Science Fiction Studies

#88 = Volume 29, Part 3 = November 2002


The Triumph of Captain Future

Ignatius Frederick Clarke, ed. British Future Fiction: 1700-1914. Pickering and Chatto, 2001. 8 vols. xlii + 4,413 pp. $795.00 hc.

This imposing anthology is designed as a companion to Modern British Utopias 1700-1850, 8 vols., ed. Gregory Claeys (Pickering and Chatto, 1997): “The texts presented in British Future Fiction, 1700-1914 show how time replaced space and how, in consequence, the geographies of utopian fiction evolved into the historiographies of a new literature” (ix). For this purpose Clarke selects from “those stories that best present the varieties of future fiction” works “that best reveal the evolutionary interconnections between contemporary ideas and future projections” (ix). He rightly omits what is still easily obtained in bookstores or libraries. Anyone likely to consult this anthology will probably know beforehand many of the more famous works by H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, William Morris, Edward Bellamy, and others of like standing. The stories included are indeed a sufficiently representative sample of their genre’s various modes and topics as it evolved to become available for use by more artful writers. Even die-hard formalists like myself agree that it is edifying to read tales that most conspicuously—though perhaps not most adroitly— manifest the Zeitgeist of their day. Although this collection provides supererogatory confirmation of Sturgeon’s Law, no one has shown better than Clarke that future fiction even at its worst usually reflects significant strands of intellectual and social history. The erudite, articulate, and intrepid author of Voices Prophesying War (rev. ed., 1992) and The Pattern of Expectation 1644-2001 (1979) is a reliable guide through the badlands of forgotten futuristic fiction. I.F. Clarke is our real-life Captain Future.

I only wish he had come to the rescue of early future-fiction’s damsel in distress, Jane Webb. Clarke omits from his anthology her 1827 masterwork The Mummy: A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, probably because it was reprinted in 1994. But that edition is worthless for any scholarly purpose and altogether misleading in the impression it creates of Webb’s power as a novelist because it is extensively abridged in crippling ways without any indication of where the cuts have been made. (For details of this fiasco, see Paul Alkon’s review-essay “Bowdler Lives: Michigan’s Mummy” [SFS #68, 23:1 (March 1996): 123-30]). Webb deserves better treatment and proper attention. As a fable inviting skepticism about the idea of progress at a time when so many regarded science as the high road to creating utopia in the real world, The Mummy is a noteworthy text in the history of British thinking about the social consequences of science and technology. As one of the most skillful early works integrating novelistic action and analysis of utopian ideas, it stands out as a remarkable development in the aesthetics of utopian narrative. Not least, it is second only to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) in the annals of innovative sf by female authors.

More’s the pity then that all this good grist for Clarke’s mill is absent from British Future Fiction and that in Pickering’s companion anthology Modern British Utopias 1700-1850, Claeys merely devotes two dismissive sentences to The Mummy without crediting Jane Webb—or anyone else—as its author (see my review of Modern British Utopias in Eighteenth-Century Fiction 12 [July 2000]: 578-83). Clarke acknowledges her authorship but is almost equally dismissive by failing to mention The Mummy’s bumbling robots, mad scientists, lunatic generals, and other wonderfully dystopian satiric touches while nevertheless remarking rather misleadingly that, in utopian anticipations from the 1770s to 1828, “War could have no place in any ideal state of the future; and there could never be any mention of war in romantic tales such as The Mummy by Jane Webb” (xxix). In fact, Chapter two of The Mummy is enlivened by the Irish King Roderick’s landing with his army in Wales, from whence he marches to attack the Queen’s palace in London. British troops save the palace just in the nick of time. Roderick’s forces are then pushed back in a succession of battles that end only when news of a rebellion in Dublin persuades Roderick to hasten home. No sooner does his army depart than (still in Chapter two) Greece and Germany declare war on England and are defeated (offstage) by a British expeditionary force commanded by General Montague. But two wars in the second chapter are not all. In subsequent chapters Webb regales readers with detailed accounts of King Roderick’s Spanish wars and (finally) his invasion of England again via a tunnel from Ireland. War thus remains a conspicuous feature of life in Webb’s far from utopian future, although her battles are presented in a romantic mode that deflects them from being taken as warnings about the horrors of war or the dangers of neglecting defense measures. Webb’s wars instead become mainly a setting for romantic adventures and another aspect of her satire, directed at the military component of social institutions. Those who wish to read the complete text of The Mummy in order to judge for themselves its intellectual and aesthetic virtues can find copies, as far as I know, only by traveling to the British Library, the Boston Public Library, the Library of Congress, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or Yale. Bon voyage.

Except for leaving would-be readers of The Mummy to hazard the unfriendly and expensive skies if they live far from London, Boston, Washington, Chapel Hill, or New Haven, however, British Future Fiction is a bargain at $795.00 when compared to what it would cost for travel to all the (alas, unspecified) locations where original editions of its rare texts are to be found. What it includes, moreover, is considerable compensation for what is omitted. It has such an abundance of stories, many quite surprising, that few of its readers will wonder whatever happened to Jane Webb.

Clarke’s general rubrics for the eight volumes are: The Beginnings; New Worlds; The Marvels of Mechanism; Women’s Rights: Yea and Nay; Woman Triumphant; The Next Great War; Disasters-to-Come; and The End of the World. The works included, which I’ll list in the order of their presentation but without specifying their authors (where known) or dates of first publication, are: The Reign of George VI; The Coming Race; Three Hundred Years Hence; A Crystal Age; The Wreck of a World; An American Emperor; The Revolt of Man; Lesbia Newman; Star of the Morning; The Sex Triumphant; The Battle of Dorking; The Second Armada; The Invasion of England; The Siege of London; The New Centurion; The Next Naval War; The Death Trap; The Great Raid; Under the Red Ensign; The Doom of the Great City; The Salvation of Nature; and The Lord of the World. If you have read most of these you don’t need British Future Fiction. If not, you do. Clarke provides facsimile texts, sometimes of later editions with prefaces that themselves illustrate interesting stages in the understanding of future fiction’s purposes. He thus avoids the errors that usually accompany setting works in type anew. As many of these tales exist only in one edition, the advantages of facsimile reproduction far outweigh anything to be gained by textual editing for a new printing. Even though—as Clarke explains—many illustrations have been omitted because they couldn’t be reproduced with sufficient clarity and a few pages have been spaced a little differently in the anthology, facsimile versions give us uncut texts while also allowing some appreciation of the material conditions that shaped responses to these tales. If only The Mummy had been treated with equal respect by its twentieth-century “editor” and not mangled beyond recognition in a misguided attempt to disinter it!

Clarke’s general introduction, introductions to each story, notes, and epilogue at the end of the last volume provide an excellent survey of future fiction from its beginnings through post-Hiroshima developments. He also includes a useful bibliography of secondary material. Those new to the topic will find ample and accurate orientation to it in British Future Fiction. It’s hard to imagine any advanced student or scholar working in this area who wouldn’t also learn many new things by perusing British Future Fiction. I did.

I won’t try to list every possible use of this anthology or all its unexpected treats. My greatest surprise was William Grove’s 1889 opus The Wreck of a World, which Clarke sums up as “an ominous tale about self-replicating machines and their almost successful attempt to control the world” (3:1). Ooooh: terminators in 1889! Awesome. Scary. Well, not very. Grove’s diabolical machines won’t strike readers now as anything like so deliciously plausible and alarming as we find Arnold and his mechanical colleagues at war with the human race in The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2 (1991), and—hopefully soon—Terminator III. Nor will anyone now find at all gripping The Wreck of a World’s banal love story—which I’ll spare you. In an imagined 1948 Grove’s self-replicating locomotives somehow produce little locomotives which grow to become big and malicious ones able to move without railroad tracks while scouring the countryside in packs to destroy humans. Steam warships somehow proliferate and attack ships manned by humans. The US Navy is defeated. People flee from cities and farms. They vanish. Although presumably killed or starved to death while fleeing, there is no mention of corpses littering the landscape or polluting empty towns in North America and Europe. Grove’s narrative falls into the Cozy Catastrophe mode, as we follow the fortunes of one small band of survivors whose lot it is to start American and world history again from scratch. They make their way to a deserted New Orleans, narrowly escape hostile machines ashore and afloat, link up with an unscathed United States warship just returned from a remote ocean, appropriate some abandoned ships still in seaworthy condition, and sail off to found a colony of refuge in Hawaii. Conveniently for the newcomers, Honolulu also turns out to be devoid of people. Whee! Waterfront property for the asking. Despite its air of a real-estate agent’s fantasy, its creaky plot, its myriad absurdities and implausibilities, The Wreck of a World does warrant the attention that its inclusion in British Future Fiction invites.

Clarke is right to identify The Wreck of a World as “the prototype of the robot tale of terror” while remarking too that “The myth of the last great war between us and our hostile, intelligent machines has now become a familiar element in the twentieth-century dialogue between science and society” (3:3). It is revealing to find the prototype of this myth appearing so long before the development of computers raised the issue of whether they might ever equal or even surpass human intelligence and what the consequences might be if that were to happen. It is equally revealing to find the prototype of this myth in a tale of such feeble artistry as The Wreck of a World. Its narrative crudities and utter lack of any attempt at scientific verisimilitude concerning the ability of machines to replicate themselves throw into sharp relief the strength at that early date of anxieties about proliferating machinery. Grove’s cannon-firing robot locomotives and warships rampant seem to bubble up out of the unconscious with the vividness and illogic of disconnected images in a nightmare, although presented without anything like the narrative power of the equally dreamlike elements and equally imaginary though more plausibly explained science so often remarked as features of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and also of her future plague that wrecks the world in The Last Man (1826).

It is a great intuitive leap from actual possibilities of 1889 to Grove’s terrified—though not terrifying—images of machines multiplying on their own and turning against us. That same year, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain imagined with far greater artistry the more immediate and—in the wake of our Civil War—more realistic possibility that people could be killed more horribly and efficiently than ever before by machines acting not on their own but directed by other people impelled to warfare by a malign political situation not amenable to rational control. Though set in a bizarre alternative sixth-century past derived from Arthurian romance, Twain’s Battle of the Sand Belt is a look forward to warfare of the future that could obliterate unprecedented numbers of combatants in hideously efficient new ways, thanks to what Twain’s protagonist describes—in a partial catalogue—as “guns, revolvers, cannon, boilers, engines, all sorts of labor-saving machinery.” History from 1914 onward has, alas, given Twain ever-increasing credit as a prophet. Perhaps if worse comes to worst—and anybody survives—The Wreck of a World will someday get a scrap or two of praise for prophecy. More certain is that readers may come away from its pages with enhanced appreciation of the artistry of more memorable tales in the same vein by Mary Shelley, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and many others—including the forlorn Jane Webb, whose Mummy is still entombed in obscure library vaults in London, Boston, Washington, Chapel Hill, and New Haven while awaiting proper excavation.

As Clarke intends, Grove’s story and all the rest included in British Future Fiction nicely allow identification of past anxieties and also assessment of how realistic those worries were in the light of subsequent events. Much else can be learned from these tales. British Future Fiction makes widely available a group of too often neglected documents that deserve attention from those now so diligently applying to other material new methods of cultural and intellectual history. Here is a fresh body of evidence. Those more concerned with the aesthetics than with the sociology of future fiction may also study to good effect the stories in Clarke’s anthology. Every university library ought to acquire British Future Fiction 1700-1914. Everyone seriously concerned with the history of sf and utopian literature ought to consult it and if possible buy a set. British Future Fiction 1700-1914 is a major resource for scholars. For I.F. Clarke it is yet another triumph.

Paul Alkon, University of Southern California

At Career’s End?

Kevin Alexander Boon, ed. At Millenium’s End: New Essays on the Work of Kurt Vonnegut. Forward by Kurt Vonnegut. Albany: SUNY Press, 2002. vii-xii + 204 pp. $18.95 pbk.

If the test of a collection of essays on the work of a single author is whether or not the reader of those essays soon finds herself or himself poring over the works of that author to determine which to buy, then Kevin Alexander Boon’s At Millennium’s End passes with flying colors. This collection takes advantage of the fact that Vonnegut announced his intention to stop writing novels when he published Timequake (1997). Boon and his contributors thus have the opportunity, until Vonnegut decides that he has another novel to write, to see his work in sum. The result is a series of essays that refute Vonnegut’s claim in his Foreword to At Millennium’s End that his personal and professional survival and success have been the consequences of “dumb luck” (vii). Instead, the eleven chapters in this relatively slim volume argue compellingly that Vonnegut’s enduring contribution has been his attempt, as Boon puts it, “to talk sense into people who are willing to balance the world on the precipice of utter annihilation” (ix).

Make no mistake: this collection, like many of Vonnegut’s novels, is not for novices. Each chapter applies it argument to a significant cross section of his work, if not the entirety of it. Fortunately, all the writers Boon has gathered here are up to the task. Notably, the collection’s first chapter is contributed by Jerome Klinkowitz, whose name dominates any library’s shelf of scholarship on Vonnegut. In addition, all the material in At Millennium’s End is clearly written and well documented with endnotes and bibliographic citations. Though they often overlap in productive ways, the essays do not fall victim to redundancy.

Klinkowitz’s essay, which starts the collection, focuses exclusively on Vonnegut’s work as essayist, early and late in his career, and is balanced nicely by Jeff Karon’s article on Vonnegut’s short fiction, often overlooked not only because of its place in his career and its alleged immaturity, but also for its focus on science. Donald Morse contributes an examination of Vonnegut’s attitude to the notion of progress that pairs well with Hartley Spatt’s argument about the real quality of Vonnegut’s disdain for technology. These two essays, along with Loree Hackstraw’s chapter on Vonnegut’s use of quantum leaps and the piece by Karon mentioned previously, would most interest readers specifically wanting to situate Vonnegut within an sf framework. David Andrews explores the role of aesthetic humanism in Vonnegut’s work in a way that juxtaposes well with Todd Davis’s investigation of Vonnegut’s postmodern humanism. Lawrence Broer’s essay “Vonnegut’s Goodbye: Kurt Senior, Hemingway and Kilgore Trout” discusses questions of identity and masculinity, preparing the reader for Bill Gholson’s look at the relationship between morality and Vonnegut’s narrative self. Finally, the volume finishes with Boon and David Pringle’s critique of the film adaptations of Vonnegut’s work.

Rather than rehearse and assess each of the intriguing and complex chapters by the authors mentioned above, it seems more appropriate to comment on what seems the overall mission of the collection. The central idea or agenda of At Millennium’s End is its attempt to reconcile Vonnegut’s postmodern writing style with his humanistic, idealistic, and ethical aspirations. To generalize, his postmodernist use of time and narrator/author dynamics, or autobiographical collage, position him as a writer who might be expected to reject the relevance of ethical or moral behavior/thinking. But these essays, particularly Todd Davis’s “Apocalyptic Grumbling: Postmodern Humanism in the Work of Kurt Vonnegut,” do not accept such a facile stereotype.

In particular, Davis argues that Vonnegut’s work marries his postmodern and ethical postures by rejecting grand narratives in favor of local stories or “petites histoires” (151). While rejecting absolutist thinking and the kinds of stories that promote that kind of thinking, Vonnegut does not suggest that fictions we live by, that we create in order to live, are incapable of doing harm or good. As Davis suggests, “the fact we can only know our world through language, through the fictions we create—as with the Constitution or Vonnegut’s own amendments—does not make the plight of humanity, the emotions and physical needs of men and women, any less real” (160). That is, since real people must live in a world composed of fiction, people will be affected, for good or ill, by these fictions. They must be created and chosen with care. This notion echoes part of the argument Klinkowitz makes in “Vonnegut the Essayist” when he points out the impact of the narrative spun for Vonnegut by his architect father and scientist brother: namely, that his education, his mental framework, and ultimately his art/work should be defined by usefulness and not ornamentality (1).

Thus, none of his postmodern play could be solely play for its own sake. I well remember the frustrating experience of trying to process the drawings in Breakfast of Champions (1973), not knowing, as a young reader, what their purpose could be. Similarly, the “dark” visions of some of Vonnegut’s early work such as Player Piano (1957) should not be seen merely as pessimistic/apocalyptic visions of a world beyond saving. No doubt, he continues to be dissatisfied with the political engagement of his fellow citizens. In a 1998 interview with Lee Roloff prior to the production of a 1996 Steppenwolf Theatre adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five (1969), Vonnegut expressed his distaste: “I look at anti-nuke rallies, anti-war rallies, save-the-rain-forest rallies, and all that, and it’s the same old bunch of moldy figs. It’s the same seventeen moldy figs who show up every time. Why aren’t there more people?”(17). Despite this, the writers in Boon’s collection remind us that there is a glimmer of optimism, of choice, of chance in Vonnegut’s work. Hartley Spatt talks about the recuperating use of humor in a novel like Slapstick (1976), and Vonnegut himself has suggested that writers such as George Bernard Shaw taught him that it was possible to be funny and serious at the same time.

But many of the writers Boon has assembled differ as to which novel provides the best perspective from which to find Vonnegut’s vision of what might be useful or what might create an opportunity for optimism. In contrast to Spatt’s focus on Slapstick’s humor, Rackstraw pays attention to Slaughterhouse Five’s liberating use of time. Morse points to novels like Hocus Pocus (1990) and Galapagos (1985) for the ways in which they demystify humanity’s sense of itself and its role on the planet. Gholson suggests that it is Breakfast of Champions that challenges and empowers the individual to ask questions about morality and identity and then to pursue their answers. By positioning so many of Vonnegut’s novels as fulcrumatic in significant ways, this collection makes an additional and indirect argument. That is, Vonnegut’s career should not be organized around one canonical novel. Themes may resonate and return, but what we are always experiencing when we read a Vonnegut novel, as Boon and Pringle posit, is the state of Vonnegut’s consciousness (170). As a living writer, he changes over time and as a result of time. No one novel can dominate the others, since all the novels were written in time and, more specifically, in their own times shaped by the “petites histoires” Vonnegut was telling himself and being told at the time.

That At Millennium’s End adds to Vonnegut scholarship cannot be disputed. Recent collections such as Forever Pursuing Genesis (1990) and Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut (1990), edited respectively by Leonard Mustazza and Robert Merrill, cannot do what Boon’s collection does. Since they predate Vonnegut’s “let’s call it a career” declaration, they offer more traditional single-text readings as compared to the sweeping, career-gazing readings of Boon’s contributors. Klinkowitz and John Somer’s The Vonnegut Statement (1973) offered essays with broader analytic approaches and positions than the kind found in Boon’s volume. But that book is now nearly thirty years old and cannot address the large part of Vonnegut’s career that occurred after its publication.

The one thing that this volu>me misses, on occasion, is a dissenting voice: that is, someone who would say, as Vonnegut himself might, that all that is being said about him and for him is just so much horseshit. As if to anticipate such a critique, Boon admits, in his introductory essay, that some of the authors collected in At Millennium’s End are “among Vonnegut’s circle of friends” or are “Vonnegut scholars compelled to assemble here by a deep appreciation for the man and his writing” (ix). Indeed, these writers have come to praise Vonnegut and not to bury him, even if his career may be dead.

Scott Ash, Nassau Community College

Processing Utopia

Erin McKenna. The Task of Utopia: A Pragmatist and Feminist Perspective. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001. x + 178 pp. $65 hc; $22.95 pbk.

The Task of Utopia: A Pragmatist and Feminist Perspective promises much in its title—to combine the rigors of John Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy with those of the wide range of feminist thought in the examination of utopian literature is a valuable and original task. Erin McKenna’s introduction calls for a “process model of utopia” (2) through pragmatism. “Pragmatism,” she claims, “embraces a pluralism and dynamism, but does not reject the making of judgements” and “can keep utopia alive without falling back on the end-state model of utopia,” with its “dangers of stasis and totalitarianism” (3). As promising as McKenna’s introduction is, her book nevertheless falls short.

McKenna’s method is to examine first the end-state utopia, represented for her by Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country (1988), and then the anarchist utopia, represented by Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), deploying logical arguments—and sometime less logical ones, such as the straw-woman argument—to dismantle each vision of utopia. She then turns to her favored model, Dewey’s pragmatic process model, links its “Call for Community” (131) with feminism, and exemplifies it in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home (1987). She concludes with a call to action: “We need to continue to try; we must hope and remain active agents in forming the future. We must take on the task of utopia” (167).

While I found myself admiring McKenna’s commitment and call to action, I was disappointed by her book. It read very much like a series of hour-long classroom lectures, so I would like to critique it on those terms. My first problem is with the poverty of the book’s language. Yes, a straightforward, plain style would be appropriate for an oral presentation, especially in an introductory class, but such a style need not lack wit or felicity, nor should it shun the richness of a wider critical vocabulary than was used here. Second, the book lacks clear descriptive definitions of its central terms—utopia, pragmatism, and most complexly, feminism. Such definitions are, of course, foundational to an introductory class, but they are also absolutely crucial to the laying out of McKenna’s argument, and their absence weakens her case.

Third, McKenna doesn’t enlist the aid of the considerable resources of utopian scholarship. For example, although she makes brief indirect reference to the work of Tom Moylan, by citing Ruth Levitas’s use of his notion of critical utopias (9), she never consults his Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination (1986) and Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia (2000), both of which discuss Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, so important to McKenna’s chapter on anarchist utopias. Further, she would have found Moylan’s terms “critical utopia” (in Demand the Impossible) and “critical dystopia” (in Scraps of the Untainted Sky) invaluable to her argument. Without Moylan, she is forced to reinvent the wheel to a significant extent.

Fourth, McKenna’s handling of quotations is problematic: of course, punctuation always makes clear when she is quoting, but she doesn’t always take the time to contextualize those quotes in the body of her text. Often one must resort to the endnotes to identify the sources, and even then, one is often left to wonder about the circumstances of the quoted material: what character in a particular novel, under what conditions, said those words? This problem would be exaggerated, it seems to me, if the chapters were indeed oral presentations. In many places there would be no indications, beyond mute punctuation marks, to distinguish between the lecturer and the sources she quotes.

Each of these four problems could have been prevented by careful editing and the result would have been a very useful, perhaps inspiring book. Certainly, McKenna’s stress throughout the book is on philosophical and practical rather than on literary critique of her utopian models, which suggests an implied aim of inspiration and action. Perhaps if it were spoken in ringing tones, the book might prove more inspiring, but read, The Task of Utopia remains unfulfilled.—JG

Prognosticating the Present

Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon, eds. Edging into the Future: Science Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2002. viii + 278 pp. $59.95 hc; $22.50 pbk

Faced with accelerating technological and cultural changes, sf has increasingly turned from predicting the far future to exploring the ramifications of the present. In this important collection, Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon have assembled essays from some of the field’s finest critics, along with pieces by Brian Stableford and Gwyneth Jones reflecting on their own fictions, to explore the cultural preoccupations and social commentaries of sf literature and film in the late twentieth century. Judged by the standards of the early and middle periods of the century, the essays delineate a field that would be almost unrecognizable as science fiction were it not labeled as such, for technology and science form distinctly minor themes. Foregrounded are sf works read as explorations of metaphor and language, narratives of gender and sexuality, and stories of vampiric youth who consume popular culture at the same time as they are consumed by it. Sf as it emerges in these essays is broader and more diverse than it has often been depicted, a refreshing change of perspective that may have something to do with the fact that the editors are prominent female practitioners in a field that remains largely male-dominated, the growing numbers of female writers and critics notwithstanding.

The change is apparent in Brian Attebery’s fine essay, “‘But Aren’t Those Just ... You Know, Metaphors?’: Postmodern Figuration in the Science Fiction of James Morrow and Gwyneth Jones.” Interpreting the fallen and dying body of God in Morrow’s Towing Jehovah (1994) as a literalization of the “paternal body that lurks in language” (94), Attebery shows that the novel ties together the metaphoric and the physical to confront the characters, and implicitly the readers, with the substrata of paternalistic assumptions haunting scientific as well as ordinary rhetoric. Equally illuminating is his reading of Gwyneth Jones’s White Queen (1991) and its sequels, read as clashes of life-grounding metaphors of self-versus-world for the earthlings and self-as-world for the alien Aleutians. Sparkling with intelligence and insight, Attebery’s essay demonstrates that sf can be as interesting for its language as for its action and scientific concepts. Wendy Pearson in “Sex/uality and the Figure of the Hermaphrodite in Science Fiction” attends to discourses of sexuality in Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man (1995), exploring the confrontation of a society that recognizes only two sexes with one that recognizes five. She concludes, “sex is very much a discursive construct” (111). Even when sexuality is grounded in physical differences, as in Stephen Leigh’s Dark Water’s Embrace (1998) and Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), language—or more properly, discourse—remains central to the construction of sexuality in general and hermaphroditism in particular. Unsettling existing categories and challenging conventional notions of sexuality, the hermaphrodite offers leverage that encourages us to recognize that “truth is perhaps a matter of the imagination, not of sex” (123). A like-minded essay by Jenny Wolmark, “Staying with the Body: Narratives of the Posthuman in Contemporary Science Fiction,” offers “queered feminist” readings (83) of GATTACA (1997) and The Matrix (1999), along with Kathleen Ann Goonan’s novel Queen City Jazz (1994), to show that the posthuman bodies depicted in these narratives deconstruct the presumption of a holistic, self-identical body and, along with it, the single unitary self it supposedly houses.

Another cluster of essays explores the perennial question of where the boundaries of the field lie. In the terse and cogent “Evaporating Genre: Strategies of Dissolution in the Postmodern Fantastic,” Gary Wolfe anatomizes the strategies by which important contemporary works blur the boundaries of sf as a genre, including such texts as Gregory Benford’s Eater (2000), Sheri Tepper’s A Plague of Angels (1993), and Geoff Ryman’s Was (1992). Neatly categorizing sf as concerned with the geography of reason, horror with the geography of anxiety, and fantasy with the geography of desire, Wolfe convincingly shows how sf is colonizing these and other genres and also being colonized by them. The alternatives to boundary-breaking, he argues, are narratives that remain bound by formulaic rules and conventions that quickly become all too predictable. He finds far more interesting “narrative modes that have already leaked into the atmosphere, that have escaped their own worst debilitations, that have survived” (29). Similarly concerned with hybridization is Brooks Landon’s “Synthespians, Virtual Humans, and Hypermedia.” Landon argues that the effect of CGI (computer-generated imagery) in sf films is to make them even more non-narrative, privileging spectacle over plot and using special effects to interrogate technological issues in ways distinctively different from the diegetic engagements of the films. His preferred mode of interrogation focuses not on what the film “says” in its narration but what it does to and for the audience, and his interpretive strategies explore the extension of spectatorial spaces through Web and DVD technologies. By attending to the specificities of the media and the phenomenological implications of these modes of construction, distribution, and consumption, he offers a compelling account of “post-sf film” (60) that does not rely on narrative analysis for its force, thereby making a seminal contribution to the critical framework and theorizing of contemporary (post-) sf films. Also in the boundary-blurring mode is Lance Olsen’s experimental “Omniphage: Rock ‘n’ Roll and Avant-Pop Science Fiction,” a riff on the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) that spins through thirteen tracks to show how such musical techniques as sampling, driving rhythms, and data compression infect contemporary literature, sf as well as mainstream (or slipstream, including works by writers such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs).

A particularly powerful group of chapters clusters around social and cultural issues. Rob Latham in “Mutant Youth: Posthuman Fantasies and High-Tech Consumption in 1990s Science Fiction” explores the contemporary vampire as an image of consumer culture, with an emphasis not so much on critique—a focus he uses to good effect in his recent book Consuming Youth: Vampires, Cyborgs, and the Culture of Consumption (Chicago, 2002)—but rather on an interrogation of the “ludic cyborg powers that VR seems to bestow on its users” (129). His readings of Pat Cadigan’s Tea from an Empty Cup (1998) and Marc Laidlaw’s Kalifornia (1993) are particularly compelling. In a brilliant chapter, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., takes up the curious question of why nation-states play such a marginal role in contemporary sf, arguing that national consciousness is broadly seen as a way-station on the route to transnational or even intergalactic cultural formations. In his conclusion he cogently points out that almost all of the novels discussed in his encyclopedic survey come from first-world authors. “So far we have seen only the science fiction futures of the nations that think they are empires,” he writes. “We must wait to see whether the nations who think they are nations will imagine different futures” (237). The implication is that the smaller and less powerful nations may feel somewhat like the feminist who hears that the self is being deconstructed just about the time she discovers that she is one. Roger Luckhurst’s “Going Postal: Rage, Science Fiction, and the Ends of the American Subject” is eloquent on the importance of rage to contemporary American culture but somewhat less illuminating about the centrality of the subject to sf. Veronica Hollinger’s “Apocalypse Coma” is an adroit reading of Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), cannily juxtaposed with William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) to explore the tendency in sf to assume apocalypse rather than depict it, as if the characters were too comatose or otherwise occupied to notice it. The novels, she concludes, “suggest that time-present—postmodern time—is a kind of supplemental time, a time-after-the-end-of-time” (173). The phenomenon reflects the contemporary ambivalence toward “irrevocable change,” when we sense that we are on the other side but are loath to recognize the side we are on. Joan Gordon’s “Utopia, Genocide, and the Other” adopts Michael Ignatieff’s capacious definition of genocide, “any systematic attempt to exterminate a people or its culture and way of life” (qtd. 205), to discuss the difficulties of writing a utopian novel in a postcolonial age. Genocide is the other side of the utopian coin, she suggests, and she shows how the utopian and genocidal ironically blend together in Paul Park’s Celestis (1995) and Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow (1996) and its sequel, Children of God (1998).

A final pair of essays, rather different than the rest of the collection, are by Gwyneth Jones and Brian Stableford on their own futuristic fiction. Stableford, writing in the third person, offers valuable information about his state of mind during the composition of his “ecospasmic” novels and elucidates the connections he sees among them. While I found the essay informative, I admit to being put off by the style, no doubt because of a personal prejudice against folks who speak about themselves in the third person, a practice forever identified for me with President Richard Nixon. Gwyneth Jones, self-identifying as a feminist sf author, writes about her Kairos novels in terms of a growing realization that the novels hit closer to home than she had at first imagined, as they begin consciously to contest and subvert the reigning male paradigms of how to write sf.

A perennial problem with essay collections is quality control. They are rather like the plastic bags of apples one buys in the supermarket, packaged so it is impossible to see all the apples. While there are usually many good ones, there are almost always some bad ones hidden in the middle. This collection is noteworthy for the uniformly high quality of the contributions and the fine insights that emerge from them. Perhaps the most important of these is implicit rather than explicit: the range of contemporary literature that can be considered sf, the diversity of its concerns, and the extension of the boundaries—linguistic, stylistic, and conceptual as well as generic—that define its limits. One of the services that a collection like this can perform is to define a canon, however provisional and tentative, for contemporary sf. Judging by the works discussed here, the field has never been as robust, experimental, and exciting as it now is.

N. Katherine Hayles, University of California, Los Angeles

Women Take Back the Genres.

Merja Makinen. Feminist Popular Fiction. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 192 pp. $58 hc.

In this book, Merja Makinen challenges what she sees as the feminist assumption that genre fictions—i.e., romance, fairy tale, detective, and science fiction—are inherently conservative and that, consequently, “feminist attempts to appropriate them must fail” (4). Though she concedes that there is in each genre a canon and that this canon “privileges conservative and phallologocentric values”(1), she maintains that the inherently fluid nature of genre fiction allows for feminist appropriations within romance, fairy tale, detective, and science fiction and that these appropriations, subversive in nature and often self-critical, work to transform each genre. Her conclusion that “no popular genre can be called inherently ‘conservative’ because they are all such loose, baggy chameleons”(1) is neither startling nor original. Nevertheless, the reader new to genre studies or interested in an overview of the critical debates each genre has produced among feminist scholars will find much in her book that is helpful.

Makinen’s broadest goal for each of these types of fiction is to provide “a history of the genre, reinstating women’s contributions, the main feminist critiques of each genre and the feminist appropriations.… to explore in more detail the narrative strategies at play in the appropriations” (7). She does this in five chapters. The first is an overview of the relationship between feminism and popular fiction. The four chapters that follow are close examinations of both the history and context for feminist involvement in each genre and the debates that have arisen over feminist attempts to appropriate the genre in question. In Chapter One, Makinen distinguishes between feminist fictions such as Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying (1973) and Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room (1977) that emerged during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s and that she describes as the “coming to consciousness novel” (8) and feminist incursions into “popular genre format(s)” (8) that began in the late 1970s and continued into the 1980s. She argues convincingly that this movement was neither accidental nor arbitrary but was rather the logical outcome of the left wing’s embracing of popular cultures as a response to conservatives’ dismissal of them. She notes that “Feminists, during the 1980s, identified a need to address the popular viewpoint, to change cultural opinion, and the attempt to appropriate popular culture and popular genres was part of that procedure” (9).

How successful were these efforts? The answer seems to vary for each genre. Though Makinen does a good job of supporting her contention that each genre is fluid by charting the various shifts and transformations each has undergone from the nineteenth century to the 1980s, some genres are, nevertheless, more resistant to change than others. Romance, for example, though it is “the only genre dominated by women, both as writers and readers” (24), and though it sells more books than all the other genres combined, has neither a series nor an author that consistently produces texts that can be labeled feminist. Makinen chalks this up to the difficulty of synthesizing the conventions of the romance genre, which demand a heroine who experiences “anticipation, bewilderment, and desire … as she is pursued/played with by the hero” (23), with a feminist ideology that would posit a heroine both capable and desirous of taking on the active roles of pursuit and play.

In contrast, feminist appropriations of other genres, specifically detective and science fiction, have been more successful, because there is less tension between feminist ideology and those characteristics seen as definitive of the genre. Detective fiction, for example, though long seen as a genre intent on reinforcing the status quo, always has at its center, no matter what form it takes, a character actively engaged in pursuit of the solution to a mystery. The passive, pursued heroine of romance fiction serves only as the victim in detective fiction, not as the active solver of problems. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that writers and characters such as Sara Paretsky and her P.I., V.I. Warshawski, both of whom are clearly and consistently feminist, populate contemporary detective fiction.

Makinen distinguishes science fiction from the other popular genres by noting approvingly that no other genre “has been more comprehensively appropriated by feminist theory than science fiction.… Few aspects of feminist thinking have not been echoed, and often predated, by feminist science fiction writers” (129). This is the case, she maintains, because of an innate sympathy between science fiction, which is by definition speculative and which has historically been a tool of social critique, and feminism, which both needs and demands those tools when imagining a more (or less) equitable world. It is not surprising then that there has been little debate among feminists over the viability of appropriating science fiction as an arena for feminist practice. As a consequence of this, feminist science fiction from the 1970s to the 1990s has “elaborated on all the major feminist debates” (129). She supports this assertion by focusing on the career of Joanna Russ as someone who both writes and theorizes sf and who broadened its subject matter in her 1971 essay, “The Image of Women in Science Fiction,” by arguing that “science fiction had failed to place gender roles in the field of its speculations” (137).

Each of the last four chapters of Makinen’s study ends with three case studies of novels that, to varying degrees, demonstrate feminist appropriations of a particular genre. Unfortunately, most of the texts she discusses were written before 1990, leaving her readers wondering whether what has been written since then supports or undermines her argument. For example, her discussion of Russ as a theorist of feminist science fiction is followed by a close reading of Russ’s The Female Man (1975), and then by equally detailed discussions of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) and Octavia Butler’s Imago (1989). But while all three of these texts are of continuing importance and Makinen’s discussions of them are insightful, I found myself wishing that she had shortened her analyses of these works—all of which have received abundant critical attention in a number of forums, and one of which, Imago, is the third volume in a series—and included discussion of more recent ones. Butler’s Imago was published in 1989 and much has been published since then that would extend and add depth to Makinen’s argument. But what I see as a weakness in the text, Makinen might well see as a reflection of the declining popularity of feminist science fiction. She maintains that feminist science fiction has been “hit badly by the folding of a number of feminist publishing houses” (151) in England. This may well be the case in Great Britain, but I have no sense that a similar phenomenon has occurred in the United States. While it is true that many feminist publishing houses in the United States, facing economic hard times, have reduced their output, I’d argue that feminist sf has a strong presence in the output of more commercial publishers of science fiction.

The strength of Makinen’s study is located in her first chapter, which provides a helpful overview of feminists’ relationship with popular fiction from the 1970s through the 1980s. Equally helpful is her discussion in each chapter of critical debates among feminists over appropriation of the different genres—though readers should be warned that most of her cultural analysis focuses on Great Britain under Thatcher. The limitations of her study lie in her choices of the texts that provide her “case studies” and the surprising lack of a concluding chapter. Such a chapter would allow her to develop some of her most interesting assertions: for example, that in “all genre formats, female sexuality is posited as a site of social disruption and crime” (2), and that it is the lesbian texts that, paradoxically, seem not only to appropriate but also to contest the conventions of the genres best. In sum, this book is a good introduction to feminist popular fiction, though limited by its narrow chronological scope and lack of a conclusion.

Nancy St. Clair, Simpson College

An Index to Vancean Linguistics.

David G. Mead. An Encyclopedia of Jack Vance, 20th-Century Science Fiction Writer. 3 vols. Studies in American Literature 50. Lewiston: Mellen, 2002. $99.95 hc.

Jack Vance is arguably the greatest onomastician ever in the fantasy and sf fields. He faces severe competition for such a title, of course, from Tolkien, whose indices to The Lord of the Rings list many hundreds of names of places, people, and things in at least seven languages, while Tolkien also scores heavily in that his names and languages have clear and consistent historical relationships to each other. It is possible to write about Tolkienian linguistics in a way that one cannot about Vancean linguistics.

Nevertheless, Tolkien created only one world, that of Middle-Earth. With few exceptions, Vance’s fifty published novels and hundred published stories take place on different worlds. Where this is not the case, as in the three novels of the Durdane (“Faceless Man”) sequence (1973-78), the four of Planet of Adventure (1968-70), or the three of Lyonesse (1983-89), Vance makes up for it by the invention of wildly divergent cultures and subcultures. A major part of the success of his works comes from his unparalleled ability to think of names that do not exist in our world but sound as if they could have—not names like B’kwlth or Ffedwyll, which anyone with a keyboard can generate, but names like Twitten’s Corner and Tantrevalles Wood from Lyonesse (1983), or Liane the Wayfarer and Pandelume from The Dying Earth (1950). Who could forget the bravura performance in The Star King (1964), where Vance describes the discovery of the twenty-six planets of the Rigel Concourse and their naming by their discoverer Sir Julian Hove for his childhood heroes (Lord Kitchener, Rudyard Kipling, etc.), only for Sir Julian to have his and their glory filched from him by an impudent clerk who renames them all in alphabetical order, from Alphanor and Barleycorn to Ys and Zaracandra? Not many authors would bother to write a complete list—with a joke buried in the middle of it—just as background. Was it labor wasted?

Apparently not, for if one has the name, and it convinces, then one is half way to the thing, or the idea of the thing. The Killing Machine (1964) introduces Billy Windle, the hormagaunt, but it is not until nearly the end of the novel that we find out what a hormagaunt is: according to the volumes reviewed here, it refers to a person who extends his own life by using the extracted life essences of live children. Characteristically, Vance classes hormagaunts with dragons and fairies and ogres and linderlings, but not even David Mead’s assiduity can tell us what linderlings are: imaginary creatures, says the entry. That is what Kirth Gersen thought about hormagaunts, of course, but it turned out he was mistaken about them—possibly about linderlings, too. Their story remains to be written.

Clearly fascinated by the kind of invention hinted at above, Dr. Mead has produced a list here of more than 15,600 terms from Vance’s science fiction, fantasy, and detective-adventure fiction, excluding only the works written by Vance as Ellery Queen. The entries are short, averaging no more than twenty words and rarely reaching as many as a hundred. They add nothing to what one finds in Vance, and were not intended to do so. They seem rather an index than an encyclopedia, and an index to essentially unrelated material. There is no doubt that this has been a labor of love, but there is more effort in it than thought. One has to ask: is this, too, labor wasted?

There are two arguments to suggest that it is not. Even as an index, these volumes are certainly useful as an aide mémoire, and in the case of Vance almost anyone’s memory needs aid. It has been very easy, for instance, for this reviewer to check his fallible memory of items mentioned. Furthermore, the whole encyclopedia exists also in electronic form, as a data-base file searchable using askSam, a well-known database management program. With this, as Walter E. Meyers points out in his Commendatory Preface, one could search the database for such items as “language” or “mask,” thus preparing the ground for entire thematic studies that would otherwise, once again, depend on fallible memory.

A final point is that Edwin Mellen Press still presents a rather wasteful page, showing a good deal of white paper. These three volumes and 1000-plus pages could have been two and 750 with no more than normal type-setting, with, one imagines, a considerable saving for the potential buyer.

Tom Shippey, Saint Louis University

Does Not Grok in Fullness.

William H. Patterson, Jr. and Andrew Thornton. The Martian Named Smith: Critical Perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.Citrus Heights, CA: Nitrosyncretic Press, 2001.<> 224 pp. $18.00 pbk.

In a late chapter pointedly titled “Martyrdom,” Patterson and Thornton argue that, with the exception of Leon Stover in Robert Heinlein (1987), prior critics of Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) have articulated “nothing but their own preoccupations,” standing “so firmly in their own light that they cannot see Heinlein” (153). Their point—that thesis-driven scholarship has shortchanged one of sf’s most important writers—is well taken. Yet the pitfall of tendentious argument is nothing to the abyss that opens up when consistency is refused altogether. If there is no method, no defined approach, then critics, to be sure, will never cast a false light on their subject. But that is only because they have chosen to work in the dark.

This book is benighted in that way. The authors begin by noting that “Heinlein did not confine himself to well-traveled pathways of knowledge or discourse. Tracing his ideas is a complex ... process which often leaves us stranded in unfamiliar territory” (vii). Unfortunately, this is a fair description of the book that ensues. There is no sustained analysis of the style, plot, or characterization of Stranger in a Strange Land. Instead, moving between the generic poles of “satire” and “myth,” the authors attempt to elevate Stranger by puffing-up the philosophical, theological, literary, and “esthetic” ideas on which the novel is said to draw. Much of the book is preempted by exposition of these philosophical and religious ideas, though the writing is so eccentric that even a reader seeking this kind of distant background information will close the book more puzzled than enlightened. The authors, for instance, explain that the ironic premise of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is “that Irish babies should be ranched as meat animals by the English” (34). “Pity and terror” are defined not as the emotions produced by catharsis in tragedy, but as “the classical Aristotelian virtues” (162).

The discussion of genres is similarly sketchy and willful. Stranger is at different points called a “satire” (3), an anatomy (26), a “gospel” (27), “Platonic” (45), a “myth” (49), a “Hero tale” (49), a “fable” (50), “both comic and tragic and therefore ‘absurd’” (58; emphasis in original), “formally a ‘divine comedy’” (105), “more explicitly NeoPlatonist than any other of Heinlein’s books” (121), and a series of “parables” (171). The evident aim is, as the authors say in their discussion of Neoplatonism, to place Heinlein’s novel “within a prestigious tradition” (121). However strained the comparisons, the effort will presumably be worthwhile if in the process some of Plato’s—or Nietzsche’s, or Jung’s—prestige rubs off on Heinlein.

Genres and contexts of lower (perceived) status are given short shrift. Patterson and Thornton follow Stover, for instance, in declaring that Stranger is “not science fiction in any strict sense of the term” (50), but is rather “a work of American culture criticism” (156). Heinlein is likewise separated from the traditions of “the simple adventure story” (5) in a sentence that contains the book’s single reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs. The authors argue that “Heinlein ... learned more from ‘art’ writers like H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, Anatole France, and James Branch Cabell” (7). Heinlein does practice a sly art (and he suspects that he does it rather well, as may be seen in his sympathetic portrayal of tricksters who create illusions that astonish even themselves). But calling Heinlein an artist does not do the work of establishing his artistry through coherent analysis of how his fiction is constructed. It is not the jumble of ideas touched upon in Tristram Shandy (1759-67) that makes it a wonderful satire and novel; it is how Sterne’s style and his characters play with these ideas.

The authors, rejecting popular traditions and the play of meaning in satire to focus instead on potted cultural history and highbrow precedents, do not consider the possibility that Valentine Michael Smith’s Mars might have some link to John Carter’s. Yet Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Martians practice nudism as ardently as any Heinlein Nestling. And at least among the communistic Green Martians, monogamy is a capital offense: in A Princess of Mars (1912), Sola’s mother is executed for maintaining an exclusive relationship with Tars Tarkis. Furthermore, on Burroughs’s Mars, as on Heinlein’s, all children—including John Carter’s own son—are hatched from eggs. Burroughs is only one of several possible “Old Ones” from the popular tradition who might have inspired elements in Heinlein’s imagination of Martian culture in Stranger. Patterson and Thornton mention in passing that, in 1948, Virginia Heinlein proposed the “Mowgli” story-idea that may have shaped the novel’s conception (16). But the relationship of Kipling to Heinlein invites extensive, not cursory, consideration: The Jungle Book (1894) is strongly echoed in Stranger in a Strange Land’s account of a human child raised by at once innocent and predatory non-human beings.

The authors’ assertions are often somewhat askew. Of the confused and contradictory discussion of Apollonian and Dionysian elements in Stranger, I’ll just say that Jubal Harshaw’s own exposition of these Nietzschean contraries in the novel itself is by comparison a marvel of clarity. Northrop Frye is “Northrup” throughout. “Trouble, trouble, boil and bubble” is the dyslexic rendition of a line in Shakespeare (54). An epigraph is called a “frontispiece” (119). Jubal Harshaw’s first name is associated with music (St. Jubal is patron saint of makers of musical instruments), producing this associative flight:

The ethos of music has been taken over in our time by fiction, and a maker of musical instruments would translate to a maker of printing equipment. It is quite possible that Jubal is an indirect evocation of one of Heinlein’s particular literary heroes, Mark Twain. Twain was a printer in his earliest job.... (176)

Patterson and Thornton defend the Nestlings’ sexual practices: Ben Caxton comes in for severe treatment as a “hypocrite” for fleeing the Nest when his jealous feelings for Jill Boardman get the better of him (75-77). Yet the topic of sex is approached quite vaguely. Heinlein is in part depicting group sex, for instance, but the authors say only that he is promoting “endogamous sexual liberalism” (168). Heinlein’s limits as a libertine—his inability, for instance, to imagine a place for same-sex desire in a sexually liberated “Church of All Worlds”—are never discussed. Martian sacramental cannibalism is mentioned only in a lecture on transubstantiation (38), an attack on Robert Plank’s Freudian reading of Stranger (159), and a footnote (39) on Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890). But this motif in Heinlein—notably, the ritual consumption of a broth made from Mike’s finger at the end of Stranger—may again nod in the direction of Edgar Rice Burroughs: in The Gods of Mars (1913), corrupt priests live on the flesh of the faithful.

In Heinlein’s novel, new members of the Church of All Worlds have to learn Martian before progressing to higher circles. The authors here have only half-mastered the languages of literary and cultural analysis, limiting the usefulness of what has evidently been a great deal of work and study. Patterson and Thornton are, I think, mistaken in approaching Heinlein as a “public moralist” (vii), rather than as a notable writer of popular fiction. But they do make some good points in passing, and I’ll conclude by mentioning three. The sporadic but intriguing discussion of James Branch Cabell—Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice was published in 1919—invites a more sustained future analysis. It is amusing to learn that Jubal Harshaw’s harem of secretaries was inspired by the sybaritic work arrangements of Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason (176). Finally, the authors are honest enough to document an important point even though it undermines their emphasis on Heinlein’s learned grasp of various religions and philosophies. They note that the religious background for Stranger—the discussion of the different traits of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism—appears to have been lifted from 25 pages of summary in a single book published in 1912—the occultist Peter Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum (93-94, 121).—CM

An Array of Austrian SF.

Franz Rottensteiner, ed. The Best of Austrian Science Fiction. Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 2001. 318 pp. $32.00 pbk.

Science-fiction literature is almost exclusively associated with authors from the English-speaking world—a judgment that is confirmed by a quick look at the list of Hugo Award winners. Apart from a handful of such well-known writers as Stanislaw Lem and Jules Verne, little sf has been translated into English, and knowledge of other countries’ sf traditions and writers is scarce. Occasionally, the odd book by a foreign writer is translated but that is about all.

With The Best of Austrian Science Fiction, Franz Rottensteiner attempts to remedy this deplorable situation. This collection of thirteen stories by twelve writers, prefaced by Rottensteiner’s “A Short History of Austrian Science Fiction,” has been published with the assistance of the Bundeskanzleramt-Sektion Kunst in Vienna as part of its Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, and Thought Translation series. The stories are excellently translated by Todd C. Hanlin, with only an occasional echo of the original German noticeable.

Among the first things we are told in the preface, somewhat abruptly, is that there is definitely no “Austrian-ness” to Austrian science fiction. “For the purpose of this anthology, Austrian sf is defined as sf written by authors born (and usually living in) Austria” (i). Since Austrian writers are obliged to publish through German publishing companies and turn to the much broader German market in general, there is a tendency among them to move to Germany. Their writing thus becomes part of sf in German, influenced by it and, one hopes, influencing it, though perhaps sacrificing specific national characteristics in the process.

Rottensteiner writes an informative and fairly comprehensive history that describes early and proto-sf from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, with the focus strongly on the first half of the twentieth century, on authors such as Ludwig Anton, whose 1922 novel Die japanische Pest (The Japanese Plague) deals with the threat of bacteriological warfare; Karl Hans Strobl, whose short fiction can be found in, for example, Die Eingebungen des Arphaxat (1904, The Inspirations of Arphaxat), Lemuria (1917), and Die Eier des Basilisken (1926, The Eggs of the Basilisk); and Oswald Levett, whose time machine in Verirrt in den Zeiten (1933, Lost in Time) sends the protagonist back to 1632 and the chaos of the Thirty Years’ War, where he attempts to set himself up as Emperor of Europe. Some authors and works of central importance are presented in detail, for instance, Marlen Haushofer’s Die Wand (1962, translated in 1990 as The Wall), which Rottensteiner designates the most important Austrian sf novel (xix). His claim that the novel is written in “crystal-clear prose without resort to symbolism of any kind” (xix) seems unconvincing, however, considering the impenetrable, inexplicable glass wall that isolates and protects the female protagonist from the rest of the world. Other central writers described in some detail are Herbert W. Franke, the “leading Austrian SF writer” (xvi), whose prolific sf career began in 1960, and Franz Werfel, whose anti-utopian Stern der Ungeborenen (1946, translated as Star of the Unborn) is the great utopian novel of Austrian literature (xiii).

The intention of this anthology is to “present a spectrum of contemporary Austrian science fiction, mostly by young writers” (xx). This made me wonder who is considered a young writer in Austria; the majority of the writers included in the anthology are between 50 and 70 years of age, and none is younger than 40. Also, the “contemporary” science fiction included here is primarily by male writers—only two stories in the collection are written by women—and was produced during the 1980s, with only one of the thirteen stories younger than a decade old. This rather biased selection probably results from the absence of more stringent selection criteria than the editor’s personal preferences. A short note on each of the stories to explain why it merits inclusion would not have been amiss.

The stories—by Martin Auer, Alfred Bittner, Kurt Bracharz, Andreas Findig, H.W. Franke, Marianne Gruber, Peter Marginter, Barbara Neuwirth, Heinz Riedler, Peter Schattschneider (who two stories), Michael Springer and Oswald Wiener—span a wide range of themes and narrative techniques, from Neuwirth’s “The Character of the Huntress,” with its Blade Runner-esque hunt for artificial human beings (and the similarity does not end there), to Gruber’s “The Invasion,” an introspective story set within the stifling hierarchy of a hospital. There are light-hearted, short pieces, such as Schattschneider’s zany “Banana Streams”—Banana streams are “[p]eculiarly distributed fragments of space ships in interstellar space” (215) and the first ship found in this way was carrying “exobananas”—and there are stories such as the fascinating, if somewhat long, story “Gödel’s Exit” by Findig, where the reader is introduced to a mysterious Vienna of 1929. While there are some really good stories in this anthology, many seem derivative and a few are downright unexciting.

At the end of the book, brief “Notes on the Authors” include what little publication information is provided about the original stories, as well as the authors’ other occupations. Rottensteiner points out in the preface that sf writers in Austria generally cannot make a living from their writing (the exception to this, Ernst Vlcek, is not included in this anthology). Regrettably, the publishing information is incomplete, which makes it difficult to say exactly how old some of these stories are. Original titles are not given, nor is the date of first publication given for some of the stories.

I am not sure if this is the best of Austrian science fiction—the selection seems too narrow in more ways than one—but it gives a good introduction to the historical background and to the field in general, and provides some quite interesting stories. On the whole, however, and unfortunately, I suspect that The Best of Austrian Science Fiction is going to be just another one of those occasional and odd foreign books.

Stefan Ekman, Göteborg University

The Other in SF Film.

Ziauddin Sardar and Sean Cubitt, eds. Aliens R Us: The Other in Science Fiction Cinema. London: Pluto Press, 2002. 186 pp. £45.00 hc. £14.99 pbk.

Aliens R Us is a collection of ten essays addressing the images of otherness in recent sf films (and two TV series) by twelve authors, most of whom do not seem to have backgrounds in either sf or film studies. This results in a small number of errors of fact, an innocence of sf theory (and, occasionally, of film theory), a recurring tendency to lose sight of the films under discussion, and some unusual and often rewarding perspectives. The tone is set by Ziauddin Sardar’s “Introduction,” in which he argues that sf is to be understood as a recycling of ancient narrative structures and tropes in combination with contemporary issues, adding that its “devices of space and time are window dressing, landscape and backdrop.... Science fiction is a time machine that goes nowhere, for wherever it goes it materializes the same conjunctions of the space-time continuum: the conundrums of Western civilization” (1).

So far, so conventional; but then the assault commences: “Science fiction shows us not the plasticity but the paucity of the human imagination that has become quagmired in the scientist industrial technological, cultural-socio-psycho babble of a single civilizational paradigm. Science fiction is the fiction of mortgaged futures. As a genre it makes it harder to imagine other futures, futures not beholden to the complexes, neuroses and reflexes of Western civilization as we know it” (1).The basic components of sf, Sardar argues, exist in all cultures, yet sf does not. Although there is Islamic science, Indian science, and Chinese science, only Western science—“the Western science that has been used to define and distinguish the West from all other civilizations” (2)—is used in sf. This instrumentalist rationality has played, and continues to play, an important role in justifying and enabling Western imperialism, but since Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), sf has sought to inject humanistic ethical principles into a rational framework that disavows them: “what science fiction is really telling us is that there is a deep tension within the formation of scientific, industrialized technological society, an unresolved disquiet about ends and means, an unending tussle over the formation of the project of science itself” (4-5).

In answering the question “Where Do Aliens Come From?” Sardar again offers both the familiar—“Aliens demonstrate what is not human the better to exemplify that which is human” (6)—and the unfamiliar, arguing that Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898)

directly connects with the most familiar trope of the Western past. It is the Battle of Tours (Poitiers) all over again. It is the armies of Charles Martel turning the tide, its [sic] is Charlemagne and his paladins at Roncesvalles mustering for the first time a common sense of European identity, gathering the armies of Western Christendom to confront the Muslim hordes.... In this literary trope the Muslims are aliens, ideologically, metaphysically other than their Christian adversaries. As adversaries these Muslim aliens are fanatic, devoted to false consciousness, treacherous, untrustworthy, brutal and cruel.... The monstrous races define the outer limits of the known, existing beyond the territory of the Other on the borders of the Western homeland, the Muslim adversaries. The crusading motif makes the sense of superiority and legitimating right innate to Western self-description. It is an impulse for exploration, seeking out, knowing and describing. It is a precursor of the scientific spirit. It is a warrant to lay claim to outer space, to colonise, re-inscribe and re-formulate this outer space. (6, 8-9)

Although this does not quite work as a description of Wells’s novel—which is misdescribed as the “very first alien encounter” and “an imagined future” (6)—Sardar’s location of the roots of the quintessentially science-fictional encounter with the alien deep in Europe’s past is compelling.

Sean Cubitt’s essay on eco-apocalypse—which contrasts Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s Delicatessen (1991) and La Cité des enfants perdus (1995, The City of Lost Children) with Luc Besson’s Le Dernier combat (1983, The Final Combat), Subway (1985), and Le Cinquième élément (1997, The Fifth Element)—considers the new French sf cinema in relation to the Euro-liberal scepticism of nationalism alongside a concomitant belief in the “geographical claim of identity” (18), and points to the ways in which the “theme of home and nature lost under the burden of transnational capital has become a sort of allegory of the struggles for land, now reinvented as nature, as a source of identity” (18). Whereas Besson repeatedly imagines redemptive virtue, Jeunet and Caro reject this totalitarian mysticism, envisioning instead “capital-technology ... as a false nature, an anti-nature usurping both ecological and human nature as they should exist—un-alienated” (21), in which mere survival is the only reasonable goal. The fatalism of their vision is overcome first by mischieviousness and then by “a humanistic view of the world carried out in the form of relations thoroughly mediated by technologies, instead of a world premised on bourgeois individualism and the psychological nonsense of deeply rounded character motivation” (32).

Jan Mair’s “Rewriting the ‘American Dream’: Postmodernism and Otherness in Independence Day” argues that, while the movie’s “reification of American hegemony as the ‘end of history’ is arguably just about tolerable as a piece of Hollywood fiction,” its metaphorical valorization of US foreign policy and presence in the Middle East renders it “a libratory tract emphasizing the ‘moral’ right to obliterate ‘difference’—to annihilate all that is not Western” (35). More than any other, this essay builds on Sardar’s introduction, noting the continuation of Manichean dualism in the crusader narrative of the Second Gulf War, reworked in Roland Emmerich’s movie. Mair also dismisses the movie’s pretence at egalitarianism, exposing its relentless and egregious stereotyping. Her reading, however, is weakened by the assertion that the movie possesses “no attempt at irony” (35), when surely it is exemplary of the successful double-coding found in many contemporary blockbusters which enables them to be enjoyed ironically—or at least cynically—as well as, apparently, with a straight face—Starship Troopers (1997), or Armageddon (1998), for example, but not Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace (1999) or Pearl Harbor (2001). Mair also returns to The War of the Worlds. Noting that the novel is a critique of the Western imperialism that annihilated the Tasmanians, she adds, bizarrely, that “Wells wanted to demonstrate to the West how it might feel to be invaded by a strength far superior to their own whilst at the same time suggesting that earthlings should not feel too harshly towards the Martian invaders as they themselves are guilty of insinuating the same colonial forces on others” (47).

Nickianne Moody’s “Displacements of Gender and Race in Space: Above and Beyond” offers a typically nuanced and subtle analysis of a short-lived TV series whose astonishing blend of intelligence and stupidity failed to find a sufficiently large audience. “Saying ‘Yours’ and ‘Mine’ in Deep Space Nine,” by Kirk W. Junker and Robert Duffy, is rather less impressive, and often seems to have selected its primary text on the grounds that it would make the title rhyme. The Star Trek franchise fares better in Christine Wertheim’s “Star Trek: First Contact: The Hybrid, the Whore and the Machine,” which considers the threat of absorption by the Borg as evidence of a particular failing of “the ‘Western’ mind, which may now be found in many non-Western geographical locations...: in Western-style societies the ‘social contract’ has been reduced to a competition in which whoever doesn’t definitively come out on top must be seen as having ‘lost,’ there being no principle of co-operation by which the whole collective could be seen as gaining simultaneously” (76).

Suggesting that the Borg represent not only Western fantasies of communism and of Asian, especially Islamic, cultures, Wertheim points out that the opposition of “‘individual’ to ‘society’ as if it were a simple matter of the one or the other ”is absurd, and that “this fantasy of exclusive disjunction in which there is an absolute choice between individuality and sociality, with no possibility of having both simultaneously, is the ultimate ideological weapon of capitalism, triumphant over democracy as much as it is over socialism” (77). Wertheim, not unproblematically, relates the Borg collective to de Sadeian “radical heterogeneity in which every being gets to share in the real differences of all the others” (77), and argues that it is only “through the repression of this relational and equivocal otherness [that] we can be maintained as passive, discrete and possessive individuals; that is, as subjects of enlightened consumption” (91).

If Wertheim’s post-Marxism ultimately seems naïve, keeping its fingers crossed that the repressed will return or that “With any luck the Borg might just turn up one day and assimilate us for real” (92), then Toshiya Ueno’s otherwise informative “Japanimation: Techno-Orientalism, Media Tribes and Rave Culture” is at least equally guilty of wishful thinking. Tactical syncretism—which he relates to Laclau and Mouffe’s “moments”—may well differ from postmodern eclecticism—which he relates to their “elements.” The former, which may be exemplified by anime and Goa-trance, may well also provide a platform “for critical views on globalisation” (109), but any political strategy that pins its hopes on the far from accurate claim that “tactical consumption is already an option for everyone” (109) not only ignores the many billions for whom this is not true, but is also at best merely reformist.

Hong Kong cinema, one of the few Eastern cinemas in which sf flourishes, forms the backdrop for “Wicked Cities: The Other in Hong Kong Science Fiction Cinema” by Gregory B. Lee and Sunny S.K. Lam and for Peter X. Feng’s “False and Double Consciousness: Race, Virtual Reality and the Assimilation of Hong Kong Action Cinema in The Matrix.” Lee and Lam focus on Yaoshou dushi/The Wicked City (Mak Tai Kit, 1992), a near-future supernatural action thriller set in the days immediately before the handover to China. This film is adapted from a Japanese manga, itself based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi, and previouly filmed as an anime in 1989. Lee and Lam argue that, along with Mo Yan ga Sai/Spacked Out (Lawrence Lau Kwok Cheong, 2000) and Sam Tiao Yan/Away With Words (Chris Doyle, 1999), Yaoshou dushi is unique in Hong Kong cinema in depicting diverse, hybrid, and non-conformist identities. One would have more faith in their analysis if they knew the publication dates of Lao She’s 1933 novel Maochengji/Cat City—which they discuss in some detail—and had not attributed Ringo Lam’s Xia dao Gao Fei/Full Contact (1992) to John Woo (whose surname they spell “Wu”).

Feng sees The Matrix as “a parable of the cinematic apparatus,” drawing on Jean-Louis Baudry’s notion of “le ciné -sujet” and Christian Metz’s discussion of spectatorial involvement, as well as the “double consciousness” W.E.B. Du Bois ascribed to the racialized subject aware of how both he and others see him. After a badly sprained metaphor based on color-correction technology, Feng offers a reasonably effective discussion of the movie’s “elision of racial difference” (152)—not least of all with regard to the Asian-Pacific Keanu Reeves’s passing as white. He goes on to argue that the movie’s nested diegeses metaphorize “the assimiiation of Hong Kong action cinema” (156), and to suggest that the “successful postmodern subject is an Asian passing for white, a resistance fighter passing as a drone, a martial artist hiding not behind Jet Li’s black mask but behind Keanu Reeves’ blank mask” (157).1 (As Feng explains, Reeves’s fighting style in the dojo sequence is based on that of Jet Li, whose Black Mask (Lee, 1997) was fight-choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, The Matrix’s fight-choreographer. For a fine discussion of Reeves’s blankness, see R.L. Rutsky, ‘Being Keanu’ in Jon Lewis, ed., The End of Cinema as We Know It: American Film in the Nineties (London: Pluto Press, 2002), 185-94.)

The final essay, Dimitris Eleftheriotis’s “Global Visions and European Perspectives,” considers Bis ans Ende der Welt (Wim Wenders 1991, Until the End of the World) in the context of E.U. cultural policies and Wenders’s own influential role as chairman of the European Film Academy. Eleftheriotis suggests that the film can be read as both “an allegorical manifesto on the future of cinema” and “a fiction about the future of technologies of vision and vision itself” (170). Ultimately, it envisions the end of cinema as a distinct medium, a position “identical to the view of the (not so distant) future expressed by European policy-making bodies” (178). Moreover, despite the movie’s attempt to be a truly global film, it is guilty of depicting the non-European world merely as a series of attractive surfaces, a resource to be commodified by the emergent information society. Twelve hundred and seventy years after the Battle of Tours, 1224 years after the Battle of Roncesval, the Other is still out there, dehumanized by representations that validate the West’s “superiority” and justify its aggression and exploitation.

Aliens R Us is a valuable collection of stimulating, politically-committed, and frequently idiosyncratic criticism. Although I am uncertain how useful it will be as a classroom resource, it is to be both commended and recommended.

Mark Bould, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College

Apocalypse Often.

Jerome F. Shapiro. Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film. New York: Routledge, 2002. x + 386 pp. $24.95 pbk.

In his extraordinary essay “The Apocalypse Is Disappointing” (1964), Maurice Blanchot begins by referring to Karl Jaspers’s influential claim that the advent of the atomic bomb has utterly changed reality and that we must utterly change our ways of thinking if we are to survive as a species. But, suggests Blanchot, Jaspers’s claim amounts to a hypocritical platitude, not a serious philosophical proposition: for, despite Jaspers’s melodramatic call for changed thinking, he has not changed his own thinking one bit. On the contrary, contemplation of nuclear catastrophe has—according to Blanchot—only led Jaspers to cling ever more tightly to the banal and deeply conservative liberalism to which he had been committed since long before the “Enola Gay” appeared in the skies above Hiroshima. The basic contrast here is between Jaspers’s tired individualism, with its basis in the liberal middle-class ego of the nineteenth century, and Blanchot’s genuinely innovative attempts to pioneer collective and communist ways of thinking adequate to the modern world. Blanchot maintains that the total destruction of humanity that nuclear weapons make technically possible can be a meaningful philosophical concept only if humanity is concretely a totality in the first place; and since, as Blanchot points out, such a totality must be, in the strongest sense, communist, it is something to which Jaspers’s insipid but inevitable anticommunism is incurably allergic. Blanchot even wonders if those, like Jaspers (and, we might add, America’s own Jonathan Schell), who engage in the loudest and most anguished breast-beating about nuclear war, are even really interested in the subject they affect to be obsessed by: it may be that “reflection on the atomic terror is but a pretense; what one [like Jaspers] is looking for is not a new way of thinking but a way to consolidate old predicaments”—a way, that is, to shore up the crumbling ruins of classical liberalism one more time (Blanchot, Friendship, tr. Elizabeth Rottenberg [Stanford, 1997], 104).

A good question to ask of any meditation on the atomic bomb is whether it is vulnerable to the same charge of bad faith that Blanchot brilliantly, and to my mind irrefutably, lays against Jaspers. Relatively few works completely pass the test. But Jerome Shapiro’s Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film does pass, at least to a considerable degree. Shapiro writes out of an unusual personal situation, to which he frequently refers. He is a Jewish American expatriated in Japan, where he lives with his Japanese wife and their two children and where he teaches at Hiroshima University—and his overall viewpoint is somewhat quirky; indeed, his book does not, I think, finally possess a completely coherent conceptual framework. But certain elements in his world-view are clear and refreshing. Like Blanchot, he exposes and condemns the individualistic, antipolitical reductionism that liberal ideology tends to entail, and he also resembles the French critic (whom, however, he never mentions) in expressing a strong distaste for weeping-and-wailing anti-nuclearism of the Jaspers-Schell sort. Though he does not deny that nuclear technology is a tremendously significant presence in our world, he intelligently deflates many conventional exaggerations of the matter. For instance, he shrewdly reminds us that Agent Orange very likely caused more environmental and genetic damage in Vietnam than atomic bombs did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and also that sheer hunger is an overwhelmingly more important fact in the lives of the world’s people than all the nuclear devices ever thought of; nonetheless, it is a platitude to style ours as the “Atomic Age,” whereas the “Age of Famine” would sound oddly archaic, and the “Age of Agent Orange” would sound totally bizarre. I think that Shapiro and Blanchot would agree that those who constantly wail about nuclear danger while never mentioning the devastated Vietnamese ecosystem and seldom giving more than a perfunctory squirt of pity to the victims of world hunger are, precisely, hypocrites who seek to consolidate comfortable clichés rather than to pioneer new modes of thought.

Shapiro also points out that the sense of everything having changed in the so-called “Atomic Age” is itself an instance of an ancient and recurring structure of feeling; indeed, we might say that one thing that never changes is the fact that people periodically decide that everything has changed. The idea of apocalypse is deeply woven into the Jewish and Christian roots of Western culture, and Shapiro stresses that it does not traditionally mean a final disaster but rather a crisis followed by rebirth and renewal. This is the idea that guides Shapiro’s study of numerous Hollywood and some Japanese films about the atomic bomb; the overwhelming majority of the films are science fictional in one way or another—though Shapiro himself insists, not without some justification, that “atomic bomb cinema” is a category that cuts across more familiar generic divisions. Although, as he points out, these films have often been adversely criticized by commentators from Susan Sontag onward for their supposed failure to do justice to the unique realities of the “Atomic Age,” Shapiro reads them more positively, and as perhaps the chief modern expression of the perennial imagination of apocalypse. For Shapiro, atomic bomb cinema is noteworthy for giving memorable and popular voice to what he defines as the essential optimism in all apocalyptic thought: that is, to the faith that, on the far side of whatever calamities lie ahead, humanity will somehow endure.

One thing that Shapiro achieves is simply to make clear how large atomic bomb cinema looms in cinema as a whole. By Shapiro’s count, Hollywood has made an average of 17.57 bomb films every year between 1945 and 1999, for a grand total of close to a thousand—a figure that accounts for about four percent of Hollywood’s overall output; and Shapiro seems to be personally familiar with most, or maybe even all, of these movies. If the total number of bomb films looks surprisingly high to most of us, that is largely because, as Atomic Bomb Cinema makes clear again and again, nuclear weapons and nuclear war are important to many movies that we don’t necessarily remember in that way. It is no surprise, for example, to find Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach (1959) and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) discussed at length in a book about the bomb. But would “atomic bomb cinema” invariably suggest such diverse movies as Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960), George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), or Kevin Reynolds’s Waterworld (1995)—to pick just a handful of examples? Yet all are indeed about the bomb, in various ways, and Shapiro provides detailed readings of these and a great many other cinematic texts. The quality of his commentary varies a good deal, but it is usually at least interesting. Apocalypse in its core religious sense is his chief critical tool for understanding the narratives of atomic bomb cinema, but he also pays attention to the formal techniques of filmmaking, to the complex intertextuality in which bomb films refer to one another, and to the social, political, and cultural contexts that helped to shape the films and on which, in certain instances, the films in their turn exercised a considerable impact.

So Atomic Bomb Cinema is a book of genuine value; but it is also a very unfinished book, one that often reads more like a promising rough draft than like a completed work. I noted above its lack of a consistent theoretical problematic; and the intellectual self-contradictions are often wild indeed. Shapiro is by turns Marxist and anti-Marxist, pro-feminist and anti-feminist, at times eager to sneer at critical thinking and at other times eager to be taken seriously as a thinker himself—and all without the slightest explanation of these antinomies or even any evident awareness of them. He seems similarly innocent of the differences in aesthetic significance among the films he discusses. It is perfectly legitimate, of course, to treat the work of genuine masters like Hitchcock, Kurosawa, and Kubrick—and, arguably, Romero—alongside the fairly routine B-movies that provide much of Shapiro’s subject-matter. What jars is Shapiro’s general indifference—apart from some interesting paragraphs about the relation of the Gojira, or “Godzilla,” films to traditional Japanese aesthetics—to the fact that film is, after all, art. For example, when one compares Dr. Strangelove to David Zuker’s Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991), as Shapiro seriously does, the issue of aesthetic judgment might at least be acknowledged, and perhaps even engaged.

The general disorganization of Atomic Bomb Cinema makes itself felt in more local ways too. The logic of the exposition is not always clear, and there are confusions of terminology, as when “ideological issues” are contrasted with “more sociological and personal issues” (74). There are also confusions of fact. Though Shapiro often compares other scholars’ knowledge of Western religious tradition very unfavorably with his own, he manages to confuse the Immaculate Conception of Mary by St. Anne with the Virgin Birth of Christ (206); then, too, one would expect a scholar of the atomic bomb to know enough about the old USSR to know that there is no such thing as the “Balkan region of the former Soviet Union” (218). Finally, Shapiro’s style is often rather uncertain, and there are even a few basic grammatical errors.

But the most important lacuna in Atomic Bomb Cinema is the largest and most obvious. Though Blanchot considers the insipid anti-communist liberalism of Jaspers to be woefully inadequate for theorizing the potential extinction of the human race, such extinction is for Blanchot himself an issue of the most urgent philosophical and political importance. For Shapiro, by contrast, the “exterminism” (E.P. Thompson’s term) of the nuclear arms race simply does not exist; one reads his book from cover to cover without hearing that, as a matter of fact, nuclear technology, unlike any other, is indeed capable of wiping human life, and probably all other life forms above the level of cockroaches, from the face of the earth. So committed is Shapiro to the optimism of apocalyptic continuity and renewal, and so unwilling is he to learn anything from the anti-nuclearists for whom he has a partly justified scorn, that he seems unwilling to face this fact. But the most powerful bomb films do face it, and Shapiro’s understanding of them suffers accordingly.

In treating Dr. Strangelove, for example, he predictably lays considerable stress on the possibility that some human life may survive the lethal effects of the Soviet “Doomsday Machine.” True enough, the title character does suggest near the film’s end that a remnant of humanity could be preserved at the bottom of America’s deeper mineshafts; and the powerful white men to whom Strangelove speaks find his scheme appealing, since it specifies that the remnant must include top political and military leaders, each of whom, once underground, would be required to engage in frequent sexual intercourse with ten “stimulating” women in order to guarantee the propagation of the species. What Shapiro fails to fully credit is that the film clearly represents Strangelove’s scheme to be, like the man himself, thoroughly insane, and no more likely to work than his earlier nuclear schemes, which have helped to set humanity on the path to insane self-annihilation. Kubrick’s movie recognizes the reality of nuclear exterminism, and appropriately leaves the viewer with images not of merry subterranean sex, but of multiple atomic bombs exploding one after another: “orgasms” not of Eros, but of universal Thanatos.

Shapiro’s reading of On the Beach is even less adequate to the film’s power and pessimism. Here the self-extermination of our species is fully explicit. Indeed, it determines the film’s structure more radically than most viewers have noticed. For instance, the chief positive element in the movie is the vibrant attraction between its central characters, Dwight and Moira; and the official narrative reason given for their parting—Dwight’s commitment to remain with his submarine crew on their final voyage—seems flimsy compared to the erotic passion evoked by Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. But the real reason that the film separates the lovers is, I think, more subtle. If there were any hope at all of some human survival, Dwight and Moira would seem well qualified to reprise the roles of Adam and Eve; but there is no hope, and Kramer is determined that no new Eden is to be even temporarily envisaged. At the end, the film leaves us with apparently mundane but unforgettably eerie images of a depopulated earth. Shapiro recognizes the difficulty of finding in On the Beach any trace of apocalyptic optimism, and rather desperately argues that the continuity of the director’s camera itself is a kind of survival. This is silly as a reading, but it does inadvertently point to a profound formal and philosophical problem that the film faces more unflinchingly than perhaps any other ever made. Strictly speaking, annihilation is unthinkable and hence unrepresentable. Try to imagine the world even after just your own individual death, and you invariably find that you have smuggled your observing consciousness somewhere into a corner of the picture. If, accordingly, there can be such a thing as degrees of impossibility, then representing the death of humanity in toto is even further beyond the resources of film or any other medium. Of course Kramer’s camera does, in a sense, imply the continuation of human consciousness—how could it do otherwise? But the movie’s final scenes, as annihilation is quickly approached and then consummated, may come just about as close to showing that which cannot be shown as the nature of thought itself allows; and I believe it is this awesome formal achievement, rather than the film’s feeble ideological liberalism that Shapiro rightly derides—its overt reduction, that is, of political responsibility to accidents of character and attitude—that accounts for the power On the Beach had for so many viewers. It is a power that far transcends the religious notions of apocalypse to which Shapiro is so attached.

In conclusion, I wish that Atomic Bomb Cinema were a better book. But that is largely because I find it—and not least for the inevitable fascination of the subject-matter—a pretty interesting book as is.

Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University

Of Stories and the Man.

Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe. Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever. Ohio State UP, 2002. 276 pp. $60 hc; $21.95 pbk.

As Ellen Weil and Gary Wolfe make clear early on in this first full-length study of his fiction, everyone who has ever met Harlan Ellison seems to have a story about him. I myself have two. The first takes place in 1973 or 1974. I was a graduate student at Ohio State University and Ellison, riding an unprecedented wave of Hugo and Nebula Award victories, was performing to a packed house on the OSU campus. Although scheduled to talk and read for two hours, he went on for nearly twice that. The high points of the evening were two, Ellison’s reading of his hilarious tale of alien Jews in space, “I’m Looking for Kadak,” in a thick Yiddish accent, and his recounting of how he had been expelled from Ohio State some years earlier for, he claimed, hitting a professor who had denigrated his writing ability. A master of revenge, Ellison further insisted that ever since his expulsion, he’d sent that professor a copy of every story he’d published. He was obviously tickled at having been invited back to Ohio State as a distinguished author and I’m sure that he will be further pleased to see this book in print from OSU Press.

Weil and Wolfe’s study is itself full of such anecdotes, not merely because they’re fascinating, not merely because Ellison, with his talk-show appearances and his writing of stories in bookstore windows, is probably the closest thing science fiction has ever had to a true media celebrity. It is also because his intensely personal fiction pretty much demands that critics adopt a biographical approach. In fact, as Weil and Wolfe demonstrate repeatedly, many of Ellison’s stories, including most of the award winners, such as “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman” (1965), “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” (1967), and “Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans, Latitude 38˚54'N, Longitude 77˚00'13W” (1974) are firmly grounded in the author’s own life story. Indeed, Ellison seems to return again and again to certain specific, traumatic events in his early life—a childhood fight, his father’s early death, a confrontation with another fan at his first WorldCon, the year he spent running with a gang, his first wife’s mental illness—rehashing them, looking at them from every conceivable angle, transforming them into art.

The authors subtitle their Introduction “The Golden Cage,” a reference to the fate of Joe Bob Hickey, the protagonist of Ellison’s 1971 story “Silent in Gehenna.” Hickey is a 1960s-era social and political activist who, as Weil and Wolfe summarize the story, “finds himself transported to an alien world, where he is imprisoned in a golden cage above a public thoroughfare” (3). There he witnesses the awful social injustices of the alien society going on in the street below and protests loudly against them. Every time he cries out, the aliens make a brief show of punishing themselves for those injustices before going back to their normal routine, having changed nothing. This, Ellison has stated publicly, is how he sees his own life on a bad day. On slightly less depressing days, however, he is also Harlequin, the maniacal trickster who attempts to bring about societal change by tossing the jellybeans of his art into the gears of the system. Of course Harlequin is caught and, Winston Smith-like, is reeducated, but not before he has so disturbed the Ticktockman’s own schedule as to have introduced a small, but possibly permanent, change for the better into the world. Ellison has also stated that “Repent Harlequin!” had its genesis not only in his abiding desire to satirize a world increasingly predicated upon schedules and machinery, but also as a sort of explanation for his own problems with getting to places on time.

In the ten chapters that follow, which move through Ellison’s life and his published work in a roughly, but not obsessively, chronological fashion, Weil and Wolfe cover an enormous amount of ground. Although Ellison has written few novels, he has been astonishingly productive, particularly in the first few decades of his career, and, although he’s largely thought of as an sf and fantasy writer, he has been active in a wide range of genres. Growing up short, smart, and the only Jewish kid in Paineville, Ohio (population approximately 15,000) was hard on Ellison—the authors describe it as “singularly unrewarding”—as was losing his father in 1949, when he was only fifteen. After his family moved to Cleveland, however, and he discovered fandom, things did improve somewhat. While in high school Ellison helped found the Cleveland Science Fiction Society and soon became editor of that organization’s fanzine. He made many friends in fandom—and some enemies—including Robert Silverberg and the slightly older and already publishing Algis Budrys, and was invited by Budrys to New York where he sat in on a meeting of the now-legendary Hydra Club. In 1953, he attended his first WorldCon in Philadelphia where he narrowly avoided getting into a fight in the lobby of the convention hotel and also managed to insult Isaac Asimov. That same year he entered Ohio State University, but was expelled a year and a half later with, Weil and Wolfe tell us, “a reported grade point average of .086.” The details of Ellison’s expulsion as recounted here differ slightly from the description he gave from the podium during his later performance at OSU, but it hardly matters. What we’re talking about here is as much personal mythology as biography.

Ellison had evidently been producing reams of unpublished fiction for several years at this point, but in 1955 he moved to New York City, determined to make it as a writer. He’d had a story script accepted for EC’s Weird Science-Fantasy comic book the year before and had been paid $25 for a piece titled “I Ran with a Kid Gang!” by a sleazy magazine called Lowdown, only to discover that, before publication, the magazine’s editor rewrote the piece from scratch. All that was left of his original submission was a photograph of Ellison in gang costume onto which the editor had airbrushed a facial scar. His first sf story to see print was “Glowworm,” which appeared in the February 1956 issue of Infinity. The dam had definitely broken at this point and soon Ellison was selling on average a story a week. He also married Charlotte Stein—the first of five wives—a woman about whom he has said almost nothing in public, but whose presence continues to haunt his fiction to this day.

Weil and Wolfe tell us that most of Ellison’s early sf, published primarily in the less prestigious sf magazines, was pretty formulaic, showing only the occasional glimpse of the brilliant writer he was later to become. He also put a fair amount of time into non-sf, however, especially the various gang-related stories that went into his short-story collection, The Deadly Streets (1958), and his first novel, Web of the City (1958). There was also his rock’n’roll novel, Spider Kiss (1961), which, believe it or not, received a positive review from Dorothy Parker. The best stories Ellison published in these early years tended to appear in the men’s magazines, which were more open to experimentation and serious literary values than were the straight sf magazines of the 1950s. By the mid to late-1960s, however, genre standards had gone up and Ellison hit his stride, publishing such classics as “Repent, Harlequin!” (1965), “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” (1967), “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World” (1968), and “A Boy and His Dog” (1969), not to mention the classic anthology Dangerous Visions (1967).

Weil and Wolfe devote considerable space to Ellison’s highly uneasy relationship with television and film, discussing his early work on Burke’s Law (1963-1965), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1966-1967), Cimarron Strip (1967), the film The Oscar (1966), and, would you believe, The Flying Nun (1965). They also recount the stories behind such classic Ellison television scripts as “Soldier” (1964) and “Demon with a Glass Hand” (1964) from Outer Limits, “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1968) from Star Trek, and “Paladin of the Lost Hour” (1985) from Twilight Zone, going into detail about the author’s not entirely successful attempts to force the powers that be to actually film what he wrote, and his use of the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird on any final television or film project that wasn’t up to his standards. Each of Ellison’s major scripts and short stories receives several pages of highly astute analysis, with particular attention being paid to such stories as those mentioned above, as well as “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” (1967), “Shattered Like a Glass Goblin” (1968), “Basilisk” (1972), “The Deathbird” (1972), “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” (1973), “Jeffty is Five” (1977), and “All the Lies That Are My Life” (1980). The authors trace Ellison’s growing sophistication and his increasing use of both mythical and postmodern elements in his work. His 1975 collection Deathbird Stories, which Weil and Wolfe describe as “a kind of spiritual autobiography, a survey of themes that had been developing in Ellison’s work over a period of several years,” is singled out for special praise.

The authors point out a number of recurrent themes in Ellison’s fiction. Among these are his abiding belief that technology cannot fix loneliness and alienation; the value of strong emotions of all sorts; the danger of being driven into passive acceptance of what the world dishes out; the power to influence that the past holds, even many years after it has seemingly been laid to rest; the difficulty of establishing and maintaining long-term personal relationships; the importance of myth, both personal and universal; and, most important of all, the absolute necessity of getting revenge against those who have done you wrong.

Troubled by health problems, Ellison has written much less fiction in recent years, although Weil and Wolfe praise some of the later pieces, particularly “The Function of Dream Sleep” (1988), Ellison’s decidedly post-modern “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” (1991), which appeared in The Best American Short Stories for 1993, “Mefisto in Onyx” (1993), and “Objects of Desire in the Mirror Are Closer than They Appear” (2000). They also discuss his problems with failed projects such as the never-published anthology Last Dangerous Visions and the unfinished, novel-length version of “A Boy and His Dog.” Emphasis is placed on Ellison’s obvious concern with his literary reputation, including his careful compilation of hardcover reprints of his earlier collections and the publication of several retrospective volumes, most notably Edgeworks (vol.3, 1997) and The Essential Ellison: A 50-Year Retrospective (2001).

Weil and Wolfe have produced a lucid, well-written introduction to Ellison’s life and fiction. They take on the author and his work, warts and all, pointing out the more eccentric elements of his personality, but also praising his strong social conscience, making clear which stories have weaknesses, but giving deserved praise to Ellison’s many masterpieces. Although a significant number of essays and monographs have previously appeared on Ellison’s work, most notably George Slusser’s early Harlan Ellison: Unrepentant Harlequin (1977), Ellen Weil and Gary K. Wolfe’s Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever is likely to remain the standard work for years to come.

I mentioned that I had two Harlan Ellison stories. Here’s the other one. More than twenty years after his Ohio State University reading, he gave another performance at the 1997 Science Fiction Research Association Conference aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Older, in less than perfect health, he was still his usual hyper-kinetic, brilliant, and occasionally nasty self. At the end of the talk he asked for questions and my wife, Sandra Lindow, raised her hand. Half way through her question, however, Ellison interrupted her and asked her if she was chewing gum. When she admitted that she was, he insisted in his usual peremptory fashion that she spit it out in his hand. My guess is that most people would have been cowed by this and done as he said, but my wife, who makes her living working with emotionally disturbed children, is made of sterner stuff. Smiling, she agreed that it was impolite, carefully wrapped the gum in a tissue, and calmly repeated her question. Ellison, for once, seemed somewhat nonplussed. Five years have passed since that day and, so far as we know, he has not yet taken revenge.

Michael Levy, University of Wisconsin-Stout

The Fantastic Price of Fantastic Art.

Gary Westfahl, George Slusser, and Kathleen Church Plummer, eds. Unearthly Visions: Approaches to Science and Fantasy Art. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. viii + 166 pp. $63.95 hc.

Let’s get most of the unpleasantness out of the way first.

To begin with, Unearthly Visions is obscenely expensive: almost 37 cents a page. Greenwood’s books always have been pricey, but the company has never done a better job of living up to the motto it unofficially borrowed from Frank Norris’s The Octopus: All The Traffic Will Bear!

Second, the book is sometimes unsteadily proofread and/or copyedited. At the bottom of the first page of text—after almost three dollars’ worth of title page, table of contents, etc.—George Slusser writes that “To answer these questions, however, one must define in what way sf and fantasy images are icons. To do this, one needs first to examine its relationship to modern canonical art.” Working backward through several sentences, one may conclude that the “it” refers to “sf/fantasy art,” one topic. Immediately following, however, at the top of the second page, Slusser continues: “Sf and fantasy art do [emphasis added] not just ‘borrow’ images and techniques from canonical art .... What it [again] rather does ....” After that, I tried not to pay attention to the writing but to concentrate on ideas as much as possible.

Finally, most seriously of all, this is a book that tries to talk about visual art without showing examples. The writers must have used slides when they read these papers at an Eaton Conference, for the texts of the essays frequently refer to examples of book or magazine covers, complete with dutiful scholarly citations to the original publications, although the examples are absent from the volume. This is more frustrating than useful, however. When, for example, Slusser spends almost a page discussing Howard V. Brown’s cover for the January 1935 Astounding Stories, a reader must either flip desperately through collections of fantastic art or dig out the crumbling magazine itself. Without seeing the art, how is a reader to understand Slusser’s analysis of the piece he’s looking at, let alone fit those points into a larger argument? That’s a problem throughout this book; Samuel H. Vasbinder, for instance, mentions in passing that “A painting by Frank Kelly Freas from Planet Stories shows the artist using the old impressionist technique of The View Through the Keyhole to show an exciting moment taking place somewhere in space” (69). Really? How so? Even if Greenwood wouldn’t print any black and white reproductions, let alone color, it would have been relatively easy for Westfahl and Co., once they’d given information about original publication of the works under discussion, to add references to the recent collections that reprint those works.

Despite these caveats, this book deserves attention as an important early step toward thinking about fantastic art.
“Fantastic art” is, first of all, the eye-catching part of book and magazine covers, sometimes also decorating interior pages. Its announced function is to illustrate the written contents, but its real purpose is to sell the publication by attracting potential buyers first casually—by bright colors and dynamic design—then to the point of active commitment—by the atmosphere and subject matter presented. This makes the discussion of fantastic art in relation to commercial publishing very difficult. It wasn’t uncommon for sf magazines to give an artist only a brief, inaccurate summary of the story to be illustrated or even to buy a painting first, then tell an author to write a story for the cover to “illustrate.” Nor has it been uncommon for publishers to commission deliberately inappropriate art for the sake of marketing. At one International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, for example, Robert Silverberg talked about how paperback editions of his literary sf novels had appeared with misleading covers, wryly adding that publishing Dying Inside (1972) with a cover featuring a big, ooky, scary Thing was unfair not only to readers of serious sf but also to people who wanted to read about big, ooky, scary Things.

Several of the essays in Unearthly Visions have valuable things to say about fantastic art as illustration. The best is Lynne Lundquist and Gary Westfahl’s discussion of how Margaret Wise Brown’s text and Clement Hurd’s art interact in The Runaway Bunny (1942) and other books for young children; marginal though this may sound, the essay neatly shows how each creator complemented the other’s talents. Less successfully, David Hinkley gives Frank Frazetta’s cover paintings a bit too much credit for the popular success of Robert E. Howard’s paperbacks, though the essay does effectively describe how Frazetta visually blends elements of “savagery and civilization.”

Several more interesting essays concentrate on fantastic art that does more than illustrate. The recent wave of single-artist collections is just the latest demonstration that such work deserves separate attention. When Famous Fantastic Mysteries published portfolios of Virgil Finlay’s illustrations in the early 1940s, readers could connect the drawings easily to stories recently published in the magazine; when Walter Dunkelberger reprinted the art a decade later, the connection was tenuous at best. And when Advent published Frank Kelly Freas: A Portfolio in 1957, the year after it did Damon Knight’s In Search of Wonder, it didn’t even identify the stories supposedly illustrated. For larger groupings, Vincent di Fate’s mammoth, encyclopedic Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art (1997) gives samples of many major artists of the fantastic, and the bibliography of Unearthly Visions lists several other multi-artist anthologies, some arranged historically, some thematically.

All this makes it possible to start thinking about fantastic art, to consider what it is, what it does separately from its illustrative purpose. Finding general perspectives won’t be easy. Early in Unearthly Visions, Gary Westfahl attempts a magisterial thematic history of sf art, even going so far as to say that book covers can be used to classify content as hard sf or new wave, before he sees how silly this is and calls instead for a more limited, topic-based study. In fact, some of the essays here deal with fascinating topics relating sf art to cultural history, such as Howard V. Hendrix’s explanation of why the Northrop Flying Wing survived so long as a real, experimental aircraft: drawings of the thing looked too cool for engineers to abandon the project. Kathleen Church Plummer talks about the design of empty space, how early sf stories describing suites of furniture that folded back into the walls reinforced tendencies in early twentieth-century architecture. Such essays at least give fantastic art serious weight, crediting it with real influence on viewers.

Other essays try to isolate the essential nature of different types of fantastic art. Considering another, larger kind of artistic importance, both Slusser’s “Introduction: The Iconography of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art” and Vasbinder’s “The Vision of Space: The Artist’s View” agree that sf art deals with humanity’s perception of its place in what might feel like a numbingly strange universe, as when Slusser sums up a Richard Powers paperback cover as “the reinsertion of the human icon at the center of the new or alien landscape” (9). An eye like the viewer’s is seeing; beings like the viewer are present, even active. Speaking of fantasy art, John Clute would differ slightly. In his essay, “Notes on the Geography of Bad—and Good—Fantasy Art,” Clute finds that bad fantasy art merely illustrates bits of the world we know—landscapes, weapons, muscular torsos, etc.—while “the central movement of Fantasy ... might be: Bondage loosens. The verb of Fantasy is to loosen. It is at this point that Story melts the ice, unlocks the wanweird that binds the world from metamorphosis” (90). Art is not, in other words so much about locating a place for ourselves as we are now as it is for suddenly glimpsing ourselves transformed. Clute’s is a fine, too-short essay, one of the best in the book.

Another fine essay is Kirk Hampton and Carol MacKay’s “Shapes from the Edge of Time: The Science Fiction Artwork of Richard M. Powers,” which persuades me, despite my previous remarks on art being more than illustration, that Powers’s surrealist cover paintings are the perfect illustrations (Clute would say “illuminations”) for H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. As Hampton and MacKay say of another painting, this one a cover for Arthur C. Clarke’s Reach for Tomorrow (1956):

Working in a pop-culture milieu, with all the anonymity of a medieval artisan, Powers virtually created a new form within the domain of painting—one in which the artist’s ability to maintain illusory space is stretched past its limit, as it fills with increasingly incomprehensible shapes. The viewer has the illusion of perfect impersonality, the visual imagination of the end of time. (78)

Still another outstanding essay is Gregory Benford’s, which talks first of Chesley Bonestell, an artist who painted space scenes by using his imagination and the best available scientific speculation, and then discusses the work of painters who can refer to observations from real space flights. Benford values hard-science accuracy, “getting it right,” in art, so it might seem that he would be satisfied with correct detail. Actually, he admires Bonestell’s sensitive creativity, and he also responds to and quotes approvingly Soviet space painter Andrei Sokolov’s description of what nightfall on Earth looks like from space:

at the terminator, ... valleys sink into darkness and a chain of snowy mountains is shining in the background. Late in the evening, just beyond the terminator, the very high mountains glow red-orange, like live coals.... Mountaintops cleave the clouds, leaving a wake like that of a ship. Tropical thunderheads, lit by lightning flashes at night, recall the blooming buds of white roses. (65)

I hadn’t seen that description before. I won’t forget it.

If the picture these words create in my mind is art, John Grant’s light-hearted short history of fantasy art is right to declare that “Whatever form it [fantasy art] takes, it tells the only story that is important to you, the viewer, the story in which both the artist and yourself are protagonists. If it does not tell this story, it is almost certainly not fantasy art except by commercial definition” (103). The same could be said of non-fantasy art, of course, and Grant’s use of the word “story” reinforces the suspicion that we’re simply observing that “art” has an effect on its audience, not saying a great deal specifically about fantastic art. That’s part of what we need to consider: in what way is “fantastic art” a meaningful category? And if we can categorize thus far, do we want to consider “sf and fantasy art” as a singular or plural subject?

Overall, then, Unearthly Visions gives readers some nudges toward ways of thinking about fantastic art; it also illustrates some frustrating dead ends. Still, the several excellent essays in this slim but overpriced volume deserve attention. They remind us how many types of fantastic art exist, and they also suggest how personally important our response to fantastic art can be. For art, like literature, is about finding forms for human experience, helping us notice the significant strangeness in our lives. Great art—significant art—awakens us to new possibilities. It won’t let us go. It makes us see more, and by doing so it transforms us. This is asking the impossible, of course—but that’s what all art is about. If art isn’t doing the impossible, what good is it?

—Joe Sanders

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