Science Fiction Studies

#85 = Volume 28, Part 3 = November 2001

The ABCs of Science Fiction.

Adam Roberts. The ABC's of Science Fiction. Routledge, 2000. 224 pp. $50 hc; $14.99 pbk. New Critical Idioms Series.

Andrew M. Butler. The Pocket Essential Cyberpunk. Pocket Essentials, 2000. 95 pp. £3.99 pbk.

One sign of the increasing prominence of science fiction in literary and cultural studies is the appearance of reader’s guides like these two volumes. A work in this critical genre—which typically aims less at breaking new conceptual ground than at providing a concise and widely accessible overview of some established area of discourse—is unusually easy to carp at, for the degree of compression and simplification required practically guarantees that any competent scholar of the field can readily find fault with particular emphases and omissions and, in general, can suggest ways that the whole thing might have been done differently. Except where there are truly extraordinary faults to be pointed out, it therefore seems sensible to accentuate the positive, provided, of course, that an affirmative answer can be given to the crucial initial question: is a particular reader’s guide worth reading as an elementary survey of the area to which it is devoted?

The answer is yes with regard to both texts under discussion here. Of the two, Adam Roberts’s Science Fiction is the more substantial and probably the better written, though also the more careless in matters both small and large. It aims to give a kind of bird’s-eye view of the entire field designated by the title, and, on the whole, it is nicely balanced between fairly impartial surveys of previous scholarship and the maintenance of the author’s own (generally left/critical/utopian) point of view. He efficiently divides his subject into five topics, to each of which he devotes a chapter: "Defining Science Fiction"; "The History of Science Fiction"; "Gender"; "Race"; and "Technology and Metaphor." Sometimes, and of necessity, Roberts proceeds at a very high level of generality, but he also seems concerned to give his book more and richer critical detail than works on this scale can often boast; so that his chapters include, for instance, brief subsections on such relatively specific issues as "The Golden Age: Asimov" and "Race and Star Trek." In addition, each of the five chapters is "anchored" by a comparatively detailed analysis of a particular sf text. Here Roberts chooses three novels (Herbert’s Dune [1965], Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness [1969], and Gibson’s Neuromancer [1984]) and two films (Lucas’s Star Wars [1977] and Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black [1997])—a varied and interesting selection, though of course not the only set of five texts that one might pick to exemplify science fiction.

When it comes to defining sf, Roberts leans most heavily on the classic Suvinian position that sf is the literature of cognitive estrangement, defined by the narrative dominance of a fictional "novum," or radical novelty, in the text (though Roberts falsely reports that Darko Suvin coined the term novum, whereas—as Suvin himself has always made clear and explicit—he actually borrowed and adapted it from Ernst Bloch). In addition to Suvin’s work, Roberts also sympathetically considers the criticism of Robert Scholes, Samuel Delany, Damien Broderick, and Gwyneth Jones in order to produce his own working definition of sf, one that privileges the category of difference and stresses the "degree of proximity" separating the different world of the sf text from the actual empirical world: "too removed and the SF text loses purchase, or becomes merely escapist; too close and it might as well be a conventional [i.e., realist] novel" (16), without the estranging difference that the novum provides. Difference as the distinguishing mark of sf remains Roberts’s guiding thread throughout his volume, as he reconsiders sf history and then as he focuses on those differences fictionally produced when science fiction confronts three of its most recurring issues—namely, gender, race, and technology.

Revisiting the history of science fiction, Roberts notes that some commentators trace that history as far back as Lucian and even The Epic of Gilgamesh, while others insist that the genre is no older than Verne and Wells (actually, there are those who date the beginning of sf even more recently, with the 1920s pulps). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) probably remains most widely cited as the ur-text of sf—a notion that derives much of its critical currency directly or indirectly from Brian Aldiss—but Roberts, while deeply influenced by Aldiss’s argument, proposes a different and rather original candidate: the chief precursor-text of Frankenstein itself, namely Paradise Lost (1667). Roberts intelligently argues that Milton’s epic becomes sf, however, only after the Romantic re-interpretation of it and specifically after Blake’s great discovery that, in creating the character of Satan, Milton was of the Devil’s party without knowing it. The point here is that Paradise Lost, as read by Romantics like Blake and Mary Shelley, becomes the inaugural literary attempt to represent extreme alterity—extreme difference—in a serious and at least somewhat sympathetic way. Milton’s Satan thus becomes the benchmark standard by which Roberts traces and evaluates the portrayals of difference in Mary Shelley herself, in Verne and Wells, in American pulp, and in the sf writers of the so-called "Golden Age" and beyond. The chronological narrative breaks off around 1960, but it is clearly in the science fiction of the four most recent decades that Roberts finds the most compelling studies of difference since Milton; and it is this sf that figures most largely in the chapters on gender, race, and technology.

The chapter on gender seems to me the weakest in the book. Again and again Roberts appears to display a lack of sympathetic understanding of his subject. It is, for instance, simply false to say that Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) portrays a "world without gender" (97), and it is at the very least confused to describe Don Fenton—the narrator of "The Women Men Don’t See" (1973), a story that Alice Sheldon published as James Tiptree, Jr.—as "rather old-fashioned but basically decent" (97). On the latter question, the story does suggest that Fenton (who at one point considers raping a woman, rejecting the idea only because he doesn’t feel physically up to it) is probably no worse than powerful white men in general; but the whole point, of course, is that this is the group whose lack of "basic decency" causes Ruth Parsons and her daughter to flee earth with some unknown space aliens. An even worse mistake on Roberts’s part, I think, is his view of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975), which he astonishingly and ungrammatically pronounces to be "effectively hijacked by a feminist agenda" (96)—a phrase that seems to me to misunderstand Russ’s masterpiece just about as completely as it is possible to do. Yet even in his treatment of gender, Roberts’s stress on difference does yield dividends. His reading of The Left Hand of Darkness, for example, is one of the better treatments of that much discussed novel, and I especially recommend the way he argues it to be a more thoroughly feminist work than many feminist critics— including even the later Le Guin herself—have allowed.

Roberts is generally stronger on race than on gender and is especially good on the theme of alien abduction in such sf television series as Alien Nation and The X-Files. The latter show superficially appears to have nothing to do with America’s history of racial crime, but Roberts elegantly demonstrates that the whole narrative of kidnapping by frightening, malevolent, physically invasive, and technologically superior aliens is nothing other than a retelling, in a modern setting, of the trade in African slaves during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—with white middle-class Americans now playing the role of victim. It is, as Roberts notes, Freud’s "return of the repressed" with a vengeance. He then cleverly turns to Octavia Butler’s XENOGENESIS trilogy (1987-1989), showing how Butler, writing from an explicitly African-American viewpoint, deliberately inflects the theme of alien abduction so as to give it—in the sympathetic comprehension of racial (or species) difference—a utopian dimension. But there are problems with Roberts’s chapter on race too. On one level, there is the strange description of the triumphantly white title character of Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold (1964) as "a black manservant" (122). On a different level, there is the rather superficial treatment of Delany, the sf writer, I think, who has given us the most complex and interesting representations of race and racial difference. Though Roberts does not seem wholly unaware of Delany’s stature, he concentrates exclusively on The Einstein Intersection (1967)—a fine novel, to be sure, and a highly innovative one in its time, but one far less compelling and consequential, both in general and in its specific treatment of race, than such ampler Delany productions as Dhalgren (1975) and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984).

In general, then, Roberts’s Science Fiction seems to me a seriously flawed but often useful and at times highly intelligent introductory survey of the field. There is, however, one further and rather peculiar aspect of the volume that, unfortunately, needs to be mentioned. Over several pages of his chapter on technology (148-51), Roberts exactly reproduces the argument of an article of mine (originally published in the March 1984 issue of this journal and reprinted several times since) about Philip K. Dick—sometimes even repeating, without quotation marks, my verbal formulations word for word. But he never, in his text, actually mentions the article in question, save, once, as his source for a quotation from Dick himself. He then makes the whole procedure even weirder when, in his bibliography, he rechristens me "Philip Freedman," in an evident melding of authorial and critical identities. I did not notice any other such instances of unacknowledged (and perhaps inadvertent) borrowing in the volume. But there is, of course, no other sf criticism with which I am so minutely familiar as my own, and the reader should be warned to keep a sharp look-out for other, similar acts of wholesale incorporation.

Andrew Butler’s The Pocket Essential Cyberpunk is a slimmer work on a much more narrow subject; in fact, it is hardly even a prose composition in the usual sense at all. Made up largely of biographical squibs and plot summaries, it is in many ways more like a reference work—or an "annotated list" (25), as the author himself wryly comments at one point. As such, though, it does its job adequately. In an introductory chapter mainly about the literary roots of cyberpunk, Butler points out the familiar central figures—Hammett, Chandler, Burroughs, Bester, Dick, Delany—and is especially to be commended for also stressing the importance of Joanna Russ and Alice Sheldon, thus acknowledging the large but often unappreciated debt that cyberpunk owes to feminist science fiction. In approaching the cyberpunk authors themselves, he serviceably divides them into several categories: the two core cyberpunk authors, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling; the other authors of the original cyberpunk movement, defined here as those (like Pat Cadigan and Rudy Rucker) who appeared in Sterling’s influential anthology Mirrorshades (1986); "post-cyberpunk" authors, i.e., those who have come after the Mirrorshades crew but with work squarely in the cyberpunk tradition (Neal Stephenson is an especially prominent example); and "cyberpunk-flavored fiction" by authors (e.g., Jeff Noon and Gwyneth Jones) whose work bears a more distant but still meaningful relationship to cyberpunk. There is also a chapter entitled "Cyberpunk Goes to the Movies," which deals with films connected to cyberpunk in one way or another, including such important productions as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995).

In general, Butler’s volume does just what it sets out to do. It competently identifies the major authors and texts associated with cyberpunk and explains something—though never very much—about each of them. Inevitably, Butler’s judgments can sometimes be challenged. For example, I think he seriously undervalues Marge Piercy’s novel He, She and It (1991)—arguably the most mature and satisfying work of art yet produced anywhere in the vicinity of cyberpunk—and I feel quite sure that he absurdly overpraises the Wachowski brothers’ execrable movie The Matrix (1999). But (despite a publisher’s press release that describes the volumes in the Pocket Essentials series as "opinionated") Butler is more concerned to describe than to evaluate anyhow. This is true even with regard to the largest question of value judgment that his book raises: namely, the literary worth of cyberpunk as a whole. Some view cyberpunk as one of the most significant developments in the history of sf and one of the most compelling movements in all of contemporary Anglophone literature; others (myself included) consider it a sometimes interesting but distinctly minor phenomenon. Though Butler’s decision to write a whole (if very short) book on the subject might be taken as a clue to his own presumptive sympathies, his manner is actually quite evenhanded and noncommittal, and readers on both sides of the controversy will find his volume easy and often enjoyable to consult. His bibliography is highly selective (for instance, Larry McCaffery’s popular anthology Storming the Reality Studio [1991] is oddly omitted) but generally useful.

Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University

First Biography of an Australian Outsider.

Judith Raphael Buckrich. George Turner: A Life. Melbourne UP, 1999. 214 pp. AUS$49.50 hc.

Although this biography, when it was a Melbourne PhD thesis, was examined by two well-known Australian science fiction critics (who both offer blurbs on the dust jacket), it reveals at every turn the fact that its author is not familiar with science fiction. The name "Paul" is placed in inverted commas, as if it is a nickname rather than being the surname of the sf artist Frank R. Paul; the Blue Book Magazine is described as a science fiction magazine, which it wasn’t; the Arthur C. Clarke Award is twice named as the Arthur C. Clarke Prize; and Australian science fiction conventions are described as "these peculiar conferences"—which, however accurate, are the words of an outsider.

This really does not matter too much. George Turner was an outsider too, all his life, and, after all, he was 52 before his first science fiction novel Beloved Son (1978) was published, after a twenty-year career as a writer of mainstream fiction. This is not the book to turn to for an in-depth analysis of Turner’s science fiction; the most interesting comments on his work are those which the author quotes from published reviews in Australia and the USA. But, as a full biography (as opposed to a study of Turner’s place in the sf world), it may not be surpassed; if only, in part, because Turner himself died in 1994 and some of those few close friends who are still alive seem to have been as unwilling to talk about his early life as he was himself.

Turner was born in 1916, and grew up in the mining town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. His isolated friendless life with his domineering mother (whom Buckrich effectively blames for Turner’s inability to have any intimate relationships with women thereafter) sowed the seeds for his retreat into fantasy; one of his earliest publications was a fan letter published in Amazing in 1932. Being in the army for the duration of World War II gave him material for later novels; but otherwise it only prepared him for provincial life as a government official and suicidally professional drunk. His life as a published writer began in 1958; his life as a published science fiction writer, and as a famously acerbic science fiction critic, began in 1978 with his first sf novel and his discovery of, or by, Australian fandom.

Turner described himself as having a "towering, ill-judged, impermeable egotism" (69), and Buckrich gives the impression of a self-contained and self-pitying man who was misogynistic and often socially inept, or just plain obnoxious. But, as Buckrich shows, he changed, and grew, and was capable of profound insights about humanity and its future. We have few enough decent biographies of science fiction writers, and it is good to have this first biography of an Australian who was, arguably, the greatest sf writer that country produced in the twentieth century.

—Edward James, University of Reading

"Throw this Book!": Marleen Barr’s Claim to Revitalize Literary Criticism.

Marleen Barr. Genre Fission: A New Discourse Practice for Cultural Studies. U of Iowa P, 2000. 280 pp. $27.95.

"The critical community," Marleen Barr tells the reader, in the introduction to Genre Fission, "sorely needs a revitalizing discourse practice: Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell’s understatement, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ has become applicable to literary critics" (1). Reading this—can we call it anything but a mission statement?—the reader is immediately introduced to Barr’s particular methodology in this book. The reader’s reaction to Barr’s attempt in Genre Fission to "enliven criticism" will, I think, be conditioned largely by four factors that are already amply evident in the initial paragraphs: first, whether or not one agrees that critical discourse needs to be revitalized; second, whether or not the method Barr reiterates throughout this work seems to any given reader either enlivening or enlightening; third, whether Barr’s attempt to create a "new discourse practice" by putting together things that do not obviously fit actually strikes the reader as genuinely new and original; and fourth, a perhaps more visceral reaction to Barr’s choice to write in a style at once repetitive and ejaculatory.

Barr makes a number of unusual conjunctions between a variety of cultural objects and historical events that are more usually the subject of cultural studies than of literary criticism. Barr herself labels these conjunctions "eccentric" and claims, specifically, that"[g]enre fission is an idiosyncratic juxtaposition of the categorically disparate which yields new critical or cultural insights" (i). Inevitably, given the way in which Barr defines her objective, the project of Genre Fission is an ambitious one, yet it is one which seems at the same time curiously ungrounded in what should be its natural field, i.e., postmodernist thought. Barr’s primary reference to a postmodernist writer is her adoption as a critical methodology of Tobin Sieber’s comment, in the introduction to Heterotopia, that postmodernism desires "to put together things that do not belong together" (qtd. in Barr 86). Yet the reference to Sieber’s work does not seem to lead anywhere, largely because of the lack of critical focus of Barr’s application of the term "heterotopia" to her subject matter (to be brief, the intersections of gender, race, and genre). For example, Barr characterizes the contemporary "American landscape as what [she calls] a homodystopia—a homogeneous suburbia which breeds dissatisfaction"(88) without appearing to notice, even in the context of the book’s relatively limited discussion of race, that many Americans do not live in suburbia, either literally or discursively. Barr seems not to recognize that the "homodystopia" of America is more ideological than factual, a powerful political impulse that is necessarily bent on maintaining the binary other of an underclass whose existence Barr mentions only in the context of the LA and New York riots, and which thus cannot simply be reconciled under the rubric that "urban America is very suburban"(88).

Taken in its most general and generous sense, the political impulse underlying Barr’s work in Genre Fission—to disempower the"isms" that hold such political, cultural, and discursive sway—is a worthy one; it is the methodology of Genre Fission that fails to uphold its more noble goals, particularly as most of Barr’s argument is not supported by reference to the postmodernist critics whose work it should, by its very nature, be drawing upon. Michel Foucault, for example, rates a bare mention in the context of the discussion of racism, even though it is Foucault’s term—heterotopia—that Barr champions (largely in spite of Foucault’s own definition of the term not as a goal, but as an existing space of either/both crisis or deviance) against the banal and boring homogeneities of America-as-suburbia. Similarly, Samuel Delany’s article in Sieber’s Heterotopia—an article which in many ways exemplifies the more rhizomatic impulses of postmodernism, precisely the methodology that Barr claims to be (re?)inventing—is not mentioned at all, despite Delany’s connection to the subject matter of Genre Fission via his sf writing, his critical interest in feminist and postmodernist thought, and his own working methodology. The omission of both of these critics speaks to a particular failure of both Barr’s overall methodology and specifically of her discussion of space in this chapter ("New York/Los Angeles: ‘New York, New York, A Helluva Town’ Sings ‘I Wish They All Could Be California Girls’"). Moreover, despite the subtitle’s claim of speaking to Cultural Studies, Genre Fission is primarily an exercise in literary/textual criticism, in which some of the methods and topics of Cultural Studies have been appropriated to enlighten what Barr claims to be a literary-critical discourse that is abandoning the more ethereal heights of literary theory for, as Barr herself states, a more "popular venue"(i).

Barr’s favorite popular venue appears to be The New York Times and many of her particular examples are drawn from its pages. This choice, as well as the predominant self-referentiality of the text, also marks it as peculiarly American in its approach to both literary criticism and popular culture. The two primary reference points for Genre Fission are US culture from the 1960s onwards and the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. The former is exemplified primarily in repeated references to three particularly American icons: US Presidents (and their wives), the NASA space program, and Star Trek. The Holocaust is a theme which haunts this work in a variety of ways, giving it both a poignancy and an immediacy which the book’s somewhat narcissistic relationship to US popular culture can only lack. That these two broad thematics are also linked is perhaps most evident in the work currently being done by some Holocaust scholars, particularly Peter Novick’s and Hilene Flanzbaum’s work on the American-ization of the Holocaust, an issue which Genre Fission does not consciously address, but does, I suspect, participate in.

The inwardness of the book’s focus is particularly evident in the second chapter, which is entitled "‘All Good Things’: The End of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the End of Camelot, and the End of the Tale about Woman as Handmaid to Patriarchy-as-Superman." Everyone, we are told (and not just by Marleen Barr) remembers where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot. This "everyone" somehow does not include those of us who were too young or unborn or living in a place where JFK’s assassination was not a momentous event. I’m just old enough to remember hearing the news of Winston Churchill’s death, an event which carried a significant cultural power for those of us born in post-war England. My students, by and large, not only were not born then, in many cases their parents weren’t born then either. If one goes by the postmodernist dictum that "context is all," then the context through which Genre Fission is intended to be read is inevitably going to be a hit or miss affair for different readers. The first time I can recall encountering the mythologizing of the JFK years as "Camelot," a phenomenon which Barr treats as factual, was in the introduction to an anthology of Star Trek fan fiction. I’m not sure whether to regard that as an inauspicious beginning or to think of it, in Genre Fission’s own terms, as peculiarly appropriate.

Science fiction of various kinds, including the various incarnations of Star Trek, plays a not unexpectedly large role. Sf novels, films, and television shows are among the more important of the cultural exhibits Barr adduces to support her overarching goal of creating a new approach to criticism. In general, these science fictional exhibits are combined, as is only logical given the terms of "genre fission" itself, not with each other, but with specific cultural events, examples of popular culture, non-generic literary works, and other forms of art, particularly painting. Chapter 7, for example, uses "churten theory" from some of the stories in Ursula Le Guin’s anthology, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1995), as a sort of template for understanding both Le Guin’s own work and that of selected "Hispanic-American" writers. Barr argues that, if the crew members in Le Guin’s churten stories have to create reality by telling the stories that will allow them all mutually to reach their destination, so too do writers like Julia Alvarez, Ana Castillo, and Cristina Garcia. I find this chapter particularly problematic both for its quirky reading of Le Guin and for its attempt to fit these three writers—who are treated as essentially the same, although their backgrounds (Cuban, Dominican, and Chicana) differ widely—into the mold created by this reading.

Marleen Barr has had an indubitable influence on the development of feminist science fiction criticism; her anthologies collect many of the important works on the topic and have done significant work in breaking into a critical canon that has not always been welcoming of feminist approaches to the field. It is not surprising, then, to note that Genre Fission is also deeply concerned with feminist issues and with ways of seeing the world, and in particular of seeing the world through cultural production, that allow and/or create spaces for women to insert themselves, as agents, as artists, and as critics. Barr’s methodology, in many cases, is to attempt to find or create these spaces for women within the works of male artists whom one would not immediately associate with feminism: artists like Claes Oldenburg or Bill Copley, for example, or writers like John Barth, Philip Roth, and John Updike. These three authors are adduced as evidence, in the third chapter, alongside feminist writers Margaret Atwood, Marilyn French, Joyce Carol Oates, and Marge Piercy, for a cultural and literary force that counters the notion that anti-patriarchal women are simply "pests" within a patriarchal system. Barr concludes, on evidence that often seems remarkably flimsy, that all seven authors envisage the possibility that "benign coevolution" may overtake the current system of "hostile coevolution," thus providing a potential future place where "heterosexuals will live as contented versions of Updike’s Couples" (69). In a similar fashion, the first chapter of Genre Fission discusses the works of Max Apple, Saul Bellow, and Edgar Allan Poe in terms of "a troop of men who produce cross-dressed texts" (5). The metaphor of cross-dressing for writers using protagonists of another gender—in this case, men writing women characters—is an apt one; not only does Marjorie Garber prominently discuss the issue of textual cross-dressing in her influential work Vested Interests (Routledge, 1992), but Jane Donawerth’s Frankenstein’s Daughters (Syracuse UP, 1997) also significantly addresses the issue specifically in the context of women writing science fiction. Some consideration of both of these texts in the context of this chapter would have usefully extended Barr’s discussion of the issue, making precisely the kinds of connections that are supposedly the goal of "genre fission."

Genre Fission takes as its basic premise the notion that genres do not adequately reflect the reality of what writers and other artists actually create. The book is thus influenced by postmodernism, with its skepticism of master narratives and generic boundaries, even though it makes relatively little reference to the work of postmodernist theorists. Using the notion of genre slippage, Barr attempts to create a discourse practice that valorizes the assemblage of disparate elements to create meaning. Thus, Genre Fission takes on the usual suspects—i.e., gender, race, class, and so on—but it does so through the idiosyncratic evidence of apparently unrelated moments and icons of popular and not-so-popular culture. What this adds up to is not really a methodology for a new form of Cultural Studies, but rather an attempt to rewrite literary criticism as what Barr calls a "hand grenade," the "ultimate culture wars weapon with which to counter the plethora of heinous ‘ism’s’"(238). Although the idiosyncratic "fissions" of Genre Fission seem unlikely to be effective in making "the evil ‘ism’ empire duck and cover" (239), the goal of a more inclusive, less homogenous, categorizing, and boundary-marking society is certainly a worthy one. In a sense, this only makes Genre Fission all the more frustrating, since the reader can so clearly sense the book it might have been. And while I am certainly in favor of moving between academic theorizing and political action, by and large, I prefer books I’m intended to read, not throw.

—Wendy Pearson, University of Woolongong

Meeting James Tiptree.

James Tiptree, Jr. Meet Me At Infinity. Tor, 2000. 396 pp. $25.95 hc.

For many people, James Tiptree, Jr., aka Alice Bradley Sheldon and Racoona Sheldon, has remained something of a mystery, available to us only through her intense and profound fiction. Certainly there are a few facts that many people know. The pseudonym Tiptree came to her from the label of a marmalade jar. She traveled extensively as a child with her parents, spending concentrated time in colonial India and Africa. She lived next door to the CIA. A longtime sufferer of clinical depression, she died in 1987, committing suicide after murdering her ailing husband. That much we know.

The essays, letters, and stories collected in this volume by Jeffrey D. Smith—Sheldon’s friend and editor for many years—represent an unusual glimpse into Tiptree’s life both as a writer and as a woman. The collection spans her writing career "from her first published story in 1946 to her first science fiction story in 1955 to her last long novella in 1986, and includes the letters and informal essays she wrote for publication" (11). The collected stories are mostly minor work, some previously unpublished. Included also is a chronology of her science fiction. In the essays and letters she discusses her travels, the writing of individual stories, her perceptions of women and men, her feelings about science fiction and its place in the world. She signs her letters "Tip" or "Alli" and suddenly James Tiptree becomes a real, warm woman, witty, sharp-minded, and funny. The first section of the book is comprised of the fiction, with short letters and explanatory notes by Tiptree and Smith, along with excerpts of letters which give insight into the writing and publishing processes of each story, and even greater insight into Tiptree as a person. For instance, the following passage relates to "Press Until the Bleeding Stops," which Tiptree submitted under the pseudonym Racoona Sheldon after achieving success as Tiptree. It was rejected by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Amazing Stories. In a subsequent letter to Smith, she writes: "I’ll tell you a secret. Being an incurable weirdo, I decided to send out a couple stories under an assumed name.... So far neither have sold—the same editors who are ragging me for stuff bounced ’em out of the slush-pile! Instructive, eh? ... I’m just stubborn enough to keep on with it" (82).

Later in her life, this strong name-brand association with Tiptree would continue to haunt her, particularly as a woman writer in a male-dominated field. She delves into her concerns about women and the difficulties with Tiptree in several essays—by far the strongest of the book. In "With Tiptree Through the Great Sex Muddle," she writes about the social construction of genders and the function of men and women in society. This is a marvelous essay, both thoughtful and satirical. The last two essays of the collection, "Zero at the Bone" and "A Woman Writing Science Fiction" are retrospectives on Tiptree’s life as a writer and a woman. In deeply moving and satirical terms, she articulates the difficulties between being a woman in general and an sf writer in particular. She is startling, provocative and yet poignant, when she sums up the powerlessness of women:

What evil can a woman do? Except pettily, to other, weaker women or children? Cruel stepmothers; male fantasies of the Wicked Witch, who can always be assaulted or burnt if she goes to far. Men certainly see women as doing many evil things—but always nuisancy, trivial, personal, and, easily-to-be-punished-for. Not for us the great evils; the jolly maraudings, burnings, rapings, and hacking-up; the Big Nasties, the genocidal world destroyers, who must be reckoned with on equal terms. (382)

She goes on to say, "Gardner Dozois cheerily told me that now [that she has been exposed as Tiptree] I could write about ‘growing up female!’ Ha! I can do it in a word: To grow up female is—not to be allowed to grow up" (382).

It seems important to note that the works collected here do not include private correspondence, diaries, or notebooks. As Smith notes in his introduction to the nonfiction section, "the goal for this section was to produce a volume of Alice Sheldon’s complete public nonfiction" (187). Edited by Smith, but steered by Tiptree herself, the text began to evolve in 1976, when Tiptree had not yet been exposed as a woman. Smith says that "by Alli’s death it looked a lot like it does here" (11).

This collection of essays, stories, poetry, and interviews is bound together by the themes threading through Alice Sheldon’s life. What does it mean to write thoughtful, meaningful science fiction? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a woman writer? The answers give us a portrait of a witty, personable, intelligent woman, well-traveled, observant, thoughtful, and astute in her understanding of people and the world. She perceived herself as a writer of cautionary tales, exposing human foibles and social conundrums. Though somewhat scattered in nature—with travel narratives, biographical material, occasional poetry, and a self-written biographical entry for Contemporary Authors—this collection is an important contribution not only to Tiptree studies, but also to women’s studies and the science fiction field. It lends us greater understanding of our culture and the larger science fiction publishing community.

—Diana Pharaoh Francis, University of Montana-Western

Just the Facts about Tarzan.

David A. Ullery. The Tarzan Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs: An Illustrated Reader’s Guide. McFarland, 2001 (Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640; tel. 1-800-253-2187). vi + 298 pp. $45.00 pbk.

I still hang on to my first hardcover copy of Tarzan of the Apes, and although it’s certainly not the original edition published in 1914 by A.C. McClurg, it’s ancient enough that it doesn’t carry any date of publication at all. When I went looking for it the other day, I found it had somehow migrated from my neglected shelf of beloved old children’s books to one of my current shelves of classic sf and fantasy fiction. And I’m not even a fan any more, just the sentimental guardian of a single volume out of the twenty-four or so Tarzan novels that I consumed with such delight at one early stage of my readerly life. I’ll bet, however, that David Ullery still treasures every single copy of every single Tarzan book that he’s ever owned. This man, a self-described "Tarzan connoisseur" (4), is serious about Tarzan.

Ullery’s Reader’s Guide is clearly aimed at other equally enthusiastic fans and provides more detail than anyone but a devoted fan might ever require. In his own words, Ullery’s aim is "to give a thorough yet concise description of all the characters, languages, peoples, and places in the Tarzan series as close to Burroughs’ own as possible without interpolating my (or others’) opinions" (4). Ullery accomplishes exactly that, keeping his focus on the many published Tarzan novels—and the relatively few Tarzan stories—written by ERB, and leaving aside the many media and film spin-offs (most of them admittedly pretty pathetic compared to the fiction). The five sections of his Reader’s Guide include a "Portrait of Tarzan," drawn from ERB’s own descriptions; "The Languages of Tarzan," including ERB’s own Ape-English Dictionary; "Lost Cities, Civilizations, Tribes, Peoples, and Religions"; "Cast of Characters"; and "Book Summaries." Ullery’s steadfast refusal to "interpolat[e] my (or others’) opinions" makes of this a determinedly apolitical Reader’s Guide. The entry for "Natives," for example, informs us without a wince that "In the Tarzan series it was considered a great offense to disobey or abandon a white person" (81). While this is undoubtedly true in the context of the original stories, Ullery’s utter lack of commentary demonstrates his interest in just the Tarzan "facts," not in critical interpretation or cultural evaluation.

Undertaking an internet search for "Tarzan" makes it clear that ERB’s fan community is very much alive and active: among my favorite sites are Project Gutenberg’s <>, which includes the texts of the first five novels in the Tarzan series; La page québécoise de Tarzan at <>; and "Tarzan of the Internet" at <>, the most comprehensive site in terms of coverage and links to other sites. No doubt many of the people who contribute to and consult these sites will welcome this book, as will more old-fashioned print-based Tarzan enthusiasts, although some may be deterred by its rather exorbitant price. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and includes for good measure a generous selection of black-and-white illustrations drawn from various Tarzan editions.


Useful But Not Ideal.

Garyn G. Roberts. The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Prentice Hall, 2001. 1166 pp. $50 pbk.

Because sf is a literature with a long history of important short fiction, it is particularly well suited to representation by a teaching anthology. James Gunn’s massive six-volume Road to Science Fiction (1977-1998) is thorough but huge and, depending on the volume, out of print or simply unavailable. Patricia Warrick’s Science Fiction: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology (1988 and 1997) is a concise volume with an historical perspective whose most recent story is from 1984. The more recent SFRA volume edited by David Hartwell and Milton Wolf covers fiction from 1956 on and is meant to work in conjunction with rather than in competition with the earlier volume, so it would not stand independently in an historical survey. The Norton anthology edited by Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Attebery (1993) contains stories both elegant and thought-provoking, but because all the selections are contemporary, it too would lack an historical perspective. Also, because the stories in this volume tend toward the anthropological and self-reflexive, they offer a fairly small scope for understanding a broad and messy genre. David Hartwell’s Science Fiction Century is wisely chosen in terms of historical range, variety, and literary quality, but is chaotically arranged and without useful apparatus. And so it goes: all useful, none ideal.

The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction, edited by Garyn G. Roberts, is a recent addition to the field. It too has strengths and it too has flaws. I can imagine it, in the hands of an experienced sf teacher, as the solid foundation for an introductory science fiction course, but I can also imagine it, in the hands of someone new to teaching sf, as an embarrassing misrepresentation of a serious subject. The editor of the Prentice Hall anthology is clearly a science fiction fan: in this fact lie both the anthology’s strengths and its weaknesses. I use the term "fan" here in a very specific sense, referring to a member of the social group collectively known as fandom, who interact primarily and extensively through conventions and fanzines. Fans may be very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about science fiction, fantasy, and horror, though they are characteristically unenthusiastic, even distrustful, of sf scholarship. This constellation of traits describes Roberts’s editorial role.

As a fan, he is aware of the genre’s social as opposed to definitional scope, so he includes examples of a wide range of genre fiction which fans include in their reading repertoire, with relatively small sections on horror and fantasy, along with the much more extensive section on the core genre of science fiction. Such inclusion I find a unique and positive attribute of this volume. It is well worth looking at the gothic sources of much sf, and it is equally valuable considering the connections among various literatures of the fantastic. I know of no other single anthology which offers stories allowing such consideration. Indeed, the volume’s foreword by Jack Williamson praises the anthology’s "extraordinary compass" (xiii).

Another fannish advantage of the collection is that the stories selected are, by and large, very accessible, representative (both in terms of the individual authors’ work and in terms of the field as a whole), clear, and pointed in message—in other words, very "teachable" in an introductory class. This fall, SFS editor Arthur B. Evans has decided to "test drive" the anthology in his introductory sf course, in spite of some reservations about the book which he has addressed with supplementary materials.

And there is no doubt that the anthology does have some serious problems, again connected to its fannish approach. First, there’s the cover with its reproduction of a garish 1934 cover illustration for Wonder Stories by Frank R. Paul. Fans may appreciate sf art from the early years of the genre, but in a course that takes the genre seriously, little green men shooting death rays at dinosaurs undercut such a position. Four other color plates continue the project of perpetuating an embarrassing stereotype of sf with such images as a scantily clad babe in an unlikely situation and bug-eyed monsters with plenty of tentacles.

The editor’s preface, introduction, and chapter and story notes, while offering some historical information, are written in an elementary, artless, and unreflectively enthusiastic style, offering no particular insights and ignoring the whole of academic science fiction scholarship. Their naivete seems better suited to a fanzine than to a college textbook. I offer two examples which illustrate the difficulties. In the preface, Roberts writes: "Any story worth anything as an intellectual construct, as a credible and representative piece of cultural anthropology, as an enthralling narrative work, is or once was popular—of the people" (xvi). Here Roberts equates the intellectual with both the anthropo-logically representative and the purely entertaining, and then uses popularity to measure each of these qualities. Later, in the introduction, he claims that "Those who truly have read pulp magazine fiction know that some of the most important writing of the first half of the twentieth century appeared in the pages of the pulpwood magazine" (2). Not only does this statement emphasize the insularity of the fan (only those who are in the group can really judge), but it also completely dismisses mainstream literature. The thoughtless omissions, elisions, and hyperbole of these two statements show, I think, that fannish fervor needs to be balanced by some scholarly rigor and perspective. And although Roberts includes a list of "Cornerstone Studies and Anthologies of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Print Media," the list omits such standards as Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (Yale UP, 1979) and Gary K. Wolfe’s The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction (Kent UP, 1979). The list’s organizing principle—"The list is a selection of favorites from the author’s personal library" (1158)—suggests not only Roberts’s unfamilarity with a huge and significant body of scholarship but also his unwillingness to find out about it.

That is what I find most discouraging about The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy. In spite of its strengths, it was produced without evidence of or interest in thorough research, and the editors at Prentice Hall permitted this carelessness, as if to imply that, whatever Roberts’s own claims and whatever the vast and sophisticated body of sf criticism now extant, the field still doesn’t deserve serious consideration. A more responsible editorial role, for both the editor of this volume and for the press itself, would have brought this useful, though flawed, work closer to the elusive ideal.


An Invaluable Bibliography; A Limited Critical Guide.

Michael R. Collings. Storyteller: The Official Orson Scott Card Bibliography and Guide. Overlook Connection Press, 2001. 500 pp. $59.95 hc.

As the title suggests, Storyteller is primarily a bibliographical guide to the work of Orson Scott Card. As a bibliography, Storyteller is stunningly good. Michael Collings is the foremost scholar and critic of Card’s work to date. His knowledge of Card is exhaustive and the documentation he provides on Card’s hundreds of publications is meticulous to the point of being daunting. Not only does Collings track the publication of all of Card’s science fiction and his critical writing on the fantastic, but he also provides publication information on the rest of Card’s writing—non-fantastic fiction, plays, radio dramas, nonfiction about computers and computer games, explications of Mormon beliefs, even Card’s guide to dating.

Collings’s careful scholarship helps explain comments Card has made about sometimes feeling like an outsider in the science fiction community, and in American society in general. Card is not just a science fiction and fantasy writer; he is also extremely prolific in a wide range of areas and could be considered an interesting author for his Mormon work alone. Although he is a public figure, Card is partially invisible not just because of his faith but because he works so productively in so many areas whose readerships do not overlap. As a result, readers who think they have read "all" of Card’s work will find their appreciation of Card increasing as soon as they scan the table of contents; their understanding of Card will grow in turn as they read Collings’s concise summaries of plot after plot and see correlations among the works. Though the sixty- dollar cover price makes Storyteller a bit pricey for the average Card fan, it is a necessary purchase for anyone planning scholarship on Card. This is doubly true because Collings not only documents Card’s work, he also provides guides to all major critical and popular responses to Card’s work. He includes citations for the debate within the genre over the honesty of "Lost Boys" (1989) and also for the repeated and extended discussions within the Mormon community over Card’s use of The Book of Mormon, Mormon doctrine, the life of Joseph Smith, and of spiritual concepts in general. Collings also includes guides to Card scholarship in other languages and to useful discussions found online. The seeds of scores of unwritten papers on Card can be found in the bibliographical elements of Storyteller.

And it is good that the bibliography is irreplaceable, because the limited critical guidance that Collings provides is strange, and at times, almost embarrassing. One of the appendices to the volume is an intriguing essay by Card on "Fantasy and the Believing Reader" (1982). In it Card draws sharp distinctions between the believing reader, who enters into fantasy properly, with a heart open to being transformed by the experience, and a "critickal" reader, who reads in a way that keeps the text at a distance. The most charitable thing that can be said about Collings’s critical discussion of Card is that he reads Card as Card would wish to be read: he reads as a believing reader. Collings is as honest as he can be within this frame, but the results are still disturbing. With the close association between genre fans and scholars, it isn’t that surprising to find "unabashed appreciation" as part of the introduction—but it is surprising to see Collings close with a two-and-a-half-page religious poem on the experience of reading Orson Scott Card.

Collings’s extremely clear plot summaries of Card’s myriad works nevertheless skip over almost all of the elements that disturb readers, or mention them only briefly due to the attention they’ve received from outside critics. Collings does reproduce a number of the criticisms that have been leveled against Card, but he then dismisses them as misreadings of Card. If one were to judge Card’s writing from this book, one would judge it to be perfect. As a bibliography, Storyteller is invaluable. As a critical guide, it borders on hagiography.

Greg Beatty, University of Phoenix Online

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