Cold War rubric in any way. While this is a laudable ambition, he quickly gives up on the attempt to hold the book together with a specific thesis concerning the character of Cold War culture. Each chapter takes up one kind of narrative thematic (surveillance, domestic space, computers, conspiracy), and then provides a short plot synopsis of the relevant novels, surrounded by some useful discourse on that theme expressed by politicians or intellectuals of the day. No particular thesis or argument ever reconnects these narratives or their thematics to a larger understanding of either the Cold War or science fiction’s role within it. As a result, Seed’s book ends up becoming more of a reference volume than anything else, a very useful but argumentatively limited compendium of the various sf novels and stories that were written in some kind of relation to the Cold War. The book ends without any general conclusion for the understandable reason that it was not moving towards one. Nevertheless, the amount of scholarly research and the display of historical knowledge in the book is impressive and useful. If Hendershot’s is a slender study with a pointed thesis on a handful of sf films, Seed’s is a sprawling index of half-a-century of Cold War sf, with many details and ideas to mine for teaching and further criticism.

—Leerom Medovoi, Portland State University

Theoretical Vagaries and Compelling Readings

Brian Jarvis. Postmodern Cartographies: The Geographical Imagination in Contemporary American Culture. St. Martin’s, 1998. 208 pp. $19.95 pbk.

While very little of Jarvis’s thoughtful, stimulating book directly treats sf, almost the entire text would interest readers concerned with slipstream writing, or film, or postmodern cultural studies, since it addresses the reciprocal dynamic of the utopian impulse and its dystopian underbelly. Beginning with short surveys of several key cultural critics, including Daniel Bell, Marshall McLuhan, Jean Baudrillard, and Fredric Jameson, Jarvis quickly turns to a series of chapters reading individual writers and films: Thomas Pynchon, Paul Auster, Toni Morrison, and Jayne Anne Phillips; Blade Runner (1982), Alien (1979), The Terminator (1985), and Blue Velvet (1986). Most of this ground has been covered before. Indeed, Postmodern Cartographies will most interest those not already familiar with the secondary scholarship. The chapter on Morrison’s "counter-hegemonic" encounter with "sociospatial apartheid" (113), for example, is beautifully executed but says little new. Morrison isn’t interrogated, just summarized and affirmed, her authority and authenticity unquestioned; nor, at least to my mind, is Morrison’s central brilliance ever laid bare—the way she forces careful readings to engage their own ethical assumptions. Nevertheless, Jarvis cleverly isolates the fiction’s political cruxes in its tropes and topoi, its rhetorical arrangements of space, and does so with a sober nod toward the extant secondary literature.

Of the title’s opening terms, "cartography" is simpler if less common in literary studies. Cartography is the science of inscribing cards or charts or maps—not merely their drawing but their theory, as historiography is both the mechanics of doing history and also its philosophy drawn out. Over the last few years, there’s been considerable scholarly interest in cartography, most notably a series of volumes from the University of Chicago Press (e.g., Norman Thrower’s Maps and Civilization: Cartography in Culture and Society [2nd ed.;1999]). In literary studies, the metaphor of the map has been increasingly vital, at least since Harold Bloom’s A Map of Misreading (Oxford, 1975) made the term fashionable. Once the 500-pound gorilla of American literary criticism and now, despite his genius, something of an embarrassment, Bloom nicely articulated the quasi-structuralist position upon which such "cartographic" cultural studies depend: "there are ‘no’ texts, but only relationships ‘between’ texts" (3). The other term, "postmodern," is, as Jarvis notes in a delightful phrase, "one of the academy’s most slippery shibboleths" (9). Jarvis conceives the postmodern as at once a set of cultural changes (such as Bell’s "postindustrial") and a set of clichéd thematic preoccupations; a "willful negation of meaning" (190), the pomo is nihilistic, reductive, and reactionary. Despite recognizing the term’s overdetermination, Jarvis makes this undeveloped ambiguity the very characteristic of his cartography.

He opens by asserting he will inquire into "the dominant, residual and emergent features of the geographical imagination in its modern phase" (6). While primarily cultural, this imagination is best manifest textually as "lines of continuity between diverse cultural practices in different eras" (189); his individual chapters map the topography of American spatial metaphors, starting with the Puritans’ romanticized wilderness, then loitering briefly with Emerson, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Gatsby before settling on the topic of contemporary urban agoraphobia. Sadly, in the three crucial moments where the book clarifies its thesis, a claim is advanced and then partially withdrawn; in 200 carefully argued pages, you’d expect a qualification or two, but even after culling these out, Jarvis’s fundamental claims remain vague. His initial claim, cited above, is purely descriptive, but as the text continues it becomes clear that a specific ideological agenda is deployed, not to argue its substance but to reaffirm its status.

Oscillating between panegyrics and jeremiads (his phrase for the Puritans [2]), Jarvis loves the guys he loves and hates the guys he hates. Our villains provide "institutional alibis for right-wing political hegemony through selective amnesia" (43); Bell, McLuhan, and Baudrillard in particular are publicly whipped, ridiculed as mere "neoconservative cipher[s]" (29). Our heroes, while not wholly holy, provide "useful methodological paradigm[s]" "whilst understanding their position within larger spatial systems" (48). But these larger systems are primarily ideological, not spatial. Indeed, the figures Jarvis approves of are valued for political positioning, ideological correctness, and ease of appropriation, what he generally invokes as "political effectivity" (139), which is precisely what we might also expect from Jarvis’s ideological antagonist, "late capitalism." All of this is eerily reminiscent of "The Buster Friendly Show" in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) but without the entertaining self-conscious silliness, the irony that separates readers from the narrative’s surface and forces a critical response, what Brecht famously called the theater of instruction.

Tracing "political effectivity" seems to be the second of Jarvis’s claims, which involves a "task of establishing a radical political culture" (5) or a "revolutionary project" (192)—one never clearly articulated but an imperative informing every page. Judging "political effectivity" apparently only means demarcating the political left from the political right: the cultural right, Hollywood, and pomo darlings such as David Lynch are apologists for late capitalism while, ethically, the cultural left is always right. I’m not sure how politically effective, progressive, or promising such notions can be except as dogma, which, once rhetorically inscribed as basic assumptions, can be very effective indeed.

If the book’s only significant failure is the repeated invocation of "political effectivity," perhaps its reluctance to extend "postmodern" towards the more rigorous and less slippery "poststructuralism" also weakens the argument. Unless we mistakenly call Baudrillard a representative, Jarvis expressly declines such an alternative; notably missing from his mix of social theorists are the poststructural philosophers—Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, Butler, Rorty, or any others. Kristeva usefully appears on the penultimate page, but none of these figures help form Jarvis’s operative notions. (Actually, Jarvis twice mentions Derrida—both times as an adjective, which in another study might make for an important point about poststructural nominalism and how it therefore seems so politically inconsequential to the proponents of cultural studies.) Perhaps such a division—between the political and the philosophical, like that between the political and the aesthetic—is another topos of contemporary cultural criticism, and so not worth developing because incapable of resolution; but it deserves contextualizing explanation, a gesture absent in Postmodern Cartographies (and the sort of selective amnesia paradigmatic of a certain leftist rhetoric). Cultural studies seems to have forgotten much about the category of the aesthetic, and I wonder how much better such books as Jarvis’s would be if engaged with, say, Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1957), which refuses to surrender aesthetic to ideological concerns.

Jarvis’s third claim concerns "corporeal cartographies—mappings of the body" (9)—an attempt, in his view, to move beyond the abstract apolitical ruminations of pomo ironists. No one will dispute his laudable desire to dismantle "the boundaries of alienation and oppression," to "deconstruct, physically and ideologically, all geographies of abjection" (192): it is not only the nameless prisoner of Kafka’s "The Penal Colony" who is affected by such mappings, and not only Blade Runner’s Rachel, Alien’s Ripley, Morrison’s Sethe, or Pynchon’s Oedipa who would seek to dismantle such effects. But for Jarvis, "corporeal cartographies" is, ultimately, more a topic than a claim, more a motif than an argument, more a posture than an action.

The moment Jarvis quits his political posturing, however, his insights become fascinating and, at turns, profound. I very much admire the precision and detail of his compelling, informed, and informative readings. The chapter on Blade Runner, for example, is remarkably strong and subtle, despite its unsophisticated, tangential treatment of genre (for Jarvis, sf means film, and sf film means Blade Runner). The film’s "placeless" Los Angeles is refracted through Mike Davis’s City of Quartz (Verso, 1990), and its nostalgic reduction traced through its mise-en-scène, its aestheticized sociospatial crises, and its depoliticized "Oedipal stencil" (150). Even small errors or unsupported asides don’t mar the power of these deft readings, which are filled with arresting and inspired details, such as calling the city in Morrison’s Jazz (1992) "a lyrical cryptograph" (133).

Despite my reservations, I like this book and will keep it handy, enthusiastically recommend it to sharp undergraduates and cautious doctoral candidates leaning, like me and other members of the choir, heavily toward the left. It’s just that the book’s weaknesses are so very predictable. Postmodern Cartographies will not effectively explain the theoretical vagaries it reinscribes rather than interrogates, nor will it help us come to terms with that very corporeal problem of ideological mapping—the way our embedded ideology habitually constructs our world, calls it into being and shapes the very contours of its meaning. As Jarvis writes, rather than merely "denouncing" ideological contradictions "complicit with the (il)logic of late capital," our "critical energies could be devoted to drawing these out and analysing their [political] effectivity" (80); or later: "no map can ever be final or complete" (193). I couldn’t agree more.

—Neil Easterbrook, Texas Christian University

A Half-Baked Hypertext

 Dani Cavallaro. Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. Athlone Press (fax: 0181-458-0888), 2000. xxii + 258 pp. £47.50 hc; £15.99 pbk.

There are two things about Cyberpunk and Cyberculture of which I am certain: its bound form is not its ideal form, and it is disturbingly dishonest. Cavallaro’s basic aims are fairly clear: she seeks to assess "the impact of postmodern science and digital technology in terms of both their current relevance and their relationship with older structures of meaning," as well as to investigate "the interplay between specialized forms of technological expertise and everyday discourses pertaining to the urban setting, the fashion and health industries, approaches to sexuality and gender, education, and entertainment" (xi). And that, more or less, is what her seven chapters—covering cyberpunk’s relationships with virtual technologies, mythology, the body, gender and sexuality, the city, the Gothic, and memory—do, but at a slightly further remove than her overview suggests. For, in the final analysis, this is a volume more interested in neatly patterning synopses of assessments and investigations made by other critics than in conducting its own.

At the outset, Cavallaro draws a provocative analogy between the hyperreality of postmodern commodity fetishism and the "consensual hallucination" of William Gibson’s cyberspace, both of which are predicated upon an abstract and universalized desire reified in commodities, but this fruitful point is dropped without further development. This is not to say that the book does not contain passages of argument: in fact, it is haunted by the ghost of a claim that cyberpunk is a manifestation of Gothic aesthetics and ideology (or at least, by the sense that Cavallaro would rather be writing a book on the Gothic). By the time she gets to the chapter explicitly on this topic, however, she has rather little to offer beyond disconnected observations: we are told that Gothic revivalism and the Gibson-Sterling novel The Difference Engine (1990) share a similar project; that, like the women in classic Gothic fiction, Gibson’s female characters are typically enclosed (e.g., the pathetic 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool, yet what of all the enclosed males: the Dixie Flatline, Corto/Armitage, the Finn, Case?); that the affective dimensions of Gothic architecture and Gibson’s narrative milieu are productive of terror and horror; that the inadequate foundations of William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey tower anticipate the groundlessness of cyberspace; that the architectural eclecticism of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill resembles Gibson’s style of bricolage; that virtual environments are like Gothic ruins in that both are fragmentary. It is Cavallaro’s eye for such parallels—whether arresting, mundane, or simply ludicrous—in combination with the absence of an overall argument that leads me to suggest that the ideal version of this study has yet to be realized.

In his book Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (Johns Hopkins, 1992), George Landow argues that "a standard scholarly article in the humanities or physical sciences perfectly embodies the underlying notions of hypertext as multisequentially read text" (4) and that leaping from text to footnote and back "constitutes the basic experience and starting point of hypertext" (5). Cavallaro seems to have taken this idea and converted it into a methodology: charting a virtual path through the "field of relations" in which, says Landow, "[s]cholarly articles situate themselves" (5), she returns with her findings, rearranges them, and writes linking passages. The result is not as sexy as the cyberpunk version of data piracy even if it does occasionally create the impression that, like Johnny Mnemonic, Cavallaro is a data courier with no access to or engagement with the information she transports. The book we are left with is a reasonably useful guide to some of the debates around cyberculture, but we will have to wait for the ideal version—the rigorously linked yet freely roaming hypertext of books, journals, articles, stories, movies, TV shows, albums, comic strips, etc.—that it now only vaguely gestures at. In other words, its current form is deeply flawed.

Cavallaro’s prose is frequently clumsy—e.g., "it is noteworthy that the years 1983 and 1984 are of particular significance" (13); Amazing Stories "spawned a half-hatched progeny of pulp fictions and films that detrimentally contributed to the berating of the genre" (4)—and it demonstrates a preference for that variety of clotted hyperbole and half-baked allusion typical of much writing on cyberculture. For example, Cavallaro suggests parenthetically that "the cave," a "recent development in virtual technology," is "redolent of Plato’s philosophy," but no more so than it is of Batman’s (28). This example also demonstrates a few of the author’s more irritating stylistic tics: unnecessary italicizations (which initially seem intended to indicate sf neologisms but which become subject to an increasingly inconsistent principle of selection) and parenthetical clauses that add nothing but the suspicion that some pages did not see a second draft, let alone an editor. On occasion, these interpolations render her sentences all but meaningless. Cavallaro frequently develops a point via a digression into etymology, and she is not above straining after a pun in order to drape an idea around it, much to the latter’s detriment.

Cavallaro notes that "[s]cientists intent on mapping the unchartable—the ultimate night sky of Star Trek, as it were—struggle to contain an ineffable remoteness" (145)—a sentence that illustrates not only the author’s awkward style and hamhanded allusions, but also her deep lack of sympathy for, and understanding of, sf. Clues to this fundamental cluelessness lie everywhere. A relatively minor film such as George Cosmatos’s Leviathan (1989) is referred to twice, but there is no mention of David Cronenberg’s seminal cyberpunk movie, Videodrome (1983). Not a single standard sf reference work is cited in the bibliography, and only a half-dozen works of sf criticism. Cavallaro’s ignorance of the genre—she suggests that John W. Campbell, Jr. founded Astounding Stories in 1930, offers a feeble gloss on "scientific romance," and treats the New Wave as an exclusively British phenomenon—is compounded by a dependence on general reference works (e.g., The Bloomsbury Guide to English Literature, the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia) that one would not wish to see in an undergraduate essay, much less a published monograph.

Yet the book’s failures of style and research are still relatively minor when compared with its real weakness, which is also the source of its basic dishonesty—namely, Cavallaro’s shameless appropriation of other critics’ work. There may be nothing inherently wrong with the way the opening pages of Chapter Two cull from Chris Hables Gray’s The Cyborg Handbook (Routledge, 1995): lapses of this sort are not uncommon in synoptic texts. But here this approach seems less a slip of convenience than a conscious methodology. Massively, if not slavishly, over-dependent on Larry McCaffery’s Storming the Reality Studio (Duke, 1991), Cavallaro treats Samuel R. Delany, Rob Hardin, Harold Jaffe, Thom Jurek, Mark Leyner, and Jim O’Barr as cyberpunks; yet unlike McCaffery, her knowledge of their work extends no further than the examples collected in his cyberpunk "casebook," and she demonstrates no awareness that his inclusion of these figures is part of a wide-ranging argument about the nature of cyberpunk itself. Instead, she merely offers a by-now-familiar litany of cyberpunk precursors and fellow-travelers, making only marginal additions to McCaffery’s canon, such as Katherine Bigelow’s film Strange Days (1995) and Bruce Bethke’s 1983 story "Cyberpunk" (though her nod to this tale gives no evidence that she has actually read it). Cavallaro’s knowledge of Marc Laidlaw’s work goes no further than McCaffery’s "Office of the Future" extract from his 1985 novel Dad’s Nuke, and her footnote (which lifts its referencing from McCaffery) demonstrates an uncertainty as to whether it is indeed an extract or a stand-alone piece. Several other authors are treated in this vague way, including John Shirley and Lewis Shiner (whose views on the relationship of cyberpunk to previous countercultures are badly garbled).

If such a limited grasp of cyberpunk and science fiction is troubling in a book whose title features them as two of its four key terms, the methodological slackness by which it is achieved is even more disturbing. Unfortunately, I suspect that the increasing pressures British academics currently labor under—from the research-funding requirement of publication in quantity, to publishers who demand textbooks and textbook-hybrids rather than original studies, to the desire of individuals to make a living in a profession that has been systematically downgraded in terms of salary, security, and prestige—are only likely to result in more books like this one in the future.

—Mark Bould, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

An Anatomy of Hope

Samuel R. Delany. 1984. Voyant, 2000. xxx + 351 pp. $17.95 pbk. <>

A great writer’s letters are always of interest but not always in the same way. Joyce, for instance, may well be the greatest writer of the twentieth century, but he is far from its greatest letter-writer. To be sure, his correspondence—which typically deals in a fairly routine way with such matters as his unremarkable financial difficulties—is essential reading for the student who wants to learn as much as possible about the man and his circumstances. But, with some exceptions (like the extraordinary series of sex letters composed in 1909), Joyce’s correspondence would neither have nor deserve a wide readership if it had not been signed by the author of Ulysses (1921) and Finnegans Wake (1939). At the opposite pole is Keats, whose letters are not only nearly as excellent as his poems but offer a quite different variety of literary excellence. They are witty, informal, and full of spontaneous energy, in contrast to the measured and solemn intensities of the great Odes. Keats remains, of course, a poet first and foremost; but an intelligent reader might well sometimes prefer the prose correspondence.

This first published selection of Samuel Delany’s correspondence places him between Keats and Joyce as a letter-writer, but closer to the former. Though his letters do not reveal, as Keats’s do, an entire dimension of the man and author whose existence we might never have suspected from the more public work, they do provoke an interest that is more than just parasitic on our interest in his novels, stories, and essays. Delany is a correspondent of stunning energy—the current volume, which fills 350 closely printed pages, represents a selection of the letters he wrote between June 1983 and January 1985—and he seems to use letter-writing as an opportunity to sort out his thoughts on practically anything that happens to interest him: a category that excludes little. With vigor and (of course) intelligence, Delany writes here about everything from the memorial service for Ted Berrigan (who once told Delany he liked Babel-17 [1966] because it portrayed a world in which poets were very important), to the problems of being a divorced father with an emotionally difficult ex-wife, to the philosophical distinctions between meaning and referentiality. We get notes on the production of Wagnerian opera, character sketches of a wide variety of friends and acquaintances, an appreciation of the strengths and limitations of Walter Benjamin as a literary critic, pornographically detailed narratives of various sexual adventures, very creditable translations of lyric poems from French and German, poignant reflections on the woes that the IRS can inject into one’s life, a charming portrait of the expansive semiotician and martini-drinker Umberto Eco, interesting but (as one would expect at the time) largely erroneous speculations on the epidemiology of AIDS, a brilliant refutation of Jeffrey Masson’s assault on Freud, thoroughly delightful glimpses of Delany’s (and Marilyn Hacker’s) then ten-year-old daughter Iva—and much, much more. There are also accounts of the usual issues in the life of a professional writer, such as the relations, often difficult, with editors and publishers and (as with Joyce and so many others) the problems of living the life of the mind with too little money. Delany is, of course, a writer in whom the autobiographical impulse has always been strong. In addition to his formal effort in the genre, The Motion of Light in Water (1988; rev. ed. 1990)—which seems to me one of the three or four most rewarding autobiographies ever composed by an American—Delany has never been shy about incorporating first-hand experience into his literary and cultural criticism, not to mention his fiction. 1984 counts as yet another expression of Delany’s bent for self-revelation, and adds up to a personal and intellectual self-portrait of great vividness.

Many readers of these pages will be interested in Delany’s correspondence primarily as it relates to his identity as one of our most important science fiction authors; and here there is a good deal to say. Though he seems to interact with his fellow sf writers rather less than one might have expected, we get some sense of Delany among his peers. A couple of letters are to Joanna Russ, whom he visits in Seattle, finding her writing as superb as ever and her eating habits increasingly bizarre (she appears to be surviving on nothing but tofu, plain yogurt, and low-cholesterol egg substitutes); and there are briefer glimpses of Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, Harlan Ellison, Thomas Disch, and others. We get a sense of Delany’s general place in the sf scene and the literary scene as a whole, as we see him meeting with editors and publishers, giving lectures and readings, moderating panels at sf conventions, and exchanging views with critics and reviewers. Most of the attention he receives is laudatory (we even hear about the enthusiasm that Thomas Pynchon has privately expressed for Delany’s work), but there are exceptions. His radical explorations, in his fiction, of male sexuality prove offensive to some readers, including even some close personal friends. On a lighter note, there are a few simply ego-deflating experiences, as when a well-meaning fan congratulates him on his skillful moderation of an authors’ panel and then asks if Delany has ever written any science fiction himself! Then again, fame is not always a blessing: when, evidently, an IRS employee recognizes that the taxpayer Samuel R. Delany is an sf author who publishes with Bantam, the result is to make his already horrendous tax problems even worse.

Even more interesting, I think, than such "anecdotal bliss" (Wallace Stevens) are Delany’s many comments about his own novels and stories. For example, we get an extremely detailed account of the publishing history of Nova (1968), an account that provides some surprising insights into sf publishing in general. On a quite different level, we learn that the incident in Triton (1976) where Bron is arrested on Earth was based on a real event that involved Delany’s spending a day in a London jail. More than once, indeed, we are given fascinating instances of the ways that Delany transmutes life experience into art, and not only as regards works that were in the past when these letters were written but also as regards some that were still in the future. In 1990, for example, Delany composed "Citre et Trans" (published in Atlantis: Three Tales [1995]); and now we learn that the rape scene in that apparently simple but awesomely powerful story was based on a real incident in which the 23-year-old Delany was indeed raped by two Greek sailors. Unsurprisingly, however, most of the references to Delany’s work in these letters concern books that were roughly contemporary with the correspondence—i.e., Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984) and the Nevèrÿon series, especially Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985). Often these references concern fairly external matters—details of proofreading, for example—but there are also more literary-critical comments. It was with these works that Delany increasingly came to consider his primary audience to be his fellow male homosexuals (especially, one suspects, urban male homosexuals); and he here discusses aspects of these works that, he feels, would be easily comprehensible to gay men but somewhat opaque to others. Finally, the letters contain a number of tantalizing remarks about the (apparently good) progress Delany was making on The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities, the sf novel that was planned and announced as the sequel to Stars in My Pocket. Though this correspondence adds nothing explicit and particular to Delany’s previous public comments on the matter (to the effect that the advent of AIDS combined with developments in his personal life to make The Splendor and Misery impossible to complete), the book as a whole can be read as supplying the essential background to the nonappearance of this lost masterpiece (as some of us intuitively still think of it).

Can any single generic category encompass such a vast and varied book? The best choice, I think, is the useful though largely forgotten term anatomy. Like Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)—the most eminent instance of the kind in English—Delany’s 1984 is a huge repository of story and reflection: highly intellectual, immensely erudite, frequently anecdotal, consistently witty (in all senses of the word), endlessly digressive, and (despite the inclusion of much unhappy material) permeated with an essentially comic attitude toward life. Of course, the anatomy, for all its exuberant heterogeneity, is usually not without some general overarching theme, as Burton suggests with his title—and as Delany, more obliquely, does with his. Though on one level 1984 is simply the year in which the great majority of these letters were written, our attention is inevitably called to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), the similarly but not identically titled work that by some criteria may count as the most successful science fiction novel ever written. Though Orwell is never actually mentioned at any length in the text (save for an interesting discussion in Kenneth R. James’s excellent critical introduction to the volume), it is in Delany’s silent but profound dialogue with Orwell that we find the most complex unity of 1984 and its deepest pertinence to science fiction.

Nineteen Eighty-four is the most powerful of the negative utopias. Composed in the late 1940s, it looks ahead to the fictional year of 1984 with vivid horror and with an ugly contempt for the vast majority of human beings (the "proles" of the novel), who are generally portrayed as hopelessly and boringly incapable of meaningful thought or action; it is their passivity that ultimately enables the eternal totalitarian rule of the Party. By contrast, 1984 looks back at the actual year of 1984 and—despite general and individual misery: despite AIDS, despite Delany’s tax problems (which, he notes, are of the sort that have driven more than one taxpayer to suicide), despite his eventual break-up with his long-term companion Frank—does so with essential contentment. This contentment derives from an attitude that is uncommon in literature (or life) and that was beyond Orwell’s grasp, for all of Orwell’s admirable but pathetic attempts to be friends with dishwashers, tramps, and unemployed miners: the attitude, I mean, of the natural democrat. Like relatively few other writers, Delany seems genuinely happy to be a human being. There is nothing of the humanitarian or do-gooder about him. He approaches his fellow creatures as equals, without a trace of snobbery or inverted snobbery, glad to mix with college professors and with homeless hustlers, with society hostesses and with street junkies. Any of these types, he seems to feel, may be an attractive and interesting person to know; and, of course, any may be unattractive and dull.

He takes a similar attitude toward texts. He really enjoys reading good philosophical criticism, and he really enjoys reading good comic books; he has an unaffected taste for symbolist poetry, and for pornographic movies. Though generically 1984 is more an anatomy than a utopia, many critics (like Northrop Frye) have considered these to be closely related forms: and I would argue that the democratic feeling (a much rarer thing than democratic thought) that permeates the volume is the ideological structure on which the greatest positive utopias (and positive "heterotopias," as Delany might add) largely depend. For the "hope principle" (Ernst Bloch’s term) that animates all positive utopianizing must, I think, be based on just the kind of radically democratic spirit that Delany displays; his letters, indeed, amount to an anatomy of hope. Positive utopianizing is of course one of the central functions of modern science fiction, and to my mind the noblest and most creative function of all; and it has rarely, if ever, been more brilliantly achieved than in such texts as Triton and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. Accordingly, though 1984 is not itself a work of science fiction, it mightily helps us to understand the emotional and intellectual resources on which Delany has drawn to create some of the finest sf novels of this or any other time.

My general admiration for 1984 requires me, however, to end with a complaint. It concerns a matter that may well be financially understandable but that nonetheless seriously limits the book’s usefulness: its lack of an index. A well-made index is important, I think, for almost any nonfiction work, but it is nearly indispensable for an anatomy like this, which is quite lengthy, which covers an immense number of disparate topics, and which (as is normal for collections of letters) is organized merely by chronology. Voyant is a small press that does admirable work; one hopes they will be able to remedy this omission in a future printing.

—Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University

A Rigorous and Constructive Study

Robin Roberts. Sexual Generations: STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and Gender. U Illinois P, 1999. x + 208 pp. $15.95 pbk.

In the mid-1960s, after the first season of classic Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols, the actress who plays Lt. Uhura, decided she would resign. As Nichols reports in her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: STAR TREK and Other Memories (Boulevard, 1995), she told Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator: "I’ve put up with the cuts [to her character’s role on the series] and the racism, but I just can’t do it anymore." She then claims to have discussed her planned defection with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, sympathetic but forward-looking, urged her to stay aboard the fledging starship. "This is not a Black role, and this not a female role," the actress reports King told her. "You have the first nonstereotypical role on television, male or female. You have broken ground." Despite the fact that Nichols’s character was a token, to use the rhetoric of the day, King realized that her position on the bridge of the starship Enterprise—and thus in front of millions of prime-time viewers—was a powerful symbol for all Americans. Star Trek, although clearly advancing troubling contradictions about race and gender, nonetheless provided alternative perspectives for all to see. Nichols stayed with the series, offering the American public what amounts to a role model for the future/present.

What about Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1993), the first prime-time Trek spin-off? Did it follow in its predecessor’s footprints and offer the television public progressive alternatives? This is the initiating question motivating Robin Roberts’s new book, Sexual Generations. Focusing on gender while also addressing issues of race and sexuality, Roberts extends the view articulated by Rev. King that, despite the general norms of television’s trek, there is much hope in the otherwise troubling texts of the prime-time spin-off. In other words, Roberts’s book recognizes the potential in The Next Generation, striking a nice balance between critiques of ideological domination, textual conundrums, critical resistance, and creative articulations.

Employing concepts from sf criticism, particularly extrapolation and defamiliarization, Roberts pursues a series of textual analyses that work against the social history of the neo-conservative 1980s and 1990s. Her basic rationale is the claim that "the seven years of TNG have not yet been examined fully from a feminist perspective" (2). While there is much scholarship on the STAR TREK franchise, including feminist scholarship, Sexual Generations provides the first exhaustive study of gender in The Next Generation. And, as the author explains, textual evidence supports this critical project, since specific "episodes [have] extrapolate[d] from current feminism to a world dominated by women; from advances in reproductive technology to a male character’s being raped metaphorically for his DNA" (3). Just as King understood a larger context for racial representations in the late 1960s, so Roberts sees past the ambiguities and contradictions in The Next Generation’s articulation of feminism—though she is rigorous in her critique of these persistent patterns—and reveals both the complexity and promise of the series.

Roberts employs a model heavily influenced by French psychoanalytic feminism. All the major theorists are cited and their ideas applied: Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, and Catherine Clément. While the perspectives of these theorists are generally under-represented in today’s cultural-studies-dominated media criticism, Roberts’s methodology is based on her view that The Next Generation extrapolates from feminist theory in its attempt to defamiliarize gendered space. In this way, her approach is both applicable and insightful. Concentrating on issues of language, desire, and structure, Roberts is adept at applying and extending these critical perspectives to the world of The Next Generation. Sexual Generations is not a mere rehearsal of French feminist theory, however, but a thorough analysis of the function of gender and feminism in the popular spin-off. Among the issues addressed closely are abortion, colonialism, race, rape, reproductive politics, science, sexual orientation, and technology.

Roberts is also careful to place her work in the context of extant scholarship on the program. She references the ethnographic work of Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith, and also takes into consideration the arguments about gender and race in the series advanced by Marleen Barr, Lynne Joyrich, Barbara Wilcox, and myself, as well as the essays in Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on STAR TREK (Westview, 1996). Sexual Generations rigorously and constructively engages these various critical views, adding substantively to the body of scholarship on one of the US’s most influential sf series.

What I particularly appreciate about Roberts’s work is the depth of her analyses of individual episodes (some two dozen are treated closely), carried out against the backdrop of a clear grasp of the plots and themes of the entire series. Always careful to situate her arguments and interpretations in the details of the texts themselves, she is also adept at linking these details to prevailing sociopolitical formations. She addresses both literal instances in which the series engages gender formations and feminism, as well as the subtleties, metaphors, and contradictions surrounding these discourses. At every turn, she resists setting up straw figures in favor of recognizing dualities, problematic articulations, and critical potentialities.

The main weakness of Sexual Generations is that it neglects to contextualize The Next Generation against the backdrop of classic Trek. This is the case, I think, because there is now so much recent scholarship on the original series that Roberts has simply opted to focus on the spin-off. Nonetheless, I feel her critical investigations into the textual and ideological workings of the later series would have been even more compelling had she at least referenced the original program. Much of The Next Generation, including many of the episodes Roberts focuses on, is tied to the original series, making the starship piloted by Captain James T. Kirk a clear intertextual reference to the one piloted by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Despite this concern, Roberts has put together a thorough, rigorous, and insightful analysis of gender in The Next Generation, covering both the elements that imagine a different space-time and the contradictions that derive from contemporary sociopolitical norms. All this makes Sexual Generation an ideal book to use in courses that address contemporary television, science fiction, media feminism, and, of course, Star Trek.

—Daniel Bernardi, University of Arizona

Spaced Out

Gary Westfahl, ed. Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction. Greenwood, 2000. x + 207 pp. $59.95 hc.

In 1997, Gary Westfahl, a longtime space-travel enthusiast, announced in the pages of SFS that he no longer saw space travel as a serious premise for science fiction. His attitude parallels that of the tax-paying public, if not of all sf readers and writers. His major reason, that interstellar travel is not feasible, is seldom touched on in this collection of papers selected mainly from a joint meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association with the Eaton Conference of the University of California, Riverside. Judging from this volume, the topic generated little enthusiasm among the conferees. Most of the papers collected focus on psychological and market-oriented limitations to literary and cinematic depictions of space, and the frontier subtitle only serves to diffuse the focus still more. The quality of contributions is not up to the usual Eaton standards.

Sf is a "literature of potential," expressing what might be in ways that flirt with art. Critics of narrative now recognize that some degree of art or craft is involved in all manner of expression, but most are more comfortable with form than content, especially if the content is alien, arcane, or passé. Space may be all three. Given the size of our universe and the limits of our science and technology, the "conquest" of space was never a serious undertaking, but with first steps taken, it may belong more to technology and politics than to literary criticism. If that is so, a rich heritage of sf is still extant, little of which seems to have been examined for these papers, most of which regard space primarily as metaphor, more internally than externally based. Almost totally absent from discussion are stories that take space travel and exploration seriously as efforts to explore and understand the universe. Contributors look more toward how myth, religion, and psychology affect writing about space and aliens, and look back to commune with their younger, less wearied and ironic selves.

After 70-plus years of writing sf, Jack Williamson still shows a certain passion for space travel and the breaching of frontiers, but even he is nostalgic in two short bookends for "The Challenge of Space," the first section of this oddly-shaped anthology. Other sections cover cinema, fictional "Pioneers," and "Other Frontiers," before the collection peters out into two epilogues, possibly included for the marquee value of their contributors’ names.

Even the "Challenge" articles are only cursory surveys and those are distanced by their authors’ personal reflections on their efforts. Peter Nicholls and David Pringle defend the "sense of wonder" from the likes of John Clute and Darko Suvin, both in diffident and defensive ways. Nicholls finds that "Big Dumb Objects" invite transcendence, but he finds the wonder evaporates on rereading. This was perhaps to be expected: Aristotle named spectacle the least enduring literary element, and Gregory Benford and Larry Niven may suffer least in Nicholls’s rereading because their books contain more than spectacle. Pringle seeks a taxonomy to distinguish "space opera" from utopia, planetary romance, and future war, though it may mix all three with a dash of "cosmicism." Sandwiched between them, Danielle Chatelaine and George Slusser explore the problematic place of space travel in French sf, flourishing in the bande dessinée (comic book) as well as the novel. It should come as no great surprise that the French relegate to juvenile readers the technology of space travel, while adults concentrate more on its psychological and social effects.

Constraining conventions rule film even more than they do prose fiction. Westfahl contrasts the few films in which space requires extensive life support with the vast majority that domesticate unfamiliar concepts. Bipedal aliens, sounds in vacuum, and dispensable spacesuits increase viewers’ comfort level, belying scientific verity in favor of something they find more recognizable. The only notable counter-examples in the 1990s were the science-fact films, Apollo 13 (1995) and From the Earth to the Moon (a 1998 series made for tv), illustrating by contrast the primary interest of sf in the potential over the proven or disproven. Techniques of familiarization are also Ira Konigsberg’s subject, in that film’s "deep focus," like Renaissance linear perspective, reestablishes man as the measure of all things. Both single out a thirty-year-old film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), as the apogee of rendering the alien nature of space. Susan A. George dissents in part from this focus on conventionality in her discussion of alien-invasion films. Like Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), they challenge the received wisdom of the frontier myth, locating Earth on the receiving end of "exploration." Concluding the section, Michael Cassutt laments studio reluctance to do an authentic film of Clifford Simak's Way Station (1963). Space is more implied than declared in these latter essays.

The conference’s "Pioneers in Space" all postdate Williamson (not to mention Verne, Wells, and Tsiolkovsky). They range from Leslie F. Stone and C.S. Lewis in the 1930s to Iain M. Banks, the contemporary Scottish writer, with articles focused mostly on inner rather than outer space. Jeffrey M. Wallman seeks in the familiar quest myth a key to sf narrative. From a mass of angelic and demonic metaphors about "first contact," Patrice Caldwell singles out Octavia Butler’s theme of alien-human miscegenation, which offers an alternative model for relations among human cultures as well. Batya Weinbaum reminds us that pulp sf did not always show space as exciting and inviting, her case in point being a short story by a pioneering female sf writer, Leslie F. Stone (note the androgynous name). According to William H. Hardesty, Iain M. Banks also challenges the notions that space opera must be sf’s "pornography"; in his CULTURE series Banks seriously explores some effects of an economy of abundance, while playing knowingly with space-opera conventions. The psychology of space is primary for Robert Gorsch and Alan C. Elms. Gorsch contrasts the "pain of space" in Cordwainer Smith’s fiction with its ecstasy in C.S. Lewis’ Out of The Silent Planet (1938), both of which mythologize this alien environment. Elms isolates "nuclear scripts" for Smith and James Tiptree, Jr., both of whom lived out a secret life in their sf. Like psychiatrist Robert Lindner, whose "The Jet-Propelled Couch" (collected in The Sixty-Minute Hour [1955]) is thought by some critics to lightly fictionalize Smith (a.k.a. Paul Linebarger), Elms concludes that he, unlike Alice Sheldon (a.k.a. Tiptree), found in writing about space a satisfactory sublimation for loneliness and disorientation.

"Other Frontiers" drifts further off-topic. Clyde Wilcox considers the consequences for both statistical and interventionist social science in a galaxy full of cultures, paying special attention to Isaac Asimov. Patrick B. Sharp shows how a collapse of "geographic" space in the Cold War Era was counteracted by political propaganda to the effect that one beneficial yield of a nuclear catastrophe could be a return to American frontier conditions. Notes for an unfinished paper by the late Lynn F. Williams provides only a beginning for a discussion of different "spaces" for men and women in sf. Janeen Webb contemplates moral problems raised by "cyberspace," with its disembodied constructs and minimized sense of responsibility, reviving humanity’s dependence on divinity (as if it was ever far away from sf’s treatment of the unknown). Donald M. Hassler’s brief ramblings on Anthony Trollope and how books colonize metaphorical "spaces" of their own conclude the collection of papers proper.

Topical relevance dwindles even more anticlimactically in two epilogues: four brief comments by sf writers and a colloquy by satellite between 1993 (!) conference participants and Arthur C. Clarke. Asked to respond to a question about twenty-first-century changes in human experience of space and time, panelists tentatively forecast new frontiers in science and technology. Gregory Benford foresees (in one short paragraph) a post-relativity shift in our ideas of space-time. Jack Dann and Janeen Webb hazard "approximations" on virtual reality, nanotechnology, bioengineering, artificial intelligence, faster-than-light travel, and alien contact. James Gunn narrows his focus to the Internet, Howard V. Hendrix to virtual reality. The Clarke colloquy bears little more relevance to this conference than it did to the one on children in sf at which it was recorded.

—David N. Samuelson, California State University, Long Beach

Two Valuable Cultural Studies of Technology

Tim Armstrong. Modernity, Technology and the Body: A Cultural Study. Cambridge UP, 1998. x + 309 pp. $59.95 hc.

Mette Bryld and Nina Lykke. Cosmodolphins: Feminist Cultural Studies of Technology, Animals and the Sacred. Zed, 2000. x + 245 pp. $69.95 hc; $25 pbk.

These two cultural studies of science and technology warrant the attention of sf scholars, since they demonstrate the broad cultural framework of ideals, concerns, and expectations within which sf as a genre subsists. Tim Armstrong’s informative Modernism, Technology and the Body discusses the intersections between Anglo-American literature and the growing interest in health, psychology, and mechanization from the mid-nineteenth century through the 1930s. Mette Bryld and Nina Lykke’s Cosmodolphins, on the other hand, reflects on popular attitudes towards space, fate, and non-human intelligence in the US and USSR/Russia from the 1960s through the present. In tackling these wide cultural contexts, both books show, perhaps surprisingly, how often sf mirrors and even promotes commonly held beliefs rather than rebelling against them.

In his introduction to Modernism, Technology and the Body, Armstrong lays out the parameters of the book by observing that "Modernist texts have a particular fascination with the limits of the body, either in terms of its mechanical functioning, its energy levels, or its abilities as a perceptual system" (4-5). Armstrong, a professor at the University of London, organizes his study into eight thematic chapters, some of which pay close attention to sf. The chapter "Prosthetic Modernism," for example, emphasizes how the works of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe, and others explored the ways that machines and artificial body parts extend human senses and capabilities (and essentially continue human evolution through mechanical means), while at the same time underscoring the limitations of the human body. One of Armstrong’s most compelling chapters, "Distracted Writing," carefully dissects Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) in terms of the Victorian public’s growing fascination with the subconscious mind, split personalities, and handwriting analysis.

In the chapter "Electrifying the Body," Armstrong addresses public fascination with electric-chair executions and electric therapies. He notes that around the time that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1816) presented electricity as a tool to transcend death, energy metaphors in medicine entered the popular lexicon (e.g., "nervous energy," "sexual energy," and so forth). The chapter "Waste Products" is equally compelling for its discussion of the growing preoccupation with hygiene, bodily functions, time-management, and productivity in the early twentieth century, as parodied in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times (1936). Of the remaining four chapters, the two dealing with gender concentrate on W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde, with some cursory discussion of the connections between sex drive and creativity. Meanwhile, the chapter on "auto-facial construction" focuses narrowly on the writings of Mina Loy. Armstrong ends the book with the chapter "Film Finds a Tongue," an analysis of the cultural and scientific meaning of sound in early talking pictures. Given the book’s breadth of topics, it is unfortunate that Armstrong does not provide a concluding chapter to tie everything together.

In contrast, Cosmodolphins authors Bryld and Lykke strive for a cohesive analysis of three seemingly unrelated icons: the spaceship, the horoscope, and the dolphin. The book’s unusual title alludes to a 1995 picture from a Save the Dolphins campaign: entitled "Earth Dolphins," it showed the Earth from an outer-space vantage point, with two giant dolphins swimming in the oceans. Bryld and Lykke use this image somewhat arbitrarily to symbolize current attitudes toward the Space Age, New Age, and the environment.

Striving to "engage in a cultural critique without excluding our fascination with the space adventure" (12), Bryld and Lykke describe nationalist interests in space flight as part of a longstanding "master narrative" in which rigorous, knowledgeable, and predominantly male heroes seek out adventure and conquer new terrain. The authors aptly demonstrate how often scientific institutions promote this cultural "fable" and, from time to time, also cite recent works of sf that reinforce this narrative, such as Carl Sagan’s Contact (1985). Because of this, they argue, the horoscope emerges as an appropriate choice for a counter-icon, since it entails the heavens influencing human fate, as opposed to humans reaching out into the cosmos.

As humanities professors and self-described "tourists in the world of high-tech science" (27), the authors interviewed 26 academic staff members at space research centers in the United States and Russia from 1990 to 1998 in preparation for the book. The summaries of these interviews show that dreams of terraforming distant planets and making contact with extraterrestrials occupy the imaginations of many space scientists and engineers, not only writers of fiction. Bryld and Lykke also interviewed six dolphin studies experts in the United States, and fifteen astrologers in San Francisco and Moscow. Summaries of some of these interviews appear in the book as well.

Some sections of Cosmodolphins directly build on the conclusions of other scholars, notably Michel Foucault, Walter Ong, and Donna Haraway. Although Bryld and Lykke note the general lack of feminist perspectives in science studies, it is disappointing that their own observations regarding gender in relation to science and spirituality merely point out large-scale dichotomies (e.g., Christian God = masculine, New Age = feminine; technology = masculine, nature = feminine), rather than pursuing more detailed analyses.

In many ways, the chapters on the dolphin icon are the most original and intriguing in the book. Here, the authors identify how dolphins have filled two cultural roles since the time of Dr. John Lilly’s pioneering research on dolphin intelligence and communication in the early 1960s. One role is that of a present-day "noble savage," an intelligent, peaceful, and non-technological contrast to modern humans. Bryld and Lykke show how popular images of dolphins such as "Flipper," as well as urban myths about dolphin good-will, have perpetuated this idealized view of the animals. The second role is that of real-life "extraterrestrial," a non-humanoid that in some capacity talks to and cooperates with humans. The fact that dolphins reside in the oceans instead of outer space is really beside the point.

Cosmodolphins and Modernity, Technology and the Body only occasionally mention selected works of sf, yet it is easy to think of other examples that support each of the authors’ claims. While not geared to provide exhaustive bibliographies or a comprehensive view of sf, they do suggest larger cultural frameworks in which to consider the sf works that genre scholars already study.

—James Satter, University of Minnesota

Defending First Fandom

Eric Leif Davin. Pioneers of Wonder: Conversations with the Founders of Science Fiction. Prometheus, 1999. 405 pp. $24.95 hc.

Pioneers of Wonder contains interviews with authors Lloyd Arthur Eschbach, Raymond Z. Gallun, and Frank K. Kelly; editors David Lasser and Charles D. Hornig; filmmaker Curt Siodmak; and surviving relatives of Stanley Weinbaum and R.F. Starzl. As someone who entered the world just a few months before the first moon landing, I found these interviews fascinating, a record of a world that, until this book, had existed for me only at third or fourth hand. This volume thus helps to flesh out an "I Was There" account of the development of modern science fiction, in the process offering fascinating sidelights and illuminating asides. For example, several marvelous anecdotes are recounted linking early sf with modern scientific culture, among them the founding of what would become the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (32), the "Einstein riot" of 1929 at the American Museum of Natural History (34), and physicist Leo Szilard’s H.G. Wells-inspired conception of the nuclear chain reaction in 1933 (330). Davin’s interviewing tactics allow his subjects’ personalities to take shape for the reader, and his status as prolific fan and unabashed partisan of the Golden Age stands him in good stead with his subjects, a large portion of whom take as a point of pride their estrangement from contemporary sf.

Still, this perspective can also be a limitation. Early in the book’s introduction, Davin goes a bit overboard in marshalling quotations from Rollo May, Albert Einstein, and Rene Descartes as support for sf historian Sam Moskowitz’s thesis that sf, as it grew away from its pulp heritage, began to lose its "Sense of Wonder" (21-22). This loss, according to Moskowitz, resulted in a cynical and "overrefined" genre out of touch with itself, and Davin takes this assertion at face value. The prominent quotation of Moskowitz signals a particular approach to the history of sf, one that has been periodically debated in the pages of Science Fiction Studies. In this context, it is worth noting that in the essays by Davin that precede and follow the interviews, the vast majority of secondary citations are from two sources: the works of Sam Moskowitz and the fanzine to which he was a frequent contributor, Fantasy Commentator. Moskowitz, too, is the subject of not one but two hagiographic essays at the end of the book; in the second, First Fandom is compared with Christ’s apostles (366), and Davin concludes (at the end of a page on which there are eight exclamation points) with the following admonition: "Time for the naysayers to stop nitpicking, I think, and appreciate what a priceless legacy Sam Moskowitz left us—and the world" (369).

This kind of overstatement links up with a dogged determination to discover The Truth about questions Davin considers of paramount importance to the early history of sf. The primary instance of this is Davin’s continual return to the much-masticated question of Hugo Gernsback’s impecuniousness (some would say stinginess). The editor’s legendary inability (or unwillingness) to pay his writers is taken up at seven different points in the book, as is the question of Gernsback’s interference with his editors’ selections, and Davin at one point posits a connection between the two. Specifically, he speculates—with no evidence whatsoever—that Gernsback traded editorial freedom for financial reward, paying his writers and editors when he could and allowing them greater latitude when he couldn’t: "It was the best trade-off Gernsback was able to offer" (64).

At other points, Davin’s impulse to mythologize gets in the way of the evidence he himself presents. Not once but twice, he states that R.F. Starzl contributed "the last significant thematic twist" on the idea of the microscopic universe in his famous story "Out of the Sub-Universe" (1928), despite the fact that Starzl’s own brother points out a later story by W. Somerset Maugham that approaches the idea from a quite different perspective (264-65)—and despite the prominence of Edward Bryant’s much-anthologized 1977 Nebula nominee "Particle Theory." Moreover, simple facts of biography are sometimes stretched to interpretive extremes. Davin’s characterization of Starzl’s personal background is a case in point: a man who quit writing sf in 1934 when he became sole owner of a family newspaper in Iowa, Starzl is described as "long[ing] to travel far and do great things, but that was a life reserved for his younger brother Frank.... R.F. Starzl remained trapped in a small and stifling midwestern town, taking care of the family’s business. But in his imagination he travelled farther than his brother ever dreamed" (251). In this projective fantasy of Starzl’s ambitions, Pioneers of Wonder begins to reveal itself for what it is: a dedicated fan’s warm appreciation of all the people who made him a dedicated fan, and an expression of his fervent desire to salute them, sometimes at the expense of scholarly accuracy.

The last sixty pages of the book contain no interviews at all; instead, we find an essay on "The Birth of the Science Fiction Cinema," focusing on Kurt Neumann; a long and melodramatic essay called "The Private History of a Rescue That Failed," about Davin’s efforts to get Sam Moskowitz and Laurence Manning included in James Gunn’s The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Viking, 1988); another essay about Moskowitz; and a concluding autobiographical piece arguing for the uniqueness of sf as a genre. In these pieces the reader gets progressively more intimately acquainted with Davin’s abiding love of early sf, and progressively farther away from any pretense of objectivity or balance. "The Private History of a Rescue That Failed," in particular, could hardly be more blatant in its anger at the sf field for not properly venerating the giants of the 1920s and ’30s.

In this chapter, too, another problem with the book becomes difficult to ignore. On the first page of "Private History," Davin summarizes Laurence Manning’s most famous story, "The Man Who Awoke" (1933). This paragraph of summary is followed by a quoted paragraph from Isaac Asimov’s anthology Before the Golden Age praising the story’s forward-thinking ecological concerns. While this summary and contextualization are efficiently done, they repeat verbatim an earlier passage of the book (19). Numerous examples of similar redundancies mar the volume, as do repeated phrases (at least two people die of "massive heart attack[s]" [297, 353] and another of "a massive stroke or heart attack" [190]). The book’s repetitiveness probably derives from its original incarnation as a series of essays published over the course of ten years in (with one exception) Fantasy Commentator. Certainly it is hard to keep track of every phrase employed in ten-year-old essays, but when an author decides to turn this loose collection of fanzine articles and profiles into a unified book of scholarly importance, it is his responsibility to eliminate such textual repetitions and redundant self-quotations.

With Pioneers of Wonder, Davin has performed a valuable service to the sf field by preserving the recollections of some of its early practitioners. In many of his interviews, a genuine sense emerges of living and working at the dawn of something important and wonderful. Unfortunately, Davin’s efforts to provide a history of the field suffer from his prejudices and the defensive tone that pervades his writing about the people and stories he loves. When he lets his subjects speak for themselves, the reader finds much to thank him for; when he attempts to turn Pioneers of Wonder into a history of early sf, the reader wishes the author had been quite a bit more rigorous in his thinking and far-ranging in his research.

—Alex Irvine, University of Denver

Monkey Business

Eric Greene. PLANET OF THE APES as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture. Wesleyan University Press, 1998. xvi+ 248 pp. $17.95 pbk.

This volume is a slightly updated edition of a work originally published in 1996 by McFarland that won the Golden Scroll of Merit for Outstanding Achievement from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films. Since the original volume was expensive and marketed only to academic libraries, the book’s more accessible reappearance in paperback is certainly welcome and even timely, as interest in the PLANET OF THE APES series continues unabated almost thirty years after the initial cycle seemed to have run its course: a boxed set containing all five films and a supplemental documentary has just been released on DVD and is apparently selling briskly. Eric Greene’s study also deserves another chance with scholarly readers, since the critical attention to gender in science fiction has not been matched by equivalent work on the genre’s representations of race, though the simultaneous appearance of Daniel Bernardi’s Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future (Rutgers UP, 1998) suggests this neglect might be getting addressed as younger critics take up this crucial task.

In his comprehensive analysis, Greene argues that the films spawned by Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète de SingesPlanet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)—as well as subsequent television series, comics, toys, and other extensions of the series, constituted an extended and notably pessimistic examination of American racial politics during the volatile historical period of their original production and reception. Generated in the context of an unpopular war partially maintained by racist underpinnings, and continued amidst increasingly violent demonstrations of African-American militancy (most notably the 1965 Watts riots), the PLANET OF THE APES series functioned as a fantasy exploration of American racial fears in the guise of futuristic adventure stories. Indeed, although the series was extremely popular with audiences, Greene recognizes that the films presented an unexpectedly grim account of America’s persistent failure to solve its racial woes: the oppressive social systems at the heart of each film only lead the more sympathetic characters with whom audiences might identify towards death and apocalyptic destruction, in remarkable contrast to the superficial reconciliation—the "happy endings"—commonly expected from mainstream Hollywood cinema. In fact, Greene argues that the overall series, which concluded its first episode with one of the most powerfully dystopian images in science fiction cinema—the half-buried Statue of Liberty—became even more pessimistic about the possibility of racial equality as the series continued after the American withdrawal from Vietnam; whereas the first three films offer small glimmers of hope within narratives that signal racial conflict indirectly, the final two films link a more direct treatment of racial disharmony with its apparent consequence, more explicit and pervasive violence. (As Greene also demonstrates, the bold treatment of race in the PLANET OF THE APES films was never balanced by an equally daring exploration of gender: sexual difference is treated conservatively in the films when it gets any attention at all.)

Though his principal focus centers on effectively demonstrating this thesis, any fan of the films will also appreciate the detailed research that Greene has conducted in order to fully trace the production history of the entire series. Carefully isolating the contributions of the many hands who worked on the series, and including a canny discussion of the significance of the casting of Charlton Heston in the initial film, Greene suggests that the racial tensions and varied perspectives the films explore are in large measure the result of creative collaboration and negotiation rather than the vision of any single auteur: neither fully liberal nor conservative, the eventual series spanned a spectrum of prejudice and tolerance that undoubtedly allowed the wide appeal of the series when Hollywood audiences were otherwise splitting into racial and generational factions. It’s clear, nonetheless, that Greene finds the principal meaning of the series in narrative content, especially provided by writers and their scripts; the "technical" contributions of cinematographers, editors, designers, and even composer Jerry Goldsmith tend to remain neglected. On the whole, Greene supports his interpretive claims through descriptions of the content of images or with quoted dialogue rather than through the potential evidence of cinematic style; for film scholars, at least, Greene’s work betrays a training in literature rather than cinema studies, where words rather than images tend to secure meanings.

Greene makes broad claims for the APES series, but consistently supports his points through a solid accumulation of historical information and textual analysis. Yet Greene persistently defends his analysis against those who might stubbornly refuse to see the PLANET OF THE APES films as anything but entertaining stories about conflicts between species rather than the specific racial groups and social systems the narratives evoke. For example, in order to "justify" the possibly offensive analogy between apes and African-Americans that his own study must depend upon, Greene draws upon a range of historical and recent examples that prove this link has been and remains a persistent stereotype. I will note that, since Greene deploys sources ranging from nineteenth-century eugenics to popular primatology to trace the racist conflation of Africans and apes, I was surprised that King Kong (1933) and other early ape films play no part in his discussion. Cynthia Erb’s Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture (Wayne State UP, 1998) effectively summarizes and advances discussion on that key film and the racial connotations that have marked its critical reception, and her work might provide a significant precursor for elements of Greene’s study.

But Greene’s frequent, defensive claims that the series is "really about" race never seem necessary: as his period sources make clear, popular film critics easily recognized the racial references and associations of the films from the start, and many of the key figures (though certainly not all) involved in the production of the series have been quick to acknowledge that the racial climate of the period provided regular inspiration for the ongoing plotlines. Greene, however, provides standard arguments against allowing the intentions of creators to determine meaning, even though I can’t imagine any initially doubtful reader of his book could eventually question that the films were indeed concerned with contemporary racial conflict and prejudice. Again, by the latter half of the series, racial conflict is explicitly foregrounded in the Apes films, and so the objects of Greene’s analysis simply never demand the subtle excavation of racial themes or beliefs exemplified in such recent studies of popular cinema as Sharon Willis’s High Contrast: Race and Gender in Contemporary Hollywood Film (Duke UP, 1997). In short, Greene’s analysis is convincing even through he continues to worry that, at least for some readers, it may remain implausible.

Greene’s text could, however, more carefully articulate a theory of representation to contain and focus his many local and specific interpretations. Greene employs a range of related terms to describe the relationship between the films and the cultural context he traces, but these seem to shift in his study simply for the sake of variety, and not because they are meant to indicate distinct interpretive strategies or modes of representation. For instance, Greene frequently identifies the films as "allegories" of race, or locates race in the ostensible "subtexts" of works, or argues that they are "textually" about apes and humans rather than African-Americans and whites. Since allegories traditionally announce themselves as such, as explicitly doubled in their meaning, it’s not clear how Greene thinks unannounced, buried "subtexts" function in these same texts. At points Greene seems torn between a traditional model of allegory that allows one-to-one correspondences, whereas at other moments his discussions rely upon the modern recognition that meanings are generally overdetermined and multiple. As his title indicates, the book also understands racial representation as a "mythic" process, wherein historical structures seek the status of timeless truths, though the psychoanalytic notion of "displacement" is also frequently invoked to describe the indirect way in which the "actual" subject of these films is woven into works that are not superficially about race at all. Such terms, and the rather distinct models, theories, and strategies they reference, are not distinguished in this study, and so different modes of representation quietly compete with one another in this study when they only seem intended to converge.

Do the apes in the films function as both "symbols" of and "metaphors" for African Americans, and do their narrative actions "allegorize" as well as "mimic" (or as Greene productively puns, "ape") events in African-American history? Again, the text misleadingly suggests that such terms signal equivalent rather than divergent rhetorical activities or understandings of the relationship between text and context, representation and history. Greene’s work thus provides a welcome variety in vocabulary but too often by sacrificing a more rigorous clarification of the various means of representation he weaves into his discussion. At a few moments Greene’s interpretations don’t even suggest the need for a concept of mediation or translation at all: "Not only does he not know where he is, [Charlton Heston’s astronaut] Taylor, like much of the United States at the time, does not know where he is going" (48). More bluntly, Greene declares "after Nova speaks in Beneath … she is shot and killed by a gorilla. Message? Beautiful women should just be beautiful—and keep their mouths shut" (38). Even if we are inclined to agree with these comparisons or conclusions, one might expect an understanding of interpretive decoding that recognizes and more carefully describes the complex process of encoding that gave these texts their social relevance.

Greene’s volume concludes with a full filmography for not only the initial series, but the live and animated television series as well: the book is also fully, though often unnecessarily, illustrated. (A number of production stills of eventually deleted scenes don’t play any role in Greene’s discussion, and curious visual evidence of international interest in the series isn’t matched in the text.) Although a few minor errors pop up—Frederick Douglas should be Douglass, and Boulle’s Bridge Over the River Kwai was actually "on," not "over" the river—Greene’s writing is clear and often witty, though a bit of repetition often insures that already well-emphasized points are made once again. Overall, Greene’s book should be acknowledged as groundbreaking in science fiction film criticism; its real value may eventually be gauged by the additional critical work on race in science fiction it should inspire

Corey K. Creekmur, University of Iowa

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